Even as a child, I used to tune into the end of 60 Minutes each week to listen to Andy Rooney rant. He was old and curmudgeonly, opinionated and unapologetic about those opinions. Usually his observations were dryly funny in a way I've always appreciated. Occasionally, they fell flat.
At the relatively young age of 37 and the arguably old gay age of 37, I'd may be giving myself too much credit by comparing myself to Rooney -- but I can at least say that I share a sensibility with the late satirical commentator.
A couple of days ago, I wrote what was ostensibly a commentary to a community of gay men that -- I'll say it -- I think needs a reality check, and I did so in the form of an open letter to gay internet icon (his apparent formal title) Davey Wavey.
I have to say, of all the queer-themed stories I've written here, I'm totally surprised that this one generated by far the strongest readership and response. I'd like to think it's because of the topic -- how gay men treat older gay men -- but I'm pretty certain it's because it directly addressed gay internet icon Davey Wavey, who is (obviously -- look at that title!) a queer super-celebrity. Emails, Facebook messages, article comments and more than anything Twitter engagements have been constant. A few consistent themes have arisen from among these messages, and I want to address them truthfully, for better or worse.
First, the tone of the article: While I'd say 95 percent or so of the responses have cheered me on, another four percent or so of readers have told me that I undercut my message about ageism/looksism/racial bias by exclusion with my tone. Notably, several people referred to this tone as some version of "typically gay," using words that include "bitchy," "snarky" and "throwing shade." Why did I use the tone I did? A couple of reasons: First -- and this is the honest-to-God truth -- I began to write a straightforward, earnest response rather than the satirical open-letter format I ended up using, but I just couldn't do it. I could not write a serious commentary about an adult who calls himself "Davey Wavey." As I began to do so, I felt such bizarre feelings that I gave into the ridiculousness of it all, period. Also, as I was writing, I realized that in order for my reaction to have any meaning, I would have to be as specific as possible. My point could be stated succinctly: "practice what you preach" or "if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk." But these sentiments have no resonance when reduced to cliches. I had to go beyond the cliche to get my feelings across.
Now, using a mock-epistolary format admittedly did shift my gear into gay-snark mode, and made it too tempting to make a couple of personal jabs for which I am compelled to say I am sorry: These include specific remarks about his body -- criticizing someone for being overly muscular or thin really isn't any different than criticizing someone for not working out, and I wish I had taken a higher road.
- The gay community, including most LGBT media, puts too much emphasis on appearances.
- The 'Davey Wavey' videos typify this. As I stated, I'm only aware that this person exists because his videos have been making headlines on sites that call themselves "news" publications or blogs, and I've never seen a Davey Wavey video that could be called news or informational -- unless you count his countless videos in which he cavorts with porn stars who look like teenagers at nude resorts or talks about bottoming and getting caught masturbating. I've always been of the opinion "to each his own," but to me news -- whether queer or mainstream -- is news. It's always irked me that LGBT media run by gay men feel like mixing news about, for example, same-sex marriage legislation and nonsensical and in my opinion poorly thought through videos that seemingly exist only to show skin, is appropriate. To me, it's like going to the New York Times website and seeing a story about the bombing the Middle East stacked with "instructional" videos of Jenna Jamison topless teaching us how to eat a lollipop. But I've kept my mouth shut about it all these years.
- Until I saw that this video of DW in a rage about respecting and admiring older gay men went viral and people were applauding him for it. That pissed me off, because other people discuss this, including me, and -- can we just be honest? -- no one reads this or gives a s**t until someone associated with porn says it. I won't bother to explain the irony of that.
Just as something hit a nerve with Davey Wavey that caused him to explode on younger men who deride older gay men -- you can speculate what caused this realization to suddenly dawn on a man in his 30s who keeps company, on camera at least, primarily with people a decade his junior; I don't know the guy in real life -- but the celebration for his hypocritical comment hit a nerve with me.
I know my bitterness comes through in my snarkastic story. Not for sympathy but for context, let me open up my baggage.
As with many of us, my adolescence sucked. It was a nightmare, a war zone, and I never thought I'd live to my 20s because life as a gay adolescent in the 1990s just wasn't easy. I'm not looking for sympathy; this is the reality for me.
Years ago, a major LGBT news organization that I respected solicited my writing, and for this I was proud and grateful. A new editor came in and stopped accepting my stories despite a years-long relationship with the publication, and it stung. I continued to read the site and was frustrated that the content was becoming ever more salacious, including stories covering a writer who pledged to publish nude photographs of himself if he won a writing scholarship from a progressive organization.
...I will send in a picture of myself without that pesky sign in front of my crotch. And I'll have a boner. So do it for me, do it for dick, do it for naked pictures of non-famous people. But please, from the bottom of my heart, vote for me. I really need your help.
Foregone conclusion: he won the scholarship, and shortly thereafter the publication that had been covering his story, and which after several years no longer had room for my writing, was publishing stories by him. And I was bitter, because I felt I had been out-competed in a sense for certain opportunities by a guy who got and kept the attention of queer media by way of dick pics, and then landed countless writing jobs as a result. And while I've got some serious self-esteem issues, I'm confident in stating this: I'm a better writer. And if I'm not, I still was working really hard and taking my work really seriously, and even if my notion of being in competition may not have been real, the LGBT media had sent a clear message about priorities and interests as far as I was concerned. Call me a prude, call me sex-negative. I've invested at least half my life in developing as a writer, and to see someone launch a writing career -- scholarship, news coverage and then plumb bylines -- by taking off his pants is a kick in the gut.
