Featured writer: Dustyn Gulledge
The glow of my iPhone lit my face in the darkness while the projection of my Instagram feed moved like a film in the lens of my glasses. Lockdown fatigue and the recurring fear of contracting the virus while waiting for my turn to receive the vaccine, kept me up for hours after I turned off my bedroom lamp. I haven’t had sex in months and can count the number of hugs I’ve shared in the last year with one hand. Although we are in an unprecedented, albeit temporary situation, the lack of connection can create a physical ache at times more painful than a quick punch to the face.
My finger did a double-take on my iPhone as I scrolled back to the last post on my feed. I adjusted the screen’s brightness and widened my eyes. It was a picture posted by some guy I had gone home with one drunken night several years ago. I remember taking my shame and hangover out his front door, knowing whatever the previous night was would never be again. The picture showcased an entourage of shirtless men with dilated pupils in a crowded nightclub with nary a face mask in view. I checked the date: 12-31-2020. I checked the location: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Hashtag: #whiteparty. I was nonplussed.
Earlier in the day, I had received a phone call from a friend who works as a nurse. I was devasted to hear her staggered, emotional voice explain that medical personnel had received instructions to spend no more than twenty minutes reviving code blue patients before pronouncing them dead.
Los Angeles hospitals have reached their ICU capacity. New data suggests someone dies of COVID-19 every eight minutes, and ambulances are being turned away with patients who have little chance of survival.
The City of Angels is on the verge of an apocalypse, and a cluster of the local gay community had decided to flock to Mexico with a suitcase full of speedos to attend a circuit party.
My impulse emotion was rage. I expressed my unabashed disgust over “the queens” who attended the super-spreader event amid a global pandemic. Then I discovered the Instagram account GaysOverCovid.
To my astonishment, these circuit boys hadn’t indulged with impunity; I was just late to the party, so to speak.
GaysOverCovid is a platform for shaming members of the LGBTQI community, predominately white gay men, who have heedlessly ignored safety guidelines and mitigation strategies against spreading the now-mutated coronavirus in favor of their own sybaritic lifestyles. The outgoing President of the United States and his acolytes have politicized the health crisis since the outset and have notoriously refused to comply with CDC safety guidelines. But I couldn’t accept that men in my community, a community that survived the AIDS epidemic, had the audacity to be just as consciously insensitive and feckless.
Most of us grew into our young adulthood without having had a truly loving, honest, and safe relationship with a man.The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs
As a young gay man, my therapist directed me to read The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs. Downs wrote, “Most of us grew into our young adulthood without having had a truly loving, honest, and safe relationship with a man… our path to fulfilling basic human needs has proven to be fundamentally different from the well-worn paths of straight humanity.” The forgotten pages were resummoned as I scrutinized the gallery of chiseled bodies, square jaws, and duck lips on the spray-tanned Adonises.
In my twenties, my life was a montage of sexual objectivity, anger, drug use, and self-destruction. Had I not gotten sober, I would doubtlessly still be searching for my true love drunk and high on the dance floor of some dark bar in West Hollywood. I’d still believe that my trauma, vulnerability, and the authentic expression of my truest self couldn’t possibly be enough to warrant the same deep connection I thought I was gaining by repeatedly suppressing it.
In a trice, I saw these gay men as humans concealing their pain behind a flexed abdomen, a metered self-worth predicated on heart-likes and fire emojis. Each photo featured the trauma of a ‘little gay boy’ chasing acceptance from the playground bullies who made them feel less-than, chasing the time they found comradery fueled by alcohol at their first gay bar. These were grown men caught in the cycle of chasing long-term fulfillment under the scalpel of a bigger-is-better-and-more-is-never-enough mentality, left so empty by the absence of validation that they’d pander to their worst impulses at the expense of endangering people’s lives.
GaysOverCovid is highlighting another epidemic running rampant through our community that we can no longer normalize: an epidemic of nihilistic individualism and self-destruction that is just as deadly as the opioid and meth crises and equally as contagious as COVID-19. It is an epidemic passed down across generations that nurtures a subculture of stigmatization and toxic masculinity. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of surface objectivity, a degree of solipsism that prevents our community from evolving and unifying.
To those in the gay community who have stayed home, worn their face masks, feel sexually anorexic, missed the holidays with their families, and choose protection over pleasure: thank you, you are recognized, you are loved. It is heartbreaking to see other members of our community piled on top of one another against the backdrop of a news article titled: ‘Refrigerated trucks arrive in L.A. as bodies pile up at hospital morgues amid rising COVID-19 death toll’.
To the gay men caught on GaysOverCovid lathered in sunscreen and cognitive dissonance: be better. Use this temporary embarrassment to challenge your own worldview. We have a unique history and, therefore, a unique responsibility to help end this global crisis. Nearly 700,000 people have died from HIV/AIDS in the U.S since the onset of the epidemic in the 1980s, and the CDC estimates that by March of this year, nearly 500,000 Americans will have died from the Coronavirus pandemic. You get to help decide how much of our history will repeat itself.
Dustyn Gulledge holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the New School University and an MFA in Acting from A.R.T. at Harvard University. He is a published poet and personal essay writer based out of Los Angeles. Stay in touch with him on Twitter and Facebook.