I’ve been out since I was 19, and insecure since the day I was born. I’ve shied away from intimacy my entire life, something psychologists label “avoidant attachment” and my mother calls “frustrating.” I am 26, I do not like to be touched, and incidences of sexual assault have only heightened that feeling, narrowing an already limited number of partners I’ve had in the past. I’m sex positive, I support whatever anyone else does sexually, but I can’t go about the act without some wine notched under my belt, something I consider leveling my anxiety and something my therapist describes as “bad.” I rarely know how to approach casual sex. How the heck do I fit in to In a community where sex is constantly, seemingly, on the table?
I live in Chicago, and in Boystown, there is a sign—an advertisement for a dating app with two shirtless, hunky gay men rubbing bodies in boxer briefs. In Wrigleyville, there is a friend—a person regaling hookups on Grindr every time I see them, years of casual lovers. In the queer community, there is commercialization—the kind we celebrate with plenty of skin showing at Pride festivals come June. Condoms are handed out and dental dams are distributed. It is good, safe, serves to destigmatize, and celebrates what years of hate has told us not to embrace. It is beautiful and poetic and deserved of that celebration, but it is not me.
The perceived stereotype of casual sex in the queer community can make some hesitant to date. The questions of casual sex looms overhead in the queer community and that stereotype can affect many people’s approaches to exploring their sexual identity. The pressure sex puts on the queer community can be isolating for some. Worse, it can feel invalidating. In their article “Mr. Right Now: Temporality of Relationship Formation on Gay Mobile Apps,” professors Tien Yeo and Tsz Fung write about the pressure queer people can feel to compromise sex for love.
“For those seeking more durable relationships, tensions arising from the specific temporality of app use that privileges casual sex but which also maximizes the pool of potential partners versus the temporal norms prescribing friendship and long-term romantic relationships become a major source of frustration,” write Yeo and Fung. “Ultimately, these tensions resulted in users conform to routine patterns of interactions, developing alternative modes of interactions on apps that decelerate relationship development, or (temporarily) deleting the apps.”
For people who buy into hypersexualized LGBTQ+ media representation, the anxiety and doubt surrounding conversations on sexuality can feel like another reason not to pursue meaningful connections. In a society focused on hook-up culture, it’s hard trusting someone will have the patience to get to know me. The conversation of how good you are at sex circles the internet; the question of how queer you are hinging on past relationships focused on binary. Sitting across from women on a first date, anxiety constantly creeps up, making me wonder how the night will end.
Quarantine has changed the game for dating across the board. People must decide whether someone is worth putting their life (and the lives of others) at risk. Zoom dates can be awkward, uncomfortable, and the lack of intimacy can be hard. Building a relationship over FaceTime is seemingly impossible. But, strangely, this is the first time I’ve felt truly comfortable approaching dating in years. Why? Because without the expectation of kissing or sex following a date, I’m confident having conversations I’d usually never have regarding my sexuality and gender. It finally feels like dating in a way that’s truer to myself.
Without the expectation of kissing or sex following a date, I’m confident having conversations I’d usually never have regarding my sexuality and gender. It finally feels like dating in a way that’s truer to myself.
I met Ana through Hinge two months ago, another app in a sea of apps geared toward dating. From our first date, I let her know of the anxieties I foster when it comes to queer dating. I ask if my slowness warming up to intimacy makes a difference to her, if my lack of history with people of the same sex erases me in her mind as legitimately queer. She responds surprised, shocked I’d even ask. “Your past doesn’t matter and if someone makes you feel bad for that, you’re better off without them,” she says. “The queer community isn’t a contest.”
It’s no secret gay love has, and still is, stigmatized in many parts of the world. Religion, race, gender, and class all play a part in the need for people to hide their sexuality for different reasons. Being ostracized, ridiculed, or neglected creates a desire for many queer people to feel loved and attractive, resulting in fast connections of momentary fulfillment. Casual sex has many benefits for those who enjoy it. You can share a strong connection with someone for a passing period and go your own way, no strings attached at the end of the night. For me, the anxiety of waking up to someone I barely know overshadows all pleasure. I feel I’m missing out on my 20s as I watch friends stumble out of bars with others. This is what TV said adulthood would be like, but it’s never been that way for me. I miss all the nuance of feeling fun and alive in a city because I’m too focused on my shoes whenever someone asks for my number.
I walk through an obsolete Boystown recounting memories of all the love Saturday nights once held. The avenue is painted with the past of people who carried themselves over the rainbow boulevard looking for a home in someone else, a late-night rendezvous heading out of Berlin hand-in-hand. I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss Red Bull vodka shots at midnight and making out with strangers whose names I don’t remember; how a photo strip of a girl in passing isn’t poetry that spans the lengths of years.
Relationships take a toll and farther into heartbreak we get, the easier it is to run at the sight of something new. Flings that are fleeting outweigh tangling yourself in something messy and complicated. Dating hardly takes off for me because I’m too stressed about the motions, if I’ll be critiqued for the physical instead of the emotional. Now, there’s nothing but time to explore one another as the world around us stops shifting. After two months talking, Ana and I finally met. My family encourages me because they “like her” and think she’s “a good match for me.” We’re slow and have found a rhythm that suits us, one grown from patience and time.
For once, I’m trying to walk rather than run.
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