In the first installment of a series of JAKE Voices posts tackling what it's like to live under the "New" Male Beauty Myth, sexwork activist Hawk Kinkaid talks about being fit in a world of "spornographic" bodies.
by Hawk Kinkaid / @hawkkinkaid
I was riding the subway with two gay male porn performers after a radio appearance, and the conversation turned to food. Breakfast, in particular. Mostly, it was the absence of it. They were acutely aware that with an upcoming live event performance this week, food was already a controlled substance in their world. Six packs don’t come from peanut butter. Standing on the F train and chatting with my friends, I realized I’d downed a Greek yogurt and a PBJ (on light bread) before getting to the station, and I was already contemplating some granola at the office. Was I now a gluttonous failure?
I have been an activist for sexworker rights for 20 years, and my current role as COO of the best known brand for finding a male escort means spending more time with ripped/shaved/plucked/tattooed friends who have chosen to work in the sex industry, and not in an unrelated way, men who espouse and capitalize on the modern day masculine ideal. They are the men that make up the ‘porno’ in Mark Simpson’s term-du-decade “spornosexual”, and they force me to reconcile an unfortunate cruelty constructed by and for gay men.
The body I live in is not the product of gross excesses, and I recognize that while it had commercial value years ago when I worked as an escort/prodom/webcam model/bodyworker, it is nothing particularly inordinary now. Soft from moving into management roles and a penchant for red velvet cake, I just wrapped up doing the Incan Trail in Peru, besting the much younger hikers up and down the mountain because my thick-legged hill-people genetics find the terrains natural, exhilarating, welcoming. I don’t belong in a gym, but caving to peer pressure, I bludgeon myself daily for dragging a gym bag to work only to forgo the weightroom for a conference room, a set of curls for a sunset over tea. My doctor says my body fat is reasonable, my heart rate is ideal, and I am a fit as a fiddle - not even taking into account my status as an urban professional with a college degree who is active in community-based organization, a published poet, and has managed to secure the allegiance of my dog (though some rawhide treats helped).
Being gay, this is not enough. Frank Browning years ago wrote that for many gay men, their perceived value is often in whether or not they are desirable, and I found that truth in that statement. During college, in my first years of gayness, I would trick down at the public loop, a circular stretch of road where gay men would cruise each other for sex. There, along with other young men unable to enter the local bar, I would talk smack about the old men in cars passing by, but as I was constructing my Honors thesis on this public sex ritual, I recognized that I liked it. Maybe because being young and queer in the early ‘90s meant breathing beneath the weight of AIDS, widespread homophobia, and an absence of belonging, but many young men like myself came to appreciate being appreciated. I was already aware that as a chubby kid, the trimming of the flesh had value, but now, I also recognized that it had power, demand, substance. I could be visible.
I don’t know if we as gay men were the sole vectors for the transmission of the body dysphoria that would fuel the mainstream’s move toward this modern day version of masculinity, but I believe we were a critical component. From the notion of desirability to the history of bodybuilding as a closeted home to bygone homosexuals (where do you think those muscle mags came from?), is it a sign of self-loathing that we seek to be desirable not to ourselves but to everyone? In our hunt for value, any rejection is all rejection.
As gay men, were we not always seeking approval for a self-loathing? Body consciousness may exist as a visual reminder that our predecessors were forced into the shadows of society, to be invisible. There are simply not enough compliments in the world that replace absences of self-compassion, and yet, I have tried.
This is my main failure. Not the Greek yogurt or the PBJ. It is that while I believe my life’s work is to engage in an existence that is intentional, compassionate, respectful, meaningful and stable, I still harbor the desire to be desired like these men I am talking to on the train, whose job it is is to perform a masculinity for the purpose of appreciation. I am just like everyone else.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Hawk Kinkaid is the founder and current president of HOOK ONLINE, the America-based harm reduction non-profit project by, for and about men in the sex industry started in 1997. Recently, he became the first COO for Rentboy.com. Find him online at hawkkinkaid.com and @hawkkinkaid (Twitter and instagram).