Just in time for Pride season, a story appeared in the “social media” that some members of our community are using an app called “Secret” to share some not-so-proud information about each other.
This smart phone based app allows members to anonymously post information about other people. This has been used in other cities to share industry news but in the gay male community in D.C., it has been used to trash each other and spread malicious gossip. This “app” has become the modern high-tech equivalent of writing nasty things about someone on the bathroom wall and reflects a side of our gay community that isn’t so fabulous.
To be fair, I haven’t actually used the app, but some of my friends have and their reports aren’t glowing. I recognize the irony that I am relying on “gossip” to write a column about gossip but while I have some morbid curiosity about the content, I haven’t downloaded this app because it just doesn’t sound like we are being very nice to each other and if I wanted to see gay men get bullied, I would hang out with the Westboro Baptist folks.
Being mean and nasty to each other isn’t a new phenomenon in our community. Just read some of the ads on Craigslist and other “dating” sites where people proudly request “no fems, no fats.” I have been “cyberbullied” by a younger gay man who didn’t quite get or appreciate my drag persona. It hurt because it brought me right back to my days in grade school where I was picked on for wearing glasses, being overweight and having the temerity to burst into tears when I was being picked on. Not fun. But I got over it because I knew lots of people loved me. I have also felt alienated from parts of my community due to an internal fear that I’ve gotten over but it takes a toll.
All of these feelings and this “bullying” we do to one another is in part a reaction to growing up different. I realized that we all have been put in a locker either physically or metaphorically and that has helped me understand why we can be so darn mean.
That being said, I know we can do better. Disclosing someone’s HIV status for entertainment isn’t fabulous. Ridiculing someone for their alcoholism isn’t fabulous. Hiding behind an unsigned comment in cyberspace isn’t fabulous. I would like to claim perfection but I too have indulged in negative behavior. I have shared gossip and said mean things but I don’t hide behind an app. I read the “bitch session” columns of the Blade with a sense of horror but laughed at some of the more ingenious cruelties. I have also been guilty of dismissing parts of my community as part of the “fuzzy sweater crowd.” I thought the Stonewall Kickball group was a “cult” for people who like to get together and be drunken messes. Of course, I am wrong. Stonewall Kickball has created a place for our community to gather and be part of the tribe. Stonewall Kickball has raised a lot of money for community groups and their members are awesome.
“Secret” and similar apps reward the worst behavior in our community. But fortunately, there are many great things in our community that counteract the negativity of “Secret.” The recent broadcast of “Normal Heart” is a reminder of our history of coming together as a community to take care of one another. We have stood up repeatedly to those who want to deny our very existence and are winning. We can also change the story on “Secret” and flood the app with stories of success. It might not be as interesting as who is sleeping with who but it might be more rewarding. Or we could just step away from the computer and go to a parade. I hear there are going to be several across the country this month.
Christopher Dyer is an LGBT activist in D.C. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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