How judgmentalism is ruining gay dating

Essy Knopf gay dating
Reading time: 6 minutes

Gay dating is riddled with pitfalls, but perhaps the most significant is the rampant judgmentalism we face – and inflict – upon one another.

The irony is that we approach dating expecting chemistry while treating each other in ways that make it almost impossible.

The catch-22 is that unless we feel safe unless we can let our guards down, we’re going to resist being vulnerable. And without vulnerability, there is no chemistry.

Judgment and gay dating

I met Bryce* one evening over boba tea. Bryce was a guitarist from the UK who had come to Los Angeles with big hopes of breaking into the music industry.

As we exchanged details about our lives, Bryce made a number of flattering remarks about my appearance, flashing flirtatious grins, while indicating he genuinely wanted to get to know me.

As our conversation rolled on, Bryce asked me about my family and we somehow got onto the subject of trust.

“I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” Bryce said.

“That’s great,” I replied. “I used to be the same.”

Bryce looked at me, expectant. I smiled, explaining I had firsthand experience dealing with a relative who was a pathological liar and that this had left me somewhat wary.

Almost immediately the warmth left Bryce’s expression. I excused myself to use the restroom, and when I returned he asked to call it a night. 

Out in the car park, I offered Bryce a polite farewell hug.

“Oh, we’re going to hug, are we?” he sneered, then walked away.

I got into my car, confused. Had my comment had been mistimed? Had I overshared?

Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that no time would ever have been appropriate for such an admission.

For in opening up to Bryce, I had breached an unspoken code by which many gay men live: never expose your vulnerabilities.

Gay dating and expecting perfection

Being born gay almost always guarantees an inheritance of trauma or invalidation. Having been bullied and marginalized for our differences, in particular our emotional expressivity, we learn early on to hide these, lest others brand us “feminine”.

Some of us do this by constructing a perfect exterior, or by hiding behind keen wit, brand name wardrobes, gym-fit physiques, or career success. In many cases, this is the mark of insecurity, born of an unrelenting inner critic.

Deprived of self-compassion, we, in turn, become incapable of mustering empathy for others. When a romantic interest tries to be vulnerable with us, to let their imperfections hang out, there is a strong possibility we will treat this as an infraction.

Uncomfortable with the demands this vulnerability makes of our own, we – like Bryce – reach not for understanding, but dismissal. 

Thus, having ourselves been rejected for being our authentic selves, we come to reject others for what we perceive as their weaknesses or flaws.

I believe it’s for this reason that many of us choose hookups over dating. We’re even more likely to avoid connections if we have in the past put ourselves out there, only to be shut down.

Hookups furthermore validate. They offer us instant gratification while sparing us the emotional risks typically associated with relationships.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown notes that we commonly associate vulnerability with “dark emotions”. But so long as we remain terrified of recognizing, acknowledging, and discussing such emotions, they continue to exert significant control over all aspects of our lives.

Imperfection is a given

Most gay men will suffer some form of trauma and a degree of neuroticism by virtue of what we have lived through. Psychology Today defines neuroticism as “a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings”. 

Unfortunately, the popular doctrine of masculinity asks that we hide our anguish and struggles. Those who fail to do so are mocked and rejected. Social conditioning has more or less made emotional concealment a condition for acceptance as males.

But our wounds and imperfections are a fact of human existence, ones that will sooner or later be revealed in the course of dating.

While I believe this act of revealing should be treated as a generous gift and met with compassion and understanding, many of us resort instead to the scorn and rejection we ourselves have suffered.

When we do this, we don’t just perpetuate a cycle of harm – we render gay dating an exercise in futility,

Until we have learned to be comfortable with our wounds and to reintegrate that emotional part of our identity we have split off as a matter of acceptance and survival, we will not treat vulnerability with the honor it deserves.

And so the meaningful relationships we all ultimately desire will continue to elude us.

Use discernment, not judgment

When dating, judgment may serve as a valuable defense mechanism, allowing us to screen out people who may pose a threat to our interests.

The gay dating world is, after all, rife with people who are irresponsible in their actions, inconsistent in motive, and generally lacking self-awareness. 

This is especially true on gay dating apps, which cannot enforce personal accountability. People we’ve been engaging in a heartfelt chat with can, for example, decide to reject, ghost, or block us, often without an apparent cause or explanation.

It’s no wonder then our reaction is to always be protecting ourselves, yet there is a difference between preemptively attaching negative labels to someone and genuinely trying to understand and relate to them

To this end, first dates should be treated as much as an exercise in rapport-building as one in information gathering. We should work to learn about our date’s habits and character; to build a holistic assessment in the place of making a snap judgment.

Chemistry is important, certainly, but true chemistry is a slow-burn phenomenon that can only flourish under conditions of emotional safety. So we must first create a gay dating environment in which it can flourish.

We do this by choosing discernment over judgment.

gay dating judgmentalism

Discernment in practice

Judgment is a process of assigning values and drawing conclusions, while discernment is a process of perceiving facts and making informed inferences

As a discerning dater, your job is to be on the lookout for discrepancies, causes for concern, differences, and dealbreakers.

Your date for example may tell you they find you very attractive. They may insist they are looking to date. But they may also label themselves a workaholic.

You will notice here a disparity between a stated desire and practiced action, one that seems to suggest this person may not really want to date. Dating, after all, would require that they be willing to shift gears; to consider putting people before things

Workaholics by definition neglect their own needs. They are therefore unlikely to have the mental bandwidth to accommodate another person’s needs. 

When a date defines themselves as a workaholic, they may be intentionally or unintentionally “Mirandizing” you. That is, they are reading you your rights as a romantic candidate, telling you what to expect. Namely, that their job will always come first. 

This kind of distancing behavior is often indicative of an avoidant attachment style, which does not bode well for most people seeking romantic fulfillment. 

If we probe a little deeper, workaholicism for many gay men is an expression of covert depression, masquerading as grandiosity. There is a possibility this person may have some challenges they need to work through.

Unless your date is taking proactive steps to help themselves, to be in a relationship with them may require that you be willing to accept – if not enable – their avoidance. 

By making observations about the facts presented here, I have practiced discernment.

But discernment also tells me that while my date has admitted to being a workaholic, this is a clue, not a conclusion. 

Keep on gathering intel

Red flags may leave you with reservations, but it is imperative to keep an open mind, while also looking for data that may contradict or confirm the evidence at hand.

In the situation above, you may subsequently learn your date was joking about being a workaholic, or that they are in fact willing, ready, and able to break the habit.

With positive discoveries like this, we may feel tempted to abandon our assessment. Still, information gathering is a process that cannot – and should not – be rushed when gay dating, lest we miss evidence of future problems.

After all, when meeting other gay men we tend to put our best foot forward – at least initially. Over time, our true nature seeps out through the chinks in our armor. Such glimpses of our true selves are often the most telling.

One of the perils of expediting assessment while dating is that we may overlook this true self. Or we may never even get the chance because we’ve already ruled that person out, thus missing out on the opportunity to connect with a possible kindred spirit.

For this reason, we must strive to recognize the commonality in our stories and to offer one another the compassion we are all seeking – and rightfully deserve.

Takeaways

  • Dysfunction and imperfection are universal.
  • By dismissing a date, we may be perpetuating harm we ourselves have suffered.
  • True chemistry only happens when we feel safe.
  • When we judge, we create a hostile environment that undermines vulnerability.
  • The alternative is to practice discernment, compassion, and empathy.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

Four instances when gay men are justified in cutting a date short

Essy Knopf gay men dating
Reading time: 6 minutes

I like to think that if two gay men are willing and able, they can overlook their differences and find common ground. There are some instances, however, when such open-mindedness comes with mixed results.

So when Hayrik* approached me over a dating app asking to meet me for a hike and I saw he harbored political views diametrically opposed to mine, I decided nevertheless to try and bridge the divide. 

But when Hayrik showed up 30 minutes late for our date, with neither apology or explanation and looking at least 40 pounds heavier than he did in his photos, I knew something was off. 

I considered confronting him about this but told myself that to do so would be rude. But as we set off on our hike, Hayrik’s dog in tow, doubt began to gnaw at me.

Some minutes later, the dog stopped to relieve himself. To my dismay, his owner made no attempt to pick up after him. 

When pressed, Hayrik complained that he’d forgotten to bring a bag. Offering a shrug and a lopsided smile, he said: “I’m just a bad dog owner”. 

I considered whether or not to cut the date short. If I turned on my heel and left, I had no way of knowing how Hayrik might react. Fear of conflict forced me to bite my tongue. 

Hayrik made some small talk, slowly steering the conversation towards politics. When I made our differences of opinion known, he responded with a gleeful aside, attacking my beliefs. 

By this point, we were at the hike’s halfway mark, so excusing myself now seemed almost pointless. What was I going to do? Overtake Hayrik and storm back to my car?

I tried to change the subject, only for Hayrik to drop an incendiary comment, the kind you might expect from a troll sowing chaos in an online comments thread. 

I fell silent, and sensing I’d quit the game, my date quickly ran out of steam. An awkward silence prevailed.

What to look for when dating other gay men

In choosing not to end the date prematurely, in choosing to save face, I’d been forced to tolerate Hayrik’s behavior, thereby inadvertently endorsing it. 

Had I identified some guideposts for what I expected when dating gay men – and also what constituted a violation of these expectations – in advance, the situation might’ve turned out quite differently. 

But what are reasonable guideposts, and when is it appropriate to quit a date?

1. Discrepancies

I didn’t believe that the disparity between Hayrik’s physical appearance and his photos was cause enough to end our interaction then and there. Yet the disparity was one he was surely aware of. 

Dating profiles are the personal equivalent of marketing materials. It’s in our interest to put our best foot forward, so we all “curate” our personal presentation to some lesser or greater degree. There is however a clear difference between selective presentation and active deception.

Gay men who for example list themselves as being one age on their profile, when in reality they are at least 10 years older, are another example of this. 

No matter how youthful someone might look, such behavior points to a fundamental lack of trustworthiness. And without trust, there is no basis for a relationship.

2. Causes for concern

Unmanaged Mental Health Issues: As someone who has battled anxiety and depression, do I advocate intolerance of such people? Definitely not. The keyword here is “unmanaged”. 

If this person is not actively seeking or receiving help for their problems, trying to establish a romantic relationship with this person may put you in an untenable position. 

