Most gay men already know that the more male profile you present in online dating profiles, the more interest you will attract. I always knew that besides being black, my feminine, flowing locks all the way to the chest were the biggest obstacle to my own success, which is why I completely disconnected for a while. However, recently I started to wonder if the male versus female assumptions were true, so I signed up for a few weeks to conduct a little experiment. The results are quite interesting, predictable, but still interesting.
I stopped looking for dates online over a year ago because it’s just not a productive use of my time. My greatest strength is my personality, and I’m not very photogenic. Add that to the fact that black men are practically invisible on online dating sites (unless you’re in the top 5% for musculature and attractiveness) compared to white males (who can be completely average in every way and still fill a social calendar), and it became clear to me that looking for dates on the internet was useless for me, personally.
Having said that, I found myself in West Hollywood on my own last month. I was alone in one of the gayest areas in the world, so I thought, why not check for presence online? I downloaded Grindr, Scruff, and the OkCupid and Adam4Adam mobile apps with the intention of removing them when I returned to real life. The important thing to note here is that I was using my typical profile picture, a standard selfie looking at the camera, with my hair down just like in my everyday life.
As I crossed the Triborough Bridge to Manhattan, I looked at my phone and wondered if I would see the same faces I was the last time I was online. NYC has a very high turnover rate because every queen east of the Mississippi who wants to get out of her small town and pursue her dreams usually ends up here at some point. Then they realize it’s expensive, cold, rude and dirty, so they go back to where they came from.
Either way, nothing has changed. No one really messaged me, and since being ignored by men is hard on my self-esteem, I was about to delete dating apps again when I quit: it could be. my female look to blame for the welcome? Maybe a more butch look would get the attention I wanted – a test surely wouldn’t hurt, right? I decided to test my hypothesis on Scruff.
For all the straight guys reading, Scruff is a location-based smartphone app where gay men can hang out, chat and connect with each other. You upload a photo and then write a profile, which can be as short or as long as you want. Once you open the app, all registered gay men in your neighborhood who are also online at that time will appear. I should mention that Scruff is pointedly introduced to a more masculine, “scruffy” type of guy, but in my experience all kinds of guys actually use it, albeit in smaller numbers. While you would still encounter a lot of beards and hairs on the grid, the app has definitely evolved from Grindr’s manlier cousin to make room for more variety.
I also chose Scruff for two important experimental reasons: 1) Unlike Grindr, Scruff allows you to write an actual profile, which means I could test my visual variable against mind and control. ‘intelligence and 2) Unlike OkCupid, only one image is displayed unless you unblock others. I didn’t want future chatterers to see other images because I wanted to cultivate a specific image.
I was on Scruff for 14 days with my hair down and fully visible in all of its luscious glory. The actual text on my profiles is always amazing, and I’m not saying this just because I mean it. My friends think so, and I wrote more than a few OkCupid profiles for my friends that immediately led to relationships. Anyway, during those 14 days, I got four messages, four conversations resulting from messages where I had made initial contact, and three woofs, which are like Hey you’re cute but i’m too lazy to say hello so it’s like a thumbs up on facebook. Those numbers were pretty daunting, especially when you’re sitting across from a friend of yours at dinner who has 15 new messages every time he opens his phone.
After changing my profile picture to something more butch – again, facing forward but with less expression and my hair pulled out under a baseball cap – my screen lit up with two messages during the first 10 minutes. In the 10 days, I got 28 posts, got 29 convos based on my original post, and scored 36 woofs. While those numbers aren’t massively high (I don’t do half-nude photos and I’m black), the butch factor clearly had an impact.
Remember, I kept the profile text (the information that gives you an overview of who I am) the same in both iterations of the profile. With that in mind, what immediately struck me was the fact that the guys who didn’t respond to me when I tried to strike up a conversation during the ‘woman’s period’ then started to send me a message shortly after changing my photo. It is clear that they were not reading anything from the text; if they had, they would have realized they were talking to the same person. In other words, these guys were just looking at the picture and basing their decision whether or not to interact just on that.
It’s great like this: Scruff is a gay app, and it’s common knowledge that a lot of users just want to have sex. To counter this, I make sure to only send messages to guys who say they’re looking for dates and friends. If you’re looking for these things, visual cues shouldn’t matter as much, right? You think “hey, this guy is funny and smart and has a lot of interests, I think I could get to know him better.” Well that obviously wasn’t, given my low numbers in Stage 1.
When I first started getting pings I tried to set up dates with a few guys – if we can get past the initial contact issue I’m really good at activating the spell. Sadly, a lot of the guys I was making plans with – after good online chats, of course – would cancel or stop responding altogether once I let them see more photos. For example, I had talked to this guy for a few days; he thought I was funny, I thought he was smart, he wanted to have a coffee and maybe take a walk in the park because the weather was going to be nice. But then I sent her more photos where you can tell I have long hair. His answer : Wow… I wasn’t expecting that. I thought your hair would be cut short. I tried to make a joke about it… and I never heard another word from him. A version of this scenario has occurred nine times in total.
Believe it or not, I didn’t come out of this experience feeling bad about myself – just smarter about the way gay men (or maybe men in general) put too much emphasis. on silly features like beards and caps (hint: that’s why you’re all still cranky and single). * And really, I don’t think having long hair per se is the big deal; that’s what my hair involves. Having long hair (especially for a black man) means you’re probably a bitchy drama queen that no one wants to date. Even though the assumption is not that extreme, the underlying fear is “you’ve spent too much time on your appearance and it’s not masculine”. It’s frustrating, of course, because stereotypical masculinity takes so much work – we just don’t think of it that way. I remember chatting with this scruffy, pretty muscular guy with tattoos and chest hair and an Instagram full of masc photos; once we started talking he revealed his obsession with Beyoncé and said “yasss!” every other paragraph. But whatever, her photo is butch, so her love life is always full.
As for me, I love my hair, and I love my style; At the moment, I don’t feel the need to change to attract 5% of the population while the remaining 95% give me clichés. It will always bother me at least a little to watch the whole gay dating scene from the outside, but for now, I’d rather be unique than put on another interchangeable, expressionless “masc” mask.
* I guess it’s not only applicable to homosexual encounters. Since I changed my photo to the bro version on Tumblr, I have had around 1,200 new followers in 10 days and my Facebook activity has also increased. Seems like a lot of people, gay and straight alike, prefer butches over women, at least when it comes to bloggers who write about serious issues like race and politics, in addition to reality TV and gossip. about celebrities.