As the month of Pride comes to a close for another year, I find myself still figuring out how to celebrate my sexuality in a healthy way.
Sex and sexuality! These are inherent in all human beings. But is exploring and understanding sex the same thing as exploring and understanding sexuality?
When I think back to my earliest ideas of sex and sexuality, I can tell you now; sex was not something my family talked about at home EVER. Island families typically don’t discuss it. I remember my sister having safe sex posters on her bedroom walls in the early 90s when there were massive international AIDS awareness campaigns but noone ever talked about them. At least not with me. They were just there staring at me amongst the faces of Mel and Kim, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Janet Jackson.
My “Sex Education” wouldn’t start until my friends at Porirua East School stole porno magazines from their older brothers [so basically naked women]. Then later on at my Catholic high school, we had all of two one-hour puberty classes where the girls went with Ms Coulton who gave them each a box of Maxi Pads and the boys got sent to Mr Hunt who told us the definition of penetration then asked us to write anonymous questions on a piece of paper which all ended up being stupid shit like “if you have sex with a pregnant woman, does the sperm rebound off the baby’s head?” And no I didn’t write that. My best mate at the time, Ershad Ali, did.
Of course my first understanding of sexuality came from Christianity/the Samoan culture, which is that homosexuality is wrong [still reinforced to this day with Samoa banning “Rocketman” in theatres]. Then I kinda just accepted society’s idea of gay men being “femme sissies” and I didn’t wanna be that. My [mis]interpretation of sexuality was directly linked to my ignorance around masculinity and femininity which was entirely based on physicality – if you had limp wrists, your hips switched and you exaggerated your esses, you was flaaaamiiiiing.
Fast forward to the present day. I’ve relocated to LA, I’ve come out the closet and I’m ready to be happy. And where in the world could be better to live out my truth than West Hollywood? Living out here for two years [mostly West Hollywood adjacent], it was a blessing to be able to walk into an LGBT centre and take advantage of free/subsidised services like individual/group therapy, sexual health check ups and medication. To talk and laugh and cry openly about painful shit I’d been hiding forever. To receive treatment when I had scares after risky encounters. I felt like I had tapped into this new world, surrounded by people who had this shared, traumatic experience and now we could all look out for one another.
Yeah, nah. I managed to have some powerful breakthroughs but despite countless hours of accessing all these resources for well over a year, something still wasn’t clicking for me. Why not? Living somewhere that proudly waves the rainbow flag and offers itself up as a safe, progressive and welcoming place for LGBT people should be the ideal place for my healing, right? Isn’t putting myself in a city full of gay men the fastest way to a sense of belonging and acceptance?
Well maybe if you’re a white gay man. Or if white men are your preference/your goal is to be the only non-white gay man in a group [you see it all the time – it’s fucked up feeling like whiteness is the standard of beauty cuz it’s something that’s constantly being shoved down our throats and I admit I still gotta check myself on it]. I can honestly recognise and say that West Hollywood is not meant for me. It’s overwhelmingly white and I’ve lived in Bondi Beach and Sylvania farken Ohio so that’s saying something. The “gay friendly” atmosphere was not created with someone of my background in mind. From the billboards to the elected officials to the apps to the nightlife, it’s clear who it seeks to serve and they do not look like me. While I could most likely find a version of “acceptance” in WeHo by becoming a gay caricature, I don’t want to. I can’t do the whole trying to fit into a scene situation again. I’ve done that shit long enough already. And it’s why I have never felt comfortable celebrating Pride here.
Side note: when I say white, whiteness isn’t limited to descendants of the Mayflower pilgrims and other parts of Europe – you can be a white Mexican, you can be a mixed Mexican who’s white passing, you can be “afakasi” [a disgusting but widely accepted transliteration of half-caste/‘half pure’ used for people of Samoan and white descent] and take on whiteness. With that comes privilege dictated by your proximity to whiteness. You don’t have to be mixed to be on the scale either – for example, Asians fare closer to white than they do Black so they benefit accordingly. I’m well aware of where I sit in that proximity as a New Zealand born Samoan as far as my physical appearance and my accent goes. I’m usually exoticised for it by both white men and non-white men as well as women. That ain’t it. That’s not true acceptance and it’s not respect.
