- Health, Wellness & Sports
- Equality Directory
In the first article of this series, I pointed out how body image issues are presently affecting the gay community. In the second article, I explored one avenue that got us to this point. In this, the final article of the series, I hope to encourage people to start thinking about how to resolve this ongoing problem in our community.
I’d like to preface what I am about to write by sharing that this is a topic that I feel very passionate about, and I would like to preemptively apologize if I write anything that hurts anybody’s feelings.
The media trap
Are gay men really so malleable that a picture of a lean, muscular man next to a jar of bean mulch will convince us to buy a jar of bean mulch? It sounds silly when I put advertisements in that context, but that’s exactly how many businesses make their money in the gay community. All they need to do is slap an “attractive” man on their advertisement and the gays come in droves.
The problem with this ad campaign is that young gay men see these images and think that gay men are supposed to look lean and muscular, which then potentially leads to problems. I understand that businesses want to make money, but isn’t it a little sad that one of the only ways they can give themselves an edge in our community is to give young, impressionable, gay men body image issues?
Can we blame them for this, though? Businesses generally won’t hesitate to continue an ad campaign that brings them the most money.
Heterosexual women are under the same kind of pressure to conform to a popular image. There are serious consequences to this as well.
A recent study from the New School University in New York showed that women who were objectified in a controlled experiment performed more slowly on a cognitive test than women who were not objectified. In other words, objectification made them stupid. How might gay men be affected by objectification?
It might also be interesting to consider the idea that heterosexual women who exercise to fit the media’s image expectations are doing so to look “pretty.” Gay men who exercise to fit the gay media’s image expectations are also doing so to look “pretty,” but under the guise of masculinity. What do you think about that?
What can we do about this?
I hope you will not be discouraged when I say that breaking free from the media’s trap begins with you.
In the first part of the series, I wrote that I would explain some of the differences between you and the “gay unicorn.” Besides qualities such as being more outgoing, friendly and conversational, there is one fundamental difference:
The gay unicorn never compares himself to anyone. He has an intimate knowledge of who he is and he is not interested in who he is not. He is not interested in being “perfect,” and he has given himself permission to be “good enough.” As a result, he never forgets who he is.
We can learn from our straight allies with regard to this idea. They often face significant pressure from their heterosexual peers through constant challenges to their sexuality, but they do not allow those challenges to change who they are. They press on with a strong understanding that they are straight people who have gay friends – and that’s perfectly ok.
So, who are you?
You are a gay man who, after receiving an immense amount of negative messages from heterosexual culture about homosexuality, somehow came to the realization and conclusion that you are gay. This potentially dangerous process is one that most men do not go through and the fact that you survived and found a community of similar people is indicative of your strength and fortitude.
But we lose sight of this because we are so caught up in petty issues, like who fits the image of the muscle guy, the twink, the bear, the drag queen, or any other label you can think of. The kind of quibbling that we run into in our community right now could be described as brown-eyed people going to war with blue-eyed people. It is absolutely absurd.
This preoccupation with labels and images is accomplishing only one thing in our community – division.
If we step away from labels, what might happen?
What if we got away from who is the best muscle guy, the best twink, or the best bear? Wouldn’t it be awesome if the gay ideal were the person who had the most self-respect?
The gay unicorn might not fit any label, but other people accept him and find him attractive because he respects and has accepted himself. Imagine for a second if the gay unicorn were the norm in our community. How would things change?
If we all come to a point where we each have an intimate knowledge of who we are and give ourselves permission to be “good enough,” then the pressure to conform to a certain image or label might significantly weaken or even cease to be. Then, it won’t matter who has a six-pack, or who is white, or who has blue eyes. We might grow beyond these outdated measures of worth and begin to notice that we are all more alike than different.
In the infancy of our modern gay community, we had to live in the shadows of society and develop labels to make sense of how we fit in with each other. We are no longer in the shadows, and these labels are now nothing more than symbols of our antiquated secrecy. They encourage divisiveness when we should be united and directing our attention to more important matters.
Now, we come to a crossroads where you – yes, you - have a chance to redefine what it means to be a gay man.
What do you want that man to be?
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and kink-friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377–3120 or you can visit his website at http://www.therapybrew.com