I feel like I should have started this whole big endeavor of speaking freely about myself and my experience with a sort of disclaimer, or an author’s note or something, to warn readers against the corrupt and corrupting nature of these pages. Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind. This was supposed to be a very sad thing, I mean, this was the premise of this whole writing process. But now, as I’m revising these pages it feels as if I’m telling you about the big joke life has played on me. It feels as if at the end of every sentence I’m about to burst into laughter, or rather that you’re about to burst into laughter and think I’m just a wanker. Laughter can be a good thing after all, it’s the expression of an emotion. It can also be the kind of nervous laughter high school kids burst into when the school priest tells them masturbation is sinful. In the end, not all memoirs are supposed to be tragic and full of loneliness and sadness. And maybe on a grander scale I might be perceiving my life as tragic and sad when in reality it is not.
Then there’s the sensitive issue of the intimate aspects of my life, such as jerking off and fantasizing about bulging pectorals and biceps, the latter by now leitmotifs of my narrative. My grandmother, whom you can see in the picture above, would nod disapprovingly and think of me as a failure, a herald of the end of times, should she read these pages (she doesn’t know a word in English). To those who cringed at reading about this stuff, well, I can only apologize and point out to them that I am no saint, even though when I was little I did perceive myself as a sort of new messiah (I had been a devout Christian for a very long time, and imagined the end of the world coming soon). I am made of flesh, and flesh is fleshy and desires flesh and, in my case, bulging pecs and visible abs. And if by this time, after these couple pages, I seem shallow to you, well, please reconsider your attitude, because I have also read The Little Prince and realized that in the gay community people who strongly believe that what is essential is invisible to the eye, be it naked or covered, have no sex, at all.
And I might have overused that phrase from The Little Prince in my dating profile’s description, thinking that it would attract like-minded people. The truth is, it did attract like-minded people, except that the majority of them were well over my age range and resembled the beer-drinking rednecks from American movies (the ones who walked around with chainsaws and other gardening instruments). There were the exceptions, of course, but even in the case of the exceptions I noticed a pattern. They were as lonely and as desperate as me, and after exchanging a couple of messages they burst into arduous and passionate declarations of love, up to the point where you were included into a haunting “us”, just for the sake of feeling included. Believe me, thank whatever gods are out there that those guys were often hundreds of miles away.
Such was the case of a guy who had contacted me by saying that my profile was really interesting and as a consequence expressed his interest in knowing me better. At that moment I thought, finally, somebody who understands me, who seems to be in a similar position, and who is willing to push aside all of my insecurities so as to build something durable. In my imagination the whole thing was like a bomb exploding repeatedly: we’re going to get married (symbolically), be happy, have kids, and be romantic at the same time. I imagined trips to Spain and exotic places, and coming home to steaming pasta and candle-lit dinners with tall wine glasses. I wasn’t necessarily attracted to him physically (no bulging pectorals there, forget about the biceps), he was no Adonis for sure, but, like him, I was ready to ignore that because here was somebody who believed in what that pesky little prince said.
Then out of the blue he started telling me about his mental illness, and the fact that in reality he needed somebody to take care of him, and I kept saying okay, it was all okay. I even imagined myself taking care of him because who knows what kind of essentials were hidden behind all that baby fat. I needed time to process that information and so I told him that I was going to log off and go for a walk around the neighborhood. I switched off my computer and went out, forgetting that I was still logged in on my phone.
The messages started to land in my inbox a couple of minutes later and they were satiated with the furry of a jealous husband. Why was I still logged on? Who was I talking to behind his back? I was obviously cheating on him, and he had placed such confidence in me, he had believed in “us”. I explained why I was still logged on, and his initial fury seemed to subside. However, my explanation was not an attempt to mend the wrong I had unconsciously and unwillingly done, it was rather an attempt to point out the fault I had found in him at that point so as to make it easier to get rid of him. My gay instincts started to kick in. And so I told him things were not going to work out between the two of us. The reply came swiftly. I was shallow just like everybody else on that dating site. My rejection was the last straw for him and as such he was never going to put himself out there like he did for me. Obviously, I had failed to notice that. Before I could reply back a service notification informed me that I was no longer able to interact with that person because the user had blocked me. To have the last word, I blocked him back.
Now, I may have acted like a jerk, because here was this guy who suffered from some sort of mental illness, who was sincere, and I just dismissed the complexity of his life with a simple text. Maybe I should have been more sympathetic with the guy. But then again we were on a dating site, and we hadn’t even gone out, we had never touched, I didn’t even know the sound of his voice. I wasn’t the kind of jerk who never calls back after what feels like a special night, I just couldn’t be. How was I supposed to act? Take all of that responsibility upon me because we both liked The Little Prince? Well, at least we didn’t exchange pics that could be later used for blackmailing and other forms of shaming, at least he didn’t send me a picture of his dick, like most users did, as if I was supposed to understand, at a glance, the finality and importance of such a statement.
