The bellboy pushes in front of him a large wagon with our luggage, stops in front of room 1422 and nervously unlocks the door.
“Welcome to the Venitian!” he shouts in an overly enthusiastic voice, letting us know that he has not been in this job for long.
“Thank you very much,” my best friend, Moe, answers, clumsily rummaging in his pockets for a tip he prepared back in Australia. We are pretty new to this. Neither of us has used the services of a concierge before, and even less often have we had the opportunity to stay in luxurious resorts like this one.
When Moe and I travel, we mostly stay in serviced apartments or cheap hotels on the outskirts of the city which can only be reached by mastering public transport. But this is a special occasion. It is Moe’s 30th birthday and we are visiting Las Vegas.
Our hotel room is larger than the one-bedroom apartment that the two of us rent together in Sydney. Everything is over-the-top, a huge bed that can accommodate an entire family, gilded knobs and handles, a TV even hanging lavishly on the walls of the toilet.
The fatigue from the long overseas flight does its thing and we are soon tucked away in our oversized, lush beds, lazily fiddling with our phones. It doesn’t take long for Grindr to rattle.
I’m certainly not the only one who enjoys meeting local gay men when travelling. Non-sexually, I mean. Some of the best friendships I have were born from those encounters.
“Wow, there are so many guys in this hotel,” I chuckle. “I don’t even get to answer everyone’s message. I’m typing like a secretary gone mad.”
“Nice,” Moe answers, with a tinge of coldness in his voice. “I don’t have any.”
“Text them first then!” I suggest, hoping this will give him the confidence to instigate a connection.
Moe cannot hide his grin but replies kindly, “Well, I am always the one contacting people first, but I hardly ever get a reply. It seems as though the guys in Las Vegas are a little different,” Moe adds.
“I told you…” I am stubbornly hopeful.
“As soon as I write to someone, they immediately block me.”
My throat tightens; I barely let out a lazy, meaningless “Oh, OK…”.
I just want to grab him in my arms and tell him how much I love him. Moe is my best friend, my brother, my soulmate. I’ve got a lot of friends, but none that are as loyal as him. He never gave up on me, until the very end. Moe has the heart of a fighter; this little guy fought his way through life in the shanties of the Philippines to join one of the world’s most elite IT companies.
I look up to people like Moe. To those quiet, unpretentious, down-to-earth gay men among us. Those who go against the grain and, despite always being told they aren’t good enough, they keep marching on with their heads up. They embrace, embody, and express what Pride truly means to me. They are giants, the strongest people I know.
“God is not fair. Why do some of us have to be born as brown Asians?” he once asked me while sipping hot chocolate in our favourite cafe.
“Why do you say that?” I asked, even though I pretty much knew the answer.
“Nobody wants people like me. We are no one’s fetish. Brown Asians are treated like garbage in the gay community.”
Physical attraction is important to everyone, whether you are straight or gay. However, beauty has become so central to the way gay men see each other and the world around them that all other qualities that make us human have become secondary. A guy on Scruff recently complained that the gay community is nothing more than a marketplace where everyone knows their price, down to the last two decimal places. There is so much truth in that.
So, with this in mind, I decided to make a short film about beauty and started interviewing gay men in Australia and around the world. I’m on Skype with 58-year-old teacher Paul from Oxford, England. He insisted on sharing his story with me.
Paul has never been in a long-term relationship and has been openly gay for over 35 years.
“When I turned 40, I sank into a crisis. For gay men, a 40th birthday is an end. That’s it. I was never beautiful and now I was no longer young either. I can’t see how I will ever meet anyone.” Paul said in a conciliatory tone.
I’ve always found traditionally less attractive gay men to be much more engaging. For some reason, super-hot guys often come across as arrogant and tend to have very dull inner worlds where the greatest challenge they face is whose dinner invitation to accept first. Or at least that’s how they want to portray themselves. There is an unwritten rule on dating apps: the better you look the less text you have on your profile. Handsome men often contact me with their photo only. No “hi”, “how you been”, they just flick a few photos knowing their looks will say it all. This may just be a sign of my personal experience or lack of self-confidence, but the fact is that even today I hesitate to go on a date with someone who looks perfect. I rather meet guys who look like me, who seem to “be in my class”.
The pressure to look perfect affects everyone, not only single men looking for dates or hook-ups. Ruben, a 26-year-old man from Colombia whom I interviewed in London told me that this was the reason why his eight-year relationship broke down. “My boyfriend was always telling me… go on a diet, exercise, don’t eat carbs. He looked at me with disgust every time I would buy myself an ice-cream. I remember walking to his place and feeling nervous and anxious. Do I look good enough? Am I muscular, do I look confident? One day I realised that this not a relationship. This was torture. And I left!”
The more I researched this topic, the more I understood the staggering scale of this problem. Numerous studies have found that a disproportionate percentage of men diagnosed with eating disorders identify as gay, and there is extensive evidence that gay men have significantly more body image concerns than straight men.
Researchers Williamson and Hartley reported the “ideal body” that gay men chose when shown various body images was significantly slimmer than that chosen by heterosexual men. Clinton Power , a relationship counsellor who works with the Sydney LGBT community, is not surprised and confirms that these studies reflected some of his own observations. In the article ‘Body politics: Just how important are looks to gay men?’ published in The Sydney Morning Herald, he noted: “Gay and bi men do seem to be more fixed on finding a partner who is fit or physically attractive than straight men and women.”
The reason for this according to Clinton should be sought in internalized homophobia or difficulty coming out, or feeling uncomfortable with one’s sexuality: “Going to the gym and focusing on something they can control — and also to create this image of health and fitness and vitality — has become incredibly important,” he added.
This is in line with what the author of The Velvet Rage, Alan Downs, calls “validation addiction.”
That’s when a gay man who isn’t able to believe in himself, to be satisfied with himself, seeks validation from the world around him. This thinking goes something like: being able to have a boyfriend or a sex partner who looks great probably means that I am worth something, too.
But there is another aspect of this story that a lot of gay men are reluctant to talk about — and it concerns something we call “gay culture”. Let’s be honest gay culture is toxic and shallow. Pride marches, gay magazines, our favourite TV shows display gay men as nothing more than pretty, empty dolls.
It’s time for us to reset
A lot of you might think that there is nothing we can do about it.
I get that all the time. But I want to remind you that there was a time when marriage equality was also considered unthinkable and look where we are now. As Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
And all of you conventionally beautiful gay men who think there is nothing really to worry about, I want to remind you of the legend that Roman emperors would hire someone to follow them in the streets chanting memento mori (which loosely translates into: “Remember, you are going to die someday”).
Your beauty is going to vanish someday, too.
Perhaps this mantra can remind you of the fleeting nature of life and also get you in touch with what you want to do with the time you have left.