Hi, my friend thank you for your blog and opening my mind to subjects I wonder about. My question is I guess I have become an older mentor to a College Junior in my hometown. We met while he was working on a College assignment. Being 22 years older than him full disclosure I am in my early 40s. After he interviewed me for his assignment he turned off the recorder and the conversation went personal.
He admitted that earlier that same week he got “stealthed” by a local older man through a Grinder Hookup. The college guy admits freely that he hooks up because he is horny who isn’t. And that he has hooked up with over 150 people in the past four years. I am not saying this for judgment I am just laying out the context. At New Year’s I had him over for dinner and we talked during that conversation we discovered that he had also hooked up with a mutual acquaintance who is HIV positive. My young friend who started Prep after his stealthing encounter and a rather long and embarrassing trip to our local rural Emergency Room has gone through a terrible time with parents who tried to get him into conversion camp and just mental abuse. And he was raped his first year on campus here.
I feel as a community leader I need to do as much as I can and as a friend too. Besides being a kind ear, trying to arrange counseling, connecting him with the nearest major metro men’s health clinic what can I do I don’t want to let him down and I want him to feel safe here. Plus I feel like it’s a duty to be nonjudgmental and supportive. What ideas do you have?
Being nonjudgmental of his sex choices is smart. His experiences may be very different from yours, and he may do things you disagree with, but try to stay as nonjudgemental as you can.
His experience will be more like mine — promiscuous and fraught with problems — except he gets the benefits of PrEP, which wasn’t part of the popular lexicon until after I tested positive. At the time of my diagnosis, PrEP had only just become available. The fact that he’s on PrEP after a frightening and eye-opening experience is a big deal. It’s a sign that he’s taking care of himself. He’s doing it right. He will figure himself out. Right now, he’s just being a kid and exploring his precarious early years of sexual freedom. It’s good to listen and help where you can, but you also have to let him run a little bit. He may fall into some pitfalls, and he may need to. How else do we grow?
The things you share, the universal queer experience of family abuse and abandonment, is where you offer something vital — your evidence of survival. Your life, your happiness, tells him that life gets better. In time, he will find his own people, calm down, and get some experience under his belt. He probably appreciates knowing you and seeing your home and the example of your life more than he will ever say.
Rape is so common among queer people. Stealthing is more common than you can imagine. The commonness of these experiences doesn’t take away their pain, but it tells you (and him) how many have survived these experiences and gone on to live happy, healthy lives. If he’s on PrEP and taking it diligently, that is one of the most mature, adult steps he can take as a sexually active gay man to take care of himself. I don’t think there’s much more you can do other than what you’re doing.
You can’t take him away from his parents, but you can be their antithesis, a safe space. You can’t keep him from fucking every man in sight, but you can drive him to the clinic when he gets an STD. You can’t keep trauma from happening, but you can point him in the right direction of a good LGBTQ community center where he can take himself if he decides it’s a wise idea to talk to someone or pursue resources. Driving him to these places and doing the legwork for him isn’t necessarily the best idea unless these tasks are impossible and the places too far without your help. You won’t always be there, and someday he’ll need to get his shit together on his own.
The best thing you can tell him is to not put so much pressure on himself all the time. Because he is. He’s been hard on himself since first grade. Nearly every adult in his life, from the ones grading papers to the ones he calls parents, have reinforced the pressure he’s feeling now, the self-bullying happening in his head, and the fear of the future he’s feeling. He’s excited and scared. Telling him that it’s OK (and necessary) to make mistakes, and being there when he does, is what we seek from mentors, and you seem adequately fit for the job.