Loneliness is a universal feeling but there are experiences of loneliness that are unique to gay men.
I recently published a post about being 34, single and lonely to which I received an overwhelming response. People reached out to show their love and support and in doing so, shared their own stories about loneliness. I read messages and comments from men and women who were older, younger, married, single, confidently alone and also afraid of being alone forever. Their words helped me to realise that loneliness doesn’t discriminate nor is it reserved for single people or for gay guys.
While loneliness is a common feeling, I do believe that gay men have it particularly hard due to the pressures put on us by gay culture and social media. In the below video, I discuss what I learnt about loneliness in the wake of my blog post and share my thoughts on why it seems that gay guys may struggle with loneliness a little bit more frequently and harshly.
What apartments, flat mates and colon inspections have taught me about loneliness.
I didn’t think I would be alone at 34. When I pictured my life in my 30’s I thought that I would be rich, famous and happily married to an Italian prince – no really, I thought I would be married to an Italian prince. Instead, I’m very much single, struggling to earn enough money to support my over indulgent millennial lifestyle and working in a job that makes other people rich and famous. Most of the time I’m content with this life however lately I’ve been feeling quite alone, a feeling which can be traced to the impending departure of my flat mate from our apartment. For the last four years I’ve lived with a wonderful flat mate in a gorgeous apartment, owned by a landlord who makes Patrick Bateman seem like a less aggressive Betty White. Soon my living situation will be turned upside down as my flat mate moves into his own place and we must decide quickly what to do with our lease.
This has left me in a predicament; find a random stranger to move into Patrick Bateman’s warehouse conversion with me or terminate the lease and move out by myself. I knew that this living situation wasn’t going to last forever and even though I wouldn’t have wanted it to, I honestly thought that the next time I would have to move it would be into a beautiful home with my beautiful partner (or a castle in the case of my Italian prince fantasy).
When I look back at the circumstances that led me to singledom in my 30’s, I’m not sure how this aloneness happened but I do feel that I’m partly to blame. Boys have come and gone in my life and while I’ve had a couple of loves, or what felt like loves at the time, I haven’t come across anyone who I think I could bare to keep for ever after. Perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough, opened my heart wide enough (insert anal joke here) or perhaps it’s because when one pictures his future husband to be Italian royalty with a sprawling estate in Tuscany and a villa on the cliffs of Positano, all other men pale in comparison?
Having to move has brought up a lot of unsettling feelings. Being a self-diagnosed social loner means that I should be relishing in the prospect of living by myself. Strangely, I’m feeling lonely and somewhat isolated. This move is a reminder that at 34 years old I’m solely responsible for myself – at the end of the day there’s nobody looking out for me except for me. Yes, I have a loving family but they live on the other side of the world. Yes, I have caring friends but this is London and everyone is dealing with their own issues which means that it’s my sole responsibility to find a new home while I juggle a hectic career, a health routine, a skin regime, cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing, a social life, finances, check-ups, bills, appointments, groceries etc. etc. etc. If I drop a ball there’s nobody there to help me pick it up. Stupidly, on top of all this I’ve recently decided to give up alcohol (only until March) which now seems like the worst idea ever because alcohol makes me so, so happy. Oh and I’ve also given up sugar which is the only other thing besides alcohol that soothes me when I’m stressed. Mix all these things together and what’s even worse is that I’ve lost my sex drive completely. A once horny individual who’d get semi aroused at the site of a phallic shaped root vegetable, I now have no desire for sexual intimacy which means no desire to go out and meet men thusly continuing the cycle of perpetual non-man-ness and feelings of loneliness and gloom.
Just to give you an idea of how single I really am, let me regale you with a story of the anal kind. Mothers and friends stay with me here, this isn’t a story about sex. Alas, it’s a story about a medical misadventure. I’ll save you a rambling introduction and jump straight to the point where I find myself checked-in to Royal London Hospital for a sigmoidoscopy, a procedure that uses a camera to check the lower 20 inches of one’s colon. When you go in for such a procedure you are presented with two options; option one, sedation – this is where you’re put in a lovely state of utter relaxation through a twilight sleep whereby you feel nothing. The procedure takes place while you’re totally zonked and you wake up feeling fresh and revitalised with a professionally examined colon (as opposed to an amateur examined colon?). The second option is non-sedation whereby you’re completely awake for the whole procedure with nothing to relax you but some butt hole numbing cream. From what I’ve been told, option one is like floating on a soft marshmallow cloud of loveliness but take it from me, the chooser of option two, that option two is very different. You know that scene in Alien where the little alien explodes out of the guy’s chest? Yes? Well it feels a bit like that but without the relief of the alien actually breaking through your rib cage. At one point, when her camera was well past the point of no return, the doctor turned to me to tell me that some have likened the discomfort I was about to endure to the pain of childbirth.
