Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Looking" for Truth: 6 Reasons Why Sunday's episode of HBO's Gay Dramedy Was Hard for Me to Watch

The truth hurts, and the sixth episode of Looking was loaded with harsh truths, most of them about being gay, but some about being human, too. The show continues to improve, episode by episode, and tuning in to Sunday night's was like watching scenes unfold in my own life, or in my head. This, folks, is reality TV.

The truth about threesomes I admire people who are secure enough in their relationships not to be bound by the principle of monogamy. I'm less likely to applaud those non-monogamous couples who pursue threesomes saying things like "But we only play together." They might think they're exercising sexual freedom, but in reality, they're only subjecting their relationships and their partners to a different set of rules, allowing both parties to experience new people while still monitoring each other's sexual behavior. That's liberation?

Unfortunately for them, you can't control how near-strangers connect, and the look of shocked horror on Agustín's face when he saw the powerful chemical reaction between his boyfriend Frank and CJ hooker as they gazed longingly into each other's eyes is exactly why I must insist on one-on-one. There's nothing like feeling left out in your own bed.

The truth about career obsession The conversation between Patrick, Richie, Patrick's boss Kevin and Kevin's boyfriend Jon (a doctor for the San Francisco Giants!) made me cringe for so many reasons. First of all, there's the hint of judgment on Kevin's face, in his choice of words, and in the way he says them whenever he interacts with Patrick. (Though that might very well be a British thing.) Second, what's with all the sizing people up by their jobs? The way Kevin asked "Like for a living?" when Richie revealed that he cuts hair said so much about the kind of guy he is (pretty but clearly soulless). There was no condescension in Kevin's tone, which made it worse, because it meant that he wasn't even aware of how insulting the question was.

I've never been the guy who had the boyfriend with an impressive job (I've dated a lot of starving artists, and in Buenos Aires, at least one guy who cut hair for a living, which was probably the coolest thing about him), and that's just as well. I've never felt the need to gain anyone's approval with the career choices of the people I date. That's between them and their bank accounts.

I do, however, know what it's like to have to justify what you do to status- and career-obsessed people, especially being an independent journalist who has the financial freedom (for now) to do what I do because I love to do it and not because I have to do it to pay my bills. Some people think you, your life, and how you spend it are legitimate only if you're bound to a job, and the better said job sounds on paper, well, the better. Kevin must be one of those people. Or maybe he just thinks that hair cuts itself.

The truth about insecure people I hate Agustín's nasty critical streak (especially since he can't get as good as he gives), but I think he nailed what Patrick is doing with Richie, whom I probably dislike even more than I do Agustín. Let me count the ways:

1) He uses language, in his case Spanish, to build a barrier between himself and Patrick and also to make himself feel superior.

2) He blasted Patrick for not defending him when Agustín accused Patrick of slumming with Richie, but he didn't even give Patrick a chance to defend him. He walked in on the conversation just as Agustín was landing the slumming punch, so he had no idea what had been said before his arrival. That's some major insecurity masquerading as righteous indignation.

3) He says things like "Now I got me a boyfriend and shit -- and a WASP, too. Score! Want some [pretentiously pronounced Spanish dish]... boyfriend?"

4) He says "tweaking out" instead of "freaking out."

5) He tries too hard to play it cool (it's in his walk, it's in his talk, it's in the ambivalent way he initially responded to Patrick calling him his "boyfriend"), and when he's not, he goes way over the top. ("I take this boyfriend thing very seriously"? Really?) And about that cheap $4 necklace (yes, necklace!): The only time couples need to start wearing matching jewelry is after exchanging wedding vows.

The truth about mixed signals Scott Bakula's Lynn is an interesting character, but he's also full of it. He's giving Dom mixed signals, but don't they all? (Gay men, that is.) He had his flower delivery guy track Dom down in crowded Dolores Park to present him with a bouquet on his 40th birthday, he tried to drum up interest in Dom's culinary enterprise, and then he offered to invest in it himself when his friends weren't interested.

