Friday, 31 August 2012

On Sean's Sexuality

So being the little eavesdropper I am, I've noticed a couple of conversations here and there about the subject of Sean's sexuality in The Druid Stone. I've also seen the book shelved or categorized as "Gay for you" by various readers. Now obviously I have a lot of Thoughts on this topic, since Sean is half my baby, and I figured I'd share them here rather than intruding on reader spaces, my policy being strictly "Peep but don't poke".

As always, your interpretation of my writing is just as important as (if not more important than) my intention for the text. So think of these as some thinky-thoughts, not the Almighty Words Of The Author Which Make All Other Interpretations Incorrect. By all means, choose not to read this, choose to read it then disregard it, whatever. Or hell, treat it like the theories of any other reader. No need to prioritize my interpretation over anybody else's.

But for the curious, here's what I think, written up in a handy-dandy FAQ, of sorts:

Is The Druid Stone a Gay For You novel?

Yes and no. I suppose it depends on how you define GFY:

Definition 1: A man who identifies as straight discovers (and is subsequently forced to grapple with) homosexual feelings for the first time, ultimately ending up in a committed relationship with a man.

Yes, definitely.

Definition 2: A man who identifies as straight has gay feelings for only one extraordinary gay person, but otherwise likes women and thus still considers himself straight despite his relationship.

No. Cormac might like to think so, but he's an egotistical douche, so nevermind him. Sean has definitely experienced homosexual attraction before this (more on that later), and probably could again. He doesn't explicitly ID as bisexual, but that sort of thing can sometimes take time, you know? The point is, Cormac is magic, but not that kinda magic.

Definition 3: A straight man meets a special someone and turns gay. (AKA is "converted")

Most certainly not. Sean is still attracted to women. He's in a committed relationship with Cormac, but he's not gonna suddenly stop liking the look of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, if you get my drift.

So is Sean straight?

You'll note in the definitions above, I used "identifies as straight" not "is straight (period, full stop)". That's because I think sexuality is a complex thing, and saying beyond a doubt that people are one thing or the other doesn't really describe many peoples' experiences. Sure there are lots of people who know from six years old on that they're gay, no questions, no doubt, but for many others, circumstances change. We change. We grow and assume new labels and ~look into our hearts~ and all the rest of it. Do I think Sean would be "lying" (to himself or to others) by identifying as straight even though he was attracted to Cormac? No, just like I don't agree with the incredibly harmful and homophobic belief that all lesbians "just need the right dick to make them straight", which is an attitude that often results in abuse and rape. It's important to respect peoples' stated sexual identities, and also important to respect that sometimes they re-evaluate those identities . . . but on their own terms.

So at the beginning of The Druid Stone, I think if you asked Sean, he'd definitely say he was straight (although I don't think he ever specifically says he is the book, although he does think of gay men in terms of 'other', so it's implied). If you asked him at the end, his answer might be different. In an early draft, we actually did have him call himself "bisexual" in the context of "I guess I'm bisexual now", but I felt like it was a little early in his relationship with Cormac and in his exploration of himself as a result of that relationship, to be ready to put that label on it. Maybe in the future. Or maybe not! Maybe eventually he decides (where he's right or wrong about that) that Cormac really is the exception, and therefore he's a straight guy in a gay relationship. How we behave doesn't always exactly correlate with how we identify or what attractions we feel as a rule. Which is why bisexuals really really don't need to be having sex with everybody all the time to feel satisfied or to validate our own sexuality. Sometimes we choose one or the other, either as a habitual thing, or because we're in a long term relationship. It's all good.

If you want an exact answer on what I specifically think Sean's sexuality is regardless of how he thinks of himself, I'll refer you to Violetta's really excellent discussion of the Kinsey Scale on her blog tour post The Immortal Bisexual. If we consider a 0 to be 100% heterosexual and 6 to be full time homosexual, and 3 to be completely bisexual or pansexual as in a very even distribution when it comes to attraction to various genders and gender presentations, then Sean is probably a 1. As a habit, he's quite straight, but homosexual attraction isn't completely out of the sphere of possibility for him, either.

So how does Gay For Pay fit in?