Why would someone put themselves through such an ordeal? Well, anyone can choose option one but the catch is that they’ll only release you from the hospital if you have an escort. This means someone has to come to the hospital and check you out. They then need to chaperon you home and ensure that you don’t swallow your tongue or do whatever it is that doctors are afraid you might do after having some sedation and a camera up your bum. If you choose option two however, then you’re free to leave the hospital unaccompanied as soon as you’re finished.
It’s 3pm on a wintery Tuesday in December and I have no escort therefore I have no choice but to go with the alien-breaking-through-rib-cage-similar-to-childbirth option. I have no family member who’s obliged to help me out (because those are of course the rules of family), no friends to call upon because it’s 3pm on a wintery Tuesday and the hospital is in East London when all my friends work in the West and no Italian prince by my side because apparently Italian princes can’t be found on Grindr or Chappy or in dirty Hackney nightclubs. So as I stumble out of Royal London Hospital at 5pm on a wet and wintery Tuesday evening, releasing pockets of gas from my colon which I’ve been warned is a side effect of the procedure, and remembering that Dr. O’Donnell’s 20 inch long camera is the most action that I’ve had in weeks, I wonder to myself ‘is this the loneliest I have ever felt?’
But it’s not. It’s now when I have the real prospect of not having anywhere to live and no partner to lean upon that I feel the loneliest. Don’t cry for me though – this isn’t a pity post. I’m ok with my loneliness, in fact, I feel that loneliness can be an empowering feeling when looked up from a different perspective. It can shock you into action, make you evaluate your current situation and change your bad habits for the better. It can be the impetus for something beautiful and even a wakeup call to love.
I saw a psychic when I was in Sydney last month. She knew, without me saying a word, that I lived in London and that I was going to move out of my apartment. ‘You need to live alone’, she said, ‘it will open a space for you to find your soulmate’. What an interesting thought – maybe this loneliness, this current sense of foreboding and instability is actually the universe’s way of shaking things up to make room for love? Maybe this whole situation isn’t just a search for a physical home but it’s an awakening inside of me that things need to change in order for me to find a solution to my singleness. I believe that sometimes the universe gives you a hard nudge, such as imminent apartmentlessness, in order to push you in the right direction. While I’ve loved where I’ve lived for the last few years it has been the epicentre of a carefree, debaucherous and often wild lifestyle which I now see is in complete opposite of what I want and need now. Change can be hard and it can be scary and while I’ve tried to control my circumstances as best as I can to avoid the unknown, something inside of me tells me that this loneliness is only temporary and much needed for my own growth.
Who knows where I’ll be living in one month or even one year? Maybe I’ll still be alone, maybe I’ll be living with a partner or maybe if everything works out the way I imagined all those years ago I’ll finally meet my Italian prince, move into his family palace and live happily ever after.
I recently had a revelation about rejection while I was on the dance-floor in a random gay club in Boston. It was a Thursday evening in July and I was in the club alone. My friends were coming in from New York later that night and I had just enjoyed a dinner for one in a nearby restaurant frequented by Boston’s local gay community. After a couple of beers, a nice buzz settled over me and I was not in the mood to return to my hotel, so I did what I sometimes do when I’m feeling super confident (read tipsy) – I went out alone. Going to a gay club (or anywhere for that matter) by one’s self can be both daunting and empowering. It’s a lot easier when on holiday in a new city as you are unlikely to return anytime soon and thus need not worry about developing a reputation for being that guy who goes clubbing by himself (although there is nothing wrong with that either!).
I casually strolled past the door of the club a couple of times, conducting a ‘drive-by’ to try get a sense of what the place was like before committing to entering. ‘Just walk in and you can always walk out if you’re uncomfortable’, I said to myself, building up the confidence to actually go through with the act. Finally, I entered the unknown and was greeted by a sea of gay Bostonian boys. Another beer later and I was feeling even more confident and very pleased with myself at having the balls to go out alone. I tried to make eyes with the locals (eye contact – a dying approach to picking up in the world of gay dating apps) but received very little feedback. I began to feel a little despondent and conscious of the fact that I was dancing on my own (Robyn reference).
