Is romance dead in the gay world? If not, why are we left feeling like monogamy is positively out-dated and shunned by so many? We talk about the quest for love, and pay tribute to solitude and need for self-love.
A Love Surrender Production. Created and written by Goran D and Mitchell J.
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Steve is enjoying this trip so much. I am chronically tired. But I keep quiet, trying to sleep whenever I get the chance. In reality, this means on any train that has more than one free seat. This was all his idea. Aimlessly crossing Europe back and forth without any logical itinerary. We haven’t seen a proper bed in over a month.
Today we’re in Paris. The city of Love.
For someone like me, a 22-year-old gay man who still isn’t out yet, and has never been in love, Paris is the saddest place of all. We are only meant to spend less than 10 hours here and leave home with the last train tonight. Our inter-rail tickets will expire at midnight and this month-long odyssey will finally come to an end. Much of this fleeting visit to Paris will be wasted on the underground, figuring out Europe’s second-largest subway system. Eventually, we fInd ourselves climbing a hill overlooked by an elegant white structure at its summit.
“Sacr?-Coeur!” exclaims Steve proudly in his mock French accent and speeds up towards it like a child let loose.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is located in Montmartre, Paris’s bohemian district. As I stare at the noble church, I can’t help thinking about the countless love movies that have been made right here. Remember Amelie and that epic motorcycle scene. Aie!
Like Amelie, I also dream of love. Not just any love. One powerful enough to create the universe with a single breath. A love that can crack these hardened walls that are choking my heart. Do I deserve love too? “My love” is not meant to be! Emotions are getting the best of me, which means it's probably a good time to leave. I pull Steve away, urging him to go.
“Look on your right, turn!” Steve screams at the top of his lungs in shock.
“What...” I begin, unsure of what’s caught his eye.
“Two faggots kissing! Look on your right … there on the bench!”
“No!” I gasped in disbelief.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: two young boys, neither of them likely to be older than 15, exchanging passionate kisses on a bench in a broad daylight with thousands of tourists passing by. And no one cared. I guess that’s why they call it the city of love. Only Steve and me staring like idiots, obviously with very different intents.
“Sick!” my friend cried. “This is bloody sick. Let’s go!”
No... I can’t Steve... don’t make me go... let me watch them, please. They are so beautiful. I have spent a lifetime thinking none of this is possible, that my life was a mistake... Now I know that was wrong Steve, I was so wrong...
Of course, I said nothing like this. I walked away like a pussy, nodding at all the mean comments Steve threw at the couple, pretending I couldn’t care less about the topic. But inside I wept from joy and longing, my soul kept shaking in aftershocks of ... love ... gay love, I had just witnessed for the very first time.
The bright lights of LA are blurring into the background as our taxi speeds along the road.
“In three months, I’m leaving Australia,” I announce to my new-found friend from Sweden who’s in the backseat with me. “And I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“Great,” he says, “but don’t think that another country can solve your problems.”
The electric energy from the margaritas we’ve drunk dissolves in a second.
That’s all right for you to say, I want to reply: you live in Sweden where everything is perfect.
The idea that an escape from Australia could not enhance my happiness was something I did not, in that moment, want to think about.
After all, it was Morrissey, the one-time voice of loners of the world who lamented that if nobody wanted his love then he would throw his arms around Paris instead.
I have been to the French capital and know that there is nothing like it: Paris is a city that knows how to equally seduce and depress anyone who treads its ground. You never know which face it will show you, and that’s part of the risky allure.
But Morrissey’s song made sense. If I was as unlovable as him, maybe I could attach myself to a country far from home for the love I did not – could not – find in Australia?
And when I arrived in Finland, I thought I had all the evidence to prove the Swedish man wrong. The first time I started researching the country, I mistakenly typed FINDLAND into the browser. The typo would prove to be somewhat prophetic since it was a country where I found myself feeling in love. With life. I was single yet happy and finally able to use the four-letter word that had always been so alien to me.
