You’re Special Just Like Everyone Else
Posted by Roobs on August 22, 2012
In the past two months, I’ve seen as many articles by gay men who are trying to explain why all gay men are seemingly obsessed with their physical appearance, specifically their physique. The first article I saw was back in mid-July from the internet site Gawker, entitled, The real reason gay men don’t get fat. The most recent article was written this week for a blog called Hommemaker. Orlando Soria writes Why gay men hate their bodies. Both articles make the unremarkable announcement that gay men are (wait for it), into physically fit bodies. And not only are they into physically fit bodies they are, in fact… (drumroll) concerned with their own physical fitness. Shocking, I know. The main problem with posts like these, from my perspective, is less on the content and more on the stereotype and over simplified statement it makes about the gay community as a whole.
When I started my time at UC Berkeley, my first choices for majors were sociology and anthropology, specifically socio-cultural anthropology (basically social and cultural anthropology mixed together). In the end I chose Legal Studies and Sociology as my two majors. However, the early classes I took in anthropology were fascinating to develop a background in how humans behave in social groups, an academic curiosity that I maintained (see sociology major). When I read what other gay men, young or old, have to say about the gay community as a whole, I have an almost Pavlovic reaction to perk my ears (in this case, eyes) and analyze what exactly is going on here. Or more to the point, what exactly is wrong. Enter Orlando Soria, the person and post I will be focusing on for the remainder of my post.
Orlando Soria writes his post from the sympathetic position of a young gay man who was once fat, now thin and trim. He even inserts a picture of himself shirtless to illustrate his current status to speak on the issue. Whether you agree with his post or not, it’s still applaudable Soria is willing to show his face, let alone his body, for his post. Nonetheless, Soria makes the following, rather annoying declarative statements that attempt to explain why gay men (as a whole, mind you) hate their bodies:
- Because we’re surrounded by images of perfect bodies.
- Because we compare ourselves to our partners.
- Because if you’re gay with a boyfriend, this is what he sees in the locker room (Insert really hot picture of guy showering here).
- Because these are our most cherished community leaders (Insert really hot picture of a shirtless male bartender here).
- Because gay people are more successful than other people, which makes them more competitive, with each other, which makes them more competitive about what their bodies look like.
- Because we are always running around with our shirts off.
- Because of fear.
- Because all our friends look like Ken dolls (Insert really hot picture of a shirtless white guy here).
- Because our most cherished teachers look like this (Insert picture of shirtless, muscled out gym instructor).
- Because we have nothing better to do.
I will start off by saying that I do not necessarily disagree with his statements in the sense that they are his. I have no doubt that Soria actually believes what he is saying and that he has probably experienced feelings and/or events that led him to believe his statements are true. However, what I do have a problem with is a complete lack of respect for the fact that as one person, in one city of 35,000 people where only 1/3 identify as LGBT, he seems to think that his experiences in West Hollywood are a reflection of the rest of society (gay, that is). Let’s start taking this down.
Points 1 & 2
The points are valid taken on the whole. I think gay men really are surrounded by images of perfect bodies to which we compare ourselves (in part because of stereotypes perpetuated by the kind of assumptions Soria makes). And who hasn’t compared ourselves to our partners? But the biggest issue with these first two points is Soria’s assumption and assertion that these are somehow uniquely gay issues. Straight men and women are surrounded by the same images of “ideal” bodies to which they can and do compare themselves.
And straight couples do compare themselves to each other. Soria takes a rather simplistic view (this will become a theme) of the way in which we compare. He insists guy-guy comparison is more accurate than guy-girl comparison. Taken literally, this is probably true. I can more accurately compare my body to the hot guy running next to me at the gym because I, theoretically, could work out enough to the point where I can have a similar physique to his, which I am currently admiring. However, straight couples compare each other all the time. Perhaps on a more macro level. They can compare themselves by comparing their partners to an “ideal” and then comparing that ideal to themselves. To put another way, we view ourselves one way, perhaps we think we are only moderately attractive. But our partner is hot. She’s a 10! Me, I’m a 7 at best. I look at her and her body and compare myself and think, I’m not good enough for her. Or I need to be more attractive to keep her. Again, this is not uniquely gay.
