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This did not stop this figure being strongly disputed by conservatives, who were overjoyed when, in , the US National Survey of Men estimated that only 2. Statistics had become part of a political battleground, with heated arguments back and forth, but unfortunately without any agreed definition: When it became necessary to predict what would happen to the Aids epidemic, it was vital to find out what people actually did with each other.

Surveys started to distinguish between identity what sexual orientation you claim ; attraction who you find sexually attractive ; and behaviour whether you have had same-sex experiences. The numbers for each area turn out to be very different. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Natsal is the most reliable source of information on what Britons do in private, and has taken place every 10 years since But there is a clear gradient with age, with a much higher proportion in younger people, particularly in younger women: Sexual identity is also now part of official government statistics.

But only 0. So is this evidence of bias in the Natsal participants or a sign of reluctance to open up in a general household survey that is largely concerned with mundane matters such as shopping habits? That works out to a total of nearly 1. Same-sex sexual behaviour can come in all degrees of intensity. Respondents are asked about activity at any age, so adolescent fumblings counted.

For women in the age range 16 to 44, the proportion who report having had some same-sex experience has shown a dramatic rise over the past 20 years: But this is not all just girls kissing girls in imitation of Madonna and Britney Spears; around half report genital contact, and around half of these in the past five years, so that overall nearly one in 20 women report a same-sex partner in the past five years. But has there really been a change, or are women simply more willing to report what they get up to?

Using some neat cross-checking, Natsal reckons that the change between and was partly due to more honest reporting, but the rise in and was all real. And it is clear that there is a lot of experimental activity — roughly, for each woman who has had a recent same-sex partner there are two more of the same age who have had some same-sex contact in their lives, but no partner in the past five years.

Men show a different pattern. However, the picture shows a clear peak of lifetime same-sex experience for men aged around 60, and then a dramatic drop in those around 70, a pattern not seen in women. But he, like me, like most of us, learned it somehow. My parents thought it was cute, so they took a video and showed it to my grandparents. When they all watched the tape, I hid behind the couch because I was so ashamed. I must have been six or seven. By the time he got to high school, Adam had learned to manage his mannerisms so well that no one suspected him of being gay.

I had to operate in the world as a lone agent. He came out at 16, then graduated, then moved to San Francisco and started working in HIV prevention.

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That ended up being a crutch. He worked long hours. He would come home exhausted, smoke a little weed, pour a glass of red wine, then start scanning the hookup apps for someone to invite over. Sometimes it would be two or three guys in a row. It went on like this for years.

Last Thanksgiving, he was back home to visit his parents and felt a compulsive need to have sex because he was so stressed out. Before this, the longest he had ever gone was three or four days. It was a way of not dealing with my own life. For decades, this is what psychologists thought, too: But over the last 10 years, what researchers have discovered is that the struggle to fit in only grows more intense. A study published in found that rates of anxiety and depression were higher in men who had recently come out than in men who were still closeted.

But it was really horrifying. But I just felt like a piece of meat. It got so bad that I used to go to the grocery store that was 40 minutes away instead of the one that was 10 minutes away just because I was so afraid to walk down the gay street. And then you realize that everyone else here has baggage, too. But that meanness is almost pathological. All of us were deeply confused or lying to ourselves for a good chunk of our adolescence.

So we show other people what the world shows us, which is nastiness.

Dominick the Donkey

Every gay man I know carries around a mental portfolio of all the shitty things other gay men have said and done to him. I arrived to a date once and the guy immediately stood up, said I was shorter than I looked in my pictures and left.


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For other minority groups, living in a community with people like them is linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression. It helps to be close to people who instinctively understand you. But for us, the effect is the opposite. Several studies have found that living in gay neighborhoods predicts higher rates of risky sex and meth use and less time spent on other community activities like volunteering or playing sports. A study suggested that gay men who were more linked to the gay community were less satisfied with their own romantic relationships. Rejection from other gay people, though, feels like losing your only way of making friends and finding love.

