Stripping for a Scholarship: The Zack Rosen Situation

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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.

Then, he veered off course, offering the following to Fleshbot (a site I won’t link you to here because it contains malware):

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.

His new plea for votes was picked up by sites like omg blog, Towleroad, and The Advocate. The Advocate piece even ended by saying, “Click here for more information on how to vote for Rosen.”

Since the winners were announced, the Advocate has posted the news of his (and his alone) winning as well as a brief interview with him about the contest, not so subtly titled, “Skin for the Win.”

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:

Dear Fleshbot,

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.

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There are 45 Comments to "Stripping for a Scholarship: The Zack Rosen Situation"

  • TNG Zack says:

    Thank you for this well-reasoned article, Zack, and for not stooping to name calling. But I’m confused how you could agree with my point about keeping our oppressors comfortable while faulting me for setting back the movement by making our opponents squirm. The ideal goal for equality, if not the actual definition of the word, is that your rights as a human (ok, or as an American) shouldn’t be contingent on your actions. Period. The reason I was so intent on being a voice in the marriage equality movement is to remind people not to predicate their fight on throwing “the others” under the bus. I’m worried that that we’re on a track towards the most “normal” acting queers getting protection while the rest of us languish. This is the logic that led to Trans-exclusive ENDA and could be the engine of a lot more intra-community injustice if it isn’t quelled. It’s akin to saying that German Jews deserved their persecution because they didn’t dye their hair blonde or stop going to Synagogue. I’m sorry if gay male promiscuity disappoints or embarrasses you, but can you honestly tell me that unmarried, bed-hopping gays deserve federal protection less than you do? Because right that seems to be what you’re inferring…
    Regardless, I’m glad we get to debate this in person and am psyched to meet you at NetRoots.

  • You mention how many people may have voted for the contest because they learned about it through Fleshbot or another porn blog, but almost with disdain, as if “who wants those people in our movement.” Why not credit the fact that it may have actually brought new information, a new understanding, and new exposure about advocacy efforts to a group that, let’s face it, wasn’t already being reached?
    Why shouldn’t we consider praising this method for using a marketing strategy that brought in people who wouldn’t otherwise engage with these issues? Manhunt allows non-profits to do health outreach on their site, and if Grindr opened it’s doors to advocacy or activism, could you imagine the force that could be created? I believe that many of our LGBT advocacy organizations would take advantage of that groundswell.
    While you consistently claim that you support sex-positivity, I’m really not sure that this analysis rises above the sex-phobic culture that needs to be broken as part of any queer / LGBT movement. This was core to the movement thirty years ago, and should be core to the movement again. I mean really, I think we can all agree, current tactics do not work. It’s really that simple. And if current tactics are, as you say, an attempt to convince those on the “other side” that we are not sex-driven and we are more than just sex, then we need to be honest and admit that it failed. Assimilationist strategies have failed, and I do not believe for one second that if we completely neutered our movement, the movement I have dedicated my life to for years, and made it as “kid-friendly” as possible,  that we wouldn’t still be called grotesque. It is what it is, and the power in our movement will come from movement BUILDING, and in my opinion, this is what just happened.

  • ZackFord says:

    Zack, thanks for responding, though I’m a bit disappointed you’d so quickly stoop to invoking Godwin’s Law. Nevertheless, I do support full equality for us all, even for those who make decisions I would not make. My point is that what you did really didn’t make anybody squirm or accomplish any movement toward marriage equality; it just confirmed negative bias they already held.

    Guido, you might have a point if any of the sites had encouraged people to go read all the posts and make an informed decision. They did not. They instructed readers to go vote for Zack so we could all see his dick. There was no interest in the effort; there was no promotion of advocacy; there was no “engag[ing] with the issues.” As far as I can tell, Zack’s offer to pose nude did very little to support marriage equality. It supported his ride to Vegas. I actually think using porn sites to promote advocacy is brilliant; it just doesn’t reflect what happened here.

    And I am by no means attempting to neuter our community. I love sex; I think we should talk openly about sex more and I support incorporating sexual literacy into our education. Straight people definitely need to talk more about sex. But, the problem we have is that our opponents only think of us as sexual objects; if we confirm that we only think of ourselves as sexual objects, then we’re not accomplishing anything.

    Please keep the comments coming. It’s always good to have a dialogue flowing.

