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7 min

Kiss and Tell: This Headless Torso isn’t just a pretty face

By popular demand, here's the next installment in the online dating series:



Kiss and Tell: The Headless
Torso (Sept 24)

 

In
2008, a number of articles began appearing online and in print media arguing
that internet dating sites have irreparably damaged the queer community. They
claim that the majority of queer youth are now socialized online instead of
though more traditional methods, such as visiting bars or other gay meeting
spaces, and that the consequence-free online environment increases the
incidence of unsafe sexual practices across all age groups.

Searching
for answers, freelance reporter Sean Horlor recently conducted a series of
interviews with Manhunt.net users. To get the full story, he admits he often
had to kiss in order to tell.

In the 1990s, pride parade participants marched chanting
“we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” in an effort to build community
identity and force the world to see queers for who they are. Despite the queer
community’s continuing struggle for visibility and acceptance,
"The
Headless Torso
"
profile picture is one of the most common types found on dating sites. At
present, faceless anonymity is still preferred by the majority of men looking
to connect with other men online.

This
Headless Torso isn’t just a pretty face

 

He also wants to make one thing
clear: “only an idiot” would refer to his online profile photo as a headless
torso.  Guilty…as charged.

“If you
think you’re being funny, you’re not.” He points his knife at me, arguing, “The
section of the photo including my body is a torso, but it also shows part of my
legs, my crotch, and part of my arms and neck. So how is that a torso?”

            For
the record, most dictionaries describe a torso as the body excluding the head and neck and limbs, though since I’m within
stabbing distance, I decide to keep my mouth shut and quit while I’m ahead.

He goes on
to tells me that because he is wearing a gray shirt and American Apparel briefs
in his photo that disqualifies him from fitting into any particular dating
profile stereotype. “If you go online and look up headless torso profiles, you
could probably find hundreds. I challenge you to find one that’s similar to
mine.”

            Before
I left my apartment to meet up with this guy, I checked to see how many
headless torso profiles were currently logged into Manhunt. Of the 517 men
online at 7:30pm on a Thursday, 92 had headless torso shots, all of which looked
more or less identical when viewed in rapid succession.

That said,
tonight’s Headless Torso is not one to be swayed. “In the past, I’ve posted
photos of my shoulder and chin.” How well did that work? “Not as well as you’d
think.”

He also wants
to the last word on his photo. “Mine is more sexual than the average headless
photo that you’ll find online. People think it’s too artistic and their
response is: what the fuck. I need to see more.”

One of the
few things he and I agree on is that this type of photo presents onlookers with
a good ratio of mystery and information and that the “headless” aspect sustains
a certain amount of privacy, which is why they are popular with so many men.

When we
first sat down for dinner, Headless Torso asked me to use Clark Kent as a
pseudonym. “I relate to the whole I’ve always been drawn to the story of
Superman. Most people with any ego or intelligence feel that they are living in
a community and pretending to belong to the everyday part of it.”

Is he living
a double life? He claims no, explaining, “Superman has superpowers. The one
that I relate to that he has is the burning vision, the laser vision. It’s a
very useful tool, very powerful, very positive, but if you use it in full, you
can blow [something] up or kill someone just by looking.”

His eyes
bore into me. He squints. And then squints harder.

For the time
being, I neither blow up nor die. I pick at my salad, waiting for him to say
more. When I look up, he’s still staring. I ask him if he ever wears glasses.
He shakes his head. Maybe Clark Kent isn’t the right pseudonym after all.

            Five
foot ten, with freckled skin and perfectly styled hair (“dyed brown”), Mr.
Headless Torso isn’t your typical redhead. He’s tanned. He works out regularly.
His face is freckle free. He looks more like Robert Redford than Elmo, Archie
Andrews or Beaker from the Muppets. His aforementioned “laser” eyes are
black-brown and they have a habit of bugging out whenever I go head-to-head with
him over his online habits.

For example,
after I asked whether internet dating had made his life more rewarding or less,
I was reminded of the claymation cartoons my sister and I watched as children,
where eyeballs would pop out of skulls just in time for an old-timey car horn to
ahh-ooooo-gah in the background.

Immediately
on the defensive from the more rewarding or less question, he accuses me of
trying to trick him. When I insist that it is not a trick question, he tells
me, “I don’t go online for sex” and then broaches the educational aspect of
meeting people online.

