Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.
This diary is written by Andrew Kahn, a writer in New York.
One of my close friends is a science lunatic who has anticipated every coronavirus development by about a week, so I barricaded myself in my New York apartment early. But I have not stopped checking Grindr. Though I am resolutely not seeking to bonk strangers right now, it is nice to see which strangers are seeking to bonk me. It has actually been easier to give up sex than to completely shut out the shadow world of ambient horniness that hangs over my life at all times in normal circumstances.
I have tried to leverage any attention I receive toward the greater good. I am admittedly controlling and moralistic and neurotic, so this has served me well. On Sunday, a regular of mine told me he was feeling “🐷🐷🐷” and asked if I wanted to “party n have some fun.” I responded, “Isolation to slow spread of pandemic.” When he informed me that he, himself, did not have the coronavirus, I explained social distancing and urged him to take it seriously. “I do but you listen to the news that’s ur problem,” he answered, adding, “Your so gullible.” I threw my phone across the room.
Other interactions have been less adversarial. I had a pleasant exchange with a trans Instagram model who had converted her entire profile into a coronavirus PSA, and even sent her some of my favorite disease charts. Another person who called me “a true hero” for staying home was definitely not being sarcastic. When I told a mature gentleman, alias “Daddy Hosts,” that I was “not really in a Grindr mindset right now,” he wrote: “I was feeling that the whole world is scary and in upheaval so I wanted company. Not sex so much as hanging out with someone—I don’t know which is better.”
Early this week, I learned that a college friend, a guy in his late 20s in perfect health, had been put on a ventilator and was getting tested for the virus. I have milked this terrifying anecdote to its fullest extent, on Grindr and elsewhere; the term ventilator in particular seems to put the fear of God into everyone. In the words of a very hot man I convinced not to have sex with me, the virus is “crazy” and “you gotta respect it.”
The tone of these conversations has been a pretty striking gauge of our shifting norms and moods. On Sunday I had some fights. On Monday I had no fights. On Tuesday the only people online were sociopaths. Example:
Me: Self isolating to slow the spread of the pandemic and give hospitals a chance
Him: But did my part for the day now looking for fun
Me: Babe stay home
Me: I have a 27-yo friend on a ventilator
Him: I’m not him
As we continued chatting, he kept saying, “My actions are my own.” I stalked his Instagram and realized that he was essentially treating the coronavirus as though it were an STI. For some gay men, because of the HIV epidemic, it is a matter of principle not to associate sex with fear. We avoid catastrophizing and stigmatizing illness and emphasize that everyone has a right to pleasure.
That framework does not apply to the coronavirus. Many in the gay community have spoken clearly and rationally about the very thin AIDS analogy. But there was an obvious disconnect last weekend, when several queer sex party organizers in New York, infuriatingly, sent defiant messages to their mailing lists about not shutting down. I’m aware of an organizer who ultimately relented, but at least one party seems to have gone forward—with an “everything but kissing” policy.
Right now, more than a week into widespread self-isolation, my Grindr is blessedly quiet. Since it is such a sensitive social seismometer, I will be continuing to monitor it. I hope there comes a point when I see some tremors, some indication that we again feel safe enough to roll around with strangers. And I think, if it comes, that first post-virus orgy will be great.