I never had posters of hot, oiled women on my bedroom walls when I was a teenage boy. Thank God. My older brother had one hanging beside his bed, some gaudy print of an off-duty Hooters waitress in a swimsuit two sizes too small for her aggressively large chest, her skin lubed to the point of requiring warning signs for nearby 18-wheelers. It was autographed, too, which I always found funny. That he asked a Hooters waitress for her autograph. That he had to rearrange the baskets of hot wings on the table so he could unfurl the poster and wait for her to write some special message. That this was probably not the first time she had to sign a poster while some creepy teenage boy with buffalo sauce breath wheezed heavily next to her. Teenage boys will be creeps. So the Bible says.
Of course, I never got to be a teenage creep. I was a nerd, first of all, and had an oversized poster of The Incredibles on my wall until I was maybe 17 years old, so outwardly expressing my budding teenage horniness was already unlikely. But also, I was gay and in the closet and scared of giving my secret away. Whenever my friends pulled out some raggedy issue of Playboy or appalling DVD they'd found buried in their own older brothers' sock drawers, I would act prudishly horrified. "How ghastly," I'd shout, clutching my pearls and fainting onto my velvet divan. "These bodies are for mothering and churning butter, not for our gawking!"
In an ideal world, I would have countered their discoveries with my own unsavoury findings. "I see your Playboy centrefold," I would have said, "and raise you this picture of a shirtless Nick Lachey walking his dog in Us Weekly. Please take note of the clingy grey gym shorts, as they are integral to the enjoyment of this photograph." But gay teenage boys don't get to be openly thirsty. Our options are limited to clutching our pearls or pretending to be straight, and neither of those are anybody's ideal. I never got to hang pictures of Hanson or Chad Michael Murray or Orlando Bloom on my bedroom wall. My adoration of *NSYNC could extend only as far as their musical stylings and not Justin Timberlake's sensual hips and deliciously crispy hair. I never got to admit that I only watched Desperate Housewives for the hot gardener, that I'd scrutinised Channing Tatum's entire modelling portfolio, that I could recite the exact timestamp in Troy when Brad Pitt's Grecian ass was almost fully visible. I didn't get to sleazily pass around dirty magazines full of disgustingly oiled men in swimsuits two sizes too small for their aggressively large bulges or hang an autographed print of some beefy jock who served me hot wings.
Likewise, I missed out on all the social flirtations, the lunchroom ogling and giggling, confessing blushingly who I thought had the best smile or hair or clothes, sitting on the bleachers with my friends watching boys play basketball — all the things that girls in teen movies do when they start liking guys. And, on the flip side, I never got the equivalent locker room exchanges, terrible as they might be, those thoughts that teen boys share when they start liking girls. I was trapped in the horrible, closeted homosexual middle.
I didn't come out officially until after I turned 20 — long after almost everybody else had caught on, but still. There were people I knew who still hadn't figured it out, and I wasn't eager to publicise the fact that I'd been a fan of Team Large Bulge the entire time. By then, I'd gone through my teenage years believing I had sufficiently disguised my sexuality beneath layers of awkward nerd. It still felt unusual to be gay publicly, on the internet. To advertise to the world that I was scrolling through Tumblrs full of Zac Efron's burgeoning abs (before Zac Efron became Hulk Efron), Tom Daley's butt in speedos, and Darren Criss's lustful eyebrows.
But Tumblr is the internet's bedroom wall, and that's where I began cultivating — at least semi-publicly (nobody followed me on the internet then) — my own collection of sleazy Hooters posters hanging beside my bed: Harry Styles in tiny yellow swim trunks, Nick Jonas's bulging arms, Anderson Cooper in a tight black shirt holding a sloth — all the things I would have taped inside my locker a decade before.
Today, like most Twitter Gays, I am proudly thirsty on the internet. I have no shame in following an unseemly number of attractive gentlemen on Instagram (though, to be fair, I stop short of leaving creepy comments à la old men on PornHub). I have tweeted my fair share of unprintable comments at the Hemsworth brothers. And, in fact, I got my job at BuzzFeed in 2012 in part because of early posts that I wrote unashamedly fawning over hot male Olympians and their impressive, muscled buttocks. Before long, I became — in essence, if not in name — the Thirst Reporter at BuzzFeed, penning any number of adoring posts about my shallowest internet man crushes, officially fulfilling my teenage self's need to publicly and proudly express my thanks for a beautiful set of abs and a chiselled jaw.
Of course, there are plenty of people on the internet who find the thirst of Gay Twitter irritating. And, I'll admit, teenage boy horniness isn't exactly a lifestyle to aspire to. But being a proudly thirsty gay on the internet is more than being annoyingly lustful for the sake of it. It's about reclaiming those moments when we couldn't be ourselves.
So, with my mild apologies to Chris Pratt, the thirst won't stop anytime soon.