Recently, I’ve been more open to casual sex than I ever have been before in my life. I’ve been involved with a few different partners, building friendships while also hooking up from time to time. I’ve been learning a great deal about my desires and my limits, what makes me feel comfortable, and the ways in which I need to challenge myself to think differently about my own sexuality. This situation might sound standard to some of my peers, but it has been a big change for me, as hooking up is something that I’ve been intimidated by and cautious with for most of my life as a queer person. This has been due largely to what hooking up has entailed in the different communities I have been a part of, and what sexual options have been available to me as a young queer man of color.
In high school, hooking up was about navigating a minefield of socially unacceptable desires. As one of the only out queer men in my school, and one of an even tinier number of queer men of color, I was viewed as an obvious site upon which the desires of others could be carried out. I was solicited for sex when I was caught alone in the locker room, and harassed by guys on the weekends who then pretended not to know me when they saw me in the hallway the following week. Male peers of mine on sports teams, with girlfriends or children, and from a host of communities which did not acknowledge homosexuality, all had sex with one another regularly, but knew enough to lie about it. Since I chose not to, the conclusion was often drawn that I was easier to get with than others with more sense. As a result, I was assumed to be an open sexual outlet for an entire community of queer men, while simultaneously expected to deal with the pressures and questions of being out on my own. This was a position I was not willing to inhabit.
As a young adult, hooking up was about about experimentation. In college, I was a part of a larger queer network for the first time in my life, and while I loved my new community, I did not find the relief within it which I was hoping for. I was confronted with a scene in which casual sex was an expectation, not on option. As a queer man who had been out previous to college, I was sometimes looked to as a first opportunity, both for guys who had never messed around with other guys, and those who had never messed around with Black/Brown ones. And because hooking up was often closely accompanied by heavy alcohol and drug use, communication was blocked, bodies and their limits were regularly disregarded, and consent was a reoccurring point of contention. As someone who was hoping for consistence in sexual relationships, and looking for trustworthy and communicative partners, this was not a scene in which I felt able to comfortably participate.
Involved now in various radical communities, hookup culture is still prevalent. Feeling more supported and politically accepted, I have let some of my guard down, tried new things with new people, and attempted to be open in ways I had been afraid to in the past. Unfortunately, while I have learned a great deal and shifted many of my own beliefs, I have still been disappointed by the treatment I have received from many of my radical family. Many of the politics we spend so much of our time and effort trying to initiate in the world seem to vanish when it comes to sex. Hooking up in radical communities, I have found, is still run through with off-balance power dynamics, machismo and hierarchy. Our non-conforming relationships are still centered around ego and access, ownership and control. And lately, whereas once I wondered if my own notions of sex and desire needed to be rewritten, I now question if it isn’t the jargon and euphemisms we use to mask our normative behavior which ought to be challenged.
What troubles me about our hookup culture is that it posits freedom and liberation, yet offers us so few options for ways that we can be together, and reinforces so many remarkably un-radical behaviors between us. And given all the ways we exist–all the bodies and genders and cultures and histories we come from–shouldn’t we be able to find more varied and just ways of relating to one another? Being out is not a value I look for in all of my partners, but honesty and communication are. Monogamy is not expectation I hold in all of my relationships, but being treated as an equal partner, not an ethnic nor a sexual object, is. Moreover, when hooking up isn’t working, is not providing me with the things that I need, is getting boring, shouldn’t I be able to find support in my community for other kinds of sexual and romantic relationships which do make me happy, instead of being accused of selling out?
As a queer man with desires, I am not looking to satiate someone else’s sexual greed. I am uninterested in reinforcing a culture of mistrust, machismo and force, in which individuals strive to get theirs with little regard for the health and wellbeing of their partners and larger community. Instead, I want to be a part of a scene which loves bodies, values sex, and supports a multiplicity of sexual interactions, all of them grounded in communication, consent, and mutual care and respect. I want to be treated right be my partners, no matter our backgrounds, and no matter what our relationship is to one another. Negotiating these new desires within all the communities I claim is still something with which I am struggling, and will need to keep wrestling with as I attempt to build relationships which empower myself, my partners, and my people. And I may not always be down to hookup, but less and less am I convinced that casual sex is the only place from which a radical sexuality can take root.