What The Sex?
Exploring Bodies in the Gay Community
by Simone Ofenbach
January 2024

In gay spaces like Grindr and gay clubs, my experience as a nonbinary person is marked by discomfort, feeling like an outsider. While acknowledging my bias, it is shareable to say that in the gay community on the issue of the body, there is still a lot to unpack and a lot of work to be done. It is a community that focuses heavily on performance and consumption, especially on a sexual level, making it almost impervious to body-positive discourses.

I certainly don't want to start a crusade on the more than fair sexual liberation of gay people, what I want to do is talk about this issue within a context that worships, in a sense, the body. I want to try to deconstruct and analyze body-related discourses in the gay community. Perhaps it would be better to say “bodies”. It is true - and I must say that - that more than one body type is welcomed in these spaces, but only as long as they fall within a specific and circumscribed subgroup that can be fetishized and consumed by the community.

Twink, bear, otter, femboy, black, masc, and so on are some of the adjectives related to the homosexual's body that get stuck to your forehead, becoming your everything. Or rather: they become the only adjective they care to give you and the only lens through which they will look at you. You are not allowed to cause dissonance between the stereotype you are given and who you are, if you do you will probably be attacked, insulted, or ignored.

Okay Kaya singing, "Here I am desperate for attention."

To give a trivial example: several of my friends are afraid to shave or wax, even if they would like to, because the Grindr user comment, "Without a beard, you won't be fuckable" would follow.

And therein, in my opinion, lies the epicenter of many of the problems. Exactly as in the heterosexual world, the male gaze demands to be complacent. "Fuckability" is the yardstick by which the other is judged. Sexual consumerism, the objectification of an expiring consumer product, does not allow for a broader knowledge or interest related to a body. On the contrary, it is useful, for the purpose of fucking, to reduce that body as much as possible so that it can be abstracted and untied from the frightening emotional involvement.

This is certainly not a fault but rather a consequence of an empathic shrinkage and need for distance due to frequent disappointments. The hunger for simplified bodies and the lack of interest in going further is largely due to a fear that underlies so many queer people: that for rejection. Let me try to explain myself: I think that often [we, queer people] have a foundational fear of rejection that has been with us since childhood.

If being queer was for many years the reason we believed we would be rejected from our primary group of origin (family, relatives, friends) now being rejected from the secondary group because of our bodies is. Isn't it interesting to note that almost all gay vacation groups are made up of people who are physically identical to each other? Might it be that conformity helps overcome the fear of being rejected because of one's body?

"Exactly as in the heterosexual world, the male gaze demands to be complacent."

Grindr and gay spaces, instead of building a sense of community, are chiefly shaping interactions and acquaintances that remain superficial and individualizing. This allows us to briefly satisfy the constant search for intimacy and connection (casual sex is a palliative of this need) but also exacerbates the value placed on rejection.

The active resolution of this fear makes one prefer to remain more distant and detached, reducing a body to an object allows one to never really feel bonded to it and this makes one feel safe. The individual's body becomes a sexualized and sexualizing social tool. Creating a vicious cycle that is reinforced through interactions between subjects: if I believe that your validation (as a sexual object) allows me not to feel rejected again then I will increasingly seek to resemble the stereotype to which you are attracted.

On the other hand: if I, as a subject who has the power to validate, get complacency I can overcome my fear of being rejected and thus will continue to do so.

Competitive and confrontational feelings are then added to the already quite toxic soup. Competitiveness is certainly not a prerogative of people socialized as men but it certainly abounds in the contexts of male body formation. Translated into the homosexual space, it turns into lust for sexual desirability; whoever is the most attractive and performant wins.

But what exactly?

"Whoever is the most attractive and performant wins. But what exactly?"

The constant comparison, hyperactivated by social networks and dating apps, can be both a cause and the trigger and is facilitated by the fallacious belief that bodies are indeed similar and comparable.

A constant game of "who's got the longest" both literally and regarding other aspects of the body.

The individualization, fetishization, and consumerism generated in gay spaces, where the body becomes the only social tool, would be manageable, if only there was a solid community as a base from which to start.

Applications like grindr and the tendency to look at the other not as a member of a community but as a commodity or validation only incentivize individualism, and confrontation, driving us apart.

It often happens that heterosexual people say that gay men are good-looking; they may be right! For once we can give it to them. However, I wonder what is the weight of external pressures and the extent of the violence they have suffered - and continue to suffer - has made them look good.

Being or wanting to feel desirable is human but in the gay community, it becomes a cage from which it is almost impossible to escape. External pressures are manifested all the time with comments and judgments (it would be better to say assaults) on the body, which is constantly being evaluated. Being fuckable, as mentioned earlier, becomes for the homosexual one, if not the only, social tool he thinks he needs in order not to be alone or rejected by the community. Of course, this is not the prerogative of the gay world, but I believe that, unlike other groups, the pressure is taken to extremes here.

To come to a conclusion, I do not rule out the possibility that the underlying motivations are different from what I have assumed here. After all, it is not exclusively a problem for homosexual men to live poorly in their relationship with their bodies. I focused on the bodies being part of a specific space and the interactions between participants within the group of people inhabiting it.

We might be wondering what should be the ways to improve this interaction and how to better the experience both for our bodies within the community and in general how the gay community relates to bodies.

People know me for my questions, answers have never been my forte but I think one road, in my opinion successful, can be to try to enhance, and in some cases build, a sense of community. I firmly believe there is a need to build stronger connections that are based on a sense of community to liberate the bodies.

Wear your values. Be part of the community.
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