Not Gay

Sex between Straight White Men

240 pages

21 b/w halftones

July, 2015

ISBN: 9781479860685



Also available in


Jane Ward is Associate Professor of Women's Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author of Respectably Queer (2008). Visit her website at

All books by Jane Ward

A straight white girl can kiss a girl, like it, and still call herself straight—her boyfriend may even encourage her. But can straight white guys experience the same easy sexual fluidity, or would kissing a guy just mean that they are really gay? Not Gay thrusts deep into a world where straight guy-on-guy action is not a myth but a reality: there’s fraternity and military hazing rituals, where new recruits are made to grab each other’s penises and stick fingers up their fellow members’ anuses; online personal ads, where straight men seek other straight men to masturbate with; and, last but not least, the long and clandestine history of straight men frequenting public restrooms for sexual encounters with other men.  For Jane Ward, these sexual practices reveal a unique social space where straight white men can—and do—have sex with other straight white men; in fact, she argues, to do so reaffirms rather than challenges their gender and racial identity.           
Ward illustrates that sex between straight white men allows them to leverage whiteness and masculinity to authenticate their heterosexuality in the context of sex with men. By understanding their same-sex sexual practice as meaningless, accidental, or even necessary, straight white men can perform homosexual contact in heterosexual ways.  These sex acts are not slippages into a queer way of being or expressions of a desired but unarticulated gay identity. Instead, Ward argues, they reveal the fluidity and complexity that characterizes all human sexual desire. In the end, Ward’s analysis offers a new way to think about heterosexuality—not as the opposite or absence of homosexuality, but as its own unique mode of engaging in homosexual sex, a mode characterized by pretense, dis-identification and racial and heterosexual privilege. Daring, insightful, and brimming with wit, Not Gay is a fascinating new take on the complexities of heterosexuality in the modern era.


  • “Clear-eyed and unsqueamish, Not Gay defiantly insists that sex between contemporary American straight white men is in fact meaningful sex that can't—and shouldn't—just be hand-waved away. Jane Ward provides a timely and convincing corrective.”

    —Hanne Blank, author of Virgin: The Untouched History

  • Not Gay is nothing less than a breath of fresh air. This book is certain to change the way that we think about heterosexuality’s relations with the homoerotic.”

    —Roderick Ferguson, author of Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique

  • "This fascinating book explores the worlds of white men who have sex with other white men and yet identify as straight.”

    Pacific Standard

  • "Rather than focusing so much on sexual orientation, or trying to unmask the feelings of these men, who position themselves as heterosexual yet engage in same-sex sexual behavior, Ward turns her attention to the ways in which certain organizations use homosexual acts to further men's investment in heterosexuality, hypermasculinity and homosociality in order to build lasting, strong bonds and friendships and to reassert white manhood."


  • "Ward pays close attention to the ways in which white straight men justify their own sexual behaviors with other men.  She neatly breaks down common defenses given to 'explain' such actions...Ward is not arguing that these men are 'really' gay or bisexual.  Instead, her point is that what makes these men 'not gay' isn't their actions, nor the complicated and contradictory emotions that are involved in those actions, but rather, their commitment to straight, normative life."

  • "Ward's idea that our cultural understanding of men's sexuality has been way too simplistic for way too long is fundamentally sound and refreshing. Ward's reach suggests she's well on her way to enacting the change she intended with her writing. Greater understanding of any cultural phenomenon is only a good thing for the world."

  • "Ward’s book is confident and theoretically well-informed, and offers a rich, often counterintuitive and thought-provoking tour through straight white men’s homosexual activities and their shifting meanings – in history, in the military, in fan fiction, in French kissing among Hell’s Angel members, as well as in the accounts of pop psychological experts who assure straight men having sex with other men that they are not gay. In short, this is cultural studies at its best."

    Times Higher Education

  • “[…] Not Gay, an insightful treatise on the nature of heterosexual male interaction with other men, addresses many of the stereotypes and assumptions associated with straight and gay men.  The book also skillfully analyzes the often fluid nature of sexuality, race, privilege, and the taboo crossover behavior between sexually active men of opposing preferences.”

    The Bay Area Reporter

  • "Not Gay opens up a discussion of male sexual fluidity that is real and needed."

    Bitch Magazine

  • “The title of Jane Ward’s book is not meant to be ironic.  Her argument is that while sexual activity between straight white men does take place, it doesn’t mean that the participants are gay.  The book is about exploring the circumstances under which this situation can be said to arise.”

    The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review

  • "Ward's significant contribution to the current discourse on sexual fluidity lies in her deep reflection on how self-identified straight men construct an identity where context-specific, same-sex, sexual behavior can be incorporated into an otherwise white, straight, masculine identity."


  • "[Not Gay] provides a compelling and intriguing argument, that, rather than erasing queer identities, complicates the concept of identity itself."

    The Society Pages

  • “Ward presents a critical piece missing from GBLTQ studies: the examination of white homoerotic activity within heterosexuality...Ward exposes the cultural construct of heterosexuality as it applies to men and women, illuminating the patriarchal and gendered roles assigned to gay and not-gay men and women. […]  A valuable study for those interested in gender and GBLTQ studies.  Summing Up: Essential.”


  • “With a lot of nuanced arguments and a provocative, corrective thesis, Not Gay is undoubtedly a book that demands to be read.”

    Gender & Society

  • Listed on Gift Guide 2015: LBGT Titles to Round out Your Holiday Shopping Lists: “Plenty of straight guys have sex with other men while protesting vehemently that they are ‘not gay.’ This provocative book is an attempt to understand that phenomenon.”

    Gift Guide 2015

  •  “What I love about this book is that it expands our notions about what it means to be human.”

    Women’s Studies Quarterly

  • "A key contribution of the book is its documentation of the freedom and power enjoyed by straight white men to define what 'not gay' and 'real' homosexuality looks like and in what circumstances these terms are applied . . . well-written and direct in both its presentation and synthesis of a range of materials."

    Qualitative Sociology

  • “Ward writes with refreshing candor that other readers will likely appreciate… By drawing on multiple forms of evidence, she offers a fascinating reconsideration of how we think about men’s sexuality.”

    Men and Masculinities