That’s when I realised that rejection is actually a wonderful thing.
To be honest, I hadn’t actually put myself too far out there to be rejected but I had been overlooked which at the time felt like the same thing. Nonetheless, I came to understand that rejection is actually a blessing in disguise. The way I see it is that with each rejection you’re one step closer to meeting the right person, whether that be the right person for the evening or the right person for life. It’s like a game of odds. The more chances you take, the more likely you are to win. You’re also bettering your game-playing skills with each chance taken. Let’s get mathematical for a minute to demonstrate my point further. Imagine that your Mr. Right is one guy in a group of 100. The chance of finding him on the first try is 1%. Those odds are pretty low but as you approach more guys and eliminate those that rejected you from the group, your chances get higher. Ultimately, you’ll find your man even if it means having to deal with 99 rejections along the way.
Now, I know that life is not a neat mathematical equation and I’ve probably over-simplified the problem but, in my experience, you do have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince (I’m still looking for mine and my lips are chapped but I’m hopeful!). The way I justify disappointment in love or picking-up in a gay club is through reframing the experience and seeing each rejection as a step closer to success. This is the same approach I try take in all areas of my life. Whether it be a career disappointment or missing out on renting what I thought was my dream apartment or waking up too late and forgetting to book tickets to see Britney Spears, I’ve noticed that something better is always just around the corner.
So instead of seeing rejection as negative or allowing your ego to sabotage the experience to reaffirm your feelings of unworthiness, change your thinking and learn to springboard off rejection, using it as a tool of empowerment. You must also never forget that in the end you want to be with someone who wants to be with you just as much as you want to be with them. If someone isn’t interested in you, there’s nothing you can do to change that so you shouldn’t exert emotion or effort trying to make them feel otherwise.
When I was a young gay boy and I felt disconnected from my peers, bullied by older guys because of my sexuality and generally despondent with the world, I would imagine a time in the future when I would be rich and famous. I’d see myself as an Oscar-winning actor, or a billionaire entrepreneur, living in a world where people longed to be my friend. This was my coping mechanism, my way to justify the hard times.
“One day, they’ll all wish they had been nicer to me. One day, they’ll see how amazing I am and they’ll regret the way they treated me”.
I thought that I had overcome these feelings but when an incredible opportunity came my way that almost made my childhood dreams and wishes come true, I realised that inside I was still a bruised young gay boy. It made me question the motivation behind my desire to be successful in all areas of my life and led me to ask, “Are gay men so obsessed with fabulousness and perfection because of the trauma we suffered growing up?”.
I don’t know about you, but my sexual education was a little blurry (much like the video below). It was very matter-of-fact, clinical and to be honest, terrifying. The key message was around safe sex and all the horrible things that could happen to boys and girls who didn’t follow the safe sex (or abstinence) route. This has had a lasting impact on the way that I view and enjoy sex. Watch the video below and comment to share your experiences around sexual education.
It has taken me a long time to reconcile my feelings towards sex within a culture that overemphasises its importance. Let me preface this article by saying that I love sex and I encourage everyone to have a healthy and enjoyable sex life; my argument is that we need to redefine the importance of sex in modern gay culture. On one hand, I’ve learnt from my environment that being a gay man allows you the freedom to have as much sex as you want but on the other hand, I’ve experienced first-hand how over-sexualisation within gay culture creates anxiety, self-esteem issues and complications with holding down a steady relationship.
Our gay culture is a result of our tumultuous past, a past in which gay sex was overwhelmingly associated with shame, hate and fear. Being gay was seen as a sexual perversion, not as a personal identity. The majority of closeted men had no means by which to express their identity other than through seeking sexual relations with other closeted men. As such the act of sex become intrinsically linked to one’s sexual identity. Until recent history it was unacceptable and more often, illegal, to have a relationship with someone of the same sex so the only outlet for gay men to express themselves was in the bedroom (or any other discrete place). Sex was the means by which one could act on their sexual identity and hence it became one and the same.
