Wonderland, in its many seasonal variations, is Hawaii’s answer to EDC for its island-bound residents who cannot make it to the continent. Though I have never been, to judge from the social media posts of those who make the pilgrimage, the two share many similarities: catchy electronic music, dazzling laser shows, euphoric substances at every turn, and barely-clothed attendees.
Winter Wonderland is rapidly approaching and an old acquaintance – who I never figured to be the type to attend – broke the news with an Instagram post of protein powder, a shaker, and the comment that there would be “no excuse” for him not to have his body ready for the event. It struck my sensibilities as incongruous. If the event is about the music and community it creates, then what does one’s body have to do with it?
It did not seem like a coincidence that this acquaintance was gay. For a variety of reasons, he stayed away from what one may call the “mainstream” gay world. However, just before I left for DC, he seemed to take a sharp turn towards it. His friends changed, as did his leisure activities. It seemed abrupt for the relatively short – and very slight – acquaintance, who went nearly thirty years without stepping foot into a gym, to go on a workout spree. The thread tying each of these events to his current state is impossible not to see – or imagine.
It reminded me of the power that the so-called perfect body has over many gay men, even among those who should know better. When EDC rolled around to Las Vegas in 2013, I became concerned at how a friend living in California was preparing for the event: skipping meals, working out almost as much as he was in the office, letting perfect be the enemy of the good. When I reached out to him, he confessed that, despite his doctoral degree in social work that should have taught him otherwise, he regularly partook in unhealthy behaviors prior to thing like EDC and LGBT Pride in order to “look the part”.
Whatever the cause for this state of affairs, it makes me wonder about the degree to which “looking the part” is a requirement of “belonging” to mainstream gay culture. At the back of my head, whenever I do anything remotely considered “exercise”, I cannot help but wonder if the bulk of my motivation lies in the desire to be healthy or the desire to fit in – and if I am being honest with myself.
For now, I can continue my usual routine: devour mountains of food, sleep for hours on end, and remain trim despite being a couch potato. However, I know a day of reckoning will come. Lee said, after not-so-subtly checking me out on our first and only date, that he remembered what it was like to be able to do that; he now had to go to the gym and put in effort for what I took as granted. Perhaps solidifying a healthy relationship with my body, one that minimizes its influence on my self-esteem, is the antidote for any insecurities that may arise when my multiple bowls of midnight ice cream come for their vengeance.