At some point the internet figured out that I am a casual pervert. Or, if I’m being fair to myself, that I like staring at pretty people with nice bodies when I’m bored and don’t feel like reading. And so do my friends: because as Instagram suggested an ever-growing list of handsome athletes whose job seems to be eating granola shirtless in national parks, I started taking count of how many of my friends followed them.
Lots. Lots and lots.
What a public forum for base vanity! How gross to display lust in the open, or at least, to be outed in a tiny “Followed by: …” line underneath whatever half-witticism or laundry list of branding jargon Jakub Zizcke (a teen who has been bench pressing 300 pounds since 14) has described themselves with. (The next one of you to describe yourself as an ‘influencer’ will influence me to mail you a turd.)
And of course, I ignore the irony that I know this only because I, too, am looking for abs to make me feel bad about eating sandwiches.
So, as mostly a joke, and also to brag since I vaguely have abs at the moment, I decided to become an Instagram boy. I posted only shirtless pictures for a week, adding a line of inane tags to keep the experiment in the realm of ‘comedy’ and outside of ‘a cry for attention’.
Early on, the reactions were obvious. I got a neat stack of perverts who were very rude when I wouldn’t DM them nudes. Unsurprisingly they offered nothing in return because male entitlement, like the universe at large, is infinite and unending.
I also tried to defend my choice in a classic I-have-a-boyfriend response, which surprised me. I owe them nothing and I can defend myself, so why bother? And what’s more, is it unfeminist to use this defense when everyone involved is male? (It is, but let’s talk about me some more.)
What was more interesting was the source of attention. Each photograph averaged 60 likes, while my usual posts (goofy bullshit and comedy show posters) average 20. Half these were from friends, but half were from other gay men doing exactly what I was doing, perhaps with less irony. (It still counts as irony if I also liked the attention, shut up.)
Is being a gay man on the internet yet another rat race? Another open mic, but for who can do the most cardio in the best lighting? I have to question what it is we want. Do we want to be models? Or their close cousin, escorts? I want to say this is not the way to it, but even professional models liked my posts, and yes that is absolutely a brag.
We’ve begun jogging in a hamster wheel made of algorithms. It feels like Chaplin’s Modern Times but with better facial hair. And we all look amazing, because we can’t stop running.
Now my phone gallery is packed with dozens of selfie attempts. Ones where my hair is too big, or my chest too boob’d, or arms too twiggy, or my paunch too present. The adjectives I’d use to describe my body make me sound like a drag queen who loves jalapeno poppers.
Like many gay men, I have a…I want to say complicated relationship with my body, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. I’m hypercritical of it. Here is where I’d list minute flaws only I can see, but I’m perfect so I won’t. (I carry fat in weird pockets and my arms look like straws.) I grew up fat and stayed fat until coming out, so it has a sort of cognitive sense of imprisonment for me. Gaining weight is going back in the closet, being closed off from love and life.
Here is what it is actually like to go from ‘unlovable’ to ‘hot’. I did not have significantly more sex, nor was it better — but I had a lot more people I was never interested in pursue me much more aggressively. Everyone noticed and commented on my body, which was unnerving because it meant that everyone was looking at my body. My Japanese professor opened a class by saying, “Grote-san, nan deshita ka? Marukunai desu yo!” (What happened, Mr. Grote? You aren’t round!) Everyone asked me how I dropped ~60lbs in two months, which was sad because it told me just how much everyone is thinking of their own bodies. (The answer, by the way, is to hit puberty very late, and then discover that if you’re in a gym you can stare at men and pretend you were just waiting to use their machine.)
This is not to say getting in shape wasn’t worthwhile. Physically living in my body felt better. It was literally easier to breathe and I had more energy. I even ate more than I had been. But it didn’t teach me to love myself more, which is — I hate to spoil this — much more important to your overall quality of life than any love another person can give you.
I will admit having people lust after you is pretty great, but it gets addictive and weird and reductive quickly. I spent about half an hour a day taking pictures, which is time I should have been writing. My reward is nothing. (I guess, had I been single, I could have netted a hook up. But dick isn’t hard to find and it’s usually free.)
So here is what I learned from my week being an Instagram boy: it is very nice to get compliments from strangers, but it cannot be the focus of a fulfilling life. If you want to be happy, get yourself a man who makes good spinach dip. They cuddle better. (Also learn to love yourself but honestly, spinach dip is easier and comparable.)
And now that I’m a hot gay nerd and brand influencer, if Marvel wants to send me Thor’s helmet from Ragnarok I will gladly model it while deadlifting in running shorts. (Sue me, girl’s gotta eat.)