It starts out simply enough: I open up Scruff and peruse nearby men, looking at their profiles; immediately ignoring anyone I deem less-than-attractive, regardless of what their personality may entail; and filtering through guys according to which of the app's rudimentary self-descriptors they've claimed for themselves. "Handsome guy, but he labels himself a 'jock'?" I ask myself. On to the next. "This one is labeled as a 'geek' and nothing else? Must have no life." Next. "Oh, a 'daddy' who's looking for 'bear chasers'? What would I ever want with him?" Pass. And so the cycle continues until I'm struck by the realization that I've been conditioned to become one judgmental bitch.
I've stopped trying to meet men during the day-to-day of my existence and instead have turned to the convenience and relative anonymity of apps and online dating. Guys in my city congregate in a very concentrated number of places, none of which I would consider my "scene," which has effectively nullified my hopes of a meet-cute. Apps have made it easy for me to approve or veto men based solely on a basic bio and a handful of precreated self-descriptors that come packaged with the software. As I've observed my own behaviors and those of my peers, friends, and acquaintances, I've become increasingly certain that the gay community is no longer a true community at all but a hierarchy of cliques and labels.
I think the issue stems in large part from society's preoccupation with categorization. While many members of our nation have expressed a desire to move to a state of being that is "post-label," the gay community is investing more time and energy into creating smaller boxes into which we can neatly shoehorn our kin. Are you a jock, geek, daddy, bear, bear-chaser, or the like? What happens when you don't quaintly fit into one of these preconfigured niches of gay life?
It's simple: We turn on you. You, a person who has sought to escape the marginalization forced upon you by the predominately heteronormative American public, have jumped out of the social frying pan and into its fire. Your bravery in choosing to publicize your orientation has been for naught. We will isolate you and ostracize you. I myself am a prime example and, as you've seen, have also been a massive contributor to the problem, especially in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
If I'm allowing myself to be perfectly honest, I'd be labeled an "otter." I'm thinner, and I have a good amount of body hair. Unfortunately, that's the only descriptor that's accessible to me in today's culture, and it does a frighteningly poor job of describing who I am as a person. I like sports, but I can't talk for hours about football (tennis, perhaps), so I don't qualify as a "jock." I play video games, but I don't identify with "gaymer" culture, so "geek" is out. I work out, but I'm not a gym rat, so goodbye, "muscle." I enjoy high culture, but there are also moments when I want to watch a trashy sitcom and turn off my mind for several hours, but there's no category for someone like that.
As I result I, like many others, don't quite fit into any single subset of the gay population but I'm not so far removed that I'm altogether separate from the community. Instead I exist as a fringe member of gay society, neither a fixture of the scene nor a pariah. My inability to actively own up to one of these preformed online identities makes it difficult to even engage in conversation, let alone make new friends or go on dates. "But wait," you say. "I'm a lot like that too! I don't fit into just one category!" And therein lies the crux of the problem: People, as a whole, cannot be described, identified, and understood by a handful of trite labels and categories, despite how hard we try as a result of social and sexual convenience.
Unfortunately, the modern gay male has become less of a human and more of a consumer, using and discarding his brethren, treating the body as a product, and it has become disposable as a result. In our culture you wouldn't buy an item off the shelf if it weren't neatly labeled and handsomely packaged, would you? So why would you afford that concession to a person? We've begun crafting relationships using the same tactics with which we might approach building a Lego fortress; these self-imposed monikers are becoming the building blocks of what we deem to be a desirable companion, sexual or otherwise, often leading us to fully assess potential matches before we've even met them, chemistry be damned!
We are taught by those around us that this is how we are, and too many of us, including me, have drunk that proverbial Kool-Aid. I'm thirsty for something more, something richer, something both filling and fulfilling. I want the men I know, the ones I don't, and the ones I'd love to meet to push for accurate depictions of gay men in the media, eschew the self-imposed sociocultural restrictions we've enacted, and cease living out the stereotypes that we all proclaim to hate but in which we readily indulge on a consistent basis.
Perhaps it would make most sense to quote 2004's Mean Girls -- and let's face it, the gay community is actively working to segregate itself just as much as those lunch tables in that fictional high-school cafeteria did -- and say, "You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores." While the syntax is different, the core message is the same. If we continue, as a unit, to perpetuate this uninviting, fractured sense of "community" amongst our members, we just make it more and more appealing for the broader public to do the same to us.