Is It Gay If Me And My Friend Jerk Each Other Off One Time – Left to right: George Hodgson (seated), Cindy Scott, Muffsin Mia, Mark Thompson and Chris D’Arcy. All images: Stephanie Sian-Smith/The Guardian
From a 1960s student whose sexuality was illegal to a newcomer to the gay scene, four men and one nonbinary queer man talk about how their lives (and their sex lives) have changed.
Is It Gay If Me And My Friend Jerk Each Other Off One Time
I went to London University in 1967, the year the Decriminalization Act was passed. In England and Wales it was no longer illegal to be gay if you were over 21, but it was still frowned upon. I was 18 so it was still illegal for me, but I never thought too much about the legality. I was also enjoying it.
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They sent me to a boys’ boarding school. I had a relationship with a guy there. He didn’t have any labels. It wasn’t just sex. It was something special for me: at 16 you learn to love. We went to London together. Then he found the women and continued on his way. I have entered the second phase of my sexual journey. I spent the mid-70s chasing men. He goes to all the gay nightclubs. A lot of sex.
I loved trolling, walking down the street and getting someone’s attention. This is how we will meet. Loves me? I love you? Then we meet face to face and talk, maybe we’ll go and have some good quick sex. I am very understanding, so I will read that person. You can’t feel the soul of the man in this, well, Grindr thing. This is disappointing for me.
I’ve never been a big fan of clubs. It was like being gay in a club and then walking out, putting your coat back on and starting to deny it. Well, I didn’t want to do that. For me, “queer” is the person who is my true self. I didn’t experience this in London. I heard that strange men from all over the world were going to the Castro [district] of San Francisco to locate him. I sold my apartment and moved to San Francisco in 1979 to participate in this incredible community experience.
It was very exciting. and energy. You can walk down the street holding hands without fear of being run over. I was an honorary member of the Sisters of the Perpetual Passion [a queer protest group]. On Saturday we all met on the steps of the town hall. We brought Barbie dolls and little bottles of water and sang, “Take away our fear, take away our sin, take away our shame.” Then we will all read The Last Tales of the Town by Armistead Maupin. It was a wonderful atmosphere.
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I had the opportunity to express myself freely, passionately, full time, fully. I was there for two years. And then came the horror of HIV/AIDS. She lived with a very handsome man named Marco. One Sunday we were on our way to dinner. As we walked through the Castro, there was a Polaroid in a pharmacy window of a man with a purple lesion near his arm [a sign of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer that affects people with HIV]. That was when I faced my enemy for the first time.
I saw all the horrors of AIDS. My friend died in my arms. But I never thought sexuality was something to be ashamed of or afraid of. It was great
I ran I got this amazing job in Singapore and met Sam, my biggest crush. We lived together in this beautiful old house. We spent eight wonderful years together. Then we found out that we are both HIV positive. Sam participated in the Concorde trial of AZT [the first antiretroviral drug for HIV]. The doctors administered very large doses; They had no knowledge. It wasn’t the HIV that killed him, it was the doses. He died brutally. I was with him. I survived without the pill until 2011. Now the medication has reduced the size of the virus to such an extent that I cannot tolerate it.
I have been celibate for 20 years. I loved it. I’ve spent most of my life chasing sex. There are very few queer men in the ’70s. We lost our entire generation in the AIDS crisis. It was political sex. They have taken away our right to sex. Maybe, in retrospect, it was too much. But we never had the opportunity to have so many options. We don’t know that we kill each other during sex.
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I have seen the horrors that AIDS can do to people. It was difficult. My friend died in my arms. They told me he was going to die. But in my entire life I never thought sex was inherently shameful, guilty, or scary. It was a great free gift from the body.
I live in a strange story. I’m writing a note. I do a lot of podcasts. This is the role I take on, to remind young people about AIDS: to know its history, that antiretroviruses do not grow on trees. To remember and honor those who gave their lives to obtain this medicine.
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Mark Thompson, 54 I came out in the summer of 1985. I was 15 something. Then two things happened. The sex I had was illegal because I was under 21 years old. It didn’t even occur to me. Another thing was the appearance of the HIV epidemic. But it didn’t feel like part of my world. I was a South London kid. My sexual and social circles were all black. The information I received on television was that HIV is affecting white men in the United States.
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I was diagnosed 18 months after my arrival. The panorama had changed by then. All the achievements we had obtained were taken away from us. It was an era when sex equaled death and the fear was palpable. Kissing will be the limit. The entry genre did not occur. We are worried about oral sex. You felt like you couldn’t do so many things.
I found sexual freedom in the sauna, where condom use was the accepted norm. I can have sex and not have to reveal my HIV status. Participating in HIV prevention work and being around other men who know we can do low-risk things has given me the tools to know I can have a healthy sex life.
I met someone. He knew about my HIV and was good about it. “You’re very pretty; I’m very pretty. You’re 25; I’m 26. There’s no way it’s just the two of us. We can have an open relationship,” he said. He had a strong view of relationships based on the heteronormativity model. He set us free. We had triplets. We were two cute black guys in a club and we were like, “If you go home with us, you’re lucky.”
It was his fault that he was alive in the nineties. With advances in HIV treatment, we have not seen HIV-positive people die in similar numbers. So it was like, “Let’s live, let’s have fun.” We’ve had a huge explosion of house music clubs like DTPM, Business and House.
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It’s scary that my hope has diminished. Gender is an integral part of who you are as a gay man. Am I still without him?
This was the era of the civil union. There were good gays (guys who got married and had dogs) and there were dirty gays. There is a reconstruction of who we are. It’s nice to want to get married and all that, but look how fun, playful and free we were when we had no structures around us.
I sense a return of sexual positivity among young people. PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication that reduces the chances of getting HIV] has had a huge impact. HIV is still painful, but it has become a kind of historical artifact: it happened to us.
I don’t like the gay scene anymore. When you get old, they throw you out. I can’t speak to this digital space on Grindr; I didn’t have the language for it. I was like, “That’s a good talk. Do you want to meet for coffee?” People said: What for?
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My hope has diminished. Sometimes it’s scary. I have some good friends that I can call if I need intimacy because we’ve had sex for years. Gender is an integral part of who you are as a gay man. Am I still gay without him?
When I was 15, homosexuality was defined by who I wanted to sleep with. Forty years later, it’s defined by my friends, my culture, my sense of community, and the people I want to sleep with, I just want less of it. My world was gay. Now it’s queer: gay men, queer women, non-binary