I'm writing this amidst the numerous op-eds complaining about hook-up apps and the hurtful emotional impact of seeing over and over, "no blacks, no femmes, no fatties, no Asians." This is happening in the greater context of uproar over the Stonewall movie, which to many LGBT people is yet another reminder of the caste system in the community which penalizes those who are one minority category too many by relegating them to the background, no matter how fierce and fearless their contribution.
While countering the bigoted parts of the status quo is a necessary and an essential part of our raison d'être, we must be careful the right challenge is launched in the right arena to the right people at the right time. What I am about to say will make many cringe but, here it goes; a hook-up app and a horny gay man out to fulfill a long-held sexual craving is the wrong arena and wrong person and wrong time. Can we just let people's sexual fantasies be that one last bastion from political correctness?
I get what hook-up apps are all about. You can order a hot sexual fantasy with a swipe and tap of a finger, much like ordering a pizza. When the craving (for pizza) hits it's usually for a very specific pie -- pepperoni, ham & pineapple, cheesy crust. Similarly, scratching a sexual itch is often tied to craving a very specific physical ideal. The hook-up app user is looking for that human puzzle piece they hope will fit into a very personal sexual fantasy. The (some would say "unrealistic") hope they hold is that somehow by finding the one who looks the part, will also give them someone who acts the part in their wish fulfillment. Hook-up apps cater to the fast food, sexual cravings of a predominantly white, gay male demographic living in first world, Western societies. So let's be brutally honest about what has shaped the sexual cravings of this demographic.
For starters, regardless of ethnicity or orientation all our sexual fantasies are heavily influenced by our earliest sexual experiences and awakenings. They are a subconscious amalgamation of every first crush, movie star and wet dream. Since most western societies are racially segregated, chances are that many people never grew up intimately interacting with the kind of diversity that would have widened their ethnic erotic aesthetics and influence their sexual awakening at an early stage. Vanilla was the flavor that pervaded their formative sexual years and nothing but vanilla will satisfy that instinctive craving. The same can happen with any flavor. Those with meaningful childhood encounters with vanilla, mocha, caramel, coffee and chocolate are more likely grow up with a wider sexual palette. It is not fair to blame people for this early sexual conditioning or call it racism.
However, there is more to this psychographic analysis. Society's overall erotic ideal has been carefully crafted by the media for generations and inculcated into us since childhood. The best description I can find is this scene from the movie Kill Bill: Volume 2.
Esteban Vihaio: Ahh... You must be Beatrix. I can see the attraction. I remember when Bill was only 5 years old, I took him to the movies. It was a movie starring Lana Turner. The Postman Always Ring Twice with John Garfields. And whenever she would appear on the screen, Bill would begin to suck his thumb to an obscene amount. And I knew from this very moment, that this boy was a fool for blondes. Mmm...
What type of male do you think most gay men (regardless of ethnicity) have been triggered to idealize, since childhood, by the media? Who were their Lana Turners, so to speak? Most likely not a black man or an androgynous man or a fat man or Asian man. Up until fairly recently those men were hardly ever given an erection inducing role on screen or powerful, noble portrayals in society that would inspire emerging sexual fantasies. The media's omission is also compounded by an active and insidious legacy of demonizing, caricaturing and fetishizing the sexual beauty, physical prowess of non-European ethnic groups and adding "creep factor" to any gender expressions outside the narrow binary. The exceptions to this rule are too few, and too recent to counter the long history of this practice.
As much as we hate to admit it, our LGBT culture reflects many of the mores from the pervading culture. Patriarchal, racist influences have seeped into our community, in our LGBT media, in our community organizations and in the little missiles we launch at each other in our social interactions. For example approaching an Asian man at the bar with the assumption he is a sex worker or laughing at a black man who says he is a lawyer and asking, "No, what do you do really, for a living?" or chiding a sexual partner for letting loose a less than manly-moan during sex.
In the words of Einstein, the solution cannot come from the same minds who are actively, reluctantly or unknowingly involved in creating the problem. It must come from those who have a radical new perspective. This is what I wish those who fall the furthest outside the mainstream would understand. You are the solution! Stop begging the enforcers of the status quo for an invite to the party and start your own.
