Our Future: Why Do We Need Gay Tribes Anyways?

[ 0 ] November 7, 2017 |

from our media partner: edge media network

by Kyle Mangione-Smith 

Anyone who’s gay and living in the age of the Internet has probably at some point or another considered: what gay-subgenre do I fit into? It’s become so ubiquitously ingrained across the whole span of gay culture that it’s nearly impossible to avoid.

When signing up for any hook up or dating app, it’s a question that will almost always inevitably always be asked. If you’re an in-shape older man, does that make you a muscle daddy, a jock, or a guy-next-door? Are you a twink, or are you hairy enough to be considered an otter? Are you bear-y enough to really consider yourself a bear?

There are entire bars, clubs, and events dedicated to the majority of the most popular sub-gay communities, services dedicated to connect members of one sub-gay community to members of another. There’s an entire website dedicated to discovering which grouping you fit into based on your age, weight, hairiness and so on and so forth, along with a chart showing how frequently members of one community are attracted to another.

There’s already plenty of writing, both within a pop culture context and otherwise, about how this system of labeling works in a cultural context. Plenty find it a helpful way of sorting through potential sexual/romantic partners, or find their specific sub-community more welcoming than the LGBT community at large. Many others have argued that it’s restrictive at large and dehumanizing at its worst. Regardless of one’s opinion on this sub-communal system, it’s entirely impossible to be openly gay in the 2010s and avoid it.

I’m not particularly interested in offering my opinion on the matter — any praise or criticism that could be levied at it already has been dozens of times over. What is interesting to me, however, is why this system has become as prominent as it has, and what it says about our community.

While the explicit and prominent use of these labels is something that’s happened in the last few years, the idea of sexual subgenres within the gay community has existed for decades. The Hanky Code within fetish and BDSM communities in the 80s and 90s was if anything a direct precursor for Grindr’s system of tribes.

And drag, the most prominent form of art to come directly from the gay community, certainly exemplifies a similar form of performative identity as to what we’re witnessing with this system of sub-gay communities; the bear is only a bear to the extent that he’s able to perform the bear appearance and identity. It’s undeniable that this system of outward sexual identification resonates with something within the gay American experience — what exactly that is is another question.

Part of it certainly has to do with the forms of gayness we’re offered by culture at large, which in the grand scheme of sexualities and experiences, is incredibly limited. Seeing as the white-attractive-young-effeminate gay who’s attracted to other white-attractive-young-effeminate gays is the only image of homosexuality we’re presented by popular culture currently, it makes sense why those that fall outside of that image would feel the need to seek out a defined identity.

That tokenized image of gayness is if anything a product of the last decade too — before that the only real portrait of homosexuality popular culture offered was one of the deviant outsider.

But that image of the deviant outsider is something that needs to be considered too, and how it’s informed the gay experience. That tokenized image of the “acceptable” gay is if anything a direct response to the notion that has lingered for years that gay men are inherently deviant. But in the age of marriage equality and the proliferation of the LGBT movement, the American mainstream needed an image of the gayness that they could find acceptable and use to sort through the politics of sexuality.

So even today, there isn’t really a way for gay men coming to terms with their sexualities to discover themselves through media. Sexualized imagery of men is nearly always intended for a heterosexual female audience, and images of men being attracted to men tend to be implied through subtext if anything. The only gay identity we’re typically presented with through American culture tends to be catered to individuals outside the gay community.

So how are gay men supposed to understand their sexualities then? To me at least, it seems the emergence of these sub-communities is the answer to that. In the void of readily available forms of identification, our community has emphasized and embraced identity in its most explicitly pronounced form. We’ve produced the means to understand our identities within a culture that has historically preferred to ignore our diverse range of experiences.

In this sense, it should come as no surprise that this sort of intra-community sorting emerged just as the LGBT experience finally entered mainstream discourse. Culturally, America is finally acknowledging the existence of gay people; what then it means to identify as gay in America is a question that’s still being sorted through. The gay tribe system is undeniably primitive answer, but it’s starting a conversation within our culture that desperately needs to be addressed.

Kyle Mangione-Smith is a filmmaker and student living in Boston

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Category: General, National News

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