Jeremy Pope
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Parched: Summer & the Politics of Sexual Thirst

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Ah, summer in New York. Is there a better time and place on earth? For many a gay man, not really. For me, however, it's torture. A blissful torture, like what I assume deeply religious people must feel: I am in anguish but this is the price I have to pay for eternal salvation and/or dudes freeballing in basketball shorts.

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Once the cherry blossoms bloom, so does every queen in town. By the time June rolls around, the entire city is in heat, eyes meet easier (when not glued to the apps), smiles are easier, flirting is first, second and third nature. Into this sexual hotbed pour thousands of gay men to celebrate Pride and the next thing you know Grindr’s giving you a pop-up about being overloaded. Because we all are. Overloaded.

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Summer in New York is nothing but a series of distractions and frustrations. All these bare (and bear) thighs and calves and arms and chests and abs on display. How does anyone get anything done? I can barely collect my thoughts when every sliver of skin is a temptation, every waft of a male passerby an invitation.

I am enthralled, I am entranced, I am enchanted—and I am enslaved—by the beauty of men in a New York summer. My concentration is held hostage by my desires, mitigated by my own accidental abstinence. I regularly go months without having sex, for no other reason than it just doesn’t happen. Not for lack of trying, though how much I try is up for debate, but a gal's got work to do. In 80-plus degree weather, however, my tolerance breaks down completely and I find myself endlessly window-shopping on the apps, a flurry of woofs, “hey theres” and “how's it goings” met with a cacophony of silence.

While refraining from sending follow-up questions and/or responses, I remind myself not to take any snub personally, no matter how easy it is to consider every neglected message an egregious affront. I assure myself that things will get easier once I get my summer abs back, which is only partially true, but also yet another reason for guys not to see me as a real person but as a physical manifestation of their sexual desire. But is that so bad? Isn’t that what I want? To be desired?

Related | The Impossibility of Love

Well, yes, of course. I want to be desired. Who doesn’t? But I also want to be respected. Who doesn’t? And the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. I want to be respected as a fellow human being with feelings. I want to be respected as a fellow gay man with the same desires. Respect is not starting a conversation with a close-up of your dick or a rear-facing shot of you on all fours. Just as respect isn’t making references to my “black dick”—as if I'm completely unaware of what it is or looks like, or as if it’s a separate entity unto itself. Each time this happens I die a little on the inside.

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When you’re a gay man, sex is a political act. Your very existence is politicized, so to give life and definition to that existence through the very thing that politicizes you is unwaveringly political. When you’re a gay black man, sex is an outright rebellion. Sex is me being able to embrace my body and the history of my body, and to then give it up wholly to someone else, to abandon the inhibitions that dictate my life and the way I live it and the way others see me, and to truly feel alive. Every kiss, every touch, every warm body is a victory.

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But to succeed in anything in this country as a black man, you have to be “better” and that’s true even for hooking up. I have to be sexier, more masculine, more muscular, more aggressive yet more pliable, just to feel noticed, to be acknowledged, to be validated—yes, I am good enough—and in my best interest I should know my place and shut the fuck up. If I was content to be just another headless torso with a blank profile, save for my stats, I’d be having a much easier time right now. I mean, I’d probably be having sex right now instead of writing about not having sex right now.

However, I’m also acutely aware that no matter how hard I work on myself—to be better, to be more attractive, to feel more validated—I’m still playing a game that is stacked against me. So why play the game by everyone else’s rules when I can’t win to begin with? It's a waste to work on my own perceived inadequacies when the system through which I perceive them is broken.

From past experiences, I’ve instinctively taught myself to avoid eye contact with other men, to avoid overtly flirting, to in effect build this wall between me and the rest of the gay community: my race. It’s not a wall solely of my creation, but one that’s been built on a rich history of American values. My adult life is the constant reprogramming of my youth, in which I was taught through the media that to be gay was to be white and to be white was to be attractive.

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I’ve always wondered what it must be like to date as an attractive gay white man. To not have the fear in the back of your head that you’ll automatically be disqualified on the basis of your skin color, or your hair, or facial features. To be at ease and not constantly at war within one’s own skin. To be able to say “it’s just sex.”

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Were it only so easy to approach violating someone’s asshole with the same insouciance as a walk to the corner store. But with sex, I am at my most vulnerable. Literally naked asking—who, a stranger?—to love me (an approximation of love) for 45 minutes to two hours depending when the Cialis kicks in. And then once my approximation of love has dried on their back, we’re strangers again and I’m left wondering if it was even worth it. The answer is often a resounding no as they would rather seemingly disappear from the face of the earth than answer a text message from me.

I'm sure mine is a unique and extreme case as I know a lot of people who have a lot of sex without all the baggage. They don't understand, however, what a difficult time I have and how disproportionately hard I have to work just to get and maintain a guy’s attention, or the nature of that attention, or the machinations at work that make casual sex anything but casual. Between the fakes, flakes, catfishers, guys in relationships, guys lying about being in relationships, douchebags, racists, basics, and lames, I don't know if I'll ever have sex again, or even why I should. 

Some guys are in it just for the hunt and immediately lose interest once they’ve snared their prey. For others, the hunt is their endgame, their sole interest. But whatever the motivation, the hunt remains. And it is heightened by the summer—it's more thrilling, more compelling, more important, and thus more disappointing when it yields nothing. It's also tiring as fuck. Grappling with all these issues in what I can only hope could be a simple quest for pleasure is beyond exhausting. And I'm already dehydrated as it is. At the rate summer is going, I might just die of this thirst.

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And so I look forward to the day I walk into the ocean during my annual gaycation in Provincetown this August, wearing my best Beyoncé "Love Drought" whites, a planter's punch in one hand, a blunt in the other, belting out Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody"—after which I will have my ashes scattered under the Dick Dock. 

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