I'll once again refer you to a really excellent blog post by Violetta, this time one that she did as a part of our "Cruce de Caminos" blog tour: How Relevant is Sexual Orientation in Sex Work? If you've read either "Cruce de Caminos" or The Druid Stone, you already know that Sean is a former sex worker. Specifically, he's "Gay for Pay", a person who identifies as straight, but has sex with gay and bisexual men because he needs the money. This is where we get to the stuff above about how what you do doesn't always line up with how you feel or especially how you identify, especially not when we're talking about someone making these choices out of desperation and addiction, as Sean was. I definitely think a man can have sex on camera with a man or with a male client, and still feel and identify as straight. I'm sure a select group of bigots will consider the act a "taint" that changes who we are, but those people are kind of jerks, so let's never mind them.

What gets kind of complicated is that the performance can sometimes bleed into the reality, which is to say for Sean, desire and performance don't stay neatly separate. He's not attracted to his client in Cruce de Caminos, or any of the clients that come after, but I think he does experience genuine attraction to Ángel, his fellow prostitute, even if he's not necessarily comfortable with it. These are feelings outside of what he's being paid to do, which is why they complicate matters.

Is Sean a "virgin"?

No. He's had sex with women, and he's definitely performed oral sex on men, which despite what you heard in high school, "still counts": otherwise, a whole bunch of lesbians would be lifelong virgins, which I'm sure they would tell you is a patently silly (and offensive, and homophobic) idea.

But is he a virgin in the sense of "has he ever been anally penetrated before"? He implies he is when he talks about his time as a sex worker by saying he only did things that could be done in the front seat of a car, and later he acts like one when he and Cormac have sex for the first time, but it's never explicitly stated. Cormac considers asking him if he is, but decides against it because he figures the question and the answer could be painful. Sean lets him believe what he likes. Throughout both books that feature Sean, he's very good at reading people and giving them what they want. For example, consider how he behaves around Finnbheara: the language and body language he uses, the way he behaves. It's all calculated to appeal to Finnbheara's tastes. Why should Cormac be any different? Maybe he thinks Cormac will like him better if he's a virgin. Maybe he wants to present himself as one for his own comfort, because his other experiences weren't consensual the way this one is, and he wants to let himself experience sex with Cormac as something wholly new and special. Is it dishonest for him to do this? Well, I guess that depends on what your standards are in a relationship. Personally, I think he's allowed to keep a couple of secrets.

So why doesn't he just call himself bisexual? Why the confusion?

I think, for Sean, homosexual desire and sex are all tangled up in trauma, which makes it hard for him to consider them clearly. From the outside, it seems pretty obvious he's bisexual: he likes and dates women, but he also likes and dates men. Having him attracted to at least Ángel and Cormac suggests there's a tendency in him to like men, even if he prefers women in general. However, Sean can't be as objective as we can. Admitting his desire or acting on it brings up painful memories and lots of confusion. We know from the little we see in "Cruce de Caminos" that he's basically forced into sex work by his circumstances, and that the men he deals with are at times humiliating, abusive, and one even rapes him. If you've read "Ulterior Motives", the free short I wrote about Sean, you'll also know that before he entered sex work, he had another "gay" experience, this time with a sexual predator who groomed and abused him before he escaped. Since he's so young in this story, that makes this experience really formative in his development, so no wonder gay desire has bad associations for him. Maybe if neither of these things happened, he'd be more comfortable calling himself bisexual and acknowledging his desire for men. Maybe he'd have had more genuine gay experiences, even dated other guys before Cormac, or even acted on his interest in Cormac earlier and without the same degree of confusion and denial.

Our experiences make us what we are just as much as our genetics, though, which is why for Sean things can't be cut and dried.

Got any other questions, either about Sean or about the book in general? Ask 'em here!

Thanks for reading! :D


  1. No questions... since it's still lingering in my to-buy list.

    I just wanted to say. Well Said!!!
    A very clear and level headed article.
    I especially liked the GFY distinctions.

  2. Interestingly (to me anyway :)) I never saw Sean as GFY but as someone who is unaware of/out of touch with his own desires. In part, his life has distanced him from his own body and not made it easy for him to choose who and what he wants. I wonder if I came to this view because I read Cruce de Caminos first?

  3. No idea why I don't follow your blog, but Is tumbled upon this entry while looking for "Galway Bound"s word count (which isn't related but I'm sleep deprived which means my filter isn't just malfunctioning, it's been left in the closet under a pile of dirty laundry).

    Really like this post. I think Sean is a great example of not-straight and the confusion that surrounds it, and I think this is an exemplary description and fleshed out idea.