Finding Religion

‘American Gods’ Just Aired TV’s Most Explicit Gay Sex Scene Ever

Starz’s timely adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods depicts two men having explicit (and, yes, very hot) gay sex. And the men also happen to be Muslim.

Jan Thijs

American Gods has been called, by various critics, “the most important show on TV,” a show that “couldn’t be more timely,” and, by The Daily Beast’s Melissa Leon, “a celebration of immigrants in the face of Trumpism.”

Adding to those superlatives—and underlining its importance—Sunday night’s episode featured the most graphic gay sex scene there has ever been on TV. And it happened to be between two men who are Muslim.

Progress is measured in watershed moments.

Billy Crystal plays the first openly gay TV character on Soap. Ellen is first the openly gay lead of a sitcom. Kurt and Blaine lose their virginity on Glee. Mitch and Cam get married on Modern Family.

“Gay” shows like Queer as Folk, The L Word, and Looking depict gay sex that is actually hot, How to Get Away With Murder features anilingus in primetime, and, now, two Muslim men go at it for four intense, romantic, boner-filled minutes on American Gods. (Folks, you see the boner.)

It’s incredibly sexy. And, yes, every second of it is important, down to the part where one guy ejaculates flames into the other.

The sequence in question occurs during a narrative interlude that introduces Salim (Omad Abtahi), a man from Oman who is in New York City selling tourist trinkets. He’s having a shitty day. He’s been waiting all day for a meeting with a guy who refuses to see him. It’s pouring outside. He can’t get a cab.

A taxi finally picks him up, and it is driven by an Ifrit (Mousa Kraish)—a supernatural figure in Middle Eastern stories and Islamic lore who is considered to be among the most powerful of jinns.

The other thing about an Ifrit: His eyes are burning flames.

The two vent to each other about their lives moving from the Middle East to New York. “They know nothing about my people here,” the Ifrit says. “They think all we do is grant wishes. If I could grant a wish do you think I would be driving a cab?”

They share an immediate, powerful compassion. They touch hands and it goes beyond just being sweet. It’s arousingly intimate.

Salim invites the Ifrit back to his hotel. In the elevator, they hold hands. Once in the room, the Ifrit showers and emerges from the bathroom with a towel around his waist. He drops the towel, the flames in his eyes start flickering intensely, and there it is: a full-frontal shot of his penis.

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That alone would be a milestone. But it’s just the beginning.

The Ifrit undresses Salim, who has tears in his eyes. “I do not grant wishes,” the Ifrit says. “But you do,” Salim replies.

Salim starts performing oral sex on the Ifrit, but he wants to kiss on the lips first. Then the thing you almost never see starts: Two naked men start making out on a bed. You see their penises; there is no clever or artful attempt to disguise them. As they roll around, you see the men as you would if you were in the room.

They start having sex. In multiple positions! By this point, it is already one of the most realistic depictions of gay sex that has been staged on a television series. When the scene gets its most graphic, however, is when it is forced to take a step away from reality—one would assume to adhere to television standards.

The action is transported to a faraway desert where Salim and the Ifrit become CGI versions of themselves in greyish silhouettes. They continue having sex with the Ifrit thrusting while Salim is laying on his back, the CGI version of his erection flopping against his stomach as the Ifrit eventually ejaculates flames into him.

All told, the sex scene lasts for four full minutes. Four minutes of explicit, erotic, meaningful, arousing gay sex.

When it was announced that American Gods was being adapted for TV, fans of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 book wondered whether the scene would be included in the series. For one thing, a screenwriter could conceivably cut interludes like the one involving Salim from the series entirely because they are not directly a part of the main narrative. Then, of course, there’s the graphic nature of the scene and TV’s traditional reticence toward gay sexuality.

Gay romance, specifically the physicalization of it, is certainly more visible now than it’s ever been. Same-sex couples kiss onscreen, even passionately. And where gay characters kissing then having sex was once never considered a possibility, or was simply alluded to with a cut of the camera, sex scenes are becoming more frequent as well.

But these scenes are certainly never as explicit or as long as the ones between straight couples. Mechanically, they are often… incorrect. Or at least unrealistic, in terms of how gay men actually have sex.

Depicting gay sex is still largely uncharted territory, both for the people producing the content and the audiences consuming it.

And when a show like Girls, with its Season 5 sex scene between Andrew Rannells’s Elijah and Corey Stoll’s Dill, does feature believable, for lack of a better word, “choreography,” it is often fleeting: mid-coitus, several thrusts, cut away.

Rarely is there foreplay, or disrobing, or the point of entry shown. (Looking and Queer as Folk are exceptions, but two exceptions don’t disprove a rule.)

Sex scenes serve a dual purpose in narrative content like TV and film: to deepen characterizations and the story, and, yes, to titillate. When sex scenes between gay characters aren’t given the screen time necessary to develop, they don’t achieve the same sense of intimacy or insight, not to mention the same boner-popping sexiness.

But if a lengthy gay sex scene is rare, even rarer is one involving people of color.

We won’t go into the significance of this landmark scene featuring Muslim characters because, frankly, we aren’t educated enough on the nuances of that to speak on it.

But just as there was when Gaiman wrote his book, there is a significance to that scene now, particularly when you consider that, whether it’s a same-gender or mixed-gender pairing, there are few—and perhaps even no—instances of Muslim characters depicted as sexual on TV. Let alone in a scene like this one.

It should be no surprise, though it is certainly a shame, that this was the first sex scene, gay or otherwise, that Kraish, who plays the Ifrit, has ever filmed. “Sex scene aside, just seeing two Middle Eastern men represented in that way—with humor and love and joy... It’s taken me 11 years to get to that,” he said at a GLAAD-hosted panel for American Gods last week.

American Gods was clearly never going to shy away from graphic sex scenes. That much was clear from the first episode, which depicted the goddess Bilquis enveloping a man having sex with her into her vagina, just as it was portrayed in the book. But the truth is, this is still a culture that would see that as television-appropriate but not two guys screwing.

Maybe that theory is owed to the fact that this is still largely uncharted territory.

For instance, Girls’ Andrew Rannells has spoken about how he had to serve as a sort-of on-set coach on the mechanics of two men having sex. Jonathan Groff, who starred on Looking, told The Daily Beast that some of his straight friends didn’t even know that gay men could have sex in the missionary position until they saw it on the series.

That perhaps makes the greatest case that, while it’s fun and all to see hot celebrities naked and having sex, these scenes can also be educational. It’s an example of why more of these scenes are needed to help normalize gay sex.

There is power in seeing yourself on TV. In seeing the possibility of pleasure. In seeing pleasure without shame. In seeing four minutes of two men having graphic gay sex on a show called American Gods.