I mentioned this on on another forum...:
Someone who agreed with me, simultaneously regretted that the solution looks like more segregation and less integration.
I shared this feeling too at first, until I realized that throwing your own party does not mean it is not open to anyone who wants to join. The important thing is you throw it! and own the brand. In a less than perfect world things like Motown Records and Historically Black Universities are necessary or else talent would go to waste while waiting on the mainstream to get a clue. Imagine if Ricky Martin did not have a platform to gain a ground-swell of love and support from his own Puerto Rican and Latino community first which is what lead to his breakout performance at the Grammys where the mainstream were finally forced to sit up and take notice. And they are always forced to sit up and take notice.
You see, there is a price for telling the same story and selling the same image of the same people and same perspectives from the same status quo, for too long. It becomes cliché. It loses frisson and cool factor. Eventually, those pushing the tired old tropes have to concede that the fringes of society is where they will find the next radical, history-creating art, music, fashion, sex symbols and loudest statements to cleanse everyone's jaded palettes of mainstream monotony.
This is particularly true of the winding journey of the LGBT community. During those really extreme and/or critical times, it's not those comfortable in the mainstream who see us through it. It's the jamettes who do. Hold up! Let me explain what a jamette is.
It's a Trinidadian term for a riotous, fearless woman, known for her sexually free behavior. She is a walking scandal! A pariah in "respectable" society but treasured by those on the fringe for her heart of gold and a brutally honest tongue that exposes pretense. Jamettes are attributed in Trini culture for rabble rousing and sparking off the riots that would become our national independence movement and preserving the more pagan aspects of our culture. They essentially created the social license for all women to be free in their own skin and enjoy an unparalleled kind of outspokenness and outrageousness free of judgement, regardless of class or color. It is most evident during our Carnival where females from maid to Managing Director to medical doctor to model have equal license to "get on bad!"
The mother cussing out a politician in public, who did not deliver on his promises is a "jamette." The authentic Stonewall crowd, jamettes to the max! The ACT-UP protesters who interrupted congressional hearings, jamettes true and true! How about this drag queen and all drag queens and the Stacey Ann Chins, Margeret Chos and allies like this.
It's those with the least stake in the existing status quo. It's those navigating the roughest parts of the river of social change, not those cruising along where the river has widened to a lazy, stagnant flood plain where people can afford the luxury of complacency and conservatism. They may not see the ever growing conflict with the racist, religious fundamentalist, patriarchal, war mongering, environmentally destructive and inhumanely acquisitive extreme that once was the mainstream and is desperate to remain so. But many of us, all creeds and races see it and trust me, a time is coming, very soon, when sh*t is going to get real and we're going to once again need jamettes who are still brave enough to pelt the first stone and punch a police officer if need be.
I applaud activists like Ellen Page and Peter Tatchell who venture where the river is still at its turbulent, rapid stage, coming down the mountain with fury and cutting through the bedrock or bigotry. It's good to know that not all LGBT people in a position of influence, just rest on what is easy and "the way its always been done."
The fringe is where the really brave, cool, interesting, inspirational and dare I say, sexy people are. They are in the developing world or in places with tyrannical regimes or small towns and mining villages. They are in favelas in Brazil and farming villages in Taiwan. They are the bespectacled, willowy, black gay nerd in Harlem, the gay Mexican intellectual and pansexual Native American shaman, the tattooed and pierced rocker and the dread-locked, gay reggae singer. This is where the most earth-shattering, artistic, conscious LGBT voices are going to come from that will send waves through the still and stagnating waters. These voices need to claim and exploit their edge for their own benefit and that includes their sex appeal.
The awesome Jacob Tobia
In conclusion, back to those hook-up apps that batter people's self-esteem. They are a symptom not the cause. They address current market conditions and exploit long inculcated sexual preferences. It's up to you, especially if you are not in the mainstream to re-define for a new LGBT generation what is considered a heroic, erotic, queer ideal. That way, the tired trope of the corn-fed, all American, white, masculine hero is not the only influence on gay men's sexual fantasies, whether on the big screen or smart phone screens.