“There are
things that people are into that I would be so upset by to encounter in real
life,” he says, twisting the flashy ring on his ring finger. “The most
disturbing was talking to guys who participate in gift giving ceremonies where
teenagers get fucked by 4 or 5 guys with AIDS to guarantee they get it.”

            He
uses internet dating sites for dating only and uses three other sites in tandem
to Manhunt. And it turns out he has a good head on his shoulders after all: he takes
time out of his busy online dating schedule to help those who can’t help
themselves. “I’ve worked with people to expose their cheating boyfriends and
exposed people who were cheating on my friends.”

            So
perhaps the Clark Kent-Superman analogy isn’t so far off. He brings up the
double-identity a second time when he talks about travelling for work and
posting online profiles in other cities. “I have probably done worse things
when I’m out of town than when I’m in town.” I press him for details and he
adds, “By doing what normal people think is totally normal, like hooking up
quickly without much conversation or whatever.”

Still, I’m
confused. Earlier, he said he didn’t hook up online for sex. Now he says he
does.  He continues, “When you go out of
town, it’s easy. You have nothing to do at night, you have a hotel room and you
can invite guys over and that’s that.”

From my
perspective listening to how he talks about his life in Vancouver and his life
traveling, there seems to be a divide. He looks panicked and blurts, “I’ve only
done that twice or three times. I want to be really clear though, there is not
a Clark Kent thing going on in my life.”

Oh yeah. Did
I forget to mention that he doesn’t believe in being gay?

“I hate
labels,” he explains, waiving his fork over the Malay seafood extravaganza he’s
chosen for dinner. “But I also hate people who don’t like labels.”

I make a
note that the waitress who took his order managed to get the only straight
answer out of Headless Torso so far. He doesn’t have a favourite movie, a
favourite song or favourite activity. Although he’s a visual artist and works
as a designer to pay his bills, he tells me, “I hate the word designer almost
as much as I hate the word gay.”

When I first
started talking to Headless Torso online, he was adamant that he was neither
gay nor straight and has sex with both men and women. He told me: “I’m not out
or in. I am open to anything.” Over dinner though, he has only talked about
men. He also informs me that he’s never told his parents or work clients about
having sex with men.

Apparently
grey is his favourite colour because of its ambiguity, a word he also uses to
describe his sexual orientation. Eyes bulging again, he explains: “People are
afraid of that in our culture. Ambiguity is uncomfortable of people only because
it’s not normal. Right now we’re living in a time when privacy is dead.” A
moment later he advises, “The closer you get to sexuality, the closer you get
to what is personal, individual and specific to yourself.”

All the flip
flopping is giving me a headache. Where are we? Oh yes. Ambiguous. Does he mean
“wanting the privilege of the heterosexual majority while abusing the sexual
freedoms of the queer minority without having to sacrifice anything for his
enjoyment”?

Or when he
says “ambiguous”, does he actually mean “coward”?

“You can
tell a lot about people by the photos they post online,” he says. “I change
mine regularly. A week ago, it was something entirely different.” Though
according to friends of mine who use Manhunt regularly, that’s also a lie. Headless
Torso has had the same profile photo for over 8 months.

 

This was the only “date” I went on during
these interviews where I felt concerned for my personal safety.

Headless Torso wouldn’t tell me his name or
show me a clear picture of his face before we met. I was also asked to wait
outside the restaurant, which meant standing in front of a dark alley for 20
minutes because he was late. I had heard from my friends that he would talk for
hours on the telephone, deliberately disagreeing with everything they say, and
then never showed for dates.

 Was it
cowardice or cruelty? Was he a master manipulator or a sociopath? I took a
personal risk because I thought he would deliver a unique interview.

I’m ashamed to admit that I went walking with
him after dinner. Ever the opportunist, I felt sorry for him and thought I’d at
least make a pass to keep up with the kiss and tell theme from previous
interviews (he was a redhead after all). That’s about when he announced that
the gay rights movement was like training wheels for whatever comes next and
told me I was making a mistake by self-identifying as gay.

That’s also about the time I remembered what my mother, who worked in a
psychiatrist’s office, used to say to my sisters and I when we were kids: “
Insane people are always sure that they’re fine. It’s
only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.