“The gayest thing I’ve ever seen”: quite the superlative, I know. One tossed around pretty regularly, perhaps especially among gay people. I’ve seen many variations and manifestations of “gay”—whatever that means—so far, but there’s one that I do think should take the crown, scepter, and sash.
First, the system of measurement. We need to establish what is “gay,” and in order to do that, we must establish what is sexuality itself. Is sexuality a matter of identity or activity? Is it something you do, or something you are?
Let’s go back to the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Imagine that we’re mired in the Industrial Revolution, clinging like a louse to the temporal taint zone running between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (more than a little gay) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (pretty damn gay for its time).
This is about the time that, in the British and American consciousness anyway, the idea of homosexuality began shifting from a concept of actions to inherent identity, giving rise to the image of “the homosexual”: the dandy, the sissy, the fruit.
That’s not what I’m talking about. “Gay” isn’t about ice dancing or skipping fleetly through Pottery Barn—that’s more about gender, masculine vs. feminine.
Gay is about men having sex with other men. Pardon me for not including more about lesbians in this essay; lesbianism is not my area of experience, and therefore I can’t be much of an authority on what is the most lesbian thing I’ve ever seen.
But I have a lot of practice being gay. I consider myself an authority on gayness both organically and academically. I have some solid book learning under my belt, among other methods of gathering knowledge.
Once, I knew a man so gay that he had been forced to earn his gayness. He was labeled female at birth, raised as a girl with a body that most people would consider female. But he didn’t want that. He identified as a gay man, so much so that he spent a great deal of time, money, and pain refashioning his body so that he would be accepted as a man who has sex with other men. Men like me, for instance.
So here’s the thing: Gay transcends gender. It’s not about men in eyeliner or women with crewcuts or guys with rhinestones on their cellphone cases. Gayness—male gayness—is very masculine. It’s as masculine as smoking cigars and blowing the smoke into someone’s butthole. Beards are eroticized, as is anything made of leather. Some gay guys would eat off leather plates if they were available (where to find such a thing? The Renaissance festival?).
This is what many people—homosexual, heterosexual, and otherwise—don’t understand. The butchest things are frequently gay. The military is often very gay. Sex in prison is gay when it’s consensual. Mormon missions are extraordinarily gay, and the gayest institution ever invented is the college fraternity. In fact, it seems the more macho and homophobic a subculture, the more gay sex is happening in it. Repression erupts in extravagant showers of man-on-man action.
This brings us at last to the gayest thing I’ve ever seen: Mixed Martial Arts.
MMA is so homoerotic that I can barely stand it. The fighters wear almost nothing. Less than pro-wrestlers (also gay, but not so gay as MMA). Not even swimmers wear less—they have those little caps and goggles in addition to their genital coverage, but MMA fighters get only loose loin cloths. It’s a barefoot sport.
They come together, human beasts with their sweat and their tears and their love for the breakable body, and they cling to one another, huffing each other’s scent, landing body blows, until another man separates them. It’s gorgeous: the meat and stink and passion of men in physical competition. There’s even an MMA event called “submission grappling,” which arouses me just to type it.
And then—Venus hold my hand—they begin to bleed.
Their bodies open to one another, and their rich life force spills down their faces and gets caught in the hair around their nipples. From that point forward, it’s a hard ballet of salt and struggle.
That’s the kind of gay I’m talking about. It isn’t about love or romance or the right to marry. It isn’t tender lovemaking, which is human and beautiful and ungendered. The gayest thing I’ve actually seen is the ugly, unpolished, unperfumed impact of the male body against the male body—an intimacy of its own. I don’t want to do it; I just want to watch it.
I asked my dear friend Amy, an author and well-read lesbian feminist, what she thinks of women’s MMA. She told me, “It’s basically just a lot of scissoring. It’s hot, but it would be hotter if they didn’t punch each other in the face.”
I’m not sure whether or not I agree.
Evan J. Peterson is the author of Skin Job and The Midnight Channel and editor of the Lambda Literary Award finalist Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5. His writing can be found in Weird Tales, The Stranger, The Rumpus, Glitterwolf, The Queer South anthology and Drawn to Marvel: Poems From the Comic Books. He is the current editor-in-chief of Minor Arcana Press. You can find him at his personal website.