Navigating the sticky space between the old queer landscape and the new.
I am a young gay man living in New York City, and I’m supposed to be having the most sex of my life (that’s what the TV shows and the Butt magazines and the overheard conversations at the gay bar tell me, anyway); but the reality is that I haven’t felt close to a man in a very long time. Sometimes I worry that I am wasting my youth in a city full of people who are hotter than me. If I moved to a small town in Arkansas, there’d be, like, one other out, gay person there, and he’d be forced to be my boyfriend. That sounds nice, doesn’t it?
I think what it boils down to, is that I’m scared. I’m scared of intimacy. I’m scared of the kind of feelings that arise at 5 AM when you’re in bed with someone you love and just want to fuck the daylights out of them before getting up and getting your gay coffee together in your gay neighbourhood and then meeting your gay friends for your gay brunch. All of it just sounds very overwhelming to me, even if it’s often the only thing I could ever want for myself.
I don’t know. I think I am just bad at being gay.
It is last year in the dead of winter, and I am on a college-speaking tour at some fancy Ivy League on the East Coast. A few months earlier, I had tweeted something like “Hey, do you want me to come speak at your college? Email me!” and was shocked to see my inbox inundated with offers. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last month or two: flying all across the country to speak at schools about, well, whatever they want me to. It’s fucking amazing and my parents don’t get it and I don’t get it, but at this point, I’ve learned to not ask any questions.
After my “talk” (read: I tell jokes and encourage people to go out and do some coke at a house party rather than work on their “personal brand”), I go out for some drinks with the students. I used to laugh at this idea of life after college being, like, “the real world” because, if that’s true, what does that make life before graduation: a very expensive hallucination? But after speaking at numerous schools across the US and even at one in Canada, I’m starting to understand it. College is a summer camp. College is four years of trying to fuck, eating poorly, and loving awful things. It’s like a big ball of cotton candy that’s been infused with Adderall and low self-esteem, and you know what? I love it. If I could bottle the essences of these 20-year-old college students and drink it, I would.
So, I’m sitting here with a bunch of these young, ripe students and feeling sort of angry at life for having made me different and harder than them in the last three years. The drinks are winding down, and I’m anxious to head back to my hotel. Then it happens. A boy comes up to me and introduces himself. He’s wearing salmon-colored pants and has an “I’m going to have sex with you in two hours so just accept it” grin on his face. I’m into it. (Please note that on these college-speaking tours, I rarely hook up with someone. However, sometimes these young men would be over the age of 21 and hotter than any guy I’d ever slept with, and, Jesus Christ, I’m not that bad at being gay.)
The boy has kind eyes and we’re talking, but I’m not entirely sure what about. As we leave the bar, we start making out in the street, and he asks me if I’d like to go back to his dorm room, which, let’s be real, is a sentence that hasn’t been uttered to me in at least four years.
I tell him no and then I tell him yes, but then I tell him no again. Finally, I’m just like, “OK.”
He walks me through his little college town and then through a series of gates and ID swipes reminiscent of the Get Smart intro until, finally, we reach his door. I enter his dorm room expecting a shit box like the one I lived in at San Francisco State or Eugene Lang. This is an Ivy League school, though, and the boy’s room is straight out of Felicity or some other unrealistic college TV show. I’m obsessed.
I go to sit on his bed, and he talks to me casually while stripping down to his underwear. I’m shocked by his forwardness and feeling shy about showing him my own body so I say, “Whoa, whoa. Let’s slow down.”
He looks at me, confused, and says, “Oh no, I’m just doing this because I’m tired and want to lay in bed. Is that cool?”
So he does. He lays in his twin bed with me and we make out a little, and I feel his ass underneath his boxers – which feels so nice and tight, by the way – and I’m getting hard but we’re also playing that game people play when they’re kind of both too tried and drunk to really commit to a sexual act, so they just blue-ball each other until someone decides to either pass out or make an actual move.
It’s getting late, and he asks me if I want to sleep over. “I’m exhausted,” he tells me. “I had to be in DC this morning. Do you mind if we just cuddle and go to bed? I want you to stay.”
He really does want me to stay. I can tell. People lie about these sorts of things all the time, so when it’s actually genuine, you get it. But the thing is, I don’t want to stay. I don’t want to stay because I don’t know if I’ll like him the same at 8 AM as I do at 4 AM, and part of me just wants to keep him preserved in this moment. I also don’t want to leave my comfort zone, which, at this point, has acted as a chastity belt.
I know that I need to do things differently this time, though, so I agree to spend the night. He smiles and shuts off the lights, and then we spoon. His body immediately relaxes, whereas mine tenses up. Lying there, in this dorm room where everything feels foreign to me, a million thoughts pass through my head – none of which are, You deserve this. You deserve to feel close with someone for at least one night. So, after a few minutes of feeling violently insecure, I decide to leave.
“I have to go,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t understand. I’ll walk you back to your hotel tomorrow morning. Just come back to bed, OK?”
“No, I can’t.”
I’ve pulled this disappearing act with many boys before, but I’ve never had someone be so genuinely perplexed as to why I just couldn’t make it through the entire night with them. I mean, it’s a perfectly understandable question: “Why not?” And yet I can’t answer it for him. All I know is that I’ve been sexually active for almost ten years now and still find myself doing the same things that have kept me alone.
I read gay sex stories in magazines, talk with other gay men, read some queer poetry from the 70s, and I am always overcome with a feeling of envy afterward. People are better at being gay than I am. Everybody is having more sex. How is it so easy for some gay men?
These are, of course, ludicrous thoughts to have. After all, there is no right or wrong way to be gay. You cannot be graded on your homosexuality, although I’m sure many judgmental queens try to do so. And I also know that, to a certain extent, I am not alone in having these types of feelings. I’ve spoken with all kinds of gay men, many of whom have copped to struggling with loneliness, feeling desirable, and a general fear of commitment (even though we might say we want a boyfriend). With the current generation of gay men, there’s a constant pull between the old queer landscape and the new. What it meant to be gay ten years ago when I came out of the closet is not what it means today. So much has shifted, and it seems like we’re all just trying to play catch-up and process the changes without regressing into the old traps that have been set for us by previous generations.
Intellectually, I know that I’m not bad at being gay because that’s insane and doesn’t make a lick of sense. One thing I do know for certain, though, is that I, and many others, suck at believing we deserve love. And the longer we reject intimacy – gay or straight – the more damaged we become.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanoconn
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