Why the modern Indian gay man is suffering from lack of self love
Slots for bear, muscled, toned or twink in apps like Grindr only perpetuate fears about body image.
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Akash (name changed) is a young gay man in his early late 20s. Dressed in a tight white shirt, buttons down and a denim jacket, his beard is perfectly manicured and he is wearing hazel brown lenses. As he pulls up his sleeves, I see his biceps finding expression, green veins sticking out on his arms. While trying to be objective about his conventional good looks, I see his face drooping as if he is expecting some kind of validation from me.
His chief complaint: “I don’t look good enough! I think I am ugly! I feel terrible about myself - the feeling just doesn’t go.”
Though it’s not only Akash, but there are several other gay men who have often confided in me their insecurity about how they look - be it friends, clients or dates. How it’s an impending pressure almost all the time that they need to look a certain way. It’s as if everyone needs to meet that un-mentioned, standard set of requirements. When asked, why they would let their self-worth be questioned so brutally by their own self, most of them would begin revealing with their fear of being rejected. And how it’s a constant anxiety that they grapple with in their everyday life while seeking love, company or intimacy.
While many of my straight women friends seem to understand this fear of rejection at its base, many other straight male friends do question the desperations and anxieties of a gay man in seeking a sexual/romantic partner. In their subtlest of queries they would ask, why does it always have to be about how they look and how other men look? How does it matter if someone is hairy, or bearded, has good biceps, lanky or say six-pack abs? Why is it so important - more important than how the person as a "person" is? Here, most of them are unable to comprehend how a gay man is developmentally different from his straight counterpart. Before the realisation of being gay, comes the realisation: I am different. If it happens in early childhood, then most of their childhood goes by in the desperation of understanding the difference. And when one finally makes the distinction, it is followed by other desperations of seeking validation, in some cases seeking out ways to "normalise", and in some other, engaging in resentment of one’s own self, until acceptance arrives.
For many such men the ultimate goal is to find a partner who would love them and accept them for who they are. But because all of them come from a space of uncertainty, the fear of committing and getting trapped in a relationship remains. Giving fuel to this phobia are gay dating apps like Grindr, Planetromeo, Hornet, et al. However, this isn’t a concern that cannot be handled. Though gay men crave for relationships - some sort of monogamous finality that will heterosexualise their social stand, it has been increasingly observed that the general sense of stability on a mass level is fading.
Many of them have often complained how they would get addicted to Grindr or to PlanetRomeo and try as they might they would be unable to get out of the mess. They would perhaps delete it, re-install it, delete it again and suffer immense sexual frustration by the end of the day and go back to it once again. Somewhere, they are convinced that the potential outside is infinite and for the seeker there are thousands of bodies waiting, still unexplored. Therefore, the idea of "seeking a partner" doesn’t remain the goal, instead, the pleasure of seeking becomes the goal. So, everyone ends up being in a state of perpetual alertness - the childhood anxiety about surviving in a heterosexual world and the uncertainty surrounding it finding expression as the recklessness of constant seeking.
Seeking what? Not just bodies and faces, but at a profound level – validation, acceptance, significance. Apart from contributing to the rising anxiety amongst gay men in India, Grindr and similar apps are also responsible for distorting the sense of reality for these men. The way gay men see themselves have drastically changed with the advent of these apps. When gratification is so instant, one also needs to be on his toes all the time. Therefore, there is a constant need to be guarded, prepared and be charged all the time – for desire may strike anytime, and feeding it is as essential as urinating or defecating.
With categories like bear, muscled, toned, twink, et al finding slots as body types on these apps, gay men today find themselves questioning about their self worth and self perception. One of the basic tenets of any mode of psychotherapy is to make the client realise the value of self-love. And it is observed, that gay men suffer from a great lack of self love when it comes to body image issues, as compared to their straight counterparts. Most times, people who are effeminate, chubby or out-of-shape are rejected right away – without contemplation and without consideration. Perhaps, because of the same reason that the potential out there is infinite and no one wants to waste time on someone whom they don’t find physically attractive.
This, in turn, has led to a rise in the fear of rejection, which then escalates to self-hatred, self-loathing and a sense of un-belongingness. Though the modern Indian gay man may seem uber-confident, exceptionally groomed and impeccably smart, the question of self-worth seems to trouble him. And though it’s an issue that soon needs to be addressed in congenial spaces, the pervasiveness of these apps in giving fire to desire is way too large. So large that people are perhaps ready to sacrifice their identities, their image of themselves and maybe the fear of not discovering enough and being left out.
At its base, it’s the fear of mortality, of insignificance, of fading into the oblivion.