You may find for example that in trying to help, you become a codependent “fixer” who prevents your partner from taking charge of their situation. Or you may find yourself forced to keep the other person at arm’s length as a matter of self-preservation. This is not fair for either party. 

Addiction: Unless gay men are seeking help for an addiction, whether it is substance- or process-related, the concerns are very similar to those outlined above. For most addicts, their habit will almost always come first, and often at a significant cost to their personal relationships. 

Even if you feel you are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tolerance required to deal with an addiction problem, you still run the risk of becoming an enabler or being dragged into their habit.

Personality Disorders: When left untreated, personality disorders can wreak devastation not only on the lives of gay men but on those in their immediate vicinity.

A full list of diagnostic criteria is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some telltale signs you could be dealing with someone with a personality disorder:

  • Ongoing emotional instability
  • Chronic temper problems
  • Excessive self-involvement 
  • Excessive neediness
  • Callous disregard for your feelings or wellbeing
  • Deceptive, manipulative, exploitative or destructive behavior

Again, I am not attempting to dissuade you from dating someone with a personality disorder, but rather flagging the possibility that, should you decide to go down that path, there may be some rough terrain ahead.

3. Irreconcilable differences

There are differing tastes in music, and then there are incompatible value systems

Had there been some value overlap between Hayrik’s political views and my own, things might have gone okay. As it stood, there was not. Our value systems were incompatible.

Even the most casual behaviors can be telling in this regard. Watch, for example, how your date addresses the restaurant server. Is he polite? Patronizing, or cutting without cause? 

How does he behave when he encounters an aggressive driver? Does he laugh it off? Or does he fly into a rage, vowing retribution? 

If you’re a person who values treating others with kindness and courtesy no matter the circumstances, a person who acts this way does not share your values

gay men dating

4. Dealbreakers

These are myriad and often subjective. You may not be justified in ending dates when these arise, however they should give you pause. Here are some telling examples.

Aggression: Everyone has their triggers, but gay men with a hair-trigger are people you should definitely steer clear of.

Meanspiritedness: If someone intentionally attacks or puts you down on the first date, don’t stick it out. That said, this person could be having a bad day. If it happens once, be on alert. If it happens twice, be on your way. Leaving sends a clear message that you have personal boundaries and are willing to protect them. 

Disrespect: This can take many forms. Personally, I consider a lack of punctuality on a first date a form of disrespect. Of course, your date could have gotten stuck in a traffic jam, an accident, or can’t find parking and forgot or was unable to communicate. You can offer some leeway here.

But if it happens more than once, there is a good chance this person is lacking basic consideration for others.

When Hayrik, for example, failed to clean up after his dog, he wasn’t just shirking personal responsibility. He was signaling a lack of basic respect for other people. 

Complainers and bad-mouthers: Complaining, blame-mongering, and backbiting should set off internal alarms. Why? Because it often speaks to serious self-esteem problems. Ask yourself if this is a trait you’re willing to stomach in the long term. Chances are it isn’t.

Immaturity/Game playing: Personal interactions shouldn’t be treated like a game. Hayrik’s attempt to lure me into an unwinnable political debate spoke to an immature desire to prove his intellectual superiority – and not a desire to connect as equals. Without such equality, any kind of healthy relationship will be impossible.

Your mileage may vary

This article is not meant to be treated as a definitive list, but rather as a jumping-off point for identifying your personal limits. The message is: know your deal-breakers, and know that you have the right to walk once one has been identified.

If revelations are made mid-date that bring to light fundamental incompatibilities, you have grounds to end the interaction. There are perfectly polite ways of doing this. 

One I swear by is setting a timer on my phone and only feeding my parking meter for that period of time. This gives me a legitimate reason to get up and leave, no charade required.

How long should you set your timer? For a first date, one hour is more than adequate. When the alarm goes off, explain you have another commitment you need to get to. Thank the person for their time, pay for your bill, and leave.

This tactic can also be useful for those instances when you haven’t identified any dealbreakers but the interaction leaves something wanting. 

Sometimes the repartee is listless, the other person is nervous to the point of paralysis, or they may say something that rubs you the wrong way. If the interest – and effort – is mutual, these challenges can be overcome. 

Takeaways

  • Keep an eye out for discrepancies, causes for concern and irreconcilable differences.
  • Know your dealbreakers and what you’re willing to tolerate.
  • Have an exit strategy in place, should the date go south.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

Five reasons gay men should consider doing therapy

Essy Knopf gay men therapy
Reading time: 9 minutes

It’s not uncommon to meet fellow gay men suffering from anxiety and depression. It’s also not unusual that they are either unaware, in denial, or unwilling to recognize these challenges, or to take the steps necessary to address them.

Some years ago, I had a falling out with my flatmates. At the time I was directing a major shoot at film school and was under immense pressure. Amid my mad scramble to find a new apartment, I decided to meet Samson*, a gay man in his 20s who worked as an IT consultant. 

Having exchanged niceties, Samson quickly got down to brass tacks, advising me he wanted a flatmate willing to hang tea towels and stack dishwashers in a specific fashion.

As someone known for my somewhat OCD tendencies – I for example never allowed people to sit on my bed while wearing their “outside clothes” – I could to some degree relate. 

But Samson seemed to take things one step further. A health fanatic devoted to all-natural products, he told me I wouldn’t be allowed to clean with bleach, on the account he might be exposed to its fumes.

Despite my reservations, I took the room. But from that first meeting onward, the stipulations piled up. One minute I was using too much fridge space, the next I was filling the kettle with “excess” water and wasting energy.

Samson even took to switching off the oven when he believed I was using it too long.

While he managed to bend some of his rules for me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my presence in Samson’s home was not welcome. I could tell that while he wanted to save on rent, but also wanted to live alone. 

Worse still, whenever we happened to cross paths, Samson would complain. First, it was about his cutthroat colleagues at work. A week later it was the ex who seemed incapable of empathy, and the friends who failed to understand Samson’s very specific health choices. 

Samson told me he was against eating hydrogenated oils, on account of them being carcinogenic. For him, discovering that a meal contained even a trace of such was enough to ruin an entire night out.

Listening to Samson, I felt torn. Some of his complaints were understandable, and yet I knew I was being used as a sounding board for his discontent.

I tried to bring empathy and some perspective to the issues Samson raised, and yet nothing I said or did made any difference. Samson was trapped in a cycle of negative thinking, focused only on assigning blame to others.

So long as he continued to see the apparent failures of others as a reflection of their respect for him – and by implication Samson’s worth as a person – this would likely continue.

Samson’s paradigm was clearly at fault here, but I became convinced that it was serving double duty as a smokescreen for Samson’s inability to manage his own distress. 

By pretending it was not there, he would never have to confront it. Yet this unwillingness to accept and recognize his covert depression was precisely what was keeping him stuck. Rather than practicing introspection, Samson searched for scapegoats. 

Once or twice I broached the subject of seeing a therapist. Each time, Samson produced a readymade excuse.

The few therapists Samson had approached would not take his health insurance. The nature of Samson’s job meant he was often on the road with short notice, making it difficult for him to plan therapy sessions in advance.

Then there was the question of trust: Samson didn’t want to open up to just anyone

These were legitimate friction points, ones faced by many gay men looking to undertake therapy. But they were also excuses. As per the old maxim, if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.

1. Gay men often suffer from depression

An inability or unwillingness to acknowledge one’s own mental health struggles is usually a product of self-denial; of alienation from one’s own authentic feelings.

Like a majority of men, we as gay men often suffer interpersonal prejudice and discrimination over our identities. These minority stresses can leave us stricken with shame while placing us at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

That risk is exacerbated by the fact that males are socially programmed to go at it alone. Masculinity is popularly coded as being self-reliant, an idea more widely echoed in our culture’s embrace of rugged individualism, i.e. the “I don’t need help from anyone” mentality (see my earlier article on embracing your authentic gay identity).

Gay men tend to be more emotionally expressive than their straight counterparts. Gender-atypical tendencies like this often lead to us being singled out and persecuted. Any wonder then we should be especially challenged when it comes to asking for help.

But forcing ourselves to repress our emotions and to cut ourselves off from the help of others leaves us prone to covert depression. This depression is often the reason many of us should seek help…and yet it can also serve as a major source of resistance.

Depression sufferers know all too well how we can become trapped in the stasis field of negative thoughts and “automatic”, self-perpetuating cognitive distortions.

In his book Feeling Good, David D. Burns notes that these distortions lead in turn to procrastination and “do-nothingism”. That is, we found ourselves restrained by the very same inertia we are seeking to escape. 

Thus the depressive, lacking the motivation to change, surrenders to the comforting familiarity of their unhappiness.

Another reason it is difficult to take action is that covert depression operates as a kind of background presence that evades easy detection, or may be put down to just a passing “mood”.

Similarly, anxiety – depression’s fraternal sibling – may also be dismissed as an inevitable feature of modern life. It may even be regarded as a helpful crutch that gives the sufferer a motivational edge; a willingness to go the extra mile that is recognized and rewarded by employers.

2. We may have attachment difficulties

Caregivers play a crucial role not just in early development but our future wellbeing. They comfort us during times of distress, fostering a sense of security through healthy attachment. That attachment serves as a template for future relationships, shaping whether we are able to form close bonds with others. 

Attachment also provides children with an internal working model of self-worth. It defines whether we see the world as a safe or nurturing place, or one full of pain, uncertainty, and anguish. It provides the primary reference point for our lived experience

Ruptured attachment is the result of either active trauma, which typically involves a boundary violation such as physical or sexual abuse, or passive trauma, which involves some form of physical or emotional lack, such as neglect. Ruptured attachment can occur at any point during childhood or teenagehood.

Gay men experience both active and passive trauma when a parent rejects, neglects or attacks them over their sexuality, an experience which is all too common.

During early attachment, trauma is preverbal, making our suffering literally beyond words. As such, it can be difficult to “re-cognize” the experience and come to grips with its effect on us as adults.

Without the help of a trained practitioner, we will continue to live unknowingly in the shadow of our trauma, afflicted with mental health conditions like depression.

3. We may be unable to self-soothe

Ruptured attachment results in an inability to self-soothe. When our caregivers fail to properly “attune” to us and provide the correct behavioral modeling, we fail to develop this vital skill. 

