Extracurricular: not-so-straight talk

Peter Jackson

Chris Horvath sat on one side of the Ryan Auditorium stage, but he says he prefers to be the “meat in the middle.”

That’s the sort of comment that flies at psychology professor Michael Bailey’s “gay panel.” The professor backs off as panel veterans like Horvath answer anything – anything – the audience throws at them. The inevitable truisms are there, (“No, you won’t enjoy anal sex the first few times.” “Yes, sorry, we prefer big dicks.” “Yes, we always knew we were gay.”) but this is much more than a question-and-answer session. Funny, insightful and diverse, the men have grown close and become friends – and sometimes more.

But that’s not how it started. Horvath, a middle-age Illinois State University professor, pitched the idea of an open forum for students to Bailey, who first made it an optional after-class session for his Human Sexuality course 12 years ago. Not surprisingly, it caught on – mostly because the panelists will answer any question with candor.

Take Horvath’s responses at Monday’s session. Spit or swallow? “Spitting is rude. It’s so rude.” Gay marriage? “The most stupid thing I’ve ever heard in the world. It would do the same thing to us that it’s done to straight people – (make) only one type of relationship legitimate,” he says. “It would be a loss of freedom and diversity.”

For a time, Horvath’s take on homosexuality was all students got. Then he and Bailey brought on other panelists, and now, Horvath’s opinions are spliced with other voices (this year, there were seven men on stage.) “Most gay people would find that to be heresy,” panelist Jace Cunningham said of Horvath’s gay marriage comments. “If my partner is hospitalized, by law I have no right to see him,” he said. “Call it what whatever you want; I want all the legalities that go with it.” (He also had a different take on the spit-swallow divide: “Just on my face, that’s fine.”)

When the panel debuted, students were less receptive to answers like Horvath’s. “There was a time when I noticed more discomfort among heterosexual men, and perhaps even a little hostility,” Bailey says. “I don’t anymore.” Attendance has only increased over the years as the voices have grown more diverse. This year’s session represented a panoply of ages, races and gay subgroups, comprising self-described twinks, circuit gays, bears and, as Horvath suggested, non-conventional relationships.

Panelists Tom Clark and Mark Lyons, bears both, have been in an open relationship for many of their 17 year union. Together, they have had more than 600 sex partners.

“We were really open with each other,” Clark says. “When we did have sex with others, we really had to talk about it, like, ‘How do you feel? Are you jealous? Are you mad?’ ” he says. “We found out it didn’t matter. It was just a physical act that had absolutely nothing to do with our relationship or our love for each other.”

But down the row assembled on stage, it was the younger men who seemed more monogamous. “I do know more gay couples in their 20s who are monogamous,” a former NU student named Mike says. “It may just be that since gay people are more recognized as having normal relationships now, they want more of a heterosexual-style relationship.”

Still, several were willing to separate sex and love. “One of the great things about being gay is that you can be hanging out with a friend and be like, ‘Wanna watch TV?’ ‘No.’ ‘Wanna go for a drink?’ ‘No.’ ‘Wanna blow me?’ ‘Sure,'” says Todd, a 28-year-old hairless twink who dabbled in the mélange of sex, drugs and dancing that is the circuit party scene.

And by the end, students were curious if the panelists had ever hooked up. “The answer is most definitely yes,” Horvath says with a chuckle; one of the bears, speaking in first person plural, ‘fessed up as well.

“I have not had sex with anyone on the panel,” Mike, the former NU student, says. “Chris has tried, several times, and I bet he’ll try again tonight.” Cunningham also denied having had sex with any of the guys.

“But,” he added, “Margarita later.”