Sex, sex and more bloody sex: do gay men ever get tired of talking about it? It seems we’re always banging on about it in some form or another -“ whether it be a straight-faced talk about HIV and sexually transmitted infections, or a boys-night-out brag-fest about the guys we’ve shagged (or at least want to shag). And if we’re not talking about sex, we’re soaking it up via our media. Every other page of our newspapers and magazines verily drips with the fleshy promise of easily accessed sexual activity.
But reading the recently released book Getting It: Gay Men’s Sexual Stories, it becomes clear just how infrequently we talk about the nitty gritty of our sex lives. From the mechanics of the bum-job to the emotional resonances of our sexual partnerships, it’s apparent that there are a great many topics which seldom feature in the conversational terrain of gay men.
It makes you wonder: why is that?
It’s vulnerability, muses Robert Reynolds, Sydney University postdoctorate fellow and co-editor (with fellow academic Gerard Sullivan) of Getting It!Â We are very explicit about our desire for sex -“ but far less so about what we’re actually doing.
The stories in this collection buck that taboo, with straightforward accounts about the ins and outs of the old in and out -“ in many of its different guises. Anal sex, fisting, prostitution, picking up: Getting It!Â covers a broad spectrum of activities and experiences. Many readers will be particularly interested to read the story of one Barry Charles, who describes in arresting detail just how he came to be better known as Troughman.
The collection had its genesis, Reynolds explains, at a dinner party attended by gay men who were all approaching middle age.
It was just a group of men, sitting around and talking about the fact that they didn’t read many books where their stories were told, he says. They felt that most of the gay
experiential stuff was about coming out, and they felt that men of their age, which was over 40, were less well represented.
Although a number of the stories in the book cover the moment of coming out, for the most part the stories focus on the bits that come after coming out. Interestingly, however, some of the stories are really about subsequent realisations of sexuality (like the realisation that one actually quite likes being fucked up the bum, or that one is not averse to the smell and taste of piss).
The writers show incredible candour in their stories -“ but Reynolds remarks that this was made easier by the use of pseudonyms. (Reynolds tells his own sex story in the book, under a pen name.)
There are quite a few (contributors) who I don’t know, he says. Gerard knows who they are but I don’t, so even between ourselves, we had a fair degree of confidentiality. But we would make up our own names for them, like -˜Sauna Man’ or -˜Econovan Man’ or -˜Bottom Boy’.
But the granting of pseudonyms wasn’t to save the writers from embarrassment: more often, Reynolds explains, it was to avoid the identification of other people in the stories.
Although the stories are graphic in their descriptions of the acts of sex, they reveal as much (and in some cases, more) about the emotional resonances of sex for gay men. As a group, we’re renowned for our ability to remove sex from its emotional context and appreciate it on the basis of mechanics alone, and it’s refreshing to read these stories because they refuse to do that. The men behind these stories have a huge number of emotional responses to the sex they’re having: responses that include love and joy, as well as many others, including disappointment, distaste, sadness and ambivalence.
Getting the contributors to focus on their own emotional responses was sometimes tricky, and required them to replace the generic, distancing use of the word you with the ultra-personal I, Reynolds notes.
We didn’t ask people to write about their ambivalence, for example, but they gave us drafts of their stories and we asked them to flesh out bits, he says. If you actually say to someone, -˜Write about your ambivalence,’ they can’t do it, you know what I mean? So we encouraged them to write about different aspects and hope that will bring out what’s already there.
The result is a varied collection of stories, although the quality of the writing is mostly quite high. Some of the chapters are plain horny; others are funny, educational and surprisingly touching.
Our first audience for the book is gay men, Roberts says. People love to read stories in which they can recognise a part of themselves, and they’ll be far more likely to do that with a first-person account than anything I write sociologically. People don’t speak about this stuff in great detail, so there’s a great worth in being able to read other people’s stories and share experiences and problems and desires.
There are two other audiences for the book, Reynolds adds, the first being academics (a few concluding chapters place the stories in a sociological framework) and the second being health professionals.
But our primary audience is gay men, because ultimately, it’s a good filthy read, he says.
The writer of this article can only agree.
Getting It: Gay Men’s Sexual Stories, edited by Robert Reynolds and Gerard Sullivan (Harrington Park Press), is available now at The Bookshop Darlinghurst for $34.95.