As someone who’s once tried to venture into the tyranny of online dating, two things usually strike me as most apparent, the user agreement for most of these sites that moderates the content shared on profiles, usually the policing of images shared on site or to a lesser extent, the profile descriptions.
A quick read of the terms and disclaimer for the governing of profile sections of these sites will tell you no offensive or hate speech, but ever so very often, I had the misfortune of coming across the profile that blatantly declares NO FATS, NO FEMS. So what exactly counts as offensive and is it a matter of just personal preference, and at what point does personal preference transcend into complete asshole territory. This social phenomenon, as I chose to refer to it, sees gay men mostly interested in conversing or hooking up on sites like Grindr, Scruff and Adam4Adam telling you the requirements needed to send them a “Sup” or a “Hi”. No fats, no fems, no old guys (over 30), no young guys (under 25), no blacks, no whites, no Indians, no ugly, no hairy, no bisexuals, no DL, no.
It gets better with profiles that declare I AM MASC ACTING, YOU SHOULD BE TOO, NO PICTURE THEN NO RESPONSE, or I AM FIT, YOU SHOULD BE TOO, MUST BE DISCREET or declaring that to message them you must drive, or must have your own place, or must be able to meet some standard that makes you good enough to send them a message saying “Sup”. What’s most troubling about this is that in a culture that already marginalizes gay men, gay men come together fueled by the brazenness that comes with the anonymity of these websites as usually you’re made to converse with a torso, an erect penis or on the off chance, a gaping asshole (literally).
The takeaway from these attempts at filtering contact for me is the incredible degree of specificity that some users want in the types of other human beings saying “sup” to them. There is also the suggestion that the speech act itself could be some form of violation. Of particular note is the phrase “not into,” taken to mean not sexually interested in. It’s not the fact that some people are “not into” certain types of other people that perplexes me. It is instead the incredible brazenness with which people will associate pejorative views of others with their publicly visible identity. Most troubling is the ease with which some profiles will confess extreme prejudice or use racist epithets, somehow made allowable as a language of sexual attraction or personal preference.
There is something about the blend of social-media publicity and a paradoxical pretension to anonymity fostered by the Internet that is enabling of things like trolling and this kind of behavior on these sites. Yet the things placed on these profiles would not be readily said at the outset of conversation. What’s noteworthy is these websites function as a sort of melting pot for gay men, men from all classes, backgrounds and races are able to peruse each other’s torsos and penis pictures. Similar sites like Tinder that allows users to swipe based on how attractive they find the user arguably run on less moral standing due to the importance of physical appearance, usually being the end all when it comes to deciding if you’ll respond to a “Hi”.
Bodies of all types are allowed to exist in a social space that would usually be restricted by different barriers that have been altered by technology. It relieves users of most of the work that comes with cruising, going out to bars and other gay safe spaces to interact physically with other men. That might be where the brazen need to separate each other with harsh language comes from, it is impossible to police who has access to these websites so we police our own profiles with a set of strict guidelines necessary to send each other a message.
Some of the things people are “into” on these websites are crude, demeaning, or ignorant. As the Internet continues to democratize, more and more types of bodies will have access. While I understand the potential desirability of these services, I worry that it just mimics the same damaging social structures of “real life” interaction, and that we are losing the essence of sexual identity as unifying across differences.
The novelty of these websites allows for a community-developed praxis. What speech is allowable and what projects into the zone of offensiveness might be an interesting conversation starter when you run out of torso compliments, or tire of telling someone they have a nice dick. These blatant “No – ..” messages however do advertise the level of empowerment shared by the owner of the torso, or dick, or ass cheeks and does advertise quite readily which users I would not waste time asking “Sup”.