Monday, June 05, 2006

Addiction: A Gay Perspective
by Max S. Gordon
June 2006

These are men I have known.

Paul: he and I met at the gym, I was in my early twenties, Paul a little older. We’d outsmarted both a suspicious custodian and a roaming security guard by going into a bathroom stall at the back of the locker room and having sex there. It had barely lasted three minutes (there wasn’t that much we could do in the cramped space), but we hadn’t been caught, and the thrill of unpunished crime had sealed our friendship. We shared easy laughter about it afterwards and a wink: our little secret.

Later, while we were getting dressed to leave, we were approached by a man in his late forties, early fifties. He told Paul that he saw us go into the stall together, and invited the two of us to go to his apartment for a “three-way.” Paul didn’t know him and neither did I, but Paul thought he was “kinda hot”, and I was attracted to Paul, so we said yes. The man told us he’d meet us downstairs and went to dry his hair, so Paul and I had a quick conversation about him while we waited. Since neither of us knew exactly where his apartment was, or what we’d find when we got there, we decided that if anything got weird, we’d leave together. We figured he couldn’t do anything too crazy to both of us at the same time.

I’d never made an agreement like that with another gay man before. I’d been out of the closet for only a few years, and when I cruised for sex – in bars, in bathhouses, or on the street, I was always by myself. It felt reassuring, knowing that Paul and I were looking out for each other, even though I didn’t know him that well, either. I hoped we were becoming friends.

When we got to the man’s apartment, it was clear he was more into Paul than me, so I resigned myself to watching the two of them have sex. I watched as Paul let the man fuck him without a condom. I watched as the man came inside him. Afterwards, the man stood up and went into the bathroom and closed the door. When he walked out moments later, Paul went in after him. I heard the toilet flush, twice. When Paul eventually came out, he reached for his underwear as if his stomach hurt, and looked near the couch for his socks.

The man was talking. Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? We have to do that again sometime. You guys know how to get out of here, right? Take care now and we were out of the door, and back on the street. Downstairs, I made a joke about him, about how fast he’d rushed us out of there, his ugly, dusty furniture, and weren’t his nails too long? Paul just smiled. We walked together silently, and said goodnight near the train station. I bought a slice of pizza and went home.

A few days later, I was sitting in front of the computer, when I saw that Paul was instant-messaging me. I’d been wondering what I wanted to say about what happened, if anything. I thought: it’s his life and it’s none of my business. Still, I was horrified that he’d had unsafe sex. I’d grown up with the slogan in high school, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” and wondered now if the same thing applied to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Fuck Raw.” I knew Paul had recently been dumped by his lover of four years, a man he’d thought was going to be his life-partner, and his willingness to have a stranger penetrate him without protection spoke of despair. I thought, if he did it this once, and in front of me, he’ll definitely do it again. Maybe he’s doing it all the time: letting anybody fuck him however they want, just to have someone’s arms around him. I’d rarely been a spectator during sex, as I had been during our three-way, and I’d noticed that Paul’s skin seemed fleshy and detached, as if his body, having been rejected by his partner, was no longer worth claiming as his own.

I decided I had to say something. If I didn’t, what if he got infected one day? I braced myself, glad we were having the conversation over the computer and not face to face. I told Paul that I was concerned about what happened, that I wasn’t trying to tell him what to do with his life, and that if unsafe sex was what he really wanted, that it was none of my business; I was just worried that he was depressed and hurting himself because of the break-up. Everything sort of rolled out – messy, judgmental, and arrogant, I’m sure, but I didn’t know any other way to say it. I waited. It felt like an eternity passed before I got his response. He made excuses – “he wasn’t really inside me that long”, “I don’t bareback that often”, “he looked healthy”, “he told us both at the gym he was negative.” When I tried to reply, Paul had signed off already.

I sat there and told myself off for him. I really had a hell of a lot of nerve telling Paul what was safe and unsafe, when I’d pretty much met him while having sex in a public bathroom. I’d risked being thrown out of the gym or getting arrested that day, and that wasn’t even the most reckless thing I’d ever done in my life to get sex. Who was I to tell anybody where to draw the line?

When I saw Paul at the gym days later, I was eager to apologize, but he barely waved, and walked past me into the showers. I got dressed and went over to his locker - our practice for the last couple of weeks - but he’d already left. He never spoke to me again.

Nathan: is married, has two children 3 and 5, is gay, closeted, an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine. I heard from a mutual friend that his wife threw him out again last week. Nathan’s latest debacle in an ongoing saga: he called drunk in the middle of the night to see if he could crash at this man's place. When he arrived, the friend offered to make him coffee; Nathan reached for his dick. The friend, who is gay, said the sex they attempted to have was disastrous. Nathan had “coke dick” from using too much cocaine earlier, so an erection was impossible. He got some blankets and tried to make a space for Nathan on the couch, but Nathan had already passed out in his bed. When he woke up the next morning, Nathan was gone.

Nathan will tell you that he is not gay, that he is not attracted to men at all, in fact. He will also tell you that he has a lot of gay friends, because he likes to hang out with gay guys - they are fun and they dress well. If you run into Nathan in the park and it is a warm day and you are a gay man, he will complain about how hot it is and take his shirt off. He will make sure the conversation is filled with double entendre, gay sexual references and jokes, and if he knows you well enough he may even slap you on the ass when he greets you; or he’ll compliment you on your outfit, but “Here, let me adjust that collar for you”, and his hands are on your neck. A hug from Nathan always lingers a few seconds longer than it usually does from a straight man – but Nathan is definitely not gay.

If you are gay and choose to tease him, however, if you slap his ass, if you meet his usual penetrating stare with a sexually provocative stare of your own, or if you decide you are tired of his constantly violating your personal space by standing too close, and finally close that extra couple of inches between the two of you so that your lips are almost touching for a kiss (basically calling his bluff), he will suddenly back off. With a look of genuine surprise and consternation, he will raise his hands in protest: “Whoa, wait a minute, you got it all wrong, buddy. I’m cool with you and everything, but hey, dude, I’m straight.”

Many gay men, myself included, have cut our gay baby teeth on men like Nathan, usually in college. Gay men who don’t get the point the first time have a succession of Nathans, until they finally give up in frustration or have a nervous breakdown. We have dashed our self-esteem to pieces against his macho impenetrability, trying to get his “straight man” approval. We’ve craved the exalted spirituality of his platonic agape love, his pure, sexually unrequited intimacy with another “brother”, and wondered as gay men why we always have to complicate our same-sex relationships with something as base and cheap as actually having sex.

