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I read this articleat HuffPo in which the author, Jacob Tobia, issued this call:

Gay men of the world, I think it's time that we stop trying to make the world love us through our bodies and start loving ourselves for the beautiful people we are. I think it's time that we stop hurting each other and our community by enforcing impossible standards of beauty and start creating a community that loves people of all shapes, colors, heights, and sizes. I think it's time to start our own body revolution.
Years ago I read that many gay men, more so than straight men, suffer from body shame:
When an individual begins experiencing body shame, it stems from outside influences and eventually is integrated on a deeper level within a person. There are various influences on the development of body shame such as a history of trauma (physical or sexual) where an individual may feel as though his or her body betrayed him or her into letting these things happen. [snip]

If someone feels ashamed of his or her body, it can lead to isolation, self-harm, a negative self-esteem, a decreased ability to cope and mood disorders.

Someone who is dealing with body shame often does not want to be around other people, go out in public or be seen in general. Body shame can also lead to self-harm through alcohol abuse, disordered eating behaviors or other means of attempting to numb the pain. It goes without saying that an individual dealing with body shame will have negative self-esteem due to his or her negative body image.

Finally, someone experiencing body shame will have a difficult time coping with life’s happenings, identifying his or her personal goals and values, and making life decisions that align with those goals and values. This body shame may also maintain mood disorders.

Certainly, to my mind, that describes the relationship many gay men seem to have with our bodies.  For myself, the dawning awareness of my sexual orientation brought with it deep shame, shame which unconsciously I associated with puberty.  As I developed sexually, I deeply imbibed shame and guilt over my sexuality.  It sometimes felt as if my body were betraying me.  As time passed, I realized that was mistaken but it worked its way into my psyche.  Ironically, the sports and athletics I eschewed as a gay teen have helped as a gay men overcome my sense of shame about my body.  I can run and jump and throw a ball every bit as well as any straight man - my body is a source of pride, not shame.

Yet, like many gay men I know, I still have an emotionally fraught relationship with my body and my self.

When Dale Levitski was a contestant on Top Chef, he very nearly won but he also lived out his identity as a gay man in wonderful and witty ways.  In his video audition, he joked about having Fred Flintstone hands, at another point he said, "I'm a big gay chef and I will outcook your ass."  At another stage of he competition, he joked about not knowing how to cook for cowboys, although he'd slept with a few.  Dale's unapologetic embrace of his sexuality, of himself as a gay man, wasn't without controversy.  Some readers apparently complained, prompting Ted Allen to respond:

Fast-forward to Cowboy-Land, where the secret ingredient is elk, which makes Hung a little whiny and Dale almost giddy. (An aside: Dale, does your mother need the Brokeback Mountain visual of you sleeping with "a few" cowboys? And how many is "a few?" Bad gay chef!)

Another, related aside: Despite my jokiness, above, it should come as no surprise that I disagree with the posters last week who think Dale should shut up about being gay. (I mean, just look at the outfit I'm wearing in that picture, above.) First of all, if you think about it for even a millisecond, straight folks throw their sexuality in *our * faces constantly, in every medium, far more often than we gays do when we get the occasional spotlight. Second, being "out" accomplishes an important goal for The Gays: it communicates that we're proud of who we are, it refutes the phony poison from those ignorant fools on the Right, and it empowers other gays to believe in themselves. It matters. Dale is unapologetically being himself, serving as a role model for gays everywhere who might not have otherwise dreamed they could become a chef, or get onto television. Or canoodle with ranch hands. I'm proud of him.

I'd expand on that point.  I know so many gay men who are fantastic at sports who along the way swallowed the notion that as gay men they couldn't be good at sports or love watching football on TV.  As if being gay and loving sports are somehow imcompatible parts of life.  As adults, they've made peace with themselves - they compete in the gay games, they play in community leagues.  They don't workout to get hot, they workout because it feels good and they're good at it.  They play sports because they enjoy them.  Nevertheless, I hear these men apologize and explain away their skills and interests.  One acquaintance, who play college football, feels the need to apologize to other gay men for his interest in sports.

These notions that gay men shouldn't be or aren't interested in certain things and can't be good at them are simple bigotry.  I personally prefer the term heterosexism to homophobia for a reason - much of the bias against gay people seems grounded in the notion that heterosexuality is the default position and also in sexist notions about gender roles and gender identity.  These ideas about how men should behave and look and what it means to be a man seem to start with the idea that men lust after and sleep with women.  Gay men feel pressured to spend lots of time proving we're really men.  

Gay men don't follow the rules that say men are supposed to lust after women so then the bigots assume that means we don't do the things that other "real" men do.  Opposition to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell sprang from the daft notion that gay men couldn't be good soldiers because we're not real men.  The notion of what is and isn't a real man is rooted in sexist notions of what it means to be male or female.  Gay men work so hard to prove we're men because we live in this society and we've internalized messages about what it means to be a man.

The physical ideal that Tobia talked about in his article is part and parcel of our society's notion of what a man looks and acts like:

. I had to get big, I had to be manly, I had to have that classic gay physique: rippled abs, bulging pecs, tanned, trimmed, and waxed. I needed to spend hours at the gym, drink protein shakes, and wear tight, revealing clothing to show off what I had accomplished with a hard day's work.
The physique he describes here is a way of claiming one's identity as a man.  It's a defense.  You can't accuse me of being a sissy if I'm muscle bound.  

The usual response to discussions of the idealized gay male body is to say "Well what about bears?"  The bear subculture is every bit as obsessed as the gymrats, despite the best PR efforts to portray them otherwise.  

