It’s Been Way Too Long
by Sam Freedman

art by Jorin Bossen

1. Club Bahia


The clarion call. There’s a makeshift photo booth on a landing to the left — in other words, there’s an armchair with three balloons and a ring light on a landing to the left, but when you’re as biologically camera-ready as the 25-year-old queers I’ve arrived with, all you need is a prompt.

I don’t recall taking this many photos at 25. I’m 29. Why do four years feel like forty?

Still, the pic’s the priority, so I join, and then I stand a few feet away so they can take a few without me. In my mind’s eye, I’m Shrek, so this is a nice thing for me to do.

We’re at a biweekly queer line dancing event. The biweekly queer line dancing event. For an overwhelming majority of the American populace, ‘queer’ and ‘line dancing’ are not terms that belong in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence, but for a mighty minority, Stud Country has become so culturally prime that even a handful of celebrities make a habit of being there.

Hence the photos. The being there is the point. Because despite the fact that everyone, to their credit, does actually try to learn the dances, I struggle to believe that more than a dozen of the fashionable young Angelenos in attendance ever had the slightest desire to do this particular type of dancing before Stud Country queered it into a fad. I certainly hadn’t, but I’m also not fashionable. And that’s the other point: looking hot while doing it.

I discovered thrifted fashion only recently. Not thrift stores — thrifted fashion. Cobbling together a willfully ill-fitting fit from an electrician’s old jeans and a coarse Hanes t-shirt commemorating a Rotary Club luncheon in Idaho and somehow cropping the two into a match made in heaven, or at least a perfect complement to one’s deliberately shitty haircut. And I’m not saying that I, myself, have mastered the art of thrifted fashion, because I haven’t. In fact, when I wear garments like these, or if I deliberately get a shitty haircut, I don’t look chic. I look like a moron. The same cannot be said for the 25-year-old queers I’ve arrived with. They look radiant. And they know it. And they’ve got the pictures to prove it. 

They’ve been queer to the world as long as I have, yet somehow, they’re far more up to the task. My siblings and I attended the same high school six years apart, and for the bulk of my time in that Hollistered hellscape, there was one openly gay kid across all four grades, and he dated the one openly gay kid in a neighboring school district, and everyone thought it was so, so cute. Those condescending coos scared me worse than death itself. So I didn’t just want to be straight; I was straight. The cognitive dissonance was so powerful that when I went to college and had sex with a man for the very first time, I insisted it wasn’t sex — it was anal. The following year, my sister informed me that even the jocks at Byram Hills High School understood that gender was a construct.

Anyway, so is Instagram, and that’s what my 25-year-old Stud Country cohorts have yet to realize. I’m 29. I know better. Some people are here to dance.

And dance we do. For the half hour to follow, Sean, the venerated, gently mustached architect of this Queer-as-Folksy affair, teaches us the steps to alt-pop maven Caroline Polachek’s “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” a song that I — pinballing among the attendees, the fear of God in my eyes — find far too pleasant to warrant a routine this fucking complicated. The 25-year-olds, however, have picked up the moves like bees to pollen, kicking and coastering through the morass, gracefully rebounding from minor missteps and hardly skipping a beat in the process. When Sean ups the tempo, I slink off to the periphery; the 25-year-olds stick it out.

My friends in other cities have heard tell of Stud Country. They ask what makes it so renowned. I explain it’s that rarest of gems: a safe space for everyone. Queers of all conceivable presentations. Bears and twinks. Butches and femmes. Pan folks, trans folks, bi girls with boyfriends. Every color in the rainbow. Every letter in the acronym. It’s not your uncle’s gay club; it’s a warm, sometimes unbearably balmy womb in which the full spectrum of sexual diversity thrives.

“But you like gay clubs,” a friend points out. “You just spend a lot of time with lesbians.”

That friend is 29.

“Sam, you’re in the…”

The first lesson’s over, and one 25-year-old is poised for a selfie with another.  I’ve just been informed the latter’s an influencer. There are stakes here. I’m behind them when they understandably wish I were elsewhere, so I clear out; I’m sure there’s somewhere I can stand where I’m not in someone’s photo.

And there is — it’s by the taco window. That’s where the old gays sit. There are only a few, which is always the case, because most of them died a long time ago. The ones who remain are pretty good at the dances. I see them every time I’m here.

2. Fire Island Pines

“That’s him.”

My friend points. Through a doorway, there’s a butt-naked man with gray sideburns hilt-deep in someone’s jaws.



Well now I know.

My friend fucked him eight hours prior. They did it on a bed beside six other men, one of whom apparently complained, himself in the midst of a rectal reception, that it had been a very long night.

My night had gone differently, and I was feeling sad about it, so I asked my friend if he could introduce me to the man with gray sideburns. Not so I too could take him out for a very long night, but because he appeared to know, and have biblically known, every man within a half-mile radius, and it seemed reasonable to expect that he might know someone who didn’t like abs anyway and would find me sufficient.

