Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs - Boyfriends
I found my first real boyfriend at university. I was 20, working behind a Student’s Union bar, and he was out drinking. I clocked him straight away, with his cut-glass cheekbones, curly brown hair and blue-grey eyes, and of course used the barman’s power to make a beeline for him. I’d no idea whether he was gay, and inwardly sighed when a tall, slender girl began to order his drinks in a heavy French accent.
But as I leaned in to hear her, I flicked my eyes towards his and he quickly looked back – quick enough for me to feel a slight stir in my crotch.
I only had time to ascertain he was French and it was his 22nd birthday, before they’d done their tequila shots and swanned off clutching their Carlsberg pints. Yet later when I was out glass-collecting, I saw him in the corner of the pub garden, with a raucous gaggle of European friends. We made eye contact, as he smoked a cigarette in a Gallic fashion, before he looked away. With the glorious confidence of being 20, I started speaking to him.
Nothing happened that night, although we laid the roots of a friendship. I still wasn’t sure if he was gay, or at least whether he was out. But the next week we were both in that same bar, and at chucking out time we walked back together to our shared halls. He lived on the West side, I on the East. On the stone balustrade that connected the two, we shared a kiss near his door. I’d never kissed lips so soft. As I hardened I asked him if he wanted to go back to his room.
And he said “no”, before leaning in for another kiss.
Eventually we said good night, and I wandered back to my room happy but wondering why I’d been refused sex. For months I thought it was because he was different to us English sex-crazed gays: it was only later we worked out that he’d thought I’d been asking if he wanted to leave. These linguistic misunderstandings happened often for, at first, his English wasn’t great. But if the best way to learn a language is with a lover in bed, then I feel I taught him a lot.
It also meant in those initial few months that we had to find non-verbal ways to align our bonds. Sex obviously breaches barriers, but no relationship survives solely on sex. The power of eye contact and touch took on greater meaning. When he fell ill, I nursed him in his room as he sweated with the curtains closed. Privately I was terrified, because we were good but not perfect with condoms, and I’d been reckless in the past. The food poisoning diagnosis was a relief.
But sadly in youth I didn’t realise how special those tender moments were, even though they glow now in my memory. As he was falling in love, my years of repression wouldn’t allow me the same pleasure. His intimacy scared me. He’d bring me gifts of his life: postcards painstakingly written out in English; a book of Proust; a jar of red earth from his hometown of Lyon. And in return I’d tell myself why I couldn’t love him: he was too elegant, too beautiful, too caring.
I’ve written before about how as a teenager I dealt with my burgeoning homosexuality by transforming it into unrequited love. I understood love as a broken thing, and I wanted to be broken. I’d often offer my French boy cruelty. I told him once: “you want to make love, I want to fuck.” But fucking was all that I’d learnt sex was. Towards the end of our year together, when his English was far better, he told me: “when you’re not such a cunt, come back and find me.”
Almost a decade later, I look back at my 20s and the sea of partying, casual sex, multiple partners, foray into chill-outs, going to gym-saunas in Paris, attending sex clubs in Berlin, and I think… For the most part, I enjoyed myself. Yet there was always this feeling that one day, this white knight of a perfect boyfriend would ride out of the hedonistic ether, and bring meaning to my chaos. It took a long time to realise the white knight was only ever inside myself.
Now I’m in a happier place with my mentality I feel I can treat boyfriends with respect. Although whether they treat me well is another matter. Life’s too short for ‘what ifs’, so it’s only sometimes that I feel a sad anger at being so blindsided when young by my religious upbringing, by my homophobic schooling, by my own fear, that I could not see the value of the heart I was given to hold. It was so fragile as to be priceless, and I threw it away from my grasp.
‘Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs - Boyfriends’ is at Ku Klub, 30 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BA from 6.30pm on Thursday 11th August. Free entry and all welcome, whether to speak or listen.
Featured speakers at the night include:
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England
Lasana Shabazz, a performance artist and writer who has worked all over the UK and abroad
Anthony Gilét, Attitude dating columnist and the blogger behind huge London gay blog Cocktails & Cocktalk.
Ryan Valadas, a dramatherapist working with gay men, and speaking about personal experience
Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black celebrate diver’s Olympic bronze medal in Rio
Parry Glasspool suspended from Hollyoaks after brandishing knife in controversial video