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50 Shades of Gay: a Community in Parentheses

(In an effort to make this post more appealing, working titles included ‘A Good Old Ho-moan’ and the ever-brilliant ‘Memoirs of a Gay-sha’, though in the end I felt best to call a spade a spade; a serious-ish title for a serious subject.)

I had a less than Oscar-worthy coming out experience. Sure, I was the subject of many a rumour during my teens, but I attribute that to the fact that I was never incredibly forthcoming about my sexuality. Part of me enjoyed playing up the mystery, but a bigger part was simply unable to relate to the gay community. It’s something I struggle with to this day.

Never did I imagine mining my personal life for inspiration, but it turns out that University has sparked a hyper-awareness of my identity as a gay man in ways I never expected.

Vain, youth-obsessed, promiscuous, irresponsible; it’s no secret that the gay community is plagued by stereotypes. For those who would dismiss my thoughts as internalised self-hatred, I propose a challenge: find more than a handful of indie movies (much less a major feature film) that present two realistic gay men in a monogamous relationship; find a gay soap opera character who isn’t merely used as a ‘controversial’ coming out story, only to exit (or fade into the background) by the end of that year; find a gay reality television star who isn’t marketed as a ‘gay best friend’. I could go on.

Last year I wrote an essay on society’s commoditisation of homosexuality. As a literature student, it was slightly out of my comfort zone, but the response it received from my tutor was enough to convince me that these problems are all too real. Borrowing from Dick Hebdige’s theorisation of the incorporation of subcultures, I concluded that gay commoditisation is twofold: of course, we’re reduced to stereotypes by the majority (or, to be more specific, Hebdige’s term ‘hegemony’), but ironically we as a community allow this because we adhere to our own strict rules of incorporation.

In no other culture is youth and sex valued as greatly as within gay men. Of the gay men I know personally, at least 75% have openly expressed one-off sexual interest in me. On more than one occasion I’ve been branded ‘boring’ in my declines. Is this  a male phenomenon? A student one? An exclusively gay one? Or maybe an intersection of the above, perhaps?

I’m still undecided, but the way my heterosexual acquaintances view me alongside other gay men (“I should totally hook you up with my mate’s brother, he’s gay too!”) skews my open-mindedness somewhat. I’ve won polygamy bingo; both inwardly and by ‘the other’, I am primarily viewed in a socio-sexual manner.

In an effort to substantiate this, I took to Grindr, a mobile dating app for gay  men. For some reason I’ve always been averse to online dating, and the experience failed to alleviate any of my fears. For a start, the interface reads as a cruel men-u (forgive the pun) of faces and bodies – mainly bodies – waiting to be judged. Within an hour of setting up a profile, I felt completely objectified – one particular person rather flippantly offered me money for a hook up. I don’t doubt that heterosexuality is exempt from this kind of sexual tactlessness, but it appears to me that the gay community is particularly susceptible.

At the time of writing my essay I was also reading a lot of Michel Foucault, and I avidly recall his perceptions of sex as dual-natured: at once we talk about it ad infinitum whilst constantly exploiting it as ‘the secret’. It’s clear to me that the gay community subscribes to this notion most rigidly. My essay concluded with the following thought:

With no consideration to other facets of gay identity the gambit of over-sexualisation becomes counterproductive, implying that gay sexual expression requires the erasure of everything else.

As gay men, we often expect to be viewed as multi-faceted individuals – as we should be – yet all too often we demand respect without first expressing it ourselves. It’s an issue that I find disappointing in a community that is routinely stigmatised and persecuted. This isn’t a “no fems, no blacks, no old pervs” notice on a dating profile. No, this is merely an honest critique.

It’s like I told my ex-boyfriend (surprise surprise, the one that called me boring) after one of his many 5am drunken calls to me: “Once you learn to separate your head from your dick, then I’ll feel like we’re getting somewhere.”


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