Being desired took me by surprise. It happened later for me than for most people. I’m 30, so I’m just a little bit too old to have grown up taking selfies and posting them online. Like most young men I worried off and on about my stomach, which isn’t flat, and my paleness, which stops below my upper arm and then becomes freckles. These worries were off far more than they were on. ‘On’ has never lasted for more than a second; I am always more interested in reading another chapter or having some ice cream. I honestly don’t care: I am not desperate for love or sex, I prefer thoughts over clothes, laughter over straight teeth.
I’d read a lot about other people’s body image issues. I was shocked by the delusions of some beautiful friends who were unhappy with their faces or their bums or their fingers or their whatevers. It became weirder and weirder to me that someone could be unhappy with their bodies. I understand it, because I see the beautiful people on the billboards too. I got my own issues settled before I joined Grindr and discovered the tyranny of Looking Good. Check out this exchange I had with a poor lad recently. I was joking around really, making fun of the contortions we put ourselves in. But I think he took it too seriously.
And then someone fancied me, and I got naked pretty quickly. If he didn’t like it, that was fair enough. Nothing ventured, etc. I didn’t have to turn the light off first, or position myself as if for a selfie. I was excited and nervous, but only because I wanted to have fun, not because I was worried that he wouldn’t like my body. If he didn’t, it was going to be his loss. So he saw me naked, and then he kept saying how much he loved my body. I wasn’t used to being desired. I’m still not really used to it. What would that feel like? Maybe you never get used to it, or if you do you become Justin Bieber and a bit of an arse.
But being desired was nice. I like thinking that a guy might be thinking about me. Not any guy. I don’t post photos of myself on lampposts and hope that guys get a thrill when they walk past. I’m only talking about guys I’m with. I think about them, I desire them, and I hope they’re returning the favour. It makes me feel good to be sexy in someone else’s eyes.
I have been uncomfortable with being desired. I was seeing a guy and we got too intense. I fancied him until he started to love me too much. This stopped me fancying him, which told me that I had to tell him. For some time afterwards he continued desiring me. I know it because he would tell me, consciously or by hinting. I knew he thought about me. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like being desired in this way because I didn’t want him to be hurt. The point was, every time I wasn’t reciprocating I was crushing his desire. That’s not fair on anyone. It made me feel bad (and him probably even worse).
So this makes me think: what must it be like for those men who are made to be desired? The Photoshopped models and the commoditised footballers and the sculpted film stars? In my experience desire is co-produced: it is two people looking at each other and wanting. When that becomes imbalanced one way or the other, I feel bad. How would I feel if I was involved in one-way desire, meaning being made up to look desirable, photographed and then pasted onto a billboard? This is one-way communication. It is impossible to know how many people see these images, and how many desire and how many dislike. I would find that situation so, so strange. Can you imagine making yourself sexy but being blindfolded while thousands of people walk past you in silent judgment?
Some of those people will have a good experience. I know I have some good experiences when I look at a one-way image and desire the subject. Some will have negative ones: ‘I’ll never look like that’, ‘I’ll never get someone like that’, ‘That gap in his teeth is awful’…
It’ll be worse if it is objectifying too, with my body made into an inaccurate presentation of the physical person I am, either by just showing a part of me or a modified version of me.
I’m not sure I could handle any of these kinds of one-way desire. Desire is two-way, right?