As laws changed and society’s acceptance of homosexuality spread, sex was brought outside of the bedroom and into the mainstream. It was used as a rebellious articulation of gay life, a big F U to all those who were already disgusted with the gay ‘lifestyle’. Gay sex even became political. The issue that we now face is that the importance of sex hasn’t evolved. Our modern gay society is at a crossroads, a tension point where we need to take a look at how sex plays into our identities and the importance we place on it within our gay culture. This is so timely as at this very moment people are waking up to the fact that the gender of the person you sleep with need not define your identity. Why then is sex still such a focal point of gay culture?
We’re fed messages of sex through gay media, social media, on posters for parties, in nightclubs and on television. We feel pressured to be having regular, hot sex with many men because as a gay man it’s apparently our privilege. Yet so many of us still feel lonely, disconnected and unable to maintain relationships. I believe that this Grindr culture, built on sexual ‘freedom’ is nothing but an outdated expression of our identity.
The purest form of our confusion around sex can be seen on social media. The most popular InstaGays are the ones who show the most skin or post pictures of themselves with their legs open, asses out, in provocative positions. We support this behaviour by showering them with likes and follows and mimic what they do in the hope that it will be reciprocated. Sex sells, and my God us gays are buying it! It becomes an endless cycle which we cannot escape and social media is making it worse. It upsets me when gay guys on Instagram who I admire for using their social influence for good post shirtless pictures with the hashtag ‘thirstythursdays’. Why does everything have to be reduced to sex? Then again, I’m a hypocrite because I do the exact same thing. The most liked picture that I’ve ever posted on Instagram is one of me shirtless in skimpy shorts. I know that these pictures are going to provoke a response and when I’m feeling in need of attention, I post them. My desire to be wanted sexually, mixed with my need for validation contributes to the cycle.
My personal behaviour and our culture’s obsession with sex has a ripple effect that runs deep – it impacts our self-esteem. In order to be having all the sex we should be having we need to look like people who other people want to have sex with. We strive to look like porn stars, muscled, young and hot and if we don’t, we feel unworthy. Personally, this is something that I’ve struggled with since my teenage years. I’ve spent years trying to unpick the stories I used to tell myself that linked my self-worth to my outward appearance and my attractiveness to other gay men. When I was younger I’d put off dating guys until I felt that my body was ‘good enough’ or I’d get drunk before having sex to mask my insecurities around being naked. I would go to big gay parties and nightclubs and feel anxious because I knew everyone there would be shirtless and that I wouldn’t feel confident enough to take my shirt off. Everywhere I looked, all I saw was sex.
I want to reiterate the point that I do love sex and one of the most fun things about being a gay man is being able to sleep with other men (you should try it…). What I do worry about though is that our approach to sex needs redefining because its importance in our culture is causing loneliness, anxiety and inner personal struggle. I for one have experienced all of these things. Emotionally, I feel that I want to settle down and be happily married yet I find myself behaving in quite the opposite way. I say that I want a boyfriend but I’ll just as readily have casual sex. I see this tension on Grindr when a young gay guy writes in his profile that he’s looking for something serious yet three minutes into the conversation he’s already sent or requested dick pics.
While I’m not advocating that we all stop having sex, I question whether or not we’ve unconsciously inherited a culture that places too much emphasis on the act of sex itself. I’m also concerned that earlier definitions of homosexuality as a mental illness and our own personal shame have caused an unnecessary and unhealthy emphasis to be placed on sex.
It’s not just the way we show ourselves that continues over-sexualisation of everything in gay culture; the way we profile gay celebrities and the way that straight people show their support for equality is rooted in sex. They’ll be topless on the cover of a gay magazine or raising money to fight homophobia in a naked calendar or dancing semi-nude with their sports team in the name of pride. We take someone who is a positive role model, strip them down and sexualise them, which only demeans their message and perpetuates the notion that in the end, it’s only about sex.
Gay Pride Parades are another example of how we overplay sex as a core tenant of our identities. Pride is no longer about protesting for equal rights with banners and chants but rather it’s about working out in the gym for 3-months prior to parade day to look sexy wearing nothing but a g-string. I’m all for homovisibility but when it comes to Pride Parades or Mardi Gras, I find it hard to identity with the majority of people who participate; my expression of my homosexuality isn’t linked to my body or to sex alone yet this is the overwhelming image portrayed during these festivities.
