Thursday, October 13, 2011


Illustration by Alexi Helligar
"Love is a battlefield," the great Pat Benatar once sang.

But 28 years later, where is the love?

Where is the romance and the potential for finding it? True romance, not romantic behavior as a means to an end (sex).

It's probably not at DJ Station in Bangkok, Glam in Buenos Aires, the Peel in Melbourne, nor in any bar, club, dance floor or online-dating forum I've wandered into or onto in the last five years. Chances are it's not staring at you from the other side of the dinner table, on top of it (if you're into that sort of thing), or between the sheets, where, as in all of those other locations, one on one is a game that's all about the big score. If you're really lucky, a one-night stand from the Peel might turn out to be the real deal. But you'll have to fight dirty to get there. Expect cuts and bruises and the loss of blood, so don't fall without your first-aid kit.

Welcome to the battlefield.

My brother Alexi, a Toronto-based artist, among other things, posted one of his new images (above) on his Facebook wall today, and almost immediately, an idea that's been trying to take shape in my mind for some time finally came into clear focus: Sex is war. Even the nuts (no pun intended) and bolts of it look like weapons. (Pat Benatar, perhaps the most insightful artist in '80s pop-rock, made another shrewd observation in her hit "Sex As a Weapon.")

Guns are as phallic as it gets, and way before Katy Perry introduced the image of shooting boobs in the "Firework" video, there was Madonna and her bullet bra. Even a chastity belt, which is supposed to stop you from having sex, looks like sexy battle armor. To an innocent, virginal bystander, the act of sex itself might appear to be violent (and in its S&M form, it actually is), a struggle that involves kissing and caressing. If you're lucky enough to be in a long-term relationship with someone you love and who loves you back, at least you know you're both fighting on the same side.

Here in Bangkok, the gay dating and mating scene has to be one of the biggest war zones of all, dominated by lust, deceit, jealousy and envy, with lurid sexual come-ons being tossed around like hand grenades. Enter at your own emotional risk. (And I do, because going out here is so much fun, guns blazing and all.)

Courtship barely seems to exist. The locals and expatriates as well as the vacationers and flight attendants just passing through use flattery like the Greeks used the Trojan horse, to lower your guard before they move in for the kill. There's often more than a hint of aggression in their approach. They pat your ass. They squeeze your crotch. I've had complete strangers try to shove their hands down my trousers to inspect the contents within. I'm no legal eagle, but if I were a woman, I think that would be considered sexual assault. "How big is your dick?" becomes more than the crude question it was in Argentina. It's almost a dare here. An invitation to the battlefield to compare weaponry.

I remember the good old days (circa 1991 to 2000 in New York City) when guys would approach you and strike up an actual conversation. The subject wasn't exactly roses, but neither was it sex, penis size, tops and bottoms -- at least not until hours later when you were both naked. But just as the Facebook/Twitter/texting era has damaged the capacity of many to effectively communicate in more than a few words at a time, conversation as foreplay has become a pretty antiquated concept. Within minutes of meeting, guns are drawn and the battle is on.

Modern pre-coital banter couldn't be less sexy. It's cold, clinical and aggressive, not unlike Rihanna's invitation to prove your man-size love in "Rude Boy." I'll get mine, you'll get yours. No strings attached. It's lust and anger rolled into one. When the, um, shooting stops, and the guns are put away, it becomes eerily quiet, body count: two (or more, if you're into groups). You know he'll never call (and neither will you). The next time you circle each others' orbits, you'll both pretend not to notice each other. No declaration of peace. Nobody wins.

A friend of mine once made a video in which a male couple alternated between kissing and f**king each others' brains out. Until I played the role of voyeur (no, I'm not into porn, and graphic sex scenes in movies make me uncomfortable, so I was kind of a newcomer to that sort of thing), I never realized how animalistic the act of sex can appear when compared to passionate but tender kissing. No wonder little children who walk in on mom and dad in flagrante delicto often think they're trying to kill each other.

I recently was approached by a Swedish guy in DJ Station who spent 30 minutes trying to thaw my frosty demeanor. I was onto him from the get go, but I figured I'd let him hang himself with his own rope. Eventually, he did.

"Are you a top or bottom?" he asked as casually as if he wanted to know what time it was. "I'm a top."

It was like he was trying to declare war on my body, and he figured being on top would give him the clear advantage. When he didn't get the response he wanted, he left without so much as "Have a nice evening."

It's not that I'm anti-war. As Kenny Rogers once sang, sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man. I just prefer to choose my battles. And if I'm going to go to war, I'd rather go to bed with a Burger King Whopper with bacon, cheese and onion rings and fight the battle of the bulge in the morning.

Love. Songs. War.

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