Would he have done any of that if Dom wasn't possibly the best-looking guy in San Francisco who just turned 40? Most of what Lynn says makes sense -- no, it's not a good idea to mix business and romance, and yes, most gay guys Dom's age are looking for guys 20 years younger -- but I think he's playing a game: hook Dom by turning down his advances and making him think he's not interested. "Not all of us keep our phones on twenty-four seven," Lynn said when Dom asked why he hadn't responded to his texts. Please. He got those messages. Gay men -- hell, everyone -- always get their messages. And gay men -- hell, everyone -- have been playing cat-and-mouse with the telephone forever. Score!

The truth about sibilant S's Yes, gay people are also guilty of subscribing to gay stereotypes, using them not only as a means of categorization but also regarding them as a way to elevate their own "straight-acting" status and as something to avoid adopting if they want to remain gainfully employed. When Doris said, "Oh my God, you're so getting fired," after Kevin spotted Patrick's queeny B act from afar, she was only joking, but she may have been unintentionally voicing a pretty common fear.

The whole gay camp thing is probably as phony as the macho-man pose (I'd say most of us, in totally unaffected moments, fall somewhere in the middle), but why is the latter more acceptable than the former? Patrick, who I'd say has a natural way of speaking that's neither masculine nor feminine, is hardly what they (gay people) would call a flaming queen, but his gentle delivery might still give off "gay" to a stranger over the phone (as might yours, Agustín!). Is that really such terrible thing?

The truth about guys on Grindr When the cute, bemuscled twentysomething approached Dom in the park and asked if he was the hot guy on Grindr, it was almost like deja vu. A similar thing happened to me last week while I was having dinner at Beefcakes with Rob and Sam.

"Hey. Aren't you on Grindr without your shirt on?"

The guy who was asking me was tall and handsome, much like Dom. I'd had my eye on him for 30 minutes, and I was so stunned that he'd actually stopped at our table to chat with me that the only response I could muster was a wan "Yeah, that's me."

I probably should have been less flustered and more flattered that he'd picked me out of the Beefcakes crowd, but frankly, how could he not? There wasn't a lot of color there, and there certainly isn't much on Grindr in Cape Town. Despite the fact that I'm in Africa, the guys in Grindr's photo display are overwhelmingly white. I might as well be back in Melbourne!

I think it might have something to do with the cultural differences between gay blacks and gay whites in Cape Town and perhaps in South Africa. Homosexuality is still frowned upon in black communities here, so gay black Africans are probably more likely to be closeted and therefore not have a public photo on apps and websites like Grindr. Of all the black men who have messaged me since my arrival in Cape Town -- and there have been a considerable number of them -- less than a handful have had a picture in their profile.

But getting back to my tall, handsome Grindr guy, when Rob and Sam went out to the smoking patio, he returned to our table and sat down. His name was Louis, he was 34, he was from Durban, and he was in town for a few days for his best friend's wedding. I told him that I hadn't been to Durban yet, but I was familiar with the town via Elton John's song "Durban Deep" (from his Sleeping with the Past album). Then I gave him the Cliff Notes version of my life story.

Subtle innuendo followed, culminating in a not-so-subtle invitation, from me to him.

"Well, next time you see me on Grindr, feel free to say hello."

Unfortunately, he accepted. Within minutes of my arrival home that night, he sent me a message that's too crude to repeat here. (Hint: It involved Agustín and Frank's new sexual obsession.)

"Sounds like you were talking to the wrong guy," I responded. I was surprised, not because I'm not accustomed to brutal sex talk on Grindr, but because nothing in our conversation earlier, where the subject of sex hadn't even been broached, suggested that it was okay for him to go directly there. But I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Grindr brings out the worst in gay men. I suppose you can't be horny and respectful.

The next morning, Louis returned, hat in hand.

"Hey man. I was totally out of line last night. I'd had too much to drink, and what I said to you was completely inappropriate. I hope you will accept my apology."

"No worries, man. We've all been there."

That was the last I heard from him, but if life really is like Looking, I'll probably run into him again an episode or two from now. I hope they give him better lines next time.
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