Self-soothing means being able to realize we are hurting, to give ourselves the comfort we need, and to seek it from others when we can’t

Without self-soothing, we may find ourselves prone to “fight, flight, or freeze” in times of stress. 

That is, we engage in one of three coping strategies: coming out guns blazing, running from danger, or shutting down. We don’t seek the support we so desperately need, leaving us beholden to depression and anxiety.

In an attempt to pacify our troubled minds and hearts, we may turn to the Band-Aid fixes of grandiosity or process addictions.

4. Gay men are debilitated by shame

For gay men, depression is often compounded by longstanding shame. The distinction between guilt and shame, as pointed out by Brené Brown, is that guilt involves believing “I did something bad”, while shame involves assigning a permanent negative quality to yourself, like “I am bad”.

We come by shame firstly through socialization. Society teaches us our sexuality is abnormal, perverse, and even morally wrong. When this view is adopted by our caregivers, it may not necessarily lead to outright rejection, but rather words or deeds that are invalidating.

Invalidations, no matter how small they may seem, can inflict profound psychic wounds, Alice Miller says. If the only people in the world duty-bound to love you unconditionally mock or belittle you because of your sexuality, you may come to believe you are inherently unlovable.

The child with a devastating belief in his own unworthiness is likely to carry it into adulthood. If left unaddressed, this belief can leave us relationally impaired, resulting in an insecure attachment style.

Attached authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller estimate about half of the adult population suffer from insecure attachment styles. In the case of gay men, this figure may arguably be even higher.

gay men therapy

How a therapist can help gay men

Therapy is one way we can identify the impact ruptured attachment or invalidation has had upon us. It offers avenues for reconnecting with aspects of ourselves we may have become alienated from as a result of parental and social rejection and invalidation. 

And it is through this connection that we develop self-awareness, what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional intelligence”, and thus the ability to self-soothe.

A relationship with a therapist ideally is reparative. They model the unconditional acceptance of an ideal caregiver, creating an accepting space in which clients can vent to thoughts and feelings they have been forced to repress, often as a matter of survival. 

A good therapist uses compassion and insight to help their patients reintegrate alienated parts of the self. Through their guidance, gay men can come to terms with the loss and anguish they have suffered.

Therapy requires that we go to places we have been avoiding. After a lifetime spent mastering the art of emotional concealment, gay men undergoing therapy are asked to forgo their craft and expose their wounds and weak spots.

Embracing vulnerability in this fashion allows us to ultimately regain our long-lost ability to be emotionally authentic.

As Buddhist Pema Chödrön points out:

Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt… Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego… Either we question our beliefs – or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality – or we begin to challenge them. 

Choosing a therapist

Making the decision to undergo therapy sometimes feels like half the struggle. Then you have to deal with the deadly triad: money, scheduling, and what Samson called trust, but which I like to think of as compatibility

You can’t put a price on your mental wellbeing, so don’t let the cost alone thwart your efforts. If you don’t have a mental health care-inclusive health care plan, consider finding a therapist who offers sliding scale fees. If you need to take time out during working hours, negotiate with your manager or HR department.

When choosing a therapist, we all need an assurance that we are in safe hands. We are, after all, seeking the unconditional acceptance we were once denied. Our chosen confidant, therefore, needs to show they will honor this responsibility. 

Bessel van der Kolk suggests three criteria by which you can gauge this: comfort, curiosity, and collaboration. To that list, I would also add proactivity and accountability:

  • Comfort: Do you feel comfortable and safe in the presence of this therapist? Do they seem comfortable with you? In the words of van der Kolk: “Someone who is stern, judgmental, agitated, or harsh is likely to leave you feeling scared, abandoned, and humiliated, and that won’t help you resolve your traumatic stress”.
  • Curiosity: Does the therapist seem interested in you as a person? Or do they see you as just another patient to be handed a rote list of advice and instructions? Do they actually listen to you? Are they comfortable sitting with your distress? Or do they immediately leap into diagnosis and prescription?
  • Collaboration: Is the therapist demonstrating a genuine desire to work with you, to explore your issues in-depth and to formulate a treatment plan?
  • Proactivity: Some therapists tend to take a nondirective role. As a result, you may feel you have to overcompensate. Sessions may become endless talk marathons, broken only by you prompting your therapist for participation. There is great value in a sympathetic ear, and venting is definitely part of the process. But given for example depression’s tendency to keep us trapped in automatic thoughts, we are never going to make the necessary shifts in our thinking without the help of someone willing to interrupt, redirect and even challenge, where necessary.
  • Accountability: Does your therapist honor their appointments with you? Do they cancel or reschedule on short notice? A therapist who is unpredictable or inconsistent can’t provide you with the security and caregiver-like “containment” you need. This also works in reverse. Do they help keep you accountable? Set tasks and homework? Without proper follow through on your behalf, your recovery may be hindered.

Remember: you are not locked into any therapist relationship. Treat the first session and those that follow like you would a date. You may be seeking immediate relief, but your objective should be to assess compatibility. 

In the end, there is no use building a relationship with someone who isn’t capable of giving you the support you need. Be willing to shop around until you find the right fit. And if it isn’t working, be prepared to move on. 

As with any endeavor, you will face setbacks. Sometimes these setbacks may simply come down to lack of motivation. If this is the case, break the task of finding a therapist into baby steps and try to complete one step a day.

The act of unlearning maladaptive behaviors and patterns can take months, if not years. Your recovery ultimately comes down to your being patient with the journey, flexible in your approach, and perhaps most importantly, remaining committed to your wellbeing,

Creating a new self unburdened by the injustices of your past first requires that you choose to break with the old.

“When I let go of what I am,” says Chinese philosopher Laozi, “I become what I might be”.

For advice on finding a therapist, check out this handy post by the American Psychological Association.

Takeaways

  • Acknowledge you may have depression.
  • Consider how your attachment history and feelings of shame might be playing a role.
  • Fight motivational inertia! Take it one baby step at a time.
  • Stay committed. You're in this for the long haul.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

How gay dating apps have sparked a vulnerability crisis

Essy Knopf gay dating apps
Reading time: 5 minutes

My first real contact with the gay community was not through gay dating apps, but one of their predecessors: the website Gaydar. 

Aged 17, I had just left the family home and moved to a new city where I knew no one. Being not yet of legal age, I was unable to attend gay nightclubs, so Gaydar swiftly became my exclusive means of contact with other gay men. 

Similar to the Scruff of today, Gaydar allowed users to set up a profile along with a private gallery. 

Occasionally I’d get a notification that another had unlocked theirs for me. I’d brace myself, dreading what the invitation must inevitably hold.

And sure enough, the moment I clicked through, I’d receive a barrage of “anatomical exam” photos. For many people I’ve talked to, nude photo swaps are more mundane than titillating. 

Gay dating apps demand that we market ourselves as a commodity, as an ingredient in a fantasy that can then be mentally reconfigured at will. When we are presented as just another face or torso in a sea of countless others, we have to take any chance we can to stand out. 

If you subscribe to that logic, “showing the goods” is a necessary requirement for a “sale”. I have always questioned however whether this is a tactic that results in face-to-face encounters. 

In-person interactions it seems have become an increasingly pallid substitute for the heightened reality of app-based instant gratification. Exchanging sexual messages and photos with multiple dating app suitors is undeniably fun, especially given it carries none of the effort or consequences of real-life – and double the reward. 

These apps by design promote self-objectification and the validation that inevitably follows. They encourage us to respond to others not merely in order to maintain a conversation, but for the inherent reward of receiving a reply

That reply by implication is an acknowledgment of our romantic or sexual appeal. The positive neural feedback we receive when someone messages or sends us photos reinforces the desire to be objectified, which in turn keeps us coming back for more. 

But if we are not mindful, we can develop a single-minded focus on “winning”, leading in some cases to a gay dating app process addiction. 

In such cases, the process of dating becomes entirely divorced from its proclaimed purpose: to facilitate real-life relationships.

Gay dating apps demand we sacrifice vulnerability

Gay dating apps discourage exclusivity and encourage the fielding of multiple suitors. It’s a juggling act that necessitates efficiency. With so many options on hand, selecting a romantic or sexual partner must inevitably become a game of elimination. 

We screen people, dishing out and receiving rejection over and over again. In order to protect our egos, we give up making genuine approaches. Instead of being present with the person we’re speaking with, we slip into safe automaticity: talk round and round in talk circles, replace sentences with monosyllables, prompt people for information we have demanded from countless others before them. 

We list requirements and apply filters as if our tastes will maximize our gains and shield us not against failed connection, but an apparently far greater loss: suboptimal pleasure.

In effect, we trade connection for selection, and authenticity for subterfuge. In order to shield our feelings against the possibility of being hurt, we often disengage them entirely. 

gay dating apps nude photos

Why you should say no to nudes

We play it cool, we play it sexy, but we don’t play our complicated, nuanced selves. Why? Because of the inherent limitations of instant messaging, the high levels of scrutiny to which it subjects us, and the wide latitude for misunderstanding.

Our conversations consequently become the rapid informational relay of stockbrokers. Stuck in the emotional deep freeze of gay dating apps, we fall to assessing, objectifying, categorizing and rejecting, arranging and manipulating people as if they were chess pieces, rather than living and breathing beings. 

We devalue both our humanness and that of others, and vulnerability dies a quiet death.

The irony is that to be naked is, in a very real, physical sense, to be vulnerable. Exchanging nude photos asks us to put ourselves on display for summary judgment by strangers

It forces us to be mercenary in our attitudes towards our chat partners, and cavalier about exposing ourselves in a way we normally reserve for intimate occasions. 

Arguably one of our primary needs as human beings is to connect with others. To connect, we need to be vulnerable. By sending nude photos, we are denying ourselves that right. 

In most cases, my app-based interactions have died in the water the moment I refused to exchange nude photos. To me, others’ demands were reductive and objectifying. 

It seemed to be that complying meant becoming yet another item on the app buffet menu. It also rewarded what I saw as unconscious, addictive “lever-pulling” behavior, the kind of thing you would expect of a rat trapped in a Skinner box

I am sad to report that after such refusals, my chat partners almost always chose not to meet me “sight unseen”. Instead, they continued to linger online, hedging their bets and scoping out all the available options. 