Although I have become aware over the years that behavior like Nathan’s is obviously a “cry for help”, there is also something sadistic about him that can’t be ignored. At the gay bar, to which he had to be “dragged” by his gay friends the first time (he gets points for being a straight guy who’s accepting and tolerant), he gives his number out and says good-naturedly to a guy he’s been talking to, “Hey, call me sometime, man.” When the man does, he meets him for coffee. Under the guise of friendship he is, in fact, dating this man who, after weeks of these “good natured” coffees is starting to fall in love with him. He eventually drops the guy because the relationship obviously can’t go anywhere: he’s married and he’s straight - but hey, he told you that from the very beginning. He takes no responsibility for his behavior, and a month later it starts all over again, as another of his serial flirtations develops into an intense, frustrating friendship and ends in another psychological murder. Even if he succumbs to sex once in a while when he’s stoned, he will never make himself available to a gay man emotionally. Gay men with self-esteem and enough experience with “Nathans” will wish him well after patiently listening to his monologue: “I’m not really gay, I just like to go dancing in gay bars…” They will refuse to get lost in that labyrinthine sexuality, and tear his business card to pieces as soon as his back is turned.

Nathan is a fundamentalist born-again Christian. He is doing his best to stay sober, but he keeps relapsing. One of the reasons, of course, is that he can express his natural sexuality only when he is high, which means being high is the only time he can be himself. When he is sober he is a good Christian, a good husband, father, and son-in-law. He repents. His repentant phase can last for months, sometimes even years.

Someone told Nathan that if he got married to a woman in the church, having formed a holy union before God, he and his wife would be able to pray his homosexuality away. When it didn’t work, and homosexuality still reared its ugly head (she found his porn magazines in the garage), they prayed harder. He felt ashamed about the magazines, and about failing her, and dealt with it the only way he knew how: he went out and partied. They met with their pastor. The new advice was that since marriage alone wasn’t grounding enough, they should have children right away. Kids would settle him down, forcing him to stay sober to meet the responsibilities of his family. When his daughter was born, he adored her, but her beauty didn’t change the fact that nothing changed at all, except he was now a married homosexual with a daughter. What he really needed, wisdom said, was another child, hopefully a boy this time, whom he would teach to be a man - that would definitely help him out of his “confusion.” After his son was born, he had a few good months, but the homosexuality came back, and with a vengeance (his wife discovered his internet porn and a profile on a gay dating site).

Now he is a married closeted homosexual born-again Christian with two kids. When the rubber band of sexual tension stretches and almost snaps, when the pressure of pretending becomes too great and his life feels unmanageable, he calls his dealer, buys a couple of grams of coke, goes out and gets drunk and high. When he is completely fucked up and close to blackout (and thus “no longer responsible for what happens”) he has sex with a man, usually in a porno theater, where he can get a blow job while standing in a booth, where it is dark and he doesn’t have to see the man’s face. Or he calls the one married friend he has who fucks around with other guys. He can have sex only with men who are anonymous, or who are hiding in the closet themselves, men who will never see him again or who he can be sure will keep his secret to protect themselves.

He comes home drunk and his wife kicks him out again, he stays away for a few days, calls, apologizes, she calls her parents, he apologizes again for hurting her, and the next morning the family gets dressed for church. The in-laws stay for a week or two to help them through the rough patch; Nathan and his wife go out to expensive dinners and socialize with married friends. The evenings are perfect, illuminated by candlelight, although she notices that he smiles a little too long at the waiter when he hands him his credit card. They take the kids to the park on the weekend and plan their next vacation, and things seem back to normal And then one night he doesn’t come home from work and he doesn’t call, and he doesn’t answer his phone which goes straight to voicemail. After midnight, his wife finally decides to stop leaving messages and waiting for him. Every relapse is worse than the last for Nathan, because there is always more pain he has to keep at bay, and more disappointment he has to face when he finally returns - and he always returns. He stands at the door to the bedroom at four in the morning, asking for her forgiveness again, drunk and sobbing, but not too loud because he doesn’t want to wake his kids.

Nathan was the topic of conversation at a party I was at the other night. To most people who know him, his marriage is a total joke, and so is he. But he is an enigma, endlessly fascinating to discuss. Everyone has an opinion, everyone speculates. The rumor is that he’s gay and cheats on his wife, but no one is sure. Straight people love to play the “is he/isn’t he gay” game, and gay people love it too because of the crumbs of power they are proffered in groups like this. If I choose, I can play gay Uncle Tom and encourage their speculation, pronouncing like a turbaned TV psychic, and revealing who I think is gay in Hollywood, at work, in our group of friends. By betraying Nathan, I can finally belong to the cool group, the way many gay people never do in high school (which is surely the level of our gossip). My power is directly proportional to my ability to “other” him.

Since men’s having sex on the down-low continues to be a hot topic on television (the term “down-low” used to be exclusively reserved for black and Latino men, but since the film Brokeback Mountain it now extends to blacks, Latinos and cowboys), some women and men feel justified in their outrage towards him (that poor wife). Hating him is hip. There is a frenzy to the conversation - conspiratorial whispers and eyes widened with disbelief (“well, the other day I heard…”) followed by explosions of uproarious laughter. I am ashamed of myself because I share in the laughter, feeling superior because I’m an out gay man, I’m political, I’m not a liar like him, hiding in a marriage, ruining my family. I’ve been on the other end of Nathan’s flirtations and condescension: “I don’t know why people discriminate, you gay guys are just like everybody else,” and despised him for it. But it’s easy to forget that I haven’t always been out, and that coming out of the closet is usually a terrifying, sloppy process for everyone, filled with lots of confusion and mistakes. Every gay man has lied about his sexuality once, if only to himself.

When we all grow bored with Nathan’s story, there is a new topic for discussion and the host offers to refresh the drinks. I can’t quite shake him, though, and I’m seeing his stupid, corny, grin, the hearty slap on the back that comes with the over-the-top “Popeye the Sailorman” gestures. I am haunted by Nathan. I know as an addict that if he doesn’t get help soon, he may one day “accidentally” commit suicide from a drug overdose. Homosexuality can’t kill him, but his addiction to cocaine and the judgment from his church might.

Ravi: is the man from the leather store in the Village. We stand together near the back where I am trying on a pair of boots. When I bend over to tie the laces, I can tell that he is getting aroused from the prominent bulge growing in his jeans. We are alone. Ravi and I lock eyes, exchange “the look”, and hold it for a brief moment. “The look”, for those who don’t know, is what tells two men that it is okay for them to express attraction for each other, especially useful in parts of the world where two men who are sexually attracted to each other aren’t necessarily safe (in other words, almost everywhere).

A few weeks before, I’d exchanged “the look” with a guy behind the counter at a fast food restaurant while he was taking my order. We paused for a few seconds when our eyes met. “The look” is an unmistakably soulful mix of potential attraction, sadness from our shared experience as gay people, and solidarity. It is more than just flirting; it is a come-out-come-out-wherever-you-are gay look that happens just behind the eyes; a knowing.

