Humiliation is not a strong enough word.
The porcelain of the hotel bathtub is stained with what I can only hope are water spots. I’m naked and shivering because there’s no water filling the tub as I sit on my knees inside it.
You can say no, I tell myself over and over again. No one is making you do this.
Still, I can taste ejaculate in my mouth, which is making it difficult for me to speak. Suddenly, a rush of hot fluid begins to rain down on me, and I can’t help but ask myself, Who the fuck does this voluntarily?
Let’s rewind a couple of days.
“I think I need one,” I tell Hope as she slings two shot glasses onto the bar, knowing Derek isn’t going to take one with us. Strictly beer for a strictly queer, he always says.
“Let me see it, again,” I say as I look over at his phone screen, but he snatches it away.
“Stop being obsessive,” he instructs me as he holds the phone closer to his face.
“You’re the one who showed it to me in the first place!” I bite back, his grin an admission of his discourtesy. “You’re supposed to be my friend.”
“That’s why I showed you,” Derek reminds me. “The boy is a shameless slut. You can do a lot better than that.”
“Being on Grindr doesn’t make you a whore,” Hope interjects, lighting a cigarette and blowing smoke in Derek’s face.
“It does when you’re on it like this,” Derek replies, flashing his phone toward Hope. Shocked, she chokes on her own smoke and takes a step away. I was shocked, too, when Derek first showed me. The headline reads, “Come and get it,” over a shirtless photo of Iron Henry staring off into space with the same dead eyes found in pageant photos of JonBenét Ramsey.
Looking at him there, like a toy eager for a child to select it from the store shelf, my stomach sinks and my face contorts.
“Why is he on Grindr?” I ask. “Why is anyone on Grindr?”
“Sex. Duh,” Derek answers with a chuckle and a sip of his beer.
“Men are disgusting,” I reply, trying to shake the image from my mind like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing. The problem is that the image doesn’t erase so easily. It contorts and dilates into something bigger, something harder to push away.
I like Henry. I’ve liked Henry since we first met. He’s smart. He knows about politics. He can be funny without really trying. It doesn’t hurt that he is easy on the eyes. Still, having seen him in that way, having known that there’s something a bit more carnal about him, and acknowledging that he’s just as disgusting as some other men changes something in my mind about him. It shouldn’t, but it does.
“What happened to dating? Isn’t that what these apps were for in the first place? Tinder, Grindr, Bumble.”
“JDate,” Derek adds, a nod at my Jewish heritage. I can only roll my eyes.
“What happened to meeting people and making connections with them? It’s almost as if these apps are replacing all of that.”
“They are,” Derek adds. “Remember when you used to meet someone because a friend introduced you? Well, you probably don’t. You’re like… 10.”
Derek is a close friend of mine, though twice my age. He and his partner, also named Derrick, have been together for 13 years. “How did you and Derrick meet?” I ask, surprised it’s never come up before.
“Well, back then, we didn’t have dating apps or websites. We had these chat lines that you could call into, and they would pair you up with someone you didn’t know. We talked for a while on one of those. But it was different then, because you had to have a real conversation with someone and get to know them. There were no naked pictures or sexy text messages.” Derek orders another beer from Hope, giggling to himself. “And for a while, I wasn’t ready to give up my life — I’d lived in downtown Houston forever and went to the clubs and hooked up. But Derrick was 10 years older and he was settled in the suburbs.” He begins laughing again. “Then, one day, I was lost in Houston somewhere and my cell phone was dying, and I called him and told him he had to come find me. When he asked where I was, I told him I didn’t know, but that all the newspapers were in Spanish.”
“Dear God, you’re helpless,” I tease.
“But sure enough, after my phone died and I’d waited for an hour per his instructions, Derrick showed up, somehow knowing exactly where I was.”
“Is that when you knew? You know, that he was the one for you?”
“Absolutely. I told myself then, Go home with the guy who implanted a GPS tracker in your brain.”
I nearly spit out my drink.
“The thing about it is,” he continues. “These apps are replacing our meet-cutes. Sure, you can log online and decide to meet in a bar for a few drinks before you go home and fuck. The problem is that if you can meet me in a bar and go home with me, who’s to say that you won’t meet someone else in another bar and go home with them, too?”
“I met Iron Henry in a bar,” I mutter.
Derek only nods; Hope purses her lips across from us. I stare down at the bar for a minute, that image of Henry on Grindr superimposed over my own reflection in the granite countertop. When I raise my head, everything around me looks different. The bar is darker, the faces of my friends are unsmiling. And I’ve made the decision to see what it is about Grindr that keeps everyone so stuck to their phones, so wary of real interaction.
A minute later, the app is installed and I’m walking the plank.