Monday, November 3, 2014

Gay/Bi men need feminism too

Feminism is a tradition of social critique that usually focuses on the problems faced by women.  However, I see the connection to that tradition to be the essential aspect of feminism, not necessarily the focus on women.  A lot of feminism today tries to focus on intersectionality, because in order to fight for women, we need to fight for POC women, queer and trans women, women with disabilities, and women of all body types. Furthermore, feminists often look at gender norms and the way that they hurt both women and men.

Gay/bi male cultures and spaces are usually dominated by men.  Naturally.  But even when there are no women around, feminism is still needed.  I say that with all seriousness, and with no irony.  Gender norms affect men, and they affect queer men too.  And frankly, men's movements which have tried to tackle the problems faced by men have mostly been gruesome jokes, not to mention frequently homophobic.  Anti-feminist men's movements have been nothing less than a curse on our gender, and on all male-dominated spaces.  What gay/bi men need is feminism--and I don't mind that the word focuses on women, because it's sure better than associating with the traditions of men's movements.

A lot of ideas in feminism are directly applicable to gay/bi men.  For instance, there is the idea of the male gaze.  In the context of men who like men, the male gaze does not reinforce gendered power structures, but it does place excessive focus on what gay/bi men find attractive, or rather, what is conventionally attractive.  The result: body image issues are the bread and butter of gay culture.  And it's funny how many articles there are complaining about the issue, while still showing the same photos of conventionally hot guys.  Just as an example, take this article, which a friend recently shared:
Being gay is tough enough as it is, but having to deal with the pressures of not feeling worthy because I don’t have a 6-pack makes me not have that Gay Pride that everyone always boasts about.
And also:
...the thing that bothers me the most [about this site] is the lack of other types of gay men in photos attached to the articles.
...He says, under a rather decent-looking photo of himself.

Yes, this is the kind of person who has body-image issues in the gay community.  It's no surprise that gay men disproportionately suffer from eating disorders.

He then goes through a nice-guy routine (another applicable concept from feminism):
Out of anyone you’ve ever dated I would be the one to treat you the way deserve to be treated. I wouldn’t look at other guys, I wouldn’t make you feel unwanted, and I would never go a day without telling you how much I love you.
This whole attitude is part of the problem, because he's so focused on getting attention from the most conventionally attractive guys, while giving no attention whatsoever to guys less attractive than him, even though they too might "treat him the way he deserves to be treated."  The thought that anyone else might be as "nice" as him is not even considered.

Here's another article which a friend shared: "Is discrimination on Grindr killing gay sex?"  It deals with the well-known widespread racism and body-shaming on Grindr.  While I agree with the general point, the article also says stuff like this:
What does someone in the 1 percent of Grindr's sexual economy look like? He has white skin, he has a weight that begins with "1," he is cisgender, in his 20s, completely able-bodied, has a full head of hair, has either slightly defined or very defined abs, has a dusting of body hair, is masculine and is HIV-negative. These men are what you might call "sexual gatekeepers." Just as the 1 percent of America's economy has unlimited access to the services and privileges they need, Grindr's 1 percent has the privilege of determining who has access to them and when and where they will get serviced.
I find it bizarre to compare the most conventionally attractive men to 1 percenters.  In straight dating, this would be the equivalent of blaming the most attractive women for not giving out sex more freely.  Nobody is obligated to give other people access to their bodies (and don't even get me started on sexual assault in gay/bi cultures).


Based on multiple discussions, I know one of the most common responses to problems in gay/bi male culture is "Straight people have the same problems too."  This may well be true, and I have no idea because I have basically no experience with straight dating.

I suspect that gay/bi men have some things better, and also some things worse.  For instance, racism among gay/bi men appears worse. with many people openly expressing their preference for white men only, and lots of people talk about or even identify as "rice queens" (white men who like asian men) or other similar terms.  The straight equivalent, "yellow fever", is far less common and more pejorative.  It's true that people have their preferences and they're hard to change, but how is it that straight people manage to be so much more polite about it?

On the other hand, comparing to straight people often seems like distracting from the point.  I don't want to wait around for straight dating culture to improve so that male/male dating culture can be dragged along behind it.  Comparisons to straight people are welcome to the extent that they move the discussion forward, but both straight and gay/bi cultures need to be challenged.

(Note: After time of writing, but before time of publication, I noticed Everyday Feminism talking about the same subject.  They don't use the concept of male gaze though, which I know I'm not using in a super precise way.)