But as quickly as he opened his little gay drive-thru windows to stare at me, he made his face became a cold mask of professionalism, and said: “Would you like a sundae with that, sir?” He knew it was impossible to take back the look that had occurred between us, and the new expression on his face, one of fear, came from the fact that he didn’t know what I’d do with the information about him now that I had it - whether I would choose to be discreet, or behave in a way that would draw attention to us and embarrass him (like asking for his phone number). The more open about his sexuality a gay person is, the more danger that sexuality presents to others. In a patriarchal, homophobic society, to know that a man is gay, and ashamed about it, is to have a certain power over him, which is why coming out becomes so important - the potential emotional extortion that hangs over some relationships can no longer exist. As James Baldwin once said, “You didn’t tell me, I told you.”

At the shoe store, Ravi tells me that I have something on the back of my pants, a tiny piece of paper or some lint and offers to brush it off for me. “There, got it,” he says, but his hand lingers. I step away slightly, but we exchange a knowing smile. We also exchange names, talk about where we are from originally, why we came to the city in the first place, how many years we’ve been here – a typical New York introductory conversation. He isn’t from the United States, he tells me, but came a few years ago from his country. His skin is darker than mine, the color of a polished plum.

“Damn,” he leans over and whispers, “How did you ever get that big, juicy ass?” I know he means well, but I’ve always sort of hated that, like when the guy who is penetrating you from behind says, “Yeah, baby, give me that fat ass!” and mortified, you think to yourself, fat ass? Excuse me, but I don’t exactly consider that a compliment.

A woman walks into the store in a fur coat, and Ravi rushes to attend to her. He is a model of efficiency, and all traces of homosexuality in the air evaporate in that moment. She isn’t interested in his wares, but thanks him anyway, and as soon as the bell tinkles over the door announcing her exit, he is at my side again. A rack of clothes obscures him from the rest of the store and, presumably, surveillance cameras. “Look what you’re doing to me,” he says, and pulls out his erect penis (true story!) in the middle of the store.

I ask him to put it away, in fact, I practically have to beg him. I know I’ve crossed a line by encouraging him before and even letting him touch my ass like that, and while I have been feeling lately that my ass is fat, and I appreciate his attention, I certainly didn’t expect this. As part of my recovery, I no longer have sex in public places - places where I could potentially be arrested (or mugged, or beaten, or killed.). I’ve known men who were arrested by an undercover cop for public sex on Monday, and as soon as they got out of jail went right back to the same bathroom or park on Tuesday and got busted all over again.

There was a time in my life when I would have asked Ravi if it was possible to lock the door of the store for a few minutes and the sex would have been on, right there between the racks, but I’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years, and for the first time in my life I can play the entire movie, not just the selected scenes I want to see. I can think, “This might be fun, but the cost is just not worth it.” I have to admit, his penis is beautiful, though. When he follows my orders to put it away, I feel like someone who announces at a dinner party that they are lactose intolerant, and then has to watch miserably as their piece of cheesecake is carried back into the kitchen.

“You have a lover?” Ravi asks, zipping himself up, and glancing over his shoulder. He explains that he has a co-worker who has gone on a dinner break, and will be returning at any minute.

“Yes,” I tell him. “I do.”

“He the jealous type?” he asks.

“No, I mean, we sort of have an agreement.”

“How long’ve you been gay?”

“I came out when I was nineteen, after high school. What about you?”

He draws back, and shakes his head vigorously, frowning as if he’s just tasted something unexpectedly bitter. “I’m not gay.”

“You’re not?”

“No.” I do a rapid scan of his face, searching for any traces of irony. Finding none, I nod, keeping my own expression pleasantly thoughtful, and decide not to remind him that a few moments ago he’d just shown me his cock.

A man enters the store and waves. It is Ravi’s coworker. Ravi winks at me as he starts towards the front of the store. “My philosophy about being gay is this,” he says and shrugs. “I’m not gay, but hey, man, you only live once, right?”

You only live once. Which is the reason it is hard to write an article about gay men and the addictions we struggle with, because you just don’t know who you are talking to, who is included in, and who excludes themselves from, the gay tribe. When I leave the store, I think of all the men like Ravi who “aren’t gay” but who keep the sex clubs, porno theaters, and public bathrooms full and thriving twenty-four hours a day, who are gay enough to have sex with me, but aren’t available for social movements, public recognition or gay empowerment. Gay men who will never exist as a group to be reckoned with as political or economic power, who can’t be used to refute religious prejudice by saying, “See, your father, uncle, brother, nephew, son is gay too.” Men who recognize each other when they meet, who share “the look”, whether they are standing next to each other in sporting arenas, car dealerships, supermarkets or crowded subway trains during rush hour, shifting their polished briefcases so one man can rub his erect penis against the other’s thigh while the train is in motion. When the train stops, one of them steps off and says goodbye with a wink: our little secret. These men seem to have no problem going home to girlfriends and wives because they figure, as far as sex with another man once in a while is concerned: hey, man, you only live once.

Doug: has just come back from a major coke relapse. He’s the kind of person who says goodbye after you spend time together, and as he walks away you think, this may be the last time I see him alive. Or when you haven’t heard from him in a while and run into a mutual friend, you unconsciously brace yourself for the news: Doug’s dead.

This time he’s hurt his body permanently because of his addiction. When I run into him we discuss how far down he went, how he lost almost everything - his job, his savings, his apartment. Frankly, it’s hard to love Doug; not because he isn’t a good man, or talented, or kind - he’s all those things - but because it just feels like a bad investment. He’s always in the hands of someone who wants to kill him…him. Sometimes I wish Doug had a fairy godmother, guardian angel, or an old-fashioned English nanny, someone to look after him, keep watch with him when he can’t sleep; he’s too alone in the apartment he lives in, surrounded every night by shadows and silence. After six months of sobriety, the quiet always becomes too much, and he dials up hustlers and starts using again.

Doug is attracted exclusively to black men, and a specific kind of black man. He likes “roughnecks”, guys in chains and baseball caps, and the more dangerous-looking the better. Doug thinks nothing of bringing home men he’s met in the park at night or on the street at all hours, men who may be addicted, homeless, or mentally ill. During the week, he has a quiet job, few friends, and avoids bars, he might even be considered shy; but when he’s using, Doug sometimes hosts sex parties in his apartment on the East Side, and has been known to have six or seven sexual partners at the same time. Sometimes men just randomly show up who’ve been to his apartment before - looking for a party. He owes a few people money for drugs. Because of the traffic of black men coming in and out of the building at all hours, a neighbor has written him an anonymous note threatening to call the police on him and his “dealers and hustlers” if he doesn’t stop. He laughs at the note, but acknowledges he does need to “slow down” a little.