Many I suspect never intended to “choose” in the first place, preferring instead to forestall meeting anyone, often for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Consider the example of the much-maligned “pic collector”, who lurks on the app for the sole gratification of collecting sexual photos.

gay dating apps

Be valued – on your terms

Gay dating apps only add to the pressure we face as gay men to conform to a certain ideal image of masculinity, which is often used as the basis for how we are assessed and treated by our romantic or sexual partners. 

But this oft-celebrated ideal – perfect cheekbones, chiseled jaws and an athletic, muscular build – is problematic on several fronts.

First of all, this image is for, at least for a majority of gay men, simply unattainable. 

Even those of us blessed with good genes would still be required to invest a significant effort and time into crafting a picture-perfect physique. This is effort and time that most of us are unwilling, or unable, to spare.

Secondly, I believe this image is part and parcel of a toxic cultural perception of masculinity. Namely one in which men are unemotional, self-reliant ubermensch, impervious to any harm.

Beyond popular representations by TV and movie stars, such men do not, and never have, existed.

Thirdly, subscribing to this ideal asks that we divorce ourselves from our inner emotional selves – the same selves for which we crave acceptance.

It follows that the more we try to displace this need in favor of objectifying ourselves on gay dating apps, the more unhappy we are likely to feel. 

With such pressures, it’s any surprise that we are living in the midst of a slow-churning mental health epidemic. Gay men are more than twice as likely than their heterosexual counterparts to suffer from a mental health condition. They are also at a higher risk than the general population for suicide. 

For this reason, it’s crucial we avoid activities that are likely to put our sense of wellbeing in harm’s way. Choosing not to expose our naked selves to total strangers before meeting them is not an act of defiance. It’s an act of self-preservation.

Nudity should be an earned privilege that should occur in an atmosphere of mutual respect, not summary judgment. 

By refusing to send nude photos, we are reclaiming the right to be valued – on our own terms.

Takeaways

  • Gay dating apps keep us trapped in a never-ending cycle of trying to maximize gains.
  • The positive reinforcement they offer may lead to a cycle of automatic behavior.
  • This cycle may cause us to lose touch with vulnerability and our desire to connect.
  • Nude photo exchanges allows strangers to hold our bodies up against some unattainable ideal.
  • By not swapping nude photos, we are safeguarding our mental health.

Why ‘eulogy values’ are crucial to our happiness as gay men

Essy Knopf gay men
Reading time: 6 minutes

For most gay men, the journey from chronic insecurity to enduring wellbeing is fraught. It can be likened to fording a swift river under the cover of darkness, without the benefit of a boat or boatman.

Not only must we fight the currents of the past, but we must also somehow manage to keep our heads above the water in the present.

Without light to guide us, we risk losing sight of the far shore. Without a strong inner resolve, we may surrender and be swept downstream. 

Our suffering is often like mud on the river’s banks, so deep and compounded that we risk becoming mired in it before we’ve even reached the water.

In such times, we may be overwhelmed by the temptation to give in to our sense of powerlessness. Accepting that we may have no agency, that change is impossible, leads us to abandon our goals. 

We as gay men often settle for a life of contrary desires and actions, pursuing cheap thrill encounters in favor of purposeful deeds and meaningful connections. But such internal contradictions promise no peace. 

Rather, they are likely to only deepen our suffering.

Gay men and impulsive living

When I was in my early 20s and making my first forays into the gay “scene”, I met a man called Jeran.

Jeran was a gentle soul torn by insecurity. Having been abandoned by his father at an early age and bullied at school, he’d moved from the suburbs, seeking shelter in an inner-city gay village.

Despite always being surrounded by other gay men and having a mother who overcompensated to the point of celebrating her son’s birthday with him at a gay club of his choice, Jeran continued to suffer from self-loathing and impulsivity.

I knew Jeran desperately wanted a partner. But rather than attending venues and events geared towards dating, he spent his evenings compulsively cruising hookup sites and nightclubs.

Jeran was more of an acquaintance than a friend, so I was surprised when I received a call from him early one morning some months after our initial meeting.

Thinking it must be an emergency, I answered. Jeran apologized for waking me up then breathlessly launched into an account of his latest hookup. 

It quickly became clear to me that Jeran had confused a sexual encounter for a romantic one. When he explained the man he had met had recently split with his wife of some years, leaving his two children in her care, I hesitated.

But for Jeran, the fact the man had admitted this much could only ever be proof of his sincere intentions.

The following day, Jeran called again, seeking my enthusiastic endorsement, while disclosing intimate details that I had no interest in hearing.

By the third call, I finally told him that I needed him to reign it in. To my astonishment, Jeran replied by suggesting I might be jealous and dangled the consolation prize of a threeway

Given I had never expressed sexual interest in Jeran, this left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. I made an excuse and got off the call. 

About a week later, my phone buzzed. When I picked up, it was not Jeran this time, but his mother, pleading with me to go and check on him.

Jeran’s suitor, she explained, had stopped returning his calls, and her son was now in hysterics and threatening suicide. Concerned, I went over to Jeran’s studio to talk him through the situation. 

A stolid, red-eyed Jeran greeted me at the door. I tried to broach the subject of the breakup, but he deflected.

After a friend arrived to offer support, Jeran – without so much as a word of explanation – opened his laptop and proceeded to watch hardcore porn.

It was as if someone had set the faucet to full blast then switched it off just as suddenly.

Jeran’s denial of the relationship trauma he had just experienced was so complete he refused to take the necessary downtime to process his painful loss and, within a day or so, was back to cruising sex sites.

Over the next few years, I continued to see Jeran online, promoting drug use and branding himself as “semi-masc” – an apparent disavowal of his proud identification as camp.

Part of me wanted to reach out to him. Yet I knew that his entrenched sense of shame would prevent us from ever having the kind of authentic, nurturing conversation I knew he longed for.

Finding your anchor

Jeran’s suffering epitomizes that of many gay men who spend their lives yoyoing between highs and lows, refusing to acknowledge emotions and forever scrambling to find the next fix.

But in becoming preoccupied with the pursuit, we grow ever detached from our core values – values that should serve as a comforting source of stability, whatever the circumstance. 

Journalist David Brooks laments this universal challenge in his book The Road to Character:

Years pass and the deepest parts of yourself go unexplored and unstructured. You are busy, but you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved its ultimate meaning and significance. You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving, not really attached to the moral purposes that give life its worth. You lack the internal criteria to make unshakable commitments. You never develop inner constancy, the integrity that can withstand popular disapproval or a serious blow. 

Without the grounding influence of a firm value system, those of us suffering the anguish of unsuccessful relationships or the pain of alienation from our authentic identity as gay men may turn to the validation promised by grandiosity, or the quick-fix relief of addictive substances or behaviors.

The problems we face in such circumstances are undoubtedly profound. There are no easy solutions, but if we are to ever find them, we must first be willing to put a moratorium on external distraction.

Only then can we achieve a much-needed internal reckoning.

gay men eulogy values

1. Write a mission statement

Instead of trying to find solace in our ever-changing physical reality, we can turn to the inner world of principles.

By actively engaging with our value system, we generate positive change. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny”.

How do we identify our principles? We can start by asking questions like:

  • What’s most important to me? 
  • What values do I believe in practicing daily? 
  • What am I most willing to fight for? 
  • What is my definition of a healthy, content, balanced life? 
  • What nourishes my body, mind, and spirit?

Look at your answers, making sure to distinguish between what Brooks calls “resumé values” and “eulogy values”.

Resumé values are values concerned exclusively with material success, the kind that sounds great on your resumé.

Eulogy values, on the other hand, are tied to your character. These are the traits loved ones might celebrate at your funeral.

Once you have identified your eulogy values, frame them as statements about how you intend to live your life, and why.

List these principles on a one-page document. Close your statement with a pledge of commitment and sign the bottom.

Congratulations! You now have a mission statement. 

Now print out copies of this statement and tape them in places where you’ll be reminded on a daily basis of the code by which you have chosen to live your new life.

2. Set some S.M.A.R.T. goals

S.M.A.R.T. stands for five categories: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  This goal tracking system helps break objectives into easily understood and trackable metrics.

Begin by brainstorming some goals in service of your newly articulated principles. Then download a S.M.A.R.T. goal planning spreadsheet and organize them into the five categories listed above.

For example, if healthy eating is a value you’ve identified, you can consider meal planning each week and preparing some home-cooked meals.

If you’ve listed community service as a goal, you can set aside time to volunteer for some nonprofits in your local community whose services you feel are valuable.

If you’ve decided you want to live a more mindful existence, consider implementing a 15-minute daily meditation practice.

In order to help you stick with your new resolutions, you may want to set reminders on your phone or program a habit-tracking app. Make sure to regularly check back on your progress at the times you’ve designated under the “T” section of your goal planner. 

The act of setting these goals alone will affirm your self-worth. And when you follow through with them, you are taking intentional steps towards creating a lifestyle defined not by the desire to escape but to embrace.

3. Be kind to yourself

Our society is addicted to the notion of instant “Cinderella-style” transformations. Transformation, however, runs on its own clock.

For this reason, you must be both patient and kind to yourself. Many gay men have a tendency towards achievement and perfectionism.

If this sounds like you, ensure your goal-setting and fulfillment does not become yet another behavior characterized by compulsivity.

Instead, practice listening to your feelings and needs. Cut yourself slack when needed. Treat this an opportunity as much for growth as for self-compassion. 

Remember that you are tending a garden that will, in time, bear fruit. Conscientiousness and persistence are key.

The alternative is neglect, and we know very well the costs of this: the overgrown patches where snakes lurk, the flowers choked by weeds, the gnarled trees with their spoiled fruit. 

Craft a bold vision – one guaranteed to bring wellbeing and security, then carefully cultivate it.

“He who has a why to live,” says German philosopher Nietzsche, “can bear almost any how”.

Takeaways

  • Write a mission statement identifying the values that are most important to you.
  • Set goals in service of these values.
  • Break your new goals down into action steps using the S.M.A.R.T. system.
  • Pace yourself, and remember to practice self-compassion.

How to keep mentally well during the coronavirus pandemic

Essy Knopf coronavirus pandemic
Reading time: 5 minutes

The coronavirus pandemic reached new and chilling heights shortly after I arrived in Australia to visit family.

Friends and the media had told me to expect the worst – sprawling supermarket queues, panic buying, fights over toilet paper – but upon my return to Los Angeles, I found calm and order. 

