Jason: He’s a keeper! The way my mindset is now after Tuesday is that if my boyfriend is gung-ho about having an open relationship, then I can be okay with having one steady. I don’t want to have a whole bunch. I loved it for a night, but in retrospect I don’t want that to be my lifestyle where I go out and find multiple people. I don’t like that. But one steady, I think I could get away with it and not feel bad.
Stevens: You were talking out by the fire pit, exchanged numbers, and then?
Jason: Well, something interesting occurred. We were sitting there and I was complementing him on his performance and, I said, “You know, you didn’t have to pull out if you didn’t want to,” Then he told me that he was positive. I was like, “Oh, wow! How interesting is that? So am I.” We got that out of the way. We didn’t exchange numbers until after that. Knowing we’re both positive, that’s kind of a more ideal situation.
Stevens: So then what happened, you parted ways or…?
Jason: Yeah. He had to go. I went back and hung out for a while. And I walked around and did the glory hole thing. Then I went home.
Stevens: You decided you had enough?
Jason: Not really. I had to catch the last train home at midnight; otherwise it’s a bitch to get home.
Stevens: So when you got home, um, how were you feeling?
Jason: It was such a good experience, I wasn’t nervous and I wasn’t guilty. I thought I would be but I wasn’t. All the way home on the train, I was thinking that now I can see why he likes it; the variation is kind of fun.
Stevens: Later that night, when he got home, was it okay?
Jason: I knew he wasn’t going to be home, because I tried calling before I got to the train. I got his voicemail, so he was out anyway. I got back about twelve-twenty. I took a shower and checked email and went to sleep. He came in about two I think, and just went to bed. We never talked about it.
Stevens: Looking back, can you share with me what you think may be the good things and the bad things about the experience, and what you took away from it?
Jason: I think the good thing was that it helped boost my self-confidence, because not only did I find one person who found me attractive enough to have sex with me, I found three. So it was, it was great in that department because it worked on my self-esteem. Also the fact that I got to fulfill some of the fantasies I’ve had: the exhibitionism and the three-way. A lot of things I’ve always wondered about I finally got to do.
Stevens: Any bad things?
Jason: Not really. I mean, I thought I was going to have guilty feelings but I didn’t. It dawned on me on the ride back; he’s got so many steady people. Three times a week he’s with some steady. If he can do that three times a week, what the hell is the matter with one night out? Nothing. So I don’t feel bad at all. It was very uplifting for my self-esteem, knowing that there are people out there that like me the way I am.
Stevens: That’s because in other settings you feel you don’t get as much attention as you got that night?
Jason: It’s not even an, “I think,” it’s an, “I know.” I’ve got a friend who DJs at a bar. I go there, get my beer, and I walk around and try to talk to people. They just have this attitude like, “Eew. What are you doing here?” He emails me, “When are you gonna come visit me again?” I write, “You know how much I hate the clientèle that goes there. They’re all stuck up; it just irritates me.” So he writes, “Well, you don’t have to see them. Just come talk to me.” So he’ll put me on his guest list. I’ll go in, and I’ll talk with him and then he’ll get swamped by all these people that want requests, so I’ll go get my beer and I’ll walk around. And every time I’ve gone, there’s always at least one—generally more than one, but at least one—that goes, “Eew. Why are you here? You’re too old.” I’m like, “Oh, screw you.”
Stevens: People actually said that?
Jason: Oh, yes. I’ve had people tell me to my face that I’m fat. I’ve had people tell me to my face that I’m ugly. I’ve had…it’s amazing, people are just getting more and more forward as the years go by. I have had several people ask me what am I doing there. I’m too old to be there. And I said, “Well, I’m the friend of the DJ, so you just screwed your chance of getting anything played.” It’s amazing.
Stevens: So the sex club experience was better because it didn’t have that element…
Jason: Exactly. It was people that were there for sex. At bars, not everybody is looking for sex. They’re there to hang out with their friends, or shoot pool, or watch videos, or listen to the music, or go dancing, or drink, not necessarily to hook up with someone and have sex. So they are more pretentious when it comes to finding people because in their mind, if I’m going to take someone home, it has to be my exact model of what I want. People who pay twenty dollars to get into Slammers will take what they find there.
Stevens: Are you feeling like you’ll go back there again?
Jason: Oh, most definitely.
Stevens: Okay. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Jason: I will stress to people that I would prefer safe sex, but my friend who works there told me that half the people in the club don’t use condoms. And it’s a law now. It’s one of those things that sex clubs and spas are supposed to enforce. Technically, someone is supposed to walk around with a flashlight and make sure people are using condoms. [Laughs] Can you imagine? “Excuse me, can you pull out for a second? Oh, you’re not.” He’s supposed to take people’s membership cards away and kick them out if he catches them not having safe sex. But obviously people say, “Okay, we’ll do that,” and then they don’t. If they suddenly said you’re going to get kicked out if you don’t use condoms, they’d lose half their clients, because bareback sex is a fantasy for many of the people there.
[End of Interview]HIV prevention theorists assume that low self-esteem leads to unsafe sex. What they fail to recognize is that desire—and being desired—is the essential precursor to an encounter, not negative feelings. From any consensual sex act that is mutually enjoyed, esteem building is an inevitable outcome, not a pathological component culled from models of addiction.
For some gay men (and for most straight couples), natural (unprotected) sex is the norm. Current health department prevention messages reinforce negative feelings when they frame gay men as vectors of disease that need to be shrouded in latex. Rather than build self-esteem, these prevention messages turn a potentially transcendent act into a medical procedure, a reminder of the long association between death and desire. As Douglas Crimp states:
“It isn’t just that we don’t feel good about ourselves, we don’t feel good. And there are reasons for that. After all this epidemic, all this hatred from the right, all this loss, we’re demoralized. We don’t say that because we think despair is defeat. Unsafe sex is partly about just not wanting to deal with this whole issue anymore. It may be the closest many can come to asking out loud: under what conditions is life worth surviving for?”