The man with gray sideburns emerges, Speedo back on its perch, and my friend introduces us and tells him I’m looking for love. He asks what my type is. I tell him guys who don’t look like me. He laughs, unsure if I’m kidding, but I’m not. So he tells me he’ll keep an eye.

When he takes his leave, my friend tells me he’s 42. That doesn’t exactly surprise me — he looks it, and anyhow, 40’s the new 30. No one can afford a house. But then he tells me something that does surprise me: The man had been married. To a woman. For years.

Ever since the divorce, this has been his world. Working a hoity-toity job that supplies the considerable funds necessary to spend his summers on Fire Island, bottoming his way down beaches and boardwalks, swallowing cock and vodka-sodas and living about as gay an existence as anyone can or ever really should.

I find this revelatory, because I probably came out a decade and a half earlier than he did, and I certainly never married a woman, nor even seriously dated one (I came close several times, but for some reason, I was never quite ready), and yet this man has accrued, in a few short years, a gay resume that puts mine and virtually all my friends’ to shame. It’s a stunning feat of faggotry. I’m floored.

And that night, the man with the gray sideburns delivers on his word. At a breezy DJ set by the water, he introduces me to an attractive Indian neurosurgeon who immediately smashes his lips against mine and asks me, breathing into my nostrils, what my name is.

He tells me he’s renting a home here for the summer. Does it every year. I should come by. I notice he’s a bit gray of beard himself, and because I haven’t slept in days and White Claws are my solitary source of hydration on this godforsaken rock, I ask how old he is. He tells me he’s 45. I tell him I kinda had the feeling. And because he probably hasn’t slept in days and White Claws are his solitary source of hydration on this godforsaken rock, he doesn’t punch me in the face. Instead, he laughs. Tells me I’m funny. And bites my lip like it’s his own.

I don’t end up visiting his house, but I do run into him at a party the next night. He’s nude and fully erect. He gives me a hug. Tells me he knows the owner.

“Do you know everyone at this party?” I ask him.

“Not everyone,” he replies. “But a lot of them.”

“That’s pretty fun.”

“Yeah.” He smiles. “I enjoy it.”

Before long, the sun rises, and I trudge amidst the reeds. I smell like testosterone, but I can’t tell whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I feel a very long way from home.

These wooden walkways are filled with history. History written in semen. Generations of men on the margins, taking ferries to this skinny little sea noodle, fleeing hate and disease and police persecution and opening their hearts and their assholes to the island’s exquisite possibilities. 

And what do I know of it?

I suppose I’m partaking in the grand tradition just by being here. Seeing the sights. Smelling the smells. Swapping spit with those old enough to have swapped spit with those old enough to remember a time when President Reagan let their loved ones die. There are ghosts out here. This is the closest I’ve come to meeting them.

Then again, I prepared for this weekend by starving myself. Angels in America wasn’t much of a primer. 

3. Chiropractor

“Oh my god, the Piiiiines!”
Then he snaps my neck.

Every time he does this, I wonder if he’ll eventually kill a patient, and whether that patient is me, and whether today is that day. Still, it feels pretty good.

He wants to know all about my trip. He used to spend lots of time in the Pines way back when, which at this point was thirty years ago, and he’s curious if it’s changed. 

I tell him it probably hasn’t.

He asks if I met anyone special. I tell him my friend did, this man with gray sideburns (I didn’t phrase it that way), and we’d actually met up with him at a late-night NYC Pride party the following weekend when I had a migraine and he very sweetly bought me a Gatorade. But in spite of some random acts of kindness, I ended the trip feeling pretty dejected, because gay men are unserious and dating them is impossible. So no — I didn’t meet anyone special.

He cackles. “Honey, I didn’t mean that kind of special.”

I ask him what kind of special he meant.

He sighs: “Ah, boy. How old are you?”

I tell him 29.

He cackles again.

He tells me about a trip he once took to the Pines. He met this man — “I’m telling you, Sam, the most goddamn beautiful man I’d ever seen.” They walked down the beach at dusk, just like straight people do in the movies. Went back to the house the man was staying at. Dragged a mattress onto the roof. Made love until dawn.

“It was right out of a fairytale. I mean, just one of the most perfect nights of my entire fuckin’ life.”

I ask what came of it, and he shrugs. “Never saw him again.”

When he’s done rearranging my spine, I put my shoes on and pay for the service. As he sticks my card in the reader, he gets a distant look in his eyes.

“I gotta get back there,” he says. “It’s been way too long.”

There’s something melancholic in his tone, and immediately, I start to do the math. How old is he, exactly? How many of his friends made it past the 90s?

No sooner does his smile return. He claps a hand on my shoulder. “You’re young,” he tells me. “Don’t worry about love. You’ll find it. Go sleep around.”

I thank him for the visit. And then, as I make my way into the lobby, he adds: 

“You look great, by the way. Take lots of pictures.”