As soon as I returned home to Serbia, a country I still loved despite its systematic and widespread homophobia, I went straight on the Internet to find what I’d seen in Paris: my man on the bench in Montmartre. At that time, it was the beginning of the 2000s, most of the apps that make up our everyday lives didn't even exist. And even if they did, my cell phone was about the size of a brick with a small narrow screen on the top that could barely allow me to distinguish phone numbers and dates.
Soon I came across this weird website that had a very basic design and a name that still baffles me: FIG. I would find out later that it was a platform mostly used by people who cheat on their spouses. It took me a while to figure out how to create a profile, but when I did, it looked perfect. I described myself as "old-school romantic" and for the profile picture, I used a cropped image of my electric blue eyes. For my sexual orientation, I chose bisexual. Not that I have ever kissed a girl, but bisexual sounded more ...palatable for Serbia. Even today, in that part of the world, most gay men still identify themselves as bisexuals. Quickly, a window with a message popped out saying: "You have eyes of an angel. Kiss, Robbie!". It turned out Robbie was a guy from nearby Croatia, a country we Serbs have been at war with for most of our recent history. But who cares about wars when you’re in love!
La Vie En Rose!
I remember thinking for a long time that Robbie was a 29-year-old handsome man from his profile picture on Skype. When I met him for the first time, I learned he was a chubby marketing manager who was 11 years older than he’d told me he was. Oddly, he wanted to meet at the city centre where he arrived carrying a massive umbrella with an ugly floral print. It was not meant to rain that day, and as we got talking, it turned out he was not a marketing manager either. He never really explained any of these lies, but back home you don't even expect anyone to tell you the full truth. That’s what they call “being discrete”. You expect them to lie and you find it sexy.
But I fell in love with Robbie. I think I would have fallen in love with anyone who'd come out that day and said nice things no one had ever said to me. I fell in love with him and he fell in love with my crotch. At least that's where he spent most of our first date when we finally arrived at the cheap hotel he’d booked.
All I can remember from that night was seeing a ball of fat moving up and down my body and the shocked face of my mum looking at me from every corner of the hotel room. This wasn’t how I’d imagined my first sex to be. There were no flowers, no wine, no dinner at a loud Italian restaurant where the mandolin and bass buzzed off the walls. There was a lot of sex and a lot of promises that never came true.
Robbie: Where would you like me to take you on a trip?
Me: Montmartre. Paris.
Robbie: You have a nice cock!
I’m a gay man and I’ve never been in love with another man. Sure, I have had crushes, maybe someone might have even liked me once or twice. But reciprocal love – a force strong enough to turn the world upside-down – feels unobtainable to me. That makes me like so many others.
Because I don’t have a gym body and because I don’t want one, either, the gay men I know are all single. I guess the only difference is that many of them are actively looking for their life partner the way a private detective goes searching for their client’s missing child. It’s not that I disapprove of this, I’ve just given up. I think I gave up back as a child when girls shrieked if my backpack brushed against them, and boys wouldn’t stand even a metre beside me without holding their breath. I felt so alive hearing one of my favourite bands, Sleater-Kinney, sing: “I’m unfuckable, unloveable, unlistenable, unwatchable.” That’s me. The other reason is that I also enjoy solitude.
My chiropractor, who sometimes feels like my therapist, asked me casually one day: “Any romance in your life?” “No,” I replied, and he grinned back. “I knew you’d say that. You’re just not the sort of person I could imagine would need to be with someone else.”
In this sense, I am one of the lucky ones. Quite often it thrills me to hike through forests, sail past ice-bergs and walk the streets of unfamiliar cities in the darkness and know that there is no one – absolutely no one – who is aware of my whereabouts. I laugh at the idea of taking photos that will never be seen, or collecting keepsakes that are destined for the garbage the moment I pass away. And I know, indeed am proud, that I would rather wake up alone than next to someone I only felt, at best, lukewarm towards. Good thing I’ve always had a slightly skewed sense of humour because, for many, this choice is comparable to terminal illness. Most gay men are deeply, deeply lonely. I’ve read interviews with therapists claiming that it affects them far greater than straight men – and is it so hard to understand why?
If making friends with gay men is difficult, then finding love is a correspondingly onerous task in a culture where sex or fucking is a more essential need than food and shelter. I’m aware that my value to most gay men is shrewdly based on my appearance. Back in my twenties when I still had some semblance of sexual relevance, I was chatting to a man and showed him my photos. He gave his acceptance in a single word: Fuckable.
