Friday, December 29, 2006

I'm Beautiful Damn It

The messages that I’ve received since coming out have consistently suggested that I do not deserve to love myself. At every turn within Black gay community, in clubs, at discussion groups, on the street, on internet dating sites there are messages and messengers waiting for me to inform me that I do not have the right to like my body. “How dare you be a sexual being,” is a constantly reoccurring message drummed at me from every corner of Black gay community. While I have attempted to be strong I have internalized many of these messages.

Just this evening I was on a popular website for Black gay men to “chat” with one another. I’ve been in Oakland for three months and have not found a club or other venue for meeting men that suites me so I decided to give the internet a try one more time, after a long self imposed period of exile. So I got my pictures together, got them posted and wrote a blurb that advertised me in what I thought was the best light. I finished my profile, closed the window (to give it a minute), and waited to get a message or two that I could respond to in the hopes of having a date for this weekend.

While I was going through the dozens of pictures of myself on my hard drive and selecting the ones that I consider the most flattering I was feeling particularly good about myself. I had looked at the pictures, of my face, my body, my sense of style and once again, against all conventional wisdom, decided that I am beautiful. This has become a seemingly annoying habit of mine that I am apparently more susceptible to after long extended periods of absence from Black gay male community.

After an hour or two of “giving it a minute,” and feeling my resolve that I am beautiful begin to weaken, I decided that I would be more proactive. I started reading the profiles of the cute guys in the thumbnails on the left hand side of the page. About half of the profiles saved me the trouble by designating “no fats, no fems” I spent a bit of time pleasuring myself by rating them and selecting zero for every “pic” on their profiles. The other half of the guys that I found attractive got a short message from me expressing that I found them attractive, sexy or cute and that they should “hit me up” as the online jargon goes. Of the four or five guys that I sent messages to three responded negatively. One sent a message that simply said “no thanks,” another sent an email stating in, so many words, that I was fat, undesirable, and that I had nerve sending them a message, yet another sent a message that simply said “you’re fat.” I responded politely to two. The third guy who had said simply “you’re fat” I learned had blocked me when I attempted to respond. Wow!

I didn't know what to do. I thought for a moment, letting the feelings of rejection marinate and wondering why people felt like they could talk to me as if I'm a person without feelings. What is it exactly that would empower someone to feel entitled to saying hurtful and damaging things to another human being?

After a while of this musing I decided a couple of things were going on. The first thing is the devaluing and dehumanizing, by black gay men, of other black gay men who do not offer sexual value. The other thing that I recognized is the cultural norm that allows small people to mock and make fun of fat people without worrying about being held accountable for hurt feelings (we don't have feelings). The third thing that I realized was empowering these men to treat me the way that they were treating me was my silence. My silence allowed them to go on believing that I had committed a crime by being attracted to them, that I did not experience hurt when I was rejected with such vigor. This situation of my silence held in place by the shame attached to these feelings of rejection was the perfect place for the incubation for inhumane behavior toward fat gay men within Black gay male community.

I posted the following statement on my profile:

Damn! What have I done to be treated so badly? You don't know me, I've never done anything to you but I send a message to say hi or compliment you and you block me, don't reply, or reply saying mean things about me and my body? Why? Because you're not attracted to me? Here's a suggestion: If you're not attracted to me don't fuck me. All that other shit ain't necessary. You may not like my body but this is what the creator has given me and its the only body I have regardless of what you think about it. I haven't hurt or wronged anybody on this site. Please don't attempt to hurt or wrong me.

The anger, malice, and hatred that I am met with in Black gay male spaces when I attempt to be a sexually realized being in those spaces has always perplexed me. The communities that I’ve existed in have reacted to me with anger when I have asserted myself as a sexual being and abused me when I’ve owned my sexuality. I have experienced little more than rejection from Black gay male community and have relied largely on Black straight identified men “trade” for sexual affirmation.

While I have been a warrior for the rights of fat-fem me to be sexy, beautiful, attractive, and wanted I have often contributed to my own oppression by accepting the rejection of Black gay men wholesale, and acting complicitly with my silence. Silence and self imposed exile from clubs, internet sites, and other sexualized spaces has been the result of my own painfully internalized oppression.

