5 Things Gay Men Did on ‘Looking’ That I’d Never Do

Revisiting the unthinkable on the HBO series’ fifth anniversary.

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Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Kevin (Russell Tovey) connect on Looking (Photo: HBO)

You can’t create an HBO series about a small circle of friends in a big city and expect people not to mention Girls and Sex and the City. Make the gang gay, and get ready for references to Queer As Folk, which aired on Showtime, not HBO, from 2000 to 2005.

When Looking debuted on HBO five years ago today (January 19), all the expected comparisons were made. Though the series, which ran for two seasons and spawned one movie, was grittier and more Sundance-y than its glossy predecessors, the QAF comparison was the only one I didn’t cosign. QAF episodes ran at least 15 minutes longer, and the Pittsburgh-set (and Toronto-filmed) serial felt almost defiantly white, middle-class, and middle-American.

QAF also was more of a traditional nighttime soap, featuring a larger principal cast and overlapping stories, while the core characters of Looking, Girls, and SATC (the series, unlike the two feature films) mostly inhabited their own storylines, coming together mainly to catch each other up.

On a purely aesthetic level, Looking had the more naturalistic feel of a talky big-screen indie, particularly Weekend, the 2011 gay romance directed by Looking co-executive producer Andrew Haigh. It was a whitewash, for sure (though less of one than the blindingly Caucasian QAF), but it also scrubbed away San Francisco’s picturesque polish to reveal the inner-city grit underneath (by contrast, Girls’ New York City was whitewashed in the opposite direction, to a shiny, happy sheen), and the episodic, plot-free structuring reeked of meandering reality.

As for the characters, Sex and the City inspired endless conversations about which lady you are (me: Miranda with a Samantha rising), but Looking’s central trio — Patrick (Jonathan Groff), the main protagonist, his sometime roommate Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and fortysomething Dom (Murray Bartlett)— were too ordinary and un-archetypical for such comparison games. (Groff was best known for his work on Glee, and Bartlett once appeared on SATC as Carrie Bradshaw’s well-connected gay friend.)

I wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with Patrick, Agustín, or Dom in real life. That’s not because they were bad people — it’s just that I have so little in common with any of them.

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From left: Agustín, Patrick, and Dom (Photo: HBO)

And those things they did. Well, I’d never! occasionally flashed through my mind as I watched the antics of Looking’s gays. Here are five of the more unthinkable ones.

In these modern times of texting, emails, and online stalking, when you no longer even have to call someone up and leave a message on an answering machine, why would anyone opt to make second contact in person anyway (which might have been the tell-tale sign that Dom wasn’t looking to hook up with Lynn … at first)? You don’t even have to have sex in person anymore!

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Dear Patrick: Dating your boss is never a good idea. (Photo: HBO)

I did sort of fall for my personal physician during my last decade or so in New York City, though. He looked great in a long, white cotton coat, which couldn’t hide the bulges in his upper torso. What a dreamboat.

Had he ever decided to make a move on me, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist. But I wouldn’t have started up anything unless I was sure he was single and I was safely under the care of another doctor — preferably one who didn’t wear a stethoscope so well.

Back when I was more inclined to indulge in such sport, I had the same strict rule as Samantha Jones on Sex and the City: Only the guest star, never a series regular — with an extra emphasis on guest star.

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It’s not that I’m modest or prudish. After all, I once entered a shirtless contest in Melbourne (and won!), and I met my boyfriend there because his then-girlfriend couldn’t believe that I was wearing a pullover with no shirt underneath. How scandalous.

I’d still wear that pullover without a tee, but nowadays, I’m wary of going sleeveless, unless I’m running or at the gym. At least then the sweat dripping down my arms would deter people from touching me. Otherwise, bare arms are like baby bumps. People seem to think sleevelessness gives them the right to reach out and feel you without asking.

Years ago when I was living in Buenos Aires, my friend Rob and I took a Christmas road trip to Cordoba, Argentina. After our second night out, Rob ended up back at our rental with a guy that his wingman — yours truly — had scored for him. My helpfulness was quickly rewarded: I left with a with tall, handsome Argentine who didn’t speak a word of English.

I wasn’t thrilled when his roommate got into the taxi, too, but it ended up being for the best. I’d run out of money at the club, and I’d left my ATM card at the rental, so the roommate dutifully paid the fare. I figured that would be the last I saw of him. If only it had been.

A few hours later, as I was preparing to leave, he was the bearer of bad news. I was much farther from where I was staying than I thought, which was complicated by the fact that I had no cash and no map, and I was wearing boots that definitely were not made for walking.

As I weighed my options in my head (make that option: enduring blisters and asking strangers to guide me along the way, as GPS-equipped mobile phones were still not commonplace then), the roommate, who had been feasting on me with hungry eyes since the taxi ride, made a seriously indecent proposal.

“I’ll give you fifty pesos for a taxi, if you let me give you a blow job.” His ponytail, his exposed pot belly, and the way he was dangling the money like it was a bag of cocaine made him look like a pimp. And a cheap one at that: The then-exchange rate made 50 pesos less than $15!

His ponytail, his exposed pot belly, and the way he was dangling the money like it was a bag of cocaine made him look like a pimp.

“En serio? No way. Even if I had been that desperate for money, fifty pesos wouldn’t have been enough. I’d never take less than one thousand!” It had to be a game, so I decided to play along to see how much I was worth.

“Okay, I’ll give you one thousand, as much as you want.” If I thought he was joking before, his desperation was now obvious. If I had the time, he had the money.

“No, I’m not actually for sale.”

“Can I just touch it?”

“Um, no, you cannot touch it. Thanks for the offer, but I’m not a prostitute. Now explain to me again how I get home.”

I was relieved that the one I had come there for was preoccupied with a text and probably couldn’t understand a word of our conversation. But I wasn’t naive enough to expect him not to spill all the details of our tryst in Spanish and give his roommate a vicarious thrill as soon as I departed.

“Can I just look at it then? Please? I really want to see it.”

It took me an hour to walk back to the rental. My feet may have been killing me, but what was left of my virtue remained intact. Had his first offer been $220, which was the amount CJ on Looking charged for one hour of his time with Agustín and Agustín’s hot boyfriend Frank, might I have reconsidered?

Of course not. But it’s always nice to know that your value is closer to air fare than the cost of a 15-minute taxi ride.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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