  • Joseph says:

    “I’d like to articulate a case for why I think his strategy was counter-intuitive.”
    Based on what follows, I’m pretty sure you meant “counterproductive” when you said “counter-intuitive”… but either way I disagree.
    Zack is physically very beautiful and has no shame about that, and he should not (as you seem to acknowledge).  But he’s also a talented, smart and witty writer and activist.  He approaches his activism and his blog in a different way than you–a way that is more popular among an indie-edgier set than someone who may be trying to appeal more to the mainstream.  But we are also part of the gay community and the American community and we support him–with or without his pants on–because he is not ashamed of us.

  • ZackFord says:

    Haha, well, Joseph, it’s arguably both, but you’re right, your word choice might have been a bit more accurate.

  • James Croft says:

    Thanks, Zack (Ford), for a very thought-provoking post, and CONGRATULATIONS on your victory! It may amuse you to know I learned about your blog from other-Zack’s Facebook group, so his success has benefited you to the tune of at least one smart and dedicated reader!
    So, for your argument – I have to disagree, on roughly the same grounds Guido mentions: sex-positivity means coming to the the understanding displays of the naked body (including the erect penis) are neither shameful nor embarrassing, but wonderful, exciting, and to be celebrated. The whole tenor of your posts suggests that you feel other-Zack’s display somehow debased the contest, which I cannot agree with. If all the contenders had taken the same route, then you might have cause to complain, but since the issue was marriage equality, and sex is a crucial part of most marriages, then it seems to me entirely reasonable to make sex an issue in the competition.
    Your points regarding the media outlets, which focused only on other-Zack’s efforts and not those of the other winners, seem to me legitimate, and it’s a shame that the issue got buried, but I don;t think that means that other-Zack did anything akin to “cheating”.
    What really concerns me about your post, though, is the following. You say

    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.

    This is an extremely disturbing perspective, and I cannot believe you honestly hold it. First, as other Zack suggests, “our rights as a human…shouldn’t be contingent on our actions” – gay marriage is an issue of equality under the law, not something that should require any “demonstration” on the part of the gay community that we are “up to it”. Second, we might well ask whether we require straight folks to demonstrate that they are “not entirely sex-driven” before granting them marriage rights. No, suggesting, even as a strategic matter, that gay people have something to prove before they achieve their rights is quite wrong: we shouldn’t pander to prudes and bigots.
    Rather, the next stage of the sexual revolution will have been reached when all people, gay, straight, bisexual, trans-gender, queer etc, feel comfortable enough with their bodies and their sexual nature that these things are not an issue. The challenge you stress, to convince others of the obvious truth that gay people care about more things than sex, is only one part of the equation. The other part is getting over the idea that invoking anything to do with sex reinforces the idea that only sex matters.

  • ZackFord says:

    James, it was a scholarship for bloggers and online activists, based on their online advocacy, in order to help them grow in their online advocacy efforts. Zack used his body to get votes instead of his work. It was, in my opinion, unfair and inappropriate. All this talk about sex positivity is a straw man; it ignores the fact he used his body to get votes for something that had nothing to do with his body.

    At no point did I say (or even mean to imply) that our community was not “up for it.” I simply said that reinforcing a mentality that our community only cares about sex isn’t going to help us move forward with marriage equality. I want us to move forward.

  • TNG Zack says:

    Ah, Godwin’s law. Never heard of that before. I’m Jewish, so those are the only minority analogies I feel comfortable making. It wouldn’t have quite the same punch if I brought up, for instance, the 1 out of 10 dentists who doesn’t recommend Colgate.

  • James Croft says:

    I think you misread my comment – “up to it” is significantly different to “up to it”. You also do not respond to my other points.
    Nonetheless, let me respond to yours: first, you seem to presume that ones work on behalf of sex-positivity could not be part of one’s online advocacy efforts. Bloggers such as Greta Christina, whose wonderful work focuses very heavily on issues of sex-positivity, would clearly seem to belie this point. You could choose see other-Zack’s use of his body to get votes as part of an effort to promote sex-positivity which is, as I have suggested, as legitimate a cause for online advocates as any.
    Second, let’s not forget that the fight for marriage equality is only part of a fight for a more just and reasonable society which recognizes more legitimate forms of relationship. The ideal, at least for me, is a society in which promiscuity is not itself seen as negative, and in which no undue privilege is given to monogamous relationships. By encouraging gay people to demonstrate that they are “capable” of fulfilling yesterday’s heterosexual norms, as you seem to be suggesting we should, we hold back the sexual emancipation of all people, gay and straight.

