Someone once said, “life has no rehearsals, only performances.” They probably meant that in life there are no accidents – that everything has a purpose, and that we must live with intention, always giving it our all because we’ve only got this one shot. I totally agree, but I think there’s more to it.
Our every action, however small, is a representation of our identities to those around us. We know someone is inauthentic when they appear too rehearsed. That’s why our best advice to a friend anxious about an interview or a first date is always, “just be yourself.” And when we are, it shows, but more importantly, it sends the message, “I’m comfortable with who I am.”
Today, Instagram and Grindr open new possibilities for how we present our identities. Instagram even provides handy metrics and feedback mechanisms that allow us to perfect our performances. A strategic crop of your unkempt bedroom or a shirtless selfie in good morning light can attract a larger following and change how you’re perceived (happier, healthier, prettier) – but at the end of the day who are you doing it for? In this issue, we question some of Instagram’s favorite gay couples, asking why they (over)share, and why we follow.
At a basic level, we all crave validation. I hate to get all Oprah on you (actually I don’t at all), but she said it best: “Every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’” We all want to know that our existence means something to someone. If we’re lucky, we can even influence someone else, and see a piece of ourselves reflected back at us. Take American soccer player Robbie Rogers, for instance. When he came out in February 2013 and became the first active gay male athlete to play a professional sport in the US, his identity evolved to take on a much more powerful (and challenging) role. His performance off the field has been an inspiration to countless others, multiplying his act of vulnerability and bravery into something at once singular and universal.
And of course, our third cover mister Dan Donigan, who you may know as Milk from the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, provides a unique example of what it means to use performance as a means to define and question identity. Meeting this true-to-self queen and generally awe-inspiring human, you’re overwhelmed by the authenticity of his character. Like our cover misters who came before, Dan shows us the true meaning of realness by never compromising or apologizing for who he is. It’s no surprise that his audience is as strong and loyal as it is.
These men – Dan, Robbie, and the gay men of Instagram – all demonstrate the ways our lives are defined by performance. In the pages that follow, we evaluate how we perceive others and ourselves, the choices we make about who we want to be, and how we want to be seen. Presenting our most authentic selves doesn’t require practice, just a bit of courage and the innate motivation to be understood.