When they were new, Chatroulette and the subsequent Manroulette caught my attention. I never used them to have sex, a process that when mediated by technology makes me laugh uncontrollably, but I was fascinated by the randomized serving up of real humans acting out sexually for each and any other human being in the world. Those sites are akin to the machines that fire baseballs or tennis balls at you when you want to practice your swing without engaging in a game with some real person.
Once, I found myself linked to a comfortable cottage-style room containing a scrawny young English lad with bright, thick red hair. He asked my age, and satisfied with the response (Was I old enough? Young enough?), unzipped and frantically began to masturbate. I reminded him of the rules of the site and told him that if he was underage he should leave. I doubted his claim that he was of age. He immediately took the session verbally to the place of his intentions while looking over his shoulder occasionally at a door that might give way to a parent.
While I have no interest in sex with underage boys, I take a great interest in the more extreme foibles of human nature. To be clear for you judgmental rushers, I was not having or encouraging sex with this anonymous young man. Dressed in my street clothes and with my hands on the keyboard, I fielded his rapid questions.
He wanted to know if I had a dog. No. Had I ever had a dog? Yes. A family dog when I was a kid? Yes. He then began to pour out his sexual experiences with his dog. He didn't seem offput by the fact that I had no sexual history with family dogs. "Wouldn't it be great" he speculated "if you and me mounted my dog together?" He jumped up, zipped up and ran out of the room, asking me to wait a moment. He returned with a collie in tow. That is when I clicked off.
Something overrode my deep curiosity about this fresh-faced young man. Maybe it was my sense of propriety. Maybe it was my prudent caution about anonymous encounters. Maybe it was my dislike for what I assumed he had in mind. The part of me that clicked off upbraided the opposite part that wanted to know more about this unusual fellow and wanted to understand someone whose life is so drastically different from my own. The curious part of me chastised the cautious part. The world is flat unless you explore, it said.
Having clicked off, I felt conflicted. Remaining with him on screen any longer would have signified the tacit approval of the viewer. Clicking off would probably signify my repugnance and serve to make him feel guilty and weird. There was certainly no opportunity for counseling with this horny boy and his dog and I had no desire to counsel him. I suspect that like kids who hump their teddy bear or a bed pillow, his interest in the dog would soon give way to an interest in human beings. Perhaps he was just more creative in his response to his newly awakened sex drive. Perhaps I was a bridge to sex with men.
I really had no choice but to leave the encounter.
The next screen served up to me a morbidly obese neck-to-knees naked torso flanked by a beer bottle and a smoking ashtray that seemed to incense this headless Buddha. Not much mystery here. Just a moderate dollop of horror. I logged off and went for a walk on the beach to clear my head.
The wonderful thing about Chatroulette/Manroulette is their rapid-fire un-retouched delivery of the full spectrum of human sexual nature. They randomly match you with others from every nook and cranny of the globe. Not so different from arranged marriages or mail-order brides. The distressing thing about these programs is the fact that you can't go back to a previous screen. When lingering is mutual, the visit is protracted. When one party clicks off, the encounter becomes an imaginary ephemeral collision from another dimension. The kaleidoscopic disposability of men and women frenzied by sexual desire is concurrently magnificent and saddening. I'll never know what became of the lad and his dog.
June is Pride month. A time in which we celebrate something. We used to know what that "something" was. Now, we do not. We used to call it "Gay Pride", but assimilationists and certain gay language Nazis have sought to take down the modifier. The Gay is going through an awkward age. Like a teenager who hasn't yet learned where to place his desires.
I like the phrase "The Gay" because it encompasses the whole schmeer. The whole megillah. The whole nine yards. It's not nervous and guilty and clumsy like "LGBTQ". "The Gay" has a slightly dismissive and wistful fin-de-siecle sound to it without the discomfiting trappings of "queer". To be sure, I like "queer", but in the month of June, it's easier to celebrate "The Gay" rather than "queer", just like it's easier to drink lemonade in summer.
There are many aspects of The Gay that I do not like and that I hope we outgrow. I may not approve of observing screen sex with a boy and his dog, but I also do not approve of respectability and the homogenizing gay middle class Ken and Barbians who don't want to be fabulous and resent those who cherish their quirky and odd presentations.
Let's take stock of who we are, where we are, what we ought to be proud of and what we out to outgrow. What is The Gay today, and why should we celebrate it?
The Gay is a loose coalition of folks who feel different from The Straight because of sexual issues. Within The Gay are those who feel aggrieved because they are not getting liberties they feel they are owed. Also within The Gay are evangelical preachers and their rentboys, closeted politicians, self destructive meth addicts who want to be repeatedly penetrated in the course of a weeknight by a line of men whose faces they never see, married lesbians raising children who get good grades and few cavities, frisky young British boys with dogs, those who run for the Purell after touching someone's privates, ass munchers who don't mind a little fiber in their diet, ex-priests who took gay Jesus with them when they shook the dust of absurd religion off their shoes, bakers, Quakers, candle stick makers and the man in the moon.
We find that there is just no way to get The Gay to develop a sense of fellowship, camaraderie and united purpose about anything except the desire to have the freedom to do what it wants even when that is too icky for the Logo channel, let alone prime time.
Proof that The Gay is all over the place can be found in the immediate revving up of commentary from the easily irritated about terminology, from those who claim sexual authority over others, by the fearful who want this world to be a safe space, and by the gay-tidy who cannot abide the sight or smell of people on the behavioral fringe.
The battle trenches of The Gay are strewn with abandoned secrets, sequins, feathers, Birkenstocks, spiked black leather chokers, used condoms, syringes, catechisms, wedding rings, Olympian speedos, the phone numbers of The Straight scrawled on hotel stationery beneath the words "Call me next time you're in town" and a few bad hairpieces. Campfires are fed with mortgage docs of The Gay from every neighborhood in the country. The Gay is a rainbow dimmed by the artillery smoke of friendly fire and with no pot of gold at either end. Today, The Gay is its own reward. It is a family that seems to be fleeing its own home, leaving behind furniture and its kids on the sidewalk. Today, The Gay seems less thoughtful and more reactionary, like a redheaded teenage boy. Like all other families, The Gay is imperfect in its ability to love, and it fails to live up to its own anthems.
The Gay is currently addicted to constant chatter and small talk. The Gay is bent on making itself a dumbed-down headline and a disposable commodity, and maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe what we should celebrate during this month of Pride is the dismantling of our identities past and future. That seems to be what the youngest among us are doing. They want to make our sexuality a non-issue. They want us to be so over-exposed to every aspect of gay sex - including fledgling gay boys and their dogs - that nothing will shock us and nothing will upset us and eventually nothing sexual will interest us beyond simple unfetishized hormonal gratification.
Are we at the end of the frontier? Have we seen all the cards and are we beginning to fold them? Are we just one or two generations away from the complete dissolution of The Gay as its own refuge?
Somewhere in England, a young man with a dog is seeking older men for virtual sex. I will never know what becomes of him but I'm glad I "met" him. I am glad I've met all of you. There is not one face in The Gay that is not beautiful in my eyes, and when The Gay fades into the obscurity of history, I'll be a bit a saddened by its passing, but only in as much as we are each saddened by leaving our teenage years and becoming adults. That is enough to celebrate this month.