MANY YOUNG GAY MEN are perceived by themselves and others as “whores,” but it’s a label that other gay youth are consciously rejecting. An earlier generation of gay men embraced sexual liberation as the driving goal of gay liberation itself, and found it empowering to be a “whore” or a “slut.” “Sexual objectification is a focus of our quest for freedom,” declared “A Gay Manifesto” of the 1970’s (by Carl Wittman). But gay youth culture has changed dramatically since then. Gay young people in general have veered toward a more heterosexual definition of their sexual relations. Few would agree with the sentiment expressed in another manifesto of early Gay Liberation, that of Martha Shelley in her classic essay “Gay is Good”: “straight roles stink.”*
Gay youths are not only rejecting the idea of being whores, they’re also consciously drawing on the straight-sex concept of “virginity.” Claiming some form of gay virginity does not necessarily mean that gay youths want to be virgins—or are—in any traditional sense. It is mainly a reaction against being regarded as a whore. The trouble is, every lesbian, gay, transgendered, bisexual, or questioning youth has a different definition of what it means to be a virgin! How does a gay person lose his or her virginity? What bodily orifices must be penetrated? Is it the giver, receiver, or both who lose their virginity? Do lesbians need a strap-on to get the job done? Do gay men require a penis? These questions stem from the fact that there’s no agreement on what constitutes going too far, or far enough, or “losing one’s V-card”—in other words, having sex. Asked if they’ve lost their virginity, most gay youths will answer with a question on the order of, “What do you consider sex?”
This is a serious dilemma for gay youth, one that’s always existed but has rarely been talked about. Unlike their straight counterparts, gay youths are often unable to define themselves as sexual beings, because the familiar definitions of heterosexual sex and virginity do not apply. And yet, many gay youths are adopting heterosexual terms as part of a new wave of integration with their straight friends. The newest issue of YGA (“Young Gay America”), a new national glossy magazine for and about non-straight youth, focuses on religion and spirituality. Gay youths are seen as attempting to reconcile their religious beliefs with their mode of sexual expression. In so doing, many find themselves simply co-opting terms such as “virgin” in an attempt to make sense of their sexual expression and its inherent cultural difference from the valorized straight sexual pairing. It’s time to ask what it means to have sex as a gay person.