I’d been meaning to write a post about new year’s resolutions, because that’s the kind of thing people do. I was going to write about how you shouldn’t make a new year’s resolution to go to the gym, because that’s the kind of resolution people make and it’s a daft resolution to make. Don’t start at the gym in January, no one enjoys going to the gym in January.
Like I say, I’m maybe a teensy bit hypo at the moment. While that can be fun and dances, it can also make me a petulant cock. So while most gay men would skip eagerly to any event named ‘Naked Boys Reading‘, the grumpy bouncer on the door led to a grumpy me entering the venue.
Grumpy me doesn’t like crowds, grumpy me doesn’t really like people. Grumpy me is more than a little self-entitled and sulky and there were too many people, the music was too loud, the bar was too crammed and, and just ugh. Ugh. Why did I bother?
Fortunately I have a decent amount of self awareness these days and knew grumpy me was just grumpy because of a mild fog of hypomania. I decided to stay. Besides, I’d paid seven quid and I’m skint, may as well get my money’s worth.
Grumpy guy. Beards and pretention in Shoreditch, how fucking gay can you get; naked boys reading.
I’d actually been really looking forward to it. The fact I’m leaving London soon has given me the impetus to do those things I’d always meant to do, and going to this was one of those things. I’d put a few call outs on twitter and Facebook to see if anyone fancied coming, everyone was busy, no one took the bait. Fuck it, I thought. I’m going anyway. He bad can a night called Naked Boys Reading be? I could only fail to be pleased if they were reading the phone book. Or had taken an imaginative interpretation of the word ‘naked’. Everyone’s naked under their clothes after all but I think we can all agree that’s cheating.
Don’t worry, it was awesome.
The self confessed crap drag queen dragged me out of my funk. She was helped by the crowd, who came across as warm and playful. I soon found myself grinning, then laughing, and cheering along.
The guys who came on were all shapes and sizes. Being prepared to stand naked in front of a load of gay guys, a notoriously judgy demographic, takes a tonne of guts. To stand starkers for an extended period, reading literature is… well, let’s not bother with delicacies; it’s gloriously batty. The concept alone is laughably absurd. The knowledge that gay men (and a few women) would horde to such an event laughably predictable. That anyone would turn up to get their kit off and read is a glorious, wonderful expression of the heights of cultured absurdity to which gay society is reaching. It’s right up there with foxes wearing lanyards.
Of course a guy comes on waving his wang around and you gawp at the wang (well, I do). Then you examine the body, everything you’re not meant to do in the changing rooms. But changing rooms are always filled with the young and the beautiful. Fuck the young and the beautiful.
Your eyes keep flicking to the face, obviously; everyone’s addicted to watching faces, and when we can gawp we gawp. We gawped, classy with affected disinterest and closed lips, but we gawped. Still, stories drag you in. There’s nothing people love more than stories. Eyes begin to linger, enchanted, on the face, on the eyes, telling the story. Stories ranging from dark to comic, to sexual (obviously). Eyes begin to linger on the stories.
So the nakedness fell away, became irrelevant. Yeah, we were at naked boys reading so we could gawp respectfully, warmly, at naked boys. I mean why not? But eventually the nakedness became a side show, an addition to the act. Naked Boys Reading became readings by naked boys. Everyone laughed, everyone cheered, everyone clapped and listened and smiled. It was great. A great reminder we’re all naked under our clothes.
Yes, obviously I’m going to do a reading at some point.
Doncaster has had a fair few gay bars in its time. There was, originally, the Vine (now demolished), which was brilliantly old school with a normal-pub front room and a back room adorned with porn and rainbows, windows blackened. I went in there once, early 20’s drunk, and sat at the bar drinking pints while people played darts. Fantastic.
There was the Prince of Wales, which had a brief, violent life. I don’t think I ever saw the place without boarded up windows. Remember the headline in the Star in 2000 – ANGER AT NEW GAY BAR.
Ah, the good old days.
