In my last post, I made an effort to clarify that in my open letter to Davey Wavey that went viral, my intention was not to assassinate his character or to identify him, specifically and in isolation, as racist. I meant to observe that Wavey, as a self-proclaimed (and community-supported thanks to lots of skin and muscle) Gay Internet Icon and representative of the greater gay world -- a thought leader (!) if you will, as his videos are constantly being promoted by [fill in the name of your favorite queer outlet], of our community -- and by extension American gay culture at large presents a narrow focus on what's valuable, what we should value.
It's called imprinting: Everywhere I look among media targeted at gay men, I see the same general image. As an individual, Wavey in my opinion has no obligation to associate with those to whom he's not magnetized. But he, in my estimation, is probably both a product of a gay culture that values one specific look and the recycled promoter of that same look, except like all our favorite junk foods, refined and reprocessed in "new and improved" packaging -- lower body fat, more bulging pecs, thanks to Muscle Milk and whomever else is ponying up ad bucks.
But Wavey is representing himself as a "gay icon," and so my point is to ask, is there anything more to being gay than looking like an idealized Adonis or his modern-day counterpart, the ubiquitous reality television/gay porn star? After reviewing Wavey's website, I get that his brand is focused on appearances -- exercises, nutrition, weight loss tips. (The "exercises" page features a seemingly endless scroll of "The Best #Manass On Instagram." The "nutrition" page could more accurately be called "How to Eat and Still Look Emaciated.")
My issue is that when I look at [fill in the name of any LGBT outlet], I see stories about civil rights progress being made -- employment laws, same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting -- or not -- violence against trans people; beside these, I always, always see photos of ripped, young, white men and, often, videos of Davey Wavey that I've generally ignored until now. Videos like Gay Bathhouse Virgins (Full Length) and 10 Ways to Know a Guy Wants Your Dick.
I know, you're going to call me "sex negative," but my strongly held opinion is that this juxtaposition doesn't represent many gay men, and yet as the public face of all LGBT people, this "gay" content is what people associate with us. The association is also absorbed by gay men, internalized, and leads us to associate thoughts of our civil liberties with thoughts of "I'm fat," "I hate my shoulders," and, if we can be honest, entirely accurate observations of racial bias when presenting these ideals to LGBT people. And so we've taken this unattainable and unhealthful starve-yourself-to-be-good-enough model that women have been trying for decades to obliterate and gladly applied it to ourselves, even raising the bar by doing what, to me -- my opinion, and I'm entitled to it; this is one of the things that makes me, at the objectively not-old age of 37 "old" -- is a totally bizarre and self-undermining thing: placing explicit sexual content alongside news and information. Again, I'm (really) only referring to Wavey as an objective and consistent point of reference. Seeing his "how to" videos, which appear to be transparent excuses for a few minutes of pec action, as headlines on major queer media outlets alongside actual news is no different than seeing a Jenna Jamison "How to Lick a Lollipop" or "How To Be Cute While DPing" video on the New York Times website, juxtaposed against presidential campaign highlights and parenting advice.
Sexual identities are defined by sex; the two are inextricable, I get it. But we've made the huge mistake of letting sexual motivations define us entirely. In my opinion. And in doing so, we've processed and refined, refined and processed one Wonder Bread ideal of what's sexually attractive, and somewhere along the line that concept as conflated with personal value. We've decided to accept and integrate the gay stereotypes of looking a certain way, catty and campy humor, and sexual freedom (which has become an obsession with sex) and from what I can tell have rejected gay intellectualism, gay creativity, gay artistry. All the Gore Vidals and Oscar Wildes and Leonardos I can think of are of past generations; we still have George Takei and Harvey Fierstein, which is great, but with each successive generation, gay male icons, increasingly are made icons primarily by virtue of their appearances. And more and more, that focus is on the physique, with the mind mattering little or not at all.
In the 1996 song "Blood Roses," which laments valuing -- and mutilating -- women based on their sex, Tori Amos sings "sometimes you're nothing but meat." We're all more than that, but we're sending confused messages to the world: on one hand, we're demanding equal rights; on the other, we're presenting ourselves as body- and sex-obsessed career adolescents. We have political views, and we have abs. And we're going to make sure you see both, because we're proud.
Forgive me, but here's my gay complex: I know when I meet people that they know I am gay -- fine and good. I've never felt the least bit of shame about my sexual identity. But then comes the insecurity of knowing I'm measured against stereotypes that, if put together into an image, would look like Davey Wavey or Steve Grand, who is hated because he is, according to him, "young, good-looking and white" -- and would sound like them, boasting about his body, associating only with similarly appearing people. I don't like that. I'm not proud of that. And I probably overcompensate for it in obnoxious ways by challenging people who ask me (Me! Ha!) for workout or fashion tips, and who are surprised when I talk about anything other than popular culture and area nightclubs. People have told me I'm a different kind of gay man. Actually, I'm me -- and I've found that, in direct contradiction to Steve Grand's comment -- gay men on many occasions dislike me before they know me because I'm not that young, I'm average looking, I have a chronic illness, and I'm certainly not an underwear model. I can only imagine how much more challenging life as a gay man would be if I also weren't white.
I don't have to imagine. I conducted a survey, and I'll discuss some of the answers in my next post.