I’m a 61 year old, cis gay male – pronouns: he, him, Bette Midler. Disabled (genetic neuromuscular disease – weak and soft). One constant of my gay life is that I seem to get two reactions from other gay men – dirty looks or I’m completely ignored. I have gone for years at a time with no sexual contact with other men. I’m a very sex-positive person but have had very, very few good sexual experiences in my life. This has been very depressing, and at my age, is unlikely to improve. I try not to internalize it, but it seems for lots of men, being gay is a party, and I was never invited. It’s been hard coping with this. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, I don’t think there’s a solution, I just feel profoundly sad that this has been my life.
Yeah, it does seem that way. I don’t know why every gay man I know feels locked out of some imagined party. It’s always because of something wrong with us, some failing of ours.
I’m half-Deaf, HIV-positive, and have chronic stomach issues. Earlier this month, a doctor flippantly told me I “might have Crohn’s disease.” Now I have to sit here and worry over the possibility that I might have another permanent illness, as if one wasn’t bad enough. Sometimes my health issues make the sex life I want seem painfully out of reach — like everyone has it easier than I do. Brent, my boyfriend, had back surgery some years ago and still experiences pain. If he injures it again, he’ll likely have to give up gym exercise, which is a big part in his self-image and, by extension, his sex life. And I know many men who’ve struggled with crystal meth and are mostly celibate. Meth wires itself to your pleasure chemicals and your experience of sex, and once those neural links are made, it’s hard to unweave them. So for many men, sobriety requires them to give up the sex lives they had before. They also feel locked out of the party.
The fact is, we all feel this way, so the “party” doesn’t exist — and if it does, it’s a toxic, toxic place. Even the people we think are in the party — handsome, athletic men who appear to enjoy effortless sex and beauty — have their own private struggles that they believe make them ugly and lacking, even though that might seem preposterous to those of us who look at them as gods. It angers me that all of us believe “gay life” is an exclusive, mythic space only accessible to super-humans — to young, fit, wealthy, athletic, able-bodied men unburdened by illness or struggle. Because nobody is really like that.
We know where this myth comes from. Gay men are, for the most part, born to straight parents and grow up in straight worlds without role models, so for most of us, our first evidence of gay life is porn. From there, we discover gay erotic art and gay photography (how many more gay photographers must make coffee table books of men with no body fat?) and gay fashion and gay media and gay magazines — all which collectively present a glamorous, chiseled ideal that’s hard to achieve without, at the very least, a hefty amount of money to burn.
All this contributes to a commonly-held belief that gay image standards are less forgiving than straight ones, and this belief becomes reality: Every gay man I know has body dysmorphia, including me. Most men I know go to the gym, and a shocking percentage of us take steroids. We are not well.
This is a brutal atmosphere to have medical issues and disabilities in. I obviously can’t step into your body and know your struggles, but I know what you mean when you’re not sure what you’re asking for or if a solution exists, because this problem seems pervasive, systemic, enormous. On days when I feel locked out of the party, my frustrations can’t really be turned into questions. I just feel like screaming.
Sex can be great. We know this. So we ask ourselves: Why can’t it just be removed from all these social politics, all these standards and expectations? Why can’t the body just be a body, a feeling thing? The politicized, acculturated body is a difficult thing to wear — and most of us only view our bodies through the lenses of the cultures we try to live in.
The first step is to work on dismantling that. You have to see everything you think about us as a myth, because it is. It’s an invention of art, media, eroticism, and harmful industries that capitalize on our insecurities. Straight people struggle with these things too, but there are more straight people in the world, so it’s easier for a straight person to find more diverse role models. It’s harder for us because we’re fewer, and our icons — from Tom of Finland to Neil Patrick Harris — mean more because there’s less of them.
If I was sitting down to talk with you, I’d ask questions: What are you doing to find sex? Have you tried hiring escorts? What wasn’t enjoyable about the sex you’ve had? I know men with more severe disability than yours who have more sex than I have, so it’s possible to divorce yourself from the standards you think you have to meet and enjoy lots of sex exactly as you are. One day I need to ask these men about their confidence, because I wish I had it — and I think that’s all it is.
I’m not going to say “Just be confident!” because that’s patronizing. But I will suggest having one-on-one talks with a therapist, taking antidepressants, and hiring escorts. A good sex worker who will go slow, practice with you, and make you more sexually confident. Sex is difficult and it’s rare to find playmates who let you practice with no expectations — and harder still to find playmates who will give you pointers. For that, we have sex workers. I was lucky that I found good playmates early on, and I’ve certainly benefited from my body and looks to keep finding them, but I have frustrations with sex that I’m not sure how to figure out, and I’m not above seeking and paying an expert — whether that’s a doctor or a sex worker — to help me do so. That’s why we have experts.
Why do you need practice? Because sex makes you feel better about yourself in bed, which makes it easier to find sex. It’s a feedback loop — a good one. Also, if you’ve only had bad sexual experiences, you probably need pointers. Bad sex can never be totally blamed on the other person.
Lastly, read my response from a reader who felt like, because of various health conditions, his sex life was over. Sex ends when you say it does.
Sex is part of life, but it’s not life. We put sex on a pedestal as something life is ruined without, and on top of it we pile many myths, expectations, and impossibilities presented by our culture. This view of sex is fantasy — it doesn’t match sex in the real world. In reality, most sex is lackluster. Sometimes you have great fucks, but it’s just as easy to have disappointing nights. Taking some of the fantasy away from sex and setting realistic expectations of sex will make it more enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed meals and music and vacations that, on a pleasure scale, were better than sex. You can decide if lackluster sex is enough to make you sad about life, but that discredits a lot of wonders to be experienced simply by living. Don’t overlook them.