The Catholics have Lourdes, the Muslims Mecca. And gay men have the gym. Though hard proof may be lacking, it seems safe to say that queer men may well spend more time working out than our straight brethren do. And there are several interlocking reasons why that’s so.
First comes fitness: There’s no doubt that aerobic conditioning and good muscle tone make for a healthier, happier life. And with the nagging conflation of “gay” and “AIDS,” many gay men are even more health-conscious than ever. “My partner hardly ever went to the gym until he was diagnosed HIV-positive,” says one fellow. “Now he’s kind of a workout addict. And that’s fine with me.”
Indeed, the body-amping burn of a hard workout can provide a high that’s positively habituating. It can even work off guilt. Confesses one man in his 20s, “I guess I’m kind of a party boy. I know I shouldn’t, but every once in a while I spend all night drinking, dancing, and getting high. The next day, spending a few hours at the gym makes me feel like I’m getting rid of some of the bad stuff in my body. Even if I’m fooling myself, at least it’s better than going out drinking again.”
But there’s more to being a homo than health. Many queer men see pumping iron as a sweat-soaked path to having the body of their fantasies—and to pumping the man of their dreams. And they may not be wrong; the conventional gay cruising scene is largely focused on looks. Explains one longtime observer of the gay scene, “There’s an idealized vision of the gay physique everywhere you look.
Ads, porn, glossy magazines, brochures for gay cruises, they all tell us the desirable gay body is trim, defined, not too bulked up, and preferably hairless. And when you’re in a noisy bar, the first thing you spot isn’t a guy’s soul.”
Continues our observer, “Teenage girls aren’t the only ones with body-image problems. While exercise is a wonderful thing, there are gay guys who get obsessed with their own physiques, fretting that they’re too fat, worrying they’re just never going to be buff enough.” Indeed, many of us queer guys grow up thinking we’re less than masculine, and not worthy of love…and no amount of time spent on Cybex machines will guarantee getting past those issues.
Worries over aging can play a part, too. There’s an emphasis on youth in much of the gay community, and plenty of gay gyms are filled with middle-aged men trying to slow the effects of time. Says one gym-goer in his 50s, “I don’t think there’s anything pathetic in trying to stay fit. Sure, I’m getting older. But that doesn’t mean I have to resign myself to falling apart.”
And, as it was in ancient homo-friendly Athens, the gymnasium can be a social scene as well. Our 50-something man says, “I belong to an all-gay gym. Not only do I feel more comfortable there, but it’s one of the places I make new friends. I really don’t care about going to bars anymore, so my gym has taken up the slack.”
Needless to say, the sight of half-naked, sweaty men has pumped up many a gay guy’s crotch; gyms are cruising sites par excellence. Often, that translates into nothing more than discreet ogling in the shower room. But there are post-workout sessions that go way beyond that. Says our party boy, “I go to a Y with a mixed clientele, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting sucked off in the steam room. Yes, there are warning posters around, and I do try to be really careful about not getting caught. But I get horny being around all the naked guys in the locker room, and what’s the harm? It’s just oral sex.”
Not everyone buys into the “ripped is best” paradigm. There have always been chubby dudes and the men who adore them. And lately, the bear subculture has proclaimed, “Bulky is beautiful.” On the other end of the spectrum, skinny twinks are eye candy for a sizable segment of guys.
But as long as there are men and muscles, it seems there will be queer men hanging around the gym. Sure, some men are lucky enough to be born with body-like-a-Greek-god genes. But for most of us, staying hunky takes work. And working out. So go for the burn!
Simon Sheppard is the editor of Leathermen and Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica, and the author of Sex Parties 101, Kinkorama, and In Deep: Erotic Stories, and can be reached at SexTalk@qsyndicate.com. Visit Simon at www.simonsheppard.com.