Gay Men and the 2020 Pandemic

“It feels like my entire life has been taken from me.”

“I feel like I’m arriving to this country all over again, with nothing.”

“People are gloating about free time at home, I’m fighting my depression because my routine and mental health coping mechanisms have all been erased.”

“I feel an anxiety around being stigmatized, like during the beginning of AIDS, who’s going to have it, what’s going to happen?”

In exploring my personal anxiety, I realized it’s been compounded (legitimately so) by what I’m seeing every day from my friends, clients, and acquaintances. Gay men. I’m going to speak only of them, because I am one. And this pandemic, in its infancy, is hitting our community exceptionally hard. Exceptional in that gay men are absolutely unique in our social currencies, family structures, belief systems, sexual interactions, economics, camaraderie and bonding styles. Many individuals within our community embrace their uniqueness and embrace the arts, culture, and creativity: their lives are impacted without beauty, fitness, and sharing their souls with the world. Drag queens, and gogos, hairstylists and bartenders, Djs and artists, flight attendants, entertainers and graphic designers, all rely on that next gig to pay their bills. Gay men are being disproportionately affected by this pandemic. In one fell swoop, this pandemic has wreaked havoc on one of our primary social barometers creating an intrinsic sense of unease and anxiety. Decimated

Bars are our safe space and many times our chapels. When we worried about being beaten in the streets, we could find safety, solace, camaraderie and companionship by lifting a glass and letting our inhibitions ebb. Even with the advent of online cruising; scruff, grindr, and hookup app popularity, the bars still thrive with the desire to meet and chat in a pre-sexual nature. Alcohol often provides social lubrication and sometimes a needed dulling of the animosity many gay men feel navigating a majority heteronormative world (especially in today’s asinine republican political climate). Engaging with friends is many a gay man’s grasp on happiness and sanity in an oft-trying world. Churches and religion by and large have persecuted at worst and eschewed at best LGBTQ people for centuries, so the idea of the flock being strong was weaponized and a truly unsafe option. As our world expanded through the strength of our gay family, the transgender pioneers and drag queens and leather men fighting for basic civility, we came out of the shadows into gyms and restaurants and dog parks, jobs and even libraries. The gig economy has been obliterated and the shrapnel is hitting everyone. The creatives and hourly workers amongst us are unemployed and they don’t have a 401K at your local bar where they entertained you on a box or through a mic. Shuttered.

Men crave intimacy and our sex-negative world often reduces it to quick sex. Intimacy comes in the form of conversation, dinner, movie night, cuddling, hugging, and loving our friends. Gay men typically do not have a traditional family with children. Gay men raising a child under 18 years old is estimated at 11%. That means that 89% of gay men come home to a significant other, a roommate, or a doted-on pet, or an empty apartment, but not a child creating a family dynamic. During this time of crisis, a distraction and sense of purpose can be paramount, and gay men are sometimes finding they don’t have one. This experience is forcing many gay men to look at their social structure and their friendship circles, their chosen and/or biological family, and it’s sobering. For many gay men, their online cruising and potential hook-ups are a primary source of social intimacy, regardless of sex. Those of us lucky enough to have a supportive bio-family and/or created a chosen family are feeling love and support. But some men don’t have that or still feel a sense of loneliness, which can devolve into depressions and despair if left unchecked. In the absence of a “traditional family”, seeking out social/sexual intimacy and the freedom of casual sex, sharing, connectedness or meeting new people has profound capital. Deleted.

I’ve seen plenty of comments about how it’s the introverts time to shine, and a veneer of shaming those expressing legitimate distress over not being able to engage in fitness at the gym. Many gay men approach fitness as a defining factor in their lives. Health, wellness, or flat out trying to look good and attract a mate (or mates) is just as legitimate a reason as any other. And the gym is a source of stability, structure, distraction, interaction, social intimacy, camaraderie, income, and ultimately self-care and mental health for many. Gone.

Recognize the unique structure of a gay man’s life. See the challenges, but also beauty this uniqueness brings. See the importance of bio and chosen family, routine, and social intimacy.

I’ve also seen the most amazing support and love from my chosen family. A text thread of 19 individuals who as one text after another rolls in with, “I got furloughed”; “I’m on hiatus” has been met with a resounding, “we got you.” Be Kind. Do not diminish anyone’s interrupted self-care routine or anything that brings them joy in this time of disruption. I implore you to act with the utmost of empathy in the coming months because we are going to see an unprecedented level of upheaval and stress burying our community.

 

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