This is some of my baggage. Yes, I'm bitter about aspects of the gay community.
It turns out Gray's superhero identity is that of A-list adult cinema thespian Billy Santoro, and via Twitter we had an interesting exchange. I take exception to the sentiment that I "...choose not to conform to what gay men are attracted to is why you blame your age." The reality is that, for my entire young-adult life, I dedicated most of my time to conforming. I worked out a minimum of five days a week and I counted every calorie. I was both semi-emaciated and muscular, just as I felt, through effective communication of the ideal-and-only-acceptable gay man, I am supposed to be.
And then I was struck down, hard, by what was initially thought to be multiple sclerosis. Racing to the conclusion of that epic story, which I've written about extensively, it turns out I have Lyme disease and have had it for my entire adult life. It has taken a serious toll on my health, and in a great number of ways, Lyme disease might be viewed as the AIDS of our day. And there are very real reasons that it, specifically, should be on the radar of gay men. Unbelievably to me, even with a world in the throws of collective postraumatic stress disorder over the devastation of AIDS in the 80s and 90s, hardly anyone cares. I've tried and I'll keep trying to change that.
I explained this to Gray/Santoro, and I told him -- my opinion, which I'm going to be bold and assert is a correct opinion -- that having come through to the other side of the devastating, disabling and deadly HIV/AIDS crisis, gay men should have both an awareness of and compassion for the totality of a human being, not just the outside appearance.
Yet that empathy, in my exclusively personal experience, doesn't exist among gay men. I explained to Cole/Santoro that not working out isn't a choice: when I was feeling better last June, after 6 months of treatment for Lyme, I resumed my old patter of working out 4-5 days a week -- and let me be clear: I did it to feel better, but mainly because I felt ugly and disgusting and was desperate to get some semblance of a personal life back by getting my old body back. It was a huge mistake: over-exerting causes many Lyme patients' bodies to give up on them, and I ended up back in bed for 3 weeks with pain I can't adequately describe and physical and mental fatigue that, again, words cannot sufficiently explain.
Shouldn't gay men at the very least be able to see that we are human under the armor of muscle and skin and have empathy for people whose lives have been devastated by illness, not simply throw them away because they're not ideal looking and not as fun as they used to be?
[Note: My complete message, not shown here, was "...the lack of appreciation for anything beyond appearance, and the lack of compassion for those whose lives aren't blessed.]
My mistake. It's not 1980, so by implication the AIDS crisis is history we can dismiss and (LOL!) laugh about -- lasting lessons about compassion? No, thank you.
While my opinions, like Andy Rooney's often were, may be regarded -- as one respondent put it -- as "antiquated," they're informed by my life experiences. I won't apologize for them.
Circling back to the beginning, my previous article asked Davey Wavey if we could talk, and it must be said that he responded in kind with his own blog. It is understandably a little defensive, but respectful in tone, and in it he highlights a number of videos that I did not see at all when looking through his videos. My steam engine went into overdrive as I saw video after video of a man in his 30s, literally naked, literally with teenaged pornstars, bouncing and giggling. This is a bias of mine; I can't understand it, seeing it triggers bizarre feelings that I think most grown adults would probably feel seeing a man in his 30s with very young sex workers -- or not: let me just beat you to the punch and say I am an antiquated sex-negative fuddy duddy who can't see that "age is just a number" and it's perfectly healthy for men in their 30s and upwards to strip down and go boing-boing-boing with sex workers who look to me to be 18 or 19 years old, max. I don't buy it, but yes, it's legal, so I'll move on with my prude life. However, I have to note the vitriolic reaction by @BillySantoroXXX exemplifies -- in my opinion, and I'm fairly certain Mr. Wavey and many of you will not agree with me -- the effect of our community prizing appearance above all else, and turning people who get naked for a living into idols of worship.
The gay internet icon wrote:
I'm supported by the ad revenue that my videos generate, and I need to strike a balance. The reality is, my videos with shirtless, young gay guys get a disproportionate amount of views because that's what our community consumes most.
OK. I have no choice but to concede this is true: In a world of clickthrough ad-driven content, there's more skin on show than ever, and even journalists get scholarships and writing jobs by showing their dicks these days. I'm old enough to be of a generation with different norms and values, and I admit I find this reality disappointing to say the least, but I can't deny it.
In the spirit of open and productive dialogue, I'd love to hear suggestions for getting more attention on the more important videos that don't get their fair-share of attention. I'd love to hear your ideas for including more representation and people of all backgrounds.
OK, good, good. This is good.
I give Davey Wavey credit for acknowledging the truth: he's showing skin to bring in the cash. It's obvious, so no point in denying it, but some would and he did not. He's going to keep doing it, and people are going to keep watching. I am many things, but I'm no fool, and I know that his influence and reach will always, always exceed mine because of this. There's no celebrity skin going on here, and there never will be, not even if unzipping for the world got me a writing scholarship and some actual paid writing gigs. I'm an old-fashioned grumpy old 37-year-old gay who still thinks words should carry meaning and not be randomly associated with any image that will garner attention.
This is an Instagram-satisfaction selfie culture, and visuals are the commodity today, not ideas. So I am glad that Davey Wavey has committed to be more inclusive in his videos. Maybe as a result the generation growing up watching him will not only be sex-positive and porn-positive exhibitionists who live up to porn star Billy Santoro's ideal (assuming they are blessed with health that allows them to consume massive amounts of protein and creatine and a couple hours a day at the gym) of the appropriately conforming, and therefore happy, gay man, but slightly more aware of the meaning and consequences of their words.