“He then proceeded to ask how old ‘the fittest guy in here’ was, and almost choked on his poppers when it was revealed that his chosen eye candy was verging on historical relic at the ancient age of 30”.
Perfect pecs, sexy six-packs, bulging biceps and fashion, fashion, fashion…are gay men the most vain, image-conscious and youth-obsessed branch of the human race? Does beauty equal youthful, masculine perfection and, if so, how does the elitist mentality affect gay men?
Well, being one myself, I should be able to answer those questions with a degree of expertise. Naturally, not all men are fashion slaves or gym addicts, nor do all of them like that look, but flicking through an average gay men’s mag you could be forgiven for thinking that image, sex & pecs is all that really counts in gayville.
Personally, I kick-started my downwards slope in the looks department at about 24, by achieving a receding hairline and a middle-age spread. At 28, I’d matured into someone who was happy enough without a perfect body and the latest hair…or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. If truth be told, I was just too lazy to go to the gym and lucky enough to have a head shape that suits being bald.
The turning point came when I saw some pool snapshots from a recent holiday in Spain. While I have no problems with stocky guys – in fact, I prefer them to the skinny kind – I just could not reconcile the hairy wet beast on the pink lilo with my self-image. And let’s face it; at the fairly modest height of 5″8, the lilo really shouldn’t have to smack you in the face when you sit on it!
It was high time to get in shape and by pinning one of those fateful photographs onto my fridge, I finally managed to force myself to the gym and start on a healthier diet. I have lost a bit of weight since and am feeling a great deal better for it, determined as I am to squeeze back into that faded old tank top from my youth, crammed in a sentimental corner of my wardrobe.
However, satisfying as it is slimming down a size or two, I do still feel nervous occasionally, walking into an upmarket, gay bar full or gorgeous, young men who look like they were all created in a fabulous Harvey Nics window display. And I still find myself self-consciously sucking my tummy in and uncrossing my legs in public places, in case the sexy boys at the next table are whispering to each other ‘check out that camp porker!’.
So how do we all deal with the pressure of an exceptionally image-conscious scene, where few alternatives exist and entertainment largely only caters for stereotypes? It’s true that gay hotspots, such as London and Manchester, have something for almost all tastes and looks, but gay men in Scotland have a lot less to choose from when it comes to clubs, bars, cafes, social groups, events and fellow queers.
It is perhaps not unreasonable to argue that less diversity on the scene equals a market dominated to a larger extent by youth and looks, and the kind of venues where combinations of the above are the highest possible currency.
A particularly hunky now 30-something acquaintance of mine found himself in a gay club a few years ago and was promptly approached by a clubber in his early 20s, who unceremoniously declared my friend ‘the fittest guy in here’. He then proceeded to ask how old ‘the fittest guy in here’ was, and almost choked on his poppers when it was revealed that his chosen eye candy was verging on historical relic at the ancient age of 30. I mean, how can an average-looking 36-year-old who started balding at 24 not feel intimidated every now and then on a scene where 16 is ‘young’, 30 ‘old’ and 40 ‘over the hill’, even for hunks?
Of course not all gay youth would need a douche of smelling salts to recover from the shock of realising the man they just chatted up was over 25 and it’s worth bearing in mind that the gay market does not have a monopoly on sexploitation. Beauty, fashion, youth and sex are pillar stones of almost all pop-culture.
While gay people have an extra layer to peel off in their process of self-discovery, (or a brand-spanking new pair of aussieBum pants to shed, as the case may be), the scene onto which they eventually enter – be it CC Blooms, the local support group or Calton Hill – can be just as exiting as it can be daunting. Well, CC Blooms is probably just daunting, actually…
Out of the friends I have put to sleep with endless questions about the above, most agreed that the realms of gay pop culture and the scene are probably not much different from what many straight people have to deal with. True, the stereotype of the vindictive, youth-obsessed gay gym-bunny, forever drinking pink cocktails and hissing at better-dressed rival queens is very much alive.
And of course, to an extent, stereotypes exist because they are true. A lot of gay men are vain and image-conscious, and it’s noticeable because on the gay scene, this is totally acceptable; openly fussing about your looks is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, while gay stereotypes have a legitimate role on the scene, the fact that they are the most visible members of the gay community and therefore constitute the ‘gay norm’ in the eyes of the rest of world, does not mean they represent all gay men. Nor does a buff body or a natural flair for fashion and beauty make you any better than the average-looking, ageing and slightly porky writer at the back of the bar.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to admit that I am vain and self-conscious. I do check myself out in mirrors, buy £15 anti-wrinkling moisturisers and go to the gym. The point I guess, is that it’s not so much that I do it because I am gay, but rather I simply enjoy looking my best and being gay makes me less embarrassed to admit it. Also, the fact that gay men in general take more care of themselves than your average straight guy, does not mean they’re arrogant or obsessed with looking young; the host of narcissistic, Piz Buin queens brimming over with self-importance in the VIP lounge are not an average, but an extreme, and not necessarily a very appealing one.
If you can take other human beings with a pinch of salt and enjoy them for who they are you’ll be fine, even in CC’s. Regardless of where you are and who you are with, you’re bound to have moments of low self-esteem on occasion. I know in my case, the insecurities that sometimes render me tongue-tied in the proximity of fabulous people were already there before I took those first tentative steps onto the pink scene in 1995, so let’s not blame it all on Dorothy’s friends.
Come to think of it, I’m probably just as likely to suck my stomach in and uncross my legs in a straight bar as I am in a gay venue. After all, aside from being gay I am also a man and, more importantly, human, and I think that entitles me to at least a smidge of insecurity and self-conscious vanity.