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Online and Unreal

Posted on 8th February 2010. One Comment

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Paul Powell-Blake takes a straightforward, direct and no-holds-barred look at how the internet has affected the gay scene…

“…there is no doubt that this freedom of expression online can provide a great outlet for those that find it difficult in society…”

From coming out of the closet through to cruising gay websites for local sexual encounters, there is no denying that the internet has not only revolutionised the way the world as a whole connects, but has revolutionised and perhaps re-invented the queer world. For any lonely and confused young gay man, the internet has become a validating and pleasure seeking paradise. From gay advice and support through to liaisons of a sexual nature, there is no doubt that this freedom of expression online can provide a great outlet for those that find it difficult in society but surely there must be some consequences for all this pleasure. As Muller yogurt wisely philosophises: where is the pain?

The online world has truly become all-encompassing; not only do we spend hours perusing the online bible that is facebook or congregating to the shopping mecca that is asos.com without ever leaving our desk, but even when we are not at our laptops we can do it all from our iPhones and Blackberries. The internet has finally become completely mobile and with the release of a rather humorous Gaydar application for the iPhone, which allows you to locate the nearest homosexual to your current location (who also has an iPhone that has been registered to Gaydar) even complete with a hilarious submarine-esque “beep” to scout the nearest gay, I ask if online connectivity has gone too far, and perhaps taken the “fun” out of being gay?

“…does all this faceless dating and connectivity have any repercussions for the gay society?”

Queers are logging into Internet dating sites at an exponential rate, with gayromeo, gaydar, manhunt and gaydargirls just a few of the most visited websites. Long gone are the restrictions of shady meetings in seedy gay bars or secret cruising grounds,  and it is amazing how even “straight” major dating sites like match.com are also providing gay dating services as part of their main packages. Indeed, the internet may be breaking down these social barriers as well as helping gays meet other gays online, but does all this faceless dating and connectivity have any repercussions for the gay society?

It is sad to note that stereotypes of the queer kind still exist in plenty online. Of course, muscle-marys, beefy-bears and boyish dykes have long been fixtures of the gay scene, but does the faceless nature of the Net allow magnification of these stereotypes,  setting back the equality images that homosexuals have been lobbying for decades? For gay men, photoshopped pictures of steroid-abused muscle men and “straight” acting gays adorn dating profiles, further enforcing an unrealistic and unobtainable body image for gay men, while promoting a preference for acting “straight”, or those that are “bisexual”. Additionally, the majority of lesbian women online are still portrayed as “butch” or “dykey”, and internet chat means that you can reject somebody just based on their profile picture without any remorse or even politeness. If this is the niche that gay men and lesbian women feel pressured to enter in order to conform with the etiquette of internet dating, then why go online in the first place at all? Is this really the Holy Land of free speech, or just a virtual-reality where the inhabitants can flaunt an imaginary lifestyle without the repercussions of reality?

“One man who has made a living out of his very obsession with the cult of celebrity is Perez Hilton.”

In a world obsessed with celebrity and the player lifestyle, the internet can be a world of make-believe: a world of photoshopped pictures, fake names and the user/screen divide creating a mask for online pleasure seekers to say anything and everything they want to….

However, there is no doubt that the Internet has provided a platform for many homosexuals and queer organisations to succeed in ways they may have never done otherwise. One man who has made a living out of his very obsession with the cult of celebrity, and right to write whatever he likes, has been the self-dubbed “Queen of all Media” and “most-hated blogger in Hollywood”: Perez Hilton. He is undoubtedly a driving force for the presence of the gay community, both online and in the entertainment world, combining the two worlds into one potent and highly addictive mix. Love or loathe this often extremely opinionated blogger, highly criticised for outing celebrities currently in the closet, and maliciously attacking others: his rise from an overweight Cuban teenager to being listed as the most powerful blogger on the internet (Forbes magazine) could be seen as a contemporary gay fairytale.

Indeed, such is the power of his hold on the internet that he has helped launch the music careers of modern, queer-friendly pop icons such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry by being one of the first websites to promote their music to his online fan community of over 5 million daily readers worldwide… and with such a huge and loyal fan base, perhaps Perez is the best example of the 21st Century addiction to both the internet and celebrity.

“…of course there are the exceptions, and many have met great people online…”

But whilst the alternate reality of the Internet has worked wonders for the re-invention of  Mario Levandar into Perez Hilton, problems still arise for those gays still seeking reality. Although the internet can be an oasis of imagination, an incredibly extensive source of information and a major weapon in the battle for freedom of speech and freedom of expression for gay people, by its very nature it is intangible, and often, fictional. The propensity of gay people to escape the confines of reality and create a rainbow world of Dorothy and her ruby slippers is a peculiar and natural explanation to the creation of the gay online fantasy… but of course there are the exceptions, and many have met great people online. But, it can detract from the fun and self-exploration encountered by physically engaging in spontaneous conversations and unanticipated social liasons. I say, love the internet, but love the pub, friends and social activities such as sport and drama even more…Even if you do have a mastercard, there are some things money just can’t buy on the net.

 Paul Powell-Blake

One Comment »

  • Simon W. said:

    Great article… as a fellow queer i really relate to a lot of the issues that you cover. Its not just about finding like-minded people on then net or in society, but how you are bombarded with images of how you should look and act from all angles in order to meet the “right” person. I think the problem is much worse in gay culture than in the heteronormative world, even though both guys and girls are feeling the pressure to look after themselves and be like the fashion adverts more and more.
    Well done.