Gay dating is often about exclusion as much as attraction (Pic: Karol Moraes)
The politics of gay dating… It’s a topic we should never tire of challenging. Are you fem? Are you straight acting? Are you discreet? Are you out? Are you a man or a sis’bhuti? These are questions that are asked every day.
Since time immemorial, who we love, share life with and are attracted to, let alone who we choose to have sex with, has been a hot political issue. We may argue; ‘who cares who I sleep with, who I choose to share a life with’ and so forth, especially in a post-2006 South Africa (when same-sex marriage became legal), but people do indeed care.
Most importantly, we ourselves, as gay and queer men, also seem to be deeply concerned about the categories our partners or potential partners fall into.
Dating apps the world over are littered with the demand for hyper-masculine men, both as tops and bottoms. In South Africa, the expectation for one to be super masculine to meet the criteria for social acceptance, be desirable and ultimately have an active sex life is also deep; it plays itself out online and in physical spaces.
Why, for example, are we so obsessed with masculinity as a yardstick for desirability? Why is it such an important aspect of our politics, especially when it comes to who we are attracted to?
Are you fem or fat?
I was a university student when I happened upon the term effemiphobia, which is a strong dislike of effeminacy, such as that which may be seen in effeminate gay men. This dislike has mutated to include phrases like ‘no fats, no fems’, which speaks to how larger and more effeminate gay men are often painted as undesirable. These traits are so accepted as undesirable that these exclusions are unashamedly and overtly asserted on dating apps.
Why do we hate femininity so much as gay and queer men? What is so wrong with men owning and expressing their innate feminity? Go onto Grindr now and, within minutes, you’ll find many profiles that declare “no sissies” or “jitas to jitas” or another form of code that demands that gay men hide, discard or feel shame for displaying outward effeminacy.
Are you discreet?
By definition discretion refers to a certain level of confidentiality, to avoid public knowledge and possible embarrassment. And while we can agree that not everyone can afford to be out of the proverbial closet, why have we made being ‘discreet’ an important part of our politics of attraction.
While we can appreciate the need for one person who is still in the closet to relate to others who are also not yet out, why do we allow the chastising of those who are out?
Our community, supposedly famed for its inclusion and welcoming nature, however different people may be, is actually a select club of “you can’t sit with us” vest-wearing Mary Antoinettes. How did we even get here? Simon Nkoli please save us!
Admittedly, the South African LGBTQ rights movement is quite young; many of the stalwarts are still alive. It has only been 14 years since same-sex marriage became a reality in our country. It is not even 23 years since the crime of sodomy was abolished. Activist and filmmaker Bev Ditsie only got conferred an honorary doctorate a year ago, the Feather Awards are not in their teens yet and we are still yet to heal from the 2012 Johannesburg Pride March fracas. Our movement is a nappy-wearing baby (or maybe, a teen yet to have his first wet dream).
The world at large is so over dealing with the horrible effects of hyper masculinity, yet we as a ‘progressive’ community continue to worship it. But, as a relatively newly-visible community, we have the opportunity of not going further down the rabbit hole and to avoid yet another queer generation settling into a lifetime of self-hate, exclusion and depravation.
Yes, I am preaching self love, unity and ‘kumbaya’. If we have so many standing against us, hating us for our apparent lack of godliness, why are we burdening ourselves even further and allowing hate to thrive within?
Living in a world that persecutes us for being different is hard enough without those in our small community making it worse. It can be argued that perhaps, yes, we simply do ‘like what we like’, but we don’t have to hate, demean and reject those who may not make our personal cut in the bedroom.
We are allowed to express our attractions, to find leather, beards, firm thighs and tall frames attractive, but what we are not allowed to do is devalue others for being themselves, expressing their most authentic traits and, more importantly, for being their out and proud, fabulously femme, big, different and queer selves.