A friend gave me some back issues of gay mags the other day. DNA, Attitude, Gay News etc. All choc-full of images of beautiful men. Men who obviously spend hours every day in the gym and live on wheatgrass juice, tuna and rice - I know, I know, they're models, but even so, they're held up to us as the image of what a gay man is supposed to be. These images are powerful, and their common-place use to depict gay men tells us something about our world, and I'm not sure I like it. And really, let's face it, these guys are our equivalent of busty blonde bimbos for straight guys. Hasn't Gay Liberation been a great thing? Baby, we've come such a long way...
So many muscles and such sharp definition that the split in their abs starts to look like a vagina, a friend noted. Ridiculously slim waists. And, with one exception, no body hair. So even though they're supposedly what gay men aspire to be like, if we're not already there, they actually look more like perpetual teenagers, stuck in early pubescence forever. They don't look all that masculine to me. I'm not immune to the charms of youth and beauty, but this sort of airbrushed perfection (and let's face it: these shots will have been enhanced) leaves me cold.
And what is wrong with body hair? On the one hand we have people prattling on about "nature" and "being Green" and then they rip their hair off with wax and look totally unnatural. Did you know you can buy "green" hair removal products? Why? Yes, I am hirsute. So I do have a personal axe to grind on this one. I like my body hair. And I like hairy men, I think they can be very sexy. And yes, so can men with very little body hair and all the gradations in between. I just don't get this desire to pretend that men don't have chest hair, hair around our cocks and balls, hair on our stomachs ( I just love following a treasure trail down ) facial hair, even... hair on our shoulders and backs! I just can't measure a guy's hotness by his hairiness, or lack of it, which is the image the magazines keep pushing.
As I look at the ads for the next dance-party, or the photos used on most gay websites, it gets harder and harder to find a piece of body hair, or a body that doesn't make Michaelangelo's David look flabby. Look back at some older porn or erotica and well over half the guys that were thought sexy in the 50s, 60s and 70s just wouldn't make it today. Instead we've somehow ended up with this hyper-muscular baby-bottom smooth twenty-something as our icon, and I'm not quite sure how it happened.
I'm old enough (here we go again..."The good old days") to remember when the gay media contained a level of self-critical reflection and political awareness that didn't simply centre on our right to imitate straights by getting married and having kids. I know, I know, consumption is everywhere and we've been swallowed up by it. These gay mags tell us about how to spend money to fit into certain social groups. And they all assume we have a disposable income, live in the city, are under 30 (or idealise youth) and are happy uncritically taking part in a political system that is, actually when you peel back the veils, not exactly on our side. We've had to fight hard and long for the rights we've gained, they weren't simply a gift by a benign system, and now we've been swallowed up by it. Yeah, I'm on a kind of a doom and gloom kick.
These images might be pretty, they might be hot, they might handsome, but what they also do is exclude a lot of us. Look around a gay bar or club, and the number who fit that images is way smaller than those who do. But the number of people trying to fit it and not making it is often quite high. And it just looks a little sad and a little wrong when some guy in his mid 50s is trying to look like a 29 year-old and not pulling it off (err, the look I mean, you dirty-minded filth).
What those of us who don't fit into these dominant advertising-driven models of gay bimbos get told is we're not quite up there, not as good, not worth as much. "Here is an image of what a gay man is supposed to be if he wants to be successful and loved" these ads say. "Ooops, you don't fit, so you're not going to succeed", is the hidden message here.
So remind me now, who else has to put up with relentless Body-Fascisim, pressure to look "right" and bimbos in ads showing them up all the time? Oh yeah, straight women. That's what we fought for, isn't it, to be just like them.