I fear for Doug because, as clichéd as it sounds, I feel he has a death wish, and that one day someone may help him fulfill it. It is not impossible that one night Doug will spark the rage of one of his more unbalanced dates, a man who doesn’t appreciate being objectified, whether he is a hustler or not, and feels humiliated that he’s debased himself by fulfilling Doug’s MTV “rap video” fantasy of what street life is like, a fantasy that Doug can pick up and discard at his leisure, but that the black man will have to return to as soon as he is back on the streets. After a taste of Doug’s “white-boy” privilege, he may not appreciate being shown the door before he’s ready to go, he may not like the cold, impatient, New-England look that is now on Doug’s face, when a half hour ago Doug was climbing the walls and screaming how he wanted to be fucked harder with that “beautiful big black dick.” The man may refuse to leave until Doug gives him a little cocaine to take with him - what difference does a tiny bag of coke make to someone like Doug who will just get more tomorrow? Doug, now in his robe and already thinking of how he has to get up early for work tomorrow, gets indignant and refuses to share the coke, not because he doesn’t have the money to buy more, but because it is his, the evening is over, and he’s already paid this guy for the sex. He says firmly with a tight jaw and folded arms, “I really need you to go now,” and glances at the phone that calls the doorman downstairs. The man reaches into his coat pocket as if to grab something, takes a step towards Doug, and then thinks better of it. Doug recalls the story now with detachment – it happened weeks ago, and he’s pretty much forgotten it.

“And then what?” I ask. The horror that has been absent from his delivery is now all over my face.

“What else?” Doug says. “He left.”

Richard: wants a meaningful relationship, but here’s the problem; he’s in his mid-fifties, he’s extremely overweight, often broke from hiring hustlers, and a chicken chaser. As there are plenty of other fifty-five-year-old, out-of-shape, broke men walking around in this city, meeting someone like himself shouldn’t technically be that hard. The problem is he isn’t interested in those men: what he desires is a twenty-year-old. He refuses to create a partnership with any gay man who isn’t at least thirty years his junior, preferably with blonde hair, who looks as if he spends two hours at the gym every day and just walked out of a Calvin Klein ad. When men like this don’t respond to him, he feels like a failure. So he pays for sex workers, and assumes that because he hires the same men successively, and they are friendly and seem genuinely to like him (he tips well), that means he’s having an intimate relationship.

I suppose there is nothing wrong with chasing chicken; I was a piece of chicken once. I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, shaking my ass in a club, catching the hungry eyes of the middle-aged men around me, and feeling powerful because - thank God - I wasn’t “old” (over thirty) like them. I was twenty-one and sitting at the bar drinking. I got off the stool to go and dance, and when I came back to my seat, I looked in the mirror above the bar and I was suddenly thirty-five. I really don’t know where the years have gone, but when I turned thirty (that awkward stage in your gay adolescence when you are too old to be chicken, but too young to be a “daddy”), I saw a poster for an organization I’d always considered geared for the elderly. Their notice said that men in their thirties and forties were now welcome. I knew in that moment that I needed an identity that was more than just being somebody’s idea of what was cute and fuckable. (A friend of mine with a slightly different dilemma, who came out in his early forties after his divorce, laments, “I never even got to be chicken!”)

Richard spends hours trying to meet younger men on a dating website he frequents. On the site, if someone likes your introduction, they can click to see an enlarged picture of your penis or ass. (If they want to see your face, however, that’s considered private and they have to ask your permission first.) He goes out with a guy he meets for a few weeks, and then calls, distraught when another one of his “boys” walks out on him for someone with more money, or in better shape, or closer to his own age - “I really thought Matthew, Craig, Tyler, Brett, Collin, Martin, Shawn was the one, now what am I going to do?” - I want to shake him and say, “Just for once, what’s wrong with dating a man who doesn’t look like he’s just graduated from high school?”

Chasing chicken can also have dangerous consequences. Richard has been mugged repeatedly by tricks and hustlers and, unlike Doug, has had a knife pulled on him in his home by a guy who was tweaking on drugs (miraculously he wrested the knife away); he even recognized the picture of a man who had been arrested as a murder suspect in the newspaper, and whom he remembered once trying to get to come up to his apartment for sex. My rage at him comes partly from the fact that he looks at me and probably thinks that at thirty-six I’m “too old” too, which in America is synonymous with useless. I want to slap him the way you slap a hysterical person during a group crisis so that his insanity doesn’t spread to the others. If he doesn’t find men his own age attractive, I want to ask him, then what does it say about how he feels towards himself? There is nothing wrong with an age difference between lovers, even a considerable one, as long as both are consenting and adults, but his unwillingness even to consider a man who doesn’t still have peach fuzz makes me wonder.

There is a certain kind of shame, gay or otherwise, that craves youth and “innocence”; young ass becomes like the paper-towels in that old TV commercial – “the quicker picker upper.” In this perception, if the person you are having sex with is young enough, he absolves you of all your sins (and in some parts of the world, your HIV status, if he or she is a virgin.) Maybe if I can get a “boy”, even if I have to pay for him, then I am not a man who is aging too fast, who is afraid of being alone, who has suffered and seen more than my share of death and grief over the years. I may actually believe I’m more of a “man” for having sex with younger guys, because young men are “feminine” by way of vulnerability and lack of experience - if I can’t be “normal”, i.e. straight and fucking women, then I’ll fuck “girlish” men. (This also applies, in an indirect way that is beyond the scope of this essay, to those men who choose to fetishize Asians, who see Asian men as “eternal” boys, or fragile, underdeveloped men. I’m not speaking of a man who is in love with an Asian man; I’m taking about the men I’ve known who, around the time of their gay mid-life crises, suddenly “discover” Asian men as a group, and, as if having found the elixir of life, will no longer date anyone else.)

Maybe I am so afraid of getting old myself that I’m bitter and resentful of them, the younger gays. But it is strange, the way we render each other invisible as gay men. When I used to cruise steam rooms for sex, I’d watch four or five men, all in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, ignoring each other as potential sexual partners, as if there were literally nobody there. But let the young gay man looking for sex walk in, and suddenly they all became animated at the same time as though someone flicked a switch, moving across the room towards him in a slow, macabre march, with their hands outstretched and ghoulish, like something out of Night of the Living Dead.

I remember wondering, why are we giving this man so much power because of his age? Is he really the only one of us that is attractive, and don’t we still exist, even if we can’t have him? I’ve met men in their sixties, seventies and eighties who were definitely sexy as hell (one in particular disabused me of the notion that just because you assume an octogenarian to be out of circulation, doesn’t mean he can’t still give you the clap), and known from their example that it is possible to get old beautifully and to be beautifully old; to age with dignity and grace.

