Tuesday, June 08, 2021
8:46 AM |
You Only Live Once
On Grindr, a friend of mine—who will not be named—goes on a hunt. He takes on an avatar for this. On the pick-up app, he’s “David Ezra,” the theatre actor and singer and son of Dulce, complete with a few other candid snapshots of the man ready to send when a prospect asks for more pictures to seal the deal.
“It cushions the blows of rejection,” he tells me. “Before, without the avatar, they rejected me. Now it’s the avatar they reject—but me they accept, if they accept. I call it reverse catfishing.”
And then, after a while, he admits: “David Ezra gives me courage.”
He has been on Grindr with a passion equal to an obsession since February 2021, prodded by a mix of midlife crisis and pandemic anxieties—which snowballed to a kind of marathon of sexual conquests without inhibition, that even he has come to terms with it by philosophizing his need.
By June 6th, he tells me he’s on conquest #261, in a kind of race to accumulate numbers, of which he only has some vague reasons (“midlife crisis and pandemic anxieties”) for reaching. But the accumulation has become a personal goal. “I want to make it to 1,000 by December,” he says. “At the rate I’m going, it’s kaya ra
When he tells me this, I am not shocked—but I ask for elaboration. The fact that he is readily giving me his story means he is in need for someone to talk to, perhaps to even clarify for himself why it is something he has to do.
He tells me he has just gotten over his ex-boyfriend, the one he shared years of togetherness before they broke up almost a decade ago when the ex-boyfriend asked for firmer commitment and my friend was not ready to settle for a fully domesticated life regardless of love. They continued living together for sometime, until the ex-boyfriend moved abroad, and met another man—sending my friend to a tailspin of recriminations and regrets, and pushing him to midlife worries that did not seem to dissipate with the years.
But now he tells me he has gone past that.
And also this: “I realized I never whored around my entire life—all 42 years of it. Then on [my adopted son’s] birthday, I had sex with a guy who reminded me of me. Like me, he was young, Chinese, and closeted. And then I decided to get a haircut, after a year of not having one. Then, boom, something clicked. I looked at myself in the mirror, and said, ‘Hey, I’m actually cute. Actually gwapo
. And a daddy. And Tsinoy. What stopped me before was all my restrictive social and intellectual filters. I decided right then and there to throw precautions away. I went to have sex. That’s my answer now to things. Damn the pandemic and midlife crisis: just go have sex.”
After Grindr, when the connection is made, he picks them up in his car. “Having a car is having power,” he tells me. The encounter is mostly what he calls “car fun.” Sometimes they go to a hotel. Often he takes them to a friend’s condominium, which is just right near his neighborhood. The friend is a former lover but now based somewhere else in the Philippines. He has given my friend the key to his apartment—and now it serves as a rendezvous for his Grindr pick-ups. But he likes doing the deed in his car. He takes them to different places—beside churches, on side streets, on mall parking lots, even on busy streets, and at different times, too, but mostly early morning or night. Most of the time, he uses a car that’s super-tinted. But he likes using another car that’s only medium-tinted car. “The medium tint is fun and dangerous,” he confesses, “because people can see.”
There are no real names exchanged in these encounters. When asked, he gives them an alias: he’s “Michael Tan,” whose mother is from Taiwan. (Sometimes, when he likes the guy, he does tell them his real name.)
“Are you happy with these encounters?” I ask him.
“Oh, yes,” he answers. “Very much so. I can tell you the stories. Grabe
. I like listening to them. I like finding out what they do, where they’re from. I like listening to their love stories.”
There is this local singer he had crushed on for so long, but never had the courage to ask out on a date. “My avatar, David Ezra, made it possible,” he says. “When I finally unmasked myself, he knew who I was, of course. When I kissed him, it felt like one of those moments straight from YA novels.” The encounter, he tells me, was one for the books—they parked beside a church, and when they almost got caught, opted to go to a hotel. “It felt like young and careless sex, or love,” he says. “Wild abandon.”
Then there’s the muscled twink, a model. “One of the best bodies I’ve had partnered with. Iron abs,” he tells me. “He taught me about ‘vibe,’ that it’s not really how you looked—not a matter of being gwapo
—but all about your vibe. That was what he was looking for when he asked for photos over Grindr. I sent him three David Ezra photos. After we had sex, I dropped him at his mother’s place. And then he messaged me, that he had fun but was wondering why I didn’t send him my real pictures. He would have had sex with me anyway, because we vibed. I said my apologies and changed the topic.”
Then there’s the triathlete whose real name my friend does not want to know. He calls him “Runtime Error” instead. “He’s very memorable because he’s very gentle, very real—and we have the most intimate sex. He’s probably the person I’ve had sex with the most these days. Usually it’s just once or twice with most people—but this one made it past three. I don’t know his name. And he doesn’t bring a wallet so I can’t peek into it and get the name. And he doesn’t ask me as well. But I do know some details. Like I know he has a girlfriend in Manila, and that he wants to marry—but he is going to tell her that he’s bisexual before he proposes.”
