“Slut” is a badge of honour for too many gay men, and it’s one I’ll never wear: Mitchell’s story

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The train only comes every two hours on a weekend.

Sometimes, it doesn’t show up at all; or else it speeds past like a teenager rushing out of the school gates, stopping for no one.

On a Saturday evening, I — for once — have plans. No more staying in my bedroom with walls that drip stinging solitude. I’m going to the city to see a concert, an obscure band that would never play here in this coastal kind-of-city where I’ve lived for too long. The train arrives, only a few minutes late, which barely counts as anything, and when I step into the carriage, I spot a woman I know from my time at university.

This woman’s presence comforts me: the train trip takes close to three hours and, although I’m armed with a book, I would rather save this for the journey back. I imagine that the two of us can talk, as we once did when I was a student. But after the initial hello and what are you doing now? there’s nothing left to say. I take a seat alone, and begin to read.

An older man walks past me, flicking something before sitting two rows ahead and opposite me, nursing a beer bottle in a brown paper bag. The scrunched-up piece of paper lands on my backpack like a mistake. Rubbish, something that’s fallen from his jacket. It has to be. I think of brushing it off until I see words written in pen. Then I’m pretty sure what the message is going to say: faggot, die, fucking gays, all the words I’ve heard before. And part of me understands that I’ve brought all this on myself: I’ve spoken in a public place, drawn attention to my feminine voice by talking to the woman I once knew. Why didn’t I just stay silent? All I had to do was sit down and be still for three hours. Now someone wants to kill me.

Would love to have sex with you.

The seven words spread fear through me faster than a virus: in a second, probably even less, I’m on the edge of a cliff, knowing I have stepped too far and the ground will give way within moments. Do I leap now, while my feet are still on the ground? Or do I wait until the earth eventually swallows me? I try not to look at him, but I can’t help not: he isn’t so much a person as a shadow, something that can spring from nowhere, the storm that strikes a sunny day without warning.

Days pass, a world changes before the train crawls sluggishly to its final destination. This is my chance: I am a gazelle who is in the sight of a lion. Speed and agility are my only weapons in a fight I cannot win, but can possibly allay. The slurrish scent of booze emanates stronger than my fear. At least he’s drunk: he might be slower, might lose his way. Once other passengers rise to their feet, I leap and sandwich myself between enough of them to create a barricade separating me from him. But he’s quick, this one, he’s on his feet and trying to break through. He knows what he wants, and is determined to get it. I keep pushing ahead, even dare to glimpse behind me and see whether he is approaching. He is. And when the carriage doors open, I dive onto the platform and run so fast in any direction that I’m not sure I will ever stand still again.

I didn’t know it then, but in the weeks to come, I would pack my things and move to the city. No more long train rides for me, though I will still feel myself being watched under the hungry, hunter eyes of men for years to come.

Photo by Umberto Shaw from Pexels

For much of my twenties I was fearful that, at some point, I would be raped.

My experience on the train, and other incidents that followed, would make me believe it was inevitable. So many men I met joked about rape as if that’s all it was; something light and humorous. One night, I fell asleep with a scrawny man who put his arm around me and giggled: “I’m going to rape you in your sleep.”

Sex, to most men, was so easy, like grocery shopping or taking out the rubbish. It wasn’t that I feared intimacy. In fact, I would have loved to have taken the hand of another and felt the butterfly beat of a pulse that was not mine.

It’s just that, unlike so many of the gay men I knew and still know, I cannot take the heart-thudding plunge and participate in a culture of hook-ups with complete strangers entering and leaving at any hour without giving so much as their name. I know that plenty of men will argue I am prudishly old-fashioned; they will say NSA is liberating, it’s freedom. I disagree.

People as a whole have the most simplistic attitudes towards sex. We think that it’s essential as water and anyone who doesn’t want it is something of an aberration. Voracious sexual appetites are celebrated, encouraged even, yet no one wants or even tries to understand asexuality, celibacy or just the decision to wait for someone who you feel a genuine connection to. At best, these choices are the butts of crude jokes.

I remember once, going on a date with a science teacher the same age as me.

The spark we had experienced online did not transpire to real life, and when he tried to kiss me, I told him that was not how I felt.

“Did something happen to you?” he almost spat. “Like, were you molested as a child?”

He isn’t the first person to make this assumption, a guess based on nothing more than my gauche presence. How do I begin to even answer? And do I really need to?

Whether it’s romantic attraction or just liking someone as a person, it is hard, often impossible, for me to pretend something that isn’t there. In fact, that’s one of the things I like most about myself. It’s not that I haven’t gone home with a stranger before, but when I did, I could never shake the feeling that when most men were with me, they weren’t quite sure if I really was one of them. Maybe it’s because part of me was never completely there in those strange bedrooms. I’d already left.

Photo by Mister Mister from Pexels

So I reached a point of giving up on sex, at least casual sex which, in the gay world, is mostly all you can find.

I know most will find that sad, pathetic, the act of someone who should just try harder. Giving up is probably the wrong verb; it implies failure. Instead, I choose not to have sex with anyone I don’t love. Choice is a luxury and I figure that there is so much in life that is unavoidable: jobs we don’t really care about, homes we live in simply because that’s all we can afford. To act out of desperation or loneliness feels cheapening, more of a failure to me. A man I know told me that of course he’d rather a boyfriend, but he can’t find one, so he’s learned to settle for casual sex instead. I feel sad for him that he’s reached this conclusion, that he cannot find the strength within himself to reach some kind of happiness. There are so many studies I could cite that talk about the emotionally damaging or unfulfilling consequences of random sex, but I have never been one for statistics. Instead, I think often of words written by my favourite journalist, Elizabeth Wurtzel: “In a world gone wrong, a pure heart is dangerous.”

I tell myself that is the only way for me. To be pure. To be dangerous.

This story was first published in the podcast, Different Kind of Gay.


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