The body beautiful comes under Christopher Hines’ thoughtfully balanced lens in his latest documentary that gets up close and very personal with gay men in America.
The allure of tight skin, meticulously crafted muscle (religiously sculpted by iron; dangerously “enhanced” by steroids) and frequently standardized “looks” undoubtedly combine to bring queer men together to celebrate their attraction and, occasionally, actually learn their instant partner’s last or real name.
As many of those interviewed alluded to or, in the case of the psychiatrists, dermatologists, therapists and trainers (who try to keep their clients’ inner and outer selves looking great), state in various ways, just coming out and heading to the gym is not enough to secure contentment, much less find enduring love. Having been jeered, bullied and ignored while coming to grips with their sexuality, once on the team, a different kind of systemic isolation can drive many average-looking human beings to the depths of despair.
With all manner of media constantly reinforcing the notion that buff bods, perfect complexions and a package that says “open me first” set the baseline for an image to emulate at any cost, it’s no wonder that so many gay (and a growing number of heterosexual) men can barely look themselves in the mirror much less feel comfortable in and out of their skin.
Hines finds models, strippers, go-go boys and gut-rich bears who have all experienced the pain of either fading looks and the onset of wrinkles (no worries, bring on the Botox and skin fillers—the latter, ironically, developed for the facial ravages of People Living With HIV/AIDS) or the ghettoization endemic with a waist size over 32.
Happily, there are also some suggestions for escaping the shallow end of the circuit-pool parties. How refreshing to sit in on a naked yoga class where the instructor and his much senior student unselfconsciously stretch and shape their limbs just as they are. The longest nude sequence in the film (only a brief visit to a porn set—where the desire for fresh, er, faces, gives most models a two-year shelf life—looks beyond the hundreds of designer-underwear and miniscule-swimsuits that tease as much as their owners) is a breath of fresh, au natural air. Clearly, the inner joy of self-acceptance is able to trump poster-boy envy.
Longstanding Titan Media porn star Dakota Rivers readily admits his on-screen persona “has more sex than I do.” The “whitest Mexican in the world,&lrquo; Rick Esparza, an enthusiastic member of a non-professional hockey club in Atlanta, allows “I never try to fit in.” Willowy model Clint Catalyst (with a marvellous makeup sequence that magically employs loose chains and spray paint to conjure up a compelling cover visage) has moved miles away from the persecution of small-town bigotry to moulding his admiration for the likes of David Bowie into a personal statement that can be truly savoured.
By journey’s end, there is much hope that the queer amongst us will be accepted first by themselves, then by their peers and finally by the world at large. As commentator-comedian Bruce Vilanch points out, the ultimate male physique has been deified and envied since the original Olympics where competitors never had to struggle into skimpy spandex.
Still, as positive as the overall tone is, the recent brutal gay bashings in New York City remind queer and straight men alike just how pathetic and deadly the mix of ignorance and aggression can be in the “stronger” sex. JWR