The “gay community.”
For many individuals who are first coming out, the gay community is romanticized as a place where they can find love and acceptance. And yet, unless you are a white, “masculine,” cis-gendered male, the gay community can be anything but a welcoming, safe social sphere. However, as raised in previous posts such as “Picking the Rose” and “The Matching Hypothesis” perhaps one silver bullet to cut through the dominant power structure and gain acceptance is to have a ripped bod, with chisled abs and firm pecs. For better or worse, physical attraction holds enormous influence on whether one is deemed worthy of attention in the gay community. And attention becomes a stand-in for acceptance.
Of course this “acceptance” is based on external attributes, a shaky foundation to place one’s self-worth once those looks inevitably fade. But one can argue that “looking the part” can serve as a gateway tool, attracting initial interest from others so that they are invested to learn more about one as a person. In fact, I would say that all of us, to varying degrees, have modified our appearances to societal norms of attractiveness. So where do we draw the line? At what point does “body positivity” become a privileged statement, where some are blessed with the right genetics to transform themselves to match an “ideal” beauty standard but others cannot?
How do we balance the tension between recognizing we should embrace being ourselves and the pressures to conform to a discriminatory, looks-based ideal?
After all, it’s easy to say that “looks don’t matter” and that “personality and content of character are more important” but in practice, reality is more nuanced than these noble goals.
I’m curious to hear what others in the Community have to say on this matter.
To my sensibilities, questions like this require one to
answer three distinct questions. First, why do we find certain bodies
attractive? Second, to what degree should anyone derive self-worth from
another’s evaluation of his or her physical appearance? Third, what messages
does conformity – or a deliberate lack thereof – convey to others?
We doubtlessly find certain bodies attractive. As an
example, most gay men would likely enjoy photos of other men with chiseled
six-pack abs, suggestive v-cuts, and sculpted pectorals. When queried, many
would probably explain their attraction in terms of evolution. However, I think
we should be cautious of justifications for behavior that find their defense in
reference to “nature” or “biological programming”. To do so greatly
underestimates the degree to which attractiveness is a social construct and
casts the subject as something that we cannot – and, arguably, should not –
Had this conversation occurred in the nineteenth century,
we might argued about the problematic nature of that time’s fashion for men to be
tall and slim to the point of wearing corsets. Back in the Renaissance, we
might have recoiled at men who did not have the flawless
skin so widely depicted in the time’s paintings. Perhaps we might have
obsessed about ways to achieve the leanness embodied by Hermes
had we lived in ancient Greece. What is “attractive” for men
is no less artificial than
what it is for women, even if it is much less at the fore of our minds.
If we can agree that a large part – though certainly not
all – of what makes someone visually appealing is societally conditioned, then
we cannot deny the power we collectively have to shape and question the values
presented. There is undoubtedly a cost to not conforming in any matter –
whether it be our sexuality, our ethnicity, or our physique. However, just as
the solution is not to violently
reject it in the manner of Jacques, neither is it to obey without a
critical and thoroughly reasoned inquiry as to why we want to conform, what we
want to gain from it, and the consequences thereof.
While there are numerous physiologic benefits to making
the gym a four-times-a-week ritual, I am doubtful of the longevity of any
psychological advantage vis-à-vis appearances. Sure, one could look at the
mirror at age twenty-five and purr, but what happens at fifty? I think it
requires us to be truthful – perhaps uncomfortably so – with our motivations.
Are we primarily concerned with reeling in the next boyfriend or do we see it
as an investment in ourselves independent of the evaluations of whoever is on
Moreover, we should be conscious of the potential
psychological harm we may unwittingly inflict on ourselves. If the halo effect causes others
to evaluate us more positively, then it is conceivable that their interactions
with us might color their perceptions of our behavior in ways that result in
long-term harm. If we are obstinate, do we want people telling us until we are
forty that we are merely “principled” because of our dazzling looks? If we want
to enhance our writing, do we want others to tell us it is “fantastic” when it
is not because they want to date us? The halo effect can create attributional
ambiguity, but it also has the subtle potential to deny us the honest
feedback necessary for self-improvement at a stage in life where we will be
most open to it.
Finally, we should ask what messages our actions might
embody in the eyes of others. If one enters “gaysian” into the Tumblr search
bar, the results overwhelmingly feature people in jock straps, underwear, or
revealing swimsuits. Doubtlessly, there is a benefit in having Asian men
control their own image and portray themselves in a way that mainstream media
usually refuses to. However, we must ask if – overall – we have gone too far in
the direction of accidental exclusion based on looks rather than a productive
redefinition that benefits all members of the community.
Even if we do not post scandalous selfies, we must not
deny our own small culpability in spreading detrimental ideas. Just as it may
seem inconsequential to throw a plastic bag out the car window, so too do our
likes and reblogs seem trivial. When confronted, we should not deny the
potential benefits of either plastic bags or having Asian men – gay or not –
subvert norms. However, we should also humbly accept that we contribute, at
least indirectly, to both the Great Pacific
garbage patch and the current troublesome state of “gaysian” on Tumblr.
“Gaysian” is not
you. It is not me. It is we.
When addressing issues of body image in the gay and gay asian communities, I think there needs to be a larger discussion on body dysmorphia and the persistence of eating disorders (Slate article).
There are real implications on why gay men continue to achieve a socially constructed ideal body image. Where does this line start is up for debate, but I think it begins when we start viewing our bodies as something to perfect for others, rather than for ourselves.
For me, this is the differentiation of having a healthy and happy lifestyle that I continue to work at for the betterment of myself. A corollary to this is when we seek affirmation from others through selfies, etc. (are we doing it to make ourselves feel better based on the number of likes we get… which therefore is doing it for others…?)
Anyways, there’s no one way to look or be gay and asian. we are all part of this community (socially constructed, and all). we should be proud of each one of our contributions to this wonderful mish-mash of body types.