Lockdown had brought a range of unexpected benefits, the reduced traffic being one of them. There were the smog-free skies also, and the appearance of new public works projects.

But after a few days of self-imposed quarantine, my initially positive attitude began to fade.

I normally work from home and tend to mix up my daily routine with a range of physical and social activities. Twice a week I’ll go for a run down at the local park, explore a new hiking trail, or catch up with a friend.

Social distancing however now made these impractical, if not impossible.

As my motivation ebbed, I began sleeping in and stopped exercising. And gradually my mood took a turn for the worse.

Connect with loved ones

With many public areas now closed and regions under coronavirus pandemic lockdown, a collective retreat indoors has resulted in social isolation seemingly overnight. 

But the coronavirus crisis is not one that must be endured in solitude. For this reason, we should reach out to family members and friends. Chances are they’ll be equally grateful for our conversation and company.

If texting, calling, instant messaging, social media or online multiplayer gaming aren’t doing it for you, consider throwing a virtual party over Zoom or Google Hangouts.

You can even screen-share a party game collection like Jack Box.

Manage your mental health

Modern hyperconnectivity right now cuts both ways. It means we can communicate with a tap of the thumb, but it also means we are bombarded around the clock with the latest coronavirus-related development.

The unprecedented nature of the global pandemic and the changes it has already wrought is likely to leave even the hardiest among us shaken. 

Left to ruminate on these extraordinary circumstances, our minds will naturally tend towards anxious and depressive thinking. 

“What if I catch coronavirus?” we wonder. “What do I do if shortages continue?” “Am I going to lose my job?” “Will things ever go back to being normal?”

The coronavirus pandemic, however, is an unprecedented development for which no individual can possibly be fully prepared. 

A more proactive approach involves striving to be aware of, and responsible for, our own mental wellbeing. We can do this by taking the following steps.

coronavirus pandemic mental health

Keep exercising

Exercise improves the brain’s resilience to stress while combating anxiety and depression

If you don’t have a treadmill, exercise bike or weights bench at home, don’t despair. The sun may be setting on TV aerobics, but intrepid YouTubers have already stepped in to fill the workout void.

There are countless free-to-view exercise channels and subscription-based apps offering access to exercise classes.

If high-energy aerobics or low-intensity Pilates isn’t your thing, you can always take a brisk walk, jog or run around the neighborhood.

Sunlight is a primary source of Vitamin D and getting your daily dose will help guard against depression.

Whatever you choose, set a schedule and stick to it. With most of us now homebound, establishing an exercise habit is more crucial to our wellbeing than ever.

Try yoga and meditation

Yoga and meditation are the kinds of practices most of us find ourselves putting off indefinitely. 

“Not today,” we say. “Tomorrow.” But when tomorrow rolls around, we become caught up again in the other distractions of daily life and continue to postpone indefinitely.

With productivity in Western society often treated as the only measure of success, slowing down – especially for the grandiose among us – is often equated to personal failure.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed a moratorium upon many activities, suspending out memberships with the cult of busy

Having more time than ever on our hands, combined with the stressors of a global pandemic, can result in a perfect storm for catastrophizing.

Meditation and yoga offer guaranteed relief from this kind of thinking. Not only do they support mental wellbeing – they strengthen our capacity for withstanding the travails of life and allow us to “cognitively reframe” life situations.

Those keen to explore meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can find a handy list of resources at the bottom of this article.

Practice gratitude

Gratitude is a form of emotional intelligence that doesn’t merely shift our thinking towards optimistic thinking. Rather, it counters what scientists call “hedonic adaptation” – our tendency to take things for granted – while improving mental fortitude.

A daily gratitude practice may involve something as simple as writing down five things that you’re grateful for, or free-flow writing for a period of time or specific length (e.g. five minutes or three pages). 

A phone call with a friend, a nice cup of coffee, enjoying perfect health – anything and everything goes. 

Practicing gratitude may feel difficult or “fake” at first, but remember you are learning to use a mental muscle. And like all muscles, gratitude atrophies from disuse, so maintaining the habit is crucial.

As The Upward Spiral author Alex Korb reminds us:

You can’t always find something to be grateful for, but just because you can’t find it doesn’t mean it’s useless to look. It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place… With gratitude, it is often the searching, the looking, the fishing for gratitude that activates the circuitry. You can’t control what you see, but you can control what you’re looking for.

coronavirus crisis tips anxiety coping

Remember to laugh

If there is an antidote to the pervasive atmosphere of grim paranoia the coronavirus pandemic has brought, it’s humor. 

All the more reason to indulge in a golden oldie sitcom, browse YouTube’s many funny vid compilations, sample top joke tweets, catch up on a comedic podcast, or dust off a copy of your favorite comedian’s memoir.

For more ideas, check out these suggestions by blogger Marelisa Fabrega.

Enrich your life

A coronavirus lockdown is as much an opportunity to safeguard your wellbeing as it is a chance to enrich yourself.

That self-help book you were always planning to get to? Now’s the time. The environmental documentary your friend recommended? Well, what are you waiting for?

The new career path you wanted to explore? You’ve got no excuse now. 

Time to get cracking.

Takeaways

  • The coronavirus pandemic has changed the pace of daily living – embrace it.
  • Treat this as a chance to bond with those not-so-near but still dear.
  • Maintain mental health with exercise, yoga, meditation, gratitude, and laughter.
  • Now is the time to pursue the interests and activities you’ve been putting off.

Resources for the coronavirus pandemic

Nine ways to cope with coronavirus crisis insanity

Essy Knopf coronavirus crisis tips anxiety coping
Reading time: 8 minutes

I was in transit from Los Angeles to Australia to visit my parents when the coronavirus crisis well and truly blew up.

As a journalist, I had followed early coverage of the pandemic, then in its infancy. Like most people, I hadn’t expected it to reach the proportions it eventually did.

Having planned this trip five months in advance, I was determined not to let a virus derail my vacation.

A few days later, however, the full gravity of the problem hit home for me – as did my need for some serious coping strategies.

Keep it in perspective

I hadn’t seen my parents in almost two years. I was expecting their undivided attention, but soon after my arrival, they were engulfed by the non-stop coronavirus crisis TV coverage.

Tiring of what I thought to be more of the usual alarmist chatter, I asked them to turn it off.

As all of our conversational topics turned towards coronavirus, I tried steering them towards another topic. I mean, was there any point speculating about something as unprecedented as a global pandemic?

During a trip to the supermarket, I saw many of the shelves had been stripped clean. My only reaction was to roll my eyes. 

The checkout operator complained about being unable to buy red meat.

“I told him my boyfriend was going to be getting chicken for dinner and he was NOT happy,” the woman said.

“No red meat?” I wanted to cry. “People are dying and this man is being denied a steak? Of all the injustices…”

Find distraction

As someone who tends towards extreme introversion, I didn’t consider myself a quarantine risk. 

Given I spend 95 percent of my time at home in front of a computer, I figured the odds of me getting anything other than an email virus were pretty low. 

Besides, I was dealing with crises of far greater personal significance than the coronavirus. Take for example the shaky internet connection at my parent’s home, which dropped out on an almost hourly basis. 

Then there was my phone, which refused to take charge and could not be fixed until my return to the US.

Unable to text my friends, I too now faced being swallowed up by the coronavirus news cycle.

The only alternative, as I saw it, was some form of preoccupation. 

I dug my Kindle out of my luggage and stared at it. My reading list was waiting. And yet the world as I knew it could be coming to an end. 

It was, perhaps in the truest sense, now or never.

Ban ‘what-ifing’

Only when my airline Virgin Australia announced it was shutting down a week after I was scheduled to leave did I start to fret.

Five minutes after the announcement was made, I tried bumping back my departure online, watching in real-time as flight after flight became full. 

Two days prior, a flight change would have come in at $200. By the end of the booking frenzy, ticket changes carried a price tag upwards of $5000. 

I was on a shoestring budget, but still, I wondered: should I just bite the bullet and fly out at the soonest opportunity? 

I began “what-ifing”. What if the US or Australia decided to close their borders completely? What if Virgin Australia ended flights even earlier? 

Come to think of it, $5000 seemed like a reasonable price for escaping indefinite exile on a mountain with no internet and just my parents for company.

It certainly sounded like a rather bad/good reality TV premise. Throw in a toilet paper shortage and the show would be a hothouse for family drama.

My parents as it turned out had decided to sidestep this issue entirely. Their solution? Purchase bidets for every toilet in the house.

But in the case of my flight, there was no equivalent of a bidet, and thus no point agonizing about worst-case scenarios. 

Avoid ‘transfer anxiety

Over the next few days, I heard reports of grocery shortages in Los Angeles. Next thing I knew, the city had been placed in lockdown.

Friends who share my natural tendency for catastrophizing warned me I might be better off staying in relatively isolated Australia – at least for the immediate future. 

Some even insinuated I would, by virtue of boarding an international flight, be a transmission risk to others. 

Never mind I had spent the last two weeks in relative isolation from civilization, or that I was sitting at the rear of the plane, away from the potentially contagious horde. And let’s not forget Los Angeles already had multiple cases of coronavirus.

When a relative refused to see me until after a 14-day quarantine period, I was offended.

“What do I look like to you?” I wanted to shout. “Typhoid Mary?!”

Up until this point, my attitude about it all had been rather devil-may-care.

“Bring it on!” I’d say while pummelling my chest. “I’m healthy and in my prime. I’ll beat coronavirus hands down!”

But LA was swiftly becoming a hoarder’s paradise. Looting and martial law seemed like the inevitable next step.

As the hours went by, my anxiety grew. The choice it now seemed was between boarding my flight to a real-life Hunger Games, or canceling my ticket and leaning indefinitely on the hospitality of my folks.

Exhausted by the endless spiral of negative thinking – largely sparked by the worry-mongering of others – I turned off my social media, did my nightly meditation and went to bed. 

Let go of your fear

When I woke up, it was to find I had been endowed with a new spirit of defiance.

While fixing myself a cup of tea, I sneezed. My mother, who had herself sneezed at least a dozen times since I’d arrived from the US, emerged from the bathroom.

“Why are you sneezing, Essy?” she said. I sensed the beginning of an interrogation.

“BECAUSE I HAVE CORONAVIRUS!” I cried. “Here, give me a hug.”

I grabbed for my mother and she pulled away.