Most recently, the naively-named Crystals. By now it will have closed down. Crystals used to fascinate me, and I don’t think it was me being a wanker metropolitan gay. The place was big – I remember it from it’s pre-gay days, a bleary eyed 17 year old following his girlfriend to an awful ‘Battle of the Bands’ thing, featuring loppy haired 16 year olds. It had a huge bar area, raised dancefloor, outside yard. And I don’t know if it always seemed empty because is was so big, or if it really was always empty.
I went to the Christmas special there once, two quid entry and free buffet. You know those buffets that are all cheap food and cheap carbs and sugar and fatty reformed warm meats?
It was far worse than that.
Anyway. I used go out of habit, not because it was so good, but because it was so shite. I mean it was only twice a year or so, not counting Pride – I wasn’t trekking up from London just to sample the Donny nightlife. But every time I went, I thought ‘this is awful, this is the pits. It can’t possibly get any worse than this’.
And so every time I returned to Doncaster, I’d go, thinking it had to at least be better than last time.
It never was. It was always worse. And I became fascinated. Entranced. Sat on my own, drinking bad lager and smelling the stale carpet, staring into the middle distance. How bad can it actually get?
I used to hate my nose. It’s effete, slipping up at the tip like a stereotyped French aristocrat, permanently upturned to the world. Now, however, I still hate my nose, but I also hate my hips and this fat on my belly and the horrible moobs than droop unappetisingly from my chest and I know you all say you can’t see it but it’s there. I hate my arse and the fact my biceps are shrinking from lack of gym and the dry skin on my cheeks. Flab padding out my frame, oozing into a muffin top. My body saggy, undesired and undesirable. Mottled, too skinny, too fat.
Being gay has taught me a lot. And one of the things it’s taught me is that my body is criminally undesirable. It’s no big deal, and objectively the vapidity of it all is funny; watching sometimes from the sidelines, at the boys prettier than you who no doubt still think they’re ugly, knowing that no matter how thin, how big, how ripped you get, you’ll never, never be happy. And I guess in a way, it’s all cool. All in the same boat, after all, me and you against the world.
Every now and then something erupts on the London scene which demonstrates not only how disgustingly / amazingly shallow it is, but also that there are unknown depths of shittery which your feeble mind was incapable of imagining until it burst forth, greasy and warm.
A few years back this came in the form of FitLadz, a scally-themed cruise night which advertised they’d be turning away ‘munters’. Leaving aside the fact that most people don’t go in for the dress code at these places and that those who do don trakkies and caps tend to be well-to-do architects called Sebastian, saying you’re gonna turn away ugly people is pretty ugly.
Whether it was a marketing ploy or not, feather boas were ruffled and FitLadz soon backed down, removing the wording from the ads.
Today, word on the grapevine reaches me of a night to be held at the Hoist, one of London’s full time gay fetish clubs. It’s a ‘private party’ but it is being hosted by the club, so I feel somewhat (somewhat) justified in levelling a bit of invective their way; entry to the party isn’t determined by who you know, but by how you look.
Seriously. You send them a photo with a few stats and they determine if you’re eligible.
Now as I say, this is a private do but the Hoist, while they are known for various kink nights and a variably-enforced dress code, are not especially known for an upstairs function room available for parties or wedding receptions. They’re not even known for providing really, really shit buffets (insert comment about ‘putting on a good spread’ here). So there’s clearly more involvement than just a bored receptionist taking down a date in the back office.
Of course, this speaks to the narcissism of the gay scene, the impossible drive for impossible perfection, the desire for impossible bodies. I could write on and on and on about the way this environment impacts us – us as gay men, in our own lives, our own bodies and minds, far away from the scripted ideals. But that wasn’t what first struck me about this – that’s all old hat.
What first struck me was, ‘this is amazing!’. Just when you think the body fascism of the scene has found its nadir, another sink hole opens up and you find yourself tumbling helplessly into it, the only thing making it bearable the knowledge that everyone finds it as despicable as you. Except for the people who would go to a night like this.