Superficially, a bear is a chubby, hairy, masculine, gay male who likes beer and flannel shirts. However, according to many bears and their admirers, the bear culture is not so much about physical appearance, rather it is about living a particular philosophy of acceptance, respect, and the celebration of diversity. Furthermore, a bear is a gay man who rejoices in his masculinity (masculinity of a relaxed and undemonstrative nature) rather than suppressing his true gender identity to assimilate into the pretty-boy standards of much of the gay "community." A bear is, well, a big teddy-bear of a man--gruff and bristly on the outside but mellow and squishy-sweet on the inside. Bears are considered almost universally friendly and likeable.
Except of course they're really not.  Bears may be rejecting the narrow obsessed gymrat vision of masculinity but they're embracing with equal ferocity a different version of masculinity that is equally as narrow and exclusive.  Maybe I'm a cynic but impression has long been that many bears are grasping at the bear identity as a way of maintaining their lost 20s and the sexual antics that went with it.  "Sure I'm 46 and hairy all over and fat but that's sexy now and it means I can get laid."  It's a way of fetishizing something that's natural for some men and attempting to claim it is better or more desirable than what is natural for other men.  It's setting up boundaries around what is and is not acceptable masculinity.  Beards and hairy bodies are physically masculine traits.  It often seems as if the bear community is as unwelcoming of men who don't fit in physically (hirsute, bearded) as the bar scene is of those who aren't young and fit.

Years ago, the Pet Shop Boys (and let's be honest, as a gay man in my 40s, I can't write about being gay without a reference to the PSB) wrote a song called Young Offender.  One lyric has stuck with me since I first heard it - "I've been a teenager since before you were born."  

Watching the web series Where the Bears Are, I've had a few good chuckles and enjoyed the devil may care, lets just do it attitude of the series.  There are some shrewd in-jokes and the writing is better than I expected.  I was struck by the fact that it portrayed a group of gay men in their 40s as essentially teenagers - they live together, they're obsessed with parties and socializing and getting laid.  Those traits are played for laughs with a knowing wink and a nod but they work because they reveal a gentle truth about what it means to be a gay man.  Perhaps our networks of friends are more crucial and central than our lovers.  

In Max Blumenthal's book Republican Gomorrah, he commented on Ted Haggard and other closeted gay conservatives, observing that for these closeted gay conservatives:

Haggard’s rhetoric was classically anti-gay, but to have described his histrionics as hateful would be off the mark. His resentment of homosexuals was rooted more in envy than in loathing. Jeff Sharlet, a chronicler of the Christian right, noted that Haggard and many other leaders of the evangelical men’s movement viewed what they call the “homosexual lifestyle” not as a dark dungeon of sin but as “an endless succession of orgasms, interrupted only by jocular episodes of male bonhomie.”
Ironically, it is my network of gay friends whose presence in my life is stabilizing and rewarding that creates the image Blumenthal and Sharlet noted. Certainly, my experience of my network of gay friends is incredibly rewarding, deep, emotionally fulfillling and authentic.  Bound together not just by shared identity but shared experiences as gay men we have a jocular male bohomie that enables us to laugh together and cry together to support one another through a series of life changes many of which have been wrenching and difficult.  We have shared many a meal characterized by hours of laughter and joy. Those same relationships create powerful envy and dislike among closeted gay men who don't have access to similar relationships.

Guy Kettelhack, in his book Dancing Around the Volcano, wrote:

Hating the Jekyll or the Hyde or the Warrior or the Shaman or the Tom of Finland or the RuPaul singing and fucking and fighting and cowering inside you is cruelly pointless. Each of these selves yearns to tell you something important: they each deserve the most curious and compassionate attention you can give them.
The horizontal homophobia that makes gay men disdain the drag queen or the effeminate queen at the bar are as much about our own insecurities as men as they are about society's messages about what is and is not acceptable for men.  I have yet to meet a gay man who, no matter how absurdly butch he is, who doesn't have inside himself a screaming nelly queen.  How can we love anyone else unless we love all of ourselves?

In dicussing his journey toward self-acceptance, Kettelhack offered this observation:

It made me wonder: is this what straight boys felt, growing up in a culture that loved them, straight boys who could throw footballs and catch baseballs, straight boys whose sexuality was applauded by every ad for breath mints and beer (not to mention their parents and teachers and friends and coaches)—was this sudden physical acceptance of myself as a man what a heterosexual man felt continually, as a matter of course, growing up, applauded for growing up, straight?
Perhaps, whether its the toned Adonis gym rat or the rotund, hairy bear, all these are ways of claiming our right to be known as men.

This morning as I swam laps, I paused for a moment and looked around.  The lap swimmers were mostly men, ranging in age from early thirties to somewhere past sixty.  In one pool, I saw men of almost every body type - tall and thin, short and broad, I saw men with nary a hair below the neck to men with very generous pelage, there were bald men and men with full heads of hair, clean shaven and full beards, goattees and mustaches.  There were several men I know are triathletes with every muscle is defined, others who are heavy set and a couple who are genuinely fat.  It occurred to me that each of these men - almost all of them heterosexual - have had to make a journey toward self-acceptance.  But they've also constructed their own ways of being men.

Some of these swimmers are husbands, fathers, grandfathers.  Other swimmers are single. Some are in long term relationships but not married.  It's not just the roles they inhabit - father, husband, grandfather, spouse, boyfriend, partner - that makes them men.  It's not just their physical selves that make them men.

I don't have any answers this morning, but I have ideas and questions.  Being physically male is not the same thing as being a man.  A man is an adult male.  But it's not just physical - it's about how we relate to the world.  Are we teenagers forever?  What does it mean to be emotionally mature?  Does marriage make adults?  If we don't marry are we never adults?  I believe it's a mistake to propose a single model of acceptable masculinity for gay men just as its a mistake to propose there is a single right and healthy body type to be a man.  We should be able to celebrate the male body in all its variety and we should be able to celebrate gay men in all our variety.  

