Op-ed: Love in the Age of Headless Torsos
Modern technology has led to a virtual fast-food line for anything the modern gay man desires. Whether it’s takeout, a new pair of shoes, or a late-night guest we seek, all it takes is a few clicks of a finger. With shoes and takeout, our favorite phone app has only changed the way we order our latest craving, but apps with their GPS-based seach for men have all but revolutionized the approach we take to sex and dating. Of course, these apps have their rightful place, and there are plenty other more “traditional” approaches that gay men can take when dating. But has the app-based culture of stats, nudies, and decapitated men begun to spill over into the rest our dating lives and making everything else look a little cheap?
The gay culture has drifted further away from the values that a real relationship fosters, right as we are mere inches away from being granted the right to walk down the aisle. Yet we have gone so far in de-emphasizing our intellectual traits in mating and dating that we actually cut our heads off in order to attract a mate. This phenomenon may not be as directly apparent in the more traditional approaches to dating, but the culture of “sexual priorities” can still be felt.
Of course, these social media apps aren’t solely to blame for the overemphasis of the sexual in lieu of intellectual in gay culture. The nature of the hidden gay life has inevitably suppressed our abilities to function as fully realized beings. Unlike with our heterosexual counterparts, our “training years,” when we are supposed to learn the basics of dating, mating, and boundaries, are typically truncated. The duration of this relationship limbo depends on how long our closeted period lasts. But no matter how long we are kept in this proverbial holding pattern, there is one thing that has always come naturally … our sex drive. So when we finally get the chance to play house with members of the same sex, we typically head straight to the bedroom.
Yet after decades of many trials and travails of the gay rights movement, we are now recognized as a beautifully diverse and emotionally engaged component of society. Many gay relationships now serve as role models, giving single gay men hope for having a family, a fulfilling marriage, and a summer home that heterosexual couples can only achieve with an interior decorator.
Juxtaposed with this feat of accomplishment that seemed nearly impossible just years earlier is the general regression of the gay man’s dating game. The use of the likes of Grindr and Jack'd is one thing (and certainly neither sells itself as a dating site), but the context of leading with the physical in hopes of the emotional has most gay men spinning in circles.
For example, last week a very handsome man that I have known for some time asked me out to dinner. This dinner invite came through a much more respectable medium of communication — Facebook (which seems to me to be Grindr for gentlemen). I was ecstatic. It had been a while since a handsome, successful, and appropriately aged man had asked me on a real date. Not a “let’s meet for drinks” or “wanna come watch a movie” date, but a cloth-napkin, pick-you-up-at-8 date.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t but a minute before the little hearts that had started gathering around my head began to pop, one by one. I had only eliminated half of my closet in search of acceptable first date options when I was asked if I was a top or a bottom. This man had yet to discover my religious affiliation, whether or not I would laugh at his jokes, or if I was interested in the same type of movies as he was. Why bother with such trivial things if our percentages of top versus bottom are a mismatch? This question may be a necessary one when sex is the only thing on the menu. But in a dating scenario, there are many other factors that can indicate if there is a long-term sexual compatibility. Instead of figuring it out by the transgression of each other’s idiosyncrasies (and let’s face it, you can typically tell in about 20 minutes), we reduce ourselves to cavemen.
“Me, top only. You, bottom?”
I was not afforded the option to establish chemistry based on such trivial traits as personality and humor. He wanted to know if I was 70% bottom and if I had a picture of my ass. How did this happen with a man who was supposedly interested in getting to know me, and not just in the biblical sense? Easy — he and almost every other single gay man have been desensitized by hookup apps.
The date never happened.
There is a vast disparity between being able to enjoy sex as just sex and turning yourself into a virtual blowup doll with a day job. Physical attraction is an important part in the development of relationships past the point of platonic, but it has become a grossly overrated value in the gay culture. In order to develop a lasting physical relationship, the most essential characteristics far surpass the size of your member.
And the proof is in the morning after (or lack thereof). Sure, the sex was great and his six-pack and massive arms gave you the chills for about 20, maybe 30 minutes. Regrettably, his brain was about as dense as his abs and you politely usher him to the door just before that rerun of Law & Order: SVU comes on. This is fine for the man who truly is about as interested in a relationship as he is in going hunting with his cousins who live in the country. But how many gay men have passed this point only to let the customs of this mating ritual linger in their dating habits?
Love and sex are inevitably linked even though sex can appear on the menu a la carte. For too long, love in the gay community was scoffed at, second-guessed and considered altogether less than real, heterosexual love. Although we knew better, after a while the opinions of others can start to feel like truth. Maybe we assumed that true love was impossible in our oversexed, grass-is-always-greener environment. It’s hard to say whether this belief came from our own conclusions or from the judgments of others. But as we eagerly wait to hear one of the most important U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the history of the gay rights movement, we owe ourselves more than just a parade and a pat on the back. We owe it to ourselves to take the chance and establish a real bond with someone based on interests, values, and whether or not you can tolerate each other’s family members. And yes, even sex.
If sex is just what you are looking for, carry on. But if you are ready for something a little beyond the physical, start with some questions about where he grew up and what kind of movies he is into while you have dinner with all of your clothes on. And try to refrain from pressing send on the cock shots … at least until after you have seen it in person.
TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit Facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter at @iamtylercurry.