Gay Men, Pride Season, and Summer Lovin’
Had me a blast,
Happened so fast,
I met a [girl] crazy for me
Met a boy, cute as can be!
Songwriters: Jim Jacobs / Warren Casey
Summer Nights lyrics © Edwin H. Morris & Co. Inc.
Happy Pride Season, 2022!
Those lyrics, above, are from the classic Broadway musical, “Grease,” and its also-classic film adaptation from 1978, starring John Travolta and Oliva Newton-John (and directed by out director, Randal Kleiser).
That song, “Summer Lovin’,” takes place early in the show as a duet between “Danny” and “Sandy,” the lead characters, who have returned in Fall for their senior year of high school (at, at first unbeknownst to them, the same school!), and sing wistfully to their separate friends about their brief “summer fling” romance at a distant resort, egged on by their buddies who want all the lurid details a summer affair can bring.
And gay men can have “summer lovin’” as well, in their own way, just like the straight kids. And we can have them way (way!) beyond high school. More on this later.
It seems like anytime after Pride season starts every year in early June, the “summer lovin’” can begin (and even Memorial Day weekend or July Fourth (which I wrote about here).
For this year, 2022, we are celebrating Pride in the aftermath of the almost two-and-a-half-year hiatus due to the COVID global pandemic, when many cities across the world are holding in-person Pride events once again. While COVID is certainly not “over” (I’ve had it myself just this week, for the first time!), it’s largely been deemed safe to hold Pride events again, especially outdoors and for fully-vaccinated people.
But even before the pandemic, Pride events have been somewhat diluted in recent years, being seen as a commercial marketing opportunity for cynical corporations (including from corporations who hypocritically don’t really support LGBT+ rights), and as an opportunity for even just quasi-ally straight people to spend money in “gay neighborhoods” of cities. It’s lost some of the militant and disinhibited in-your-face political and social activism of past LGBT commemorations of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, eclipsed by “music festivals” that subtly obscure the LGBT activism that is the biggest part of Pride’s history. Even in our seemingly-progressive times, there is still plenty of work to be done to defend against the insidious, systematic, and determined erosion of our rights by Republican and religious-conservative future political candidates trying to rally the most rabid ranks of their Right-wing political base.
Sure, we’ve had inspiring “good news” this year like seeing “Heartstopper” on TV, the sweet story of a pair of English schoolboys who fall in love (not unlike the gay rom-com movie, “Love Simon,” and its TV offspring, “Love, Victor,” as well as “Sex Education” on TV and “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” on stage, screen, and TV). We’ve had seemingly more visibility (and diversity) represented everywhere.
But we’ve also had black-letter-law serious setbacks, too, where the state of Florida passed its “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which is, in practice, much more oppressive than its supporters claimed, not only banning “sexually explicit” content for younger kids (which there never was), but also labeling any LGBT+ related content in schools as such, for any age of student, putting a chill on teachers, staff, students, and administrators that is ominously reminiscent of Fascist oppression against whole groups of citizens in history (such as against Jews in Germany/Europe in the early stages of the Holocaust), the cops against LGBT people in New York at the time of Stonewall. The founder of that bill’s movement has publicly stated she wants to get “Don’t Say Gay” bills in every school district in every state in the union, paralleling the current re-empowering of the movement to destroy the right/access to legal abortions.
So, as I like to remind everyone at Pride Season (my own little tradition), I encourage us all (LGBT+ community and our “true” allies (not the “fake allies” who end up attending an anti-gay celebrity “church” like Hillsong) to celebrate and reiterate the “spirit of Stonewall” and our activism victories, but also to be ever-vigilant against the seemingly ubiquitous back-sliding that our enemies are always scheming to impose.
Pride is a double-edged sword, just like summer romances.
I’d like to share some thoughts about “summer lovin’” today, because it seems like the “vacation boyfriend” or the “inherently-temporary summer romance” is a common experience shared among a diversity of gay men, even globally, on any holiday weekend but especially during summer vacations.
Many of us can relate. Summer often means a time when we “go on vacation,” meaning that we “vacate” the routines of our normal lives at home (work, household routines, hobbies) and travel somewhere to explore a different way of life, domestically or internationally, just for a little while.
For gay men, seeing new places means seeing new guys. Men in general like to have “novel stimulation,” which can apply to sex as well, when we like different kinds of sex, perhaps with different kinds of guys, which can be a real impetus for Consensual Non-Monogamy. (This can be in both straight men and gay men, but socially, gay men seem to have more opportunity to practice that (with consent) than straight men do.)
Whether it’s young gay men taking a vacation to see their grandparents in another city, having a Summer Abroad educational opportunity, or adult gay men who are working hard and earning a salary good enough to provide for a luxurious overseas vacation to one of the world’s great gay-affirmative resort cities, or a gay cruise, spending time away from home gives us an exposure to fellow gay men we wouldn’t meet under normal circumstances.
Some of my clients in my private practice as a gay men’s specialist therapist and life/career/executive coach, for 30 years now in 2022, have described these stories to me.
