Being gay is not a sexual orientation


With my research on Gay Men’s Identities I recently won the People’s Choice Award at the university finals of the Three Minute Thesis Competition at the University of Edinburgh. This competition was created by The University of Queensland with the aim of communicating widely and effectively the research conducted by PhD students around the world.

Being at the last stages of my PhD motivated me to participate in this competition because I thought, first of all, that I had enough material to actually know what my main argument was. Simultaneously,  this would help me to organize my thoughts and synthesize the contents of my work in the time frame that the competition requires: three minutes. But finally and most importantly, I wanted to share with a broader audience what I have come across during my research: that being gay is not the same than being homosexual and that gay is a term more complex than it could apparently seem.

This is the video of my participation in the competition and you can see the transcription below, so if you’re interested you could think with me or discuss with me what are your thoughts on the topic.

Thanks for reading, Edgar.


“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid
About what my future will be
And that people won’t like me.”
For the project ‘Humans of New York’,
This boy shared his story last year
With photographer Brandon Stanton,
Who collects stories and provides glimpses
Into the lives of strangers in New York City.
20 years ago I also believed that I was homosexual,
And I was very afraid of facing the world with that label.
It didn’t take me long to understand what homosexuality means
But now I’m interested in understanding what ‘being gay’ means.

[Difference between sexual orientation and gay identity]
Over five decades, psychology has defined homosexuality
And crafted the term ‘sexual orientation’.
But many of us have abandoned the label ‘homosexual’ long ago.
Because it has a history of pathologization and illegality
That reduces people’s subjectivities to a sexual aspect.
That’s why I think of ‘gay identities’ instead.

[Literature Review]
Research in this area has focused on the influence of broader social aspects such as: (1) national politics,
(2) The impact of mass media on the construction of gay identity,
(3) And the homosexual-heterosexual dichotomy.
The public portrayal of gay men is highly sexualized,
Often centred on phallocentric sex.

But I’m guessing that this boy,
While trying to understand his identity,
Was thinking about something else,
Not only sex, perhaps not even sex.

[Research Question and Methodology]
As in a personal odyssey across the UK
I travelled cities and towns
Listening to gay men’s narratives.
Through face to face, in-depth, unstructured interviews
I explored gay men’s experiences of erotic and romantic intimacy
And how through them we make sense of our identity

[What I’ve seen so far…]
Men from various ages and backgrounds told me
That ‘being gay’ means a hundred different things
Completely unrelated to sexual activity.
Being gay can mean (1) having had to leave home
When your mum turned her back on you
Because you love someone you were not supposed to love
(2) A history of loving in secret and years of oppression
–And that’s why this research is important;
Because a better understanding helps to eradicate
The verbal, emotional, and physical violence
That generations of gay people have experienced throughout their lives–
But being gay also means
(3) Intimacy and togetherness, and
(4) Delight in the eye candy
Looking at guys who never looked back;
And most importantly:
(5) There’s a suggestion
That through erotic and romantic relationships
These men are trying to make sense of their lives in a way they couldn’t before;
As if when looking for lovers,
They were looking for meanings.
Because when these men actually look back and reciprocate our desire,
Serve as an element to validate our identity and corroborate our very own existence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.