Originally posted to glendenb on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 08:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by LGBT Kos Community and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Need to find a middle way between obsession & (18+ / 0-)

    rejection of the body-focus thing.

    It does feel good to stay fit and healthy.  The trouble with "gay advertising" and how thoroughly its visuals permeate mainstream gay life, is that the ideal that's posited is impossible for most of us to attain.  You have to start out of the gate genetically gifted in facial handsomeness, then also be age 20-32, then also work out a lot at the gym.

    At some point we all have to figure out how to deal with the aging process.  The ultimate "don't be this guy" is the late Bob Bergeron, whose life/death story was featured in the NY Times earlier this year.  He wrote a self-help book telling his peers that they can be happy as aging gay men, but then he killed himself because he privately felt his book was a lie; he couldn't handle the "tragedy" of... gradually getting older like we all do.  

    I think some of the "bears" are making a bad mistake -- i.e., if you're morbidly obese, just grow out your facial hair and the "bear community" = instant friends and sexual opportunities.  I'll just say age 41 is far too young to have to walk with a cane; age 44 is far too young to have a heart attack.  These are/were two men I've known of who identified as "bears."  

    At age 45, I try to stay in a healthy middle-way when it comes to body stuff.  And to maintain perspective.  Having diverse friends (in gender, age, etc) is helpful.  So is having interests in life that fall outside the "gay scene".   But it does feel good to stay physically fit and active and alive in the body.  

    •  Crap I just turned 33! (12+ / 0-)

      I agree and i think it's more complicated.  Body shame is universal across gender and sexuality.  Commercial marketing to gay men is atrocious for sure, but nothing unique about that.  If ones goal, gay or not,  is to feel good about themselves and their body I agree that health maintnce is key, but I also think you need to learn to live with commercial marketing and learn to ignore it.  We can't change marketing, but we can change how we respond to it.

      I've been out since I was 16 and I have always had difficulty relating to gay culture.  Not so much because of how I look but because I don't enjoy dance music or dancing and I'm introverted so I suck at bars and clubs.  When i was younger i wanted to change gay culture, Over time I've learned I don't need to fit it gay culture or change it, it is what it and I don't need it and I dont need its approval.  Now I walk my dog at night past lines to get into clubs and I just thank god I don't have to go in there and I can go home to my bf, dailykos, and my ebooks.  and that's ok.  

      We have the elite, smart people on our side.

      by fearisthemindkiller on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 12:09:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My solution was to find someone as (7+ / 0-)

        completely awkward and with as much a difficulty in relating as me, and for us to cling to each other for dear life.  It's worked so far!

        On the topic of the diary... Well, it's one of the consequences of having such an odd community, in terms of how we 'become' members.  Unlike family, we aren't born into the community-at-large, so we have to seek it out, and we have some public faces that are easier to find than others.  And those public faces - the club circuit, musicals, drag, whatever - are really good and really healthy for some people, and an ill-fit for others who may not know where they fit in but may be looking for a more sympathetic community.

        All that being said, I found this a little weird:

        I have yet to meet a gay man who, no matter how absurdly butch he is, who doesn't have inside himself a screaming nelly queen.
        I think I get what the diarist is saying - that masculinity is only part of a construct, and that horizontal homophobia prevents us from recognizing/discussing it - but unless this is true of straight guys, too, I don't think it makes sense to identify this as a quality of gay men.  It's either a quality of men overall, or it ain't.  

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 05:32:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah that's a weird quote. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wader, pico, ozsea1

          Butch and nelly are both performative constructs.  Neither is an essential quality of gay men, at least in my opinion.   But butch and femme masks of the culture dint bother me, they a both a kind if drag and some of us are just more comfortable in one then the other.  

          What still irks me more are things like "the new normal " and other mainstream tv representations of gay relationships, which seem to all agree that a gay relationship is a match between an extroverted and funny femme guy which likes shopping and singing and a slightly stuck up guy who is a bit mre repressed and works as some kind of doctor or lawyer.   I know it shouldn't bother me so much but it feels like this popular image is just really coalescing in our cultural consciousness and it just feels like a regurgitation of strotypical male and female roles.

          We have the elite, smart people on our side.

          by fearisthemindkiller on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 08:10:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I took it that way, coincidentally (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          blueoasis, pico

          It struck me as odd, because I can see that potential quality in almost all men, but the majority don't seem terribly eager to publicly acknowledge or culturally accept that inner queenish side (which can be in varying amounts per person, as for other personality traits) as a possibility.  

          I tend to see "out" gay men as being more capable to publicly express that side because they have already shown the strength of self to be true to themselves in a generally hostile, straight-driven culture, but I don't believe it's an inner characteristic that only they can uniquely feel.

          "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

          by wader on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 08:36:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Advertising and unattainable ideals (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge

      Pretty much all advertising creates images of unattainable ideals, be they of ideal bodies, ideal homes, or ideal food.  I don't think there's anything unique about gay advertising in that regard.  That's simply a feature of our media culture.

      To that extent, I think a lot of this criticism is misdirected in that it seems to assume that somehow gay culture is unique in its standards of perfection.  From what I can see, it isn't.

      "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

      by FogCityJohn on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 10:05:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a complex issue (18+ / 0-)

    I've long known it to be true within our community, though not only within our community.

    Our entire culture, and not merely the world of gay men, celebrates the superficial. Though I think we tend to take that to the extreme.

    I suspect that the majority of gay men find it difficult to establish an identity; the world at large is prone to reject us and our peers all too often seem to value us only for our looks.

