For some reason, this courtesy of not asking people about their sex life isn’t extended to queer people.
How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
Between shows like “Girls” and trending listicles online, we get it: Sex is fascinating, and we want to know more about it. Our ears usually perk up when even a stranger just mentions S-E-X.
These stories, overheard or in convo, can be wonderfully tantalizing, and, frankly, personally useful. Yet, most of us also know that it’s not necessarily appropriate to ask just anyone about their sex life.
Sex itself can be very vulnerable. Talking about it is even more personal, so unless someone voluntarily offers up the information or there’s a sense of mutual trust, asking about someone’s sex life is considered a pretty big invasion of privacy.
Except queer people, or those who identify as LGBTQ+.
For some reason, this nicety hasn’t extended to queer people and their sex life. Our world is heteronormative, meaning it’s heterosexual and cisgender. Cisgender is a term for people who identify or perform a gender role that society deems appropriate for one’s sex. It’s considered the “norm.”
And in this world, queer people are subjected to inappropriate questions and comments about their sex life all the time. I’ve lost count of the number of times when people, upon hearing I have a girlfriend, start questioning — without any preface — what I do in the bedroom.
Queer people, just as any stranger or acquaintance you meet, don’t owe anyone an explanation of their life.
These questions range from “Have you sworn off penises?” to “So, do you use a dildo?” While these kinds of questions may stem from a place of genuine curiosity about queer sex, it can often make someone feel violated, misidentified, or even obligated to perform emotional labor.
Here are just a few reasons why asking someone about their sex life — just because they’re queer — is inappropriate:
When’s the last time you heard a straight dude ever get asked, “So does this mean you have sworn off men?” Recently when speaking to a gay male friend of mine, he shared a story that drives this point home:
“Just the other day, this co-worker of mine randomly asked me in the office, when he thought we were alone, ‘Are you a top or a bottom?’ I knew the only reason he was asking me this is because I’m gay, and he thinks I fit into one of these two categories. This question made me feel extremely frustrated, because I would never ask my co-worker what positions he does with his girlfriend — especially in the workplace!”
“You can’t just assume that saying ‘d***’ or ‘t***’ in the bedroom is OK. Consent [even around how we talk to each other] is constant.”
Not only is the fact that straight people aren’t subjected to these questions unfair, but it speaks to a larger issue of straight, cis people feeling entitled to know about queer sex.
Take this question for example: “What does straight sex feel like?” Is violating someone’s privacy the trade-off we want to make? Could this information be found on Google, and, as a result, save the person from having to feel emotionally exhausted by these invasive questions?
When someone identifies as queer, others often make assumptions about what body parts they have, what body parts they like, who they used to have sex with, currently have sex with, and will have sex with.
Just this past weekend, I ran into an individual I went to college with, and he immediately started trash-talking my ex and commenting on how I’ll probably never want penis again. In that one interaction, he made an assumption about my feelings and reduced my sexuality to a matter of genitalia.
When speaking to my friend, who identifies as trans nonbinary, they explained how people’s assumptions can be very triggering and painful for trans people. There’s a lot of misidentifying and lack of sensitivity around people’s relationships to their bodies. Here’s what they said:
“Once I started becoming intimate with trans people, there was no longer this pretense that you can touch body parts or call them assumed names, because some people may have dysphoria surrounding their bodies. You can’t just assume that saying ‘d***’ or ‘t***’ in the bedroom is OK. Consent [even around how we talk to each other] is constant.”
When someone stares and comments without permission, it’s dehumanizing and objectifying.
What my friend brings up here is particularly important for creating a more trans-inclusive and respectful world: Do not make assumptions about people’s genitalia! When you make assumptions about someone’s genitalia or the genitalia of the people they’re having sex with, it can feel extremely reductive and transphobic (having extreme fear or prejudice toward trans people).
Even more so, don’t assume you know how people are having sex, either. Gay men don’t always (or only) have anal sex, just as lesbian women don’t always scissor. The beautiful thing about queer sex is that it’s expansive and challenges all the pretenses of what “sex” means and entails.
Queer people and their physical relationship aren’t just for display, as if we’re an exhibit for your viewing pleasure. Just as people tune into “Planet Earth” to watch the mating dance of a tropical bird, some think it’s OK, and even in their right, to watch and comment on queer intimacy because it fascinates them.
When talking to my friend Nora about experiences she’s had with her wife, one particular instance of lecherous leering came to mind:
“My wife and I were at a club in Boulder, and we were dancing and kissing on the dance floor when some guy came up to me and said, ‘Oh, you two were hotter when when you were making out.’ He had such a sense of entitlement [to comment], just because I’m a gay woman.”
When someone stares and comments without permission, it’s dehumanizing and objectifying. Our relationships can be regarded as so “other” that it sometimes feels like we’re not even being seen as human, which brings me to my next point…
Maybe instead of asking us how we get down in the bedroom right off the bat, ask us what we like to do for fun on the weekends.
In the case of Nora, a straight man was sexualizing her relationship for his viewing pleasure. But it’s not only straight men. I’ve heard many stories from queer female friends who have felt particularly sexualized by cis gay men, who treat them as “fun play things.”
“I often have gay men comment on my breasts or tell me that I’m their favorite kind of lesbian,” another friend shared with me.
As a queer woman, I, too, have had countless experiences that make me feel like I’m being viewed as a fun new toy or complete sex object. When my girlfriend and I get propositioned by men for a threesome or when people use stories of queer sex as “cool” small talk, it frames queer people in ways that make us feel more like a hip, sexy trend. This idea that queer people are here to be sexualized makes us feel less human and more like entertainment.
There’s so much more to the queer experience than our sex. To be “queer” means something different to everyone. It can reflect our sexual, gender, and political identity. Queerness is multidimensional.
We’re full human beings who have jobs, kids, and favorite foods. Maybe instead of asking us how we get down in the bedroom right off the bat, ask us what we like to do for fun on the weekends. This is a great way to also build real, trusting relationships with queer people.
In many ways, queerness is more visible than ever
In just the last few years, we’ve seen more media that aims to tell the stories of queer individuals. Yet, just because these experiences are starting to be shared with a wider audience doesn’t mean it’s an open invite to ask all the intimate details of a queer person’s life.
As a friend of mine said, “It’s unfair that for so long, queer people had to keep their sex lives a secret, and now, all of a sudden, straight people are allowed to ask about it as if they own it.”
Queer people, just as any stranger or acquaintance you meet, don’t owe anyone an explanation of their life. If you’re genuinely interested in knowing more about the queer experience, try reading queer media. Or start building real relationships with queer people. There’s plenty of resources out there now.
And if you really just have a burning question about the queer Kama Sutra, there’s always Google.
Sarah is an actress currently pursuing her MFA in acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She graduated from Vassar College in 2015 with a BA in drama and psychology. In her free time, Sarah enjoys exploring the hidden gems of San Francisco, watching documentaries, and keeping the company of loved ones.