  • ZackFord says:

    James, I chose not to address various straw men you introduced because I did not find them relevant to the points I tried to make in this post.

    I think there is great work to be done on behalf of sex-positivity. I love reading Greta Christina and the enlightened conversations she starts about sex. You might enjoy listening to the podcast Peterson Toscano and I recently did about kinks and fetishes.

    I disagree with the relevance of Zack’s decision being “an effort to promote sex-positivity.” It’s a rosy way to paint the picture, but it’s simply not the case. You can read his original post to Fleshbot: “Do it for dick, do it for naked pictures of non-famous people.” He threw in a little sex-positivity rhetoric, but this was simply the marketing of sex. It was an offer to trade porn for votes, and frankly, the rest is just BS.

    Let’s have a sexual revolution. Let’s work to emancipate all people, gay and straight. I’ve never disagreed with that. While I do see some benefit in legally recognizing and supporting family structures, I’m right there with you for “a more just and reasonable society.” But we have to remember that we operate in a context. Some people will support marriage equality but will never support complete sexual liberation. Why alienate the supporters we need just so we can get our rocks off? That’s not pandering to bigots; that’s being reasonable.

    The contest was about blogging for marriage equality. Zack bribed people for votes with sexual gratification. I don’t see that as very sex-positive.

  • James Croft says:

    Zach – I like very much how you’re standing your ground on this – Kudos. Perhaps I am going too far in defending Zach-the-second, but I think you may be going to far in damning him too.
    I think that perhaps the responses here (not just mine but Guido’s too) should hint to you that your article seemed to suggest to some people that some sort of accommodation is needed with people who simply don’t accept our position as equal human beings. You can understand why many bristle at that sort of suggestion, right? By suggesting, even as a point of strategy, that gay folks need to demonstrate their interest in things other than sex in order to show they should have equal marriage rights, you undermine the argument that rights are unearned, and that equal marriage is simply a matter of justice. It is rather as if black civil rights campaigners had suggested that black people should demonstrate they were capable of sitting nicely in front of the bus to assuage the concerns of racist whites. This is what I most strongly disagree with you on, but you seem unwilling to respond on this point.
    Incidentally, there’s a difference between a straw man (an unflattering and unreasonable caricature of an opponent’s argument for the purposes of easily demolishing it) and a point that you consider not to be relevant – I don’t think I’m mischaracterizing anyone’s position here, I’m trying to offer a different way to look at what happened, which you disagree with. It’s a shame you don’t see the value in responding to those parts of my post, because some of them express my strong agreement with some of your grievances!
    In any case, it’s good to have another gay atheist blogger out there who isn’t afraid to share his opinions. Come visit us at – even better, write an article for us!

  • ZackFord says:

    I used “straw man” to describe the way you and others have tried to attack me for being sex-negative, when that isn’t my real position; it’s a straw man to attack rather than respond to what I’m actually saying.

    You’ve created a false dichotomy here, and your comparison to bus racial divisions is ridiculous and offensive. I feel like you’re saying if I’m not on board with 100% in-your-face-all-the-time, no-discretion sexual liberation that I’m trying to support separate but equal policies or compromising on our freedom. That’s not a fair characterization of what I wrote. What I wrote is that society already knows where he stand on sex. A lot of the people standing in the way of our equality don’t like it; they use it to hold us down. I’m not saying we need to compromise in any way on our sexuality; I’m simply saying bringing attention to it isn’t going to help us in our political efforts, and in the case of marriage equality, it could hold us back.

    I don’t have a problem with Zack Rosen’s body or his decision to share nude photos of himself. I have a problem with Zack Rosen prostituting himself and claiming that it somehow supports marriage equality. That’s a joke, and I think you know it, James.

  • TNG Zack says:

    Prostituting myself? Zack, please. Now you’re calling me names. I’m out of this conversation.

  • ZackFord says:

    Well, you offered your body up in order to win a scholarship, Zack. I wasn’t trying to call you a name. I just used a verb that I thought pretty accurately described what you did. I’m sorry if it hurt your feelings.

