Gay dating comes with its own considerations. When all your best male friends are straight, it's hard to ask if they spit or swallow, top or bottom or know where the hell one can buy lube.
Luckily, TV is a great place to find answers to intimate questions when your real-life friend group can't help you. After all, there's a reason waxing took off after Sex and the City openly discussed it (so much so it has almost spelled extinction for pubic lice).
While HBO's new show Looking sometimes talks about it's central theme of "sex versus intimacy" in broad platitudes, it still manages to speak accurately to the gay experience without melodrama or hyperbole — offering a refreshing, realistic twist on typical TV representation of gay life as it tackles conversations that most series would shy away from. Here are eight times that Looking has gotten gay sex and dating right.
1. The 'top or bottom?' conversation
Heterosexual sex is far from a slick operation, but at least there's an obvious instruction guide for how the pieces fit together. But when it comes to man-on-man action, there is inevitably a moment — whether it's a conversation beforehand or a silent passing of the buck in the sheets — when this decision has to be made.
When Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Richie (Raúl Castillo) chew the fat about the topic in a planetarium, it is painfully accurate; one person knows exactly what he does and doesn't want, and hopes his partner is going to be the right fit. It also helps that they use a Friends simile, describing Rachel as a top and Ross as a bottom. The comparison will also inevitably make its way onto "Grindr," speaking of which...
2. The pre- and post-Grindr "getting to know you" phase
When Dom (Murray Bartlett) invites a young man he met via "Grindr" over to his flat for a quick bout of coitus, the focus is as much on the semi-awkward conversations surrounding the sex as it is on the sex itself.
While hookup apps like "Grindr" and "Scruff" can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in terms of conversational quality, Looking captures a nice middle-ground: It depicts two strangers trying to form at least something of a bond before shagging each other, with a conversation to which many can relate.
3. When it's not always about your parents
When Patrick comes out, his parents' reaction rings so true for what many have experienced: They make it about themselves, worry about what the neighbors might think (damn you Keith and Marie!) and then accept it as if they've found nirvana.
But even better is Patrick's complete subversion of the "coming out" trope with his apathy about introducing partners to his parents. "I don't want to know about my parents' sex life, so why should they know about mine?" he says. And with that, a large section of gay men stood up and said "THANK YOU."
4. The weird things you remember from your "first time"
Looking understands the value of tiny, idiosyncratic observations. For example, when Patrick and Richie talk about their first times experimenting with men a lot of the details seem minor — like the hairiness of Patrick's computer camp buddy because he hit puberty early. But these little details make the story feel incredibly real and all the more relatable.
So maybe we haven't all attempted to seduce a man while straddling a missile (insert phallic joke here), but treading on eggshells to determine another man's sexuality is a fundamental part of many gay men's experience.
Patrick, in his attempts to target his boss (Russell Tovey) for potential seduction, is a fine example of the this careful deduction of sexual orientation that we've all gone through — even if we don't get to do it in cool places like below deck on a warship.
6. Couples being boring (in a great way)
One of the luxuries Looking's sedated tone affords us is a look at what some perfectly normal, everyday gay couples are like. Agustin and Frank (O.T. Fagbenle), for all their complications, act as a window into the lives a long-term gay couple going about their normal business. Do their actions always serve a purpose? Not plot-wise, no. But it's great to see two people sit on a sofa and discuss how boring they are while eating pizza. Most sitcoms have been characterizing straight couples in this manner for years.
7. Bad blind dates
We go on blind dates like anybody else, and they don't always end well.
When Patrick goes on such a date, romance (i.e. personality) clashes with practicality (i.e. he's rich) in a way I think anybody who's been set up with a stranger knows all too well.
8. Gay people just being people like anyone else.
In a recent interview Russell Tovey hit the nail on the head: This show can seem mundane because it's not about the crisis of discovery, but rather about just being a human being whose sexual partners happen to be male.
Fingers crossed that even if Looking doesn't survive to see a second season, someone will take up the mantle of continuing to talk about gay men (and maybe even the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum) in a similarly real way.