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No Latex, No Love: The Bare Side of Gay Pride

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Summer is here, and so, after nine months of writing a new novel, and in rather desperate need of a tan, yours truly took his husband to a European beach resort for Gay Pride. Imagine sun, beaches, concerts, drag queens, Lady Gaga and Kylie impersonators, skinny models, gogo boys, and over a thousand men in all shapes and sizes, celebrating their freedom. Being free to express our sexuality is wonderful. Let's remember that in 78 countries in the world, people still get imprisoned, tortured, hanged, stoned, or shot for being gay, lesbian, transgender, etc.

We partied for four days straight (or rather anything but straight), met some very interesting and some very loud people, gawked at rock-hard abs and bubble butts, danced to all sorts of music (including Boney M., if you believe it), shouted "I am titanium" and "born this way" a lot, and drooled over the Mr. Gay contestants on the catwalk before heading to a bear bar with some very drunk Australians and Swedes. All perfectly innocent. It's summer, after all.

We went to the White Party, the Black Party, the Jungle Party, and the Foam Party, but the real party was always out in the thronged streets. We lamented the loss of our own abdominal definition and vowed to go on a diet starting Monday. At 5 in the morning, we stumbled back to our apartment though alleys littered with vomit, garbage, and used condoms. As the sun rose red and pink, we watched the gorgeous model who never looked at anyone finally get his comeuppance in a side street and gave him a round of applause as he bent over graciously. Drunk with love and sunshine, we fell into bed. It would have been a wonderful day of moderate debauch if we had not then made the mistake of turning on Grindr.

Most hotels don't let strangers go up to the rooms until the doors are unlocked again at 6 a.m. That's why the parties last exactly until that very special hour and, as the cocks crow, almost instantly moves online. The apps lit up. The messages came in, two, three at a time. Within 20 minutes we had invitations to group sex, howls and woofs from lonely men clamoring for love, pleas by bottoms in need of tops, and tops in search of hot bottoms. Honestly, I've never been more popular on Grindr!

As we chatted to Tim from Croyden, Jan from A'dam, several "Aussie lads" and "Irish boys," and a fair number of Joaos, Jorges, and Jacobs, we quickly realized that many of the gentlemen were in a state of almost unintelligible horniness. Some used Google Translate to bridge the language gap. One Italian invited us to examine his sanitized donkey. Go figure.

After another 30 minutes the picture became very dark. Nine out of 10 men invited us to have bareback sex. I first thought "No Latex" was a subtle hint referring to a nonexistent clothing fetish. But "Allergic to Rubber" is not really a medical condition. We were presented with graphic images of orgies "in progress" and almost settled on visiting the "fit, sane, down-to-earth US/UK couple" two doors down the aisle when they also insisted on the absence of protection. So much for "sane." Somewhat shocked, we switched off our phones and went to sleep. That was on the first day.

The following night I asked a reasonably priced and very sweet gogo dancer to help me in a little experiment. At 6 in the morning, we posted a photo of his beautiful body on Grindr and invited people to have bareback sex with him. The result: 200 hits, from shy "hi"s to blunt images hurling through cyberspace without a space suit. One single, intrepid soul sent a message of well-meant concern. The rest wanted to do our friend in every imaginable position, as long as there was no latex involved.

It wasn't just young guys. We encountered a bear couple in their 50s offering to share their 20-year-old plaything unprotected. There were offers of drugs and booze, invitations to do it on the beach, on the terrace, and in any number of hotel rooms. But almost all either sought bareback or flashed back an "OK" or "sure" when asked.

Call me naïve, but I was shocked to the core. I had no idea that this was going on. So what? I am happily married. Why should I be worried about the fate of 20-year-old beautiful things on E? Isn't youth always stupid? Didn't we do the same foolish things? I happen to be of a generation whose coming-out coincided with the climax of the AIDS epidemic. Maybe that has clouded my vision. Really, I should just mind my own business, write my books, and let these men get on with whatever they want to do.

But I can't. It bothers me enormously. It bothers me that on the very afternoon when we were reminded at the rally that 78 countries still punish homosexuals, I received my first message by an 18-year-old boy begging me for bareback sex. It bothers me that we saw so many young guys so high on E and booze and their own youth that they actively sought to be infected with a virus that still doesn't have a cure. It bothers me that there was not a single HIV information booth at this event, and that no condoms were handed out. When did all that disappear?

Maybe young kids are simply forward-looking and staunchly optimistic. If they get infected now, there'll surely be a cure by the time they fall ill. Scientists have been searching for a cure long enough. Or maybe these beautiful, vulnerable, stupid men simply don't care -- about their own lives or the lives of others. As one barebacker's profile read: "Life is four days long. Today is Now." Not sure about the esoteric meaning, but the implication is clear: Life is absurd, short, and utterly pointless, so we are all heading bareback to carpe diem. In my research for Benedetto, I found that 18th-century men, gay or straight, had much the same attitude toward carnal pleasure even back in the days of rampant, incurable syphilis. We've conquered that disease. Is AIDS a thing of the past, and is this the dawn of the post-condom area?

I am still a little hungover, forgive me, so for now I have no answers. You may think me naïve to even write such an article. Probably you all already knew what was going down out there. But I have seen a face of Gay Pride I cannot be proud of at all.