How to Do It

I’m a Straight Guy Who Loves All Things Camp and Musical Theater

Everyone thinks I’m gay—do they see something I’m avoiding?

GIF of a man happily enjoying musical theater as neon drama masks and musical notes glow in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Damir Khabirov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Nothing’s too small (or big).

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a straight cis guy in my early 30s … I think. I was inspired to write in because of a letter you answered a while back that stuck with me. The question had to do with a guy who claimed he was straight, but got turned on by men’s locker rooms, and in your response you wrote that this guy might not be as straight as he thinks he is. That made sense to me. Being turned on by other naked men is definitionally queer. That guy has good reason to question his straightness.

On to me. I didn’t really think I had good reason to question my own straightness, but here’s the thing: I love musical theater. And musical theater fandom (and more broadly, an affinity for all sorts of camp and pageantry) is not the only quality I have that reads as gay. For some reason I trigger other people’s gaydar on a not-infrequent basis. I don’t think it’s my fashion, which is conservative; or my speech, which does not lisp; or my mannerisms, which aren’t flamboyant; but I seem to give off that vibe nonetheless. Being read as gay does not bother me, but it does have me asking questions as to why I give off that vibe. I’m not gay, but maybe I really do I have a kind of queerness that people are responding to?

My history with sex and dating is limited to women but also just limited in general. I’ve never had a serious long-term romantic relationship. In the dating I have done, I’ve never made the first move. In the past I’ve attributed this to anxiety, and while I’m a generally anxious person, it’s always been something I’m able to manage in pursuit of my goals. The truth is I’ve just never been that driven to pursue sex and relationships. I don’t think that makes me asexual, though.

I guess my question here is, do you think this might actually be worth exploring further or would I just be wasting my energy? If I was any kind of queer, I would know that about myself by now, right? Also, if I do continue to explore these questions further, how does one even go about doing that?

—525,600 Questions

Dear 525,600 Questions,

Ah! The question Rich and I handled a few weeks back in a chat. Yes. Does your dick get hard when you think about oiled-up men? How about men with very well-rubbed-in moisturizer on? When you think about penises in general? Who do you pay attention to when you’re watching porn? Check out the BroJobs subreddit, and see if anything feels hot to you.

Liking musical theater doesn’t make you gay or mean that you’re unconsciously gay. Nor does lisping, wearing fancy clothes, emotional sensitivity, or any of the other details our culture might associate with homosexual interests. In reality, gay men come in all types, as do straight guys and those in between.

Being “read” as gay is a very different situation than “I get aroused watching men undress in locker rooms.” One has to do with other people’s assumptions, and the other has to do with sexuality.

That said, it’s worth noting that sexual tastes frequently shift over time. You might find that you’re curious about things in the future that may have been off-putting in the past. The reverse is possible, too—guaranteed turn-ons can lose their luster.

Labels shouldn’t be informing who you are. Who you are should be informing your labels. I know we live in a drop-down-field world, carving ourselves up into searchable terms, but this kind of thinking can get in the way of discovering your authentic self. Focus on what you like, and don’t worry about what category you fit into.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a cis-het 26-year-old woman with absolutely no sexual experience—I’ve kissed, but that’s it. While I don’t have sexual trauma, I do have a history of incredibly judgmental family dynamics around sex in my youth. (Think “Do you want to be a slut?” aimed at anything from wearing short skirts to kissing my boyfriend.) I’ve worked through a lot of these issues in therapy, and I feel that I’m ready to start slowly incorporating sex into my relationships.

I’ve been seeing my partner (cis-het man, 31) for about three months now. I was honest with him when we started dating, and I think he’s more nervous than I am regarding physical intimacy. I know he’s had casual partners in the past, which means this is specific to me. I’ve tried talking about this, initiating conversations about what we are each attracted to, and making it clear that I’d like to become more physical. Even after three months, he has not kissed me, and I don’t see more than that coming soon as I suspect he’s misguidedly trying to “respect me.” It seems like he’s also cautious because there’s a large size discrepancy (I’m 5’1”, 100 pounds, and he’s a solid and muscular 6’3”), and he’s afraid this could influence our power dynamic. (He makes frequent comments about how tiny I am and tends to treat me like I’m physically delicate because, well, I kind of am compared to him.) I know he’s attracted to me and probably wants to go further! How do I convince him that I really do want him to touch me? Am I overthinking this? Is it a consent issue if I grab him and go for it?

