We are supposed to feel bad about profane sex, and uplifted about sacred sex. Just take a quick look at all the ads and stories about marriage in women's magazines. Marriage is the ultimate goal of sex. Man and wife can fuck all day, and their friends and parents smile indulgently. But any other form of sex, ending with male-to-male sex at the bottom of the rankings, is 'disgusting', 'dirty', 'immoral' to varying degrees. Yet it's the same part A into slot B. In one set of circumstances it's desirable, wonderful, ecstatic and uplifting. In another it's grubby or worse. Huh? And this entirely confected vision of 'good' sex and 'evil' sex contaminates and spoils all forms of sex, even the holy matrimony kind, because it means you always have to be careful to keep your actual sex uplifting. By doing it in the dark perhaps? Or only in the missionary position? Oral sex is profane. Anal sex evil. But the missionary position is... sanctioned by the Lord. This nonsense is especially pernicious to gay relationships. We struggle against the silent or noisy disapproval of society, but the unsaid and implicit values make us doubt ourselves, even if we are not aware of it. We can't have vaginal sex, because we both have cocks. Struggling with our own self-esteem, our own self-worth, we accept society's implicit valuation of our sexual relationships. Society thinks our sex is profane. And if it is profane, what is the point of bonding, of being fond of our sparring partner, of taking the trouble to care? So we cum and go.
But there is more than one force colliding here.
Another arises because it is so hard to meet another gay man in a “normal” context. You can meet men, but you don’t know if they’re gay and they don’t know you are. If you make advances at a straight man you can be reviled or beaten up. If you work hard at developing a friendship with a man in the hopes that it will prove to be love, you run the risk that he may turn against you when you tell him you're gay, or, accept it but make it clear that he “just wants to be friends”, leaving you with the broken heart. So the 'natural' process of getting close to someone—the process straights have—can’t occur, except in an all-gay environment, or one where gays are completely accepted—the theatre, perhaps, or ballet. In our society, confessing that you’re gay is enough to distance most men. So we (gay-shaded men) are exaggeratedly careful not to touch other (apparently straight) men. We are careful not to be too intimate, to stand too close. This taints our relationships with straight men as well as with gay men. Which is why gay bars exist: it’s good to let your inhibitions go—though, even there, many don’t, hidebound by their (our) cultural taboos. You know that the blokes in the bar are at the gay end of the spectrum. The problem is that gay bars are primarily pick-up places. Perhaps in gay quarters in major cities there are bars which cater for gay clients, but which are otherwise not much different from “ordinary” bars. The lights are normal, there’s a pool table, and it’s just a bunch of guys. But most gay bars I’ve been to have been meat racks. Where you can't use the toilets because guys are fucking in them.
After a while, we become conditioned to enjoy the process of picking someone up. The chase and the sex becomes paramount. Not the friendship, not the companionship. It’s exciting to single out a guy, to make the approach, to take him home, to fuck him and be fucked. And then you exchange phone numbers in the morning without either of you meaning to get together again. Any male body will do—his is just one of many possibles. When I first started out on the meat rack circuit, I naïvely thought that they meant the nice words they said, that we had at some level become friends. Wrong. Yet soon I was no different—though I ached inside. These are the unwritten laws of the culture. I won’t call it “gay culture”, because there’s so many more varieties than this one. But if you are the only gay you know, and closeted, you learn how to “be” gay in the cum-and-go culture. You think that that’s the way it is. How else is a young gay man to be accultured? Not just a rhetorical question. It’s up to us older guys to show young gay men that there are other ways to be gay. There’s a role for “wise old queens”, as Ethan Mordden puts it. Which is not to suggest that all the older gays around are queens. I speak for myself—and I'm far from wise.
