By Stephanie Fairyington
Since last Valentine�s Day I�ve been trying to convince my girlfriend, Meg, that we should make each other �I hate you� cards for February 14 and fine-dine at McDonald�s, gorging on greasy French fries and bulging burgers under those foul fluorescent lights to protest such a stupid holiday. She hasn�t agreed to it yet, but since then I�ve been wondering, Isn�t Valentine�s Day a holiday purposely designed to make single people feel like crap? Actually, isn�t solophobia even more pervasive and insistent than homophobia these days? It�s not just the increasing push of the urge to merge�and register china patterns at Macy�s�but the drive toward making sure that you�re always �getting some� one way or another.
�There�s this sense that everyone wants to [be having sex], especially among gay men, so if you don�t, you feel weird,� says Rafael Rodriguez*, a 34-year-old Dominican New Yorker. �The truth is, there are times when I haven�t wanted it and have felt the pressure to go out and look for it because everyone else is having sex. So it�s just a lot of pressure.� Sometimes, of course, the pressure can come from the inside. Chris Nutter, a Chelsea boy in his mid 30s (and author of The Way Out, a forthcoming spiritual guidebook for gay men), recalls using sex to mask negative feelings he had about himself throughout his party-and-play 20s. �I felt like Nobody wants to have sex with me and I�m too feminine and I�m not good enough and I�m not attractive, and I�d covered it up with fucking bagillions of guys,� he says. Even those whose belts don�t have quite so many notches, like Joshua Simon*, a 25-year-old New York City magazine editor, agree that there�s a good deal of �pressure from gay peers to have random hookups and one-night stands.�
Sexual liberation has long been a tenet in the High Church of Gay, but lately it seems that its newest commandment is �Thou shalt be coupled,� whether for a one-night stand or a 10-year relationship. The overriding message: If you aren�t getting any�whether it�s a find-him-on-the-Internet hookup, a steady boyfriend, or, in Massachusetts at least, a spouse�you�re a sexual and social failure. This message can take its toll. If you�re not getting laid, you end up with more than just a case of blue balls; it�s a genuine assault on self-esteem.
�If I haven�t had sex for a long time or gotten naked with somebody, I guess I begin to think, Oh, there�s something wrong with me; nobody wants to hook up with me,� says Simon. Rodriguez echoes that sentiment, adding, �You start questioning your physical appeal.� Others question their masculinity: Doron Bar*, a 31-year-old recovering sex addict, explains that sexual droughts in his life have made him feel �empty� and �unmasculine.� A length of time without sex �is kind of like [being] the hunter that doesn�t go hunting. It�s all about proving your masculinity and your power�you kill an animal to prove to yourself that you�re powerful and in control.�
While self-actualization through sexual liberation is certainly not new, ever since HIV was identified 22 years ago, there has been an increasing pressure�often generated by gay men themselves�to settle down into partnered relationships of varying degrees of monogamy. That push has only been intensified by the increasing momentum of the same-sex marriage campaign. Support among gay people for the civil-rights and equality arguments for same-sex marriage are strong, but there remains an ongoing debate about just what marriage will mean for same-sex sexuality. Whichever side of this issue social commentators come down on, all would seem to agree that gay individuals need to be identified as part of a twosome, whether as a married couple or as part of a series of casual couplings.
On the one hand, you�ve got the pro-promiscuity proponents like David Halperin, author of Saint Foucault, and noted queer journalist Richard Goldstein. Halperin contends that �heterosexual culture in the West has produced a culture of erotic impoverishment, in which sex is supposed to be rare, and then has turned that rarity into a virtue. Gay male culture has the sense to challenge that destructive notion.� Similarly, Goldstein doesn�t think that a queer sexual ethic that values a lot of sex and risk-taking is about self-loathing and destruction. He argues that promiscuity and high-risk sexual practices like barebacking with tina are about the thrill of danger. Though he doesn�t approve of barebacking, he doesn�t think it is the result of any pathology but instead �is a fact of gay male sexuality,� which often finds �that danger can be erotic.�
*Not his real name.
To read more about solophobia, pick up a copy of the February 2006 issue of Out.
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