The (online) gay community is apparently outraged by Sam Smith “slamming” hook-up apps Grindr and Tinder. At least according to Rich Juzwiak at Gawker, who wrote a scathing, fat-shaming, reaching-for-an-issue-that-isn’t-really-there article called “Sam Smith’s Fucked Up Gay Conservatism” about the openly gay singer. It’s also been picked up by Kevin O’Keeffe on The Wire, who wrote “Why Is Sam Smith Trying to Eliminate Grindr Culture?”
First of all, let’s take a look at what Sam Smith said:
‘No offence to people who go on Tinder but I just feel like it’s ruining romance, I really do,’ he said.
‘We’re losing the art of conversation and being able to go and speak to people and you’re swiping people.’
The British singing sensation says there is no substitute for chatting people up in the flesh and says looks count for nothing – especially online. ‘From my experience the most beautiful people I’ve been on dates with are the dumbest, so why would I swipe people who are “unattractive” when I could potentially fall in love with them?,’ he explained. ‘Stop Tinder and Grindr!’
It seems as if what Smith is trying to say is that he doesn’t really buy into the whole, “online dating” craze, including hook-up apps. The key words to focus on are these: “FROM” and “MY” and “EXPERIENCE.” From his point of view, apps like Tinder are ruining romance. I think it’s fair to assume that many people rely on technology to socialize for them, as opposed to stepping out of Cyberland and going out into the Real World to interact with other fleshy humans. It seems to me like Sam Smith is longing for the days before texting and swiping and snapchatting to a time when a two people might have a chance meeting somewhere, flirt innocently, and exchange phone numbers, leading to traditional courtship.
So what, pre-tell, is the controversy with his statements?
Well, according to Juzwiak’s piece on Gawker, it’s pretty much a slap in the face to the gay community. Apparently, he thinks Sam Smith said that all gay men who use these apps are “terrifying spermwhores who love sex sooooo much and will eat your children because they think it strengthens their boners.” Interesting, seeing as Juzwiak links to the exact same Metro article that I did above, and nowhere in there do those words exist. Strong
ly projecting implications, I guess. He also likens using apps like Grindr/Tinder and real-life interaction to eating take-out and going out to restaurant, respectively. But he effectively renders his point moot by saying:
“My travels have taught me that the difference between meeting a guy on Grindr and picking up a guy in person amounts to the difference between takeout and eating at a restaurant. The latter, if I have to choose, is preferable insofar as it is a richer experience, but sometimes you want a midnight snack of San Loco and it arrives and it hits the spot so hard, you can’t even muster guilt about how naughty you just were for your late-night indulgence. Come be my nachos, buddy.”
The problem is that by using the metaphor analogy of a “late-night indulgence” and a “midnight snack,” he’s alluding to hooking up, not romance. Sam Smith’s comments were in reference to finding someone and being in a relationship with that person. I think someone ought to teach Juzwiak a lesson about “metaphors.” In fact, in the developmental writing courses I teach for two separate colleges, I have an entire unit on writing effective metaphors in order to improve communication skills. (Just a suggestion.) To further illustrate his lack of knowledge of metaphors, he goes on to simultaneously fat-shame Sam Smith (by saying, “I wonder if Smith leaves his shirt on during sex because he needs to keep his heart on his sleeve,” implying that he’s ashamed of his body so he wears a shirt to hide it), and “applauding” him for not having a “stereotypical gym body” and linking back to HyperReality’s own “Sam Smith and the Gay Male Body Archetype.” By alluding to Smith being so insecure about his body that he leaves his shirt on during sex, he’s effectively calling himself a hypocrite. He is the same type of gay man who belittles other gay men for not looking a certain way, for not being the “stereotypical gym body,” so of course he has a problem with Smith showing strong resistance to hook-up apps. Perhaps writers like Juzwiak are still rooted in the pre-GRID mantra of “sexual freedom and promiscuity” as the defining characteristic of the gay community. “Have tons of sex because we can! It’s our God-given right!” And really, there is nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you believe. But to limit the gay community to those stereotypes is saying that anyone with opposing views on sex and monogamy are wrong. We are so much more than who we have sex with, how we have sex, when we have sex, and how often we have sex. We are so much more than naked Pride parades. Sure, they are a part of our culture, but why does sex have to be our limitation?
If a straight male or female celebrity were to make a comment about Tinder, nobody would bat an eyelash. In fact, it would probably be praised! The headline would read, “Nick Jonas on Finding Love: Tinder is ruining romance!” and if he said what Sam Smith said, that “we’re losing the art of conversation” and that he would rather not judge someone based on their appearance, because he could fall in love with somebody who might not be conventionally attractive,” the rest of world would straight up swoon. There would 193 BuzzFeed lists about how perfect Nick Jonas is, and the gay men everywhere would be clicking on GIFs (like the one below) of Nick Jonas shirtless because made a comment about wanting to interact in-person as opposed to over an app.
But Sam Smith is not straight. Nor is he Nick Jonas. And Rich Juzwiak doesn’t point out any of that. He’s instead gay-shaming Sam Smith, telling him, and Gawker readers everywhere, that this is really all about him “covering.” In other words, Sam Smith is trying not to seem too gay. Because it’s important not to seem “too gay.” Juzwiak writes, in reference to Smith’s cover of Whitney Houston’s 80s pop classic “How Will I Know,” in which he changes “boy” to “you,” making it more gender neutral:
He is gay, most of us who thought to ask know that he’s gay, but he’s not too gay because too gay is still too much for too many people. Sam Smith is here to speak to the masses, even if it requires rewriting a song that everybody knows and loves anyway. Via this cover, Smith is covering.
