Gay Hookup Culture: Living the Lana Del Rey Fantasy
Image by Grindr posted by Variety
I lived the Lana Del Rey fantasy, and it sucked.
I recognize that most people would agree that being gay, especially in your early teens, is difficult. If I were to put it into a sentence, the moment you realize you might be gay is as if someone stops you halfway down the path of life, just to pick you up and kick you onto another, unknown, sometimes shittier path. While that’s easy enough to say, I honestly find it hard to express the level of alienation one can feel because of this. I grew up watching male heroes kiss princesses, reading books about straight couples, and seeing the perfect image of the nuclear family: husband, wife, and children. I believed I would probably find myself in a similar situation one day. I only realized that being gay was a thing at age eight in a school assembly.
By the time I realized I wasn’t straight, homosexuality was a completely foreign concept to me, and that terrified me. The environment I grew up in didn’t help much, either. My family consists of people with strong, stubborn personalities. My parents were the suit-and-tie business types. My siblings seemed to be going down that route too. My school, while not homophobic, was as undiverse as they come. I was an emotional kid and an artist since I can remember. Everything mentioned above led to a downward spiral of denial and self-loathing. This spiral lasted for years due to the unfamiliarity of being gay and the fear of having another reason to be different.
When I first came out to someone at the age of 14, I was able to tell my entire friend group soon. Though, when I finally came to terms with being gay, I still felt completely and utterly alone. I was the only person I knew who was in any way queer. I watched as my (all straight) friends would get their first kiss, their first romantic partner, and lose their virginity. It felt as if I was watching my friends’ amazing romantic lives play out on a TV as I watched along on the couch. As if I was missing out on a precious part of life. Finally, though, I had my first boyfriend, my first breakup, and then lost my virginity at age sixteen to some meaningless hookup. It felt anti-climactic, but I felt “caught up” in the thrill of it all, for lack of a better term.
When I was sixteen, I had come to terms with who I was, and while I still felt completely alone, I could come out to my family. At this age, I received a message on Instagram from an unknown account. I looked at this account’s profile. This person was older and attractive. My heart fluttered at the fact that someone very attractive would even message me, so I messaged him back, and he replied. We talked for a few days and met shortly after these first online interactions. One thing led to another, and my second time having sex was at 16 years of age with a 25-year-old man. At the time, something about that felt so empowering. I felt mature, attractive, and cool.
By that summer, I downloaded Grindr; an app gay men use for hookups. I chatted with men who were way older than me, and I quickly met up with another man and hooked up with him. I was seventeen, and he was thirty-two. Then another, I was eighteen, and he was thirty-eight. Another, I was eighteen, and he was twenty-nine.
By the time COVID lockdowns were eased, I was able to start talking and seeing more guys my age. I felt that now was a better time than ever to start a relationship. I tried and failed. I found myself unable to commit, always wanting something better. For a reason I couldn’t explain, doing anything sexual with a boy I genuinely liked, who was my age for a change, completely grossed me out. I would make excuses not to have sex, stalling as much as possible before I inevitably broke things off. I found comfort, unfortunately, in sex with older men. It never occurred to me that I had never really been intimate but only had fucked. And then the cycle would repeat itself.
Say what you will about age gaps; I’m not writing to condemn them, nor am I writing to condone them. My article discusses this issue that runs rampant in the gay community. Most, if not all my gay friends have recounted similar experiences with older gay men. I want to understand why this happens.
Living in a time that isn’t the past three years was living in a time when the queer culture wasn’t mainstream. As I mentioned, I grew up feeling alienated from everyone I knew, possibly due to this underrepresentation. Struggling with an issue is one thing, but struggling with something that you know nothing about, or don’t know anyone who has gone through the same, is inexplicably desolating. I felt worthless, different, unattractive, and, most of all, alone. A lack of queer representation in society and the media means that most queer youth feel like absolute freaks until they meet more people like themselves, possibly years or even decades later. Like others, I tried to find comfort in older gay men. These men usually had been out of the closet for many years. Thus, they were much more comfortable with their sexuality than I could have been at fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen. These men were, in a sense, “role models,” a future to work towards, in which I could be out, unashamed, not alone, and comfortable with my sexuality.
Once again, I am no professional; I am simply writing this to address an issue that I have experienced in the gay community and something I assume many other gay young men can relate to. Many of us agree that dating in the gay community is an absolute mess, and people get so used to “no strings attached” that they tend not to want any relationship in the first place. A lack of queer representation is the leading cause of gay youth feeling completely isolated, alone, and different. It ends with them finding comfort only in men who can easily be double their age and are ready with open arms to take advantage of their situation.