Ultimately the outdated belief that to be gay is just to have sex with men is the unsteady platform on which many opponents of marriage equality stand. They use the argument that gay marriage will lead to the legalisation of incest or bestiality. What they’ve not recognised is that both those things are only related to the act of sex and not to personal identity. A man who has sex with a dog is still likely to be a straight man. His sexual perversion is not a reflection of his personal identify, unless of course he identifies as a dog.
So what is the solution? I propose that we stop making being gay about sex alone and try to skew our focus towards other parts of our identities. Most of us reading this post are lucky enough to live in countries where we can express our personal identity in ways beyond sex. We must continue to celebrate our diversity, our richness of character and our multi-layered identities without reducing everything to sex.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Israel several times, each time for a different reason. The first time I visited was in 2003 whilst on a youth program. We travelled the length and breadth of the country for three weeks, seeing every site, museum and two-star hotel that the country had to offer. The trip culminated in Eilat where I stayed on with a group of friends for a few days. It was during this time that I had my first adult gay experience. He was a soldier on leave from the army and our group had adopted him as one of our own. We all hung out together, drinking in our hotel rooms, going out for dinner, swimming in the hotel pool. One night after everyone had gone to bed, he and I decided to go for a late night dip. It was January in Israel, winter, but the pool was warm and the hotel near empty. We were messing around, as teenagers do. Just innocent, general roughhousing at first but the energy changed the more body contact we made. Sensing an opportunity, I dared him to take off his swimming costume. He said that he would if I would, so excitedly, I did. There we were, two guys, totally naked in the middle of the Middle East, not knowing what would happen next. Running into the pool was a man-made waterfall – one of those typical water features one would find in a holiday resort built in the 90’s. I dared him to jump off it. He did. Minus a few side glances in the high school locker rooms, it was the first time that I had properly seen another guy naked in the flesh.
The temperature dropped significantly so we returned to my hotel room which I was sharing with a girl friend. I suggested that we wash the chlorine off our bodies. He jumped into the shower first and then I joined him. We washed our respective bodies and climbed into the queen size bed which was dressed with one of those thick, floral bed covers – another nostalgic feature of resorts from the ’90s. I remembered how he had mentioned the fact that he wanted to study to be a physiotherapist after completing his army service. I recommended that he begin his education by practicing on me. He did. We eventually fell asleep next to one another. My leg occasionally brushed his leg. Once or twice his arm fell onto mine as he rolled over during the night. The four hours from pool to shower to bed felt like an absolute lifetime. My heart was beating feverishly. I had never felt so conscious or aware of the immediate moment as I had during our time together. It was the most errotic experience even without any sexual contact. The next day I left Eilat. Generously he drove me to the airport where we hugged, wished each other the best and parted ways. I don’t remember his name.
My second visit to Israel was the following December and it was far less eventful. I was still deeply in the closet and I was travelling with my family – a combination that very much limits one’s gay escapades. Most of the time was spent touring the country and visiting sites I had seen less than 12-months prior, only this time I was lucky enough to be upgraded from a two-star experience to a five-star experience. Bless my dear mother, she can hardly be described as pretentious, that is until it comes to hotels.
It was just before New Years 2004 as our tour guide pulled up to a hotel in Jerusalem that was far below par according to Mrs van Sant’s strict hotel criteria. Location – poor. Facilities – outdated. Decor – in desperate need of a makeover. Service – non existent. Rooms – dirty. Not wanting to add to the existing tension in the Middle East, my father knew that he had to act fast in order to avert an international incident. We checked-out before we even had a chance to check-in and were swiftly moved to the David Citadel. Now this hotel was much more to mother’s liking. Facilities – modern. Decor – divine. Service – exceptional. Rooms – modern and spacious. I can’t recall much of the rest of the trip but I do remember that I was sporting some sort of a mullet which apparently at the time was the height of fashion.
My next trip to Israel was four years later whilst I was living in Milan. By now I was becoming a fully fledged homosexual. Living in my own apartment in Milan, completely unknown in the gay community and not tied down by expectations or reputation meant that for the first time in my life I felt free to see and do everything that gay life had to offer. I took with me to Israel this excitement when in May 2008 I visited a friend who was studying at Tel Aviv University. He was living in a very cool, up-and-coming hipster area called Florentin. I recall that the apartment buildings were run down and didn’t have front doors meaning that visitors could come and go as they pleased. What they lacked in security they made up in charm, particularly because each building had a communal rooftop which were used by the locals for day drinking, laundry, dinner parties and general socialising. I visited quite a few cafes and bars that were beginning to open in the area but what I really wanted to do was explore the gay side of Tel Aviv. Unfortunately my straight friend, who perhaps was not 100% sure of his own sexuality at the time, was not very supportive of my endeavours. One evening, after passing a gay bar that I had read about during my extensive research online, I suggested that we pop-in for one drink. He was not interested and suggested that I go inside alone while he waited outside. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to see at least one gay bar in Tel Aviv, I entered alone. It’s not much fun being inside a bar and knowing someone is outside waiting for you. Remember when you were a kid and your mum used to come pick you up from your friend’s house but you weren’t ready to leave? It was reminiscent of that.
Flash forward to eight years later and I was back in Tel Aviv to meet my boyfriend who had already been in the city for a week to perform in a musical. We had had a fight just before he left and the relationship had moved into very rocky territory but I needed a holiday after a manic week working in Paris so decided to go ahead with our holiday which we had been planning for months. Our first few hours together were extremely uncomfortable however after copious amounts of alcohol we managed to settle into each other’s flow. The next day we broke up.
Although I wouldn’t recommend it, we managed to spend the next week together on holiday as ex-boyfriends, enjoying the food and nightlife for which Tel Aviv is famous. We stayed at Brown Beach House which was perfectly located between the bustling Allenby Street and Tel Aviv beach. We ate at Port Said, an incredibly cool and simple dining experience from famous Israeli chef Eyal Shani that is busy every night of the week. We visited the Dead Sea and Jerusalem and spent our last day relaxing on day beds, sipping mojitos in the sun at the ridiculously expensive but very European private beach club, Gazebbo. Our nights were filled with drinking at the now permanently closed gay Tel Aviv institution Evita Bar and Shpagat – a bar and meeting point where gay and straight locals gather before heading out to wilder places. Even though our nights always ended together, in the same bed, my ex and I managed to keep our hands to ourselves. Except for one night. Sun, drinks and the energy of Tel Aviv will have that effect on you.
I’ve now recently returned from my fifth trip to Israel. I was with my family again only this time I was with them in Israel as an out and proud gay man. On this occasion we stayed at a newly opened boutique hotel called Shenkin Hotel which was absolutely charming. Tel Aviv has come a long way in terms of hotels since my first visit in 2003. With tourism taking off and capital flowing into the city, there has been a surge in world-class hotels. Shenkin Hotel was not only modern and well situated behind the boutique shopping street from which it takes its name, but the staff were friendly and invaluable to have to hand when in need of restaurant and bar recommendations. On Tuesday evening the fabulous Israeli guy behind the reception desk (who was sporting beautifully manicured, black polished nails) suggested that I go to VRS at Pasaz. Accompanying me was my sister and her fiance. The party was wild, the boys were gorgeous and the music was the perfect blend of electro-pop, deep house and techno. Tel Aviv is one of those few cities in the world where people still smoke inside clubs and bars. This isn’t to everyone’s liking, particularly my very health conscious sister who had to leave after one-drink due to being overcome by smoke inhalation. Luckily, just before I was about to accompany her and her fiance back to our hotel, a friendly Israeli guy offered to look after me should I decide to stay for one more drink. Not ready to go home, I took him up on his offer and ended up staying at the club with him until closing. In fact, he looked after me so well that he even offered me a bed to rest my weary dancing feet.
The rest of the week was spent sun soaking on the beach and exploring Tel Aviv’s incredible food scene which included breakfast at Benedict, messy Middle Eastern fare at Miznon, two visits to Port Said and a long dinner with many delicious and inventive plates at Ha’Basta. I went back to Shpagat, which I’ve decided is my favourite gay place in Tel Aviv for pre-party drinks and was taken by a local friend to speakeasy bar, Cookies Cream where they played the funkiest disco music this side of 1973. To cap off my best trip to Israel to date, I spent the last four days of my holiday at the Ritz Carlton in Herzliyah which is at the height of luxury and a great place to escape from the craziness of Tel Aviv.
My next trip to Israel will hopefully be for Tel Aviv’s world famous pride in June 2018. While I’ve never been before, I’ve heard from friends that this truly is the best gay pride in the world not only because of the gorgeous men that descend on the city and the wild parties that line the beaches but because of the inclusivity and openness that Tel Aviv residents show towards their LGBTIQ+ visitors – something rather unique for the Middle East.
