Simon Copland writes on the importance of having an open discussion about queer sex in an age where conservatives make it a constant focus of attacks.
Last Thursday, the Queensland Government passed a long overdue reform to reduce the age-of-consent laws for anal sex to 16. The importance of the legislation passed on Thursday cannot be understated. The bill decriminalises the consensual sex everyone knows is happening, and stops the teenager who just turned 18 from potentially being prosecuted for having sex with his boyfriend who is still 17. This has big flow-on affects. This legislation will give space for young gay men to access sexual health services without the fear of being labelled a criminal, something which is particular important in a time when HIV infection rates remain stubborn. This will hopefully allow young gay men (and others who are having anal sex) to have greater access to sexual health services and preventative measures — condoms, sexual devices, education programs, and ideally, PrEP.
Despite these really important benefits however, this issue in many ways has received little attention from much of the gay community. In a time when LGBTQIA+ rights are front and centre of the national debate, the bill received little fanfare or celebration from most LGBTQIA+ groups (apart from the Queensland AIDS Council), passing the halls of Parliament largely unheard. If it wasn’t for George Christensen (more on this soon) there’s a good chance most people wouldn’t even know it happened.
While we may say this is because the law is so local, I think it’s due to a bigger fear within our community. This legislation ran against the standard narrative of many LGBTQIA+ groups because it was about something we hardly talk about — sex.
Enter George Christensen. If you look at Christensen’s response to this bill, I can understand our community’s fear. Christensen immediately connected the legislation to paedophilia, saying in a Facebook post (which I do not wish to link to) the bill will allow fifty-year-old gay men to prey upon teenage boys.
The response was disgusting, but unsurprising. As queers our sex lives have always been a target. We’ve been called excessively promiscuous (as if that’s a problem), paedophiles, and spreaders of a ‘gay cancer’. Sex is a predominant method of attack from conservatives — a way they can paint us as dangerous to the broader community.
What the relative silence of this bill highlights, though, is a worrying response to these attacks. Instead of fighting back, we now seem to be in a place of retreat. While gay liberation once talked about sexual liberation, that language hardly exists anymore. Instead our focus has turned to ‘love’. Our core fight is no longer about the freedom to have sex, but the freedom to love.
While this may seem subtle, it is extremely important. As we’ve stopped embracing sex, we’re also giving up on the free sex ideals. I often see gay people attacking those who are ‘promiscuous’, or calling for the closure of sex-on-premises venues because they ‘look bad’ for our community. Many others have backed calls that the acceptance of the institution of marriage means giving up on the ideals of sexual liberation. We’ve not just retreated on sex, we’ve become the conservatives.
In many ways, this explains the relative silence over the Queensland age-of-consent laws. This bill simply didn’t fit within our ‘love’ narrative, one which has become far more palatable for both the general public and, more importantly, the gay community.
This is really worrying. First, and most obviously, it’s because when it comes to sexuality, sex is the key thing that defines us. While we talk about the right to ‘love who we want’, this is not a universal experience. Many of us exist within the community without being in love. It is the way we have sex and who we have sex with that defines our sexuality.
It is for this reason that sex has often been a point of attack for conservatives. It was laws against sodomy that criminalised homosexuality, not laws against love. It is talk of our sex lives that often constitute the strongest attacks on our life. Given this, it’s really important to talk about sex – not only because it’s great fun – but because talking positively about sex is the best way to counteract these attacks and create a positive sexual culture. Embracing our sex lives, whether monogamous or promiscuous, vanilla or kinky, is essential to reducing fear and stigmatisation, and to ensure we can all enjoy it as much as physically and emotionally possible.
It is particularly important for us to talk about young people having sex. The simple fact is: young queer people have sex. And most of them thoroughly enjoy it (I know I did when I was young). That is not something we should be fearful of, but something we should celebrate. It is something we should talk about openly, in order to ensure young people are having positive and safe experiences with sex — helping them create healthy, exciting and fun sex lives. Sex is important, and we should not shy away from that fact.
Over the years, sex has become a difficult topic for the queer community. It has been a constant focus of attack. This has gotten to the point where we can hardly even celebrate a big advance in gay rights, largely for fears of how it will be perceived.
We cannot however continue allow our sex lives to be defined by the conservatives who attack us. Healthy discussion about sex, including talking about young people’s sex lives, is essential to creating healthy sexual behaviours and cultures. Sex in many ways defines us as a community. We must embrace that rather than fear it.