    There is most certainly nothing wrong with staying fit; it makes life more enjoyable and goodness knows it's very pleasant to look at someone who is physically appealing. But when I find myself basing my self-worth entirely upon what I see in the mirror I am making a choice that is itself very unhealthy.

  •  I think GMB02 and I are beautiful (21+ / 0-)

    just the way we are.

    We're middle aged, we're not gym rats, we're just a couple of, well, middle aged gay guys. We try to stay healthy (and we're even thinking of joining the Y this winter to stay that way) but frankly, I find over-worked bodies to be really unattractive.

    Increasingly, I find the gay male community evolving in a more sane direction when it comes to the acceptance of normal, average looking people. Which is nice, because that's the majority of us.

  •  Republished to LGBT Kos Community. n/t (9+ / 0-)
  •  Body (6+ / 0-)

    I must be one of those narcissistic gays because I love my body. I was a short, skinny kid and hit puberty late, but then I grew tall. I've got an average build, but I can say, ever since I passed the 6' mark, I have loved my body.

    Language professors HATE me!

    by Zornorph on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:31:09 AM PDT

  •  When I came out (18+ / 0-)

    I had a difficult time fitting into the little gay community in my city. As a slightly overweight guy, I felt a lot of shame (because there is a lot of pressure in the gay male community to look and dress a certain way), and it kept me from going out and meeting people. As time went on, and I moved to a much larger city, I came to find a "home" of sorts in the bear community, even though bears aren't really my thing sexually. But I like not feeling ashamed because I don't fit into a small Abercrombie shirt. For my BF and I--and neither of us are really "bears" in the traditional physical sense--the bear thing is more a state of mind. Although, as you note in the diary, bears can be just as superficial in other ways.

    But I think, as more and more people are feeling comfortable enough to come out, we're coming to accept more people of all shapes and sizes. Let's face it, most of us gays are not gym rats or large, hairy men. When I venture to a club, which isn't very often, I see all kinds of people, which is a welcome sight compared to the skinny twink bar I used to go to when I first came out.

    Homosexuality is found in over 450 species. Homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?

    by Chrislove on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:31:25 AM PDT

  •  You're missing something very important (7+ / 0-)

    about butch gays--it's about getting laid.  More often than not the "gym rat" I know was once a petite, soft-spoken, doe-eyed boy who became covered in muscles and shorn of androgynous qualities--hair, clothes. Not for something straight-looking but for something obviously male, often still flamboyant.

    Being in-shape is about the fear of being alone, forever, because nobody will stay interested in you long if you're not in-shape.

    I do not identify as gay so in a way I can tell myself I'm cheating this culture. But it has affected my life for a long time because I'm queer, and I've seen to much of it.

    Thank you to jayden, Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN, Aji and everyone in the Daily Kos community involved in gifting my subscription and gifting others!

    by Nulwee on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:45:59 AM PDT

    •  I think it's hard to generalize. (7+ / 0-)

      Attention feels good.  It's nice be desired and to get compliments.  It's not all negative about loneliness etc.  

      We have the elite, smart people on our side.

      by fearisthemindkiller on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 12:13:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And getting laid is bad? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge

      Men do all kinds of things to get laid.  Going to the gym is only one of them.  Some guys buy fancy clothes.  Others have exquisitely decorated apartments.  Still others own expensive foreign cars.  But if all that truly gets them laid, is that such a bad thing?  After all, who doesn't want to get laid?

      I also disagree that being in shape is all about fear of loneliness.  I personally think it's about desire.  There are lots of gay men who are sexually attracted to muscular physiques.  So they work out themselves in order to be attractive to the kind of men they find desirable.  I don't see what's objectionable about that.

      "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

      by FogCityJohn on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 10:29:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Balancing Health & Beauty (7+ / 0-)

    I concur with a previous poster that we have to differentiate between a healthy lifestyle and perfect body obsession.

    We are all genetically predisposed to have certain physical attributes, and once we accept that we can work on the balancing part. Having a 6-pack shouldn't be the passport to happiness, but a BMI of 40 plus hair should not be idolized either. Arthritis at 40 and Heart Attacks in that same age  group is NOT sexy either.

    The problem is we try to look good for "others", we let the group define us, either being a twink or a bear.

    We also have to acknowledge that even in animal kingdom the male "prettyfies" himself to fit in the herd.

    Thank God we all like different things, lets accept who we are and who we like but keep the perspective.

  •  Wow. What a powerful diary. (7+ / 0-)

    For many, I think it is purely a question of not having a peer group at all as an adolescent or young adult.  If a gay man is lucky enough to live or move to place with an identifiable community of other gay men, he does whatever is necessary to find acceptance in that group.  Whatever the prevailing view of gay masculinity is, he subscribes to it.  Having broken free of the oppressive need to conform in a straight world, he now faces extraordinary pressure to confirm to the gay one.  

    That said, as the diarist points out, I think the diversity itself is already there.  We just need to do a better job of promoting the widest variety of "gay masculinity" (if that's word) so everyone has somewhere to go.    

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by Ms Johnson on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 12:06:15 PM PDT

  •  I love this diary, you rock for writing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, Dave in Northridge

    the questions that run around in my head most of the time. I'm a hairy bearish guy, and I was when I was in the cub stage, maybe 15? I've been rejected and then re-accepted into the most hysterical and queeny cohorts, and the bear world as well, many times (hysterical bear world being what it is sometimes).  It's a queer thing to have to explain to some that the best man I've ever known was more effeminate than Madonna, and many times stronger and smarter. When he was young he ruled the Hockey arena, and had a baffled father who couldn't understand why his kid wasn't a star like Bobby Orr. (I know, right? Because people are usually so kind to boys who switch when they walk on planet you, right Dad?)

