I've just completed all my interviews for my upcoming book, Talk It OUT: No More Gay Shame. One of my last interviewees, Brendan, made what I considered to be one of the most significant statements regarding gay male communication -- or the lack thereof.
Being young and new to the New York City gay scene, Brendan was very blunt in his views on the selective communication that often occurs between gay men in bars, clubs and gyms throughout the city and, I would expect, throughout the gay world in general.
According to Brendan and several of the other men I interviewed, the gay men who are most likely to display this type of communication are generally very attractive men who have a specific category of men who pique their curiosity and gain their attention. "These guys are always looking for the next new, shiny object!" my interviewees told me.
Working in the membership department in one of New York City's most popular gyms, Brendan has personally witnessed the transformation of men who come to his office excited about joining the gym but who, within a very short period of time of building up their bodies to near-perfection, change not only in form but in personality. "They become 'snooty,'" says Brendan. "They're always in competition, even with the next person they meet or encounter!"
When I questioned Brendan further to find out whether these men treat other men as if they are invisible, he was very quick to respond in the affirmative. "Absolutely!" he said. "I see men in here actually look through other men when they walk by them as if to say, 'Why bother?'"
Brendan was not alone in his comments on invisibility. His boss Jesse, the manager of this particular gym and an older and powerfully built man, told me he'd seen more than just the dismissive behavior of avoiding others. "I was at a Toys for Tots party in the city last year, and when I walked by a group of pretty boys, they literally cringed when I passed them!" he said. "What the hell was that all about?"
I've been researching the communication dynamics of the LGBT community for the past 15 years, conducting countless interviews with gay men from all categories. In my professional view, this type of selective communication is primarily based on sexual attraction. There is a basic human tendency to be attracted to physical appearance before personality, roles, or psychological similarity.
But despite great strides in attaining political and social equality, many gay men have felt ostracized or shamed by others within our social and familial worlds. It is this shame and fear of being ostracized that has often subconsciously caused many gay men to act in less-than-desirable ways in order to feel better about themselves or even superior to others, similar to beautiful straight women or men who use their beauty to, in a sense, separate themselves from others.
In a recent radio interview, Dr. Claudio Pinto, a renowned dermatologist and beauty expert in the New York City area, revealed that despite the economic downturn, "My business, primarily with gay men, was better than ever! After all, gay men know what is important, and what is important, even in a 'down' economy, is looking and feeling good!"
What I feel is most important in life is the way that we treat one another, for what truly makes us better as human beings is the desire to love and care for one another. With every act of kindness displayed, we grow, both as human beings and as good citizens of this planet.
So, gentlemen, the next time you feel the impulse to cringe or avoid the gaze of another man because he doesn't meet your idealized standards, take the higher road and be kind and smile, or, better yet, say something pleasant. You will be better for it, as will the recipient of your message.
As the infamous comedian and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin put it in The Great Dictator, "We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost."