The September 2008 issue of OUT Magazine features a powerful article of interest: "Has MANHUNT Destroyed Gay Culture?" by Michael Joseph Gross.
Gross' article focuses on Manhunt.net, a site for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and the fastest growing gay website in the world, with over 1 million members and more than 400,000 unique visitors per month, all in the USA alone - and the site serves some 100 countries.
More importantly, the article considers how online cruising has changed gay urban social life by, for example, driving human interactions from physical spaces to virtual ones and encouraging the "pornification" of gay self-expression.
Apparently, one UK study found that in 1993, 2.3% of gay men found their first male sex partner online; by 2003 that number had risen to 61.2%. OUT quotes Jeffrey Klausner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health: "It means that gay men who were once socialized in brick-and-mortar establishments, surrounded by other people, are now being socialized online."
The question for conscious, spiritual LGBT people then becomes, "Is that virtual socialization creating a community of healthy, self-actualized MSM?" The answer seems to be an obvious "No."
As Gross puts it in OUT, "If you were asked to design the perfect weapon to exploit this vulnerability as it manifests in attractive, urban gay men, you'd want something that would intensify our isolation, exaggerate our propensity to objectify ourselves - by encouraging us to believe that our purpose is to look good and have lots of sex."
Isolation. Objectification. Lack of genuine communication and community. These should be issues of real concern to spiritual LGBT people, especially to LGBT-affirming body/mind/spirit resource providers like those listed on MyOutSpirit.com.
So much of our work is about affirming that LGBT people (in this case, MSM) are so much more than just bodies - that we are not only physical/sexual, but intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual beings. The hardest part of the job, it often seems, is convincing LGBT people themselves of that truth.
Gross writes, "The most powerful secrets we keep on Manhunt aren't the ones we keep from the outside world. The most powerful secrets on Manhunt are the ones we keep from ourselves. Practically every gay man has his own version of this secret, which we learned to keep while growing up in the closet: the secret fear that, if we were truly known, we would never be loved.
"...When you came out, you did it because you wanted something," Gross continues. "Part of what you wanted was sex, but part of what you hoped for was the possibility of being loved as your true self."
As always, online or off-line, we are choosing between Love and Fear, living fully or shrinking from our potential, shining our light or hiding it under a bushel.
I won't ruin the whole article - there's a lot more there ripe for discussion and consideration, and I hope you will choose to leave your comments on the article at OUT.com as well as in response to this post.
With the near ubiquity of online cruising among MSM, it's important that conscious LGBT people like the readers of this Gay Spirituality Blog look directly at the problems that virtual socialization may cause and how we can remedy them before it's too late. That said, we also have to be realistic - online social networking, cruising...these things are not going away. We need a BOTH/AND solution, not an EITHER/OR solution.
"We need to put our heads together and try to figure out what we want normative social life to look like. Whatever the answer turns out to be, it will involve creating social structures that serve and gratify our desire to have sex with each other and also promote and support the possibility of developing and sustaining intimate relationships." I would add to Gross' call for our attention: whatever the answers are, they must consider the development and well-being of the WHOLE person, not only sexual and romantic. And frankly, there's no time to waste.
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