     I never mind telling the story though, because it's knowing these things about the world around me means I might be wise one day. It also means I am a proud gay man because I've earned it, but anyway...The question to me is: Why do you do that, Mr self appointed mean in-group questioner? Is it something career oriented, maybe I've made bad choices and one of them was coming to this bar to be scoffed at?

     I didn't think so. Insecurity sucks, we all know, why do we need to run that BS about how one day being insecure men will help us? But then I wasn't raised with religion (Thank Dog. Mom, Dad, being broadminded is the best thing about you....No pun intended Dad, get your mind outta the gutter)

    Have you pampered your born-again? If you have, try....

    by teloPariah on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 12:34:44 PM PDT

  •  Early in his memoir (7+ / 0-)

    Becoming a Man, Paul Monette described his high school years at a private single gender academy, where most of the boys were effortlessly making the transition to what he recognized as manhood.  He described the straight man's "suit of armor" that simply did not fit him, no matter how hard he tried.  I think that our culture, which has had little regard for LGBT people, offers a natural path to maturity for straight men, but no such path for gay ones.  For centuries, we have had to find our own paths and define what gay manhood means.  I think it's safe to say that only in the last 100 years has it been possible for large numbers of LGBT people to find each other and to build a culture of sorts.  Despite the pressures, I think we have to accept the sometimes overwhelming broadness and inconsistencies of that culture.  This is all still very new, if we regard the history of out LGBT people in western civilization versus the history of the world.  Perhaps we can glean clues from other cultures in other places or other times where LGBT people were not rejected.  How did members of such communities assert their adulthood?

    It's a truism to state that gay men are superannuated teenagers.  Most often, our teen-age years were robbed from us by a homophobic and heterosexist culture, so perhaps this is not so surprising.  Still, the measure of an adult is not what he or she looks like but how he or she behaves.  At least, that's my standard.

    -5.13,-5.64; If you gave [Jerry Falwell] an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox. -- Christopher Hitchens

    by gizmo59 on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 01:30:01 PM PDT

    •  That "natural path to maturity for straight men" (9+ / 0-)

      doesn't strike me as being very natural, based on the straight men I've known (in the word's multiple senses).

      The straight man's "suit of armor" is its own kind of straitjacket, too. Same goes for my straight woman's "suit of armor."

      I dream of a world where there will be less and less need for armor, in all its forms. We are such amazing creatures it seems a shame for us to accept the deformity of conformity that does not serve us in positive, encouraging, nurturing ways.

      !! Four more years !!

      by raincrow on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 01:48:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's a good point. (10+ / 0-)

        Not only are there a diverse number of ways to be gay, but there are a diverse number of ways to be straight as well.

        -5.13,-5.64; If you gave [Jerry Falwell] an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox. -- Christopher Hitchens

        by gizmo59 on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 01:51:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I hope we arrive one day at an easy continuum (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gizmo59, ozsea1, FindingMyVoice

          sorta like tattoos and eye color.

          !! Four more years !!

          by raincrow on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 02:21:16 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Thank you for pointing this out (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gizmo59, wader, blueoasis, ozsea1, raincrow

          All too often a marginalized group winds up applying outgroup homogeneity bias to itself, and also to members of the official ingroup. Straight men are a quite diverse crowd; there's no definitive "straight male sensibility" (note that the "macho jock" persona doesn't even exist in most Western cultures, even among athletes, so while it may be the stereotypical "straight male sensibility" it isn't actually typical. Note also that the "51% rule" of stereotypes is bunk: all it takes for a trait to become a stereotype is for it to be slightly more common in one group than another, even if it's actually uncommon in both).

          If straight men don't have all that much in common, then why on earth should we think that gay men should all have a lot more in common than the gender of whom they're romantically and sexually attracted to? Why should there be One Right Way To Be Gay (and it's not an improvement at all to replace it with a handful of pigeonholes)? Maybe because it gives us a chance to feel Special, but taking that sense beyond playfulness quickly gets dysfunctional (conspiracy theorists are a classic example of taking it too far: the idea that one knows things that are hidden from everyone else, that one is among the few people who haven't been bought off, quickly turns into malignant narcissism).

          Americans frequently define adulthood by what sociologists call a Normative Life Course model, but in reality that model only ever fit a subset of white middle-class Americans who lived mostly in the 25 years or so after WWII (a relative of this is the assumption that every generation must have its Defining Event, which often leads journalists to strain hard for analogies; the only reason to assume that WWII, Woodstock, and Kurt Cobain's suicide had similar effects on three respective generations is that one is in a position of having nothing to say but having to say it in order to get paid).

          Arguments that Americans in general are "postponing adulthood" generally are based on highly pro-natalistic attitudes, often with a barely hidden undercurrent of Demographic Winter (the worry that brown people are outbreeding white people, that our enemies are doing a better job of producing lots of unemployed young people than we are). Such arguments also tend to use the average ages of marriage and first childbirth from the 1950s as a baseline, even though they were historically low during that period (my mother always talks about how young (21) she was when she married, but in fact at the time the median age of marriage for women was 19).

          There's a lot more I'd like to say, but this is long enough as it is.

          In a dog-eat-dog world, rabies is an advantage in the short term.

          by ebohlman on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 06:46:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Excellent points. I was born in 1959, so I was (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            raincrow, gizmo59, ebohlman

            alive in flyover land when Woodstock occured but I don't know that it was a Defining Moment in my life.

            Not every straight white man gets to be chairman of GE; not every gay white man is Barney Frank; not every biracial man is Barack Obama; there is no guarantee of success and every person has their own unique demons.

            Generalizing can be fun, but it's often not accurate.

