I call my neighbour Dom Top. He lives across the road and we both have windows the size of walls – it’s a window into two worlds. He tends to walk around his flat in tiny white boxers. When he does the dishes, he does them topless, even in winter, looking like a muscly gleaming panther, who’s up for action. But for the first time since sixteen I’m confused again. This muscly bro, with his bro mates, is giving me serious shag-based vibes. I suspect, though, he is straight.
Sometimes, Dom Top and his flatmate do lunges in their boxers while I’m writing, facing the factory-style windows of my flat and straight into the derelict-chic ones of his place. Sometimes, they stand together at the 6ft-high window, arms propped on the frame, their other hand cupped around their own balls watching people, like a lighthouse keeper with desires.
At least three times Dom Top has stripped naked while my friends are over for dinner, and done a 1am peep show of his cock and arse, silhouetted by stark fluorescent lighting, his disregard for the proprieties of Hackney life a tongue-lolling attraction. Why doesn’t he close the blinds? Maybe I’m at fault – the invader of Dom Top’s privacy. That, or he’s one of the many straight-identifying guys looking for a bro-job, that delicious phrase. And this is his courting ritual: a little wave between windows as if to say goodnight.
A bro-job is sex between boys who don’t necessarily identify as gay, or bi, or even bicurious. A sorta-extension of friendship, just a tad more physical. This might seem like that gay gym fantasy where the football team wank each other off, and maybe it is. One American study found that 2.8% of straight-identifying men had experienced oral or anal sex with a man. Let that sink in for a moment, in every way. There are some guys who have typically ‘gay’ experiences but don’t identify in anyway, well, gay.
Let’s face it – they’ve been around forever. When I was young there were a bunch of guys who either egged me on for the attention or who I got with in secret. I get it. It’s compartmentalised. For them it was sex on tap, without the consequences. I mean, there’s an app for it. Last year BRO was released. It’s ‘a social networking app that caters to heteroflexible dudes seeking bromances… and other things’.
A cursory flick through in search of Dom Top throws up an amusing tableau. I mean, I suppose they might look straight, but that’s the guy who runs a gay night in Dalston, oh and there is the guy I gave a hand job in The Joiners 3 years ago, and oh there is that bloke whose cock I saw on Instagram. Are they masquerading as ‘bros’ to fulfill some straight-fantasy? I’m not sure. They’re manicured and preened. Some are a bit rough around the edges in that lovely way, with straggly unshaven beards, but Grindr is a lot like that, too. ‘BRO goes beyond using labels, and is for men that are interested in meeting other men,’ the description reads. And, well, I suppose they sort of have a point.
In Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men, Jane Ward cracked open a hypocrisy at the centre of modern sexuality. Straight, typically white, girls can hold hands, and kiss other girls, without being called lesbian. If a guy does it, they’re typically labelled gay at first glance. Bro-on-bro shagging, as it were, isn’t confined to Greek myths or PornHub (thank god). Fraternity rituals, online ads for straight men looking to wank off with other straight men, and friends experimenting, are rife, and doesn’t automatically make the guys, well, gay. Rather, Ward says, it reaffirms their heterosexuality. By identifying these guy-on-guy hook-ups as meaningless it reinforces their straightness. Bully for them.
Question is, does it really? Look, some people want to just get off with a guy every now and then. Does it mean they’re suddenly looking for marriage, the bells and whistles? No. Maybe not. When I was young I chased girls around the playground wanting to snog them. But that’s it. I just wanted a snog. When I was a teenager I did stuff with my mates who are to all intents and purposes straight. There was a safe space there, between the lads. We touched. We fucking enjoyed it. We didn’t talk about it in public and haven’t since. But it happened more than once. We could all benefit from it. Just because you’ve sucked someone off doesn’t mean you’re suddenly half-gay. Maybe.
The other day, me and friends were outside the flat after shooting one of my videos for Grindr, where I’m poet in residence. I looked up to see Dom Top’s bulge pressed against his bedroom window (true story, I nearly died). He had the window open, leaning out. My friend Ashley called up. ‘You alright hun?’ Dom Top stuck up his thumbs and said, ‘You okay?’ Ashley replied: ‘Much better for seeing you.’ And my god he was right.
Max Wallis’s first book Modern Love was shortlisted for the prestigious Polari Prize. His new art book, Everything Everything, draws back the curtain on millennial sexuality in a world populated by swimming pools, piss and cum. It can be bought at max-wallis.com.