There are so many others. He has a litany of names. “This one is the most beautiful of them all. This one is a staffer of a friend who blocked me on Facebook. This one is an events host and pageant boy. So many stories,” he says. There’s the banker who lives in a posh subdivision. There’s the guy who loves to sing Hamilton
and who lives in Danao. There’s the guy who helped push his car when it ran out of gas. There’s the valedictorian from Negros who works for a car company. There’s the freediver. So many stories indeed.
“I like it when they are intelligent,” he tells me. “I don’t have to dumb down my language. I can be as verbose as I am with you.”
Are the boys different because of the pandemic?
“I don’t know,” he answers. “A lot of them are like me, emerging from hibernation. A lot of them haven’t had sex in a long time.”
I ask him why he thinks this sexual marathon is pandemic-related.
“Of course it’s the pandemic. It’s YOLO. You only live once,” he says. “I’ve never felt more YOLO in my life than now. And accepting of fate and magic.”
He is not that deathly afraid anymore of contracting COVID-19 from all these encounters—although aside from sex he is still very paranoid, demanding face masks, social distancing, and open-air spaces only. “I make an exception only for sex,” he says. “I’m not worried because we take lianhua
in my family like vitamins. It’s traditional Chinese medicine for respiratory ails, worth about 200 pesos a box. We take it onset pa lang
of any symptoms—cough, fever, chest pains, others.”
Any regrets so far?
“That maybe I may have overexposed myself—especially those who have recognized or may recognize me in the future. And that I’m not Michael Tan. Syaro wala’y mo
-cross paths nako ani
in the future. I wonder how I would handle myself when that happens. It will be awkward.”
I wish him well, “as long as you know what you’re doing,” I tell him.
“No, I don’t actually,” he says. “And that’s fine. YOLO, after all.” Then he quotes a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George
: “There are only two worthwhile things to leave behind when you depart this world of ours: children and art.”
“You have your books,” he tells me. “I have my son. That’s all that matters.”
It’s a profound take on his rush to have all these encounters, all in the name of YOLO, all in the name of banishing away the fears of contagion in pandemic times.
* * *
What is the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of YOLO—“you only live once”—in the time of the pandemic?
The rush to risky behavior in (or after) stressful time is, in many ways, to be expected. Think of the Roaring 20s when the world burst into excess and the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures right after the Spanish flu and World War I ravaged the world. Today, many people are not even waiting for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue the crazy and the wild without filter. More than a year into the longest lockdown in the world, many people are too ready to party away their worries—with or without repercussions. On June 6, someone posted on social media a video of young people partying, sans masks and sans social distancing, in a Cebu bar. The backlash was intense, and the very next day, the Department of Health banned partying all over the country.
But YOLO is not just about partying. YOLO is doing something unique in your arsenal of experiences because tomorrow is not assured—and the riskier the experience, the better the high. Although for many others, YOLO is also as simple as gorging themselves on food, heedless of long-held diets, and gaining several pounds in the process. For others, it is becoming and pursuing something else entirely outside their old comfort zones.
My friend is hardly alone.
Other friends have confessed similar preoccupations, again in the name of YOLO in the pandemic.
A female friend, based in Thailand, tells me that a few days before the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, she met up with someone at Payathai Skytrain Station adjacent to the Airport Link in Bangkok. “Among people wearing masks, coming and leaving, we stood in the middle of the walkway, took off our masks, and hugged. [He was] a former student, British, ten years my junior, [and my relationship with him] had reached ‘sexting,’ not just flirting during the pandemic—actually, until now. In real life, when he was still in Bangkok, we met occasionally, over friendly lunch or coffee. But our online conversations were different.”
“It was spontaneous,” she continues. “He has been flirting with me via Messenger, and later WhatsApp. But during the pandemic, when he was back in the UK, it reached another level, we were ‘sexting’ almost every day... In one of our conversations, he [messaged me]: ‘I should have been more persistent.’ We were thinking that one day all of us would be wiped out. We promised to survive, to meet again, to have coffee, and to f--k. We both used the word. It was liberating. This was the first time that I engaged in this kind of online relationship. I’m married but sometimes a person needs to have some space and adventure. It helped me deal with the stress of the pandemic. We were both ‘satisfied’ with our sexting, [and] he would send me voice messages telling me how it helped him cope. But of course, it’s not only sexting, we talk about many things. We call each other at least twice a week.”
“No regrets,” she says. “Why would I? I think it helped me also to be a better lover to my husband. But, you know what, [the guy] doesn’t even know that I’m married and have three grown-up kids. He’s single and 36 years old. I don’t know if we will ever meet again. But when the pandemic ends, and he comes to visit, I will surely meet him for coffee; nothing else.”
Later, she adds: “Why is YOLO mostly sexual in nature? Is it because we are looking for a connection? Is it because we are sexual beings? Or because sex is essential, like food?”