            "I believe more women should carry guns. I believe armed women will make the world a better place. Women need to come to think of themselves not as victims but as dangerous." Anna Pigeon

            by glorificus on Tue Oct 09, 2012 at 08:25:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, like most places (5+ / 0-)

          the local culture tends to define maturation paths that are considered within some norm.  Straight kids are mercilessly taunted for not fitting into the expected levels of performance, looks, attitudes, etc. by other straight kids.  So, gay kids would get that type of harrassment times fifty, sometimes to the level of revulsion for seeming to not even try and fit in (i.e., be implicitly straight), I noticed.

          As I get older, I tend to find out gay men more comfortable to be around that straight men my age, mostly because I often find them more refreshingly authentic about themselves and others, with fewer subscriptions to the narrow rules imposed by straight culture that we act out to fit in.  Maybe I've just had too few experiences to generalize that opinion at this point in my life, though.

          "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

          by wader on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 08:51:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I wonder how much of the problem (3+ / 0-)

    Is caused by wanting to attract men. It sounds like the angst that heterosexual women go through.

    When you are trying to attract people who tend to judge others on appearance more than anything else (not judging it, just stating the facts as I see them), body image gets to be an issue.

    When all that is talked about by those that you want to attract is how you look, body image gets to be an issue.

    Women create the entire labor force.

    by splashy on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 02:09:04 PM PDT

  •  This diary and comments are an eye-opener for me (6+ / 0-)

    I do the straight-woman act in this life, I've lived my adult life in a conservative area where gay men are at low profile, and I don't know that I've ever read such a distilled, detailed discussion of gay male body shame. It sounds VERY depressingly familiar (and I think straight men suffer every bit as much, especially as adolescents; they may just get over it sooner than straight women and gay men...??). I thank all of you for being so open and direct about this issue.

    I hope as you age that you'll find what I've found as a post-menopausal woman who has grown fat, grayer, hairier (ahhh, menopause), and aaaaaaaalmost but noooooooot quite perfectly comfortable with my blobby ol' grandma self (holy shit! I'm a girl bear!??!).

    Every once in awhile it stings a little to know that when I walk into a bar none of the men, old or young, even register my presence. I am so far past breeding age that I'm completely off their radar (and if they do notice, I may well be the subject of speculation as to how low my boobs sag). But I know the same thing happens to them when they walk past women -- they're either invisible, or the subject of wry speculation about how far their balls sag.

    With only the occasional exception, I find it very pleasant to be off-the-market and anonymous until the moment I decide whether or not to strike up a conversation. For me, the I'm-still-standing-and-I-don't-give-a-damn-anymore confidence of middle age has been very welcome and pleasant after the tortured angst of my younger years about my physical appearance and sexual attractiveness, playing tough because I could never measure up.

    !! Four more years !!

    by raincrow on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 02:19:47 PM PDT

  •  re: body issues (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, chimene, blueoasis

    yeah, bears can be exceptionally superficial and childish and dumb. and don't even get me started on the leather community.

    when i was in my 20s i hated being thin. absolutely despised it. there were no clothes that fit right.  i'm finally 50lbs heavier in my thirties. i wish i had THIS body THEN.

    on the other hand, over at tumblr, there's an incredibly robust community of guys who are just happy with their bodies, of all sizes and shapes, mostly led by the young.

    on the other, other hand, i've been chatting for a couple years with a young man on twitter who thinks he's a whale. he's 5'10 and 170lbs and i'm like come on, dude. I think the fact that he reviews gay porn for a blog is why he has issues with his body (can't be because he can't get laid...he certainly tells all.)

    pseudoscience can kill

    by terrypinder on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 02:35:41 PM PDT

  •  Thanks, glendenb (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terabthia2, DrWhk, glorificus, The Marti

    for your diary which I believe is not only relevant for gay men but relevant for all of us in each of our lives - gay/straight/man/woman/human.


    What does it mean to be emotionally mature?  Does marriage make adults?
    I can answer both of those questions in the negative. I'm in my late 60's female and married to the same man for 47 years.

    I went from my mother's house to my husband's care and lived as an immature woman for all of my life until I experienced a tragedy so painful and shattering that it broke me. It broke the denial, the fear and tore down the dependency and immaturity. With the help of a psychiatrist I learned that mature behavior can be achieved through self awareness - awareness of sensations, emotions, thoughts in order to behave in a way that is true to oneself and expresses who one is with self respect and respect for others.

    So for me marriage did not make me mature.
    My immaturity throughout my life was a mountain separating me from the people I loved/love.

    I feel that now I have reached a point where I am facing truths I never faced before about myself and  others. I feel I am a better person for it but it came at quite a cost - a terrible loss, which I don't care to talk about.

    I think what you write about embraces more than the life of a gay man. In my case your diary means something to me too and I am a woman married to a man. So your diary is a truth but a truth beyond sexuality. It is a diary of being human and at the mercy of a world around them that can be pretty hostile at times, through no fault of our own. And I guess we too can be hostile at times if we don't know ourselves.  Or at least I was quite capable of that and I had no clue of it. :)

    Finally people have gotten sick and tired of being had and taken for idiots. Mikhail Gorbachev

    by eve on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 03:30:20 PM PDT

    •  This sums it up pretty well, imo: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      So your diary is a truth but a truth beyond sexuality.
      It is a diary of being human and at the mercy of a world around them that can be pretty hostile at times, through no fault of our own.

