As gay men, for some us, sexual desirability is better than having a high credit score. It’s social capital. It’s virtue. Your positive attributes are accentuated. I’ve seen people get jobs without references. Honestly.
Desirability is also, I suppose, a kind of shield. We imagine it will protect us from loneliness, but it doesn’t. The masculinity we attempt to portray and the body beautiful we attempt to achieve might equal more sexual opportunities, but sex and consequentially sexual desirability, we soon learn does not always stop the loneliness. It’s a temporary fix to an enduring problem.
The app culture does not seem to help either. I find it amusing and at times unsettling that our interactions are becoming frequently mediated by mobile devices. When I’m with friends phones are checked compulsively for messages. Hook-ups are coordinated as efficiently as ordering take-out, which can be a good thing, I suppose, and not so good in other ways.
In the age of Grindr, the perception of sexual choice creates an illusion of freedom so that other injustices are masked far more effectively. Consumerism isn’t just about products anymore, it’s also about bodies, particularly when the bodies being sought after reflect the values of the dominant culture.
Pictures are flashed, on profiles, when I’m out with friends, to show the sexy guy that’s pursuing them. Perhaps to also reveal on some level that they can attract such a guy. Other times pictures are flashed on profiles to show how repulsive someone is and to express intentions of blocking them. I’ve also found how apps function socially in conversations with friends and acquaintances as a way to share information about someone that we know. As if their profile online reveals some truth about them that might not be available otherwise.
Body parts available for view on profiles and at times ranked and rated cruelly, usually by the proximity of said body parts to market driven notions of beauty, from body image to masculinity. These are rules that are enforced, you better not desire something too far outside the acceptable spectrum of patriarchal masculinity and male body perfection.
And we bond around our shrieks and giggles. It’s fun, initially. I laugh with my friends, and participate in it too, while loathing my complicity in something I know we are all harmed by and baffled at our participation in a system that does not serve us.
It’s hard, I suppose, not to become trained to technology in a way, where profile views and virtual acknowledgements from others provide a temporary lift, a high, a kind of sexual sugar rush. The opposite of desire is not necessarily repulsion, but invisibility, and to be desired is to be visible for many of us. And of course like any high, we eventually crash. Then we start the search again.
Of the culture of “no fats, no fems,” no, maybe not the culture, it’s more like a stamp. As an idealogy it flattens. It reduces. It becomes not only a filter but a worldview. It functions like a job description — “bachelors required, masters preferred.” But it does not just filter, it also dehumanizes. It does not bring into focus, it does not clarify, it distorts. I think it lowers us. For our imaginations to be narrowed to the most market driven notions of male beauty. We are all used salesmen, hawking our body parts online to the highest bidder. And yet, perhaps, it feels good to exclude. Perhaps it feels good to reject, when as gay men we have often or at some point been excluded, at some point been marginalized by straight culture.
Desire is inherently hierarchical, I suppose. To desire something a lot necessities desiring something else less. I get it. But perhaps there are ways we can practice desire that might assume and include preferences, without mirroring so robotically the dominant narratives around masculinity and it’s value which ultimately oppresses us. Perhaps there are ways we can develop models for sexual practices that are more affirming, more humanizing and ultimately not so complicit in the dominant culture.
I’ve been thrilled by books like the wonderful anthology by Mattilda Bernstein SycamoreWhy Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification and the Desire to Conform. I look forward to more examples that take on the body image culture and cult of masculinity among gay men without mere critique, but also providing new models, examples, and blueprints.
Surely, there can be spaces, erotic zones for gay men that prefer perhaps more muscular and thin bodies and masculinity. I just hope to see more virtual and physical spaces spring up that celebrate the diversity, and not just superficially but erotically, of gay men’s range of body types, backgrounds and gender expression. And also, not just in a narrow targeted way like “this is the app for bears,” and “this is the app for fem boys.” There should be spaces where we are brought together not just based on preferred body type or fetish, but erotic spaces based on principle, sensibility and intentionality.