Navigating your libido is hard work. Add depression to the mix, and your experience as a gay man is challenged.
“Oh you just download Grindr, that’s it right?”
I heard this from a colleague when the lads from work and I were having dinner the other week. To me, nothing epitomises that very real connection between gay men and sex. When the age of consent debate was happening in the UK in the early 90s, critics were quick to point out that there is, for the heteronormative mainstream, a firm (no pun intended) association between gay men and sex, and a focus on sodomy – anal sex – overriding fundamental human desires such as love and intimacy with another person.
For people like me, that person is someone of the same gender. As a gay man, I feel this burden upon me almost constantly to be free and flirty and to be getting funky with it on a regular basis. Perhaps it doesn’t help I’m in a group chat with a bunch of Grindr-using, gay club-attending homosexuals (who are all lovely), but I always feel at odds with them, especially as, for me, they’re a microcosm of the gay community. Inside and out of this world, there is an expectation for sexual liberation like it was 1976 again and AIDS never happened. I could talk at length about AIDS stigma as a homosexual male but that’s a completely different diatribe. The reason I feel near-constant distance from myself and the rest of the gay community is, ironically, something that, as empirical evidence has shown, is shared with many queer people: depression.
How can I have sex when I feel, to sound cliché, nothing? I know this is very TMI but I don’t even get morning wood. My penis and I are not communicating, like a married couple sharing different beds – not that there is anything to communicate with. An ordinary assessment of this situation would be to assume that my overcast mind is now being properly rained upon because I can’t function sexually on top of everything else. But there’s no core urge, no drive, no wild sense of lust. Perhaps it’s because I endured four breakups every year since about 2013.
I’ve never been much of a voracious “hornbag” as someone joked the other day, describing myself more as a cuddler – cute af, I know. But I digress. Perhaps I’m affected differently than other people, or perhaps I don’t use sex as a means to achieve a quick emotional fix after a breakup like scores of other people I know. Hell, my last ex said he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship but less than six months later he was dating someone else. Go figure. My current former partner, who only broke up with me just over a month ago (as of August 2), told me he’s been on a date and has been getting with random guys (like didn’t need to know but thank you anyway).
It’s a strange feeling, again ironically, to feel almost nothing at all – though usually I can laugh, and absolutely love to. Perhaps it’s my curse. The best times of my life have been spent with wonderful, gorgeous, compassionate women. The people I’m closest to in my little creative writing course clique are women – although one is non-binary but previously identified as female.
Either way, I love them all. I love animals, too. My cat, Cooper, is my best friend and has kept me coming in the last month every day since the first moment of the breakup. Unconditional love.
True, I’m not without fault. This last breakup has taken perhaps the heaviest toll – immediate and shattering. I’m still not certain if that’s worse than the protracted trauma following a previous nine-month relationship sending me to therapy in 2016, two years after things ended. My former partner and I were together basically a year so it’s miraculous I’m doing this well. But I still know I’m different – despite sharing what many other queer people have in common with me, which unfortunately is mental illness.
It doesn’t matter whether I’m interacting with heterosexual men, which is pretty much my whole department at work, or whether I’m engaging with some fellow gays: I still feel that distance. But at the same time, I’ve learned to embrace it; I’ve become accustomed to it and comfortable with who I am. I’ve always enjoyed being different, and thoroughly enjoy being gay. Even though some people have tried to tell me I should be ashamed about it, I never have – and yes, I have had that argument with some dickhead at uni. But I digress.
Gay men are intrinsically linked to sex, which is why it was so pure and heart-warming to see depictions such as the blossoming relationship between Isak and Even, for example, on the Norwegian show Skam. I could use other examples, and most of them are from European cinema which tends to inhabit a softer, more intimate gaze of its queer characters. This link between sex and gay men isn’t going away anytime soon, but I thought I’d add my two cents as someone who doesn’t fit that mould – even though I’m immediately expected to because of my sexuality. Thankfully, as with the rest of human society, not everyone is exactly alike.
Words by Stuart Jefferies.
Image by Poppy Fitzpatrick.