Gay Life Tips from a Retro Gay Sex Book!

posted by Madame Bubby

Gay Sex: A Manual for men Who Love Men old edition book cover

In 1991, Jack Hart published a book Gay Sex: A Manual for Men Who Love Men. Now, given the conditions of the time, when AIDS was still killing so many gay men and the Religious Right still holding power in a post-Reagan political and social climate, the book is both timely and groundbreaking.

By that time, safe sex was the norm, and I think the book reflects the want and the need for sexual activity that doesn’t always end in the ultimate, and to be honest, at that time, deadly fuck.

The book is divided alphabetically, and most significantly, it just doesn’t cover mechanics. It covers the complex thoughts and feelings that both cause and affect sexual relationships. It assumes a freedom to explore gay sex and perhaps find love.

For example, the letter L is divided into these categories: labels, leather, legal matters, legal trouble, loneliness, love, love at first sight, and lubricant. Those categories certainly cover a wide range. In this case, one could even claim the L section really covers life at all levels.

Here are some helpful and insightful quotes that transcend time from that section:

“Labels… The fact is, labels are useful. Without labels, we could end up at the Irish parade instead of the Gay and Lesbian Parade. Just don’t let labels get the upper hand. At one point in your life, you probably assumed you were straight. That label, however unconsciously it was adopted, limited your ability to explore your attraction to other men. You may now identify as gay. That’s fine, but if you find aspects of your personality that don’t fit that label, it’s the label that should be redefined – not your personality.”

“Legal matters… Sign power of attorney agreements, providing the authority to make the decisions and sign documents for one another should one of you become incapacitated. It’s important to have a will, and also a Living Will, which indicates what you want done if injury or illness leaves you unable to indicate your own desires.”

“Loneliness… The best antidote for loneliness is not finding a lover, or a date, but in doing things you enjoy, with other people, and through that, finding some new friends. Unfortunately, no one will ever believe this basic truth from reading a book. Some spend years learning it the hard way, and others never learn it all.”

“Love at first sight… There’s nothing wrong with that feeling. It’s enjoyable, and psychologists have even come up with the term limerence for that swept-off-your-feet sensation. But if you assume that a relationship has to start that way, you’ll miss some good opportunities that simply don’t announce themselves quite so loudly.”

“Lubricant… It’s best to use a lubricant that comes from a tube or squeeze bottle. Anything in a tub or jar easily becomes a repository for germs, as your fingers dip in and out."

Now, based on these quotes, one might think, yeah, we know, and we’ve come a long way since then. Perhaps in some matters, especially social and legal rights and recognition, but the complex feelings and actions that feed into one’s variegated social identities remain, transmuted as their context transmutes.

In fact, one could even claim that labels and loneliness have taken on even more complex, and perhaps, problematic dimensions in a life that now encompasses both cyber and physical space. There’s much more going on than choosing the right lubricant which can now be delivered to your door in a few hours for the hook up you scheduled on Scruff.

Perhaps the key words here also begin with the letter L. We physically lost a generation to AIDS. Let’s not socially and psychologically lose a generation to labels and loneliness.

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LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ONE'S GAY TWENTIES

“His friends decided that Ken had fallen into the trap that had snared so many beautiful gay men. In his twenties, he had searched for a husband instead of a career. When he did not find a husband, he took the next best thing – sex – and sex became something of a career. It wasn't love but at least it felt good; for all his time at the Cinderella ball, the prince had never arrived.” – Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On

I've heard about (and read about) that adolescence for males especially extends until one's late twenties these days. Now, these days is kind of vague, so maybe I am thinking more about millenials, but the reasons for this extended adolescence aren't just psychological stereotypes (guys take longer to grow up than girls, and some never do), but also economic. The rising cost of living and increased compeition for jobs that can launch one into a secure middle-class income are factors that often keep the guys living in their parents' basement playing video games.

The game many guys played in their twenties in the 1970s was the sex game (not that guys haven't done it since time immemorial). Guys had been playing it more brazenly in the 1960s, and many women played along, and as they did so, started to make their own rules, and the win did not always have to occur before an altar.

Gays and lesbians, who for so long had to play in the closet, emerged militantly in the heady days of the seventies, especially in urban meccas. Some lesbians found a home (spiritually and physically) in various waves of feminism, but many gay men fled their tastefully decorated homes and entered palaces – sex palaces, bathhouses, movie theaters, back rooms of bars. I am not saying that no one was looking for love, but the love that used to dare not speak its name was more often than not during that time more like a moan in an orgy room. It was as if men became fertile, and multiplied (not in the procreative sense).
 

Gay men in the 1970s dancing

Steamworks, Chicago bathhouse poster

In the quote above, men like Ken (one of the first victims of AIDS), certainly grew from strength to strength, but for many men at that time, coming out still mean choosing between one's sexuality and a career. Thus the gay life became for many guys a sex life in specific, segregated milieu. Their Land of Goshen was ironically a release from bondage. Until the plague …

When AIDS started smiting these men down like that last plague of Egypt, gay men rallied together, but there was no singular Moses like Harvey Milk to guide them. They survived united, and survived divided. For a while the sex palaces remained open, despite an uncaring Pharaoh like Reagan and his Moral Majority priests with their rhetoric of sin and punishment. Yet that plague, with its relentless physical linkage of sex and death, changed everything.
 

AIDS activists hodling banner that says Fighting for Our Lives

Ken's generation saw death daily; the succeeding generation (in their twenties during the height of the plague) saw death, but many of them survived to explore and enjoy if not a cure, then a way to live, not die. The life was not just medical, but eventually legal, climaxing when Love Won in 2015. 2015 brought out the monogamous couples who had found their princes even before the days of liberation and the plague.
 

Person holding gay pride flag at protest in D.C.

Did the plague in some way make many gay men grow up? Not that gay sex, or any sex for that matter, is in itself an immature, irresponsible act? By its very nature it breaks boundaries, liberates, and orgasm is “the little death.” Growing up is experiencing sex, but maturing is understanding sex and the wisdom to know when sex and love intersect, and when they don't.

For gay men, this process was always more fraught because it did not conform to the social norms that heterosexual men and women usually conform to: in one's twenties, one finds a mate and a career, not always in that order, and it's no longer an either/or proposition. One produces children. One's career climaxes as one's children grow up. The cycle continues. Within that norm, one can usually choose.

Yet gay men who lived in the 1970s, who had lacked so many choices, plunged into a world with a bewildering variety of choices. Now with other freedoms (and in this day and age, still endangered) available beyond sexual choice, are gay men in their twenties at another crossroads?

I just hope many of them realize their prince is not an image on Grindr, and that even the image of a prince doesn't last. But if you are lucky, your prince may grow up to be a king.
 

Grindr profile image
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