My Promise to myself

As of today, I will no longer participate in my own oppression with my silence. While being rejected is shaming and while shame is powerful I am committed to making sure that Black gay men that treat me badly know that they are treating me badly and know that their treatment of me has consequences. Its only if I pretend nothing happened that people who treat me badly get to feel like they are the good people that they describe themselves as on their profiles. Maybe if we all (Fat Black Gay Men) react to the vigorous and unnecessarily vehement rejection that we often receive by expressing the feelings that we experience the shame will belong to those who abuse us and not to us.


Herukhuti said...

Damn, you are beautiful. Once again, I enjoy your analysis.

I'm curious about the characteristics (profile and pic-specific) of the men to whom you were attracted on the site. Were there similarities/commonalities between and among these men? Are there ways in which those similarities/commonalities may shape a predisposing response?

Far from being a suggestion that you may be hypo-critically attracted to men who are not fat, thereby being contrary to the change you want to see in the world, my questions are about unearthing some not so obvious/simple foundations for these kinds of responses and their frequency.

My other response to this is a question for you as well as the men who have rejected you: Why do we predispose ourselves to only having sex with people to whom we are physically attracted? There are people to whom I've been physically attracted that were not good sexual partners for me. Likewise, I've had sex with people to whom I was not physically attracted and had some of the best sex that I've experienced. Over the years, I've come to separate aesthetic attraction and sexual compatibility as concepts.

These men may be foregoing some very pleasureable,, enjoyable, satisfying, and rewarding sex because they aren't aesthetically attracted to you. Likewise, you may be foregoing some very pleasureable, enjoyable, satisfying, and rewarding sex by not approaching the men on that web site and in life to whom you're not aesthetically attracted. This maybe doubly true about social compatibility, life-goals, politics, etc.

Can we expand our understanding of what makes our sexual experiences gratifying beyond aesthetics?

Ynkuya said...

Hi Heru,

Thanks for your comments. To start with your first question: Approaching men on the internet and in real time is very difficult for me to do because I have experienced so much rejection from Black gay men. When I approach men in real time they are usually straight appearing, it has not always been this way but my expereince has been that "trade" tend to be more receptive to my sexual advances than gay identified or openly homosexual men. I don't do a lot of approaching of gay men at all and have even learned (again because of my experiences within black gay male community) to respond with suspicion to the sexual advances of outwardly homosexual men.

All that being said: I talked about my experiences with three men on the site. Those three men were very similar in body type, age and build. They were all thin, dark skinned, and under 30. I actually had a bunch of no-replies and two men that I ended up chatting with for the night. The two men that I chatted with were both over thirty and over 200 pounds. It has been my experience that with gay men the further they go from the center of commodity the more accepting they are of my attentions.

I'm attracted to a variety of different body types, ages, gender presentations, and butch/fem variations (my only deal breaker is they must have a penis) and this was represented in the men that I approached.

What I have said in conversations of this kind with Charles before is that ultimately I end up dating the men that are most attracted to me and not the men that I am most attracted to. I tend to be turned on by guys who are pretty feminine. The guys that tend to be turned on by me are pretty masculine. So I end up having sex with masculine thug types that like "big gurls," and not the feminine sissy types that like thug types.

As for your second question: I may be misunderstanding you. I feel like you're suggesting that if I approached only other fat men I would get less of these kinds of responses. I think this is probably true. I don't think that it is my responsibility to manage other peoples attractions for them however. If a guy that I approach is not attracted to me then he has to manage that. Preempting lack of attraction (which I have done) to me feels a bit like internalized oppression and I've worked hard not to do it. I have noticed that when I approach fat men online I don't get the same kind of response. Some big guys have said I was too feminine and too big. I've been to "sex parties" for big men where all the big men sat in corners with t-shirts on and towels wrapped around them waiting for the thin chasers to show up. So what affect limiting my approaches to big men would have is unclear.

Regarding your third question: I do believe that I can experience pleasure with someone who I am not aesteticly attracted to. I have, in fact, experienced lots of pleasure with men that I am not aestheticly attracted to. I have also been bored to death by sex with men that I was passionatley attracted to.

