WATCH: The gay man behind the online TORSO – breaking stereotypes from Sydney to L.A.
Australian Filmmaker Tim Marshall became sick of judging gay men on face value while trawling through online dating apps. In an attempt to breakdown stereotypes and uncover the personalities behind the body image, he created the recently-launched film series TORSO.
Focusing on the lives of gay men in Sydney, Los Angeles and Reykajavik, the films seek to uncover the participants' personalities without the judgement which often exists when simply evaluating just the physique.
GNN caught up with Tim to find out more.
When did TORSO first launch online?
TORSO launched online in June this year, with the first series from Sydney. The June launch also announced our interactive installation and premiere of the Los Angeles series at Outfest LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Can you tell us about your frustrations within the Sydney gay scene and what prompted this documentary?
It wasn't just the Sydney online gay scene that had me frustrated; I was experiencing the same thing everywhere I went. On apps like Grindr, where you have one photo of a person and a small amount of text (that's often very vague) to decide whether or not to talk to them, you can't help but judge on face value.
The problem with this is, it can be a very fickle environment. There's no etiquette. Often, if people don't like what you look like, they stop talking to you, or ignore you completely. Basically, if you don't look like Brad Pitt, you need a thick skin about you on these apps. You can't take them too seriously. There's always moments where you think, 'Maybe I need to work out more, maybe if I had a ripped body people would like me more.' Of course, seeing all the headless torso pics (mostly of ripped bodies) doesn't help with this feeling.
I knew other people using these apps felt like I did, and I was sick of hearing the snap judgements based on someone's photo. I needed to humanise the apps, for me and for my community, to understand the stories and experiences we are sharing.
Watch TORSO Sydney - Darlington
What are you hoping to communicate and achieve with TORSO?
I want to get conversations started. People who have seen the films all find a story they relate to. I want TORSO to help change the way we look at ourselves and other men in the gay community. Looking beyond the stereotypes and understanding that each of us is going through similar things, whether we look like Brad Pitt or not.
Have your perceptions of the online gay community changed since filming, how?
Definitely. There have been several stories that have shed light on issues and surprised me. One thing I have discovered to be a really important part of the project is the interviews with HIV positive men. There is so much stigma towards HIV that still exists in the gay community and having these guys talk about it, I think, is a good step to help change that, or in the very least start the conversation.
What inspired you to continue the project to film in L.A. and Iceland? Will it be similar in nature to the Sydney documentary?
I was lucky to be travelling to Iceland and LA for other projects, and I was so eager to see how the stories would differ based on place.
What I loved is, the stories were very similar, highlighting the universal experience of using these apps, yet there were certain issues and topics more specific to each place that really helped paint a picture of the modern gay experience in that city. For example, in Reykjavik I learned that most Icelandic guys using Grindr will only sleep with tourists, because Reykjavik is so small and they're guaranteed to keep running into any Icelander they sleep with.
[Image] A particpant from TORSO L.A.
Can you tell me a bit about the recent installation in L.A - how it was received and what you did?
When I conceived TORSO I always wanted it to be viewed as a one-on-one experience. I wanted to replicate the online dating experience in a way. With the installation in LA, I built a custom-app and had this app on iPads in a cinema foyer. People could then interact with the app, choosing which interview to watch based only on the appearance of the person's torso. The idea is, after watching the video, any assumptions about this person based on their torso have been changed.
Watch TORSO Sydney - Newtown
What is the online dating scene like in L.A. compared to Sydney. Have you drawn any conclusions?
Well there's way more fish in the sea there, so to speak. It's a much more diverse scene and a lot more area specific.
I found guys in Los Angeles a little more willing to participate and be open with their story, and I think this comes down to cultural difference.
In Los Angeles, people seemed less afraid to speak their mind and say upfront what they wanted. I was surprised when I first got there to see so many people's Grindr profiles openly stating they were looking for a long term relationship. I didn't see that a lot in Australia, so the use of the app felt slightly more evolved in LA. People used it for networking and were being less cynical about finding a real connection on it.
Is there an overarching theme that has come out of this project so far?
Well, with every person I interview I always ask 'Tell me about your torso'. The response I get is either: It needs more work, I'm not happy with it'. Or 'I like it, I've been going to the gym and I'm happy with how it looks'.
By the end of the interviews, a lot of the people who told me they felt unhappy with their torso often said they feel liberated or empowered having done the interview.
So the theme that is really coming through is around body image superficiality and the importance that is placed on how we look, versus who we really are.
How do you think it’s possible for someone’s true or genuine personality to shine when many people are so fixated on body image? Is it at all?
That's a tricky one. If a person writes a little bit about themselves on their Grindr profile it can help give a sense of who they are or what they are looking for. It really comes down to what you say and what picture you use.
For example, a friend of mine was using a picture of his torso because he wanted to remain discreet, and he would complain to me about the smutty messages he was receiving. Whereas my profile, is my face with a little bit about me and what I'm looking for and I find it helps filter through to the people that are looking for similar things to me.
As far as seeing someone's true and genuine personality goes, you need to get off the app and meet the person for a coffee or a drink to really see that, and a lot of guys have that agenda. I've really learned now, it's not all about sex and body image for everyone on there. A lot of people want so much more from than this from these apps.
Watch TORSO Sydney - Manly
How did you get participants for this project? I imagine they were hesitant at first. How did you offer encouragement in order for them to participate?
It has been tricky getting people involved as I only find people for the project using my own gay dating app profiles. I'd often find myself telling people 'No it's not porn' or telling them it wouldn't turn into a porn after the interview!
I offered to meet people for a coffee first, if they were hesitant. Once they knew my intentions, they were mostly happy to be a part of it.
I spent a while cafe-hopping all over the cities I filmed in, reloading my Grindr in a different area each day to ensure I got a diverse range of guys involved. I wanted to make sure the project really represented the vast spectrum of the online gay community. Not just one part of it.
Tim Marshall's TORSO recently launched at Outfest in L.A. To check out the Sydney series go to: www.torso.gr