There’s another friend, a doctor in Dumaguete, who has a paid go-to guy for her sexual needs and pleasures on a weekly basis. “I see him at my clinic, but when the ECQ closed our clinic back in April 2020, I had to sneak this guy on a weekly basis into our house in a family compound with a 24-hour, 8-camera recorded CCTV spanning the whole place.”
Once, immediately after seeing a COVID patient at the COVID ward in a private Dumaguete hospital, she took a shower, scrubbed down her body twice, gargled Betadine, threw her scrubs in a garbage bag, and prepped herself to meet up with her go-to guy at their usual loft inside her currently closed clinic. “I drove straight from hospital to clinic. And it did the trick! Snap! Drove home [afterwards] with half of the stress off my body.” But everything had to be planned, and nothing was spontaneous about it—“because considering my status in the community, being discrete is up there in the priority list,” she says.
She chalks it all up to the pandemic. “Heightened sexual desire and drive have always been my strong stress indicators,” she tells me, “and all this ‘creativity and risk taking’ behavior was heightened at the peak of COVID-19 in Dumaguete. YOLO! I must get laid or else!” And no regrets, absolutely—she intends to have the encounter again, or find ways to eventually have her much need time with her go-to guy. “It’s a no-strings-attached, transaction-based arrangement, nothing close to a romantic relationship.”
* * *
But pandemic YOLO does not always have to mean going on sexual thrills. It can mean willfully getting lost in a foreign place to stumble on new experiences. An artist friend did just that. “It was supposed to be an easy morning to think of nothing but just ride along the Yangon Circular Railway [in Myanmar] to observe the locality from the rail,” he tells me. “But when I struck a conversation with a baby boomer traveler from Norway who mentioned about the travel ban from Hong Kong to Manila, all I could think of was how to leave Yangon without passing through Hong Kong and avoid quarantine in Manila. So I decided to cancel my return flight via HK and willingly got stranded in Yangon for ten days—which allowed me to join a performance art event, and I painted murals with people in a village, and I visited more temples and art galleries. I departed Yangon for a flight via Kuala Lumpur to Manila and Bacolod.”
He reflects on what happened since then: “One year of the pandemic and the world is still grappling for a new normal, while Myanmar is under Martial Law. It was a spontaneous decision decided by the situation and intuition—with a certain degree of trust that the Universe will conspire and guide me through the next steps.”
“I was caught in the first wave of the pandemic in late January to early February,” he continues. “I remember a vlogger in the airplane asking people if COVID-19 is real. I think it was when the collective consciousness started living in the terms of the pandemic. It made me feel ‘secure’ during that time to avoid the hotspot of the pandemic, and the notion of getting stranded was partly exciting my adventurous spirit, while part of my consciousness was thinking of strategies to return safely home. I was happy to do creative works with creative friends in Yangon, and some of them have gone underground during this time of Martial Law in their country. So I have no regrets. I know that experience becomes a teaching tool.”
YOLO can also mean making the fateful decision of leaving everything that you know behind, and starting over somewhere else.
Another friend did just that—leave Manila altogether in lockdown, and live in Dumaguete. “I had to cancel my flight to Siargao with [my girlfriend] when the Philippines went into lockdown in March 2020. We assumed that we could simply rebook the flight and travel in a month or two. Then, four months later, I was still stuck in Manila, while [she] was stuck in Dumaguete,” he tells me. “We hadn’t seen each other in half a year, which is the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. The pandemic reminded me of how short life is, and I told myself that I needed to start living the life I’d always wanted.”
So he purchased a one-way airfare to Dumaguete and resolved to make the most of what he calls “this beautiful existence by waking up next to [my girlfriend] every morning.” It was not without difficulty. He needed to meet many requirements in order to travel, to acquire authorization to enter Dumaguete. “I had to pretend I was an LSI (a Local Stranded Individual),” he admits. Eventually, he got to fly at the end of August after numerous attempts and cancelled flights.
“It was a spontaneous decision because at first I just really wanted to travel with [my girlfriend] to Siargao,” he says. “But then it all changed and I dropped everything to start living life with [her] in Dumaguete. I’ve always wanted to live in Dumaguete, but it wasn’t a plan in the near future. But, the pandemic made me realize how precious life is and that I only have one chance to live life to the fullest.”
The decision was spontaneous—but he considers it by far one of the best decisions he’s ever made. “I like to live life taking risks and be spontaneous,” he says, “so deciding to drop everything and move to Dumaguete made me extremely happy. Life here is simple and laid back, which is completely different from the life I had in the big city. But, now I wake up feeling extremely blessed because this is the life I’ve always prayed for. The only downside of moving here is being far from my family. I’ve always been close to my parents and brothers, so being far from them and not seeing them is kind of a downer.”
YOLO is risk. YOLO is a high. And in the pandemic, for many people, it is the one thing that keeps them alive.
[Note: Some details have been changed to protect the sources’ identities
Labels: coronavirus, friends, life, sex
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