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My favorite place I ever lived in Chicago was 3414 N. Halsted, #304, a gut-rehab two-bedroom apartment located smack in the epicenter of Boystown, directly over an, um, toy store called Batteries Not Included. It was a fun place to live, to say the least. I never got hassled. Men stopped me on the street to let me know my tag was sticking out of my tank top and by the way, I had gorgeous shoulders. Everyone was accepted and tolerance filled the air like the smell of sugar escaping from a bakery. The streets were so clean, you could eat sushi off of them. A few times a year, during the Gay pride parade and other festivals, I’d find myself on a Saturday at 3 p.m. surrounded by hundreds of half-naked men wearing teeny little bikini briefs, drinking giant pina coladas and dancing to techno music.
Last year, at one such event, I was hanging out with my cousin and his partner and we started chatting about the objectification of all these naked men. I mean, there were tan, oiled-up, uber-hot guys with abs that would rival "The Situation" on every corner, serving drinks from behind bars, passing out condoms.. They were just such obvious eye candy and I had to wonder, "Don't they feel objectified?" It was like those girls who work the beer tubs in horrifically cheesy Spring Break bars. Just naked skin for everyone to stare at. I don't know why it surprised me so much - anyone/thing can be objectified. I guess I'm just so used to women being the target that it stunned me a bit to see guys on the other end.
So when Chicago NeverSayDiet reader Claudia emailed me about a story on “gay-fat” that had appeared in that day’s Red Eye (a miniature version of the Chicago Tribune), I was intrigued, to say the least.
First, a primer: According to UrbanDictionary.com, “gay-fat” means:
A gay man who does not have a gym-perfect body, but rather carries a body fat percentage in the 12% - 20% range. A man who is considered gay-fat within the community would likely be considered athletic, physically fit and in-shape within the greater cultural context.
In the Red Eye story, author Jason Steele (real name or porn name?) explained that guys can now “slim your gut and hide your moobs with Spanx For Men--provided you are willing to give up $60 and your dignity”. But, he points out, very few straight – or heavy – men are going to rush to Nordies to snap up a Cotton Compression V-Neck. Rather, it’s the “vain gay men who already are in great shape and want to accentuate it--those Abercrombie wannabes who think they are overweight because they only have a six-pack stomach instead of the now requisite eight-pack,” who will likely be sporting the tops.
That’s because, as Steele eloquently points out, it is possible to be straight-thin but gay-fat. At 6 feet tall and 175 pounds, the author himself admits he’s considered thin by the straight community, “but the minute he steps into a gay bar he is met with screams of terror… Just as women are faced with airbrushed female models on fashion mags, gay men are smacked with a barrage of unrealistic body images. Open any national gay magazine or local publication geared toward the gay community and you will see ridiculously buff men.”
Now, I don’t dare Google Image “male magazine gay-fat” because only the good Lord up above knows kinds of needle-in-eyeball emotional trauma that might cause. But having lived in the heart of Chicago’s gay community, I can definitely see how the concept of gay-fat could pose a threat. Many different tightly-knit communities have specific notions of what constitutes “the perfect body” – from African villages that send women to fattening farms to fashion designers that consider 5’11”, 115 lbs “too fat.” (Granted, the men who lived very out and about in Boystown, or communities like it across the county, are not necessarily representative of all gay men. Just like there are straight men who like thin women or curvy women, there are gay men who like thin men or bigger men.) And any time you’re immersed in a culture that praises a specific body type – particularly if it’s a body type that isn’t naturally yours - you’re gonna feel a bit like crap. So in this way, gay men may be our biggest body image allies, for they know the frustration of never being able to measure up, the pain of gazing at airbrushed ads and thinking, “Why don’t I look like that?” There isn't just gay-fat, there's dancer-fat, model-fat, Olympic ice skater-fat, rower-fat, gymnast-fat, couture-fat, Victoria's Secret-fat...
So go hug your gay boyfriend and tell him he’s beautiful…then ask him to do the same for you.