I needed to believe in older gay men who could see when a young gay man’s ego was fragile, when he had to invent himself on the spot because he had no support system, had been rejected by family or the church and now found himself “out there.” There had to be at least one older gay man who would say to him: “I promise not to take advantage of you or exploit you as I was exploited when I came out. I know how hard it can be at the beginning. If you get kicked out of your house, I have some food for you and a couch for the night. And I won’t make you have sex with me to ‘pay’ for it or justify being abusive to you by saying, ‘Well, he is going to have to learn sometime how men are. If I don’t hurt him, someone else will.’ I will not turn you onto drugs, or pimp you, or seduce you when you are vulnerable, and then drop you when I’m bored or find someone younger than you are. If you’re black or Latino, I won’t humiliate you by asking if you are a hustler, or how big your dick is, assuming you are prepared for sex all the time because of your color. If you are white and poor and hustling, I won’t pay you for sex, then throw the money at you with contempt and reconcile it by saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re trash anyway.’ Even if you’re a manipulative little shit, who drinks and smokes too much, or uses drugs to prove how mature you are, I know most of that is insecurity and defensiveness, because I did the same thing, and although I won’t tolerate your bad behavior, I won’t punish or abuse you for it, either. And I won’t feed your addictions so that I can control you and make you stay with me in order to keep from facing my own insecurity about being alone or getting older. Here is one place in the world where you are safe.”

I never heard those words, but there was that older man at the mall near where my mother had recently moved: I was in a department store and went to the men’s bathroom where I noticed the men who were lingering, obviously cruising for sex. I was too afraid to do anything and risk being arrested in an unfamiliar town. An attendant came in to change the paper towels and a man who was washing his hands and glancing over at the urinals met my eyes in the mirror, stared, and then walked out.

When I followed a few minutes later he was waiting for me, standing with his hands in the pockets of his coat beside a large fountain. We walked past the food court and he whispered that he didn’t recognize me amongst the guys he usually saw there and I told him that I was visiting from out of town. We must have made an interesting tableau: black man in his twenties dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt and a white “businessman” in his fifties wearing glasses and a suit. He told me his name, said he was married with kids, and that if he ever got arrested for looking for sex there his life would be over. I told him I lived in New York and that I was only in that town because my mother was at home dying, and that although I knew I was a sex-addict and had even been in recovery and had managed to stop cruising in public places for a while, I’d started visiting bathrooms again when things got too painful. He said, “You seem like a smart kid to me and you’re still young. I know it seems like there’s something back there in that bathroom, but there really isn’t. I’ve been saying since I was your age I wouldn’t come back and I’m still here. And I could tell you, hey, it’s no big deal, just have fun. But I’m going to tell you the truth. If you can find a way to stop, and stay stopped, then do it, guy. Don’t wake up, twenty, thirty years from now when you’re my age, still doing this shit, promising every day that you’ll stop tomorrow, like me.”

Jeremy: sat directly across from me that evening; his striking beauty made him the center of attention at the crowded table, but behind his dark eyes and natural smile was a deep sadness; at moments when he thought no-one was looking and his face went slack, I felt that he wasn’t just exhausted from the long day - his soul was tired. Jeremy had shared with some of us earlier, in the context of the workshop, that he’d been in the sex industry for years, not just as a “masseur” earning money to get through college, as so many of the online advertisements read, but as a serious escort with a top New York/LA service. Jeremy had been flown first class to some of his appointments and had had famous clients whom he wouldn’t name. The workshop was over, and we were having our last meeting together. Jeremy had been generous with his story during the sessions, but now it was time for dinner, and in that moment, he didn’t want to be an ex sex-worker; he wanted to eat. Another man at our table, Ed, however, wouldn’t stop asking him questions. I, too, was curious to learn more about Jeremy’s experience, but I felt his resistance and respected it. In the end perhaps I was worse than Ed, getting the benefits from his prurient prodding, without having to be perceived as tacky and cruel.

How many people do you think you went to bed with? Did anyone ever try not pay you, and if so, what did you do? Did you ever get beaten up or arrested? What if they wanted unsafe sex, did you charge more? Did you have sex with anybody famous? Come on, you can give us a hint! As Jeremy answered Ed’s questions, one person excused himself and got up from the table. I felt as if I were participating in an emotional gang rape, and that Jeremy had no boundaries to protect himself. I considered that Jeremy might have had sexual abuse in his childhood and wondered if that played a role in his attraction to sex work. Since Jeremy wasn’t protecting himself from Ed’s pornographic fantasy of hustling, and none of us was protecting Jeremy by asking Ed to stop, and Ed was in too much of an addictive trance to see the pain on Jeremy’s face, it went on and on. I felt murderous towards Ed at one point, but I was angry at Jeremy too, wondering why he couldn’t he see that his story was his gold - however much shame he felt about it - and that Ed’s rummaging through his memories like items in a reduced sale bin, rejecting anything with too much pathos or heartbreak, was reprehensible.

I never apologized to Jeremy for that night, and I never saw him again. At the height of my addiction, when I was facing a stack of unpaid bills and having compulsive sex with my own merry band of trollops, trolls, goblins, munchkins, cretins, gnomes, hobbits and roaches, I’d said to a friend, somewhat facetiously, but seriously enough to find out what response I’d get, “You know, as I’m having all this shitty sex anyway, maybe I should be getting paid for it.” There was a moment of silence, and she said gently, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Do you think there is another way you could make a little extra money?”

There was a bar near where I worked at the time that was known for its “exotic dancer” (hustler) traffic. I watched older white businessmen sipping drinks as half-naked black and Latino men traveled through the crowd and danced or sat on their laps. They leaned over and laughed while the men whispered in their ears, tucked dollar bills into their bikinis, looked them in the eye and told them how beautiful they were while their random fingers grazed the men’s asses or tried to grab the length of their penises. I knew better than to assume that everyone involved in the sex industry was a victim, and while I strongly advocated a person’s right to choose that work without being demonized, the fact that I was even considering it meant I’d already crossed a potentially dangerous line with my sex addiction.

I’d always used men like Jeremy to feel superior, to differentiate a level of behavior that, thankfully, I’d never had to “sink” to. I might have anonymous sexual contact with four or five or fifteen people in one day (surely more than Jeremy on one of his high-profile sex dates), but at least I wasn’t a prostitute like him. I’d never been given money for sex, and I was outraged when a man approached me at a bar one evening and said he’d pay me for a blow job. (I was probably less angry at his assumption than horrified at the forty dollars he offered me. I was devastated for the rest of the evening and wondered if I really looked like someone who would give a blow job for forty dollars. I’d always envisioned myself, if or when I ever did cross that line, as a first-class escort like Jeremy - not somebody’s “toothless hag” or funky chippy.)