Think about it: What kind of person would want to go to a night filled with the kind of people who would want to go to to a night like this?!
It’s fascinating. You have to admire them, and it really can’t be long until some corporate club comes up with the same wheeze. They probably have, somewhere outside the UK. It’s amazing, watching, chewing your protein bar and gazing down Compton Street.
How bad can it actually get?
I’d laugh all the way to the Eagle if I found out this venture was a flop for the Hoist, but the same can’t be said for Crystals. For all that it was abysmal, I would have given my left eye for a town centre gay pub when I was growing up alone in that town. I hear there’s possibly another one opening up further up the road, or a pub owned by a couple of gay guys which I suspect will at least put on a night. I really wish them the best of luck. It’s easy to mock from the bright lights of the big cities, but gay teenagers growing up in small towns deserve to know they’re not alone.
I get a bit nauseous the first few days. Then again, they give you anti-nausea pills, too. So I’m sorted.
I’m told they’re very powerful drugs but then, they tell me the mood stabilisers and antidepressants are also very powerful drugs. Frankly, unless I’m tripping balls within half an hour of swallowing them I have difficulty believing that claim.
They do clever and intricate things to do with DNA replication and integration. For all their apparent innocence, they are both absolute, undisputed marvels of 20th and 21st century biology, biotechnology, pharmacology and medical research.
They’re anti HIV pills.
I don’t even think I have HIV.
PEP, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis. They’re handed out after suspected HIV exposure and consist of standard anti HIV medication – the exact drugs vary depending on what other medication you’re taking and any pre-existing conditions. The idea is to slam the virus down before it takes hold, before it inserts itself into your own DNA and becomes a permanent resident within your immune system.
Treatments for HIV these days are, like I say, a marvel of modern medical research. HIV first came to attention around the time I was born; now, in my thirties, an individual living with HIV can generally expect a normal lifespan. There are exceptions, and there is variability in response; but from talking to most (heterosexual) people, the impression I get is that their perception of HIV is over fifteen years out of date. For many in the UK the tombstone adverts of the ’80s still loom large in their minds. Most, let’s be fair, never think of it at all.
HIV never went away. It just became old news, and old news is no news. But in the gay community, such as it is, it remains; a permanent resident. For gay men in London, if you’ve had unprotected sex with anyone at all whose status you’re unaware of, then you’re usually offered PEP. You’re presumed to have been exposed.
Sexual health counsellors are amazing.
OK, I only saw one, the one time, but she was amazing. Half her hair cropped tight, the other half waved wild, streaked green; torn jeans and flannel shirt and big, big boots.
She laughed lots.
“It’s your choice. You’re a smart guy; you know exactly the risks you’re taking. Even when you go out, get pissed, get high, you know the risks you will take. You keep on like this, you probably will get HIV.
Ever since 2008, my libido’s been fucked. And really, honestly, I don’t know why any more. Maybe the psychiatric meds. Maybe the depression. Maybe my own neurosis about sex, built up during the episode and now difficult to tear down again; am I any good, will they be disappointed, will they think I’m too fat, too thin, too boring, too kinky? Rejection hurts, it’s easier to say no. Or ensure no one ever even asks.
Unless I’m wasted.
When you’re wasted, everything’s easy, except thinking and talking and life. But pleasure, but desire, but lust… these things are easy. And when you’re wasted, who cares about the rest?
Fucking is easy when you’re wasted.
Lust is fierce when you’re wasted.
Who wants to use condoms, when you’re wasted?
Amongst gay men, there’s a degree of prejudice around barebacking (sex without a condom). To a degree, this is understandable; the safer sex message was naturally targeted intensely at our community, and of course there are those who remember the decimation of the ’80s. For a long while, the message was condoms or not at all. This prejudice is unfortunate, because gay guys – an increasing number of gay guys – bareback. We do it for many, often complex reasons. Often it’s just the one time; we’re drunk, we’re high. We always use condoms but we might slip up. Or maybe we’re with a partner and we both last tested negative. Or maybe we only fuck when high or otherwise disinhibited, meaning we never, or rarely, use protection. Or maybe, maybe just fuck it, because sex without condoms just feels better, and we’re fucking horny, and it’s fucking horny, fucking like that, cumming like that.
