An essay submitted by @pilotsdiscretion
Your content has had me thinking for some time about the gay media that I consume. More importantly, it has me thinking about the content I consumed during what I think of as somewhat formative years of my adolescence. I’m from Appalachia, though was raised in an unorthodox way in comparison to many of those around me. I had very inquiring, thoughtful, kind, and liberal parents – those who said “we’re atheist” when I told them I didn’t want to go to church anymore and said “we love you” when I told them I loved a man. What’s fascinating is that I still feel very attuned to the intricacies of the Appalachian culture, experiences and as I grow older I begin to identify more closely, feel more proud of that experience and of those people that I grew up with. This has become particularly true in my work. I’m a nurse working on my master’s degree – I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Wise VA. This region is the heart of Appalachia and the heartland of the worst cervical and breast cancer incidence and mortality in the nation. Although my focus here is considering how to help providers overcome geographic isolation, financial distress, and health literacy barriers to increase cervical cancer screening, I cannot help but swipe on Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble in the evenings. I am one to know my surroundings, and I have come to appreciate these tools when I travel. I have met some wonderful people this way – some shitty ones too.
I get so emotional thinking about thinking about these boys I see on this app, the girls that most certainly exist, and everyone in-between. The 12-20 year olds that are within a hundred miles of the epicenter of this region of conservatism and religious zealousness. I think about how, even in my endless privilege of living in an incredibly supportive household not devoid of its tribulations, I still navigate this world with what I consider to be an extremely sexualized gay education. As if what was available to me before I had come out to my parents, or for that matter come out to myself, was an overwhelming sea of sex, boys, and jokes meant to stave off the gay-dread. I think of these kids that navigate this education with more or less of what I had. I think about how exhausting the unending sharing of bottom jokes and physically ideal physiques have become, yet I still can’t put the phone away. I am near certain that pieces of my existence and the way that I have come to navigate the world have been informed by this hyper-sexual presentation throughout puberty and for the years subsequent. I think it has made me ask more of the kinds of men I’m physically attracted to and in turn date fewer people because of my perfectionism. I know without a doubt that the way I have come to think of my own physique has been crafted by not only those bodies seen in the bedroom of my thirteen year old self, but also the bodies that flood my feeds regularly, in my twenty-fourth year, in 2018. I know that part of existing as literally anyone on this Earth requires being sexual to some degree (in retrospect, it literally isn’t for some folks; that’s totally fair). Even though I think this hyper-sexualism is due to repression of queer identity starting a few decades ago and continuing into the present, it’s a not license or reason enough to buy into this kind of culture, for it is just that – a formulated culture.
So much of Appalachian culture is unique to different communities and an agreeable definition is not only impossible, but generally unhelpful. The same can be said for the culture associated with being a gay man. It seems that much of the culture surrounding being a gay man is about sex, bodies, and products. And in the way that conservatism and religious zealousness is a defining characteristic of some yet not all Appalachians, the media that momentarily describes the culture of gayness should also not be restricted to these notions. I think it’s dangerous. I feel this way, because as I grow older I know that the way that I navigate the world has quite literally been formed by this content. That is a distressing reality to me, and I believe that we could do better by our younger gay cohorts to produce content that supports them in their self-formed interests, ideas, and realities.
Thank you for the opportunity to write out how I’m feeling. It was a good exercise. Hope you’re well!