GD: Sometimes I think I live in a chronic state of heartbreak. Every time I meet someone, I think it must be him. I tell myself: that's my man on the bench at Montmartre. The man with whom I will build a home with, (the white fence is optional), the man whom I will own a dog and pack my suitcases for exotic holidays with. The man who believes in love as deeply (and naively) as I do.
Usually, this man turns out to be, what my friends snarkily call, "a relationship of the month." Sometimes it lasts a few weeks, sometimes it even survives several months if I can delay sex long enough. And then the games start. The game of disappearing when I need him to be there, the game of pretending to want an open relationship after 3 weeks of knowing me, the game of ghosting, the game of him suddenly experiencing all sorts of depressive conditions so he does not have to meet me, the game of losing his phone or his phone being stolen, the game of a sudden loss of a family member and the like. But what we rarely ever get to play is the game of truth!
I can’t help but feel that because gay people spend most of our lives lying to others and ourselves that we do not feel comfortable with telling the truth. The truth is awkward, and it often requires us to openly show our weaknesses to others and come across as vulnerable. Heaven forbid! You don't want to be perceived as weak – Girl Power!
Vulnerable does not mean being fucked up or needy or unmanly or any of that. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen.
I've always dreamt about meeting someone who could love me for who I am. Remember John Legend’s song “All of You”. I always cry listening to it.
Sings: 'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
No one has ever loved me like that …
When I turned 30, I was already an expert in moving on. Next...Next…Next
I am moving on at the speed of light.
I guess it helps that I’ve uprooted my life more than once and lived in a dozen countries.
In the beginning, it would take me a few days to recover, then… a sleepless night or two. Nowadays, I have already moved on before even meeting the guy.
Love is a language I haven’t heard spoken a whole lot in the gay community – not monogamous love, anyway. It dashes through the forest fast as an endangered species who only the very lucky might get to glimpse provided they have good binoculars.
I know someone who is polyamorous and, for some time, I could understand his choice. If everyone was fucking each other behind their backs, wasn’t it better to be honest and not pretend to be a paragon of virtuosity? In the times my friend and I were together, I watched him watching other men walking past hungrily. I wondered whether to mention, casually, that there was a bomb in my backpack, or that I’d won the lottery the night before because nothing, it seemed, could lead to an unwavering of his sexual appetite. Passing judgment is never a good thing, but neither is pretending and, truthfully, I could not live that way.
Still, there are times I can feel drawn to love, long for it even. I remember the words of author Sonya Hartnett, writing in The Ghost’s Child that: “Love isn’t always a good thing, or even a happy thing. Sometimes it’s the very worst thing that can happen. But love is like moonlight or thunder, or rain on a tin roof in the middle of the night: it is one of the things in life that is truly worth knowing.” Sure, it saddens, sometimes scares me, that I will never get to experience something that essential.
I once had a friendship with another gay man that left me breathless. It was an intense friendship that pulsed through my veins even when one of us was on the other side of the world. When it ended abruptly, I was heartbroken. “He was only your friend,” someone countered. “Are you sure you weren’t really in love with him?”
“No,” I said. “But I did love him.” I believe that incandescent love which burns with the devotion of the sun and stars is just as important. I might be alone, but I am not altogether a loner. There are people I care about, deeply, and I don’t want to live in a world without them. I guess that as a gay man, I get disillusioned that I don’t often see that despite the fact we are – supposedly – part of a community, fractured and hierarchical as it may be. It feels to me that the straight people I know are on such a radically different path to those who are gay. While one is settling down with a home and family, many gay men are still playing Peter Pan, chasing the elusive perfect man who will give them something no one else has. I accept that many people don’t want marriage and children – I’m not sure I want it, either; but I do feel embarrassed that so many gay men want nothing but sex.
For all these reasons, I can’t really believe in romantic love. Not right now. I know I should end this with a more hopeful message. I’m sorry. There is still light. Maybe you can change my mind. Ask yourself: can you still find love even when you are alone? Yes, I think you can.