On a side note, I have often wondered what these people are thinking when they’re sending you pictures of their dicks. On a couple of occasions I thought that maybe I was supposed to ignore the rest because dicks can solve emotional problems. But do these people presume that the person at the other end would want them even more after seeing their dicks? And then, what do you do with a dick pick? Where’s the statement in that? Here’s a picture of my erect penis, deal with it, own it, you can’t use it against me because there’s no face in it, so it can be anyone’s penis. I should make a collage of all of those dick pics and think of it as a work of art, hundreds of statements making one big statement, whatever that is.
A couple of days after the unfortunate incident with the passionate Romeo, and after being so forcefully banished from that paradisiac “us”, I was contacted by an older guy on the same dating site. Now, it’s worth noting that at the beginnings of my gay life I had developed a deep aversion towards older guys. That was before reading Nabokov’s Lolita. I changed my mind afterwards. At that time older guys gave me a sense of sick perversion, thinking of them as these sexually repressed individuals who lurked in the shadows and looked for younger men to feel young once again. In parallel, I had also inherited and used extensively a phrase that circulated (still in use) on gay dating sites and was meant to embarrass older men: I already have a father (or grandfather, depending on the user’s preference), it said, and so I kept saying it practically to all men that were over forty. It was only when a sixty year-old guy told me that the phrase hurt him that I started to think twice before using it again. I did not use it against this particular guy, whose name I cannot recall right now, mostly because he couldn’t have been my father (he was not that old), and also because he did not give me the sense of a pervert, despite the fact that he did not have a head in his profile pics. He had only shared pictures of his underwear. In his case, I was prepared once again to take it all in (you dirty little mind) and accept whatever came. When you look the way I did back then, so foreign and weird, chubby and sad, there was not much to choose from.
We chatted for a long while, for what seems now like an eternity on gay dating sites, and to this day I have not seen his face. The reason behind this lack of face, he explained, was that the guy lived in a small Italian paesino with his mother, the kind of small village where everybody knew everybody else, and older generations of Italians still cringe at the idea of homosexuality. Fair enough, I thought at that point, the guy had good motives, I wasn’t going to question his relationship with his mother. Italian men love and hate their mothers in a way that could only be defined as Italian. I did ask for extra pictures and the only thing I got in return was the same underwear picture but with a boner hidden inside, which was supposed to give me an idea of the instruments this man carried around with him. Mother must have been so proud.
A little bit of context here, since I don’t expect all of my readers to be familiar with how gay dating sites work. Headless and faceless photos are quite common on gay dating sites, for different reasons, depending on the user and the background he’s coming from. Some, like my man here, do it for social and political reasons, and some do it to acquire higher visibility on the gay market. The bottom line is that the former don’t want their parents, relatives, colleagues, to find out about their sexual preferences. Which also means that those very parents, relatives, and colleagues had to actually have a profile on that particular website in order to recognize them and act surprised. Dating sites usually don’t publicize information about their users outside their own user circle. The latter, who most likely don’t care about who sees their profile, wave their pectorals and crotch in profile pics because they know that that’s where the eyes of other gay men will linger longer. I guess experience teaches us that. And a lot of them don’t even include face pics in their profiles; they do it only by request, especially when that request comes from a guy they are interested in. If the face they’re getting does not meet their expectations a moment of awkward silence will follow. Educated individuals will simply say thank you and add a smiley face. In translation, they would go to bed with the torso and the crotch, but not with the face.
To verify this preference for the torso and crotch a simple head count would suffice. Put those parts of the body on full display in your profile pic and the number of visits will increase exponentially. Hide your face altogether and you are bound to maybe even getting a message (asking for face pics, of course, but it’s still something, still better than nothing). Show your face and the number of views decreases notably, unless you have an exceptionally gorgeous face. You’ll also notice that there’s a difference in the kind of people that actually click on your profile, depending of what part of the body you put on display. Those who are looking for a quickie will more likely come to you if they see your torso and crotch area. Those who have more time on their hands will more likely look for a face.
At first I took this to be simply a symptom of the shallowness of gay men, the kind you’d see in gay movies, the kind that Larry Kramer did his finger-pointing at. Couldn’t they see how sex-driven it all was? I blamed it on the kind of atmosphere that was created on gay dating sites. And after spending a couple of years looking at probably thousands of profiles, chatting with all kinds of individuals, I felt I was becoming shallow as well, and I hated myself for it. Implicitly, I was asking the others to accept me the way I was, I felt that it was my own right, yet, on the other hand, I resisted accepting the others for who they were. It all felt like a painful paradox. I was incredulous, and I experienced the same kind of incredulity when I started reading, for instance, Alan Hollinghurst’s novel The Swimming Pool Library, and, later on Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar. And I believe I came to terms with it when I read Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner. I can’t recall the exact phrase, but I remember explicitly that Harlan Brown, the protagonist of Warren’s novel, felt an excruciating attraction for one of his runners first and foremost because he was physically fit.