In hedonistic gay culture, can we balance our need for love with our need to be sexually free, or must we somehow abate our desire for one to attain the other? Andy Sinclair’s novel Breathing Lessons follows Henry Moss, a thirty-something-year-old gay man who finds himself constantly in and out of relationships, too often with men who are already taken, as he attempts to balance his need for love and the men who usually desire him just for sex.
While Moss describes himself as “romantically destitute,” he also doesn’t buy into straight sexual culture. He says, “The gays had it right before, when they lived on the margins. Now it’s different—we’re just like everybody else! Except we’re really, really into cock. We’re not supposed to slut around on the internet or at the tubs though. Or talk about it.” Herein sort of lies this love/sex dichotomy so often experienced by gay men raised in straight society, where gay men want love and commitment but also the freedom to fuck whomever they choose.
However, the loneliness Moss feels isn’t as a gay man living at odds with a straight world, it’s that he’s stuck in the middle between the two, i.e. straight culture and gay culture. When he decides to go home for the holidays instead of to Puerto Vallarta with his gay friends, he says, “They’ve worn me out with their heroic efforts to be noncommittal and ethical and fulfilled.” And later, when he recounts his mother’s reaction to his coming out, how she cried and worried he’d have a “hard life,” he says, “I think I have so much love to give but can you imagine how she feels? To be that crushed, that someone you care for might be lonely. And my life’s been full of sex and dancing and nobody ever looks into my eyes when he’s fucking me and I kiss about one guy a year and I get it now.”
Moss, like so many of us, struggles to find love in a culture that seems to value sexual fulfillment over intimacy or commitment.