—Let’s Get Physical

Dear Let’s Get Physical,

Direct communication seems to be the only way forward here.

You’ve kissed before, so you might know that moment of tension that happens before the first time a new pairing kisses. In case you don’t know that feeling, I’ll try to describe it. You’re flirting. You’re getting close to each other. You’re touching each other’s arms, shoulders, or back. Your face approaches their face, or their face approaches yours. Your mouths are mere inches apart. There’s a pause, and a moment of “Ooh, what might happen now?” It’s the part in movies where their eyeballs are rapidly searching the other person’s face. When that occurs, say “I’d like to kiss you,” and see what he says.

Because of the height difference, you may need to do this on the couch where it’s easier for you to get your face near his. Or, if you’re athletic enough, you might climb him like a tree. (It’s really fun.)

If your dude says no to kissing, you’ll probably want to ask some follow-up questions like “Do you dislike kissing?” “Is there something else physically intimate we could do?” “Are you afraid of some consequence I’m not seeing?” And whatever else your curiosity is drawn to.

If you’ve been clear, try being excruciatingly blunt. Something like, “I want to explore sexuality, with you, and I want to know if you’re OK to engage in sexual activities together. If it isn’t, I need a firm answer about that, and I’d like to understand why.”

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been seeing a new guy for about two months now. He’s funny, super attractive, and we generally get alone really well. We’re both 28 and fairly “woke” millennials in that I’ve made references to consent and he didn’t laugh at me (among other obvious things, but this is the relevant part). I tend to swing toward submissive in bed and he’s embraced this, which I enjoy. We’ve talked about how I like things rough, and I’ve hinted toward fantasies that could be fun to play out with him.

Now the problem: When we’re actually having sex, he’s not great at listening to me. I know I’m a sub, but if things hurt I want things to stop. Immediately. He’s very well-endowed, and if conditions aren’t right, getting started can vary from mild pain to “Oh my God you need to be on another planet away from me” levels. He’s not great about foreplay despite me hinting at it, so this pain seems to be something I’m just going to have to get used to.

There have been a couple of incidents lately, though, that I need an outsider’s eye for. First one, we were getting down to things about a week ago after I was just getting over a yeast infection, and when I asked him to stop he pushed forward and told me to stop being a baby. I had to practically push him off of me and was bleeding afterward. Then last night we were transitioning from a massage into sex and he took me being on my stomach as invitation to try anal.

This is NOT something we’ve done before and I immediately told him to stop, as without being stretched out I knew the pain was going to be worse. He again pushed forward, and with his full weight on my body I couldn’t push him off—and had to resort to almost yelling at him. We proceeded with PIV sex and things were fine. Afterward, I tried to say, “Hey, no anal without a conversation. That wasn’t cool,” and he denied that he was trying anything.

Is this just a case of bad communication skills and him thinking I’m more of a sub than I am, or is my new dude a borderline rapist?

—Stop Pushing!

Dear Stop Pushing,

In the words of one of my favorite porn performers, Mickey Mod, “This is not a red flag, this is an entire red parade.” Floats and everything. Maybe a bagpipe section.

If I were in your position, I’d sever the connection and spend time with people who don’t, you know, call me a baby for not wanting to have sex with a yeast infection. Or who don’t have to be shouted at to get off of me when I want sex to stop.

Conversations about submission can be tricky. People make assumptions. They get this idea in their heads that a taste for pain means you want to be degraded. Or that a taste for degradation means you want to be choked. Or that an occasional desire to be dominated in bed means it’s OK to smack you around randomly when you’re trying to make food or prepare for sleep.

A Public Service Announcement for everyone reading: ASK FIRST. Ask what your partner likes and does not like. Don’t be afraid to check back in and say “I’m not sure if we’ve talked about ____, which I want to try. How do you feel about ____?”