A therapist I was seeing at the time finally confronted me on my behavior. “Oh, so you’re a whore,” he said; and when my jaw dropped and I began to protest, he raised his hand. “I’m not talking about the amount of sex you’re having; I’m talking about why you’re having it. Your currency isn’t money, it’s validation. You’re a whore to fill your empty bank account of self-esteem.”

Greg: would call me for dinner, we’d talk about art and careers, and smile fondly at each other across the table, and then go to his apartment and have sex, which was actually gentle and enjoyable every time - until we both came. Then he’d hand me a towel to wipe myself off and while I was in the bathroom, he’d dress and busy himself with important details in the other room; playing the answering-machine to see who had called while we were in bed, washing out the glass I’d used earlier and putting it away, checking his e-mail. I emerged from the bathroom, feeling the anxiety that emanated from his skin like heat and followed the trail of my clothes to the living room.

“You got everything? Well, it was great to see you. We really have to do this again some time. Well, you take care now.” The door slammed shut behind me and the sound of the flipped lock echoed in the hall with the finality of a gunshot. As I walked to the elevator (if he’d gotten me out of there any faster, I’d have been carrying my shoes in my hand), I tried to reassure myself that I hadn’t imagined the intimacy during the earlier part of the evening, regardless of how the rest had turned out. I wasn’t a whore for trusting him, even though, minutes after our sex ended, I was now standing on the street corner. I’d thought it had been a fluke: the first evening we’d gotten together, after sex in my apartment, he’d rushed out the door so fast, he’d practically left it open. I barely had a chance to get out of bed, much less walk him to the door and say a proper goodnight.

I vowed never to see Greg again. That’s why I was surprised weeks later when he called, eager to get together. The enthusiasm in his voice told me that he hadn’t perceived that anything had gone wrong, and because I’d had a good time (until the very end), I considered the possibility that maybe I’d overreacted, or had too many expectations of someone who was just a “fuck buddy”. I agreed to see him. We met for dinner, had another evening of great conversation, followed by another invitation to come up to his apartment and have sex. I considered bringing up what had happened the first two times, but didn’t want to ruin the mood, or embarrass him. Seconds after the sex was over, Greg scooped up his shorts, walked into the bathroom and closed the door. The room was dark except for the light that came from inside the bathroom, and there was the sound of running water. I wanted to die for being such an idiot, and wished there was a way I could somehow magically be swallowed up by the mattress and transported to my own bed without having to get dressed, ride the subway home, or ever face him again.

Greg eventually emerged with a clean towel which he handed me to wipe myself off, and a few minutes later, still dazed, I found myself by the door, my hand reaching for the knob. He hugged me briefly this time, almost by way of explanation or apology, but refused to meet my eyes. His voice sounded like a friendly recorded announcement or a flight attendant standing at the door of the plane and saying goodbye to passengers after a journey: “You got everything? Well, great to see you. We have to do this again some time. You take care now.”

When I got past the pain of having set myself up to be humiliated yet again, I had an unexpected reaction: fascination. I knew that Greg had grown up Catholic, and although he’d traded his Christian crosses for Buddhist iconography, worshipping a guru whose smiling, disconcerting face watched us from every corner of the apartment as we undressed, I saw for the first time that deep down Greg was just as ashamed as ever. He was still a good little Catholic boy underneath his conversion, burdened now with New Age sex guilt. This was sometimes the most insidious kind of sexual guilt to have, mostly because it was so easy to believe one was too spiritually evolved to have it. Before and during sex, New Age guilties could talk about tantric sex, meditation, relaxation, chakra points, Kundalini and the flow of energy in the body, but after orgasm, they often had the same desire to discard their sexual partners and hide the evidence, the way cats bury their turds in kitty litter.

I knew Greg would call again (he did) and that if I said yes to an evening with him and we chose to have sex, I had to take full responsibility for any emotional damage I incurred, because he certainly wouldn’t. I truly didn’t believe he wanted to hurt me, and once I realized that, I felt more forgiveness. The problem Greg faced every time we went to bed was that since I was the guy he’d just had sex with, I knew where the bodies were hidden and I had to be destroyed. I’d seen that he was a faggot, a “real” man’s worst nightmare, and so when the sex was over he had to get me out of there fast, because he wanted to deal with his chronic shame in private. It didn’t matter that he’d had a long-term relationship with a man before; in some ways, sex in a relationship was easier for him because he could always say that the connection wasn’t just fucking, it was about “love” and “partnership”. But sex sex, sex just for the hell of it, sex that wasn’t anonymous (so you had to look at the man’s face afterwards), but equally wasn’t based on a selfless commitment to a partner (so you couldn’t deduct it from your ledger as a sort of spiritual tax write-off), was the kind of sex which greedy, selfish, evil people had, sex with no justification other than pleasuring the body; backsliding sex. Homosexuality as an abstraction is enough of a religious burden, without having to add genuine pleasure to it.

I learned over the years that the Gregs weren’t rare. And part of my compassion, even though I knew I couldn’t see him again, was that I had to admit something else - I was a Greg. There were the times I rushed to orgasm first, knowing that when two gay men with shame have sex, if they don’t ejaculate at exactly the same time, one of them is going to end up alone in bed, masturbating to orgasm, while the other is already in the shower. I didn’t mind the Gregs so much when it was my recorded message by the door, “You got everything? Well, great to see you. We really have to do this again some time,” my flipped lock.

Andrew: had to make a sudden decision when his roommate went into the hospital for pneumonia. The roommate had been sick for a while, and on his last visit to the emergency room slipped into a coma. His family arrived the next day, but he never woke up again and died a few days later. The roommate made Andrew promise once that if his family ever visited and he was in the hospital close to death, before they came to the apartment, Andrew would go into his room with boxes and throw out all his all gay paraphernalia - the S&M sex toys, the dildos, vibrators, porn collection, bottles of poppers and leather, because “my family will be totally scandalized.” They knew only the handsome child they’d raised, a child who over the years communicated with them mostly through long-distance calls and “I love you’s” from hundreds of miles away, sharing stories of his corporate success, and reminding them on every phone call that no, he wasn’t ready to get married just yet. Yes, of course they know, the roommate said to Andrew once when he got off the phone, but that doesn’t mean we talk about it. It is okay for them to know, as long as I’m not the one to tell them. In the end, Andrew decided not to throw his roommate’s life away, and chose instead to go back to the apartment with the family. Handing them the boxes, he opened the bedroom door, and introduced them to their son.

