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?
I get the feeling that his promiscuity is a little shocking to you. Being nonjudgmental of his sex choices is smart. His experiences may be very different from yours, and he may do things you frown upon, but try to stay as nonjudgemental as you can.
I can’t judge his promiscuity because I had sex with way more than 150 guys by the time my junior year rolled around. I passed 200 as a sophomore and stopped counting. His experience is like mine, except he gets the benefits of PrEP, something that wasn’t really part of popular lexicon when I was experimenting sexually, and when I tested positive.
That fact should be a sign of how drastically queer life changes in a few years. I tested positive only five years ago. Although PrEP existed then, it was not widely known about, at least not in the city where I lived. That’s changed now. Thanks to LGBT news outlets, PrEP has become part of the national conversation, and information about it reaches more and more people every day.
In just five years, PrEP has evened the playing field for poz men. It’s liberated our sex lives and made serosorting seem oddly antiquated and archaic. Gay men in college today exploring their sex lives will do so with less fear and more options, more ways to prevent HIV and more ways to treat it.
That’s just five years. Think about 22 years, the difference between you and him. His life will be different. He is a child of Grindr and Facebook. He will do things differently. He will see things differently. The things you share, the universal queer experience of family abuse and abandonment, is where you offer something he needs: Evidence of survival. Your existence, your happiness, and your age tell him he will make it through this difficult time and that life evens out. He needs that, even if he doesn’t say so.
I know some of his choices are worrying, and some of his experiences sound traumatizing, but everything he’s doing right now is how he learns to live. 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 traumatic 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. He’s doing it right.
Yes, he has had scares. I had plenty. He’s had bad nights. Most queer people have. But he’s taking care of himself. He’s listening to you. He’s in school. He’s doing well.
There’s not much more you can do beyond what you’re doing. You can provide him resources and be a listening ear, but you can’t make his mistakes for him or learn his lessons for him. You can’t prevent him from doing what he’s going to do.
You can’t take him away from his parents, but you can be an antithesis to them, 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. He’s a kid who will be an adult very soon. Let me tell you from firsthand experience, since I’m not too far from that time in my own life: at that age, all you want is someone older to tell you not to be too hard on yourself.
He’s been hard on himself since the 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 going on in his head, the fear of the future that nags him every day. He’s new, scared, and ready to be free.
He probably just wants someone to tell him that he’s allowed to make mistakes. When he does, offer support and don’t berate him. He wants an example of what happens on the other side of youthful experimentation. He wants someone to tell him life gets better, because it does.