…If that’s an issue, you might have a problem.
I don’t know if it was The Boys in the Band, every book I read about gay life in the 1970s, AIDS panic, or even the dorky-but-delicious movie Making Love, but somewhere in my precocious understanding of gay culture I learned that—or was repeatedly told that—having lots of sex partners was a bad thing and meant you were a lonely person. Having lots of sex partners and being older than thirty was, I discovered, hell on desperate earth.
Weird, because I also learned at a very young age that sex with different men was really fun, and, if consensual with boundaries, anything but sad or lonely or pathetic or desperate. I mean, the straight guys I knew bragged about it, as did their movie characters (Bond, James Bond, anyone?), and every print ad or commercial capitalized on it. Once I moved to New York and entered the sexual fishbowl, if I was lucky enough to sleep with a hottie, I was just a little bit perkier the next day, kick in my step and all. And, unlike drugs or alcohol, there were no unhealthy side effects! Nothing’s changed in the real world except my age and openness, and a little throwback from the Monogamy Knows Best oeuvre. We slut-shame today for lots of reasons—intolerance, hypocrisy, ignorance, I’ll give a shout-out to good intentions, and, let’s be honest, a lot of jealousy.
I’ve had a few serious relationships in my lifetime and they were all monogamous, minus the occasional “cheating” (now there’s a word whose definition needs to be rethought) on both sides. With each of those boyfriends it was agreed that we’d be exclusive, and I loved being with the same man, even if it wasn’t always as easy to practice in real life as it was on paper. I have no regrets on that front, and I wish the best to every gay couple who chooses monogamy.
Now I’m single, in what is, for me, the prime of my life—it’s a psychological state of mind, not a physical number—and enjoying the bounty of beauties I’m lucky enough to meet. The ages are all over the place, as are the backgrounds: some want a quickie, some want dates, some—okay, most—are married and in open relationships, some are friends, and all are people whose company I enjoy outside of the bedroom.
Do I want another serious relationship? You betcha. Will we be exclusive? I’m not sure that I can see monogamy from my house anymore. Regardless, no one’s come along of late, and getting serious with a man who doesn’t turn on my mind is a boner kill for the brain. Some say it’s impossible to settle down until I put it back in my pants. I say, put a sock in it, that’s as ludicrous as the guys who set me up on blind dates because “you’re both gay and single, and time isn’t on your side.” What a sad, desperate, pathetic way to view coupling…and life.
Apparently, the only thing more inappropriate than having lots of sex after fifty is being unattached, or so I’ve heard from a lot of men in miserable marriages. I’m always surprised they have time to lecture me on this point, what with all their Grindr pings and whatnot. I’ve also learned that the “family” factor contains an elitist clause. Years ago, an openly gay, married politician and I met on a writing trip, sparks flew, and we made plans to spend the night together—he told me he and his husband had an “understanding.” When someone on his staff witnessed us holding hands, he was taken aside and I was told I might lose my job because of inappropriate sexual advances. It didn’t matter that he grabbed my butt upon meeting me and set the stage by asking if we could make out in our shared limo—I said no, for his sake—I was the single, unattached man and he had a husband and kids, for gay heaven’s sake! Ironically, It was me, not him, who lacked family values.
Years ago, a recently divorced man asked me out, repeatedly, from a gay dating site. After our date, he came back to my apartment and initiated sex. Midway through, he stopped, picked up his clothes, and walked out the door. When I called him and asked “why?” he told me that my willingness to get naked on a first date meant that I was more than likely diseased, and a slut. “You’re alone and just fuck around,” he lectured. “I have a kid whom I need to protect.” Somehow, I inferred, his family life, even ex-family life, made him immune from sexual impropriety and, naturally, STDs. Because Gay Jesus.
Straight society, from what I remember as a closeted kid who was madly in love with manly man Rock Hudson, tells us that we grow up, find the (in my case) woman of our dreams, get married, have kids, then grandkids, and remain faithful to our betrothed till we’re six feet under. It’s an idea as lovely as a Norman Rockwell painting and as artificial as the materials used in the making. Sex was also all over the place when I was a child—still is—and the only thing missing in the media orgy are older people, because, as we also learned growing up, tricks are for kids (over eighteen and with proper I.D., of course). The only time you really find examples of older folk having a sex life in film and television is when it’s one of those cute little jokes where we find out, “Alice has a crush on Sam the butcher?!” Now, there’s a story!