Terry: black and gay, and a dancer living with AIDS; we met while performing in a friend’s show together. During rehearsals he came down with the ‘flu and had to miss rehearsal for a few days. When he returned, he was told he didn’t have to do the show if he wasn’t well, but Terry insisted, pushing himself, even stumbling to the dressing-room with coughing fits when he walked offstage. He made it through the three scheduled performances, using an asthma inhaler in the corner of the room whenever he began to wheeze. I felt sympathetic to Terry, and closer to him in a way, having had inhalers and hospitalizations throughout my childhood for my chronic asthma. I asked him once if he was okay and respected his privacy when he silently nodded.

A few weeks after the show ended, we were told that Terry had died. He’d been coughing at home, had a relapse of the “cold” he’d had during the show, and despite friends’ protests, had refused to go to the doctor. He felt he was strong enough to fight the illness since he’d been through this many times before, and chose to isolate in his apartment until it was over. Finally a friend or family member came, used their key, and after finding him throwing up in bed, insisted he go to the hospital. He died the next day. I couldn’t believe Terry was dead. I’d just been speaking to him the week before the show about a project he was enthusiastic about developing, we were laughing about it, and while he was talking, I stopped listening for a moment, and marveled instead at his beauty and (strange to recall now) how perfect his teeth were. After I heard the news, I thought about black men and pride, and the fear some of us have about trusting doctors really to take care of us. (As irrational as it may seem, the conventional wisdom has been that since white people can’t be trusted, and since all doctors are technically white, most doctors won’t take care of us any better than we can take care of ourselves. And they charge too damn much.) I wondered if he’d had any health insurance, or what services, if any, he’d been offered as a man living with AIDS and whether or not he’d had shame about taking advantage of them, or felt they were a handout. Maybe he’d had such a threshold for pain, having been through so much in life as black and gay, that his perspective was permanently warped and he no longer knew when it was time to stop relying on himself, to stop “getting over” and “getting by” and finally ask for help. Where did it come from, this determination to survive even if one died trying – the black or the gay part? The old adage that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger has probably inspired many, but nobody ever seems to talk about the fact that that is a hell of a high price to pay for the experiences that sometimes don’t make you stronger at all, but just kill you.

I called another black gay male friend, Marcus, who also knew Terry and had been in the show, and we expressed our mutual shock. Marcus was honest enough to express some frustration and anger with Terry (“We told his ass to rest”). When I went to the memorial service and Terry stared out from a poster-size picture, his gorgeous smile surrounded by roses, I envisioned him somewhere as bewildered as Marcus and I were. We made a pact that afternoon that we wouldn’t be black gay superheroes, able to leap AIDS, loneliness, low self-esteem, racism or depression in a single bound, no longer keeping ourselves isolated from friends until we felt “fabulous” or “healthy” enough to let people see us. No matter what, we wouldn’t let ourselves die alone, as Terry did.

But I’ve broken the promise already: I’m isolating right now, and I haven’t returned Marcus’ last two phone calls. He might have given up on me on this time, he has his pride too. Or he might say to himself, “That’s just Max” and accept my apologies when I finally do call him.

I’m sick of being in this place again, sick of feeling sorry for myself, sick of my broken promises to change my life, sick of analyzing and bargaining with my addictions, sick of reading self-help literature, listening to friends’ advice, sick of feeling stuck. I don’t know why I hit the addict jackpot and have to be vigilant about alcohol, and drugs, and sex, and food, and co-dependency. One of the things you learn in recovery is that if you are compulsive in one area of your life, having fifty years free from one addiction doesn’t mean that you are necessarily dealing with any of the others. Sometimes you have to go for help more than once.

I’m feeling fat, my eating is totally out of control again, and my masochistic decision to go into the new Abercrombie and Fitch store on Fifth Avenue while shopping the other day certainly didn’t help matters any. The man who greeted customers at the door with his washboard abs was naked from the waist up, like the image on the movie-screen-size posters that surrounded him, and the tableau seemed to say: “Welcome to the house of Narcissus.” The music was pumping, and there was a dark, subterranean bathhouse feeling on the first floor (I didn’t go any higher). It was more than a little jarring to share this experience with tourists and families of six, including babies in their strollers, Mom sipping Starbucks and grandma and grandpa holding shopping bags - Disneyland presents the Fire Island Meat Rack. So I fled - all 175 pounds (all right - 190) of me.

I don’t want to see Marcus or anyone else until I lose this weight. Joan Crawford would be proud of me: even in her seventies, she refused to go to the supermarket for eggs unless she gave the kids “Hollywood.” My addictions cost so much energy and time; and for me food goes back farther than anything else - before there were sex, alcohol, drugs or abusive relationships, there was candy. I’m ashamed because I have to wear my “fat pants” again, and the angrier and more disappointed I feel, the more I want to eat.

I’m hiding in this house, letting messages go to voicemail even though I’m standing here listening to every word the person is saying, not returning calls, waiting, waiting, until I “feel better” - whenever the hell that is. I’m missing-in-action, hiding until the coast is clear. Thinking about Terry for the first time in years, I see that the costliest addiction for gay men isn’t crystal meth, the deadliest disease isn’t AIDS. It is our perfectionism. Growing up with the shame of being flawed, and haunted by the idea that we aren’t good enough, some of us are driven into an insane life of overachieving, good grades, starvation, overwork - trapped in our little “factory of perfection” until we feel adequate to live. We strive until we are on the verge of collapse. Eventually, the only thing that can turn that voice off is getting high, getting drunk, fucking compulsively, shopping until we drop. Addiction becomes a relief, a way of finally saying no, even if only for a few hours, to the constant need to control everything in our lives: “I give up, I can’t stand this shit any more, I can’t meet all these expectations. I’m going to let go for once, I’m going to have a little fun for a change…”

There is a public bathroom here in the City and the traffic is heavy: men in business suits and uniforms, college students, millionaires and homeless men, immigrants, addicts, black and white men, men in their seventies,19-year-olds, Democrats, and Republicans - all come here to expose themselves and watch each other masturbate. This bathroom is open all day and into the night; I discovered it when I first came to New York, and no matter what time you go there it is always busy. There are bathrooms like this all over America, in fact – in bus and train stations, parks, bars, department stores, gyms, rest stops, airports, college libraries. And it is not only America – I found the same bathroom in the first train station I entered in Italy; there you had to pay the equivalent of fifty cents to get in. Men wait around for hours sometimes in these places, coming back several times in the same day. As a young man I was amazed. I often had the fantasy, and I am not the first, that if the skin of each of the men who cruised here for sex turned a certain color for just one day, a bright shade of purple or green, legions of men in this country would have a lot of explaining to do – at work, at home, at church. We’d discover that people we’ve revered for their accomplishments – superstars, politicians, and world leaders – were always gay and we just never knew. Like the homosexual who is forced to come out because of public scandal, the conversation would have to change. But until that day occurred, I knew men would continue to have sex in hiding places, and local high school principals arrested at highway rest stops would offer their humiliated denials to the press, and powerful men in the public eye would hire escorts who knew their very lives could be in danger if they ever exposed their famous clientele.

