An introduction to a series of pieces concerning a rife culture of narcissism amongst gay men and their bodily identities.

By Nathan Smith

I never quite knew the story of Narcissus.

Frankly, I felt like I was only feeding Narcissus’s own narcissism learning it.

While I never knew – and still don’t know – the ancient myth of some self-preoccupied Ancient Greek figure, I still know how to spot narcissism in people. Especially gay men. The unhealthy obsession with oneself and one’s own body characterises this psychology and it is a type of thinking rife in the gay community. Looking only through Grindr profiles one can come across countless instances of narcissistic men whose airbrushed photos and taunting overviews (‘Uglies stop messaging me – I’m only after hot guys like me’ one reads) make one wonder about what it means to a be gay male today.

Our image-saturated culture, with the instant-upload killing the one-hour photo, stresses our face and bodies as the primary outlets of our identities (and naturally their relationship to how the camera immortalises them in images). Forget intelligence or emotional depth, we today are encouraged to subscribe to cults of body obsession through fashion, online dating on apps like ManHunt and Grindr, and regular photo cataloguing on Instagram amongst other media outlets.

It’s this contemporary media that me and other gay men can feed off, and it can only compound our interest in ourselves to unhealthy levels. I began to grow alienated at this aching pressure to succumb to narcissistic and obsessive projects dealing with my body, my hair, and my online identity which mostly boiled down to how I chalked up to other gay men in my minority.

Since so much of the media – both its mainstream and queer avenues – predominately present white masculine men (all gym-ready and tanned) as ‘gay’, there’s little diversity depicted as what it means to be a queer male. So half the time I spend deconstructing this misrepresentative tokens of the ‘gay community’ (it’s very rarely considered the ‘queer community’ in the mainstream press), I forge my own cycle of representation – that of the hater of the dominant culture of the gay community.

In this self-perpetuating cycle of thinking, I began to think more of gay men themselves. Being one myself, I too am eaten away by the same fears (homophobia, gay bashing) and the same anxieties (body image, vanity complexes) like others, and what I began to realise is that the young gay male is challenged a great deal to avoid indulging in narcissism. Self-improvement is one of the most deceptive explanations gay men are told when they pursue gym memberships, explore online dating applications, and catalogue their queerness via Instagram or Twitter.

Gay men form some of the most narcissistic in any minority and I’m here to tell you why.

The gay male has a bitter relationship with self-representation and it is only today that this bond is complicated further. It’s an exhaustive set of cultures intersecting and one that I have intensely experienced myself, like most young gay men do as the exit the invisible closet and enter the visible gay community. Between the pressure to chalk up to the bodies the gay community can idolise, right through to competing with other gay men to be given a fair chance on dating websites, it can be a struggle facing a culture that sometimes says your body is what makes you a real gay man.

These thoughts circled my mind as I considered the many identities that shape my immediate community. An overarching pursuit of masculinity – whether that was a perceived sense of failed masculinity because of queerness – dominated many avenues of gay male culture. For me, it came to a combination of images we are exposed to as gay men, ranging from pornography to advertising through to pop music.

Since so much of mainstream society removes us from the norm because we sleep with people of the same sex, sometimes we too use this assumption about ourselves and prioritise carnality in our own immediate culture. Look no further than Grindr which many claim is purely a sex hook-up app and are not far from the truth. Coupled with our sometimes-greedy consumption of pop music that encourages one-night stands, heavy drinking, and recreational drug-taking and many of our cultural tokens are congested with sex and substance obsessions.

These experiences have made me see a cult of narcissism in many gay men – friends, foes, fuck-buddies, and even in myself.

I decided that it be a worthwhile cultural project to look closely at the relationship between narcissism and gay culture as I saw it. It’s these next pieces on Closets That Matter that will attempt to pull apart what I see as potentially destructive forces to many gay men’s self-esteem and self-worth.

By pointing out how gay culture can sometimes toy with our emotions and our desires, whether they are sexual or romantic, I think many of us can help moderate ourselves in avoiding vapid projects in vanity. The emphasis on the body in gay culture is a misleading emphasis as it suggests that we are happiest and queerest when our bodies meet (sometimes arbitrary) cultural standards.

I hope you can see these pieces are not vitriolic attacks on gay culture but rather re-examinations that try and keep in check sites where vanity and self-obsession run rife, which can later harm our collective queer community, our social perception, and ourselves.

This month concerns gym culture and the inherent self-obsession gay men can invest in pursuit of the perfect body.

The next piece will look at the ubiquitous application Grindr that although has been heralded for connecting many disenfranchised queers, sometimes only encourages promiscuity and cheap projects in self-representation.