Our obsession with bro-jobs highlights the sexual limitations of identity politics, writes Simon Copland.
By
Simon Copland

5 May 2017 - 3:37 PM  UPDATED 5 May 2017 - 3:37 PM

Bro-jobs: they seem to be all the rage right now. 

There’s been an increasing interest in straight men who have sex with other men, with academic researchers and public authors trying to understand how these men justify their same-sex sexual practices while maintaining a straight identity.   

In a world of identity politics, the very idea of these men is confusing. How can they be so disconnected from their obvious homosexual, or bisexual, nature? Yet, in obsessing over these questions, we are actually highlighting an inherent contradiction of identity politics, one that limits - rather than expands - people’s sexual possibilities. 

Modern identity politics is based on a core concept: that, as Dan Gluibizzi says: “we should become aware of and 'celebrate' our differences.” With these differences framed largely through the lens of identity, this celebration of difference has led to an explosion of identifiers in the sexual world, with the LGBTQIA+ acronym expanding to become more and more inclusive of these identities. 

Yet, underlying much of this discourse is an essentialist ideal. While we're encouraged to celebrate our sexuality, we are also 'born this way'. Sexuality is not something we choose, but core to the very people we are. It is a box that we are born into, and in turn, one that shapes the very nature of our being from birth. 

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When straight-identifying men have sex with men, society so often becomes confused—not because this act is so strange, but rather, because these men are engaging in practices that fall outside the identity boxes that we have defined. 

In an article called “Stop calling ‘straight’ men who have sex with men straight”, the author argues that calling these men straight leads to 'bi-erasure'. He goes on to say that while these men may not claim bi-identity, what they're engaging in sexually is "by definition, bisexuality." Building on this, he argues: 

Agency around identity labels is a cornerstone for the LGBT community. Allowing us to name ourselves as we see ourselves is important. Yet, there are times in which that agency allows groups of individuals to use their identity in ways that harm others in the LGBT community, whether directly or indirectly.

Identity politics, it seems, wants to have its cake and eat it too. Identity politics wants us to all have agency around identity labels, yet at the same time, if a man doesn’t fit into one of our defined boxes then he is doing this agency wrong, and in turn, somehow, hurting others at the same time.

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While this may seem like a natural response, it actually has the potential to be quite dangerous. Demanding that these men fit into the boxes we have defined says that they must fundamentally redefine a core part of who they are—quite a difficult thing to do. Shifting from 'straight' to 'bisexual' means coming out, changing relationships with those you love, being expected to join queer communities, and even expectations that you’ll change behaviour.  Saying that these men must do this is inherently limiting. It says that any sexual act you engage in says something intrinsic about your identity, meaning that if you want to have the sex you want to have, you have to change your entire perception of yourself. It is no wonder so many may not want to do this over the occasional bro-job.

Why can't we just let these men have the sex they want to have?

One of the most interesting aspects of these studies is that they highlight that - despite the dominance of identity politics within queer circles - many outside our circles are not obsessed with labelling every sexual practice they have. There seems to be quite a large cohort of straight men who are having sex with men, and despite our confusion, don't seem particular confused about it themselves. They're just having the sex they want to have.

So perhaps we should just let them do it. Their sex is not harming anyone, nor is their desire to maintain a 'straight' identity. The only people obsessed with how they identify is us, and for what are often confused and convoluted reasons.

Not every sexual act needs to be identified, coded and labelled. Not everyone needs to fit into one of the boxes we have created. In fact, in doing so we have likely limited the ability of people to have the sex they want to have, denying the differences that exist in our community. That is far more dangerous than a guy continuing to call himself straight after getting a bro-job from his best mate.