By Jaime Woo
When I’m bored or restless, I turn to my iPod and open up Grindr, the popular and mildly infamous cruising app for men seeking other men. The app is location-based and uses GPS to determine who else is around: within seconds, my screen is populated with scores of images of men tantalizingly nearby. It’s a delightful hit of instant gratification, a marvel of modern technology, and a progressive juxtaposition to a time when gay men hid in the shadows and bushes.
The land of plenty is not paradise, however. There is a cultural brouhaha amongst cruising app users: a divide between the Faces and the Torsos.
The Faces are the more familiar tribe, recognizable from other social media services like Twitter or Facebook. They present through self-portraits, some choosing close-up beauty shots, others going head-to-toe. Many smile, just as many pose, and an oddball contingent try to appear aloof, as if unaware of the camera’s eye.
The Torsos prefer chest to cheekbones, cropping their photos from the clavicle to just above the hip bones. Often (but not always) the men are lean or muscular, at once devotees to the societal signifier of male virility yet also a middle finger to that same society’s widening masses. The Old Spice Guy may have popularized the idea of comparing himself to the schlub you’re with, but the gays did it first (and did it better).
Shirtless men are hardly shocking: in gay clubs, attendees strip, strut, and sweat in great swarms. Being topless is the de facto gay male uniform. But on Grindr, Torsos make a willful choice to become literally faceless, one of an often interchangeable series of bodies. This withholding annoys the Faces, who see it as cowardly, brusque or disrespectful.
Growing up in a Chinese household, I heard a lot about face. To “bei meen” to someone, literally to “give face” in Cantonese, was to have respect for that person. As a child, I heard of people who were “without face,” those considered to have little social capital or hadn’t much respect for themselves. (The English saying to “save face” probably has similar roots.) When I first began to think of Grindr’s Faces and Torsos, I assumed that to be a Face was to give face.