Could he have been covering by not singing “he” and “boy” in a cover of “How Will I Know?” Sure. He very well could have been. I won’t sit here and pretend to say otherwise. But he’s also young. And a new celebrity. And he just started his career. I’m sure there is a long list of people making decisions of what he should and shouldn’t do and say publicly (don’t say “he,” etc.) Not that that’s necessarily the right move, but I’m not even going to pretend know or understand what it’s like to be a celebrity, to have a song climbing the Hot 100 Billboard charts, to know what it’s like to live under such an intense microscope at 22 years old. At 22 years old, I was still in the closet. I didn’t come out until I was 23, and even then, I “covered” myself pretty well. Had it been me, I would’ve changed all the “he” pronouns to “she” and called it a day. But is he really covering more? Does covering mean that he has to subscribe to the philosophy of gay male hook-up app Grindr (which, by the way, was the original point of the article)? And what exactly do phrases like “too gay” or “not gay enough” mean? I was under the impression that being gay simply means being attracted to members of the same sex. I missed the part where being gay meant anything more than just that. Does Sam Smith have an obligation to do anything more than he’s doing right now? Does he need to endorse Grindr and get to the gym or join a CrossFit and sing about what it means to be a gay 22-year-old man?
He may not be naked on the cover The Advocate or shirtless at Pride or giving free promotion to Grindr and publicly talking about his sexcapades to every magazine, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a gay man. Is it wrong to be conservative in regards to sexual promiscuity? Does being gay mean wild bareback sex orgies at 2am? According to Rich Juzwiak, that’s a large part of the GAY label because it’s a large part of what it means to be “gay.” If sexual freedom, and the freedom to swipe or block the “uglies” as we see fit is all that being gay amounts to, then I’m not so sure that I disagree with the media’s perception and stereotypes of gay men as sex-crazed people who reject monogamy.
We’re so much more than that.
Why are we fighting for Grindr? What do we get by fighting for the validity of Tinder? What do we get by fighting for a piece of the gay culture puzzle that really adds nothing to the value of what we, as a community, contribute to society as a whole. Kevin O’Keefe writes about Sam Smith desperately trying to prove his normalcy, and that by doing so, he’s effectively discrediting what it means to be gay and the coming out process itself:
The desire to be one of the many is common for fresh-out-of-the-closet gay men, especially introverted ones. The very act of coming out is such an attention-grabbing measure that downplaying it can become a knee-jerk reaction.
Deducing the act of coming out to an “attention-grabbing measure” is very disconcerting. I don’t know many gay men who would refer to the very long and often stress and harrowing process as “attention-grabbing.” It makes it sound like every guy who comes out is Jack MacFarland and is simply seeking out a spotlight through which to be their true selves.
I get that trying to say “I’m normal!” ad nauseam is defecting and could be a powerful coping mechanism. But, to be fair, isn’t that what most people want who are “different”? When I came out, I wanted to be treated exactly as everyone else by my family, friends, and co-workers. Perhaps even more so by my coworkers; I never wanted one piece of my puzzle to be the entire focus of conversation around me. I didn’t want to be singled out or lauded over. Raise your hand if you’re a gay man or woman and you wanted to be treated differently by everyone around you.
And that’s clearly what Sam Smith was trying to get at in his interview with Fader, where he said: “I’ve been treated as normal as anyone in my life; I’ve had no issues. I do know that some people have issues in life, but I haven’t, and it’s as normal as my right arm. I want to make it a normality because this is a non-issue.” What he’s saying is that being gay is — or at least should be – a non-issue. I’d have to agree. Then again, Smith doesn’t do himself any favors when he says things like, “Don’t make [your sexuality] an issue. If other’s around you are making an issue, I understand. Fight for your rights, of course. But … let’s make it a normality. To make it equal, we kind of need to act equal,” like he did on Fresh 102.7 in June. I agree with O’Keeffe when he says, “Smith’s statement discredits much of the work LGBT activists have done to advance gay culture. The Harvey Milks of the world didn’t help create the better world young gay men and women live in now by not making their gayness ‘an issue.'” Celebrities, especially those who are gay and as big as Sam Smith, do have an obligation to speak out about what it means to be gay and the significance of educating the masses about the struggles — and rewards — of being gay, and they need to know their stuff.
Perhaps Sam Smith isn’t quite comfortable with being a gay icon. That’s ok, if true. Perhaps he’s just not really that articulate because he’s young and doesn’t really know what to say yet. Doesn’t he deserve a pass? He’s still learning. He has a lot of time to figure out where he stands as an LGBT icon and advocate. Because it’s not enough to just spout vague statements about equality without truly understanding the implications and I’m not contesting O’Keeffe’s point, but I am wondering why this conversation is being tied to his comments about Grindr and Tinder, which both O’Keefe and Juzwiak are intrinsically tying to gay culture and what it means to be gay? Not every gay man has downloaded and/or used Grindr or Tinder. So why did Sam Smith’s comments about online dating and hook-up culture incite such outrage from Gawker and The Wire?
It seems that outrage is everyone’s favorite emotion these days. We love being outraged. About everything and anything. Especially when something seems to threaten something we’ve tied so closely to our identity. Perhaps the fault lies in viral media sites like BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog, and the like, who brought Grindr into mainstream public knowledge, more fiercely grounding the idea of sexual promiscuity to the definition of “gay man” in the public sphere.
But we’re so much more than that.
We’re politicians. We’re doctors. We’re lawyers. We’re singers and actors. We’re teachers. We’re students. We’re imperfect. We’re all different. We’re humans.
And apparently, we’re all still learning.