Turning around to that vast, varied swathe and saying, “what’s wrong with condoms” – well we’ve been doing that for decades, and still we have HIV, inserted into our lives. It’s as absurd as telling people to ‘just say no’ to drugs. It’s tone deaf, idealistic to the point of idiocy, and presumes a perfect, predictable world. Sorry sugar – the world isn’t like that. People aren’t like that.
The messages of moral superiority, ‘just say no’, that barebacking is stupid, hurts. It hurts the individuals who do it, and it hurts the community it’s supposedly aimed at protecting. It results in the people who bareback – for whatever reason – not talking about it, not understanding the options now available, picking up hearsay and horror stories about the medications available. It plays a part in fuelling anti HIV prejudice, which is still all to prevalent not only in the wider world but in our community. You’d think that we of all people would understand that this never solves anything; that communication is better than silence, understanding better than judgement.
I’m gonna sit here, drinking, fuck it. Fuck the world and past promises to future me, fuck the future. The future I can’t even see. Fuck it. Fuck it all.
And this is me on a good day, these days.
The boys behind the bar in Ku are tight, fresh faced and fashionable. Bulges in all the right places, nice. That curve, where the shoulder meets the arm; creases longing to be licked. Shadows and highlights, biceps, triceps, taut.
Fuck them and their youth. I’m gonna sit here, drinking, getting older. Unshaven, wild hair, unkempt. Trainers falling off my feet and falling apart. Me, falling off my feet; falling apart. Today I’ve been to the gym, worked out my chest, worked up a sweat on the cross trainer. Sat now in a bar, downing pints. This sums up my life, pretty much, right now. Fucking metaphors.
I never did get this world, you know? I wonder who does, if anyone does. I’ve thought I understood it, like truths understood in dreams. Fairy gold only lasts until the dawn. I never did get this world, not really.
Work, buy, consume, die. Identity constructed through purchasing power, your clothes your music your hair your food, your choice of beverage, iPhone or Android, express your individuality through Habitat prints or posters from the market. We’re all fucking individuals.
I never got it.
Christ I’ve tried. I’ve tried to join in, but you know, I just don’t care. Fuck it. Scruffy hair and scratty trainers; I’m not making a statement I just honestly don’t notice, can’t be arsed. I don’t get this dumb fucking world we’ve built.
The boys behind the bar are firm and hard; fashionable. Clean cut and unblemished and you can imagine fucking them and it being a kind of perfection. And I want them and rage that I was never like them and now the moment’s passed, and I just sit here drinking, getting older.
And the guys in the clubs are all pumped and pumping, perfect and laughing. Jeans hanging just so, showing just enough arse to make you ache and hate yourself. Fuck them. Fuck them and their lives, I want them and I’m never going to be like them and i wish I didn’t care but fuck it, I do. But I never got this world.
Christ I’ve tried.
I don’t know exactly when it shifted, and I definitely don’t know why. I tend to put a definite cut off around 2008, since the 2008-09 episode was so profound, lasted so long, and smothered me; like sleep, under morphine.
At first I blamed the drugs. That was comforting and easy, because after all a side effect of SSRIs is loss of libido. It also held out the promise that once I was off the drugs, I’d be up and running again. I was willing to put up with a flatlining sex drive for a while, for the relief the antidepressants gave me. They were only temporary, after all.
And then I came off the drugs, and I looked forward to the promise of torrential lust. Being young and gay in London with no strong desire for sex is… frustrating. I wanted that part of my life back. So I waited, and I waited, and it never came.
Oh sure, I could get drunk and horny. But that’s missing the point, isn’t it? Drunken lust is clumsy, grasping and loose. Temporary, and soon forgotten. Being young and gay in London with no strong desire for sex is more than a little alienating.
