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Can U Host?: Why Traveling Is a Queer Experience

Illustration of a naked hot black man

Whether it's to find ourselves, find community, or find a hookup, it's an experience we all recognize.

This piece initially appeared in Out magazine. Read the original here.

If I had it my way, I would never have sex in my apartment. I’m a travel-only kind of guy. But as a sex worker in New York City, I must occasionally set this policy aside as it would substantially inhibit my business. Many of my clients are partnered and discreet — their spouses are unaware of what they do with me. So, short of finding neutral space (usually a hotel room), I am often required to host. Of course, it’s certainly not only escorts who face this dilemma. The question of who can host is a common part of hooking up, but the reality is…I don’t want to.

When I host, the experience I’m hoping to curate is never complete. The sessions are too cramped, too real, too much like messy dorm room fumbling. Like in an episode of WandaVision, the realities (roommates and noise levels) of life disrupt the illusion.

Hosting and traveling require vastly different performances. When you travel, you can bring the show and create a fantasy. You are freer to be who you want for however long the trip lasts. That becomes more complicated when you’re hosting. The pictures on my table and the books on my shelf make me a real person instead of an idea. Most of my clients make more money than I do, and when they come to my place, that becomes apparent to them — sometimes I think that’s part of the appeal. They get to slum it for an hour or two, like going camping, before returning to their nice apartments.

Hosting is a luxury commodity. Stress-free hosting requires living alone and having a certain amount of space in a place you don’t mind showing off. “Can’t host,” a phrase taken from Grindr-speak that now has its own Urban Dictionary entry, has become such a pain point on the gay internet that it’s become a meme. Most of us have seen the still from the 1995 movie Clueless of Brittany Murphy delivering her iconic burn, “You’re a virgin who can’t drive,” but this still is captioned differently: “You’re a bottom who can’t host.”

The ability to host may be a privilege, but traveling is a gay pastime. Nearly every gay man I know who lives in a city is not from there. They’re from small towns and grew up as the lone closeted queer in church. One lucky day, they traveled. They went to a gay bar in a nearby city and found us: community. For a brief time — a night, a weekend — they were able to be themselves. Leaving, driving away, going to the city; it’s all part of gay lore that is the prototypical movie of gay life. And it’s completely real.

Every major moment that defined my journey to self-acceptance happened on an actual journey, far from where I was living at the time. I found my first porn at a Barnes & Noble in a city far from my family’s farm. I found my first gay bar in a city even farther away. When I tested positive for HIV, I was living in a small town in Georgia, and every gay man I messaged on Grindr blocked me as soon as I mentioned my status, so a friend took me to San Francisco to my first Folsom Street Fair, the world’s largest leather and fetish festival. No one was afraid of me there, and that was the first time I experienced love and sexual liberation as a man living with HIV. These are powerful experiences, and if they read like a stereotypical narrative, it’s because so many of us share them.

Queer people make yearly pilgrimages to sexual events like Folsom because we need to be reminded that we’re not the only ones. We come from our isolated areas and transform into circuit pigs and leather daddies and proud sluts. Those pilgrimages feel like life to me — like family. This has mostly halted during the pandemic, and when it has cropped up it has been the subject of public shaming. As a sex worker and someone who knows the impact of inperson intimacy firsthand, I can’t join in with that chorus. Some of my clients needed this in order to survive.

There is a compulsive need among gay men to go somewhere else, to trot the globe. Though we are able to do that now because of resources and access, we have done it over time to build community. We flock to places like Fire Island, Provincetown, and Atlanta (the latter especially for Labor Day Weekend) and congregate for various Pride festivals and other events. All this comes from the nearly universal queer experience of feeling isolated and sexually stifled. Travel, even if only for an hour to the guy who lives two blocks away, allows us to escape.

Trauma, too, plays its part. When I was younger, I lived for a few months in a San Francisco porn studio with an aging, abusive pornographer where my “free rent” came with sexual strings attached. The experience was so horrible that it’s made me wary about sexualizing my home space ever since. When I travel, sex has a clear beginning and end, and I’m always free to leave. Many queer people have similar traumas linked with sex at home in ways that straight counterparts may not. Those straight folks have no idea what it’s like to be outed to roommates or kicked out for simply owning porn. They have no idea what it’s like to live in the closet. Closets are why so many gay men flit glamorously through cities to play and fuck — because once you learn that traveling saves you, it’s hard to stop.

Alexander Cheves is a writer and sex expert whose book debut is expected in late 2021 from Unbound Edition Press. @badalexcheves

This story is part of Out's 2021 Travel IssueSupport queer media and subscribe to the print version— or download  for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News. 

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