But, hey, those are straight-people ideas, and we queers came out of the gate running away from conformity. AIDS didn’t make us hate gay sex, it made us hate the stigma surrounding it. I learned that being queer meant being true to yourself, and that being true to yourself meant following your heart, whether that meant settling down with the one you love or just settling down with his lovely penis. But there’s always been this notion that growing up means giving up sex, or a good chunk of it anyway, and with time it’s been exacerbated by the gentrification of our love lives. A lot of us now do want to be Mr. and Mrs. Brady, minus the husband who’s secretly going to gay bars at night and picking up strange men on a nightly basis. Perfect Parent Robert Reed is also a perfect metaphor for our own pretend gay lives.
Thankfully, there have been tons of articles and movies and shows on gay relationships and sex, but, for some unknown reason, very little on single gay sex, pretty much zero if the subjects are past their 30-something prime—wait, my bad, there was 50-year-old Murray Bartlett playing Armond on HBO’s The White Lotus, a single, gay, sex-starved man who’s high on everything but the kitchen sink, and who gets stabbed to death after yet another night of debauchery. I finally found my role model!
The Golden Girls’ Blanche Devereaux and Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones were two older, sexually liberated, single women who gay men ate up like carbs after Pride week. They’re gay heroes—some would say thinly veiled gay men themselves—but would the characters have been welcomed into our living rooms were they portrayed by guys? Doubtful, because the male version is a social pariah. If you weren’t invited to our own sexual liberation it’s because it happened more than half a century ago, in the shadows, in illegal places, with lots of arrests and beatings and a killer ending. It’s time to rise up again.
I’m all for exploring the ups and downs of single gay sex, the damage it can cause to certain individuals, the possible addiction factors, the fear of falling in love with an unavailable man (or vice versa), just like I’m up for exploring—hello!—the complexities of monogamous living. What I resent is the lack of serious discussion that surrounds those of us who indulge, let alone any positive arguments in regards to our choices. Men call me “promiscuous,” the dumbest word in the English language, then brush off my chosen life as the workings of a sad, sad man. I mean, at my decrepit old age how could fucking a sexy, interesting, intoxicating man be anything but tragic? Hold on while I go troll myself.
I’m also aware that there are several reasons for skipping sex, and at times I’ve gone in that direction. In addition to the obvious—there’s no one around!—sex can be emotionally, and, if great, physically exhausting, and, if you’re hooking up with a photo, full of rejection and misfires. Compatibility is like women’s intuition—after a while, you develop a sense of who’s right and who’s wrong. Like AIDS, Covid has upped the fear factor, and, like so many others, I had to give up sex for gay Lent. Now, Delta is doing the fucking, and adjustments need to once again be made.
Many of us also lose interest in sex as we age (as we know from every married couple depicted on film), and many of us lose stamina—I’m usually good to go, but I do keep a pill on hand. I know single, gay, older men who are rude about their sexual proclivities, abruptly leaving dinner parties, or their boyfriends, or canceling plans when a bottom opens up. Discussion and debate are welcome in my world; dismissal of my chosen life is not. Since homosexuality is illegal in 69 countries around the world it’s borderline self-destructive to diminish anyone’s sexual preferences. And in case you haven’t noticed, when it comes to sex, in general, we’re a fucked up world. Instead of dismissing those who play a different game, lets align.
The stigma surrounding single gay sex, single gay sex when you’re older, and single gay sex when you’re older and have it with various men, has, like Bermuda Shorts or Tang, worn out its welcome. It’s time to let go of antiquated notions—seriously, how much longer can we allow oppression to control our lives?—reset the clock, and start with the default position that sex is a good thing for people, regardless of orientation, color, or age. I want to see the movies that celebrate sexual freedom for older gay males, I want to read the books that explore our carnal desires, and I need to tell the Boys in the Band that the pity party has officially come to an end.
And if you slut-shame me for being blunt in my sexual inclinations, and I don’t get back to you ASAP, it’s more than likely because I’m otherwise engaged.