During the first week in March, 2014, I was approached by Khary Steph to contribute an original written piece to the first volume of his team’s new publication, ‘The Tenth’. This particular magazine has been created by industry art directors, Khary Steph, Kyle Banks and Andre Verdun Jones to express queer, black identity through various forms of artistry. The project was released publicly on April 10, 2014 in New York City. Since many of you will not have direct access to the catalogue of work, Ive elected to share my written piece with you.
As I have previously shared via my Twitter HERE and both Facebook pages, HERE and HERE, ‘The Tenth’ has been reviewed by several top tier press platforms; including The Huffington Post, HERE, as well as BlackBook, HERE.
It was requested that the piece be a short, but analytical article that tackled the issue of gay black men and the contemporary role we play in media. Since I have spoken in great detail regarding that particular issue, I asked Khary if I could approach the piece from a ‘social media’ point of view. I wanted to dissect some of the reasons WHY this generation is so obsessed with their social media timelines. Specifically, I needed to focus on gay men of color and how the types of photos we post online are subconsciously used to give ourselves identity in a world that seems to ignore our presence. I was very surprised by my own interpretations as I began to analyze the tumblr photos & instagram pics; somehow having to create a parallel between similar visuals and the social atmosphere of present day.
The Tenth Promo Video (ABOVE)
THIS IS WHAT I CAME UP WITH…
A Brief Look At The Contemporary Gay Man Of Color In Social Media
The sun peers through the muddy frame of another mid-week morning. A 21 year old, gay black man is positioning himself between where he needs to be at 9 o’clock am and the place in the world he hopes to reach before his 30th birthday. Standing shirtless in front of his bathroom mirror, wearing bright colored boxer-briefs and holding an iphone to match, he snaps a series of photos of himself. Each shot is captured at the same side view angle. However, he distorts his facial expressions to exude a combination of silly, sad, and sensual emotions. He shifts through his photo library and selects the pic that best highlights his latest efforts in the gym. Now cropping out the background mess that is piled on the floor, the young man adds a filter and simultaneously uploads the shot to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. It’s his first selfie of the day; punctuated by a subconscious desire for social validation.
The selfie is a clear representation of the present generation that is forced into heavy-duty moments of solitude. Rejected for being outspoken, abandoned for being attracted to the same sex, distrusted for unwrapping oneself from the fibers that categorize human nature, the selfie is taken to declare a sense of dominance. We all want to feel in control of how we are seen and judged by the outside world. As a result, selfie’s and other social media posts exist to dictate our positions in the world.
Every ‘like’ that the selfie receives over the next few hours somehow contributes to this young man’s mental journey towards achieving fame, fortune and inclusion into the American establishment of success.
We live in a culture that promotes division between people. Specifically, gay men of color are forced into a social dynamic where their images, ideas, and experiences are disconnected from others and everyday surroundings as well. As a result, the gay man of color tends to overcompensate for this mainstream divide by utilizing social media as his stage to say, ‘LOOK AT ME’. The ‘LOOK AT ME’, male performance is often labeled as being extra, over-the-top, flamboyant, conceited or even narcissistic. However, it’s important to realize that some of these verbal and visual routines aren’t as much self-obsessive, as they are self-empowering.
This generation has been taught to make things happen for themselves. Modern-day dreams no longer have to be postponed until after a casting agent falls in love with an audition or a network executive decides to green light a new pilot. Since gay men of color are seemingly absent from mainstream television, film, radio and other media outlets, this same gender-loving community has begun to create their own, online platforms. From the various scripted and non-scripted series that are distributed on youtube, to the weekly showcases that are broadcast via Blog Talk Radio, gay men of color are utilizing all available resources to publicly feature and market themselves. The tweets, blog stories, status messages and selfies that are posted between each media release, serve to promote a sense of identity in a world that doesn’t seem to celebrate the individual or collective gay, black experience.
As the sun sets and the dawn of a new day is on the horizon, an entire generation will capture new images of themselves to share throughout the night. Standing in front of their mirrors with an iphone in one hand and hopes of stardom clasped in the other, another series of selfies will make way onto various, social media timelines. For gay men of color who are often marginalized and disenfranchised from the mainstream ‘American Dream’, the silent pictures intentionally scream, LOOK AT ME! It’s a visual declaration of individuality where each person creates, contours and controls their spotlight.