Collage by Kevin Burzynski
Like most gay men, I discovered the real truth about myself the first time I had sex with another guy. Consider it this way: Imagine you spent your entire teen years (and, in my case, up to the ripe old age of 30) eating vanilla ice cream. It was nice, it was pleasant, but you never really craved it and sometimes even felt you could do very well without it. And then one day you have a triple hot fudge sundae with nuts and whipped cream and cherries, and you think, Holy shit! This stuff is amazing! Why haven’t I been having this all of these years?
So you’re finally on the right side of the menu. But relief is quickly replaced by panic, because it turns out that when it comes to sleeping with other men, there are all sorts of rules, norms, and strongly warranted hygiene rituals that can take years to master. And, it feels, just as long to maintain.
My hetero brethren, you have no idea. You can skip the gym, dismiss the belly as “dad bod,” have sex without showering, never think about your body hair — where it is, how it looks or feels or smells. As I soon discovered, switching sides meant signing up for a full-time job of keeping up appearances. I had never even heard of a body groomer. (In case you haven’t, it’s a special battery-operated clipper for men that trims body and pubic hair.) There are special straight (ha!) razors for scraping and smoothing genitalia. There are entire websites devoted to explaining how to properly shave one’s butt, how to prepare oneself to avoid pain (or get more of it — vive la différence!), and what lubricants are best for which scenarios. And there is a virtual ocean of foams, gels, cleansers, balms, moisturizers and body powders to ensure that you are sparkling, smooth, and, most of all, fresh fresh fresh all over, so that when it’s time to get busy you both smell appropriately like Snuggle fabric softener. Ask any gay man and he’ll tell you that his weekly (yes, weekly) body-grooming routine can easily take two hours — more if it’s going to be the “first time” with someone. Half the guys I know at least trim, if not downright shave, their torsos and legs, especially if they have nice muscle tone and want to show it off. (In gay world, marketing is everything.) For the truly committed (and, in my view, satanic), there’s waxing for the chest and ass.
All of which makes spontaneity impossible. If you haven’t been, ahem, randy in a bit and have let your routine languish, a sudden opportunity quickly becomes a lost one. (I can’t let him see me like this, you think.) It all looks so easy in gay porn, where the two mechanics take the guy who can’t pay for his car repairs and toss him over the hood. In real life, not so much. For one thing, no mechanics actually look like that.
Every straight man I know looks at gays with at least some modicum of envy, in large measure because of the easy availability of casual sex; a tap of a phone app can have Mr. Right Now at your door in 20 minutes (10 if you offer to pay for the Uber). But it turns out being part of a culture that objectifies men like, well, women isn’t all no-strings fun and games. It’s work. And it’s certainly not an easy culture to age in.
But still, hot fudge beats vanilla every time.