There’s something I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around lately: there are so many double standards when it comes to sex. Are we trying to rid ourselves of all of them? Equality sounds good in theory, but it’s a pretty tall order once you start to disect what it really means.

What got me thinking about this is that for the longest time, I have been convinced that there is no such thing as an effeminate heterosexual. Think of a guy you know or have known who “acts gay.” Maybe he has a slight lisp; maybe he enjoys traditionally feminine things like crafts and decorations; maybe he just dresses a little too nicely. The guy I’m thinking of just has to be gay. He’s married to a woman and has three beautiful children, but in my mind, he’s gay and hiding it.

“Come on,” I say to myself. “You’re gay! Why are you pretending to be straight? Wouldn’t you be so much happier if you just came out and lived the way you’re supposed to live?” My smug, superior, liberal side wants nothing more than to take his hand and shepherd him into the new century. “You’re free to be whoever you want now! Unless you live in North Carolina!”

For decades, we made gay men pretend to be something they weren’t. We wouldn’t allow them to be gay, we made them push it down, fight against it, and marry women and have kids like men are supposed to. The narrative of the repressed homosexual is so ingrained in my head that when I see a man who exhibits feminine characteristics, I immediately apply this backstory to him. I think I’m being a good, “woke” 21st century man when I say (to myself), “Just come out already!”

But what if he’s just effeminate? What if he just has a lisp? Why is it so hard for me to believe that a straight man can exhibit those characteristics? And why don’t I make the same assumptions for women? I know a woman who excels in a primarily male-dominated field. Outside of work, she enjoys fixing up cars. Not once have I ever looked at her and said, “Gay.” Why the double standard? That one seems pretty easy to get rid of.

Here’s one that’s a little tougher: Imagine that one day, a guy you know tells you that one time in college he got super wasted and blew one of his friends. That was it, he says. Just that one time. No big deal. I’m pretty sure that would change the way you think about him forever. It wouldn’t matter if was married to a woman and had three beautiful children; in your eyes, I bet he’s now and forever repressing his true gay self. Male sexuality is binary. We’re in an either/or situation: gay or straight. No gray areas, no blurred lines.

But what happens when you apply the same scenario to a female friend of yours? She tells you that one time in college she hooked up with one of her girlfriends. I imagine your response would be either “So?” or “Huh-huh, cool.”  Why the double standard? Getting rid of this double standard would mean we would have to allow men to have some freedom and view their sexuality on a spectrum the way we do most other things. That’s a tough one, though. I bet you’d have a hard time finding a guy willing to admit he had sexual feelings for another man but just never acted on it. I think there’s still too much pressure to “be a man.”

The last one is tricky: Sometime in the next month, I’m sure a news story will break. A hot 25-year-old female teacher will be arrested for having sex with one of her male high school students. Is this woman damaged? Probably. But what of the male “victim?” Is he now damaged? Do I feel for him? Do I feel that he has been taken advantage of?

Hell. No. I was a 16-year-old boy once. If I had sex with one of my hot teachers, I’d be feeling a lot of things but “poor me” wouldn’t be one of them. But whenever I’ve tried to articulate that, this is the argument I hear:

What if the situation were reversed? What if it were a male teacher who preyed on a 16-year-old girl?” When people say that they want you to picture a helpless teenage girl and a predatory adult male. It’s supposed to get you to reexamine the power dynamic and come to the conclusion that the boy was actually victimized. But I don’t buy it. “It’s not the same thing,” I say to myself.

Now here’s where it gets messy. To rid myself of this one, I would have to believe that if the roles were reversed, the hypothetical girl would have enjoyed the situation just as much as I would have. I’m not sure I’m prepared to reach that conclusion. A big part of me still sees any girl in that situation as a victim; the power dynamic is too strong to overlook. The situation is different because it just is. I don’t know if I can get rid of that one.

I’ll keep trying, though. I do want to rid myself of all of the double standards so thoroughly enmeshed in my complex notions of human sexuality, but it’s going to mean coming to terms with some pretty difficult concepts. It means that I need to be open to the possibility that teenage girls can enjoy sex with their teachers and dudes can blow each other for fun. And that’s a pretty tall order.

I’ll keep working on it.

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