  • James Croft says:

    I’m sorry you think I am mischaracterizing your position – that is certainly not my intention. I am also regretful that you have repeatedly ignored the points over which we agree, and my attempts to compliment your arguments.  So let me clarify. You say:

    I feel like you’re saying if I’m not on board with 100% in-your-face-all-the-time, no-discretion sexual liberation that I’m trying to support separate but equal policies or compromising on our freedom

    I recognize this may be your feeling, but I said nothing of the kind. I said that “By suggesting, even as a point of strategy, that gay folks need to demonstrate their interest in things other than sex in order to show they should have equal marriage rights, you undermine the argument that rights are unearned, and that equal marriage is simply a matter of justice.” In other words the argument that the best strategy for getting gay marriage involves gay people demonstrating that they are more than just sex addicts is fundamentally flawed because it portray rights as earned, not innate, and puts the onus on the gay community to act differently rather than on the bigots whose prejudice keeps us down. This argument is quite different to suggesting that you support anything like separate-but-equal policies or wish to compromise on our freedom, which you clearly do not.
    From my perspective, throughout this discussion, I have simply been trying to hold you to your own words. You said the following, as I quoted before:

    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.

    In this quote you do a number of things, to my mind. First, you seek to establish the principle that our equal rights should be sought on the basis of others’ standards, that we should accept the fact that some people will require a “demonstration” (your words) on our behalf before we achieve our rights. I think this is a deeply unwise position, allowing others to set the bar for our acceptance. I think we need to move the bar, not meet it. This is a legitimate and on-point disagreement, and my analogy to the civil rights movement is, I think, apposite – you give no reason whatsoever why it is an inaccurate analogy.

    Second, you seem to suggest that sex-positivity is naturally in conflict with respect for family and community – this is the only meaning I can take from the words “in spite of our own sex-positive culture”.  I do not see sex-positivity and family as things that can only exist “in-spite-of” each other – rather I see them as complimentary. Thus I disagree in two quite concrete ways with this small paragraph.

    Much of the rest is gravy 😉

  • ZackFord says:

    James, I think we really agree for the most part. I’m sorry for not emphasizing that enough. I get caught up on the pieces that still need discussed. 😛

    One of the core principles of education is that you have to meet people where they are. You can’t challenge someone if they don’t have the support to get there. We talk about scaffolding and zones of proximal development. The idea is you can’t force it all at once. This is how I think about advocacy. To overcome the discrimination we suffer, we have to help people get to the point where they understand why we deserve our rights. Much like cognitive development, we have to help people get to where we are, step by step.

    All of my comments you have cited refer not to how we act, but how we are perceived. It is not I who see those values as in conflict with sex-positivity; I completely understand that they jive and are by no means mutually exclusive. But this is how I think about it: People do understand, in a way, that we’re sex-positive, but it’s a way that gets in their way of seeing that we have these other values. I think you’d agree it would be worthwhile for others to see we do value family and community. I say, let’s get that established and then worry about integrating the two. We don’t have to be less sex-positive in the meantime. I just want us to be conscientious that we aren’t SEEMINGLY (and unnecessarily) sending conflicting messages.

    I think our freedom and our rights are innate. We shouldn’t have to advocate for them. I definitely do not think, by any means, that they ought to be “earned.” What I do understand, though, is that in 2010 in the USA, the key is education. We need to help undo the miseducation people have received about homosexuality and then educate them about who we are, what our lives are about, and why we deserve to be treated equally. In achieving this education, our messaging is important. If we do things that confirm the miseducation folks’ anti-gay beliefs operate from, it reinforces their anti-gay beliefs. Of course those beliefs are unfounded, but unfortunately, we are the ones tasked with correcting this misinformation, and do so we must in order to achieve the freedom we deserve.

    If your comparison to the bus were accurate, it would suggest I’m advocating for us to conform to heterosexist discrimination. I am not, nor am I suggesting that we need to meet a bar set by others. My goal is to lower (and ultimately make obsolete) the bar through reeducation and effective messaging.

    As an aside, while I understand the concerns you have expressed (and hopefully we are moving closer to common ground) I still honestly feel like this discussion has been a distraction. Zack’s actions were disrespectful and did not support marriage equality.

  • […] Of course, people are upset. Enter Zack Ford, one of the other winners and his blog post. […]

  • Michael says:

    Hello all,
    I’m a bit late. I actually thought there was no comment section on this website so I wrote a comment on my blog. Sorry! Ford, I’m not sure you’ll want to read it our politics are quite different. I just want to comment quickly that throwing around the word values is dangerous. It is usually used to impose one set of values above another.
    Here is the post:

  • Michael says:

    At least we can agree that we dislike The Advocate. A starting point? I recommend The Trouble With Normal to understand the queer opposition to same-sex marriage. I realize you are probably busy. If you want, I can send you a summary. I have one lying around somewhere.

