They stare, most half-naked, through a mirror. They adore the whimsical imagination of Harry Potter. And, either half in love with cooking or enamored of the gym, they decide distinctly what will endear them to a significant other.

These are the legions of gay men. Searching tirelessly for companionship that reaches beyond odd nights out for coital “coffee” and nameless makeout sessions in the darkened corners of a dance club, they think to define themselves.

But how much of these definitions come across in one simple, self-effacing way? “I want sex,” their profiles read (between the lines of course). Workouts are primary, pictures are as nude as censored sites will allow, and the “I want” box fills with poorly veiled attempts at soliciting only the “active” demographic. Is this a hunt for sex? It seems to be. Though, in all fairness, it might seem like the only way to get attention in the often-superficial gay world. I, too, have thought about posting half-naked pictures online in hopes they would garner attention. Did I really want a hookup? No. It just seemed like a sure-fire way to get attention—quickly.

The problem is, even if we throw seductive pictures on our profile as a lure, too often we follow through with the sex. We blame hormones. We blame our need to be rebellious. We blame our youth. We don’t think much of it. But as patterns are created, we begin to understand why an abundant show of skin seems exactly like what it superficially suggests: we want sex.

All’s fair in the sex game, it seems. If we’re labeled, as a sexual minority, with superficiality, we’ve done it to ourselves. Heaven forbid the greater population (including ourselves) take the time to look at the more complicated motivations in “slutty” online profiles.

Did it ever occur to us that no small portion of the gay population has suffered ostracization because of their choice to come out? From family, friends, church, society—you name it—young gay men and women endure a great deal of loneliness. And it’s not by choice.

So how do we get attention? Flaunt what we’ve got. Make lovers and friends, so we won’t be so alone. At first we think, “Who cares if they like us initially because of our looks?” But the hope, somewhere inside us, is that the superficial lust turns into genuine friendship and love.

Still, I know many gay guys who claim to enjoy the hookup life. At least for now. Maybe they have all the support they need and don’t have to endure being an outcast. It’s happening more often these days, thank goodness, and is making many a gay life more healthy. But this doesn’t mean gay boys don’t go through a rigorous social evaluation and a desperate need to feel like they belong. How do they do that? Do what everyone else is doing. Flaunt the physical. Show some skin.

This is what truly concerns me. Sad to say, the gay population is often seen as superficial and sex-driven by society. Heck, we see ourselves that way! But we know there’s more to us as individuals, and as a sexual minority, than whether we bottom or top, and how well endowed we are. Trouble is, in our effort to garner companionship quickly after enduring decades of oppression and violence, we resort to physical gratification and body lust. We fashion our physical selves with such precision and intensity that much of our personal development lacks. And this, though changing ever so slightly, is often what it means to be gay.

And so, though support is burgeoning and we find ourselves in a society more embracing than ever before, we still search for a definition of what it means to be gay. Our sexuality is still such a huge defining factor of us as individuals that we need to address it in our young adulthood. We look to the gay world—and find that love of the superficial is where it’s at.

My friend and I have often discussed the dynamics of gay culture. It’s disturbing to both of us that physical appearance is valued at such a premium, and that relationship is a vague and non-committal institution that holds little sacred space in our world. Guilty as we both are of joining in the flow of the gay culture, we know it’s incomplete, and in many ways, poisonous. How to get the best of it, mature, and move along?

First of all (and we’re not the first to think this up), recognizing ourselves as many-dimensional human beings is key. Too many gay people shape their lives around weekly trips to gay clubs, gay bars, gay parties, etc. In doing this, they cling to the physical definition of themselves only. They lose other elements that are amazing, beautiful, and full of potential. Who likes being one-dimensional anyway?

Second (and I think this is good for everybody), it’s important to develop a sense of self in relation to the much greater entities at work in our lives and the world. When someone can grasp this, even in a small way, the devotion to a self-absorbed gay scene seems like such a waste. It’s not that it doesn’t have its place; it just simply cannot be, and should not be, the end-all and be-all of our lives.

When I say devotion to something bigger, I mean alignment with a cause or a purpose that upholds our values of good and fulfilling life for every human being. Some gay men I know are involved in church, and through the church, helping the poor and homeless. Others are heavily involved in AIDS support centers. There are infinite possibilities. One for each of us.

Lastly, each one of us should build a social circle that includes all different kinds of people. Straight, gay, religious, atheist, young, old—you name it. We can never have enough friends (as I have read so many times on gay profiles), and can never limit the nature of those friendships. The more insight to the world we have, the more mature and informed we will be, the more holistic people we are, the happier we will be. It is one thing to be integral to the superficial entertainment of a small group of gay men; it is something much more fulfilling to be an integral part of the entire human race.