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The Male Gaze: What It's Like To Be Objectified In The Gay Community

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Recently, I received a Facebook message from a guy I had briefly talked to in the past. We came close to going on a date that, for one reason or another, never materialized.

I was pleasantly surprised when he reached out, and I assumed he would want to pick up where we had left off. Naturally, I figured he was single, but he ended up having a boyfriend.

And then, he invited me to a threesome.

After politely declining, I asked if this was his sole motivation for reaching out to me. He shamelessly said that it was, and when I asked why, he replied with, “Why not?”

I share this anecdote not to comment on “open” relationships, which are becoming increasingly pervasive, but to illuminate an unpleasant component of the gay community: the propensity for men to sexually objectify one another.

It is indeed often easier to meet a guy for a casual sexual encounter as opposed to going on a legitimate date, and this stems from the ways in which gay men view themselves and the very notion of sex.

It is believed that because we are men, we are innately inclined to hyper-sexuality and promiscuity. Imagine what this does for those of us actually seeking genuine interpersonal interactions.

Alicia Silverstone’s old adage rings true: Searching for a boy in the gay world is like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

Before I receive flack and criticism for unfairly portraying the entire gay community as overly promiscuous, frivolous and utterly disinterested in legitimate relationships, let me state that there are many gay men who eschew the stereotype.

They are currently in, or are actively pursuing, romantic relationships, and they revere notions of monogamy and family.

However, it would be a grave dishonesty to forgo discussion of certain gay men who objectify other men and change sex partners as frequently as their 2(x)ist underwear.

Then there are those who have one eye on tonight’s hookup while eagerly scanning the room for tomorrow night’s prospect, and those who, with a nimble swipe of a thumb, carelessly peruses and skillfully rejects prospects on Grindr, Tinder and other social media apps, based on trivialities like ill-defined abs or a 7.5-inch penis (when they were really hoping for that magic 8-incher).

It would be a disservice to refrain from examining how these men impact the ways in which all gay guys interact.

For anyone who has ever taken a media studies or communications course in college, the notion of the “male gaze” will most likely be familiar.

The phrase, coined by feminist film critique Laura Mulvey, holds that most visual media (film and television) structures the world from a masculine perspective.

That is, women are seen from a man’s point of view, and they tend to be sexually objectified.

Think of any film with the quintessential closeup of a female character, wherein the camera persistently lingers on her body, and the male gaze becomes all the more obvious.

This theory further argues how men view women in media informs the ways they view them in reality, enabling women to constantly feel ogled, objectified and visually berated by their male counterparts.

Well, apparently straight guys no longer have the corner in this market, as gay men have proven themselves capable and willing, sometimes with unabashed enthusiasm, to exploit and objectify one another.

The nights I’ve spent out in gay clubs and bars were certainly filled with fun, excitement and meaningful interactions with good friends.

But, on other occasions, they’ve been tantamount to the scene in "Can’t Hardly Wait," when a barrage of horny high school guys eagerly try to catcall and bed a newly single (and big-haired) Jennifer Love Hewitt.

I’ve been inappropriately touched and groped by strange men as I’ve passed through a crowded dance floor.

I’ve been eyed by guys the way a hungry CrossFitter stares down a packet of bacon.

And most disturbingly of all, I’ve been told by some men that this behavior is normal, acceptable and even desirable.

Although these actions are not reflective of the entire gay community, I can guarantee many gay male readers will identify with the experiences I’ve described.

They may even recognize how we have subliminally adopted the male gaze, and the pitiful manner in which we are sometimes prone to viewing and treating each other.

Like straight men have largely done to women, we have created a hegemonic culture that amplifies sex and degrades gay men.

To best illustrate this, look no further than flyers promoting gay nightclubs, which typically feature oil-slicked men in jock straps or half-naked, pre-pubescent go-go boys.

Sex certainly sells, and as gay men, we have unwittingly internalized this notion and used it to achieve a false sense of empowerment.

This informs the way the heterosexual community views us, and arguably provides further fuel for the social conservative agenda, which seeks to deny us of human rights on the basis of our perceived moral inferiority.

The male gaze is indelibly etched into the heterosexual culture’s consciousness, and there is no way of altering that unless we first become aware of it, and subsequently engender a constructive dialogue over it.

As gay men, we should follow suit and become increasingly cognizant of how we perceive and treat one another within our own community.

We should strive to attach a different kind of value to sex, one that does not use it as the sole basis of our collective identify and mode of communication.

In short, and to reverberate my Facebook encounter, we need to focus more on the “why” and less on the “why not?”