      "I believe more women should carry guns. I believe armed women will make the world a better place. Women need to come to think of themselves not as victims but as dangerous." Anna Pigeon

      by glorificus on Tue Oct 09, 2012 at 08:32:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  tx glorificus for your response (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        i agree with you as i read my own words back.

        i guess i could have just left my comment at that - less is more :)

        Finally people have gotten sick and tired of being had and taken for idiots. Mikhail Gorbachev

        by eve on Tue Oct 09, 2012 at 02:07:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No, no, you wrote a very worthwhile comment. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          "I believe more women should carry guns. I believe armed women will make the world a better place. Women need to come to think of themselves not as victims but as dangerous." Anna Pigeon

          by glorificus on Tue Oct 09, 2012 at 03:23:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I didn't think you were (0+ / 0-)

            being critical.
            my husband tells me all the time that if I got to the point people would understand me better.
            But what you said earlier and here is very sweet :
            thank you.

            Finally people have gotten sick and tired of being had and taken for idiots. Mikhail Gorbachev

            by eve on Wed Oct 10, 2012 at 09:16:34 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I'm calling BS on the article, not the diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FogCityJohn, outragedinSF, The Marti

    I was going to title this "twink with hair to bear" because that's been the story of my life.  I've never been particularly special except for good natural definition, and I've never shied away from going to places where clothing wasn't required.  I remember going to a competitive gay beach in Los Angeles with my bf (and current spouse) four months after we stopped smoking (I was 15 pounds heavier than I had been the previous summer) and hearing from a couple of towels over "they're back, and look how fat they've gotten." We didn't go back, but I still didn't stop taking my clothes off in places where you do that.  I still haven't, in fact.

    I've never been to a gym when I wasn't required to by school either. If you have body-image issues, blame yourself. As for the

    bears can be exceptionally superficial and childish and dumb. and don't even get me started on the leather community
    comment, that tells me a lot more about the commenter than it does about the communities he's afraid of.

    Thanks for bringing this up, glendenb. I've learned a lot from the diary and the comments.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent, and we are all Wisconsin.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 06:41:59 PM PDT

  •  and the concommitant attention to diet, exercise, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, ozsea1, The Marti

    supplements, hormones, ....  and time, as it draws on and down.  Handsome Mr. Bergeron and his friend, in their professional prime, with forearms better suited to boys slinging hay bales; aware of the ritual absurdity, of gym and clothes, of posturing and preening, and the empty grind[r] of sexual networking.  To what end?  

    The best love is mutual; body not required.

    Still, the gay male culture lives on in glass houses, silvered inside and out.

  •  I think you're confusing two things. (5+ / 0-)

    When it comes to desire and sexual attraction, all men have their own particular tastes.  Those tastes are quite individual, and I'd never dream of telling any other man what he should or shouldn't find attractive.  So I guess I don't really get all the indignation over, say, muscular guys who find other muscular guys attractive, or bears who find other bears attractive, or twinks, or whatever.

    On the other hand, I think it is a problem if people are judged on their looks for things other than desire.  I'm physically attracted to a certain kind of man, but I wouldn't pick my friends exclusively from men who fit that physical profile.  

    I see these as two different things.  In the former case, I fully expect looks to play a role, because that's a big part of how desire operates.  In the latter case, I don't think looks should play much of a role, if any.  When one picks a friend, an employee, or a roommate, one's looking for different qualities, ones that aren't appearance-based.

    "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

    by FogCityJohn on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 09:08:49 PM PDT

    •  Hear hear. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I also think it is unfair to generalize that older guys are co-opting the bear community for sex, for precisely that reason.  I don't know of very many sexually active men who would say "eh, I'm fat and lazy, guess I'll go for the bears."  More frequently I find that men hold to their fantasies about what they want for their entire life.  Far more frequently I find the older man going for the cute twink rent boy (and that's OK with me) rather than saying, "gotta give up my sexual type and lower my standards to the bears".   Maybe I'm misinterpreting the diary, but it sounded false to me.

      "A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future." - Leonard Bernstein

      by outragedinSF on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 10:30:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think you're right. (0+ / 0-)

        I'm now 51, and what I find physically attractive in a man hasn't changed all that much since I came out in my early 20s.  I didn't find skinny guys attractive then, and I don't find them attractive now.  I always liked guys with nice physiques, and I still do.

        Ultimately, the diarist seems to have a problem with the concepts of desire and physical attraction.  (Or, as I said in another comment, he's confusing desire with other things.)  I don't know what it is that makes any given man attracted to a particular physical type.  I suspect our individual sexual attractions develop at a pretty early age.  Mine certainly did.  But I see no reason to reproach guys for liking what they like.  I mean, who am I to try to dictate to another man what should get him hard?  

        "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

        by FogCityJohn on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:10:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Gay Shame? Not me (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge
    What I’ve realised is that growing up knowing I was gay from a young age, I always felt extremely ashamed. It’s a cliché but it’s true. - Will Young

    I've heard about this multiple times, including here and this quote from Will Young. I've never been ashamed, instead treated my sexual orientation in the same way as being right-handed. It is, it's not going to change, so get on with important matters.

    I'm not being insensitive to those who are/were ashamed or who hate(d) themselves. Maybe instead of scrimmaging over the gym bunnies, bears, queens, and other varieties of gay men, gay men should be communicating their self-worth, self-confidence, and self-acceptance.

    Too many "public gays" - including Will Young - are using the media to promote their books/movies/memoirs/music with lurid tales of how they've suffered for being gay. I'm too far removed from the current teen generation to be certain but it seems obvious to me that this kind of identification as victim cannot be healthy for young men coming to terms with their sexuality.

