Every time I go out to work on the gay scene, at least one gay man will say to me “I hate the scene.” Snarling like their lips have caught on barbed wire they will lecture me on how things have changed, how they loathe this superficial, shallow, bitchy, cliquey, materialistic, un-intellectual community. But you are complicit in everything that you hate. You are part of the problem.
Gay men are born with an inherent otherness, as queer people we feel as though we are on the margin of society. Our lives aren’t represented in mainstream media, we don’t get to chase other little boys around the playground to peck them on the cheek or have a mock-courtship like straight kids do as they learn and grow. We feel alienated by our very culture, there is no guide for how to navigate this world as a queer person. So we try to assimilate, to pass, be masc. Every time I go out to work on the gay scene, at least one gay man will say to me “I just want to find a bloke who isn’t on the scene.”
This statement makes me sour. I have never been understood why hating your entire peer group is somehow a boastful or attractive quality. It usually indicates that they want a man whose traits are the absolute inverse of “the scene” around them, which usually means their ideal man is one who adheres to a pretty shallow set of hyper-masculine standards. But there aren’t enough straight acting muscular hairy tattooed men who don’t frequent gay clubs to go around. Sorry.
Our attractions and fetishes are cultural phenomena; they are a product of our surroundings. Images of perfect bodies are everywhere in gay culture. Even the way we look for potential partners is tainted by this; the gay app technology our generation has grown up with necessitates that we use a profile picture to identify if they’d be a good date, or a lay. We categorise men by body type (twinks, bears, otters, etc.) and use that system to filter out who we potentially find attractive. This strict categorisation usually idealises masculinity, and it is easy for many of us to fall through the cracks. Reed thin boys are designated as twinks, too femme for many to fuck, and the bear tribe requires a very specific amount of fat, muscle and fur. ‘No fats, no femmes, no Asians, no blacks’ is a disgustingly frequent mantra on gay apps, and the scariest part is there are a huge swathe of today’s generation of gay men who are too dense to realise that this is not only deeply racist, but they think its natural, that they plopped out of the womb with a predilection for white dick. No. Your tastes in men, your fetishes, your attitudes towards dating are all products of the society that you grew up in. We are complicit in this system of superficiality and exclusion that is making too many men within today’s generation of gay men insecure, discontented and depressed.
This image obsessed culture also affects us deeply as individuals as well as altering our gaze. Of course, the desire to be physically attractive is completely healthy and human, we seek to make ourselves appealing to others in order to form connections. However as gay men we seem to have confused who we are with how we look. Every single person on this planet knows what it’s like to stand in front of the mirror and hack themselves into pieces, instead of seeing a whole body it is broken into love handles, a beer belly, bad skin.
This dissatisfaction with our bodies is beginning to make us rot.
On four separate occasions whilst working boys have shown me their stomachs, bound up in cling film to conceal their bellies beneath their t-shirts for the night. I know boys who long for surgery. I know boys who have thrown up after meals. I know boys who can only have sex if they’re wasted, I know boys who feel too insecure to have sex at all. I understand and love all of you who have ever questioned your self-worth because of your appearance, I’ve never taken my shirt off in public, my self-esteem is a work in progress (except in drag, my misshapen ironing board body is somehow less vulgar in lingerie and a ratty wig).
This is not to say that today’s generation of gay men are all equally emotionally crippled, but we are all undeniably in an environment where a premium is placed on a very specific type of physical attractiveness and it can be difficult for lots of gay men to resist equating our looks to our worth, which has subsequent effects on how we relate to ourselves and to one another. This can run the gamut from scowling at one’s appearance in the mirror, to scapegoating other gay men for our insecurities, to mental illness and drug abuse. The amount of gay men with eating disorders has skyrocketed, and chemsex, the alarming phenomenon of gay men using hard drugs to facilitate prolonged partying and rampant sex, to me indicates something disturbing that even a tiny subculture of gay men need drugs to bolster their ability to be intimate.
It is such a deep-rooted problem that there is no immediate solution to. Maybe considering that there might be a problem within our culture as gay men would be a step towards a solution in itself. You should also try to be kinder to yourselves and how you relate to your body, and kinder in how you perceive and react to the bodies and souls around you, and consider what it is about other gay men around you that incites your attraction, or repulsion, and what that shows you about yourself. These are all infinitesimally small steps out of the mud, but would begin to improve the mental health and quality of life of our community. And if you still feel as though you hate “the scene” around you, change it, instill it with your values. I personally hang around with all kinds of lovely creatives and weirdos and find the flourishing queer scene in Birmingham a fulfilling place to be.
Find your tribe, or realise that the one you have isn’t as bad as you think.
Words – China Dethcrash
Images – Tyler Schoeber