I cruise the hook-up apps just like most gay men that have smart phones. A comment I see in profiles a lot is something along the lines of “no face pic = no chat.” It is a sentiment that I can understand. In fact it is a sentiment I kind of share. I like to visualize what a guy that I am chatting with looks like. I think it makes it more like real time. It’s also nice to think the person I am chatting with is not dealing with shame. I am too out to try to be closeted when in public with someone.
However, I also recognize that despite the progress we have made in society there are still many proud people who do not feel comfortable being quite so public. In fact I have often thought about obscuring my identity on social media as well because of my professional position. It can be disturbing for clients to know too much about my personal life—it can be distracting from the work we are doing or they can find out something they don’t like but is irrelevant to the professional work we are doing. I know that some clients have seen me naked or seen pictures of me naked—just as I have stumbled onto naked pictures of my clients on occasion—and this is something that ideally I would not like to have as part of our relationship, but being open is a decision I personally have made.
One of the comments I have seen deriding the absence of a face pic referenced the age of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell being over. I have a client who is an officer in the military reserves. We talked about what it might mean for him to add to his Facebook profile that he is in a relationship with another guy after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was overturned. He acknowledged that he thought it was great that he could not be kicked out for being found out anymore, but expressed sincere concern that he would not receive another promotion in his career if his superiors found out that he is gay. One’s career in the military is not secure just because of a change in policy, it will take a while before there is a change in attitude up the ranks.
There are also many conservative professions in which having that much exposure could be occupationally damaging. Here in Houston, the economy is dominated by oil & gas, the medical industry, and shipping. All three of these industries are notoriously conservative. Some of the energy companies have excellent non-discrimination policies. However, I think that by now we also know that not all of management abides by the spirit of non-discrimination policies. Similarly, we think of the medical field as well educated (and equate this with liberalism), but the medical industry (like the mental health industry) have a long history of keeping one’s private life private. The majority of the gay doctors I have talked to do not put their face on their profiles because they have to deal with both a broad political spectrum of patients and a politically conservative work environment. I don’t think there is any confusion about how liberal or conservative the shipping industry is.
The counter argument I hear a lot in my defending the faceless is that only other gay people are looking at the apps, so what would be the concern? This has been the argument about why it is safe to go to the gay bar for years—only other gay people will see you there. Today, neither of those arguments is quite true. I see straight people at my bar almost every time I go, and I go to one of the least straight-friendly bars in the city. But the apps are even more vulnerable to exposure outside of the community. How many gay guys are showing profiles to gal pals non-gay friends because the guy is particularly hot or the profile is particularly amusing? Okay, now what if the friend shown the app is a co-worker of the person whose profile was just shown? Sure, the friend is probably open-minded, but nonetheless the person on the app was just outed at work without control of that information—and without consideration of the possible consequences.
Everyone needs to decide what they want in a potential partner or trick on the apps, but I do wish that people would respect that not everyone is free of consequences of being out. The majority of states—including Texas—do not have non-discrimination clauses and many employers are still willing to punish, terminate, or limit gay employees. And besides, the next time you ignore the faceless guy on the apps, you just might be missing out on that doctor you mother wanted you to marry.