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Hi, my friend thank you for your blog and for opening my mind to subjects I wonder about. My question is I guess I have become an older mentor to a College Junior in my hometown. We met while he was working on a College assignment. Being 22 years older than him full disclosure I am in my early 40s. After he interviewed me for his assignment he turned off the recorder and the conversation went personal.
He admitted that earlier that same week he got “stealthed” by a local older man through a Grinder Hookup. The college guy admits freely that he hooks up because he is horny and who isn’t. And that he has hooked up with over 150 people in the past four years. I am not saying this for judgment I am just laying out the context.
At New Year’s I had him over for dinner and we talked during that conversation we discovered that he had also hooked up with a mutual acquaintance who is HIV positive. My young friend who started Prep after his stealthing encounter and a rather long and embarrassing trip to our local rural Emergency Room has gone through a terrible time with parents who tried to get him into conversion camp and just mental abuse. And he was raped his first year on campus here.
I feel as a community leader I need to do as much as I can and as a friend too. Besides being a kind ear, trying to arrange counseling, and connecting him with the nearest major metro men’s health clinic, what can I do? I don’t want to let him down and I want him to feel safe here. Plus I feel like it’s a duty to be nonjudgmental and supportive. What ideas do you have?
It sounds like you’re doing everything right. Being non-judgmental and supportive is the best course. Remember that his experiences may be very different from yours. New tech and rapidly evolving culture make for drastic differences in experience between different generations of gay men.
I know you’re worried about him, but he’s doing all the right things. He’s talking to someone (you) about his sex life and seeking support. He’s going to the clinic. He’s taking PrEP. Those are many responsible steps, particularly for someone who is still figuring all this out. He’s doing more to take care of himself than many men twice his age.
The trauma from homophobic families, sexual abuse, rape, and other horrible experiences that befall many young queer people do leave a mental and emotional residue. I don’t pathologize promiscuity — there’s nothing wrong with being hypersexual — but we do sometimes turn to sex as a coping mechanism. Many gay men try drugs, and there’s a plethora of reasons why substance misuse and alcoholism affect a disproportionate number of us. Culturally, we like to party, and many of us have rough childhoods.
But none of this is new. You already know all this. Men in your generation faced the same issues, the same trauma, and found outlets with the same activities and substances. Very little, I believe, has actually changed in terms of gay behavior and gay trauma between generations — my generation simply has better HIV care, thanks to your generation, and we have hookup apps. You survived to be the happy, put-together man you are now.
I say all this in order to convey a simple point: it’s okay for this young man to be a little messy. You can’t spare him the rough parts of Queer life or protect him from every harrowing pitfall. But you can be a presence in his life and simply exist as evidence that a gay man can make it and be happy. That’s the most powerful gift you can give him. That can save his life.
It’s good to listen and help where you can, but you also have to let him run a little bit. He will make mistakes, and he needs to. We grow through trial and error, wonder, and heartache.
The things you share with him — the seemingly universal gay experiences of family rejection and finding support among our own — are where you offer something vital. Your life is proof that being gay will seem less dangerous and more manageable someday. He needs to see that. He needs you in the same way I needed (and still need) my gay guides.
You can’t take him away from his parents, but you can be their antithesis — a safe space, a source of comfort and friendship. You can’t keep him from having sex with everyone in sight, but you can drive him to the clinic when he gets an STI (and he will). You can’t keep him from experiencing trauma, but you can point him in the direction of help. You can only support him — he has to do the leg work.
Tell him not to put himself under so much pressure, because pressure is all he knows. He’s been under pressure since before he can remember. Nearly every adult in his life, from the ones grading his papers to the ones he calls parents, has reinforced this pressure — pressure to be “normal,” pressure to be straight, pressure to do well — and he’s undoubtedly struggling with the idea that he might not make all these people happy. He’s at the beginning of chasing that elusive thing called happiness as an adult gay man, and this pursuit will likely take him into scary and thrilling places. That’s what he needs. There will be mistakes made along the way. There will be bad nights. Be a person he can call when those nights happen.
Thank you for being in the world.