What is it like when no one will have sex with you? Months and years go by with no success on dating apps. Facing a sea of ‘no’s at bars and parties.
What does that do to a person?
The answer is complicated if you’re a sexual person. For some, it’s just a part of everyday life.
For incels, it is everything.
The involuntary celibate community spawned on the internet two decades ago. It is as multi-faceted as it is confusing to outsiders – boasting their own belief system and vocabulary.
But where do LGBTI people fall within the incel community? Mirroring ‘normie’ society, many incels reject LGBTI folk. Yet that hasn’t stopped them from existing. Instead they’ve created their own group – and a unique way of being incel.
Who are incels?
The word ‘incel’ was developed by a bisexual woman called Alana (she prefers her last name not be mentioned). In 1997, she created a website called Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project during her mid-20s – later shortened to incel.
‘I chose that term to be more neutral than pejoratives like “lonely virgin”,’ she told the BBC.
Her original plan was to create a friendly community for people who struggled to find romantic and sexual partners.
However, the community soon grew way beyond her ability to control it.
Two decades later, young, angry men are the face of the incel community. Most degrade women – referring to them as ‘femoid’ or ‘foid’ – and shame them for having sex (‘riding the cock carousel’, meaning a woman has multiple sexual partners). A lot of time is spent demeaning each other and writing fatalistic diatribes tagged ‘SuicideFuel’ on message boards.
Having been banned from Reddit for inciting violence against women, incels fled to the depths of the internet, such as 4Chan. They also found refuge on their own boards, with the main ones being incels.is and incel.co.
Unsurprisingly, these forums are rife with homophobia against ‘gaycels’ (‘transcels’, for transgender people).
Much like women, gay men are shamed for a perceived promiscuity. Many refer to gay men as ‘faggots’ or the clinical ‘homosexual’.
But these beliefs don’t paint the entire picture of incels. William Lupinacci runs the forum and Facebook page Incelistan, which is trying to recapture the spirit of that original incel community. SuicideFuel is banned. Instead, they focus on ‘looksmaxxing’ (making themselves as attractive as possible) and helping others on their journey to find a sexual partner.
Also, it is one of the only boards on the internet where LGBTI incels are allowed to find a community.
‘Ever since I joined the community I’ve been trying to make them more gender inclusive and non-violent,’ Lupinacci told me.
‘The most popular [forums] right now are genuinely horrible, just in every way possible.’
Lupinacci has a more radical way of looking at the incel community. Much like other incels, he feels like society is the reason why they exist in the first place. Unlike others, he doesn’t fall into misogynistic tropes of believing in forced partnerships and placing the blame on individual women. He also draws parallels between the LGBTI and incel communities.
Lupinacci says: ‘Really, we joke around with the idea that incels fit into the queer spectrum. It sort of works in a way. Because incels have a limited reproductive future. They also feel oppressed by society’s expectations for people to have heterosexual relationships, because they can’t have relationships in general.
‘They are also ridiculed widely by people who are able to have a sex life.’
However, he ends up distancing himself from associating with the queer community, with the kind of shame and defeatism that permeates most of the movement: ‘We’re not extremely concerned if we’re part of the LGBTQ community or not, because we’re not trying to drag the [LGBTI] community down with us.
‘I have enough enemies already. Incels hate me.’
How do LGBTI people become incel?
The idea that gay people can’t be incels is rooted in the belief that men and women’s sexuality is fundamentally different. In mainstream incel ideology, men are controlled by a high sex drive. Women have much lower sex drives and so will exercise choice when looking for a sexual partner.
Gay men, then, cannot be incels, as a gay man will have sex with another gay man no matter the cost, according to their thinking.
This obviously doesn’t account for the wide variance in sexualities across humanity. Nor does it account for actual gay incels.
Josh* is only 18-years-old but considers himself an incel. He said: ‘While I’ve only identified as an incel for about a year, by my definition I was one for quite a bit of time before that.
‘I’ve tried many online dating sites and that, as most incels can tell you, only really works if you’re attractive.
‘My looks are definitely a major factor [in being an incel]. But my mental health, albeit a smaller factor, still contributes to it.’
Mental health is a problem for many who identify as incels. Among the many categories in the movement, those who believe their mental health impairs their ability to find a sexual partner are called ‘mentalcels’.
Most incels remain anonymous on the internet due to the stigma of the label. Only a few reveal their face on the message boards, only to have their peers point out all the perceived flaws in their face. On Incelistan, they focus on what to improve – such as ‘gymmaxxing’ – which helps them maximize their chances of finding a sexual partner.
But the anonymity extends to gay people in the community itself. If you are gay and incel, you must keep it a secret.
Josh said: ‘That’s definitely the case on incels.co. You’re not allowed to be publicly gay on there. It’s not technically in the rules and there are people a lot of others know are [gay]. But it’s not talked about.
‘I think this stigma has come from a lot of them thinking if they were gay they wouldn’t be incel. It’s like a grass is greener on the other side sort of thing.’
Despite gay incels and straight incels possessing one thing that unites them – an inability to find a sexual partner – there seems to be a fundamental difference between the two. Where lots of straight incels blame a corrupt society, LGBTI incels seem to channel the blame inwards.
‘Personally I think face is the most important thing and my face is just fundamentally ugly in its proportions. I could make a list but I’d be here all day.
‘I certainly can’t blame anyone for not wanting to sleep with someone they’re not attracted to.’
Contrast this response from Josh to some of the people on the mainstream forums.
