Gays Are Used to Rebellious Sex. Is Hooking Up in a Pandemic Any Different?

If you’re a young, healthy gay man with insurance, catching the “Rona” might feel like a small price to pay to get your rocks off.

I keep hearing stories about gay men who are flouting social-distancing guidelines and hooking up. One part of me is obviously jealous, while the other is simply infuriated. I mean, I get it. The temptation is there every day as I stare forlornly out the window at male passersby, craning my neck in impossible angles to catch a glimpse of the fleeting ass beyond the solitary glass. But if I and millions of other people are making sacrifices, what makes these hormonal homosexuals so special?

This is by no means a passing of judgment. Considering my own sexual history and some of the truly questionable decisions I’ve made in the past, I don’t have a leg to stand on, let alone a particularly high horse to mount. I do, however, want to interrogate the rationale and ramifications of this behavior.

Why would someone take the risk of hooking up in the middle of a global pandemic? Well, first and foremost, we’re all horny as fuck. So when confronted by one’s own throbbing libido, the stakes can seem relatively low. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, isn’t necessarily transmitted through sex, but it’s highly contagious and you can catch it through even casual contact. Yet if you’ve been dutifully self-isolating, then maybe you see no harm in hooking up with someone else who’s in the same boat.

Furthermore, if you’re a young, healthy gay man with insurance whose means of income has been relatively unaffected, catching the “Rona” might feel like a small price to pay to get your rocks off. If anything, this pandemic has revealed just how much class dictates health, wealth, and success in America. For those who can afford to deal with it, the coronavirus is not so much a crisis as an inconvenience.

Class aside, there’s also the illicitness of hooking up when it’s, essentially, forbidden that speaks to the very nature of being queer. Because we’ve historically had to exist outside the margins of traditional society, it’s easy to argue that the rules of that very society don’t apply to us. Rebellion and defiance are hallmarks of the queer experience, but they were most often a response to having our personal rights denied. Is sex a personal right? Are these canoodling kweens actually heroes of the pandemic?

Hardly. For many gay men, sex is an outsize part of being gay, so much so that it becomes an identity in and of itself. Tops, bottoms, bears, otters, pigs, snakes, mongooses, and God knows what else occupy the gay sexual menagerie, so to forbid yourself sexual gratification is akin to suppressing a part of yourself. If your sense of self-worth is tied to sex and your own sexual attraction, it can mean a complete repudiation of your identity. A quarantine hookup, then, is ultimately a selfish act.

That’s to be expected. Not only are gay men (and I speak from personal experience) prone to selfish and even self-destructive behavior in the pursuit of sex, but the American ethos as a whole has been moving towards prizing the individual above the collective, regarding the self as greater than the whole, and believing that one succeeds in spite of, not because of, others.

But the coronavirus pandemic has been a crucial reminder that we are all truly “in this together,” no matter how trite that sentiment, by now endlessly co-opted by corporate advertising and social media, has become. Hooking up during this time just feels like a betrayal of a social contract (one that, in truth, not all of us have agreed upon). It does make me question how tenuous all of this is—this national self-sacrifice for a nation with such a serious hard-on for rugged individualism.

A hookup here and there doesn’t signal the breakdown of society, but abstaining from one does seem like a small sacrifice for the greater good. Still, in an age of such strident cynicism, I guess I’m just wondering if there’s any such thing as “the greater good.” The only reason I’m not indulging in my own desires is out of my, perhaps naive, belief in other people. And, of course, the anticipation of fucking my brains out once this is all over.

For now, that anticipation will have to be enough. For some, it won’t be. But if keeping my dick to myself can, for once, do some good, I’ll gladly oblige.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat