‘Heteroflexibility’: the idea that two straight people can repeatedly have gay sex, but maintain a straight identity.
‘F*** off,’ I used to think. ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it.’
I’ve felt this way for years. That is, until last night.
No, I didn’t Netflix and chill with with a hetero – rather, I binge-watched season five of Black Mirror. (Alone.)
Like many LGBTI people, my favorite BM episode is San Junipero. In it, the younger avatars of two elderly women fall in love in a computer.
The episode was so beautiful and mind-expanding, it won an Emmy.
My favorite season five episode, Striking Vipers, has vaguely similar themes.
It doesn’t reach the lofty heights of its spiritual season three cousin, but it has blown my mind in bigger, broader ways.
Basically, it has me questioning everything I think I know about gender and sexuality – in a way no amount of babbling YouTube vloggers ever could.
As a boring 30-something cisgendered gay man at risk of becoming stuck in his ways, this is no mean feat.
‘A transcendently good time’
In Striking Vipers, hyper-masculine straight bros Dan and Karl (Avengers: Endgame’s Anthony Mackie; Aquaman’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) have virtual gay sex via a video game.
So far, so basic. Indeed, it could be a porn film – and probably will be soon.
Complicating matters, however, is the fact Karl, who’s single, plays the game as a female character, Roxette (portrayed on-screen by Pom Klementieff). Meanwhile Dan – who’s in an opposite sex marriage and is a father to an infant son – plays as a male character, Lance (Ludi Lin).
The virtual sex is between a man and a woman. It’s also transcendently pleasurable for the men experiencing… and there’s a romantic dimension, too.
The strangeness of the scenario freaks Dan out, and he retreats back to his wife. Karl, however, continues to experiment, having sex with an array of strangers/characters.
But nothing beats the thrill of Dan-as-Lance. And ultimately, Dan feels the same about Karl-as-Roxette.
‘”Just shut up and kiss me, man”‘
After a mind-blowing digital/sexual reconciliation, Karl-as-Roxette confesses her (his?) love for Dan-as-Lance.
Karl decides to settle things once and for all, and orders Dan to kiss him in real life, so they can put that love to the test. (‘Just shut up and kiss me, man,’ he demands).
Just when you think you know what’s going to happen next – surprise – the guys feel nothing.
‘Dan and Karl’s affair is situational’
At first, I was almost infuriated, unconvinced. ‘Where’s the guy-on-guy action I was waiting for?!’ I asked the TV.
Then, the penny dropped. The point of the story being told – at least, I think – is far more interesting than the cliched ‘straight guys try gay sex and become gay, bi, or remain straight, or whatever else.’
Although there’s chemistry between them in real life, it’s only when Dan and Karl merge with Roxette and Lance they find that sexual and romantic balance.
Whatever that undeniable connection that exists between them as men, it isn’t physical – it’s digital, situational and I’d say spiritual.
And somehow, it’s heterosexual.
‘Total conviction and confidence’
As with most Black Mirror stories, by the end, the scenario in question feels entirely plausible, if not totally inevitable at some point in the near future.
The success of the episode is furthermore elevated by how amazing it looks – the gaming sequences with Roxette and Lance are fantastical– plus the magnificent, utterly convincing performances of the two lead actors.
Anthony communicates the fear and panic that often goes hand-in-hand with sexual exploration quietly and beautifully.
Yahya, by contrast, goes in the opposite direction: all thirsty, uncontainable excitement, delivering even the most far-fetched ideas and dialogue with total confidence and conviction.
I can’t overstate the effect of this Black Mirror episode.
From heteroflexibility to bromance to the idea of a ‘straight guys going gay’ without having to put a label on it, the story has created space and tolerance in my perception of sexuality that there before.