  •  Good diary. (3+ / 0-)

    But remembering when the bear community started to come out, and I was in the thick of it in the late eighties, I have a problem with this:

    Except of course they're really not.  Bears may be rejecting the narrow obsessed gymrat vision of masculinity but they're embracing with equal ferocity a different version of masculinity that is equally as narrow and exclusive.  Maybe I'm a cynic but impression has long been that many bears are grasping at the bear identity as a way of maintaining their lost 20s and the sexual antics that went with it.  "Sure I'm 46 and hairy all over and fat but that's sexy now and it means I can get laid."  It's a way of fetishizing something that's natural for some men and attempting to claim it is better or more desirable than what is natural for other men.
    Yes, you are a cynic.  The bear community at heart really is about acceptance of body types that don't conform to the hairless/skinny gay ideal, and for the freedom and positive reinforcement that comes with that camaraderie.  You lose me at stereotyping the older bear as "maintaining their lost twenties and the sexual antics that went with it."

    Trust me.  I had my twenties.   In SF.  In quantities.  I am not, as an older bear, trying to recapture anything.  And any man who is not physically "ideal" but is honest and friendly is welcome to pursue sex with whomever they can find who is also honest and friendly and not a shallow shadow.  THAT is the bear community I know.

    "A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future." - Leonard Bernstein

    by outragedinSF on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 10:23:50 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, that quote bothered me too. (3+ / 0-)

      First of all, it's inconsistent with what I take to be the point of the diary.  It seems to accept the notion that being hairy and fat are so repulsive no one could possibly find someone fitting that description attractive.  It then moves on to criticize bears for "fetishizing" that look and "attempting to claim it is better or more desireable than what is natural for other men."  

      I don't identify as a bear, but none of the bears I know thinks of himself as somehow better or sexier than everyone else because he's a bear.  The bears I know are all pretty much guys who happen to like other guys who have a similar body type.  

      And there's a lot of variation within the bear community itself.  Not all bears are fat.  There are lots of "muscle bears."  There are also guys who are called "otters," who (if I understand this correctly) are hairy but thin.  Then there are the cubs, who are younger and may or may not have the body type one typically associates with bears.

      One final thing I'll point out is that my personal recollection of the development of the bear community was that it was a reaction to the reigning standard of beauty in the gay male community back in the mid to late 80s.  Back then, the advent of AIDS drove lots of guys to work out, because being thin was associated with the wasted look of AIDS.  In addition, since AIDS was incorrectly associated with "older" guys, lots of gay men began the practice of shaving their chests and legs because having less body hair made them look more youthful, and thus they'd look less like the older men they wrongly thought were the sole carriers of the virus.  

      In short, both the bear community and its development are a whole lot more complicated than the diarist makes out.  I think he needs to do a good deal more research before he makes the kinds of judgments he does.

      "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

      by FogCityJohn on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:03:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good points all. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FogCityJohn, Dave in Northridge

        But the underlying theme is the same.  Release from body shame was the underpinning movement, and still is.  Muscle bears are a weird offshoot of the "bear"movement.  There has always been muscle worship by some in the gay community, and if muscle bears accept the openness of the bear community, they are welcomed.  It really is about attitude and acceptance.

        Also agreed that the advent of AIDS was a very intense time, and many did attempt to use weight/muscle to signify "not sick".  It was really a very urgent feeling/wishful belief at the time, and probably still is in a vestigial way.

        "A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future." - Leonard Bernstein

        by outragedinSF on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:20:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I debated about that passage (0+ / 0-)

      I wrote it, re-wrote it, edited it and almost took it out.  I chose to leave it in for one simple reason - I was speaking about my impression of the bear community based on my experiences.  I read and hear descriptions of the bear community such as "The bear community at heart really is about acceptance of body types that don't conform to the hairless/skinny gay ideal, and for the freedom and positive reinforcement that comes with that camaraderie" and they ring false to me - I haven't seen that side of it.  I'm not saying it doesn't exist, I'm simply saying that I haven't seen it.

  •  what a timely diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with some incredible and insightful commentary.

    We will all age. We'd damn well better figure out how to do it gracefully.

    The "extreme wing" of the Democratic Party is the wing that is hell-bent on protecting the banks and credit card companies. ~ Kos

    by ozsea1 on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 11:46:17 PM PDT

  •  On some level we're just trying to fit in, and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    be respected for who we are. Despite the platitudes about glorifying individuality in the U.S. we have narrow gender role and identity expectations. The diary did a great job of discussing the physical and social implications of conforming to a specified definition of masculinity. That seems to be the manifestation of trying to fit into the neat box society wants us to fit in as men.

    In the future it would do all of us well to internalize the message of self-acceptance. Society makes it particularly difficult for us Gay men b/c of the oppression and bigotry we face everyday. Sometimes I would find myself wondering if my walk was too "feminine" b/c I had been called the F-word by strangers just walking by. The self-conscious attitude derives from individual and societal prejudice that raises the spectre of damagingly internalized heterosexism.

    Maybe that is where the obsession w/ the body derives from? Is perfecting our body a physical as much as it is psychological drive to conform to standards of strength and masculinity? These are questions I've pondered from time to time as I've grappled w/ the development of an eating disorder. It's definitely made me wonder if the image issues that seem to be a part of some much of the Gay community influenced my own anorexia and bulimia.

    Talk about eating disorders for men whether Gay or Heterosexual tends to be relegated to the background. I liken it to how many people view soldiers coming back from war w/ PTSD or severe anxiety disorders. Constructs of masculinity today cause these important crises to be shamed into silence rather than worked on and solved. It is b/c a man who needs helped is often judged as weak, and he often does not achieve the assistance he needs when it is needed most.

    In the future I think more men w/ eating disorders will come forward as our society broadens the definition of masculinity. We will be so much better off emotionally and physically once we truly embrace and respect the diversity of what being a man can be. Perhaps we will see rates of physical and psychological illness decrease as we foster a more supportive and less judgemental culture.

  •  What a wonderful, lucid diary. Thanks. nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

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