You might recognize Michael Alvear as the host of HBO’s The Sex Inspectors, the make-over show that tackles the sex lives of couples across the nation. Alvear also pens a sex column, The Sexorcist, doling out ultra-honest advice that’s earned him the nickname “the Gay Agony Uncle.” With his unique experiences, he’s learned a lot about male sexuality and isn’t afraid to share those insights.
So, Michael, what is missing in the discussion of male sexuality? What bothers you?
The one thing that absolutely bugs me in the gay world isn’t a question of “Are you a top or a bottom?” it’s “How masculine are you?” I don’t believe in identifying yourself through a sexual position. You now have and excruciatingly detailed account of what you are supposed to be like in bed, and God help you if you are not that way.
That’s an interesting observation.
Have you ever noticed that you don’t hear jokes about masculinity? The typical standard, derisive joke is, “Oh, there are nothing but bottoms in this town. He’s nothing but a big bottom.” If you want to see how masculinity and femininity are played out in the straight world, you only have to see how it is played out in the gay world. Top and bottom is really nothing but masculine and feminine. In ancient Greece and in Rome, homosexuality was accepted—but only if you were the top. The proscription against homosexuality was not about men having sex with men. It was about men not acting like women. Romans had a word for that literally translates to: “He who penetrates but is not penetrated.”
So, that is why, as an un-reconstructed feminist, when gay people make a distinction between top and bottom, what they are really making a distinction between is men and women, and they have absorbed the societal prejudice that men are strong/women are weak. From an intellectual standpoint, I rebel against it—and now I’m just on my soapbox.
Sex writing is a field that seems to be dominated by women, but when guys are visible, they’re often gay. Why do you think that’s the case?
When I was selected to be the co-host of Sex Inspectors, they didn’t come out and say, “We want someone who is gay,” in so many words, but they did. I think that part of it is when they screen-tested guys there is an “ick factor” with straight men. If a [straight] guy talks about sex to a girl, there’s a sense that there is a hidden agenda; that there’s a facade of education that’s hiding some kind of desire.
In a lot of ways, it boils down to assumption that all straight men are potential predators.
“Hidden agenda” is a nice way of saying predator-like. For the show, I also think it’s one of those things where women get to be around male energy without the male gaze.
What do you think of the stereotype that male sexuality is “more simple” than female sexuality?
There’s this sense that male sexuality is immune to rejection: that we will just keep coming back over and over. But I’ve seen from the show a lot of ways women mistreat guys. This couple—only in their twenties—had kids, and were hardly having sex. The video showed that he’d put his arm around her and she’d fling it off. In her mind, that was the first step to sex. This guy was so beaten down. He felt rejected, abandoned. So I asked her: “How do you reject Mark when you don’t feel like having sex?” She said, “I’m very thoughtful about it, and I just say, ‘I’m not in the mood.’” So I said, “Can I show you what you do?” I had her put her arm around me and I smacked it away. I said, “Can I tell you a secret?” I leaned in and I whispered in her ear, and she started bawling. The boom didn’t catch it. The directors and producer were all going, “Oh, my God!” They’re thinking, Did he call her a fat cow? All I said was: “Men have feelings, too.”
I think the media’s portrayal of male sexuality…it’s either the jock, the big shot, the action hero—someone who busts through doors. Sometimes the way women treat men is Kryptonite to male sexuality. And too often, we don’t see that because that is not how our construct of male sexuality is made. It’s indomitable, it’s Superman—and that is just not true.
Where did you get your information about sexuality when you were growing up?
I learned from my older brother—and he didn’t teach me much. I had a really hard time coming out. I went willingly to therapy to try to change at 19. My story is not of being born sexually free. For me it was one hard slog.
What have you learned about male sexuality since then?
There’s always that sense with males that you are either good guy or bad guy. It is the struggle to attain security through marriage, relationships, kids—and on the opposite, excitement particularly sexual excitement. People think men have to be one or the other, when in fact we are both. There is an inner conflict brewing in almost every man about how to do that. So if you take the Tiger Woods example, I like to say that we are all Tiger Woods, spelled, “W-O-U-L-D-S.” There is a part of us that admire the ability to screw whoever you want. What we don’t admire is the sacrifice for all of the other aspects we like: security, nurturing, intimacy.
Like a male Madonna/Whore complex?
With men it is more like you’re robot; you just want a hole to fuck, and if you do that you can’t possibly love or be in a relationship.
What do think about the concept of masculinity? Is it important? It’s easy to point fingers at the Metrosexual trend, but it really seems masculinity is not so much in vogue.
Masculinity has evolved. We are no longer a hunter/gatherer society, and the further we move away from that, this old concept of masculinity just cannot get nurtured the way it was before. You can be a primped, plucked and pumped up gym-rat and be just as masculine as the lumberjack with hair on his back. I see gain, not loss. For instance, the new man says, “She comes first.” Why is that less masculine than the guy who is gonna throw her around? If a guy spends the time learning about a woman’s hot spots and how to activate them at the expense of him busting first, that to me is the new masculinity that should be praised.