  • Michael says:

    I do want to mention that it is ridiculous that the other two winners were not discussed by The Advocate.

  • Another Gay Guy says:

    This is an important debate to have–although I don’t think either Zack really gets it completely right.

    My concern has little to do with Zack Rosen’s nudity. Kudos to him for using his ingenuity to garner votes. I think referring to him as a prostitute or disrespecting him on a personal level does a disservice to us all and avoids the primary issue here.

    I’m actually most disappointed in Freedom to Marry, because as far as I know a scholarship was intended to advance the education of the recipient who most closely represents the mission of the organization/person providing the financial assistance. This was an educational award designed to assist the netroots marriage equality movement, not an online contest for some silly prize.

    I recognize that there is something to be said about being inclusive and how image and sexuality play a role in equality as a whole, but the purpose of this award is to promote marriage rights, plain and simple. You can argue whether or not that should be the number one priority of the LGBT movement, but that’s not the purpose of this award. Based on Zack Rosen’s work and what I know of him, he has not identified as or made much of an attempt to be a strong advocate for marriage equality aside from the occasional post about equal rights and recognition for LGBT minorities.

    I realize that many of Zack R’s followers will likely attack these statements, but based on the work of the other nominees, I don’t think he deserved the award, period. Give the money to someone who actually works to advance the cause on a regular basis, not someone who simply writes about alternative gay lifestyles. He should have never been nominated in the first place.

    • Scott says:

      Pardon the language, but his voice as a writer is SO douche-y. He sounds so condescending in his posts. I still go there for some of the other articles, but usually avoid his.Pardon the language, but his voice as a writer is SO douche-y. He sounds so condescending in his posts. I still go there for some of the other articles, but usually avoid his.

  • Bil Browning says:


    I’ll respond more fully in a post on TBP, but, I must say, I’m very disappointed in this post and your subsequent comments below it. Zach Rosen “prostituted” himself? Seriously? You’d stoop that low in a petty quest for some sort of validation that you’re a better person than he is? Could you find any better language meant to feminize and degrade Zack or would that be too “sex positive?” That’s actually a pretty serious insult and, dare I say, you should apologize for it immediately.

    I’ll also add – as a sponsor of the contest who was consulted when he made the original offer – that this sounds like a case of sour grapes. The contest you entered was two-fold. One: make it past the judges with your writing/vlogging. You made the cut. Two: Use social media and innovative thinking to get the most votes. You used Facebook and Twitter. You can be pissed all you want that he got more votes than you, but when it boils down to it, he followed the rules of the contest and did a much better job of getting attention. So while you complain about the press he garnered for himself and the contest, that was exactly the point of it all.

    Anyhow, I’ll respond more on TBP. This whole post just leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

  • James Croft says:

    Zack, it does look like that we are closer in opinion than it initially seemed, as you have clarified that when talking about certain issues you were “speaking with the voice of our opponents” rather than in your own voice. This was not entirely clear from your initial post, and I am glad to have that clarification.

    I am also delighted by your references to educational research. I am an educationalist myself (I’m studying for my doctorate in Human Development at Harvard) and I always enjoy when Vygotsky appears in a discussion. 🙂

    I entirely agree that encouraging those who currently do not support gay rights to change their minds is a fundamentally educational endeavor, and requires us to, to some extent, meet people at their current place of understanding. I still think it is wrong to say, however, that the place where we should meet them is the place at which some believe gay people are incapable of monogamy. This is for two primary reasons: first, because I do not feel this belief is at the root of many people’s objections to gay rights anyway (I have never encountered it as an argument myself, and I fight about this all the time ;)); and second, because it encourages the perspective that rights should be contingent on capabilities.

    Let me go a little deeper into the second point because, to me, it’s absolutely crucial. Let us assume that we take the track that you suggest, and go around talking about how LGBT people are capable of monogamy, value family, and serve their communities, and on that basis many people change their minds and vote for gay marriage – i.e. the strategy you espouse is successful. What happens when some news article or TV show or movie suggests to those same people, once again, that actually gays care mostly about sex? They feel that the rationale they were provided to support gay marriage has been undermined. This might lead them to vote against it in the future (and Prop 8 in California shows ‘democratic reconsiderations’ of this sort can absolutely happen). Essentially my argument is that support for our rights based on appreciation of our behavior or capabilities is fundamentally unsound and subject to change.

