The virtues of exhibitionism

The only thing better than watching is baring your soul

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Well, you should, because you are.

We live in a surveillance society. Increasingly, our every move is ogled, recorded, analyzed and judged. Big business and nosy neighbourhood watchers patrol their turf with security cameras. Market researchers know everything you buy, and everything you see on the Internet. TV crews record and broadcast men having sex in parks and police invading the homes of poor people.

Across the continent, citizens respond with worries about their privacy. Homosexuals, on the other hand, worry about our hair and adjust the lighting.

Are we superficial and vain? Of course we are. But while we’re looking great on camera, we are also reinventing public discourse.

There are some icky angles to our current privacy concerns. Middle-class North Americans have unrealistic expectations of privacy. It’s as though we believe that when we invest big money in suburban monster homes and climate controlled, tank-resembling family vans, we are actually purchasing the right to be left alone.

Privacy isn’t just about evil corporations spying on the helpless masses, or the state trampling on our rights. It’s also about overprivileged, oversensitive misers who think they’re exempt from society.

Homosexuals are more generous with our contributions to public life, and more embracing of its performative requirements.

It’s not always pretty, of course. Our culture of cruising is one where we are constantly checking each other out – always looking, often leering. As a result, cruisy bars can be stiff, as patrons pose and worry about every angle of their appearance instead of having fun. The sterile Starbucks on Church, despite its dispensation of the animating drug caffeine, is the most stilted coffeehouse in town. Some ghetto residents are compelled to get all dolled up to make a toothpaste run to the corner store.

Most of us contribute to the inhibitions of others, as we gawk and giggle at outré outfits, or snicker at saggy bare bums hanging out of leather chaps.

Implicit in the reviling of outrageous behaviour is the rewarding of mediocrity – a smug, cowardly self-congratulation for staying in the shadows, for not standing out or breaking any rules in drawing attention to oneself.

But some of us display a refreshing disregard for the disapproving gaze of others.

You may recall an Xtra feature from two years ago, about Internet sites for men who are into barebacking. Men talk frankly about wanting to be infected with HIV, and wanting to infect others. A subculture has evolved through these forums, with its own language of “bugchasers” and “giftgivers.”

When I first learned of these discussions, I was horrified. Despite my intellectual embrace of free expression, I had a gut reaction. People shouldn’t be talking about this stuff. It’s dangerous.


But these men are engaging in a public discussion about their deepest desires and emotions. They are reaching beyond their concerns about appearances and appropriateness in order to seek and share.

We are also shameless in our pursuit of sex. We post our photos on Internet personals sites, where all can see. We have sex with our partners while cameras broadcast the proceedings to the world.

We are sharing our most intimate details and moments. And we’re exposing ourselves, even as our coworkers may be stumbling across our on-line orgasms, even as our mothers are finding our homepages while researching the family tree.

We are transcending shame and pioneering an approach to public living which is playful, honest, courageous and generous.

David Walberg is Publisher for Xtra.

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