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Being pushed away from your own people hurts more because you need them more. The researchers I spoke to explained that gay guys inflict this kind of damage on each other for two main reasons. It has to be constantly enacted or defended or collected. We see this in studies: You can threaten masculinity among men and then look at the dumb things they do.

They show more aggressive posturing, they start taking financial risks, they want to punch things. This helps explain the pervasive stigma against feminine guys in the gay community. According to Dane Whicker, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Duke, most gay men report that they want to date someone masculine, and that they wished they acted more masculine themselves. Feminine gay men are still stereotyped as bottoms, the receptive partner in anal sex.

A two-year longitudinal study found that the longer gay men were out of the closet, the more likely they were to become versatile or tops. When he first came out, he was convinced that he was too skinny, too effeminate, that bottoms would think he was one of them. My boyfriend noticed recently that I still lower my voice an octave whenever I order drinks. So, his sophomore year, he started watching his male teachers for their default positions, deliberately standing with his feet wide, his arms at his sides.

These masculinity norms exert a toll on everyone, even their perpetrators. Feminine gay men are at higher risk of suicide, loneliness and mental illness. Masculine gay men, for their part, are more anxious, have more risky sex and use drugs and tobacco with greater frequency. One study investigating why living in the gay community increases depression found that the effect only showed up in masculine gay guys.

The second reason the gay community acts as a unique stressor on its members is not about why we reject each other, but how. In the last 10 years, traditional gay spaces—bars, nightclubs, bathhouses—have begun to disappear, and have been replaced by social media.

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At least 70 percent of gay men now use hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff to meet each other. In , around 20 percent of gay couples met online. By , that was up to 70 percent. Meanwhile, the share of gay couples who met through friends dropped from 30 percent to 12 percent. And yes, those are problems.

But the real effect of the apps is quieter, less remarked-upon and, in a way, more profound: For many of us, they have become the primary way we interact with other gay people. It feels good in the moment, but nothing ever comes of it, and those messages stop coming after a few days. It is that they are almost perfectly designed to underline our negative beliefs about ourselves. In interviews that Elder, the post-traumatic stress researcher, conducted with gay men in , he found that 90 percent said they wanted a partner who was tall, young, white, muscular and masculine.

For the vast majority of us who barely meet one of those criteria, much less all five, the hookup apps merely provide an efficient way to feel ugly. John, the former consultant, is 27, 6-foot-1 and has a six-pack you can see through his wool sweater. Vincent, who runs counseling sessions with black and Latino men through the San Francisco Department of Public Health, says the apps give racial minorities two forms of feedback: It is, like mine, mostly hellos he has sent out to no reply. None of this is new, of course.

Maybe you end up with a friend out of it, or at least something that becomes a positive social experience. It sucks, but what are you gonna do? But the downside is that they put all this prejudice out there. What the apps reinforce, or perhaps simply accelerate, is the adult version of what Pachankis calls the Best Little Boy in the World Hypothesis. As kids, growing up in the closet makes us more likely to concentrate our self-worth into whatever the outside world wants us to be—good at sports, good at school, whatever. As adults, the social norms in our own community pressure us to concentrate our self-worth even further—into our looks, our masculinity, our sexual performance.

Then we wake up at 40, exhausted, and we wonder, Is that all there is?

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And then the depression comes. He has published four books on gay culture and has interviewed men dying of HIV, recovering from party drugs and struggling to plan their own weddings. He sat Halkitis and his husband down on the couch and announced he was gay. James grew up in Queens, a beloved member of a big, affectionate, liberal family.

He went to a public school with openly gay kids. Over the years, James had convinced himself that he would never come out. So I thought those were my two options: James remembers the exact moment he decided to go into the closet.

He must have been 10 or 11, dragged on a vacation to Long Island by his parents. I realize, the second he says it, that he is describing the same revelation I had at his age, the same grief. Mine was in Halkitis says his was in So what are we supposed to do about it? When we think of marriage laws or hate crime prohibitions, we tend to think of them as protections of our rights.


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