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STOP MAKING BEING GAY ONLY ABOUT SEX

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.

Image by Erick Monterrosa for Homotography

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MODERN GAY PERSPECTIVE: LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF (AGAIN)

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We are told that in order to be happy we need to “love ourselves”, to discover the joy within and to build our self-esteem but nobody really tells us how. In this personal post, guest writer Joshua Vaughn shares his story about depression, losing his self-love while in a relationship and then the five steps he took to find that love again. 

Life as a gay guy can often be a battle, we don’t have it easy. Let’s admit it. I mean, lets really admit it. You can say that us gays have the same opportunity as our straight counterparts – and yes that is true, we do, possibly even more. But do you think many straight guys have ever had to reveal news about themselves that could potentially result in exclusion from social circles, family or their community? Have straight guys ever had to cover up who they really were in fear of punishment, abuse and rejection?

Moving beyond coming out and self-discovery, let’s look at the gay dating world. How many times has your attention been driven to the topless six pack Grindr profiles? Or how many times have you had to describe yourself as ‘masc’ in order to be accepted by another?

Yes, life for everyone is tough, but as gays, it is a little more complex.

For a large chunk of our lives we have had to cover up who we are.  Once we come out, we go on to label ourselves to fit in, to impress others and to feel loved, but really all we truly need to do is to love ourselves a little bit more.

Loving yourself is a constant habit, it takes work. I have recently come out of a relationship where by the end, I was a completely different person. Walking into the relationship I was confident, I knew who I was, I was witty, charming and an all-round social butterfly. Towards the end of the relationship, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and constantly in fear of losing my significant other. I was a hermit who lacked energy and on some afternoons I was completely bed ridden. It is safe to say I was a completely different person. People would automatically assume that it was my significant other’s influence that made me become a total different person, but it wasn’t him at all. It was me.

I accept full responsibility. Why? Because I forgot to love myself. I was so invested in the relationship, I put him before me. My needs and wants fell by the wayside. I became secondary and as a result I suffered immensely. Slowly but surely my mental illness got the best of me. I let the relationship dictate my happiness (relationships are add-on’s, not a core feature in life!) I needed to learn how to love myself again, and I needed to do it fast!

After hundreds of Google searches, kindle downloads, self-help blogs, talks with good friends and professionals, I came up with a plan to become the best version of me. I won’t go into the importance of loving yourself, there are plenty of articles on Google that cater to that, but what many articles don’t address is the actual practice of loving yourself. And that’s what it is. It is a practice that needs to be included into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

Now this may not apply to everyone, however I would recommend that you simply try it out for a week or so, you really have nothing to lose and potentially everything to gain.

  1. Firstly, know the person you want to be. Create a wish list. Let’s be realistic here. You don’t want to totally transform yourself into someone else. I’m talking about creating a list of qualities about yourself that you want to shine more, to develop. Think back to a situation where you thought you handled it well. Or even think back to a better time. Mine was to be more positive, charming, energetic and adventurous.
  1. Come up with a motto. Like an affirmation, decide on a piece of text that you can always refer to. It can be a goal of some sort. A reminder of why you are doing this. Mine is ‘ Be the best person I can be, and everything else will fall into place’. I wrote this down along with the qualities I want to shine listed in the previous step, stuck it on my bedroom wall and referred to it daily.
  1. Strengths! Everyone has them. And write them down! Keep a strength journal. Every day I would write down my ‘wins’ for the day. They could be as little as having a good hair day, or as big as doing well in a presentation. Focusing on my positives and telling myself that I am amazing made a heap of difference.
  1. Fake it till you make it. Embody the person you want to become in step 1. Think like that person, walk like them, talk like them. I embodied the version of ‘me’ that was confident with who he is. I walked tall, spoke with certainty and charm, I oozed positivity. And after a while it worked, I slowly became that person.It takes 30 days for something to become a habit. This is going to be hard, but trust me it will pay off. Some people may disagree with this step, but hey, sometimes we get to such a dark place that taking a break from the person we are and focusing on the person we can become is the only option.
  1. Treat yourself like a child. Speak to yourself as you would a 5 year old child. Be kind to yourself. If you screw up or make a bad decision, think about what you would say to a five year old, and say it to yourself. Admit that you were wrong, but be kind and gentle so you can move forward.

At this point, I can say confidently that I am better than my old self, I am now the best version of myself. People have noticed and commented. I am excited about life again. I am excited to explore and roam. Sure I have off days when I feel like I have lost my footing. When this happens, I acknowledge that I feel this way and am mindful of my thoughts but I use the steps above to get back on that path.

Remember, only you can make yourself feel loved and happy, it’s no one else’s job.

Have you had a similar experience? Have you had to learn how to love yourself again? Comment below!

Image by Sylvain Norget

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THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE FOR ONLINE DATING

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This article was originally written by The Modern Gay for Match.com

I have been using the internet to communicate with other gay guys my age since I was fourteen-years-old. What started as a means to explore my curiosities in the privacy of my bedroom has matured into a means by which I have met romantic partners. In the early days of internet dating you were warned not to share too much detail about your life for fear of being taken advantage of but as we have become more comfortable with this digital medium we are more open to sharing our phone numbers, private pictures, personal stories and even our home addresses.

When I was eighteen I signed up for one of the few gay dating sites that existed at the time. The internet was the only access I had to the big gay world but because I was still in the closet I was reluctant to use a real profile picture for fear of being outed. Like many other questioning, young gay guys, I established a false profile, using an image that I found online. I created an alluring persona of the ideal “straight-acting”, high school jock and used this disguise to communicate with other guys. Luckily though, I quickly realized the pointlessness in pretending to be someone you are not, both digitally and in real life. Although my fake profile allowed me to comfortably chat to other gay guys (something I could not do while I was still in school) I knew that these relationships would never eventuate into anything more than an internet fling. I deleted my accounts and stopped using the internet for chatting until I was comfortable enough to establish a profile that reflected the real me, with genuine pictures included.

Since then I have met some great guys through dating websites and apps. Along the way I have also learnt some valuable lessons about online dating, the most important of which is honesty. Pretending to be someone that you are not is pointless in the long run. Sure it may allow you to escape the reality of your life in the moment but ultimately it’s a dead end and people inevitably are hurt. I also strongly believe that we should only be in relationships with people who love us for who we are and not for who we think they want us to be. The best way to attract these people into your life is to be honest from day one, and this means being honest in your online profile too. Exaggerating your height, body type or income may increase the views on your profile but what happens when you meet your love interest in person and he realizes that you are not a six-foot-two footballer with a six-figure salary? Such superficial things as body type and salary should not even matter in a loving relationship but they will become an issue if you have lied about them from the start.

While honesty is certainly the most important rule in online dating, here is a list of 7 practical ways to improve your online profile that will hopefully lead to happily ever after.

Image by Steven Kohlstock

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