Seeking joy and meaning in a joyless mind and meaningless existence

Monday, September 7, 2020

Growing up in the shadow of AIDS

I have been walking around the past several days in a haze of torqued up sexual fantasies, subsisting on lust and nicotine. I came of age at the peak of the AIDS crisis, and it really scarred my psyche and instilled a dreadful fear of sex, compounded by my severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Adding insult to injury was the blatant, unchallenged homophobia that was so pervasive at the time. If we were lucky, we were just a joke, but disparaging attitudes and contempt against LGBT people were considered normal as was real and threatened violence. AIDS was considered a just punishment against morally corrupt people, and it almost certainly doomed one to a horrifying, ignominious death. The government did not prioritize the health crisis, taking the attitude that it only targeted “those people.” 

I also had literally no one to talk about what I was experiencing as I became sexually mature. Most people are able to work through the inevitable teenage bullshit about sex and relationships with peers, family members and trusted adults so that they’re able to enter a more mature phase of understanding. I had these basic, primal, animalistic urges towards other men but never had the luxury of talking through them or getting any understanding and perspective as to what I was feeling. All of this – a lifetime of ingrained maladaptive thoughts and behaviors – prevented me from ever being able to truly enjoy the natural expression of my sexuality at any time in my 50 years.

I’ve spent more than a decade staying with my empty status quo and rarely even trying. I show up to work each day, pay all my bills, say pleasant things to everyone around me and spend my nights and weekends looking for distraction in TV and movies and sometimes video games as I stew in my quiet despair. I’m tired of living in constant fear of what might happen. I can’t honestly say that being timid and overly cautious has really benefitted me in any way over the course of my life, but it has caused me to isolate myself, avoid countless things that might have brought me joy and end up a backdrop spectator in my own existence.

Last week I asked my doctor to start me on Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP). I’m planning to seek out more casual sexual encounters and try to actually enjoy myself. I intend to practice certain safer sex practices but not be so maniacal about others. I’ve been doing a lot of walking during lockdown to get myself in better shape. I’d like to get on some dating websites and focus on getting to know people and enjoying my sexuality while I still can and not desperately hunting for “the one” (though I’d be pleased as punch to find him). I’m not looking to go on Grindr because I’m not young, hung and full of cum, and I’m not going to seek casual encounters on Craigslist because I don’t want to get murdered. It would help things if my equipment actually worked better (thank you antidepressants!), but I can only address a few issues at a time. I want to train myself to unlearn decades of unhealthy, unproductive thought patterns. I don’t want to spend four weeks in a heightened state of anxiety after every sexual experience, waiting until I can take an HIV test. I don’t want to exhaust myself with the splitting I do when I think about HIV, panicking every time I hear HIV mentioned while in that waiting period and then constantly telling myself I’m glad that I’m “safe” when my status is confirmed to be negative. I want to rely on the best medical foundation and move forward while realizing that I can’t control everything.

I feel foolishly sex-obsessed like an adolescent with all this, but I also feel more drive and less like I spend all my time sitting around my place alone and feeling sorry for myself. My superstition nature – driven by my OCD – tells me that my attempt to take control will result in ironic tragedy because that’s how it works in books and movies, where tragedy strikes when all seems to go well. And so that’s how I think life works. Even writing this entry makes me believe I’m tempting fate, but I have to press on and try to undo a lifetime of damage with fear and trembling.

And then, of course, this happens…

I wrote the draft for the previous section’s screed on sexual empowerment before I was violated by a male masseur yesterday. Every blue moon I'll get an M4M massage because I’m an extremely lonely, socially isolated and extremely unhappy person that gets desperate for physical and sexual contact. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve always been just a little bit skeevy when it comes to my sexual activity (though generally pretty vanilla with my tastes). I've gotten erotic massage, and in my youth, I occasionally engaged in public sex with strangers. Living in Los Angeles for ten years also provided no shortage of venues where one might indulge in pleasures of the flesh. Because of the fear of HIV and internalized homophobia that I mentioned above, I never really had a healthy integration of my sexuality as a fundamental part of me and learned to view as something “separate” with puritanical ideas that it is inherently dirty and shameful, thus only pursued covertly at the dark fringes. If I hadn't had such hang ups around sex, I might have been able to enjoy casual dating that sometimes involved sexual activity and maybe could have found a long-term partner, which is really what I've always wanted.

Ironically, my primary motivation for scheduling the appointment yesterday was for legitimate muscle work as I’ve been having problems in my shoulders and calves, though admittedly looking forward to a beefy guy performing the massage. Most of these M4M appointments involve a little mutual touching and a “happy ending.” This one got surprisingly sexual surprisingly fast and abruptly. It went from him lightly tickling my balls with one hand as he used the other forearm to apply deep tissue strokes to my major muscles to grinding his cock on my ass. I was a little surprised since he bills his massage as therapeutic and sensual, as opposed to erotic. I didn’t mind what he was doing until he decided to top me bareback. I told him to stop, and he immediately did. While it was brief and didn’t involve orgasm, I was really upset because he unilaterally decided to perform the single riskiest sexual act without checking to see if I was O.K. with it. Younger people have a markedly different attitude about HIV and safer sex, but this guy was my age and should have known better.

I was on day four of Truvada, which should provide 95-97% reduction in risk, but it doesn’t reach full effectiveness until a week. With my OCD, that differential makes all the difference to me. Now I’m freaking out and back to the agony of having to wait four weeks before I can take an effective HIV test. I feel as if the prophetic tone I ended the previous section has come true. I let my guard down, tried to enjoy life and found myself in yet another fearful situation alone. I made the same mistakes I always do: thinking that anything I ever do actually matters or that life could ever be anything like I wanted it to be. I tried to exorcise old demons from my psyche by being as measured and rational as I could be, but I never seem to have any real control or agency about anything that happens to me. I just constantly mess things up no matter how hard I try. Other people seem to be able to plan and work towards goals that move their lives generally in the direction they want. I always seem to be like flotsam randomly moving but going nowhere regardless of what I do or don't do. 

I made a mistake
I should have never tried
I took the cake
Finished every slice
Looking through my eyes
I move at a pace
That I cannot survive
I'm hauling away
I do it all the time
Let love age
I stare at the face
And watch it burn out and die
{Grizzly Bear, "Mourning Sound"}