I have almost three years of sobriety from pubic sex, and yet today I want to act out. I always make the mistake of thinking my sex addiction is about craving sex, but it rarely is. So much of my addictive behavior is about anger. It’s like a piece of film; run it through the projector and you get a moving image of a man crossing a street, but slow it down and you are just watching a series of photographs, one frame imperceptibly different from the last, an illusion. My life feels unbearable today and the first thing I thought this morning was: I want sex. That’s my internal answer, my panic button for everything. When I slow it down and look at what I am feeling frame by frame, I see the anger that leads to the rage, the rage that when unexpressed becomes despair and the need to numb my feelings, which becomes the desire for sex. I don’t even need an orgasm, just looking for sex – watching porn, cruising, starting to masturbate - takes away all the pain.

I wasn’t allowed to get angry in my house growing up, and the only way I learned safely to express anger was against myself. Which is the reason I don’t want just any kind of sex today – I know this because I ran into a fuck buddy on the street and I wasn’t interested in going home with him in the slightest. I want public cruising, the danger of possibly getting caught, the feeling of oblivion that comes after the adrenalin rush of baiting a confrontation with an undercover cop, of just barely escaping trouble. Today I’m outraged at narcissistic fathers who keep turning their adult children into emotional pretzels because they refuse to change or take responsibility for their own lives, and narcissistic governments that send their poorest citizens to fight wars so the weapons manufacturers they have private stock in make even more money; I want to piss off an authority figure even if it means abusing myself in the process. On the news yesterday, I saw that there is a religious group protesting the funerals of soldiers who have died in Iraq. They claim that God is glad our soldiers are dead, and that He is killing them to punish America for its tolerance of homosexuals. What do I do with this anger? I think about the gay children hearing this, what they must think about themselves, the future addicts that are being created from hearing this hate. I feel like I did as a child when I couldn’t escape, when I couldn’t fight something that felt oppressively unfair. After a while, I’m past rage, I’m exhausted, and the stale anger begins to harden, calcifying into depression. Now I don’t want to fight anymore and I don’t really care about anything; I want to go back to bed and sleep.

I used to believe it was my addictions that made me feel so much shame; now I know I’m addicted to being ashamed; the addiction just helps me re-create that experience. The result of growing up hating yourself as a gay person is that you get used to having your aura consistently violated. Even if there is no one hurting you in the moment, the microchip is planted, you’ll find a way to hurt yourself. The gay body in this society is constantly in peril. Addiction ensures that, if you aren’t in your body, in some perverse way you are safe; you can’t be hurt if there’s no one home. A nation of addicted gay people - codependent, materialistic, workaholic, drugged out, drunk, self-hating, anorexic and obese – will never come together and demand their rights, will never drop their racism and sexism to form a united gay political force, or have the courage to defy the violence that continues to be perpetrated against them.

Keith: is unable to talk to about crystal addiction in the gay community, he feels it is all an exaggerated media ploy to stigmatize gays, and that the reports of crystal being highly addictive, of epidemic proportion, and extremely hard to recover from, are simply untrue. “If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t use it, but if you become addicted, you can’t blame the crystal,” he says. Keith has never talked to Henry, a gay man in his forties who explained to me, in the most honest terms I’d ever heard, why he uses crystal. “I was hooked from the first time I tried it. The very first time. I love crystal. I don’t feel my age when I’m using it. I can have sex with anybody, any age, I can have sex with a twenty-year-old, and he doesn’t care how I look, especially if I have some to share. Whoever pays for the drugs is always beautiful. Crystal gives me energy, I feel like I’m twenty again.”

As a gay man, it is hard to talk about addiction. I feel reluctant to criticize the bathhouses; thank God they were there or I might not have had a place to go for sex at all. If it hadn’t been for gay porn, I wouldn’t have known what to do when I got there. And alcohol – thank God for some of those strong drinks, or I never would have had the courage to ask another man to dance, or to come home with me - the shame and terror of being rejected were too overwhelming. But how do you talk about not being able to stop partying, feeling out of control and not knowing how to ask anyone for help, when the only thing more shameful than feeling that you are bad because you’re gay is feeling the shame of being gay and an addict, and that the addiction, like the gayness, is all your “fault”? And even though we recently had a major Hollywood motion picture speak to some of the issues that closeted gays face, and people will tell you things are better for lesbians and gay men than they have ever been, gay teenagers are still killing themselves and being gay-bashed in towns across the country. It is impossible to know how many we have lost when we have no idea how many gay men and women are hiding in the closet, when families and publicists revise death announcements, when an obvious loss through AIDS becomes “cancer” or a “serious health issue”, when a gay suicide is covered up and attributed only to “depression” or “moodiness”, or when a sex-worker is murdered and the obituary doesn’t bother to acknowledge that the person who died was transgender, that the murder wasn’t random, but a hate crime.

David: black, gay, an inspiration to me, having come back from the other side of the looking-glass, is recovering from crystal meth addiction. While I never tried meth, whenever I fantasize about using crack cocaine again, when things feel dreadfully mundane, David reminds me how fortunate he and I are even to be alive, given what we’ve been through and some of the situations we put ourselves in. David says, “Somewhere out there is an alternative reality where I never stopped using, I never got help, and I died from crystal. If ever choose to pick up again, there is a tombstone waiting for me with my name on it.”

Me: I was twenty, I would come home from the bar so drunk that I fell asleep in the empty subway car and missed my stop, riding until the train came to the end. The G line would take me to the last stop at Smith and 9th Street where I would wake up and have to get off; there you could see the Statue of Liberty, it would be four or five o’clock in the morning and there was a misty look in the sky that said the sun was coming up soon.

I believed I cared about myself: I took showers every day and on Monday mornings I always made it into work, but I didn’t care enough to protect myself, playing Russian roulette with whoever would find me sleeping on the subway and might want to cause me harm. It is easy for me to dismiss my partying in those days as just “being a young man”, ”getting my bearings”, “learning to hold my liquor”, “sowing some wild oats” and let the conversation end there. What is difficult to explore is the part of me that wanted to die.

I think of Nathan, married, two kids, trying to rid himself of his homosexuality, his subconscious goal to drink enough alcohol, use enough drugs to kill the “parasite” that exists inside him. But as the parasite he’s trying to kill is part of his God-given identity, the set-up is that the victory over homosexuality will only be realized when he kills himself. And unfortunately there are still those among us who would rather hear a gay man’s eulogy than be on the other end of his coming-out speech.

* all the names in this article have been changed.

© 2006 Max Gordon
All Rights Reserved