Hey Alexander, My name is Joel *******. I’m 28 and live in Fort Worth, TX. I’m looking for advice on sex and life issues. I’ve struggled with my sexuality for a long and am finally in the process of accepting myself. I say process because I think I’m dealing with some internalized homophobia and with having trained myself to contradict my own thoughts. It’s still hard for me to completely accept, so hopefully my new therapist will help me. But this is where I get self-conscious and embarrassed. I want to explore and experiment. But I’m a virgin. Actually, I’ve only kissed one person (I was hammered). I have no idea about how to go about talking with a guy to experiment. Again, I’m embarrassed. I also don’t think, emotionally, I could handle Grindr. And, I feel like I’ve wasted so much time in my life not being who I am and not hooking up when I was younger. With COVID being so high in my region, I don’t really feel safe going out either. Sucks. I could write a lot more but it’s probably better to keep this short. I’m not sure if this is the best medium to reach you, but I’d really like to hear your advice. And, if it’s okay with you, I’d like it if it were possible to have a back-and-forth. Thank you so much for your time, Joel *******
Joel, you sent a message to my Ask Beastly inbox and rules are rules. I get to post this. I do this for a reason: a back-and-forth is free emotional labor, and I feel it too much.
Before this format, I had private conversations with strangers and some were very dark. They reached out via Grindr or Scruff or sent messages on social media. Several told me they were thinking of suicide. The hardest talk was with a young man in South Africa who had tested positive for HIV, was kicked out for being gay, and had nowhere to go. I was so scared for him that I spent days looking up resources.
That was a lot for my mental health and I realized I needed to change tactic. This format lets me choose which questions to answer when I’m ready. I write answers in my own time and maintain enough distance to not overwhelm my life. And these posts can help others in similar situations who may be reading them.
While on the subject of self-care, let’s talk about internalized homophobia. It’s a living hell, one the world has made for you that you’ve absorbed into your self-image. It’s shame, and shame makes you unable to grow, communicate, or live happily. Shame is the enemy and you must actively battle it by seeking shamelessness in others and learning from your interactions with them.
I don’t know of an easy way to beat shame, but I see it as a sickness that’s treatable with overexposure to whatever it is you’re ashamed of. A lot of queer culture is campy and ridiculous and there’s a reason for that. The absurdity of drag and the loudness and gaudiness of pride events combat the shame we were all brought up with.
The truth is, you only have two options: you can embrace the fact that you’re a man who wants sex (and presumably more) with men, or you can’t. That’s it. Your therapist — assuming they’re good — can help with that, but you also need others. You need gay friends.
Experience gay culture. When things open back up — which may not be for some time — become a regular at a local gay bar. Go to a pride parade. Rip the band-aid off and dive in. You will be uncomfortable at first. That’s the point.
If a gay bar sounds overwhelming, I assure you it will be overwhelming the first time you go. You must make yourself uncomfortable now to be comfortable later. It’s OK to be a wallflower and observe for a bit. When I was new, I went to a local gay bar multiple times a week, mostly to watch the crowd and build my gay vocabulary. I talked to bartenders and occasionally tipped drag queens until I worked up the courage to talk to guys. I was excited and terrified. Even with some bad experiences (bad hookups, shitty people), I kept going. I was being indoctrinated into a culture and slowly saw myself growing comfortable in it. At some point, my friendships and experiences existed outside the bar — they became real.
Find people who push you — who put dollars in your hand and make you tip a drag queen in front of everyone. Make friends with those who’ve been out of the closet longer and ask for help. Fort Worth, according to a 2019 estimate, has 909,585 people. Go find your people.
During lockdown, start exposing yourself to queer culture. Read news sites like The Advocate and Out. Watch shows like POSE and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Your internalized homophobia might reject these but power through it, like taking medicine.
We’re both 28, which is very young. Many people are much older than you before getting to where you are. There’s no need to be embarrassed — you’re further along than you think. You had the courage to accept yourself and are ready to explore. You have the self-awareness to recognize your internalized homophobia, something all of us struggle with. Some queer people go their whole lives and never see shame for what it is — cultural conditioning meant to keep us marginalized. I still feel it sometimes, but it dissolves when I think of the people and places I love and the experiences I’ve had. In my life, overexposure was the antidote.
Lastly, it’s OK to avoid Grindr. Sex apps are fun, but you can get stuck in them. I know many closeted men grappling with self-acceptance who want a more complete gay life, but the apps provide the sex they need, so that’s where they stop. Sex and experimentation get easier when you’re enmeshed in the culture — when you have friends, not just hookups.
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