Note: This post is an in-depth analysis of one small thing. My hope is to use this trivial occurrence as an opportunity to talk about some real issues that affect our community and our movement.
You might remember a few weeks ago, I posted that I was vying for a scholarship to attend Netroots Nation, the big convention of progressive activists, in a contest called Blog 4 Equality. To enter, we had to submit blog posts or videos and then answer some questions about how attending Netroots Nation would help me grow and advance marriage equality. Freedom To Marry selected me as one of ten finalists, and then we all started rallying votes in hopes of being one of the top 3. I reached out to friends, family, colleagues, readers, listeners, and even readers of other blogs and I tweeted like crazy about it and ultimately, I earned enough votes to be declared a winner (thanks again, everybody!). I am going to Netroots Nation in a few weeks and look forward to blogging live from Las Vegas.
I want to take a moment and thank Freedom to Marry for this opportunity. Marriage equality is a tough issue, but we’re making progress. I appreciate the opportunity to get support for my own work by going to Netroots Nation, and I think this scholarship contest was great exposure for all ten finalists and our efforts toward making this world a better place to live in.
One of the other winners got his scholarship by going a very different route, and I want to write a post to talk about it.
I’ll start by giving Zack Rosen a little credit. He spells his name right.
Zack Rosen runs a site called The New Gay. I’ll be honest, I don’t read it. The name itself makes me feel alienated, as if being gay depends on being trendy. For the most part, it’s a blog about culture, and that’s all well and good, but it simply doesn’t captivate my interest. We do different things, and that’s cool. To each his own.
For the record, though, here is how Zack recently described his own site:
…a DC-based website for alternative queers. It’s a place where queer men, women and transfolk can go to read ideas, narratives and culture commentary that doesn’t talk down to its readers or make assumptions about the things they care about based on who or how they fuck.
Despite his aversion to oxford commas (damn you, AP style!), he wants to run counter to the “white male” culture of the gay community, which I can respect.
What I don’t respect is the tactic Zack Rosen used to win votes for the Blog 4 Equality Scholarship.
Like the rest of us, he submitted posts and answered questions. His focus was cultural and his tactic was to talk about his personal experiences with marriage, which is just fine.
Then, like I and some others did, he posted something on his blog to rally support from readers, which is also just fine.
My solemn promise to the Fleshbot community is that if they go to the Freedom to Marry voting page and vote for Zack Rosen, and if I win, I will send in a picture of myself without that pesky sign in front of my crotch. And I’ll have a boner. So do it for me, do it for dick, do it for naked pictures of non-famous people. But please, from the bottom of my heart, vote for me. I really need your help.
This was accompanied by further descriptions of his penis as well as a picture of him naked holding a paper plate in front of his crotch.
At any rate, let’s be blunt. Zack’s tactic worked. He probably got a lot of votes, and there were no rules against what he did to get them. He’s going to Netroots Nation, and in the process, he got an incredible amount of publicity for himself and for his blog. He needed clicked on, he knew lots of gay men would do anything to see an erect penis, he offered an erect penis, and he got the votes. His strategy succeeded. None of us can fault him for that.
There have been a number of negative comments on the Advocate articles and such about what he did, and he responded to those yesterday when he posted the promised pictures:
I want to thank everyone for helping me win a scholarship to this year’s NetRoots Nation. And a double thanks for not calling me a whore or “an embarrassment to the community,” as the commenters on other websites have done. I figure that many of the readers of this site are pretty cool, intelligent, laid back people with families and careers and interesting lives—people who also understand that a little sex or skin isn’t going to send us to the gulag.
I hope to do some good things in my life and a chance to meet the bigwigs at NetRoots should give me some decent ideas of how to get started. Actually, maybe I can start here by reminding people of three things (that most Fleshbot readers probably knew long before I wrote this):
1. Gay men’s bodies aren’t shameful things.
2. Gay sex is natural and pretty damn fun.
3. No one ever won equal rights by keeping their oppressors comfortable.
He doesn’t mention Freedom to Marry or marriage equality, but I do agree with all three of Zack’s points. How could I not?
But I said at the top of this post that I don’t respect Zack for what he did, and rather than just call him names like some commenters did, I’d like to articulate a case for why I think his strategy was counter-intuitive. Before I proceed, let me clarify a few things.