The problem with the particular site that I was on is that all it gives you to work with is a photo, only when you click on the photo do you get to read anything about the person. While I approached a spectrum of men, my approach was based on a photograph. My process on this site was this: The site list men in the state of california and is not city specific so my first click criteria was living in Oakland San Francisco or some place accessible to BART. The second search criteria was that they are black and at the very least of color. If these things were in place I oppened ther profiles, read about them and there sexual preferences and hit people up based on the kind of sex they like to have and what I like to do. Process of elimination. Once I got threw with the Black dudes I started on the latinos and the asians who apparently only date white men in the Bay Area.

Herukhuti said...

Peace Kevin,

Thank you for your response. I actually tried to be very explicit that I was not suggesting that you only date or approach "other fat men." I think that strategy would be highly problematic if your aesthetic interests and desires go beyond that.

Your article does call attention to another very interesting dynamic: the arrogance and sense of entitlement/privilege that is a part of the energy that men use to dismiss or reject the advances of "fat" men and "fat and fem" men. One of the things that is interesting, rather telling, about this to me is how it appears across the United States with almost unanimity and how unique of a form it is. I don't really hear of or see this being played out in these environments on other forms of social identity. For example, I don't see a groundswell of middle class men saying "you have to own your home, stock shares, and make a 6 figure income to get with me and if you don't then keep your broke, underclass ass away from me." I also don't see or hear of a groundswell of very educated men saying "if you don't have a post-graduate degree, home library, and a publishing record, don't consider approaching me because I will shame your ignorant, GED ass."

It seems the arrogance, entitlement/privilege is only the justified domain of the non-fat. That all one needs to do is to watch one's carbs, not eat past 9pm, and work out at least 30 minutes 5 days a week to be able to take such a posture. In fact, one need not do all of that if one has the benefits of genetics or HIV to maintain one's weight/height ratio below a certain threshold. In those cases as well, men can express arrogance, entitlement/privilege in their dismissal/rejection of the advances of "fat men."

How far we have come from "black men loving black men is a revolutionary act." It seems we have substituted the freedom to fuck each other and fuck each other over for a capacity to love each other even when we are not going to bed with each other. How do we manifest love for each other as a cultural practice among Black men who have sex with men?

I think there are groups who are attempting to answer that question programmatically, e.g. Adodi International, BMX (NY and elsewhere), A Deeper Love (ATL), and my center Black Funk through the process, Our Bodies, Our Wisdom. I think these efforts are important because while your individual actions make a difference we need to also have collective action on these issues.

T. Zac said...

I haven't read all of your comments yet...but I will say that immediately something stood out to me.

Many people on the internet are just mean. They don't recognize that real people are behind the words on the screen. I see it in the blosphere and in the men 4 men online social/dating sites.

T. Zac said...

This discussion is very interesting.

I think it is interesting because as Kevin says "locating" yourself on the spectrum informs much of the comments.

I say that because there are various forms of marginalization and whenever you are outside of the popular desired category you are rejected - most of the time.

However, I must disagree with this statement:

"I don't see a groundswell of middle class men saying "you have to own your home, stock shares, and make a 6 figure income to get with me and if you don't then keep your broke, underclass ass away from me."

I am not sure if here you are describing the desires of a middle class man for an upper class man, or the desires of an upper class man for the same. Still the weathly gay men I know (and know of ) don't have online profiles.

However, I currently live in Detroit, and I do not have a car. I am often rejected on that basis. That is to say that people click on my profile, maybe say one or two words and when it comes to meeting up and they find out I don't have a car, I'm rejected.

"I also don't see or hear of a groundswell of very educated men saying "if you don't have a post-graduate degree, home library, and a publishing record, don't consider approaching me because I will shame your ignorant, GED ass."

I think you must run in really enlightened circles because I find very often educated men won't deal with someone "on their level".

Also, I am educated and it is obvious, for this reason I am also rejected. In fact I would say more people reject me becuase of my education than they do because of my lack of a car.

