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Happily ever after…or a thousand happy endings?

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a pub on a Saturday afternoon with my husband Barry and some friends – including one happily coupled gay guy, who was in town for an event. Having left his life-partner at home for the weekend, this dude made no secret of the fact that he fancied me.

Josef Church-Woods

I’m not blowing my own trumpet here (although sometimes I wish I could – wink, wink); the guy actually tried to snog me right there at the table, and when we were leaving he asked Barry if he could come with us. (Pun intended.)

As a short, overweight, ginger-ish person, it’s safe to say I don’t fit the criteria for conventional stud, and the above is by no means an everyday experience for me. That said, I’m no prude and I’ve been around for long enough to take the occasional advance by a well-meaning horndog with good humour…I might even reciprocate with a bit of coquettish flirtation, if the mood is right.

Nevertheless, as someone in a committed, exclusive relationship, I can’t help finding the scenario fascinating. When I jokingly asked the guy “Aren’t you supposed to be happily married?”, he simply gave me a wink and a dirty grin. I’m not sure if the wink meant ‘we have an open relationship’, or ‘what happens in Edinburgh, stays in Edinburgh’, but either way it left me pondering the nature of gay men’s sexual behaviour, and the parameters of social etiquette, where man-on-man attraction is concerned.

monogamyI have no issue with open relationships – each to their own, as I once told an obese lady who explained that her main motivation for losing weight was so that she could cut her own toenails. But while I pass no judgement on couples who have “play away agreements”, I do sometimes wonder if Barry and I are the only monogamous gays in the village.

I’m fairly sure we’re not, even if you take out the lesbians and the men no one wants to shag. I know of at least a few other gay, male couples who appear to be happily exclusive. I obviously can’t be sure that those particular people are – but most gay men I’ve discussed it with over the years have identified monogamy as a cornerstone of what they would consider a worthwhile, romantic relationship.

Moving from a smallish Swedish town to London in the mid-1990s was an eye-opener, but as a volunteer at the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, I soon became familiar with the full spectrum of human, sexual kinks. I found the wild ways of the London gay scene thrilling and I relished the idea of belonging in a culture of sexual hedonism, where the old rules no longer applied. Deep down though, I was always quite vanilla; as much as I love the colourful diversity of the gay scene, I’ve only ever enjoyed the raunchier stuff as a bright eyed spectator. In my heart, I am – and always have been – a one-man-at-a-time kind of guy.

And to some extent, despite what I knew about the saucy underworld of the LGBT & Q community, I suppose I still thought that monogamy was the norm in gayville. Like the leafy suburb that most hell raisers eventually settle in to have kids, once their crazy, urban oat-sowing days are over. Certainly, most of my gay friends seem to be in – or looking for – an exclusive relationship.

didioI guess that’s what baffles me a bit about gay men and sex. Despite much talk of monogamy and “cheating bastards”, the majority of my brethren appear to take for granted – embrace even – a no holds barred approach to getting horny in public. To the point where a happily married guy thinks nothing of flirting outrageously with me in front of my husband, or propositioning a couple he only just met. The entirely unsolicited balls-and-arse cupping that one particular bartender insists on greeting me with every time we cross paths, would most definitely constitute sexual harassment in most other contexts.

If you think I’m starting to sound a little bit Mary Whitehouse, please rest assured that this is not me clutching my pearls from the lofty realms of the moral high ground. My mind can usually be found in the gutter, and I’m not appalled by the aforementioned groping, nor am I on some kind of chastity crusade. I am simply marveling at the gay man tug-of-war between picket fence aspirations and a seemingly effortless acceptance of the “take whomever you want, or go limp trying” mentality.

Is it a deliberate reaction to decades of hetero-normative oppression, or a spontaneous expression of unbridled lust – unleashed upon the realisation that once you escape the boundaries of traditional, church-going standards, you can have your cake and eat it too? (In fact, you can eat every cake you see, provided they’re up for grabs.)

Maybe men are just naturally slutty? That might explain why, when you take women out of the equation, social engagement inevitable seems to turn into hot mess. Or perhaps it simply boils down to sex appreciation? If you love fucking and you have chosen a community that places more value on compassion and inclusiveness than it does on how many sex partners someone has, why not whittle your bedpost into a toothpick? For the record, straight and bisexual men hold their own in the sleeping around stakes, with some blaming our biological predisposition to “spread seed as far and wide as possible”. Personally, I like to think that we’re evolved enough to decide for ourselves who we have sex with and when.

I guess at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter why or how some men are promiscuous, as long we all try our best to be considerate and kind. I think it’s reasonable to assume that there are lots of men in couples, whose love and commitment to each other is not diminished by their mutually agreed one night stands on the side. Just like there are lots of gay men to whom anything other that monogamy is a deal-breaker…like Barry and I.

To me, it’s the diversity, tolerance and pride of the gay community that makes it special…and even if situations and people sometimes make my jaw drop, or my eyes roll, provided no one is coming to harm, I am a firm believer in “live and let live”.

I might not be up for a threesome with a friend of a friend, or find the idea of humping a stranger in a pub cubicle particularly appealing, but I do love the fact that not everyone is like me. And if the odd hot guy wants to make a pass, who am to refuse the compliment?

10408712_10152133313022680_7705985603266229579_nJosef Church-Woods: Is half Swedish (the bottom half), half Kiwi (the top half) and is married to Barry. He’s works in marketing and is a full time homosexualist. As a journalist he’s written for the Observer, Base Magazine, Firm Magazine and Third Force News and as a PR he’s worked for Stonewall Scotland, Seafood Scotland and the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. You can follow him on Twitter @JosefCW and read his personal blog and some of his columns here:

Oh… and read about his first time here.


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5 replies

  1. “Every old sock meets an old shoe” as someone once said.

    It takes trust to be an old sock or an old shoe for someone else, but the rewards are divine.

    As far as interlopers go, I reckon it’s the overt ball-grabby ones who are nothing to worry about … they’re making a “great big show” of their man-handling of you and/or your monogamous partner, for the benefit of your partner’s sense of security.

    I’ve been told “you’ve got to share that man, you know” (ah, no, I don’t gotta, go ask him) and I’ve seen the red-faced, sweat-at-temples types trying to divide and conquer from the sidelines … sometimes it’s a worry, sometimes it’s easy to brush off.

    Me and my man are living it as it happens, and monogamy is a big part of that. It feels like the exception in the gay community, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when the mirror ball winds down and the lights go on, we all want to go home to old socks and shoes.


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