So that’s been a major thing that hasn’t been conducive to my growth. It’s also been hard to get past how sexualised everyone and everything is. Whatever your sexuality, men are programmed to think about sex all the time so when you are dealing solely with men who are attracted to other men, the intensity is heightened. You can just forget about getting to know somebody. You got the clear majority of men having casual sex/open relationships, you got hot dog restaurants called Kock Dog, you got clubs called Mother Load and High Tops, you got parties called Big Fat Dick, you got people getting busy in the steam rooms at the gym, you got teams in social sports leagues with names like Deep Throwt and Just The Tip – it just goes on and on.
Someone explained to me “it’s because we’ve all had to repress our sexuality in our childhoods and even adulthood so this is how we get to express it now” and that goes for all the kinks and fetish scenes too. I get it but then I also don’t get it. Knowing my own history and daily urges of using sex as a distraction from real shit, I’m only kidding myself if I try to play it off as a healthy form of expression. There are people who say they’re happy doing it and good for them. I, however, don’t have the capacity to manage it without hurting myself. I’m not judging and I don’t ever wanna knock something out of subscribing to some convention just for the sake of it but I know it’s not for me. It never leaves me feeling good and can quickly lead to self destruction.
Going back to the question: is exploring and understanding sex the same thing as exploring and understanding sexuality? No. I have to constantly remind myself that sex and sexuality are linked but they are completely seperate things.
My sexuality is simply who I’m sexually attracted to. That’s it. We’ve been fed this idea that one’s sexuality correlates to these whack ideas of masculinity and femininity and specific ways to behave and appear. That’s just more programming. Every woman and man carries both masculine energy and feminine energy. But not everyone allows herself or himself to tap into both and I think that’s out of fear of how you’ll be received and fear of your own Power.
Personally, my struggle has been to accept that if someone clocks me as gay, that’s perfectly fine cuz I am. That’s not an attack on my masculinity and it’s also not an insult to be feminine. On that same note, to be mistaken as “straight” is not an honour. If I choose to express myself in a way others interpret as “feminine”, who cares? I just gotta be me and neither embrace nor fear a perception of what gayness is.
Another lesson I’ve learned about what sexuality isn’t – an automatic bond. When I first came out, I thought I had to get a crew of gay guys to roll with [but when they all started tryna get fresh, I gave up on it]. It took me a long time to realise that just cuz you’re gay, that doesn’t mean we have anything in common. Y’all can still be as much of an ignorant trash bag as the next. I was like “oh he’s gay therefore we have a connection!” [I also used to do this with islanders!] Nope. Being gay [or being a fellow Samoan or any other person of colour for that matter] is not a quality or a personality trait. I can’t be seeking a relationship with someone based on that, the same way I don’t want people seeking/not seeking a relationship with me based on mines. Lemme prioritise the people who are kind, compassionate and generous. I have them in my life and their sexualities have never mattered to me.
As far as sex goes, it’s been something I’ve viewed and acted on as a purely physical exchange, turning to it as a way to escape discomfort. Any sign of conflict or change and I’m ready to throw myself right back into the craziness.
Hopefully I can enjoy physical intimacy as an expression of love. I’m more aware of how it’s an energetic exchange but I’m yet to experience it positively on a spiritual level. So until I’m feeling that, it’s best for my ass to just steer clear from sex to give myself room to breathe. It’s hard to let go of something so familiar to me but I gotta do it if I wanna expand. And that’s meant getting up outta West Hollywood where the energy isn’t right for me to do that. I’ve treated WeHo like a safety net, with all the fluff attention holding me up. It’s just another source of external validation tied up in my cycle I’m sick of being stuck in. Something’s gotta give.
We all have our struggles and my relationship with sex and my sexuality is something I’m still tryna break down. All the myths and programming are so entrenched. It’s hard to undo it all but it’s possible. Deprogramming the lies to get to what’s real takes being brutally honest with ourselves [another huge struggle for me] but it actually comes more naturally than holding on to those programmed lies. Because it’s what’s truest to our beings.
As I keep praying for the willingness and courage to dig deep into the places I’m scared to go [but need to] so I can heal, I’m confident I’ll find my own way to celebrate my Pride. Something that makes sense to me.