Also, the idea that men are more visually stimulated is also not new. It’s been an accepted truth for some time now. But again, ALL MEN are visually stimulated. Not simply gay men. Soria also makes the strange and terribly misinformed assertion that marketers use pictures of hot gay men to attract gay men. Actually, marketers use pictures of hot MEN to attract gay men and straight women. Take a trip over to 2(X)ist (seriously, it’s pretty hot). I’m willing to bet a lot of money that the vast majority of the models on this site are straight and it is rather selfish and socially self-centered for Soria to think that the hot guys are all gay. Remember, just because you want them to be gay doesn’t make it so (sadly).
Points 3, 4, 6, 8 & 9
Soria uses five bullet points to essentially say the same thing (he actually gives no supportive evidence for Points 4 and 9): Gay men like attractive bodies. In fact, we like attractive bodies and compare ourselves to these bodies that we will begin to emulate them (see Points 1 & 2). Also, because we are surrounded by all these attractive bodies, we feel compelled to compete with them to ensure we get our man(see Points 1 & 2).
Again, these are hardly unique to gay men. In fact, Soria actually proves this when he cites a New York Times article that makes the argument skinny people tend to have skinny friends (or those with skinny friends tend to be skinny too). I agree with Soria in that this is a kind of peer pressure, perhaps a positive one. But again, it’s this absurd assertion that he has stumbled upon a eureka moment: THIS IS WHY GAY MEN HATE THEIR BODIES! Nope.
This is actually proving an already widely accepted truth among social scientists regarding social groups: social groups tend to be made up of those with similar interests and values. Social scientists lump this in what’s called Social Group or Social Identity Theory. Humans have been forming groups since the beginning. High school is a great example: nerds hang out with nerds, popular kids hang out in the quad, the jocks are all over in the other corner, etc. So even as we get older, if you are a guy who likes to go to the gym, or ride his bike, or do other active activities, you will likely hang out with other similar minded men. And those activities in particular tend to bring with them the positive side effect of hot bodies.
To end this section, let me focus on Points 4 & 9. I find this offensive, actually. Ignoring that Soria provides no evidence to support that either a bartender or a gym teacher are idols in the gay community, even the suggestion of such a thing is offensive and dumb. Perhaps those are his idols and if they are, more power to him. But my idol is not a bartender. I love a good cocktail and I love a bartender who knows my drinks before I do. But to suggest that they are the community leaders of LGBT men and women is to disserve all the leaders that have come before and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of gay men and women everywhere. It is perpetuating a stereotype of the LGBT community that those who are animatedly against homosexuality use against us. On these two points, I admit to a much more emotional anger towards his stereotyping and ones he should frankly be ashamed of them.
This is a more interesting point and, frankly, the only one truly worth a prolonged discussion of. But because Soria limits it to what he read on the previously cited Gawker article and a few sentences, I’m not sure he is truly capable of it.
In any event, the idea that gay men, in general, suffer from a type of “fear” that results in their particular behavior is not new. In 2005, psychologist Alan Downs wrote the book called, The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world. The book is actually pretty accessible and an easy read. I would recommend it more for explorative purposes than as an attempt to help any one person deal with their own issues. Not to say you can’t. It’s your call. Nevertheless, Downs spends over 200 pages describing how gay men suffer from, you guessed it, fear – a fear that resulted from unfulfilled paternal love during their most vulnerable and socially important times of their lives. But like most psychiatric explanations, it is not universal. The assertion Soria makes that this, yet again, explains why gay men hate their bodies is a giant leap forward for stereotyping. I have no doubt that there are gay men who would fit this description, but not all. And it is yet again, not limited to gay men.
