by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
A growing number of Gay men, particularly Gay men of color, are speaking out against something they say has been bothering them since the beginning of online dating. These men claim that some men who use mobile hookup apps like Grindr are racist. And the problem, they say, is only getting worse.
Michael Bennett, a well-known commentator on hip-hop, race relations, and American culture on his blog www.poeticjustice.me, recently said, 'When I began to consider the possibility of coming out as a Gay male, I imagined the announcement would trigger a series of predictable phases. First, there would be a bit of a shock. A handful of friends would be surprised. Some would say they knew all along. Some would simply congratulate me. Then, there would be the embrace. I would be welcomed into the Gay community, a world full of rainbows and hugs and all that jazz.
'This all happened, to an extent,' he explained. 'But really, the first thing I vividly remember about joining the Gay community was a series of messages on Grindr.'
Grindr is a location-based smartphone application that displays the closest Gay/Bi/closeted/married men based on their proximity. Bennett admits, 'Grindr was not best place to start.'
A RUSH TO LABEL
Once his Grindr profile was up and running, he was shocked to read, 'Sorry, not into chest hair.' And also, 'You look real masc.' And finally, 'Sup, otter?'
New to the Gay community, Bennett says he was confused. 'What the hell is an 'otter'?' he wondered, adding, 'Why in the world are you abbreviating the term 'masculine?' Is this a thing?'
Bennett claims this was his virtual introduction to the 'categorical homogenization of Pittsburgh's homosexual community.'
It wasn't rainbows. There were no hugs. Just a group of guys jumping to label me as a certain type of Gay male.'
Indeed, he found that by pressing the orange box, thumbnail images of torsos on Grindr, height/weight statistics, and 'petty ramblings on personal preferences appear on your screen. As empty and dense as it was, this was initially the most convenient way for me to interact with other Gay men.'
After performing as a straight male for upwards of 20 years, he said he suddenly had higher standards for body image, speech, and fashion than he had ever experienced in the heterosexual community.
'Was I in good enough shape? What is it, exactly, that makes someone masculine? I had this urge to mold my identity into this projected ideal image of a Gay man. Why? So that someone's thumbnail image of a torso would talk to me,' he said. 'I was getting a glimpse into the societal pressures that heterosexual women feel every day, forced to live up to the body image standards of men.'
In the long run, Bennett claims, he's had it easier than others. 'I wasn't being labeled a bear or cub, or being blocked because of my skin color, or being called names like queen, fairy, or fem,' he said. 'There are plenty of people who suffer from body-image issues far worse than mine. Who wake up every day thinking they're inadequate or undesirable because some anonymous profile deemed them as such. Who are driven to the same suicidal thoughts that they attempted to extinguish by coming out in the first place.'
As much as we can't let Grindr represent the entire Gay community, in some ways it acts as a fairly candid microcosm for the scope of homosexual categories, social behaviors, and desires, perhaps presenting an even more brutal honesty than the porn industry, thinks Bennett.
'There are plenty of Gay men who don't associate with Grindr, but many who do contribute to a terrifying introduction to the world of Gay social interaction,' he said.
According to Bennett, Grindr is a virtual world of avatars, most of whom strive to project that they possess the qualities of the ideal, desirable Gay man. In other words, Grindr is a place where:
o Black men lighten their picture in an attempt to pass as white.
o Gay men claim to be straight, or 'straight-acting,' to attract other Gay men.
o Femininity is masked and degraded, and masculinity is cherished and sought after.
o Overweight men either embrace obesity to align with a 'bear' or 'cub' identity, or are told to lose weight.
o Young Gay men are told to identify as top or bottom, white or Black, jock or bear, twink or otter, masc or fem.
o Men who spent the entirety of their childhood being bullied by straight guys are being told that if they 'act straight,' they'll be more sought-after in the Gay community.
o Black men, who spent their whole lives terrified behind the closeted doors of the African American community and hindered by white privilege, feel pressure to pass as the very race that degrades them.
o Tops are idealized. Bottoms are degraded. Gym regimens are requested. Height-weight proportions are mandatory.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS?
You might think that perhaps Bennett is overreacting a bit. I mean, aren't each of us allowed to be attracted to whomever we're attracted to without having to explain, or be made to feel racist if we don't date someone of the opposite race?
Consider the number of labels or types and preferences that exist in the LGBT world. Some might strike out on Grindr for being old, fat, or Bisexual. Preferences are an individual choice. We all have them, and some are simple, like what color car you want to drive, or which genre of music you enjoy. Some preferences are more complex, like our relationships, the people we call friends, and the politics we vote on. Still others are in-between, like whether or not a hookup or potential boyfriend is cut/uncut, Gay/Bi, etc. Shouldn't Bennett just be the person he is, and accept that not everyone will like him or want him sexually and get on with living?
He doesn't think so. In fact, he presents a pretty good argument as to how and why this type of behavior might take place on Grindr, and why it's problematic. 'Perhaps, if more men are encouraged to be open about their sexuality, we can take more steps to break down the homogenization that hinders a community that should be united in establishing a welcoming, anti-discriminatory environment for its own members,' he says.
'Moreover, we can view this desire to homogenize the Gay community as a product of childhood bullying. Growing up surrounded by straight boys who degrade femininity - whether it be women or Gay men - has imprinted the masculine, muscular white man as an ideal image to the homosexual male. And now, Gay men can't help but pass on the detestation.'
Bennett says that a part of himself wants to blame it all on the heterosexual community caught up in the traditional masculine/feminine gender roles. 'But as much as they can be held responsible, and should realize that their bullying destroys thousands of lives, the Gay community should also step forward to put a stop to its own alienating habits.'
'Why should we ask straight men to stop degrading femininity if we can't follow our own demands?' he asks.
TAKE A STAND
But it isn't all doom and gloom. Bennett tells his readers, 'If you're reading this and debating whether to come out of the closet, don't let this scare you. Coming out is as relieving as it is terrifying. Just be prepared to take a stand against discrimination, and embrace your own identity.'
'If you're a straight male, hopefully you've learned a little about how you might have unknowingly contributed to discrimination in a community other than your own,' he said. 'Stop bullying, and start allying.'
'If you're an out and proud Gay male, do your part to fight the norm,' Bennett concludes. 'You can advertise your sexual preference without making others feel alienated or unwanted.'
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