Next thing, she was complaining to my father of a sleepless night and being sore. This sent him into a tailspin. “Sore” became “aches and pains”, which became “she has coronavirus”.

My father in his growing terror went racing from the house. 

When he returned five minutes later, it was to explain he’d gone to buy face masks for himself and me, only to find that the store was, predictably, out of stock.

“Dad,” I began, “you do realize that mum prepares all of our meals? That she touches the same surfaces as us? The kettle? The fridge? The TV controller?”

“We should still take precautions,” he said.

“DAD,” I replied. “There is no ‘pre’. If mum has it, we already have it.”

I didn’t consider this fatalism, but rather a possibility we would all just have to accept.

coronavirus crisis tips anxiety coping

Wrangle paranoia

Later, my dad suggested we go for a hike. We arrived to find the narrow trail bustling with tourists. 

Despite the difficulty of such an endeavor, my dad insisted on enforcing social distance, which meant we had to stop and start walking constantly to avoid large groups of “potential carriers”. 

Each time they passed, my dad would turn his face away from his fellow hikers. He complained they were “breathing all over him”. At one point I even caught him holding his own breath.

When a man ahead of us bellowed, dad seized up, his eyes bulging.

The noise came again, an inarticulate groan. I noticed the man was walking with a cane.

“Come on, Shane,” said a female companion. “It’s alright.” 

Still, my father did not move.

“He has a disability, dad,” I told him, “not a contagion.”

At a lookout point, I took to baiting him.

“Don’t put your hand on the railing,” I warned. Dad immediately retracted his hands.

We’d paid a visit to the restaurant where my mother worked. On the car drive back, I cleared my throat.

“You do realize you touched the restaurant door handle twice?”

My dad registered this terrible fact in silence.

When we got home, he insisted I wash my hands and my face. My father proceeded to spray his wallet and every surface he had touched with Lysol, including the car door handles.

“What about the steering wheel?” I said when he came back into the house. “What about your seatbelt? What about the AC controls?”

Tiring of the sassing, my dad raised the Lysol can towards my face.

“What about your mouth?” he growled. Then went back out to the car to complete the job.

Find the humor in things

I intercepted my mother during her morning ritual of filling the bird feeder. 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she asked, pausing.

“With these shortages,” I said, in mock paranoia, “you might need the seeds yourself. You never know.”

My mother only ignored me.

Later that day, at an intersection, we saw a man, his head buried in what looked like a copy of the bible, mumbling verses. 

Whatever he was saying was lost to passing motorists. If he’d really wanted to be heard, you’d think he would have tried at least raising his voice. 

If I’m going to be honest here, the man was lacking in entrepreneurial initiative. Any end-times preacher worth his salt knows he needs at least a placard and a megaphone. 

I mean how are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ever going to know their services are needed if their heralds can’t even get their act together?

It was pitiful, really.

Be considerate

My return flight to the US was packed with vacationers and students making an early trip home.

Due to a flight change, the solitary seat I had booked for myself at the rear of the plane now came with a second seat. Worse still, it directly abutted a bathroom. 

This basically meant I would be exposed to all foot traffic – namely, potential coronavirus carriers – and worse: the terrible suction noises of the toilet.

As I took my seat, an elderly couple arrived. The woman looked at the seat next to me, her expression rather woeful.

“It looks like they’ve split us up, Rod.”

I stared at her as if to say: “I know what you’re trying here lady, and it’s not going to work”. No way was I giving up my window seat, not even for the coronavirus’ top targets.

“I’m happy to swap seats with you,” chirped a man. He looked like he had just come back from six months of fruit-picking without the benefit of a shaving razor.

Settling into the seat beside me, Fruit-picker produced a bottle of sanitizer and began spraying his hands, the tray table, and the chairback.

It was a ritual he would undertake repeatedly during the trip, spraying and attacking the same surface he had cleaned only an hour before. 

“Buddy,” I wanted to say, “we’re sitting next to the toilet. You’re trying to hold back the tide.”

Just before takeoff, I snuck a glance and saw him texting someone.

“Almost lost it at some kid behind me in the queue,” Fruit-picker typed. 

“He kept hitting my backpack. No idea of personal space.”

Then for the remainder of the flight, he proceeded to invade mine. 

Most people would consider the armrest the demarcation line between seats. Not my fellow traveler. Not only did he claim the rest for himself, but also part of my seat too.

Every time he rearranged his blanket or the contents of his tray table, I copped an elbow. Over and over, he would nudge me, without a whisper of apology.

When I attempted to fall asleep, I was awoken by yet another elbow graze and the astringent odor of the sanitizer.

By the time we touched down in Los Angeles, part of me was deeply regretting having not just taken my chances on the mountain.

Neither of us had wanted to board that crowded flight and brave the risk of contamination. But  I’m equally confident a little more social distancing on Fruit-picker’s behalf might’ve made all the difference.

Flatten the curve

Look, only a pundit aching for a faceplant or someone with a very accurate crystal ball would try to predict how serious the coronavirus crisis will get. 

Whatever the outcome, we all as individuals have limited agency. We do however have a responsibility to help flatten the curve.

A simple way to do this is by respecting national health department recommendations for maintaining social distance and personal hygiene practices.

We have as much influence over our behaviors as we do our mindsets. Though given the uncertainty surrounding the current global situation, none of us could be blamed for worrying.

If you catch yourself becoming overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, ask yourself: are you taking the steps you need in order to feel better?

More information about the coronavirus/COVID-19 epidemic here.

Takeaways

  • The world is not ending. Keep things in perspective.
  • Stay occupied and suspend endless worrying.
  • “Quarantine” yourself from situations likely to result in transfer anxiety.
  • Put on your “humor” spectacles and look for a new reason to laugh.

15 transformational documentaries LGBTQI+ folk can appreciate

Essy Knopf gay documentary coronavirus lockdown
Reading time: 8 minutes

When I originally wrote this list, I was in the midst of the first coronavirus lockdown, stuck at home with not a whole lot to do.

The world has changed somewhat since then, but I believe these films remain as interesting and important as ever.

And while my selection isn’t exactly targeted at LGBTQI+ folk, many of these films have queer themes and subject matter.

All of them made the cut for a single reason: they each have the potential to help us become a little more thoughtful, informed, and empathetic.

So if you’re on a journey towards self-betterment, I’m sure you’ll find something of interest in the following list.


15. Touching the Void (2003)

A docudrama based on the book of the same name by climber Joe Simpson, Touching the Void is about his and Simon Yates’ ill-fated 1985 climb in the Peruvian Andes.

While the pair succeed in their quest to climb a 20,814 ft mountain, the trip quickly goes awry after Simpson breaks a leg mid-descent. As severe weather bears down on them, Yates is forced to sever his friend’s rope, sending him plummeting to the bottom of a cliff.

What follows is a belief-defying tale of endurance that will leave even the most seasoned thriller viewer with lead in their stomach, right up to the unexpected finish.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes

14. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Encounters at the End of the World is a mesmerizing look at the characters and creatures who choose to call Antarctica home.

The documentary perfectly embodies the sensibilities of German filmmaker-cum-philosopher Werner Herzog, who has made a career of chasing seemingly impossible film projects, often about figures bent on achieving impossible dreams of their own.

Herzog, who shot the entire film with a crew of two (counting himself), invites viewers to revel in the wonders and curiosities on the frontiers of human civilization in and around McMurdo Station.

Over the course of Encounters, you’ll meet scientists who listen to ice for the alien calls of seals, a deranged penguin toddling inland towards a solitary death, and a physicist who draws parallels between spirits and subatomic neutrino particles.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

13. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

BAFTA-nominated They Shall Not Grow Old is a World War I documentary by a giant of cinematic craftsmanship, Peter Jackson.

The pioneering director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has painstakingly restored and colorized archival footage while adding sound effects and voice acting under the stewardship of professional lipreaders. Jackson sutures together more than 200 firsthand accounts by British veterans, offering new insight into the horrors and hardships of trench warfare.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a technical triumph that manages at various times to be buoyant, sobering, and deeply moving.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, Amazon, Vudu, YouTube

12. The Biggest Little Farm (2018)

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles American wildlife photographer John Chester and wife Molly’s almost ten-year attempt to construct a sustainable farm from the soil up.

The effort, inspired by a promise to one very loveable dog, plays out like a modern Robinson Crusoe. Chester and Molly are forced to adapt and improvise to the ever-changing demands of revitalizing a former orchard.

Along the way, they learn to harness rather than battle nature to create their own little patch of paradise. The film teams with an effervescent spirit of wonder, human ingenuity and hope. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube

11. Project Nim (2011)

Project Nim follows a groundbreaking scientific endeavor to teach American Sign Language to a chimpanzee.

Researchers’ efforts to socialize and train the eponymous “Nim Chimpsky” begin with his adoption by a human family. From the moment we learn Nim’s human mother chose to breastfeed him, however, we see the road of good intentions and its inevitable outcome.

The result is as much a tale of hubris as it is of humanity’s mercurial – and often unwitting – capacity for cruelty.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

10. Shirkers (2018)

Shirkers is an intimate whydoneit about an act of interference that derailed the promising career of a young Singaporean director.

It was the summer of 1992 and Sandi Tan and friends had set off to film Tan’s debut feature under the guidance of mentor and teller-of-tall-tales Georges Cardona. Afterward, Tan charged Cardona with processing the raw footage, only for Cardona – who had shepherded the film from its inception – to vanish.

Almost 20 years later, Tan was able to recover all of her lost reels, sans audio. She uses the botched film as a springboard for exploring Cardona’s motives and true identity.

Shirkers is a wistful journey through the hypersaturated visual landscape of a changing Singapore, infused with a longing for a past lost and found, and a future that could have been. 

Where to watch: Netflix

9. Deep Water (2006)

How far are you willing to go in the name of pride?

This question underscores amateur yachtsman Donald Crowhurst’s single-handed race around the world for the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race (of no relationship to the annual television awards ceremony).

The film charters the family man’s battle against the odds to survive boat troubles, wild weather, and, ultimately, madness. With Crowhurst hopelessly behind and his reputation hanging in the balance, he decides to put off radioing for help in favor of falsifying his yacht’s positions in his logbook.

