One of the most unpleasant new homophobic slurs to emerge in recent times has been ‘genital fetishist’. In an age when ‘kink-shaming’ has been added to the roster of social sins by progressives, there’s a certain irony to lesbians and gay men still being the ones who are told our sexual desire for our own sex is an unacceptable fetish.
As I occasionally dip into the madness of Twitter, TikTok and other new media, I’m struck by how much traction the erasure of homosexuality has managed to get. I first noticed it a few years ago, hearing whispers of the idea of a ‘cotton ceiling’ and discovering that it was a completely straight-faced (no pun intended) idea that trans-identified males claiming to be lesbians were somehow oppressed by lesbians refusing them as sexual partners, and this ‘oppression’ needed to be overcome.
When I began to talk about it, it would often be dismissed as far too extreme to ever become a real issue. Surely everyone knew men had been trying to persuade lesbians to sleep with them since the year dot and treated the idea with all the respect a Jim Davidson joke warranted?
…you can’t move for progressive types scolding LGB people for caring about what genitals their sexual partners have, and even being told that it’s creepy and harmful to have any reference or focus on genitals when it comes to homosexuality at all.
A few years later, however, and you can’t move for progressive types scolding LGB people for caring about what genitals their sexual partners have, and even being told that it’s creepy and harmful to have any reference or focus on genitals when it comes to homosexuality at all. There’s even a progressive slogan that feeds into this idea – ‘Hearts not parts’.
I was first out in the 90’s, and I disappeared into the closet for a long time after conversion therapy, so I’m well acquainted with the powerful role of shame around homosexuality in our culture. I have known gay men and women attacked while walking down the street holding hands or having just chastely kissed a partner goodbye: simple markers of romantic attachment which heterosexual people engage in without a second thought. I know what it feels like to be reticent to do those simple things in case you are marked out as LGB, and what a big statement it can feel like to do them.
But the reason those public markers have been targeted, and thus often hidden, is because they speak to the reality that the two people being affectionate are likely enjoying a sexual relationship too. That’s not to say they are getting it on, it’s underlining that what truly offends the homophobe is not two men or two women being close and affectionate friends; it’s that they might be having sex with each other.
There have never been any laws in the UK forbidding close, affectionate friendships between two people of the same sex. The laws banning homosexuality were not forbidding two men from setting up a home together, sharing a love of Doctor Who, and arguing about whose turn it was to do the washing up. The law banned sex.
Even now, in the Church of England, it’s possible for a gay man to be a priest, and even to be in a civil partnership, but the understanding is that he will not be engaging in sexual congress with his husband. This kind of oppression is still the default setting in the established UK church.
It’s certainly true that the battle for LGB equality has been to challenge the idea that homosexuality is deviant sexual behaviour and underline that LGB people just want to be free to have the exact same romantic, sexual, and civic rights and freedoms that heterosexual people do.
No one expects a straight man or woman to not care what genitals their sexual partner has. So why are lesbians and gay men being called bigots and fetishists for stating plainly that it matters what sexual organs a partner has?
But it has never been the case that the acceptance of LGB sexualities is about pretending sex acts are irrelevant and we are some rarefied spiritual beings who pay no mind to genitals because we are attracted to the very soul of a person. No one expects a straight man or woman to not care what genitals their sexual partner has. So why are lesbians and gay men being called bigots and fetishists for stating plainly that it matters what sexual organs a partner has?
I submit that it’s because shame is alive and kicking in the modern progressive movement, and its target is still lesbians and gay men. As I mentioned, I know how powerful that is, and it’s a big component of how conversion therapy operates. How can this new progressive movement hold that open kink must be seen by all and sundry as a healthy expression of sexuality, but insist that a gay man who wants a penis on his sexual partner, or a lesbian who wants a vulva, are unacceptable? What is this except undiluted homophobia?
Of course a lesbian is attracted to the whole of a woman. But a whole woman will have a vulva, not a penis. Suggesting that this baseline expectation is perverted and unspeakable is absolutely taking us back to the dark days of Section 28, which was in effect all through my secondary school years, when my homosexuality was emerging, and I was already learning to repress and hide it.
Being a gay man is not about glitter, interior decorating, and fabulous make overs of your straight friends. Being a lesbian is not about fixing appliances, having a quirky haircut or being very sporty. To coin a phrase, it’s not a lifestyle. It’s simply about being sexually oriented to your own sex, in exactly the same way being straight is about being sexually oriented to the opposite sex. Having sex matters to a lesbian and gay man as much as it matters to a straight person.
To demand that lesbians and gay men dismiss the relevance of the genitals on their partner is to erase a significant part of us in a way that would never happen to straight people, and that is the essence of inequality. It’s not progressive, it’s coercive and abusive, and if any of us should feel shame, it’s the people who want to push openly LGB people back into a rainbow glitter covered closet.
Kay Knight is a British writer and podcaster. She has a particular focus on women’s stories, and an enduring fondness for Doctor Who, despite everything.