“Gary” was one. Gary was a hard-working attorney in a major American city who was somewhere between being a “twink” from his days as a high school gymnast, and the middle-aged “daddy” he was imminently becoming. He told me about taking a trip to the gay-friendly island of Mykonos in Greece with two of his local buddies. He carefully divided spending time between his home-town buddies, one who liked to drink a lot of the local ouzo, and one who liked to run up and down the beach to see who he could see. And then Gary met “Gil,” a handsome flight attendant from London who was a beautifully exotic mix of Spanish, Italian, and Irish descent that gave him all-world attractiveness.
Gary met Gil first in the dim light of a dance club, and then Gary found that Gil in the clear daylight on the beach was just as beautiful. Gary and Gil first talked on the beach, then danced at the outdoor club, then ate at the great little cafes, and slept together in the quaint hotel of the island that Gil had been to a few times before. Despite Gil’s slight accent from speaking many languages (handy for his job), the real language they were speaking was of instant infatuation.
Small talk led to “bigger” talk, and Gary learned that Gil was as smart and “deep” as he was beautiful. Gil’s easy-to-talk-to style that was completely free of pretension and urban gay “attitude” was refreshing for Gary, as Gil was unlike any man he had met back home in the U.S. in years. Gay men on vacation just seem to have their “guard down” more, which makes them more accessible, with really no time to waste. The time they spent in the Greek islands’ sun-kissed glow seemed to give an idyllic light to the whole experience.
And, then, time was up. Gary was being beckoned by his friends to souvenir shop with them on the rest of the island, and have their final dinner before heading back to civilization, flying from Mykonos to Rome to home in a marathon flight the next day. Gary fantasized about giving up his life at home and staying on the island to open up a souvenir shop with Gil, but he knew that wouldn’t afford him the life he really knew, and wanted, at heart.
Gary said his goodbyes to Gil, as Gil was heading the much-shorter trip home in another day himself. They did the usual contact info exchange (this time sharing their profiles on Instagram, unlike the “exchange business cards” days of Gary’s youth).
The brief vacation romance with Gil was Gary’s number-one topic in therapy with me the next week, after the jet-lag had subsided and the legal cases oriented Gary back to a weekday reality that made the Greek sunsets fade quickly in his memory.
When I asked him to “process” (a word we therapists use a lot) his experience, Gary reflected on a somewhat bittersweet, but still very sweet experience. He knew Gil was probably not a serious option to ever meet again, due to the distance, and age, and some life-plan interests. But Gary related how idyllic times like a “vacation romance” can help to clear our heads of everyday stress (my article on cherishing your “romantic notions” is here) and show us that there is a whole world out there waiting for us beyond the confines of the office walls or our sometimes-annoying homes that always seem to need some kind of repair or adjustment.
Gary had come in for his session a little hot from the short but congested drive from his nearby office building, back in the office again after mostly working from home during all the pandemic. His slight scowl from the annoyance of the traffic delay melted away to a bashful smile as he described the experience; at first, from the beauty of the island and the antics of his long-term buddies that only gay men seem to understand (see the new streaming movie, “Fire Island,” for more on that).
But his wistful smile turned into a broader grin when he talked about Gil. All the muscle tension he had held in his shoulders had disappeared with that. He seemed to be fascinated with Gil’s tales of growing up in a small town and then running marathons in big cities later.
“Do you think you’ll see him again?” I asked.
“I dunno. We’ve messaged on Instagram, but he’s already been busy, I’m busy, and, you know,” he said. “Who knows when. But I hope so. I have to pay off Greece, first. And I think he might be dating somebody. I didn’t even tell him about Chris” (a guy Gary had started to date just before Greece).
Gary then started processing (that word again) another topic that had been a focus of his therapy for months before his trip. It was like the material he related about Greece was a respite – a vacation – from his usual therapeutic work. And then he was back to it. Only this time, he seemed more energized to address the problems in a refreshed way, discussing some new ideas about how he might handle some long-standing challenges.
I guess gay men having some good old-fashioned summer lovin’ on vacation does a lot of good.
I hope it does for you, too.
It turned colder
That’s where it ends.
So, I told [her],
‘We’d still friends…’
Then we made our True Love vow:
Wonder what [she’s/he’s] doing now?
Ripped at the seams,
Those summer nights…
Songwriters: Jim Jacobs / Warren Casey
Summer Nights lyrics © Edwin H. Morris & Co. Inc.
Ken Howard, LCSW, CST, is a gay and HIV-positive (31 years) licensed psychotherapist (Licensed Clinical Social Worker, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, and life/relationship/career/executive coach (worldwide) who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, for 30 years. He helps many gay men (and others) resolve the issues that undermine your quality of life, and helps you thrive. For help improving your personal or professional life, whatever your current challenges are, consider sessions with Ken for counseling, coaching, or therapy, in-office (Los Angeles), via phone, or webcam, anywhere in the world. Call/text 310-339-5778 or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.comfor more information. Ken is also available for expert witness work on legal proceedings involving gay men, all LGBT issues, HIV/AIDS, Diversity, and issues concerning psychiatric illness or disability, as well as organizational consulting for non-profit organizations, corporations, college campuses, and conferences.