Crowhurst’s final accounts of battles with cosmic beings elevate this story to the level of tragic parable, serving as a warning to all those who aspire to the heights of greatness, unaware of the fall that may very well follow.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

8. Green Porno (2008)

Delightfully camp and playfully ludicrous, Green Porno is the nature documentary at its unsexiest.

Written, directed and hosted by Italian-American actress Isabella Rossellini, best known for her roles in Blue Velvet (1986) and Death Becomes Her (1992), Green Porno technically isn’t a feature film, but rather a series of shorts. Each episode, Rossellini dons cardboard and rubber-foam animal costumes to explain and enact usually bizarre, sometimes grotesque, and occasionally morbid mating rituals.

While her approach is essentially edutainment, the third season leans more into activism, highlighting the danger commercial fishing poses for marine life.

Green Porno is an unexpected delight, guaranteed to make you first cringe – then laugh.

Where to watch: YouTube (free)

7. Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018)

More than a few of us long for the kind of father figure that was American television personality Fred Rogers.

The host of preschool TV series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran for a respectable 33 years, the soft-spoken Rogers became a mainstay of children’s television, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of countless viewers.

Modeling a distinct brand of openhearted kindness, Rogers served as a gentle counter to popular notions of masculinity. Won’t You Be My Neighbour explores how the Presbyterian minister treated his show as a shelter for young minds, free from the barbs of insensitivity, violence, hatred, prejudice, and adult agenda.

The documentary casts the late Rogers as a kind of luminary, and perhaps rightfully so; the lessons he taught and the hope he bestowed continue to resonate today. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, HBO Now, Vudu, YouTube

6. Last Train Home (2009)

Most gay men know intimately the pain of having to separate from our families, a choice that is often as much a product of choice as circumstance. It is a pain shared by the protagonist of Last Train Home, rebellious teenager Qin.

Raised by her grandparents and saddled with the expectations of workaholic parents who are, for all intents and purposes, strangers, Qin decides to cast off the yoke of their dreams of a better life through education. Her decision is as much motivated by a desire for financial independence as it is a breakdown in familial understanding and empathy.

Qin’s story is tinged with bitterness, heartbreak, and a sense of loss that is certain to hit home for many a queer viewer.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Tubi (free)

5. Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)

Academy Award-nominated psychological horror What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) was a camp classic about two ex-actress siblings, played by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, locked in a battle of wills. Echoes of this toxic family dynamic can be found in the relationship between the subjects of Mommy Dead and Dearest, Gypsy Rose Blanchard and mother Dee Dee.

For years Dee Dee perpetuated lies about her daughter’s age, fabricating claims she suffered from numerous disabilities and chronic illnesses. Dee Dee subjected Gypsy to physical and psychological abuse while foisting upon her a battery of unnecessary surgeries and medications.

Towards the end, Gypsy Made plans to escape from her life of captivity which culminated in a decision to kill Dee Dee with the help of a secret online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn.

Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee’s story is so unbelievable you could be forgiven for dismissing it as the stuff of schlock horror fiction. It is indeed a story with few precedents, and yet its theme of toxic child-parent relationships is one many gay men are well acquainted with.

Where to watch: Google Play, HBO Now, YouTube, Vudu

4. Holy Hell (2016)

Holy Hell is a fly-on-the-wall account of the Buddhafield cult directed by Will Allen, a gay man who sought refuge beneath the ring of yoga master and cult leader Jaime Gomez.

Leveraging footage from his time as the cult’s videographer and chief propagandist from the mid-80s onwards, Allen depicts the cult’s rise under the influence of the enigmatic and increasingly paranoid Gomez. He details the alleged control and sexual abuse inflicted by Gomez on male followers.

Gomez, a self-proclaimed “God” with a penchant for plastic surgery, swimming briefs, and eyeliner, is eventually unmasked as a Venezuelan actor and porn star.

Holy Hell functions as a warning that the comfort and safety offered by “gurus” may be little more than false promises.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

3. Southern Comfort (2001)

Southern Comfort follows the final year of the life of trans man Robert Eads. Eads is succumbing to ovarian cancer. It is an illness, he tells us, that might have been averted had numerous doctors not refused him treatment until it was too late.

The film is not a grim march towards death, but a poignant portrait of a man whom society has failed. Southern Comfort moves at a meditative gait that seems to capture as much the spirit of its idyllic setting of rural Georgia as it does its subject.

Eads spends his last days celebrating a close bond with his “chosen” family while enduring a painful visit from the biological one that has rejected his new gender identity. Yet Eads does not appear to harbor hatred for those who chose politics and self-interest above professional and familial duty.

Rather, he seems to emerge not torn by the injustice, but, rather, transfigured.

Where to watch: Tubi (free)

2. Paris is Burning (1990)

Before there was the award-winning FX show Pose, there was Paris is Burning. This landmark documentary offers a snapshot of the gloriously queer underground ball subculture, in which self-fashioned models and performers take to improvised catwalks to compete for trophies and prizes.

Ball culture we learn was as much an exercise in gender and social class satire as it was empowerment, offering both refuge and a platform for creative talent within marginalized communities.

Paris is Burning serves as a celebration of its subjects’ resilience in the face of social opposition. It is also a historical document of an important cultural movement that gave rise to the likes of voguing. Mandatory viewing for all thoughtful gays.

Where to watch: Previously available on Netflix – check Google

1. How to Survive a Plague (2012)

The AIDS epidemic sparked mass panic of the likes we have only since seen with the rise of the coronavirus. It led to the deaths of millions from the late 80s onwards and fuelled widespread stigmatization of gay men.

Academy Award-winning documentary How to Survive a Plague is directed by David France, a journalist who provided frontline coverage of the outbreak from the very beginning. It covers activists’ battles with the US Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval of often toxic, but possibly life-saving drugs.

One of the fruits of their tireless labor is the antiretroviral drug Truvada; a hard-won privilege often taken for granted by gay men today.

How to Survive a Plague for that reason serves as a timely reminder of our communities’ many successes on the road to secure our rights – and of the distance that still remains to be covered.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube

top documentaries coronavirus lockdown netflix hulu amazon prime

Why gay men suffer from internalized homophobia

Essy Knopf internalized homophobia
Reading time: 7 minutes

Even today, gay boys and men grow up facing the dual challenge of cultural homophobia and its byproduct: internalized homophobia.

The chance they will suffer from the latter is magnified when that homophobia plays out in the family home.

When I was 14, I remember a relative telling me that HIV/AIDS was the result of “gay men having sex with monkeys”. Say what?

“Oh, but it’s true,” the relative insisted. “Scientists have proven it.”

Today, such a claim could be easily disproved with a quick Google search. And while confusing being gay with bestiality might have been laughable, the statement had carried a hateful subtext. 

What this relative was really saying was that gay men were despicable sexual deviants.

That same message was conveyed in countless other situations. Once while visiting a friend of my father’s, I was forced to listen to him rant about a male flight attendant he’d noticed wearing makeup.

“He’s just a f—-t,” the friend said, as if this explained everything. “I found it nauseating”.

These comments left me burning with anger. Any passionate defense I mustered would, of course, have outed me, and meant enduring the disdain not only of this homophobe but my father as well.

In high school, a girl I had considered a friend complained to the entire class about seeing a news segment about the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

“Why do gay people have to shove it in our faces?” she said. “It’s disgusting.” Never mind the fact she herself had chosen to watch the segment.

Our teacher had simpered in agreement. Then – in a tone that was meant to convey tolerance – he stated that while he personally had no problem with gay people, he believed they should “keep their sexuality to themselves”.

Which is precisely what I did. With these kinds of comments being thrown about, there was zero chance I would be telling anyone about my sexuality any time soon.

It is no surprise then, that in this kind of hostile climate that we as gay men feel compelled to live lives of subterfuge.

The source of internalized homophobia

The same year I was told gay people should “keep their sexuality to themselves”, I undertook a job bagging groceries at a local chain store.

The store was occasionally visited by a rail-thin man wearing a goatee and garish gold jewelry, who had a tendency to mix and match his clothes: a tie-dyed shirt with cow-print pajama pants, a bucket cap with mandals.

I guessed by his mincing movements that he must be gay, a fact that left me puzzled. Every gay boy and man knew that flamboyant behavior invariably drew negative attention. Was this fellow trying to paint a target on his own back?

It is only with hindsight now that I realize this stranger’s campness was not necessarily an act of showy defiance but self-acceptance. The problem wasn’t his embrace of femininity, but the fact that I was uncomfortable with it.

Femininity, after all, was a quality I had long learned to disguise as a matter of survival.

Yet in accepting that my safety depended upon my ability to conform and “pass” as someone straight, I had unwittingly internalized homophobia.

The low down on gay men and femininity

Gay men face marginalization and persecution often because we tend to behave in non-heteronormative ways, which in turn enable others to identify our sexuality and use it as a basis for exclusion.

Gay men are typically portrayed in the media as being more feminine and are commonly labeled “sissies” and “pansies”.

But is there any truth to the claim that men are more feminine than their heterosexual counterparts? 

In Gay, Straight and the Reason Why, author Simon LeVay reveals that gay people do indeed tend to be “gender-atypical” where it comes to certain “gendered” traits. 

What traits exactly are gendered? According to LeVay:

In the area of personality, men rank higher than women on measures of assertiveness, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and independence… Women rank higher than men on measures of expressiveness, sociability, empathy, openness to feelings, altruism, and neuroticism… Men prefer thing-oriented activities and occupations (e.g. carpenter), whereas women prefer people-oriented activities and occupations (e.g. social worker). Women have better-developed aesthetic interests and less-developed technological interests than men.

As a group, gay men tend for example to score higher than straight men on tests measuring empathy, aesthetic interests, and verbal fluency.

Studies have revealed gay men are less physically aggressive. They are also gender-shifted towards instrumentality, expressiveness, and people-oriented occupations. (Note here the use of “shift”, as opposed to “inverted”; that is, gay men as a group do not completely adopt typically feminine traits.)

According to an analysis of a survey conducted by the BBC in 2005, gay UK-based respondents on average perceived themselves to be more feminine. This finding is backed by a number of other studies.

The pressure to be masculine

In my earlier article on embracing our authentic gay identities, I shared author Terrence Real‘s claim that from boyhood males are expected to reach for the brass ring of masculinity.

This masculinity involves a form of self-reliance that asks us to cut ourselves off from our emotional selves, our mothers* and the support of our communities. 

