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Sober Gay Man Seeks…What, Exactly, He’s No Longer Sure

Larry Ruhl | Longreads | April 12, 2018 | 2,005 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Nonfiction, Story

Sober Gay Man Seeks…What, Exactly, He’s No Longer Sure

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse now in recovery, Larry Ruhl finds himself adrift in the age of hookup apps.
Getty / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Larry Ruhl | TMI Project | April 2018 | 8 minutes (2,005 words)

This essay is published in collaboration with TMI Project, a non-profit organization offering transformative memoir workshops and performances that invite storytellers and audience members to explore new perspectives. By sharing their personal stories, storytellers become agents of change. Larry told an abbreviated version of this story in the spring of 2017.

I feel my face flush as I consider what I’m about to do. I’m in my kitchen, at the table. This is the sixth or seventh time I’ve done this, in the span of a few years. I pull up the App Store on my phone and type in the word that makes me cringe, and feel oddly exhilarated all at once. The familiar yellow-orange logo appears. I hit the icon to reinstall Grindr on my phone.

I tell myself, This time will be different.

With my new Grindr profile almost complete, I look forward to what I hope will be the fun part — chatting with men. But first I have to fill in the field that describes my body type. The choices in the menu include Toned (I do like the way that sounds), Average (this one just depresses me), Slim (a possibility), and Muscular (despite repeated efforts, I am not). Or I can choose to leave it blank, but when it comes to dealing with anonymous gay men this is not an option. We want to know. I sweat it out for a solid two minutes, then go with Slim.

I ignore, at least for now, the fields of “I’m Looking For” and “My Tribes” which includes a list of descriptive terms such as Bear, Daddy, Leather, Otter, Poz, Rugged, Trans, and Twink. They make my head spin. For my profile picture, I choose a photo of a thin, semi-hairy shirtless man from a Google search, and crop it accordingly. I‘m too embarrassed to show my own chest, with its flaws and lack of definition, and showing my face is simply out of the question.

I pause when I get to the relationship status field. My husband and I have been together for almost 20 years. At the 10-year mark, after much consideration and help from a couple’s therapist, we negotiated the terms of what is now our open relationship. I know I’ll limit my options by selecting Married, but I don’t want to lie and mark Single either. Picking Open Relationship feels like I’m revealing something too personal, so I choose Partnered, and prepare for the influx of inquiries about threesomes — something I don’t do.

I hit “Save” and return to the home screen to start the process of scrolling through men’s profiles to block anyone I know. A neighbor, former customers of mine, cashiers, I block them all with the hope of avoiding any embarrassing exchanges.

I’m barely through my first round of blocking anyone familiar, when I see the red dot indicating I’ve got a new message. It doesn’t take long before I’m tripped up by a young guy who says he’s 22. I’m 45.

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