To come with me on all my travels and adventures, follow me on Instagram and Snapchat @joshvansant.
The closet is a very scary and lonely place for gay people. At a time when you need help the most, you are too afraid to reach out, for reaching out means admitting something that feels so shameful. Opening up to another person also places you in a terrifyingly vulnerable position. How will they react? What will they say? Who will they tell?
For anyone still in the closet or for anyone who may want to support someone who has not yet come out, here is the list of 21 things that I wish someone had said to me while I was in the closet:
You are loved
There is nothing wrong with you
You are normal
This is not a phase
This is not a punishment
Your true friends will stay by your side and those that don’t were never your true friends
Your family will love you no less
Those who hate you are ignorant and scared
There will come a time when your sexuality will not be your most defining characteristic
You are destined for great things
You will fall in love
You’ll discover that the guy who bullied you was dealing with his own demons
You are created in the image of God. God doesn’t make mistakes. God is perfect, therefore you are perfect
You cannot pretend to be someone who you’re not – it’s exhausting
You don’t have to conform to a stereotype
You will find amazing inclusive communities where your sexuality is of little consequence
You don’t have to be lonely
You don’t have to be scared
Everything is going to be ok
A burden will be lifted off your shoulders once you accept yourself
You will never regret coming out of the closet
Anything else you wish someone had said to you while in the closet? Leave it in the comments.
I used to believe that there was only one way to find my place in the gay community and that was through hours invested at the gym, nights spent shirtless in gay clubs and holidays booked to follow the ‘circuit’ of summer parties. It seemed like a very easy route to happiness and community inclusion. I started with the gym in my teens and ramped up my training in my early 20s as I realised that I needed to be bigger, smoother and more masculine. I went to gay clubs in the evening and followed the social calendar of gay events in my hometown of Sydney – Stonewall then Arq on a Saturday night, Green Park and then Beresford on a Sunday, Daywash on a bank holiday, Harbour Party during Mardi Gras and I Remember House when I wanted to mix things up. Over time I came to see the same faces and learned about the who’s who of the gay community. That one’s an escort, that one came from a small town and now he’s a party boy, that one’s slept with that one, that one has a drug problem and that one is a social climber – all unsubstantiated rumours that became lore as they were perpetuated at weekly social gatherings.
While I tried my best to enjoy my time in these situations they actually brought on the most unnatural form of anxiety that I rarely experienced in other areas of my life. I’d turn into a completely different person at these parties. In my day-to-day life I was a confident, social and happy person who wasn’t afraid to speak to anyone; throw me into a room with 1,000 other gay men and I would become nervous, uncomfortable and closed-offish. I felt small and invisible. To combat these feelings I would drink copious amounts of alcohol and lambast myself for not being muscley enough, confident enough or attractive enough. ‘Maybe next time it will be different’, I would think to myself, ‘maybe I’ll have more fun at the next party’. But while the parties changed, the feelings always remained. To make matters more confusing, my gay friends seemed so natural in this environment. They would float around chatting to guys, drawing men’s gaze across the dance floor and generally having what appeared to be a wonderful time. Why was it so hard for me?
At the same time that I was becoming a fully fledged member of the mainstream gay scene, I was discovering another side to the gay community, an alternate side that would bring me much more pleasure. It was 3:43am on a Saturday morning in 2005. I was soaked in sweat, jumping up and down on a crammed basement dancefloor on William Street, Sydney, screaming the lyrics to a remix of Annie’s ‘Me Plus One’ in a puddle of equally enthusiastic and sweaty clubgoers. Somewhere between the lyrics ‘Mrs B, Mrs E, Mrs A-U-T’ I realised there was another community out there, one that was much more similar to me and I was standing right in the middle of it. The club was 77 and the night was Bang Gang. The crowd was a merry of skaters, fashion students, surfers, alienesque models, photographers, drug dealers and goths and they were equal parts gay, lesbian, straight and curious. 77 and Bang Gang would come to symbolise for me a place where sexuality and normality were fluid concepts and where a temporary community would come together for a few hours every weekend to escape and surrender to the hedonistic pursuit of indulgent fun. At the same time other nights popped up around the city which drew a ‘queer’ and alternate crowd including Bandits at Phoenix, Healthclub at The Flinders and Gay Bash at The Burdekin. In these club nights I found an alternate community, one that seemed to be at the fringes of the gay scene but one that I related to much more closely than the one in which I had tried so hard to belong. Over the years I would be fortunate enough to be part of similar communities around the world (even if it was just for one night) – Closet in Melbourne, Misshapes at Don Hills in New York, Plastic and Pink is Punk in Milan and Boombox and Sink the Pink in London.