To these straight incels, they have accepted their self-perceived lack of good looks – but also blame women they perceive as not good looking as part of the problem. Feminism and female entitlement is to blame. They spout slurs such as ‘fucking whores’ and ‘stretched out used beat up cunt between their legs’ at women.
Yet talking to this group of LGBTI incels, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Carl*, a bisexual incel, shares the sentiment that a lot of the hatred is directed inwards.
He said: ‘I’d say from what I’ve seen in this group, it’s a lot of self-defeatism. Myself included, incels need to get out of their own heads.
‘There have been several times I’ve seen someone ask “how do I meet people/talk to people” and I’ll answer talking about how it’s mostly down to just being open and trying to be approachable. But then they reply with “well nobody likes me” or “I tried that”.
‘I’m not denying that those can often both be true, but you have to keep trying. And I think a lot of them gave up and let past failures define their vision of the future.’
There’s also another problem facing LGBTI incels: a much smaller dating pool.
Josh says: ‘I think the biggest struggle is the numbers. It’s very rare to just happen to meet a gay guy so opportunities are low and when you’re ugly and get rejected a lot, it just gets exponentially worse.’
Jess*, a trans woman ‘pretty much exclusively attracted to women’, felt something similar. When talking to me, she didn’t have the same fatalism as many others – however, she felt the numbers game hurts her chances.
‘I definitely think that being transgender and attracted to women – and also not particularly other transwomen – kind of shrinks my dating pool quite a bit,’ Jess said.
‘I don’t blame anyone else for that though.’
The death cult ideology
The obsession with looks and the fatalistic thinking inevitability leads to the Blackpill. The Blackpill is the belief, not just that incels will never find a sexual partner, but they will never be happy because of this. If you can’t be happy, they posit, then what’s the point in anything?
Five separate thoughts lead to swallowing the Blackpill, according to the incel wiki, ranging from the necessity of looks (which are not subjective) to forming physical and sexual relationships; to looks being unevenly spread among men; to women dating men above their ‘looksmatch’ because feminism has removed the social stigma around being sexually promiscuous.
They measure people’s level of attractiveness on a scale of 1 – 10, on a system called the Decile Scale. This is how you determine the ‘looksmatch’.
YouTube philosopher ContraPoints, in her video essay on straight incels, refers to the Blackpill ideology as a ‘death cult’.
‘If you want to understand incels, and in particular if you want to understand why their community produces so many mass murderers, you’ve got to understand that the Blackpill is more than “you can’t get laid”.
‘It’s also the dogma that because you can’t get laid, you’ll never be happy. So what we have on our hands is more than angry internet misogynists. It’s at worst a death cult complete with an eternal hell and an omnipotent enemy.’
Yet most of the LGBTI incels I encountered did not have an outside omnipotent enemy. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist – Huffington Post interviewed a gay incel with a disturbing level of vitriol for other gay men – but on the whole, it’s not there.
Why though? Perhaps its because forums like Incelistan don’t tolerate the misogynistic ‘omnipotent enemy’ hatred found on other forums. This leads to the disenfranchisement being turned inwards.
The social stigma around being an incel is intense, with Jess referring to it as ‘social suicide’. Add in homophobia and transphobia and you create a pressure cooker for negative feelings.
This can lead to what psychologists – and ContraPoints in her video – call ‘digital self-harm’. Predominately done by teenagers, this is the act of bullying themselves online, by creating fake accounts to say mean things, or to subject themselves to degradation online. The Journal of Adolescent Health explains it as a way to regulate their feelings of hate, as well as a call for help.
By putting themselves into the incel community – a purely online community – and succumbing to their worst internal thoughts, LGBTI people then face a different kind of Blackpill. With the hatred directed inwards and the constant reaffirmation of their worst ideas about their supposedly irredeemable appearance, the digital self-harm becomes similar to the ‘SuicideFuel’ on the big forums.
While Incelistan doesn’t actively cultivate digital self-harm in the same way other places do, it seems impossible to escape when dealing with incel ideology.
Josh told me he has severe mental health problems and has considered suicide. Lupinacci confirmed this. When I asked whether the admins of Incelistan referred him to a mental health professional, he said no.
‘We don’t refer people to psychiatrists. Some say that makes incels cultish, but few incels have had good experiences in the recovery industry.’
How do we solve a problem like gaycels
It’s hard not to agree with some of these ideas. Our culture is incredibly aesthetic-based. Dating apps lead with the photos and people’s personalities are an after-thought. Everyone has felt judgmental eyes fall on you as you walk into some gay clubs.
But perhaps the biggest problem facing the LGBTI incel community is our society – and the LGBTI community’s – focus on sex. Not having sex is considered such a monumental issue people are willing to create an identity around not having it. And through that identity, they tear themselves apart.
There are many concerning aspects behind incel ideology. The misogyny is vile and the self-hate tragic. Yet there’s also outside influence too. People are identifying as incel as a way to share their experience with others in a similar situation. It’s not all hate. Some are finding companionship in this shared ideology.
Calling these people losers is pushing them further into fatalism. There’s no easy solution to the plight of incel people.
Some, such as Carl, blame mental health problems for the rise of incels: ‘I think personally that it’s social anxiety or depression or other issues and that the virginity is just a common and easily identifiable symptom of that.’
The knot of socio-sexual ideology that led us to ‘gaycels’ is almost too difficult to unravel. But perhaps the most obvious thread we should pull at is how we treat each other.
*names changed upon request