But that's only a part of the online world as experienced by many folks. I know lots of men who have focused a large part of their life around a site called something like bear411 (which I always misremembered as bear911 and I wasn't making a joke on purpose). I guess you'd describe this site as MySpace for men who identify as part of the "Bear" gay male subculture. But a lot of guys had some complaints about how the site was managed, so a movement of sorts has come along recently to try to encourage people to move over to a new site called BearCiti. I read a good deal about this in the online journals of some of my friends, and followed some discussion among friends of friends. It was ripe and juicy stuff, as organizational politics go. So the other day I checked out this BearCiti site. Sure enough, I knew an awful lot of folks who had put up profiles for themselves there. That's cool. So I decided that I wanted to play, too.
I'm not entirely sure how people use a site like this. For sexual hookups exclusively? For general penpal discussions? To connect with potential friends around the world? There seem to be no open discussion forums, but maybe i'm just missing them. In any case, since it was easy to do and sometimes I want to be one of the cool kids too, I put up a profile for myself. I even included shirtless pictures, since that seems to be an unstated prerequisite for participation and if I'm going to do this I want to do it right. You fill out a "stats" form, which is optimized for the hookup thing, as the requested information is height, weight, age, hairiness, number of tattoos and piercings, and preferred sexual role. I honestly don't mean to be mocking this, since clearly there is a lot of mutual desire and need for such a thing and countless men have gotten much pleasure from sites like this, but try to imagine what it's like for somebody whose approach to social interaction and perhaps more is not organized along these lines (that is, from a checklist) and maybe you'll see how funny this is to me. It's like looking for fun and friendship as if you were renting porn; are they really similar tasks? I'm as shallow as the next guy, and I'm certainly enjoying looking at all the pictures people have put up of themselves (go shirtless!), but the universe in which the response to "I weigh x and have x piercings and I watch Babylon 5 and my preferred sexual position is X and I listen to 80s music" is "That's hot" is just not one I inhabit.
There's this sweet feature of this site where you can look at a profile and mark it as "My type" -- and then you can look at somebody's profile and see all the people they have so marked and you can do a search for people who have so marked you. I call this a sweet feature because it's like a grownup version of passing a note in class that says "I like you. Do you like me?". Except that it's safe; you don't really risk being shot down. I was tickled pink and quite flattered to discover that within only a few hours of putting up my profile three people had put me in their "My type" folders -- and, to my amazement, only one of the three is somebody I know. But I'm not sure what my obligations are here -- a thank you note? Is this an invitation to drop the strangers notes and say, "Hi, I'm your type, who are you?" And then after that first triumvirate burst there were no more, alas. Some time at the gym and a hot photo would up those stats, I bet.
Of course there is space in your profile to write whatever you want about yourself, and I suppose it's there that you get beyond checklists. But, you know, you find some amazing things in these profiles. My apologies for doing this (this is the fish in a barrel reference of this entry's title), but I've just got to share a small piece of one of these. This is the introductory sentence:
I am a very up front & honest person who wears his heart on his sleeve a lot, so usually I get hurt.
That's the primary fact! Or maybe it's a prizewinning entry in the "how many meaningless cliches can you fit in one short sentence" contest. Later we read this:
Since I am an honest person I will say up front that looks AND what's inside count with me, however I am not a superficial person.
It's a theme. Turn-offs?
My number one turn off is people who are totally superficial.
How strange. Most people are quite sexually excited by those who self-identify as superficial.
Ok, ok, I'm sorry, this is just mean and unfair and not really typical at all of this site. But it does reflect something odd I'm finding, which is the number of grown men who, in their profiles on this site, speak the emotional language of 14-year-old girls.
Maybe it's time to update the "see you in the funny papers" signoff. See you in bearciti!