    In contrast, I suggest we put out a different message, which I still think falls within the zone of proximal development (if we want to use the jargon!) of enough individuals for us to win the day. We should argue that marriage equality is a matter of equal protection under the law, that gay people getting married harms no one, and that the state has no right to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, just as it has no right to discriminate on the basis of skin color. Therefore, regardless of what you think about gays’ lifestyles, if you support the (patriotic, American) ideals of freedom and justice, you should support gay rights. I think this argument can work because it leverages an understanding many Americans (in my experience as an immigrant Brit ;)) already have about the fairness and freedom of their country, and asks them simply to expand their view. It is also more secure, because it works independently of what the given individual or group thinks about LGBT lifestyles.

    I think that’s the safer bet – although I suppose there’s little harm in trying both.

  • ZackFord says:

    James, I love your sense of idealism! I think your ideas about equal protection and freedom from discrimination are wonderful. And I think those points carry a lot of weight in a court of law, which is why I’m eager to see the results of the Prop 8 trial and other current court proceedings.

    However, I don’t think they reflect a realistic approach to democratic support. And even if we achieve equality under the law, we still have a lot of work to do towards integration. We know that decades after Civil Rights, we still have huge issues with race relations, and we have even further to go (outside of a few big cities) with reducing hate. That’s why I think we have to recognize the need to undo miseducation and not just push new ideas.

    I don’t think we have to confirm or deny that some gay people are “incapable” of monogamy. I just think we have to raise more awareness that not all aren’t. 🙂

  • Shirley says:

    Here’s something I don’t get in this discussion. How come you’re all taking ‘prostitute’ as an insult? Isn’t it a bit insulting to sex workers? At what point do you decide if something is ‘shameful’ or not? If someone offers their body in a sexual way for payment of whatever sort, why would ‘prostitute’ not be an accurate term? You’re either ashamed of that or you’re not, surely? Am not trying to catch anyone out here, I felt I was understanding the discussion up until this point and am now a bit confused.

  • In conection to Zack F suggesting that Zack R protestitued himself bil browning wrote:

    Could you find any better language meant to feminize and degrade Zack or would that be too “sex positive?”

    Wait, what? Who says that being a prostitute is feminizing? As Shiley mentions, there is bias in this statement that often comes when gay men are connected with prosittution (and women for that matter) that it is a terrible, shameful thing. Gay male prostitutes often are convenient in exposing hypocritial anti-gay Conservatives, they often get thrown under the bus once they are used.

    But that prostitution is feminizing sounds sexist.

  • doug says:

    Am I the only person who has trouble reading Rosen’s posts/material? His writing style seems to be missing soemthing. It’s all over the place. Is his blog that bad?

  • Shirley says:

    PS Bill, ‘feminize’? you say that like it’s a bad thing!

  • Luke Wallis says:

    OK, to be honest, I was too bored to read all the responses, especially James, who sounds like a pretentious blow-hard arguing for some kid to flash his pecker – makes me chuckle, though.

    It’s not an analogy for anything, it’s not a courageous example set for anyone, or a social break-through. He’s not Lucretia fucking Mott, here, people. Some kid wanted to go to Vegas and he manipulated a horny system to go. It’s the same as if he had sex with one of the judges.

    Now, I’m as horny and irreverent as they come, but I think what Ford is trying to get across is there is a time and place for that sort of thing and this was neither.

  • JRR says:

    I think it’s somewhat ironic that Mr. Rosen, a man who tries so hard to be “the new gay,” perpetuates the same old gay stereotypes of exploiting sexuality for a means to an end – yet he rails against conventional or “normal” gay institutions. Perhaps in this instance, “the new gay” is just the “same old gay” wrapped in contempt for histories that Mr. Rosen proselytizes change to without the understanding of, while he exploits them at convenience for his own gain.

  • Luke Wallis says:

    OK he said it better.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by J. Raphael Roykovich. J. Raphael Roykovich said: RT @A_Tyrone: Stripping for a Scholarship: The Zack Rosen Situation :: A well written counterpoint […]

  • I love you Shirley, thank you for your comments. Yeah, since when is feminizing a bad thing? Some of my best friends are feminized males. And since when has prostitution been just a female thing, particularly in the gay male community?