The really hurtfull thing about this is that it is often after a telephone conversation or a date. Everything seems fine and then rejection.

I don't know exactly how it feels to be fat and fem. I do know what it is like to be rejected before I am known based on someone considering me too thick, (not thick enough) not muscular enough, to white(aka educated), too light (I'm brown, not light) too dark, (I'm brown not dark) too short (I'm 5'7") One guy told me that he doesn't deal with pretty boys.

I don't know your expreirence except for my empathy, but I do know rejection, and I think we all experience it.

I think you are doing the right thing. Put your pictures up, be pretty, be yourself.

T. Zac said...

I meant to say many educated guys won't deal with a person who is NOT "on their level"

Herukhuti said...

Peace t.zac,

I'm not sure how you're disagreeing with my statements. Unless you are seeing a groundswell of middle class men saying in their online profiles that they only want to be approached by men who own their home, stock shares, and make a 6 figure income and denigrating men who don't have those things, you don't have the basis with which to disagree with my statement.

If you're saying that the reason why I'm not seeing that is because the men you know who are wealthy don't have (or to your knowledge don't have) online profiles, then I would say that if that is true (and we don't know that it is true given that they just might not have told you they have profiles and you may not have recognized or come across their profiles) that is still not an adequate basis for disagreement with my statement because the men that you know who are wealthy represent a small subset of all the men who could be a part of the group that I am referring to across the country.

I didn't say anything about having a car so I'm not sure how you're using that as a basis for disagreeing with my comments. The rejections you've experienced as a result of you not having a car could have much more to do with the desire for face-to-face encounters and the limitations to addressing that desire when someone is without personal transportation than a deliberate attempt on the part of the men who've rejected you to discriminate based upon class identity.

You also said that you find very often educated men won't deal with men not on their level. But you also said that you are educated and that you've dated men who rejected you because of your education (implying that you were more educated then these men and therefore they were not on your level). So you are your own example of an educated man that disproves your claim.

I'm not trying to be argumentative or overly critical but I do want to be clear about the consistency of what we are saying to each other and to really be clear about when we are disagreeing with something and why.

Ynkuya said...

I actually do think that men are rejected based on other things. Education and class definately form the basis for rejection of people to partner with.

I do have to agree with you Heru in saying that that rejection lacks the same kind of self righteous anger that the rejection of fats and fems is so full of.

My point for this post and for my response online was to humanize myself. To bring a conversation very much like the conversations that we've been having to the online dating venue.

For some reason fat men and fem men and to a degree old men (unless they are "really hot") are rejected with a sense of anger, and hatred that the purveyer often feels very intittled to and righteous about.

I don't see this happening with class. In regard to class I see one of three things:

1) Don't miss your blessing messages among middle class and wealthy men with regard to poor and working class men.

2) Objectification of poor and working class men within the neo hip hop sexual movement among Black Gay men.

3) Out right rejection of working class and poor men by wealthy and middle class men that lacks the fervor and vehemence that the rejection of fat and fem men often carries.

Ultimately I think that change is going to relly on those of us who do not exist within the center. I am determined to be human and determeined to express the pain that this kind of rejection causes for me. It takes for me and extreme love for myself and a conquering of shame for me to be able to position myself in such a way which is why I think these kind of men and notions have not been confronted in a way that is effective in the past.

T. Zac. R. d V. said...

Hey guys, I was not trying be argumentative or anything I was just saying some of my own experiences related to online rejection.

I guess I was not very clear.

When I have been rejected because of my lack of car situation (in Detroit) it is with a pissy if the person wanted to say, "you got a lot of nerve even contacting me, you broke ass nigga" Honestly that is the attitude I get.

Now as far as the educated thing, it is not so mean spirited. It's just they say, "I aint feeln you" and things like that.

But I feel your point, and I think it is a good thing for you to do this thing that you are doing.

We need to normalize and rehumanize people that are fat/fem, and the more affirming images we see and experience slowly the culture will not be so mean.

I hope also that I can be an ally, I am not sure exactly how that is done, except to not laugh at fat jokes and call people out for treating people mean only because they are fat. I am not sure.