“Is it more embarrassing to admit your flaws and questionable behavior, or to deny them when it’s obvious that what you are writing has autobiographical elements?” wonders Stephen McCauley, author of the gay comedy of manners, “Alternatives to Sex.”
McCauley’s fifth novel concerns William, a Boston based realtor who shares the author’s obsession for cleaning products like expensive vacuums, and cruises the Internet for sex.
Which begs the question, does McCauley go online, looking for love?
“My partner and I have been in a monogamous relationship for 14 years. So the answer is yes,” he admits freely.
But when pressed for the names of some of his favorite sites, McCauley says, “I don’t go to porn sights,” and instead describes the blogs he reads, “Americablog” and “Huffingtonpost,” adding, “there are so many people out there writing these incredibly personal blogs—there is so much of it out there it is almost a form of privacy. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing,” he opines, “most of it is completely uninteresting.
After evading the question, McCauley candidly discusses what he enjoys about cruising for sex on the net.
“During online hookups, you get to know very little about the person you are having sex with, while at the same time, you are meeting him in his most private moments. A married man having sex on the side—you are party to his deepest secret.”
He continues, “Once you are aware of how much infidelity is out there, it’s hard not to wonder if anyone is faithful. The number of ostensibly heterosexual married men in gay chat rooms and hookup sites is astonishing. The Internet is a safe, anonymous way to explore fantasies. Maybe it’s not good for one’s marriage, but for one’s personal fulfillment it probably is.”
“I look at what’s going on in the world, and bad behavior—I don’t consider having safe, responsible sex—even if it is of an obsessive nature—really all that bad in the scheme of thing,” said McCauley. “It’s a tremendous relief to me.”
“One thing that is really great about this total lack of inhibition—writing anything, sending [naked] photos—is that whatever you are into sexually, or in terms of some esoteric, or obscure seeming interest, is that there is a whole community of people out there into the same thing.”
That thing, may not necessarily, however be the obvious.
“In ‘Alternatives to Sex,’” said the author, “it seems clear that William is not really looking for sex, he’s really looking for some deeper meaning in his life a deeper connection, for love, I suppose.“
Readers familiar with McCauley’s work will recognize that his characters are “fuck-ups inching towards greater self awareness,” and that love is part of what makes them come to terms with who they really are.
The author has first-hand knowledge of this as he explains that he is more comfortable with himself now than he was even five years ago. “During my 20s, I was extremely unhappy, and involved in a lot of self-destructive behavior. That was a period of great personal hardship. It made me more sensitive to difficulties in people’s lives, and more tolerant of mistakes. When I turned 50 this year, I became much more forgiving of my own massive limitations. As a writer and teacher, I’m less apologetic for the skills I lack. Now I feel more like, ‘This is what I have to offer, take it or leave it!’”
And yet McCauley does not shy away from discussing his foibles, “I am frequently using a cell phone in situations where I would be outraged if someone else was doing it. It’s narcissism. Everything in our lives is so important to us. Listening to someone else’s grocery list is boring. When it’s your own, it has great importance. You create a little cocoon for yourself. Walking down the street in the city, chatting with a friend is a defense against the ‘assaultiveness’ of the world.”
Curiously, this kind of (self) perception may be what makes McCauley such a shrewd judge of character, and such a good writer. He is willing to expose his own hang-ups with disarming honesty. But he also makes certain to mention his own personal alternatives to sex: “yoga—though it’s a horrible cliché, but I’ve been doing it since I was 15—and pills. I tend to be anxiety prone, so it’s a very good way to relax.”