Remembering the importance of connection


I was instructed on the importance of safer sex before I ever had it—er, scratch that. I was instructed on the dangers of sex before I ever had it.

My mother, a nurse and devout Christian, made sure I knew the laundry list of horrible things that befell people who had sex, of any form, before marriage. She would intricately weave a tale of tragedy as she detailed what it was like to sit by the bedside of one of her gay male patients, or clean up after them as they lay dying from the effects of HIV/AIDS. By implication I was taught that sex equaled death, or to be more specific, gay sex equaled death.

As a result, as I grew older and hit puberty, sex was something I welcomed with an ambiguous mix of excitement and anxiety. I had always been intrigued by sex and sexuality, but also cautious and fearful. Aside from minor fondling and some “I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours” during adolescence with my more forward friends, I lost my virginity at the age of 18, late compared to my friends.

She was a friend of a girlfriend of mine—brash, beautiful and intrigued by the whole “I’m here, I’m queer” thing that I touted early into my coming out. In the beginning I needed my identity to be loud and proud in response to my mother’s anti-gay sentiments.

In truth, I really didn’t know shit about what I was talking about. At that point, being gay was purely theoretical. It wouldn’t be until my later teens when I befriended a boy in high school that I began to explore the more practical part of this gay thing under the informal tutelage of my adventurous young Hispanic friend. He was my first close gay male associate and very experienced—in life and in all things sexual, it seemed. I would wait each school day to hear him recount some exciting sexcapade he had with some scandalous new partner, usually much older and often casual.

My friend was no-holds-barred in his accounting, and I would listen as he would gently mock the men that would fall for him after a fuck. My follow-fashion self would try to emulate his ease and knack for conquest, but often would find myself instead, caught up and in my feelings over some lover or another. He would instruct me matter of factly, “David, be a man. We’re gay, not bitches.” Gay sex (usually, but not always) by implication and in observation of him was all things macho: mechanical, meaningless and often at the expense of the dignity of the other. I tried to be a good student, and learned to make sure that that “other” was never me. After all, I was a gay man, not a bitch.

Before even reaching the age of 20, I had already learned two important things:

  1. Gay sex equaled disease, death and was very likely God-less.
  2. Gay sex was meaningless, mechanical and, for at least one participant, shameful.

 

Flash forward some years, and I was a seasoned Human Services Counsellor working in sexual health and HIV/AIDS. But not much had changed. I operated from the same beliefs. In fact, I had statistics and epidemiological reports to validate them. As a community educator developing programs and providing services, armed with a fancy title and a condom in hand, there was something moralistic about my stance. My message? Not all that different from what I had learned as a kid and teen: Protect yourself from the inevitable double dots on a stick and, even more so, make sure you never end up somebody’s bitch.

Some may say that these instructions, explicit or implicit, aren’t the worse messaging one can receive. In a world where gay men are taught all manner of self-destructive things about ourselves and our world, messages about keeping protected against HIV/AIDS and not participating in unhealthy, abusive or power-imbalanced relationships could be said to be a comparatively good thing. For quite some time I felt so too. Hey, being 30 years old and HIV negative after nearly 10 years in the scene must be the proof of my success, right? Not quite.

While I was taught early on to guard myself from the anticipated onslaught of “bad” things that inevitably happen to gay men, few teachers informed me on how to metaphorically open myself to the flow of good things that are possible for gay men, too: love, affection and connection with other men. Beyond protecting myself from them, I had not been given the tools and encouragement to relate to my same-gender-loving brothers in ways that were empowering. I knew how to fuck safely and protect my ego, but not how to really be present to the fullness of my emotional self and my intimate partners, and build meaningful relationships extending beyond the bedroom. At age 25, one drunken night one long weekend in Miami spent with a beautiful and soft spoken Puerto Rican accounting student, would be the first time I could say I “made love” with someone. It was casual, but spiritual. We are friends to this day.

Later, at 27, I would meet a clean-cut brown skin Island boy and develop a friendship that would, over the course of the next year, grow to my falling in love. The emotion was so novel and yet so exciting for me that within the year he and I were married, to the shock of friends and family.

Now, three years and one divorce later, I am very appreciative for that experience and the ones subsequent which have allowed me to expand and explore building relationship with same gender loving men. I have been able to reflect on where I first went wrong: I spent years thinking I was building walls needed to protect myself, and all I had really done was build a prison that disconnected me from my heart. And I don’t think I’m alone. Millions of mobile apps and websites dedicated to sexually connecting with one another with the click of a mouse, often times with few strings attached. For some gay men, even friendships boast this almost-digital distance, and the most human interaction we have with other gay men is our weekend drunken bump into one another on the dance floor of some nightclub, or if we’re really lucky, a few moments back at your place or his before that proverbial walk of fame/shame the next morning. Hearts have strings, and they’re meant to pull us closer to ourselves and to each other. Being “in our feelings” is important and not something to be shunned in our attempt to save face in a world that has forced men, gay ones included, from being fully human; desiring connection and risking being vulnerable.

I, for one, am exhausted with discussions of “staying safe” that don’t take into account the importance of keeping connected beyond those few moments during sex. We’re not just sexual beings; we’re emotional and spiritual ones too. Learning to care about, care for and relate to other men is essential for both our individual health and our collective wellbeing. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Despite the homophobic and self-limiting beliefs to the contrary, what makes me a queer man is not just who I choose to fuck, but who I desire and love as well. Unfortunately, with few visible examples given room in the hetero and homo mainstream narratives, many of us settle for the former, to the exclusion of the latter. We’re lead to assume we are at home in who we are because we attend Pride Parade or have 1000 men in shirtless selfies on our Instagram page, but in our intimate moments many of us reflect on the absence of, and desire for, connection. I would argue that a much more effective HIV and sexual transmitted infection (STI) prevention strategy involves cultivating a greater capacity for gay men to carry out authentic, sometimes vulnerable connections with one another, both in and out of the bedroom.

Ending HIV among gay men will not be brought about with a slick new advert, funky shaped condom, or daily pill regimen alone. It will require that we also create the online and offline spaces where men who have sex with men, can also be men who love and desire other men, in all the fullness of what that may mean, too.

Thankfully, the Our Agenda campaign, in part at least, is a demonstration of and attempt at, exactly that.

 


 

A graduate of York University and George Brown College, David has worked as a trained Human Services Counsellor, Consultant and Community-based researcher for nearly a decade. Outside of social services, David, an ordained New Thought Minister, co-pastors Sunset Service Toronto Fellowship; an inclusive, interspiritual ministry focused on the arts, social action and community-building. David presently contributes to ByBlack.com in addition to speaking and facilitating groups throughout the city on the intersections of race, sex, sexuality, and faith(s). More about David can be found on his website, www.davidlewispeart.com

David Lewis-Peart

Minister| Counsellor| Consultant 

Co-Founder, Sunset Service

Twitter: @Sunset_Service

Facebook: Sunset Service

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