Friends are sometimes the only family members gay men have. The ones we rely on when everyone else is gone. Those who listen to our broken hearts for the thousandth time and never get tired of it. Those who accept us when the whole world, often including our loved ones, turn their backs on us. My friend Milos* was no different.
I love my friends. I text them and call them almost every day, I remind them how special they are, how much they mean to me.
I usually start the conversation with: “How is your soul today?” And, before we know it, we are deep into the thick and thin of it. I don’t call them only when I’m lonely on Friday night or when I have nothing else to do or someone more interesting to talk to on Grindr. I’m always there for them. Because, as I already told you I love my friends. I call them love, honey, angel. I don’t call them bitch. I don’t grab them by the ass when I’m drunk. I don’t use them as my fuck-buddies. I really love my friends. And even though it pains me to tell you this story today, I want you to know that despite everything that happened, I still love my friend Milos. And that’s how this story on friendship should begin.
Milos and I had been inseparable for years. We both migrated to Australia around the same time seven years ago. He with his entire family, me alone, as a student. Both of us had come from former Yugoslavia, once a beautiful country which disintegrated in a series of bloody conflicts in the early 1990s. We only have to deal with some of the most horrendous homophobes you could ever encounter, our early lives were also spent trying to find a way to make it through to another day.
We shared this grief. We shared all of it, everything, together.
We were introduced by a mutual friend Stevie, a Greek gay guy who was incredibly stingy. A real scrooge. While Milos and I spent hours talking about theatre, Stevie was busy Googling restaurants that offered the biggest discounts that night. We eventually ended up in a scruffy ice cream shop down in Darlinghurst, Sydney’s gay mecca, but Stevie found even that “unreasonably pricey”, so we just went home.
Milos and I did not spend more than two days apart since. You know the feeling when you see each other every day and then you still call and chat for hours before going to bed. We just couldn’t get enough of each other. That kind of friendship. It never turned into anything else, and I didn’t want it to be, either. I rushed to the hospital as soon as I heard that he’d been admitted to have urgent appendicitis surgery. I was there way before his parents.
And, two years earlier, he held my hand when I found out that my father had attempted suicide.
I would have done anything for him. And I still would.
Milos was a nice-looking man in his early forties; He had a great smile and nerdish streak which I loved. Like most gay men I met throughout my life, he had this crazy, toxic low self-esteem that could eat away at him. Every time he was pressured, stressed or going through a disappointment, Milos would end up in a local gay sauna or a beat, where he spent night having sex with strangers. Sometimes even a dozen men in a single night. I would learn later that his case was a little more complex.
Milos had a history of unsuccessful attempts to become part of the gay scene, to be one of those we call A-listers. Those guys we marvel at on Instagram, sometimes laugh at them, and make snide comments about their shallowness but still follow their accounts and like each photo they post. He went to the gym every day, consumed a few pounds of unseasoned chicken he cooked on plain water. No oil – nada! But this rigorous attention to dieting didn’t always get the results he wanted.
Milos wanted so badly to be one of those guys, but his body build would not allow him to have a six-pack and, by gay standards, he was just ‘not fabulous’ enough. The gay elite requires perfection. Or money that can make up for it. Milos had neither.
I hoped I could introduce Milos to a completely different world. I sort of consciously filled his head with stories of love. I wanted to make him understand that true love is possible in the life of a gay man and that it was worth believing in and fighting for. And my efforts seemed to be paying off. Over the years, Milos slowly changed – or at least that’s what I thought. Even though he was still obsessed with the gym, eating chicken and taking crazy doses of creatinine, he also started meditating and dating men before fucking them at the local gay sauna. It was a step in the right direction, and I liked to believe I was part of that journey.
And then Radomir (or Rad) showed up …
Rad was a Serbian ex-pat from Canada, who moved to Sydney as a business consultant with a six-figure salary. The company rented a luxury penthouse for him and he quickly surrounded himself with some of the most popular gay men in the city. I don’t know how Milos ended up meeting him but he soon became infatuated with the guy. Rad would organise these sleazy pool parties where gorgeous men could hang out together in the sun, you know … touch each other’s biceps and discuss their most recent trophy fucks, diets and gym workouts. Milos, the socialist Serbian with a belly, didn’t really fit the picture, but he was Rad’s countryman and that was enough for him to get a wildcard.
I would meet him less and less often. He made silly excuses at first, the usual things like food poisoning or diarrhea through to sudden episodes of depression that lasted for weeks, but later on, he couldn’t even bother to hide the fact that his priorities had simply changed.
And then that day of the year came, a day I secretly looked forward to and I hated with all my soul at the same time. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the largest and most well-known LGBTIQ events on the planet. Thousands of people from around the world flock to Australia to take part in it. A lot of gay men use it as an excuse to party and enjoy sex and drugs under the guise of fighting for freedom and equality. They couldn’t fucking care less for equality, couldn’t care less about anything other than fucking, most of the time. These weeks of hedonistic self-indulgence are spectacularly topped off by the actual parade, attended by nearly one million people in one night. It’s pretty significant, especially considering same-sex marriage wasn’t legalised until three years ago.
Milos and I used to watch the parade from his balcony in the city. It was sort of our tradition because he lived on the street the parade was going through. Needless to say, this time around, Milos was planning to celebrate Mardi Gras with Rad and his friends. Eventually, I managed to get him to invite me to come along. This is the day we always spent together and there was no way I’d let someone he met just a few weeks ago change that and all we’d shared. I was in there to fight
The idea was that I’d meet them at the corner of Oxford and George Street, the spot where Milos and I had been meeting almost every time in the six years we knew each other. I waited for over two hours, but they never showed up. While thousands of people kept pouring in to see the final show, I was pinned to the traffic lights, bewildered and utterly humiliated, trying to get Milos on the phone. He only answered my call several hours later when I was already getting ready for bed.
Milos: You should come. It’s madness.
Me: Come, where….
Milos: We decided at the very last minute to go to this VIP party organized by Rad’s manager Tristan. You know Tristan. Don’t you?
Me: I am already home.
Milos: They are having these ridiculous drag shows… Listen to the song.
Please say sorry, say damn something … it hurts so bad. Who are you? You are not my Milos. You are just another cold-hearted, gay zombie I couldn’t bear. For who knows how long in my life I’ve been used, ditched and replaced. Fuck you! No more? Not by you.
He just kept talking. I was lying on the bed and my heart was beating so hard I felt like it would explode out of my chest. Every tiny cell of my body trembled. I was choking on my own breath. Still, I ended the conversation quietly making a few incoherent sentences. Milos wasn’t there to hear them anyway. With lightning speed, I typed a goodbye text, pressed the sent button, and then blocked his number even faster. Deep down, I hoped he would show up on my door one day, write me a letter. I even unblocked his number later, out of curiosity. Nothing was there. Not a single word.
That night, as the men in my city partied like their lives depended on it, I sprawled on my bed unable to move with my eyes wide open. All I could see were half-naked bodies rocking lasciviously in the rhythm of monotonous club music. I could see Milos laughing passionately, I could almost hear his gentle voice ringing from the club walls across the harbor and into my home. I knew exactly what his laughter was saying. Hot men ruled his world again. He got to live his dream. A dream that no longer included me.