Points 5 & 10
Points 5 & 10 are relatively similar but it’s specifically Point 10 I want to focus on and really warrants me to copy his “reasoning”.
“Because of all their money, intelligence, and free time, Gays love hobbies. Being manic about our bodies is just another activity to add to our list of Gay Cruises, hipster-indie concerts, and gallery openings.”
I’m not really sure how to respond to Point 10. Like Points 4 & 9, I almost have anger towards it. It displays such a weak and immature understanding of the gay community and the issues it faces. It reflects the privileged talking down to the masses, like Mitt Romney saying the rest of the country should lift themselves up from their bootstraps to make money because he already has it. The LGBT community has those who have been very successful in life. But they are not the entirety of it. Forty percent of homeless youth in this country are LGBT. But if you only read Soria’s explanation, you would think all young gay men do is hang around shirtless with their money and cocktails. Instead, these kids are suffering from hate, poverty, and sexual abuse. Again, Soria is absolutely wrong and should ashamed and embarrassed for such an idiotic statement when there is so much suffering by LGBT youth in this country.
In closing – we’re special. Just like everyone else
I wrote a brief post in the past on the fissures I see growing between the young and older generations of the LGBT community, specifically focused on urban development patterns and preferences located in Los Angeles. In that post, I briefly talk about how the fissures developing are due to, oddly enough, the successes of the older generation. The older generation, through their struggles and victories, have made being gay more acceptable today than it ever has been. Though there is still a lot of progress that can be made, the dire need for gay neighborhoods to act as safe havens for gay youth is not as necessary as it once had been. The fact is, gays are assimilating into society and society is starting to embrace them. Once that happens, the social “uniqueness” of gays begins to lose ground. Older gays see this as a problem that needs to be fixed; to preserve the wild, crazy and “out” nature of gay culture while implying something wrong with assimilation into the rest of society (social scientists would probably call this a form of in-group bias - meaning you view your group more positively than any “out” or “other” group. It is also not unique to the LGBT community. Cultural assimilation is a common topic of debate in the study of ethnic minorities). The young generation, on the other hand, sees this as unnecessary and begins to join their straight brothers and sisters in the rest of the town. While this topic may seem off from the topic of this post, I assure you there is a connection.
Let’s ignore the age component of my argument in the past post and just look at it as two camps: those who see the loss of uniqueness as a problem and those who see the loss of uniqueness as successful integration into the rest of society. I would put Soria into camp one. These posts that are coming out and talking about how gay men hate their bodies could be interpreted as gay men looking for some uniqueness to themselves – that they are somehow special and this explains the “why” and the “who”. And when you look at in this way, you can see how tragic (not in a bad way) this is but also how ridiculously common this is among EVERYONE.
Who hasn’t spent time thinking of themselves as special or unique. We all want to be different and in our own ways we are. But those in “camp one” are out trying to identify themselves as part of a special group that is different from the rest of society. They are trying to establish themselves as the “other”. Because once you establish yourself as the other, all the issues, failures or even triumphs you experience are because you are somehow different. It provides some level of temporary satisfaction in explaining why we do what we do and why we are who we are.
In a way, parents of children see this all the time (yes, I did essentially call Soria a child). Teenagers will often try to go against the grain, to go against society and be their own person and blah blah blah. That is essentially what I am seeing here with these posts. Even after all the stereotyping of the community and oversimplification of the very real issues that gay men and women can suffer from, it is simply their attempt to make themselves feel special and provide some level of understanding in the complex social world we all live in.
In closing, Soria’s article is frankly immature. To me, it reflects a man trying to explain the legitimate issues and questions he faces, but done in a way that is damaging to the very group he claims to speak for. While I can understand, I can’t agree or support his post in the slightest form.
Roobs received his Bachelors degree in Legal Studies & Sociology from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from UCLA with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development. Roobs currently works as an urban planner in the Los Angeles area.