By Kenneth Miller
Photo by Meg Zulch.
Mimicking the actions, appearances, and vernacular of those whom you identify with is only natural as you grow up.
As a gay 10-year-old, the only other gay males I knew were my uncle and his partner. They both happened to be the muscle obsessed, gym twice-a-day type of gays who frequented the NYC club scene, and were successful in their desired career paths.
At that time, my biggest accomplishment was growing a single wiry hair down there. But immediately above that soft surface resided a massive amount of “baby fat,” that I knew, if I ever wanted to be successful and loved, would have to disappear.
Throughout the duration of my coming out, I heard many body negative accounts from people within the gay community; each case resulted in some type of personal bodily harm.
It confused me at first, for none of the people telling me these stories appeared to be overweight. They were normal. They looked like my older cousins, my neighbors, even me.
It wasn’t until I heard the phrase “I’m straight thin, but gay fat” on an episode of American Dad! that I started to understand this nonsensical issue. There’s an unobtainable body image standard within the gay community and it is killing kids today.
In 2005, filmmaker Travis Mathews released Do I Look Fat? which explored why gay men, from the ‘60s onward, are increasingly succumbing to extreme body dysmorphic disorders. The film examined certain reasons as to why gay men are predisposed to eating disorders then and today: bullying, internalized homophobia, the psychological effects of possibly contracting HIV/AIDS, and the fear of being unworthy of love as an average weight man.
As shocking as this should be, it isn’t to me. It makes sense.
Look at Sam Smith. As an emerging gay British pop-vocalist, he has been gaining an unnecessary amount of criticism regarding his weight and sexual preference via social media platforms. Twitter users can see evidence of cyber bullying directed at Smith by simply typing “Sam Smith fat” into their search bars.
The results fail to surprise. From people calling Smith ugly and obese, to a Shrek look-a-like, spectators witness the public’s expected body standard on their screen.
“As a gay man who is a part of the gay community, I’d like to, for once, hear praise for non-conformity,” he stated, “We have resistance from outsiders, we can’t keep slinging insults at each other for superficial, non-important reasons like physical fitness.”
But the tragic actuality is we do live in an artificial, skin-deep society. For many, when they hear the term “gay male”, they associate it with the stereotypical image of an abdominal-obsessed, beautiful faced, blonde man wearing an extremely tight t-shirt overly highlighting his pecs and guns. Dare I say, Google Image the phrase and see what appears. (I took the burden off your shoulder: it’s exactly what I just described with a lot less clothing.)
Reinforcing this picturesque bod at Chicago’s 2014 Pride, a float sponsored by Chicago Liposuction marched illicitly body-shaming overweight men with derogatory signs that read “Say NO to man boobs” and “Don’t love your love handles.”
Thousands of attendees cheered on–whether consciously or otherwise–these signs, which are beyond detrimental to one’s confidence and only continue to promote the idea of the gay male body archetype.
When I see these signs, as a gay young man, I feel inadequate. As if the jiggle on my chest defines me as ugly and the skin overlapping my jeans categorizes me as un-fuckable.
In many minds, it does.
However, I would be delighted to tell my 10-year-old self that by the age of 19 he will have overcome an eating disorder, come out to an overly-accepting family, write for a kick-ass publication and, shockingly enough, have an awesomely sexy long-term boyfriend–feats I had only dreamt of as a chubby pre-pubescent brat.
As Dan Savage famously keyed: things will get better. Once we stop dividing our community and unite against all oppressive forces, whether within the gay community or the greater world, we will see love.