    Bil, Zack Ford need not apologize for his opinion and for analyzing this situation with Zack Rosen and his exposed cock. There is no insult here unless someone chooses to be offended. Rosen used sex for votes–that is a form of prostitution. No judgment as to it being morally wrong. Rather the question remains, although successful, was such a move appropriate? Can we have an honest discussion about what happened without having to judge someone a prude? Just because someone questions whether it is appropriate to flash dick, doesn’t make immediately make that one a prude or hung up with our opponents’ mind-set.

    As Zack and I discussed earlier on our podcast, it raises many issues for us to consider in our community. It raises the issue of privilege. Zack Rosen can offer to show his cock AND get votes in part because of the privilege he has as a man, a young man, a “hot man,” a fit man. People with other types of bodies and identities most likely would not have received such a positive response from other gay men. In looking at justice issues like marriage equality, its is critical to consider the privileges and oppressions that exist WITHIN our own communities.

    This discussion has inspired me as a 45 year-old only partially fit man to put up a photo of my own cock. I show you this not for votes but from the generosity of my heart. Click here to see my cock.

  • Wow says:

    I just canceled my monthly donation to Freedom to Marry since I already have a separate monthly budget for porn. This is what my money was going towards? Give me a break, I may as well donate to HRC…

  • ZackFord says:


    I would strongly urge you to reconsider. I cannot speak for Freedom to Marry, but I am doubtful that they were eager to endorse Zack’s behavior. Unfortunately, there were not restrictions to disqualify his behavior, and so they had to honor their commitment to awarding the scholarships to the finalists with the highest votes, regardless of how the votes were garnered.

    As one of the other winners, I greatly appreciate the work Freedom to Marry does and the opportunity they’ve created for me to grow as a blogger and activist. I know they are doing a lot of work right now to counter the summer NOM tour. If you do not like the way this contest was run, I would encourage you to voice your concern, but please do not cancel your donation.

  • jimstoic says:

    I disagree with this sentence: “Our community has a tendency for ‘promiscuity’ because society’s condemnation has essentially encouraged us to be promiscuous.” I am a gay male in a monogamous long-term relationship, but I don’t think science has established that gay male promiscuity is a result of societal disapproval. It seems pretty obvious to me that male humans tend toward promiscuity naturally. I could be wrong, but I’d like to see some science before conceding.

    I am uncomfortable with Rosen’s actions for a different reason: he turned a contest about ideas into a contest about beauty. He is a conventionally attractive guy. If he were not, his ploy would not have had the same level of success. Too much of gay life is already a beauty contest.

    But on another level, I appreciate him. You mentioned the “ick factor,” something that is irrational. (See Martha Nussbaum’s From Digust to Humanity.) He put the thing that triggers that “ick!” in the middle of the discussion. It shouldn’t always be the center of what we talk about, but neither should it be kept hidden from that discussion. So I admire him at least a little bit for “standing up” for what he believes in.

  • ZackFord says:

    Fair points, Jim.

    To clarify, I’m not trying to argue that gay men are naturally more promiscuous, merely that we have a higher tolerance for it or that we do not look down upon it as much. The rampant heterosexism that has shaped the culture of our community has conditioned us, I think, to be less inhibited. Certainly, there have been far fewer role models (like yourself) to encourage monogamy.

    Yes, Zack did introduce the “ick” to the discussion, but I still contend that his “(d)ick” had little to do with blogging or marriage equality.

  • Julia says:


    Okay, let me say this off the bat – I do agree with you on the specific subject, ZackF – ZackTNG’s cock isn’t what should be qualifying him for this Netroots Nation scholarship, and the dick-pic-for-click strategy really doesn’t belong in a competition based on one’s writing and activism.

    I would question your dismissal of all the people who ended up voting for ZackTNG as “just caring about seeing his cock” – how many people who saw this via some other blog’s coverage or The Advocate etc. do you think actually ended up going to see his cock? I’d wager very, very few. Not to slight his attractiveness, but this is the internet – any of us can go look at all the free pictures of naked attractive men we’d care to see. The actual value in votes would be from drawing attention to his entry in the contest, not cock per se. As I’ve said, though, that is an extremely raw deal for the people who DIDN’T get that publicity, who were running on their work and merit alone. It’s low.

    That said, what your post outlined regarding your views on the broader movement are… extremely disturbing, to say the least.

