Shame, Shame, Body Shame We’re ranking people based on good looks and hot bodies. Gay dating apps are the new flesh markets and in this world, femmes, overweight, those with a darker skin tone are simply not welcome!
The first time I went to a gay party at one of Mumbai’s elitist pubs, I happened to meet the friends of a friend. Now, these guys were supposed to be “popular” because they had a high ranking in the “red hot” and “body” categories on PlanetRomeo. I failed to understand what the fuss was all about. And from the moment we were introduced to the time I said goodbye, I was blatantly ridiculed for my looks, my body and weight, the way I danced, and everything else. They were teasing my friend by claiming that I would be a good match for him, implying how unattractive I was, trying to embarrass my friend who, sadly, did feel embarrassed to be paired up with me.
On the dance floor, these “hotties” would huddle up and literally shove their mouths inside each other’s ears to make fun of my dancing. At another party, I was asked about the country of my origin. I was told that I looked like I was from 'Zimbabwe' because apparentlyt my dark skin made it okay to be a racist .
With the advent of dating applications, which is a euphemism for hook-up applications, the obsession with appearances has reached ridiculous heights. In these applications, looks and ‘body’ are the sole factors deciding the desirability of a profile. You become famous or infamous by your handles and are rated for your attractiveness. PlanetRomeo had different icons for appreciating the body (muscularity and tone), the manhood, the face, and the buttocks. The term is ‘footprints’ and there is a record maintained of the footprints received. A rank is assigned depending on the number of footprints a profile receives. Of course, there are footprints for other aspects as well, ranging from the profile itself to the matching of mental wavelengths. However, members know that the non-physical footprints are hardly used.
On another mobile application called Grindr, you can approach guys within your vicinity. The display picture is the sole criteria to decide the desirability of a person. The profile descriptions are rarely anything other than the terms generally used in the gay sex parlance. Grindr is a flesh market with the highest demand for lean, athletic, or the muscular masculine prototype.
This brings us to the obsession to fit the celebrated prototype of the ‘gym rat’. Also, the face has to fit into the good-looking category. The face and looks carry equal weightage, for you will be discarded with a vengeance if you don’t look pretty/handsome/sexy/hot etc.
In a questionnaire I sent to several gay men, most of them desired a better body. They said that with a better physique they would have a better chance of finding a suitable partner. The most common shaming were reserved for the following aspects:
Effeminacy and Femme Shaming
Most profile descriptions express an aversion or hatred for effeminacy or effeminate men. The so-called “straight-acting” men make their disapproval of effeminate men loud and clear. “Feminine men”, “Aunties”, ladyboys”, “didis” (sisters), “hili duli imarat” (shaky monuments), and many other creative terms are used to refer to them. These men are strictly forbidden to contact “straight-acting” men.
If you are overweight then there is a definite possibility of being fat-shamed. Being the butt of all jokes, casual ridicule at work, and even physical abuse is considered normal. Fat-shaming is so common that even the victims accept it at some point and stop defending themselves. Adding to that, if you are an LGBT person, your problems are multiplied. People can pick and choose if they want to tease you for being gay or for being fat.
Gay Subcultures and Labels
A western phenomenon that is quickly and surely seeping into the Indian gay context is the labeling of gay men into subcultures and categories. A short description for your knowledge is given below.
Twink: Thin, usually clean-shaven young gay men. Twinks who get a little older and are more muscular are referred to as Twunks.
Bear: The opposite of twinks. Bears are generally heavier, somewhat older gay men who may appear more outwardly stereotypically masculine.
Cub: A younger bear in training.
Otter: Thin gay men who usually have more body and facial hair than Twinks.
Psychologists and counselors at the Humsafar Trust agree that body shaming is a matter of concern and it has affected members of the LGBT community. Body image plays an important role in the day-to-day lives of LGBT, affecting their confidence and self-esteem. People are very sensitive about their appearances and are constantly looking for approval. Any comment derogating their physique or looks causes anxiety and depression. The feeling of loneliness is severe due to the discrimination within an already marginalized community. LGBT people, many times find it difficult to experience a healthy social life and form long-lasting relationships due to body image issues.
Beauty and Not the Beast
In a candid and heartening article, Anwesh Sahoo, Mr. Gay India, wrote about the discrimination he faced for his skin color, looks, and personality. The insecurity faced by many within the community was revealed in their disapproval of a representative who did not fit into the well-built, fair skin, and beautiful features category. He says “The way you look on the outside is nothing more than simple grooming. And all your facelifts and beefed up chests can never compensate for your inner darkness.”
Decided to put my heart out for this one. My most recent TEDx talk where I talk of how I chose to be #gay, #femme, and #sexy, growing up in a world where I didn't exist. #mrgayindia #tedx @TEDx @tedxcvshttps://t.co/wpbpT7vaJm— Anwesh Sahoo (@sahoo_anwesh) May 10, 2018
Psychologists feel that though the discrimination is severe, this is an issue that can be dealt with. It is important to realize the value of oneself as a complete human being and that the body is only one aspect of the personality.
Mina Gerges, a body positive model who made history by coming on screen as the "Pit Crew" on Drag Race Canada, said it was improtant to have body positive role models.
"I always think about what kind of bodies and messages I needed to see as a young gay kid who desperately hated his body in pursuit of that gay beauty ideal. It hurt me so much growing up, and I wanted to do something about it as I grew up and learned to be confident in my skin. So, I didn’t know that I’d be the first plus-sized member of the Pit Crew, but I knew I needed to be there so that the young gay kids watching the show can see a bigger body and stretch marks and learn to be kinder to themselves," Gerges told Out magazine.
“There’s something inherently radical about portraying the queer community in Arab countries, arguably one of the most underrepresented communities in the world.” I couldn’t be more proud to be in Sephora’s newest campaign. ???? pic.twitter.com/9h55cVPmQc— Mina (@itsMinaGerges) July 3, 2019
We all have personal preferences. It is not wrong to be vocal about your choices of a partner in bed or otherwise. But to openly mock, shame, insult, and discriminate against someone based on their appearances and physical characteristics is inhuman. The LGBT community represents and embraces the most diverse members of the human race who are mostly a minority. We, therefore, must embrace every unique and diverse individual and celebrate her or him for who they truly are irrespective of what they look like. In the end, each other is all we have.
The cover image for this story is photos of Mina Gerges, a body positive and out model. Courtesy: Mina Gerges' Instagram page.