For Straight White Hetero Male Empowerment?!

I’m all about sexual empowerment. You want to strap it on and cruise Halsted for cute gay boys at 3 am? Go ahead. Be safe. You want to cover yourself in peanut butter and go at it in the middle of the day at St. Boniface Cemetery? Cool. Try not to get busted (unless of course, you’re into that). Fuck who you want, how you want. I’m cheering you on.

But lately, my brother is asking a funny question. He’s sleeping with a girl that likes him, and he’s sleeping with another girl he may or may not call back tomorrow. He likes sex. He wants to have a lot of it. Does that make him just another gross straight guy?

My brother is a straight, white, gender-conforming, upper-middle class white dude– the enemy of every gender and cultural studies essay I own. Of course, he’s a bit more complicated than all of that. He’s flattered beyond words when queer men check him out, he likes dyke fashion, and he understands that his opinion isn’t always necessary. In other words, he’s cool. I trust that he will make my queer friends feel comfortable, and I want him to feel comfortable around them. Still, my brother doesn’t need our sex-positive space to empower him. Society has been building him up since birth. And that’s why, I’m without a response when he asks: “does all this casual sex make me bad?”

I don’t know. My politics are at war with one another.

Let’s consider for a moment the privilege afforded to him and the cost of that privilege on female bodies (not to mention queer bodies and bodies of color). I’m not riding the Dwarkin bandwagon, but I know that gender scripts seriously complicate consent. Consent can feel impossible in the face of the gendering that has been drilled into us all our lives, and those scripts dictate female subservience and silence. Overcoming gendering in heterosexual sex can take some serious work. Is it possible for my brother to account for this with his partners?

On the other hand, isn’t it my job to help everyone to feel sexually empowered? At some point, doesn’t all this talk of identity and responsibility get in the way of the very thing we rally for politically– the right to a good fuck? More than that, who am I to assume that women he sleeps with aren’t empowered enough to navigate casual sex with him?

A lot folks make the argument that queer relationships can be every bit as gendered as straight relationships- with one partner performing masculinity and misogyny at the cost of the other. But queerness itself denotes transgression of gender roles. As a genderqueer woman, I understand intimately the fear of being followed home at night as much as I understand the awkwardness of trying to find the right boy briefs at Target. While my performance of masculinity may not be a choice, I can choose to navigate gender with another queer person in my own way. And regardless of gender identification, presentation, or performance, queer sex and relationships challenge heterosexual gender scripts. So when my queer friends express desire to fuck whomever, whenever, and however, I’m cheering them on.

But my brother is another matter entirely. In my own experience, it takes a bit more intentionality to “queer” a straight relationship. A straight dude who sleeps with his girlfriend’s best friend isn’t exactly seen as transgressive; most likely he’s playing out his gender script word for word. Can my straight white brother enjoy a lot of sex without participating in this misogyny?

In the end, I urge my brother to remain cautious. Remember who you are. Remember your privilege. Be safe. Be honest. Listen. Enjoy yourself. And whatever you do, rage against your gender script.

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