Socialization teaches us to view emotional expressivity and vulnerability as feminine traits that must be avoided at all costs.

The prevailing definition of masculinity, of what it means to be a “successful man”, is one of self-reliance.  

This self-reliance and independence are further promoted by widely adopted social beliefs such as rugged individualism: i.e. “I don’t need anyone’s help, I can do this all on my own”, or the practice of stoicism, which advocates keeping a “stiff upper lip” in the face of hardship. 

Self-reliant masculinity is promoted by the archetypal male hero in movies and television, be it the hardboiled detective of crime fiction, the tough-as-nails gunslinger of Westerns, or the ironclad action hero.

These characters typically prove their merit through unflinching courage and physical prowess.

According to this definition, the opposite of self-reliance is weakness. When we exhibit “feminine” – that is, the gender-atypical – traits, we inadvertently signal to others that our masculinity is “defective”, thus inviting homophobic scorn and condemnation.

gay internalized homophobia

Double-barrelled shame

Gay men historically have received a double dose of hostility, on account not only of gender-atypical traits but of being seen as inherently flawed.

Being gay was once viewed as an act of rebellion against the laws of God, as per the Bible’s accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gays were viewed as “perversions”, on par with the likes of pedophiles.

The advent of modern science saw being gay reclassified as a mental disorder, a label that would remain until 1973 under the order of the American Psychiatric Association.

The perception that we were untrustworthy and possibly dangerous, however, persisted.

Consider for example the “Lavender scare”, in which thousands of gay people were purged from US military services and intelligence agencies from the late 40s and into the 60s.

In 1953, President Eisenhower even signed an executive order banning gay men from employment by the US government and its private contractors.

Suspicion towards gay men endured even from 1981 onwards, with the advent of what was initially called the “gay disease”, “gay cancer”, “gay plague” or “gay-related immune deficiency”.

Later retitled HIV/AIDS, the resulting epidemic triggered a moral panic that fueled further discrimination towards and ostracism of gay people. 

The impact on gay men

The negative light in which we as a group have been regarded, together with the emotional repression demanded of us, puts great strain on the mental health of gay boys and men.

Given we naturally tend towards empathy and expressiveness, I would argue this strain is greater than that faced by heterosexual men.

In the face of social pressure to emulate ideals of “manliness”, and the dismissal, ridicule, and physical harm we may face when we defy them, many of us find ourselves falling in line.

We do this by taking on the loathing others harbor for our authentic selves, altering our self-presentation along the lines of the masculine ideal.

That is, we learn to conceal our more evident “feminine” traits, including our interest in other men. Some of us may even avoid all possibility of judgment by eschewing the company of heterosexuals, moving to live in a gay village.

But the inauthentic shell which we don as a matter of necessity may become a new comfortable norm. Self-loathing will likely leave us crippled by ongoing covert depression.

Unable to tolerate our vulnerability, we find ourselves in turn unable to tolerate it in others. We adopt judgmentalism, rejecting other gay men as we ourselves were once rejected.

Gay bars, clubs, and dating apps are rife with this kind of behavior, which in many cases is an expression of internalized homophobia. Consider, for example, those people who write “no femmes” on their dating profiles, or demand a highly specific “masc” type or muscular physique in their partners.

While not as dramatic as a closeted man cruising a gay nightclub and attacking someone for making a pass at him, this latent form of internalized homophobia is characterized by emotional repression so painful that many sufferers are forced to seek refuge in grandiosity or addictive behaviors.

The irony of this repression and its byproducts is that they only further our existing sense of isolation, creating conditions ripe for more depression.

In order to free ourselves from the tyranny of homophobia, we must learn to accept and embrace all facets of our identity – without fear of reprisal. Source: Elise Gravel

The cure to internalized homophobia

In order to overcome self-loathing, we must first acknowledge how we have suffered by turning away from our authentic selves.

To break the hold internalized homophobia has on our lives, we must learn to accept and embrace all facets of our identity – without fear of reprisal.

For some of us, this may involve an outward exhibition of our more feminine traits. We may choose, like the goateed stranger of my teenagehood, to wear whatever we want and to act in the way that feels most natural to us.

Or we may simply seek to reconnect with and express our emotions; to let down our guards and create conditions in which others can do the same.

It is through such shared vulnerability that I believe we can ultimately achieve true healing, not just as individuals, but also as a community.

Takeaways

  • Being gayhistorically was seen to be a perversion or illness.
  • Gays as a group show some “gender-atypical” personality traits.
  • One is the typically “feminine” trait of emotional expressiveness.
  • Expressive gay boys and men thus face double the stigma.
  • Survival requires hiding our authentic emotional selves.
  • The result is depression and judgmentalism.
  • If we are to heal, we must restore emotional authenticity.

* I acknowledge that disconnection from one’s mother may not apply to all men, for example in the case of being raised by a male caregiver, or gay parents.

How to quit gay dating apps and take back control of your life

Essy Knopf gay dating apps
Reading time: 4 minutes

About a year ago, I vowed to never use gay dating apps again. Too many nights spent engaging in rapid-fire exchanges with perfect strangers who would vanish by morning had left me feeling spent.

Initially, I’d accepted the duty of replying to incessant messages as part of the territory. Always being “connected” is a necessary evil of our age, especially when it comes to online dating, but Grindr’s old slogan “get on, get off” seemed more than ever like a bait-and-switch.

Any wonder. Dating app makers clearly profit by our continued use of them, deploying strategies to keep us engaged, so they can then sell us premium features.

Take for example Tinder’s addictive swipe-based mechanic, or the even more mundane – and equally rewarding – system of push notifications. 

For someone who prides themselves in being efficient, I’ve found gay dating apps to be anything but. The sense of never quite being finished – of there always being one more person to reply to – has always nagged at me.

For someone who already struggles with anxiety, it was only a matter of time before I hit a peak and decided to ditch the gay dating apps. Tinder, Scruff, and Grindr – deleted in one fell swoop. But for how long, exactly?

1. Don’t quit gay dating apps cold turkey

A grand total of six months, to be precise. After downloading the apps again, I (surprise!) found myself once more caught up in the drudgery of fielding lifeless small talk.

It’s a pattern we’re all too familiar with: left weary by the sterile objectification, the kinetic five-minute conversations that fizzle for no perceptible reason, we pack it in. Swear off the gay dating apps for good.

Then, in a moment of boredom and loneliness, we hop back on, just to see who’s around and if anything has changed. If we’re lucky, the app will have undergone a snazzy redesign.

Our previous exchanges will have been wiped, so no need to dwell on our many unsuccessful interactions.

Maybe the people around us will have forgotten us too. The novelty of our profile photo in the search grid will be renewed, and the affirming messages will begin to flood in.

We’ll feel momentarily buoyed by the realization that yes, we are still very much attractive, and that there will always be an anonymous mass of strangers waiting to objectify us. 

So, we decide to stay a little while, and before long we’re back to lurking, replying, refreshing. And the cycle begins anew.

gay dating apps

Falling back into the habit is a very real hazard of quitting anything addictive cold turkey. But for those of us genuinely seeking connection, going back to the dating apps is shooting ourselves in the foot.

We know, after all, that “dating app” is a misnomer and that most gay men use Grindr and its brethren for hookups.

Admittedly, there is a certain comfort in knowing the adoration of another man is just a tap away.

So if you’re not quite ready to cut the cord, but you’re feeling overdue for a gay dating app detox, here are some steps you could consider taking:

2. Disable push notifications

This way, you choose when you engage – and not at the prompting of the app.

3. Limit your app usage

Trial an app-blocking service. These allow you to schedule specific days and times for usage while preventing you from accessing designated apps outside of that window.

4. Delay your replies

Sure, in the fast-paced world of ping-pong messaging, you risk losing the other person’s interest. But slowing down the interaction can help weed out people who weren’t really all that interested in you in the first place.

It’s important to remember that many gay dating app users are simply “playing the numbers game”, texting countless others just to see who will bite.

5. Ask to meet

Just because someone is available on a gay dating app, doesn’t mean they are necessarily available to meet you, if ever. This may seem contrary, given they somehow find time to engage in protracted back-and-forths.

I operate under the assumption that if someone can find the time to chat and both of you live in the same city, you can take 30 minutes to grab a coffee in person.

If you’ve requested to meet and it hasn’t happened after two weeks, you are well within your rights to disengage.

6. Have a cut-off point

Let’s be honest: unless you’re in it just for validation, endless chatting can become tedious. If you’re scoping the other person for facetime eligibility, then it’s perfectly acceptable to set a cut-off point for messaging.

We all obviously need to engage in preliminary screening to get a feel for the other person, their motivations and their general vibe, so it’s difficult to settle on a hard number of exchanges.

But based on my experience, if neither person has broached the subject of meeting in person and set plans in stone by the 30-message mark, there’s a good chance that neither has any intention of doing so.

This is an opportunity to ask yourself why you are sustaining the exchange, and whether you might be better off investing your time and energy elsewhere.

7. Wipe your profile

If more extreme measures are required, consider temporarily wiping your profile before deleting each app from your phone. The effort required to download, log back in, and set the profile back up can serve as a good deterrent.

8. Take a hiatus

Obviously, there are no silver-bullet solutions. Gay dating apps have become a permanent part of the landscape, so permanently quitting them can seem not only daunting but unrealistic.

But too often feeding this time-hungry monster begins to feel like a hopeless, joyless, never-ending task. Like the legend of the Greek king Sisyphus, we feel condemned to keep rolling a boulder up a hill for all eternity.

Unlike Sisyphus however, we have the right to opt-out. If you need a break and a chance to recharge, your priority as a thoughtful gay man should be to take it. It may just be a question of when and how – and sometimes how long.

If you do decide to take a hiatus, bravo. Remember that the apps won’t vanish. Your romantic prospects will not suffer a fatal decline. And best of all, you’ll feel all the better for it.

Check out this post for some self-care tips. And if you’re still not convinced you should give the gay dating apps the kick, consider these five arguments.

Takeaways

  • Switch off gay dating app notifications and stop the reward mechanism that keeps you coming back.
  • If you’re struggling with self-discipline, consider using an app-blocker.
  • Weed out people who are messaging for the wrong reasons by delaying your replies.
  • Choose a cut-off point for number of messages exchanged and stick to it.
  • If the other person is vague or noncommittal about meeting, walk away.