It's V-Day! We prefer to think of that as Venereal Day, as well as the day we publish the winners of our very first Gay Modern Love Essay Contest! The first essay is by The Gay Recluse: "Thanks to Stephen, I came out twice. First as gay, then as a recluse..."
"It's late November 1998. I'm 30 years old and a total closet-case: it's past midnight and I'm scrolling through the men-seeking-men listings of Web Personals. During the day, I still like to tell myself that—although I'm not exactly a virgin in the same-sex department—whatever homo tendencies I have are basically a minor health problem; in short, as soon as I meet the right girl, I will be "cured" of the desire to say, head out to Prospect Park at 11:30 on a Tuesday night or—as I have been doing more and more as the days grow shorter—take a walk through the virtual hallways of the internet..."

There are three categories to choose from: relationship, friends ("as if") and sex. (Guess which one I go for.) Among the ads that catch my attention (and this being 1998, there are no photographs) is one from a 41 y.o. GWM, 6'3", 240lbs and hairy. Although I'm somewhat deterred by the "G," I imagine a strong and vaguely angry-looking man with a buzz-cut and receding hairline. Moreover, he doesn't use the term "bear" but "linebacker," which appeals to the hockey player in me. Why this gets me going is an unsolved mystery at this point, but it most certainly does; in an agitated state, I send off of a reply: 30 y.o. GWM 5'11"/175 looking for...(whatever the equivalent of NSA was in 1998). It's the first time I've ever used a "G," and while part of me doesn't like it, I figure if it gets me what I want, nobody else will ever have to know.

A few days later, I get a response in my secret "Gay-O-L" account. Stephen suggests we meet at a diner in Hell's Kitchen. For me, the intervening days and then hours are marked by repeated mental games of "what the fuck am I doing" and interludes of queasy anticipation. When I arrive and look for someone matching his description, I am nervous—what if he lied?—and generally relieved that it's five o'clock and already completely dark outside. But to my astonishment, when we find each other, he is not only all of the above—as if molded from my dreams—but has the most intense green eyes; one glance leaves me more naked than I've felt in my entire life. My head is filled with an onslaught of distortion and melody; for once I am living one of my all-time favorite Hüsker Dü songs. My fingertips—the same ones that have memorized every note of Zen Arcade over the past decade—itch with anticipation. I try not to dwell on the implications of this, and think only of the night ahead.

Inside we order coffee and spend a few minutes talking. It turns out his "linebacker" description was a bit of a red herring; though he looks the part, his knowledge of sports is nil. Moreover he works as an opera director; not coincidentally, he has been out since the beginning of time. I don't initially respond to this as we marvel at the power of technology, which has brought together such an unlikely pair. We ceremoniously thank the internet and imagine ourselves as circles on a Venn diagram with infinite degrees of separation.

"And what about you?" he finally asks, expressing (at least as I read it) a mix of real curiosity and—if not disdain—coy skepticism. I'm sure he knows that my "G" was a bit of a stretch. For the first time ever, I'm actually bothered by not being out. I feel ignorant to have worked in a record store for five years without knowing one thing about opera besides "Pavarotti." (And worse, that I have done this in the wake of graduating from NYU Law School.) I think it might not be so cool to share an apartment with 1000 of my Brooklyn friends and cohorts, even if we did build a sound-proof rehearsal room in our basement that's home to an equal number of indie-rock bands; or so impressive that my own band has five records and tours, or that we made the top-thirty on the CMJ radio charts last summer.

I finally decide to answer him directly: Nobody knows. (That is, except a few anonymous strangers.)

"Not even your mother?"

"Are you kidding me?"

"What about your friends?"

"Nope—no one."

He nods slowly and I try not to think how this must look. To my relief, his beautiful eyes remain placid, forgiving and even desirous. After all, I remind myself, it's only sex. I change the subject. "Where did you say you live?"

"Uptown—Washington Heights." Once again I have no idea what he's talking about, but decide not to make my usual quip about never going above 14th Street.

I ask him what led him to move there.

"I'm a bit of a recluse," he says, before explaining that it's cheap and that he doesn't mind being an outsider; sometimes he even prefers it. Unlike me, he has only a few friends he sees rarely and is not particularly "close" to his family. As I listen to this, my mind begins to race as I picture myself in his shoes. What would I do without my friends? (Where would I get drunk?) If I came out, would they forgive me for selling so many years of lies? And my family! All of my older brothers and sisters, married with children, what would they think if I ever described our relationship so perfunctorily, with such distance? Equally disgusted and intoxicated, I could suddenly see myself like Stephen—a recluse—obsessively devoted to the most queenly pursuits of silverware, mid-century modern, Schopenhauer and alpine gardening.

He laughs as he considers me, and seems to understand what he represents in terms of both yearning and doubt. "So—do you want to come over?" He places his hand over mine for a second and removes it.

"More than anything," I say, and now—ten years later—his is a destiny I am happy to call our own. [The Gay Recluse]

[Illustration: Cristy C. Road]