    Apply for a second what you’re saying about queer liberation to atheism. It’s clear that there atheists are broadly considered angry and anti-theistic, which significantly sours public perception of atheists. Should we, then, insist that any atheists who ARE angry or who hold extremely negative opinions of religion should hold their tongues and promote atheists who have favorable views of religion? It would ‘help our public image,’ after all.
    Clearly that’s a “hell no,” and we both know why. Censoring ourselves, saying to the world, ‘we’re not like THAT at all!’, explicitly devalues and demonizes people who ARE ‘like that.’ It is NOT an act of a liberation movement.

    Abbie Hoffman once said, “You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.”
    That couldn’t ring more true. It’s especially disturbing to me in the context of queer liberation because it’s so goddamn similar to comments I so often hear from trans-exlcusive queer readers at other blogs like Bilerico – the ‘why should we include those trans freaks in our movement’ complaint.

    The problem is not the people who are considered “icky” by society; the problem is the people saying “ick.” Yes, the stereotype of gay men as promiscuous and highly sexual is a problem – not because being sexual is bad, but because it implies ‘they’re all the same.’ The outgroup homogeneity bias – thinking a group of other people is all the same – shouldn’t be fought by saying ‘NO, we’re all just like you!’ and thrusting the socially undesirable into the shadows. It should be fought by emphasizing that we are people, different people, living feeling people like them, not a faceless horde.

  • ZackFord says:

    Julia, while I’m not as optimistic as you are about the motives of the people who voted for Zack, I pretty much agree with everything else you said.

    I think the thing for me is… I love the idea of sexual liberation, but I don’t see Zack’s actions (or the reactions by others/The Advocate) as sex-positive. I think we should all be open about our sex, I don’t think nudity should be so taboo, I think we need to talk more about sex, etc. But what Zack did didn’t support that.

    Regardless of whether you think it’s offensive or not, the fact is that Zack engaged in prostitution. He offered his body to get money. And while I don’t think prostitution is necessarily a bad thing, it does strike as being antithetical to the nature and implicit goal of the contest. It’s a question of tact and respect, and that is the point I most wanted to make.

    I haven’t said it enough, so thank you to everyone who has been commenting!

  • jimstoic says:

    I’m wondering how you are going to interact with Mr. Rosen when you meet. You will meet, right? And do you think he follows this?

  • ZackFord says:

    He was the first to respond (TNG Zack). Things seemed respectful until I used the word “prostitute” to describe what he did and then he shut down. I still don’t get how anyone can argue that offering your dick for (votes for) cash isn’t prostitution, nor why the notion that it is prostitution is offensive. If that’s not something he wanted to be called, there was an easy way to avoid it. *shrug*

  • Julia says:

    “Julia, while I’m not as optimistic as you are about the motives of the people who voted for Zack, I pretty much agree with everything else you said.”

    Well, I mean, come on. I know you were being somewhat sarcastic when you said, e.g. “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,” but no one needs to do anything special to receive cock pics. Let me just tab over to google image, turn off safesearch, and… there we go, “cock,” 10.9 million results in 0.06 seconds.

    So yeah. Apart from that porn site, even though many people ended up voting for him because he said he’d show cock (as a result of that offer, anyway), that doesn’t mean they necessarily voted for him in order to see his cock, know what I mean?

    Anyway, that’s really a minor side note. We agree in thinking this scholarship competition wasn’t the place for this.

    …okay, and to echo Shirley, what is with all this hate on sex workers?!
    Gawd. To think this bullshit is coming from people who are all claiming to be sex-positive; it would almost be funny….
    fuck it, I’m out

  • James Croft says:

    Thanks for the props, Luke! It always makes my day to be considered “pretentious” ;). I happen to think that the bases on which we argue for our rights are crucially important, and that we should discuss the differences between us in a civilized and sophisticated manner, remaining open to disagreement and never writing off our interlocutors with cheap personal jibes. That is what I have tried to do here, and I regret you do not appreciate it. It is, entirely, your loss.

  • DAVID says:

    I agree with WOW- I cancelled my subscription to Freedom to Marry, I’d rather not have my money going to porn. Zack, you said Freedom may not be eager to endorse Rosen’s behavior; yet, they haven’t made a statemnet on it, either. I sent them an email expressing disappointment about Rosen’s stunt and I’m sure others did as well. Still- nothing from them. Silence can be deafening (and damning)

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