I’m not here to rant or be petty; I don’t have to be because I won too. I just figure if no one else is going to call out the negative impact of what he did, then I will. After all, I have the same first name and I was listed first on the ballot, so I can’t rule out that some of my votes accidentally came from people trying to get a peek at his dick. More importantly, I think what he did was disrespectful to the other finalists, disrespectful to the organizations funding the scholarship, and disrespectful to the cause for marriage equality.
The overall point I want to make in this post is this: the reason Zack Rosen’s strategy worked is the reason it was a bad idea.
The gay community is very sex-positive, a point I do not lament. Unfortunately, we often get perceived as sex-driven, which only helps the cause of those who wish to define us solely by who we have sex with (and how). Mike Huckabee reminded us just two weeks ago that the “ick factor” is a driving force for anti-gay viewpoints. The ick factor is, of course, enmeshed in the history of demonization that led the gay community to become what it is. We couldn’t be out and open, so we had to sneak around to find others to connect with. Not only has there been no incentive for same-sex monogamy, there has largely been disincentive since gay folks first started coming out and organizing.
Our community has a tendency for “promiscuity” because society’s condemnation has essentially encouraged us to be promiscuous. Society also then uses the promiscuity it nurtured in us to further condemn us. I had an interesting airport conversation recently with a teabagger woman who was against same-sex marriage because gay men are promiscuous. She said that those of us who do value monogamy or have priorities greater than sex are just “exceptions,” but of course, the rest of the gay community will destroy the “institution” of marriage. Aside from Bible verses, this was her primary argument.
Now I’m not here today to preach about monogamy nor to judge promiscuity. The important point I want to make, though, is that obtaining marriage equality is going to require that we demonstrate we are not entirely sex-driven. We have to show the world that, despite their condemnations of our relationships and in spite of our own sex-positive culture, we value family, community, and qualities in people other than their body parts.
But in his attempt to win support for “the new gay,” Zack Rosen focused on the old stereotypes. He chose to use the current culture for his own benefit by reinforcing it. He said yep, marriage equality is important, but don’t you all just want to see my dick? It met his goal, but at what cost?
For one, I think his actions took away from his own credibility while marring the reputation of Freedom to Marry and to some extent, the other finalists as well. Here were nine other people vying to go to a conference based on the quality of their writing and their activism, and he bests them by showing his dick. I preferred that people support me for the work that I do. That seemed, implicitly, to be the point of the contest. I’m sure glad that the other winner turned out to be a woman, because in the gay community, I highly doubt women would have a fair shot at a superficial popularity contest.
It was almost as if Zack Rosen entered himself in a different contest. He was getting votes for his body while the rest of us were getting votes for our activism. Natasha Dillon and I won, presumably, for our work.
Now let’s not forget that there is also an onus on the masses that voted for Zack. I wonder how many of these individuals had no idea what the contest was about or who any of the other contestants were? They just wanted to see dick. Commenters on the various articles defended Zack by saying “the male body is beautiful” and he’s such a “creative thinker.” The whole community, including our most visible and widely-read publication, wanted to bring attention to his dick.
And what does it say about how this kind of coverage by The Advocate? Here is a publication working to be a voice for our community that only focused on the sexy part. The coverage never mentioned anyone’s submissions to the contest, nor the mission of Freedom to Marry and the whole point of the scholarship. Zack managed to ensure that ALL the coverage revolved entirely around his dick, including, inevitably, his own.
I write about this today because it’s just so disappointing. I’m disappointed in Zack Rosen for essentially “cheating” by getting votes for his body instead of his work. I’m disappointed in our publications for perpetuating the stereotype that cock is news and progress isn’t. I’m disappointed in all the people who eagerly voted for Zack without any consideration for the other finalists or the work that we do. And I’m disappointed in the gay community as a whole for its hedonistic ignorance of those actually trying to make things better for us. It seems, in many regards, we are still our own worst enemies.
In the end, Zack, you won. We get to spend an exciting weekend in Vegas with a whole bunch of activists and bloggers. I hope Netroots Nation helps us both grow towards accomplishing our professional goals and our active support of marriage equality. Congratulations to Natasha, and thanks again to Freedom to Marry for this wonderful opportunity.