The third force operating here is that men—or at least younger men—want sex much more often than women do. Clichés and generalisations, I know—and my lady gets furious with me if I say this. Consider oxytocin. It’s a hormone that among other things appears to be implicated in bonding: mother to baby; lover to lover. I read somewhere that women’s levels of oxytocin build during the course of the evening, over dinner and coffee and chat. Men’s rise sharply during sex but soon subside afterwards. That’s why a woman will tell you she loves you over dinner, a man (if at all) as he cums. If you put two gay-ish men together, then sex will likely form a much more important part of their relationship than it would between a man and a woman, or between two women. There are obvious exceptions. Matt and Andy from Cross Currents, Petey and Danny in Map of The Harbor Islands, the protagonists in It Started With Brian, all were friends first and lovers afterwards. My guess is that these relationships will be as enduring and rock solid as any het marriage. Because they started with love first and sex after, the sex became holy. I believe that men can love very deeply. Most men, most straight men, anyway, love another man 'with pure hearts' (that split between sacred and profane sex again), and never take their love beyond the deeply emotional. Yet those who do must experience the deepest love between men: sexual, emotional, spiritual.
If you see the way many straight men behave with their pickups, you can see the roots of the cum-and-go culture. Straight guys can be just as offhand and indifferent to their women the morning after as any gay man with his fuck from the night before. The goal for both kinds of men is the fuck, not a permanent relationship. So, when you combine the dynamics of external and internal homophobia with a (biologically determined?) predilection for sex and lots of it, and you get a remarkably dysfunctional culture. Again, I emphasise that this is only part of “gay culture”, whatever that is. And it only works when you’re young. (Who needs an invisibility cloak? Just be an older guy and go into a gay bar. You disappear from view.)
There’s an irony in all this. Straight men can be very close to each other. Obviously, I don’t know from personal experience, as a gay-ish outsider, but I can see it in others (my sons, for example) and the more thoughtful and eloquent straight friends I know have talked about their experiences often. In a rational world, two male friends would not regard it as a big deal to take the friendship to another level, thus combining the drive to fuck with the profound need for friendship. But they would be coming from the affection/love end of the relationship, not the I-need-to-get-my-rocks-off end. And I believe that would make all the difference.
So what do you do if you are an old, ugly, lonely gay, and the only way you’ve ever connected is via the meat rack network? I dunno. I opted out of that, and got married. My lady and I are friends, very good friends. We love each other and are happy together. I am not lonely in the way a solitary man in a big city – which perhaps he went to because it had a gay quarter and let him be open about his sexuality with at least some people – would be. One good friend looks after a disabled gay man. He does it because his friend’s family have discarded him. Disabled and gay? Too hard. My friend does it because he wants to put something back into the world. They’re not lovers. But at least he isn’t alone.
So maybe the place to start is to be friends first. Yet, the “culture” (or innate male drives) contend against this. Another friend, who has had no lover for years, said “there has to be chemistry” when I suggested that he just be friends with benefits with the gay guys he knows. But why? Is “chemistry” another term for hot tight butts and a 7-inch cock? The chemistry of Matt and Andy, Petey and Danny, Brian and Sam is not about looks or pecs or tight bum holes or big cocks. It’s about love. And – speaking as a mostly gay man who grew to love his wife and for that reason finds her sexy and desirable – isn’t love the key? So – and prolly I’m gonna piss off some people here, but tough – how much of the cum-and-go culture is our problem? Yeah, homophobia drives us gay-shaded blokes into this corner, nous autres as Mary Renault describes it in The Charioteer. But what can we do about it, to offset the pernicious influence of others and of our self-hatred? Maybe, it’s to be friends first. Not just acquaintances, but to care, about our community and the new people coming into it who need to learn to love. Maybe, if we are friends first, we can be more later. If we related to each other as people first, and as sex objects second, isn’t it possible that we’d find the love and companionship we long for? Then again, maybe that's impossible for men to do. Our curse: not the knowledge of the apple in Eden, but the desire for a fuck, no matter what, and its inevitable concomitants, loneliness and emptiness.
I can’t pretend to know the answers. My own life has been pretty fucked up. But what I've realised is that I must keep writing, because what I’m writing about is the alternative way of connecting with men , an alternative strand in gay culture (and it has many strands) which is about male bonding, about love, and how even plain people can be happy. It sounds presumptuous and pretentious to say that I can make a difference, but if all of us give up, then we definitely won’t change things. You must do what you can to make things better, with the people you know personally, and the world at large.