I came to realise that the gay dream that I had been sold by gay magazines, TV and mainstream gay media was not my dream nor was it the only dream out there. There existed a scene beyond ‘the scene’ that embraced the queer side of homosexuality, where bearded ladies danced next to trans boys and muscle Marys were welcome but not worshiped. It was in this scene that I felt most at home, where I was part of something bigger than myself, where I felt like I belonged. Being amongst freaks, geeks, the sexually absurd, those with the confidence to be who and what they want really makes one feel empowered. Surrounded by so much colour and character encourages you to peel back your own pretense and embrace all of yourself.
Now I’m not suggesting that this alternate scene is for everyone nor am I suggesting that there is anything wrong with enjoying the mainstream gay offering, in fact it was only once I had discovered the alternate gay scene that I felt comfortable enough to enjoy those parties that had previously caused me so much anxiety. Knowing that there was a different option, where I felt included, freed me from the pressure of thinking that I needed to conform. The point that I’m trying to make is that there exist ‘scenes’ beyond ‘the scene’. If you’re feeling disenfranchised by what gay society will have you believe is normal then know this – there is an alternative. It may not grace the cover of gay magazines and you may not notice the posters advertising its existence but beyond Beyond, WE, Papa etc. there is a place for you too.
Ours is the generation of YOLO, of reality tv and meaningless fame, of social media memories that disappear in seconds. Ours is the generation of ‘do it now cause you don’t know what tomorrow will bring’, of motivational quotes and avocado brunches, of altruistic ambitions announced under shirtless selfies. Ours is the generation of pleasure before perseverance, entitlement before effort and fun in place of happiness.
We’ve been sold the idea that our lives should be an endless stream of enriching experiences (at a cost) and that if we’re not having fun, then we’re not happy. When we look around at our peers we become anxious because it seems that everyone else is having a much better time than us. Fun then becomes social currency – we chase the good times to gather content to upload onto our feeds to make us the envy of others to gather likes to maintain our egoes which convinces us that we’re happy. More fun equals more happiness. We’ve placed fun above all else because we think that fun equates to happiness. How wrong we are.
This is not a phenomenon reserved solely for gay men but it is an affliction that we own so well. We drink, take drugs, party hard and curate the best parts of our lives on Instagram. Big smiles, washboard abs, group shots of us and all our gay friends at Coachella, in Mykonos, at WE parties, at drag bingo, at drag brunch, watching Drag Race. Isn’t it fabulous? Isn’t it fun? Well of course it is but it shouldn’t be mistaken for happiness. When the music stops and the tan fades and the last contestant sashays away, how do you feel then? If your joy continues then you’re on the right track but if you’re waiting for the next party or the next holiday and those moments in between are filled with yearning, discontentment or doubt then something is wrong.
Fun is fleeting – it’s a short lived experience that is dependent on outside factors which are temporary. Happiness is dependent on nothing outside of itself. It’s rooted in feelings of love, joy and contentment. It’s the feeling of oneness with what is.
Now I don’t want to come across as the fun police nor do I want my ramblings to be misinterpreted as a call to avoid the good times. Life is meant to be enjoyable and we should embrace the special moments that punctuate the common. What I am suggesting is that we become more conscious of the motivation behind our actions. For so long I blindly pursued my hedonistic side, running around the world being wild and free with no care for consequences. I thought that I was being driven by a YOLO approach to life but what I’ve come to realise is that I had been seeking happiness and that I had confused it for fun. It didn’t matter which club I’d been in, who I had slept with or how crazy the experience had been, those moments did not sustain me for much longer after they passed.
Gay men have long been stereotyped as fun and fabulous; the go-to guys for straight girls who want to have a good time or a wild night out. Why is that? Are we such a hoot because we have more of a tendency to disguise our unhappiness with flamboyance? Do we have more fun because we need the distraction?
Don’t let me stop you from seeking pleasure – I encourage you to let the good times roll on. Have fun, be wild, be free but be conscious of your motivations. Know that life happens in between the Instagramable moments. Understand that instant gratification is not sustainable. Be aware that fun is temporary. Learn to find happiness in the mundane.