Is ManHunt, the wildly popular online cruising site with the slogan “get on, get off,” a blessing or a curse for gay men? This is the question Out magazine writer Joseph Gross posed in one of the most provocative articles of the year.
The Out commentary points to the benefits of the site, but posits that it also has “a tendency to isolate us, encourage objectification and diminish our sense of life’s nonsexual possibilities.”
“For a long time it has been considered normal to be on the net,” Hollywood physician Gary Cohan said in the article. “We need to start thinking, that’s not normal.”
In his most powerful passage, Goss laments that cruising on ManHunt has come with a steep social cost. “I don’t like to think about the number of books I could have read, languages I could have learned and friends I could have stayed in better touch with if I had not wasted so much time cruising online these past 12 years.”
Why are gay men spending so much time online? Why are the profiles so explicit? Do sites like ManHunt, as the author claims, “exaggerate our propensity to objectify each other?”
I don’t necessarily think so and believe that gay online culture is a result of the law of supply and demand. There are simply too few potential partners suitable for relationships. To make up for this husband deficit, we are thrust into fierce competition — which is reflected by the level of skin shown in many of our online ads.
Here is the hard truth: if you are looking for a life partner the numbers are not in your favor. If you take the total number of gay men in your city, subtract the number you are not sexually compatible with, minus the ones who have deal-breaking habits, minus the guys who you have nothing in common with, minus the pathological closet cases who play straight while playing around online, minus the ones who just plain annoy you — the universe of potential mates is remarkably limited.
This harsh reality is true for gay men in large cities and especially for rural gay men who can’t find a hunk in Podunk.
What we are talking about is sexual Darwinism and it affects straight people too. Heterosexuals also trudge through the snow for a night of speed dating, have online profiles and spend lonely evenings in bars looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. Like us, when they have uninspiring one-night stands they remind themselves that there are more fish in the sea.
When they cast their nets, however, they do so in the ocean, while we are fishing in a pond. The exponentially higher number of potential mates, combined with the fact that straight people can flirt anywhere without fear of getting bashed, creates an entirely different dating experience.
ManHunt — much like the earlier gay bar cruising scene — reflects the understanding that we must show off what we’ve got because there are limited opportunities. We don’t want someone we are interested in to never get to experience our great personality because someone distracted him with a naughty picture. So, we show a little more than we might like in order to compete in this cutthroat marketplace.
Until we learn to clone gay people or magically convert heterosexuals — as the religious right imagines we can — we will have a sexualized culture as we try to get the upper hand, so we won’t have to settle for our hand.
Such hyper-competition can best be seen at large Pride celebrations, where normally staid gay men bare all because for a few hours the dating pool increases by several hundred thousand. This behavior mirrors the way many small town women act (think skimpy clothes and perfume wafting through the air) when a Navy ship docks, increasing their odds of finding a husband.
Goss concludes in Out that online hookups can be harmful because “decoupling sex from emotion is a fool’s errand.” But, I’m not sure that such decoupling is going on most of the time. Online meeting is a utilitarian audition where the actor usually doesn’t get a callback. It isn’t because he didn’t read his lines well — he just might not be right for the part.
What sites like ManHunt do, is give busy gay professionals the opportunity to kiss enough frogs that they hopefully find a prince — which is no guarantee. As the article points out, this process can be tiresome, frustrating, even addictive, as gay men feel as if they are one click away from love.
And, the truth is, they are — or it could be one million taps on the mouse to find a spouse. There is no sugarcoating that in a small community of limited partners, if you want a man you have to hunt — hence the success of ManHunt. All one can do is keep his head up and never forget that the next online fling might lead to a diamond ring.