I still blamed the drugs, or maybe I blamed the depression, or both. Blamed some kind of permanent rewiring of the circuits of sexual desire. Maybe they’d burned out? Maybe they’d atrophied? We live in a culture saturated by sex – gay subcultures especially are sodden with it. But for all that, we seem to have little real regard for it. For most of us, sex is important, beyond hedonism and lust and beyond even passion. It’s important for contact, for happiness. For relationships and belonging and feeling a broad and deep range of emotion, sensation.
And I wasn’t getting any.
“Loss of libido” is thrown away in the patient information sheet which details side effects of SSRIs, alongside “failure to reach / maintain an erection (in men)”* and “Anorgasmia (failure to reach orgasm)”. I guess in the grand scheme of things, these aren’t profoundly worrying side effects – the other drug I’m on, lamotrigine, lists Stevens-Johnson syndrome (a potentially fatal loss of skin) and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC, AKA Death Is Coming) as it’s potential side effects. Yes, I’d rather have no sex drive and shit orgasms than die horribly from my skin sloughing from my body. Still. Hardly a fair comparison.
Sex is important. And when you’re prone to depression, not having a full – or any – sex life, and thus no romantic life, is dangerous. It denies you a source of pleasure, emotional soil in which to grip your roots to the world. “Protective factors”, in the dry but honest language of a psychiatric consultation. The fewer roots you have the more likely you are to wither. The easier it becomes to simply take the hand you’ve been dealt, and fold.
Sex is important. I really, really don’t think the wider psychiatric community appreciate just how important it is, largely oblivious to how antidepressants can deeply wound a life.
Of course, I’m human, and humans excel at making simple things complicated. Maybe the depression led to a plummeting libido. Maybe SSRIs turned down too many switches inside my head. But people are more complicated than just brains. After so long without a shag, the whole issue takes a life of it’s own, entwining with sexual confidence and body confidence, until it becomes impossible to know if you’re not having sex because you don’t want to, or because you’re afraid to.
I hope this problem is nice and simple and neurological. I hope my bottomed out libido can be blamed on a zapped out reward pathway, or a scrambled endocrine system, or anything other than high level psychology. Because if it’s up to psychology, I really can’t see it being resolved any time soon. Sex is important. Without it I don’t meet guys, I don’t date. I must be the only gay man in London who has never met anyone off Grindr. Seriously. My last online hookup was in 2008. This. Is getting. Tiring.
“Would you be open to a mood stabiliser?” The psychiatrist asks.
I’ve been rumbled. They want to take the hypomania from me.
“Which one?” I ask. They know I study neuroscience. It’s in the file. An awful lot is in the file.
I’ve heard of it, but beyond it being a mood stabiliser I know nothing. I don’t want the sluggishness that can come with some psychiatric meds (paroxetine destroyed me with sleep; and I’ve seen the effects of olanzapine – an antipsychotic – second hand). Will it place a final nail in the coffin of my libido? I’m wary. I want to know it’s mode of action, I want to know if…
“Like I say; I think the SSRIs work because they make me slightly hypomanic. If you take that away… What’s left?”
He reassures me; “just a trial”
It’s ultimately up to me. Naturally I go online and look up the mode of action (voltage gated sodium channel blocker, calcium channel blocker, glutamate modulator). I look up personal experiences.
Rise in libido.
Not everyone, not all the time. And sometimes the reverse – maybe it could be the final nail in the coffin. And sometimes the rise is due to activation of mania, sometimes fades after a few weeks. Still. It hangs there, glowing on my iPad screen. The promise of lust. Rise in libido.
I say yes.
I take the pill.
*Seriously, this is how it’s phrased. I love the fact they felt the need to specify.
Just a quickie to say I’ve got a guest post up over at Girl on the Net’s sex (etc) blog. I wrote it a few years back and while I wanted it to see the light, I was unsure about putting it up here for various reasons. It’s about body confidence, the gay scene, and, well, my own ineptitude!
After a few tweeks I’m less concerned about the anonymity of it, so if you fancy going and having a gander, you can take a look here.