How Liberated Are We?: Questioning Queer Hookup Culture

Beautiful words from Yosimar Reyes, with illustration by Julio Salgado.

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.

10 responses to “How Liberated Are We?: Questioning Queer Hookup Culture

  1. So eloquently said, this is something I too have been grappling with for some time. I completely agree, hook up culture is not the only place where radical sexuality can take root! We must continue to explore this area further. Thank you for being a voice of clarity and shedding light to this issue that is so prevalent in our community!

  2. I think about this kind of shit SO much. It’s a huge struggle of mine cuz within queer circles I’ve traveled in (mostly white tho) I’ve had HUGE issue with seeing fucked up social hierarchy with regards to how ppl relate and what is expected in terms of hook ups. Also I think something that’s largely ignored is how stuck to normative standards of attractiveness queer circles often seem to be. I dunno it’s something Ive been thinking about a lot lately…like how to navigate my own desires to relate to ppl queerly while being conscious of how normative hierarchies are produced within social relations. Anyways thanks for articulating this stuff so nicely it’s a real comfort to hear. I hope you are well and please let me know if you are ever in the bay! Xoxo nora

    • Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts! It’s a comfort to me to know that others are feeling and thinking about some of the same things.

  3. Casual sex is not radical, it’s just convenience often. That said, being open minded to it, as a healthy part of your sex life, along with other things you are open to I think *is* radically thinking.

    My experiance with the queer community as a whole, is that often you find guys in two camps, neither of which is really all that radical, one that says, I’m looking for a partner, and I’m at least going to pretend I’m not looking for casual sex, or I’m going to say other negative stuff about it. And, a second camp, which is deeply passionate that casual sex is something we should all be open to as we become more sexually open.

    I think a healthy reality lies somewhere in between, most importantly, in never being in a rush. I myself have wondered at times if I’m a bit of a sex addict who it’s a problem for. In the end, I’ve decided what’s healthy, is keeping my absolutely openness to casual sex, I’ve founded some of my closest friends, starting with a hookup. But, I think what’s radical, is being open to whatever sounds good to you, is healthy for you, and, not pigeon-holing that person you met tonight into it being casual. They could just be your next partner, if you let them be.

    • I really like your approach. I appreciate the idea of finding a balance between all the different things you desire and need, instead of oscillating between rushing to find a partner and rushing to find sex. Being open to lots of different possibilities is something I am still working on. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  4. THIS: “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.”

    & THIS: “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.”

    Thank you so much for articulating those things. I read that and felt the kind of resonance that rises up from inside the body somewhere. Your blog is a recent discovery for me and I’m so grateful for it! It’s so important, this kind of honesty and analysis. XO

  5. Personally, I was very much wrapped up in the gay hookup scene for sometime and after a while it just got old and unfulfilling. And although I am still young, its not something that I want to really partake in anymore. Call me old fashioned in this 21st century where iPhones, and other smart phones can tell you (with apps like Grindr) where in distance is the closest gay person, I still like the idea of someone walking up to me and starting a conversation and taking it from there. I do think that one has to figure out what is healthy for them, but in the larger picture I think that when the norm is to jump into casual sex that isnt healthy. Recently I was at my friends house and he had 2 of his other friends over, all of them were on Grindr! And I was the only one that wasnt. I didnt mind, but it took the attention off of eachother spending time together, to them talking about who was getting dick that night! And it also spills over to how we hold our partners accountable in a relationship. Ive had/heard of several friends of mine who are in a committed relationship with another guy, yet they are both sleeping around, and know of it and still tell each other they ‘love’ each other. But what is that ‘love’? Is it a love of not being alone? Or the reassurance that we all need? I dont know. But I do know that, yes sex is awesome, but sex with one person is better!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. As a queer man, a big struggle of mine has been trying to negotiate my sexual and romantic desires within communities where they are not always the norm. A big part of this struggle has been learning to recognize and respect the love and beauty which are a part of so many of the ways we interact with one another, while also learning to listen to my own desires, and to advocate for them in the face of pressure to conform. I don’t believe in a better or best way to love or fuck or desire others. I do believe, though, that I should be able to be vocal about the things I want, to feel that my body and my desires are genuinely respected, and to find partners who can give me the things that I am looking for. It is the behaviors that get in the way of these things which I seek to challenge. I support a vision of sexually and romantically diverse communities, and the kinds of relationships that make me feel good should be a part of that vision.

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