My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex.
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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.
Yes, it does seem that way sometimes. I don’t know why every gay man I know feels locked out of an imagined fantasy party. It’s always because of something wrong with us, some failing of ours, right?
The tragic fact is that so many of us — men of varying body types and abilities — all feel that way, and gay culture does much to sustain these seemingly universal feelings of inadequacy we all share.
I’m half-Deaf, HIV-positive, and have chronic GI issues. Earlier this month, a doctor 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 intense pain. If he injures it again, he’ll have to give up exercise, which is a big part of his self-image and confidence. And I know many men who’ve struggled with substances like crystal meth and are mostly celibate in their recovery. Meth wires itself to the brain’s pleasure chemicals, to a person’s experience of sex, and once those neural links are made, it’s hard to unweave them. For many men, sobriety requires them to give up sex, so they too feel locked out of the party — unwelcome, inadequate.
It’s perhaps cold comfort that many gay men can relate to your feelings and understand them — there are many disabled and differently-abled gay men out there — but it’s true. I don’t really believe in “typical” ability, just as I don’t believe in neurotypicality. I think most people struggle, in some way, physically and mentally, to exist in a world that is designed for unattainably ideal bodies with unattainably ideal abilities and privileges.
Let’s state something plain: the “party” you’re imagining doesn’t exist — and if it does, it’s a toxic, horrible place. Even the people we think are in the party — handsome, athletic men who appear to enjoy effortless sex and easy beauty — have their own struggles that they believe make them ugly and lacking, even though that might seem preposterous to those of us who look at them like they are gods.
We know where the myth of the exclusive gay party — the prized nexus of queer life — 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 and gay fashion and gay media and gay magazines — all which collectively present a glamorous, chiseled (and typically white) physical ideal that’s hard to achieve without a great deal of luck and privilege (and a lot of money to burn).
This indoctrination into an impossible ideal creates a commonly-held belief that gay standards are less forgiving than straight ones, and this belief becomes reality: every gay man I know has body dysmorphia, including me. Most gay 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 say you’re not sure what you’re asking for or if a solution even exists because this problem seems pervasive, systemic, and enormous. On days when I feel locked out of the party, my frustrations can’t really be turned into questions because 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 cruel standards and expectations?
It can, but the only way to do that is to find the right people. You will have to hunt for them.
Look for the sex radicals and queers and people who reject the mythic image standards and ableism of gay culture. I promise they’re out there. They’re not always easy to find, but they make the best and most creative sex partners when you do find them.
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 and doing whatever you can to cultivate a new circle of friends — or a better circle of friends. I suggest casting your net among punks and gender-fuck queers and every “alternative” homo you can find — people who intentionally buck and resist norms.
I also recommend hiring a sex worker. A good sex worker will go slow and practice with you, and practice can make a huge difference. Sex is hard and it’s rare to find playmates who let us practice without expectations — and it’s harder still to find playmates who give pointers. For that, we have sex workers. Why do you need practice? Because sex makes you feel better about yourself in bed, which boosts confidence and generally makes it easier to find more sex. It’s a feedback loop — a good one. If you’ve only had unrewarding sexual experiences, you probably need some pointers and encouragement — a mental and emotional boost to get you back in the game.
I’m a sex worker, but I’ve also hired a sex worker after a long dry spell, and the experience was so rewarding, so necessary, that I can hardly put it into words. I needed someone to help me get back into sex, someone to jump-start my horniness and make me feel better and stronger in my body, and I’m glad to say I hired the right guy. When he left, I felt more capable and ready than I had in over a year.
Lastly, please read my response to 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 demands, and on top of it, we pile so 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, sex is more often lackluster than amazing. Sometimes you have great fucks, but it’s just as easy to have disappointing ones. Taking some of the fantasy away from sex and setting realistic expectations will make it more enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed meals and music and vacations that, on a physical pleasure scale, were all better than sex. You can decide if lackluster sex is enough to make you sad about your life and all the wonderful things you can experience in it, but that discredits a lot of great things to be witnessed by simply living. Don’t overlook them.