Yeah, it’d probably be better if you did more than hinted at your fantasies—if you spoke about them directly and indicated what you’d like to try first. But I don’t think this is the right partner to experiment further with.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 60-year-old gay man in a long-term relationship with a guy 10 years older than myself. We don’t live together, but very close by. While the love we have for each other still runs deep, our sex life has fallen off precipitously in recent years, from twice a week to once a month at best. We’ve fallen into a companionate relationship, for better or worse.

In the past year, I began to hook up with a local couple for sex dates, about once a month. We kept things safe, and it felt mutually enjoyable and fun for all of us, based on their feedback. Then, about two months ago, they suddenly ghosted me. Perhaps incidentally, this was shortly after I allowed them anal sex with me for the first time. I wrote twice with no response, and left it there. In the meantime, I know they are pursuing other partners.

So, while I had no illusions that we were anything other than sex buddies, this really hurts. The ghosting is so dehumanizing, and it just seems so contrary to the guys I spent time with, who were considerate, hospitable, kind, and fun. I never felt used for sex; much of our time was spent simply lying around naked and talking. Orgasm was never the point. I never harassed them, or sought more than what we had, or developed feelings for them beyond what was appropriate for the free-form nature of the connection. Yet, I seem to have violated the sex buddy rules by actually liking and caring about them as people.

I wrote them a letter expressing my hurt and also told them what I liked about our connection. I asserted that I didn’t deserve this treatment, apologized for anything unknown I did that might have prompted this behavior, and left the door open for them to apologize safely. Thus far, not surprisingly, no response.

My question is, how do I cope with the grief that I feel in this situation? Because it was secret, outside of my primary relationship, it feels illegitimate, like something deserved because I was a cheating asshole. Because it was with a couple, it feels too outside the acceptable norm to be sympathetic. And for some, simply because it was a gay connection, it sounds like a stereotype of sexual promiscuity. It wasn’t. It was respectful and caring.

And as far as my primary relationship goes, it was an outlet to express myself in ways that simply weren’t possible there anymore. It actually helped preserve that relationship, though it would be hurtful if he found out. I feel so isolated, with no legitimate way to grieve a genuine loss. Whether it be the “adulterous” nature of the connection, or the polyamorous dimension, or even the gay hookup connection, somewhere it’s all forbidden and scandalous. How do I get past this?

—Ghosted and Alone

Dear Ghosted and Alone,

There’s an intergenerational aspect to my reading of your letter. You’re 60. You grew up in a world where nonmonogamy was weird to unheard of, being gay was treated as a perversion, and casual sex was considered inappropriate. I grew up in a world that wasn’t ready for bisexuality, that shamed women for being sexual. Now we both live in a world where—at least in major cities—there are significant out-and-proud communities of LGBTQIA folk, poly folk, kinky folk. There are slut walks to protest society’s treatment of women. We celebrate Bisexual Pride Day. We have gay men running for president, which is a step forward regardless of their fitness for office. TV shows about ballroom culture and BDSM exist, and at least in the case of Pose, are celebrated by the establishment.

So the first thing I’d like you to do is try to ground yourself in the world you live in today. Try to let go of all that icky framing in your head that says gay hookups are scandalous.

Now let’s deal with your infidelity. You feel bad about it (I can tell by the way you refer to yourself as a cheating asshole). Have you tried having a conversation about opening up the relationship? There’s a lot less guilt involved when you have your partner’s consent, and everything being out in the open means you can acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling.

If you feel like you can’t have this conversation with your partner, you’re going to have to make some difficult decisions about future behavior. You’ll need to balance your sexual desires against your negative feelings when you act upon those desires.

I’m of the opinion that of course feelings are going to happen when respect and physical contact co-occur for an extended period of time. That’s fine. Hurt and pain are part of being human and having a wide variety of experiences. The loss at the end doesn’t invalidate the relationship, nor does it erase the good feelings that came before.

As for processing your grief, write it out and shred the papers, or go to the self-help section of your books app and find something on processing loss.

—Stoya

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