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.
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.
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 all together 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.
This story was first published in Episode 3: Love on Different Kind of Gay podcast.