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Letter to Councilman LaBonge
Real People as Fictional Characters
Female Actors, Part Two
One Culture Hero Award
Adelante Gay Pride Gala
Best Work of Fiction?
Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator or Enslaver
Lying Writers
Review of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
Promiscuous Thoughts
A Crime of the Heart
A Letter to Michael Silverblatt
"Have you no decency, sir?"
Political Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans
He Hugged Moms and Dads
What is a Girly Man?
Review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
From Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive
The Gay Mammies
A Writer Protests
Review of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
A Spirit Preserved in 'Amber'
The Supreme Court Case
Review of "Live from Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal"
Review of "Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951" by Christopher Isherwood
Review of "Out For Good"
Review of "Hoyt Street: an Autobiography"
Review of "Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict"
Review of "Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation"
Review of "Whores for Gloria"
Muscles and Mascara
Review of "Blonde"
Brother Paul, Sister Jan, Brother Hinn, God and the Folks
Advice to the Next Generation
Sins of the Fathers
Beatin' Around the Bush

Cruise Not Gay! The Judge Has Spoken

The Horror, The Horror
LA--a Cliché?
Dominick, Mark & Orenthal
Holy Drag!
Ms. Hill & Mr. Tom
Mrs. guy Ritchie 
Supreme Court 
Tom Cruise 
Eminem 
New Times Article 


  
  
  
  
  
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Muscles and Mascara (Continued)

     There's poetry in bodybuilding. In magical synergy, muscles grow out of confusion that results when they are forced to perform "unnatural" motions with increasingly heavy weights. Alerted to such repeated assaults, they become stronger and larger in order to cope, achieving miraculous rhythm between breakdown and rebuilding. "Muscle memory" allows idle muscles once trained to sprout quickly. The barbell is the catalyst for recaptured "memory," not unlike tea and madeleines in Proust's search for lost time.

     Top bodybuilders know their bodies as intimately as a painter knows hues, a writer the nuances of metaphor. Scholars flaunt their intellect, writers their prose, artists their art. Why, then, disdain a sculpted body? But, too, why deny its gay implications?

     The two questions link to provide one answer. The sculpted body is disdained because it is widely perceived by the general populace as being in the domain of gay males, and the entrenched denial of that fact by its top practitioners and the magazines that record their performance forces it into a limbo as a kind of sweaty, roustabout sport (like wrestling!), thus denying its aesthetic overtones and thwarting its correct placement within the realm of other exhibitionistic arts, like ballet, acting, modeling. 

     Indeed, from its humble beginnings in dingy high-school basements--droopy sheets employed as contest backdrops--bodybuilding has always had a heavy gay context. Some early bodybuilders became famous figures in the gay world. Bob D., the owner of a well-known gym on Hollywood Boulevard--outside of which he often recruited young men--specialized, with his recruits, in livening up a gay party. Nude photographs of Jack LaLanne in his prime were favorites among gay collectors. The "Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy" of early gay porn did everything but sing. A Mr. America sponsored by several wealthy men enjoyed a brief career in gay porn, until he was "born again" and renounced his earlier life. 

     Today, many bodybuilding contestants and titlists advertise in gay-solicitation columns, even on billboards, as "personal trainers," "escorts," and "models," often euphemisms for prostitution. 

     Although the vast majority of competitive bodybuilders proclaim themselves to be "straight"--Mr. Olympia competitor Bob Paris is an exception--and although muscle magazines perpetuate the charade that they are involved in a strictly heterosexual sport certain revealing intimacies are allowed to participants in the activity. Preferred exercises often seem to mime sexual acts. In the gym, while "spotting," one man straddles the head of a prone lifter--to lend nominal support in handling an otherwise prohibitive weight. During "donkey raises"--calf exercises--a helper may mount the buttocks of a bent-over lifter--to add resistance to the move. During the near-orgiastic frenzy of "pose-down"--when makeup is permitted--finalists on-stage (wearing "trunks" that are much like the posing straps of old) press quivering bodies against sweaty tensed bodies. 

     Nothing has brought bodybuilding more clearly into the realm of gay performance than the recent emergence of a new gay man, the effeminate bodybuilder. 

     When some of us began working out with weights back in the 60's, our trained bodies stood out among gay men. Today, hundreds of muscular men populate gay arenas. Many of these men exhibit new defining characteristics. As they walk, there is a bit of a swish now and again. It may be caught just in time, but often it is allowed, and refined expertly. A wrist may melt. Although it may be quickly rejected by clasped fingers, just as often it is left to wilt. A deepened voice cracks into a shriek of "You go, girl"--and it may deepen again, or sustain its high pitch. Faces glow with tans enhanced by bronzers. A touch of subtle mascara is allowed. This out-of-the-closet muscular figure has become as identifiably gay as drag queens and leather queens. 

     Gay-male porn performers have long influenced, and powerfully so, what physical types are to be sexually idealized, and, therefore, imitated--and the influence of pornography on gay culture extends far beyond those who watch it, even strongly determining the types of models that populate "straight" male-fashion advertising. Today, those "masculine" prototypes of the "new gay man" are paradoxically being shaped in major part by a giant drag queen named Chi-Chi La Rue, the pre-eminent director of gay pornography. 

     For better or worse, this queen of high drag--who would, sadly, be ostracized from the turfs she depicts, refused entry into the very bars, bathhouses, and orgy rooms that her movies celebrate--is able, through her star-making power as a director, to set the standards for "stud-dom" among the very men who would reject her sexually, especially within the dead-serious domain of leather she often records. Replete with puffed wig and mascara-drenched lashes, looking uncannily like Divine, she is often photographed laughing triumphantly. 

     With all its contradictions, denials, and incongruities, the world of sculpted bodies--extending from competitive stages to street theater to pornographic images--possesses a gaudy splendor, an aggressive allure that, whatever its intentions, ends up celebrating a distinctly gay sensibility; and it's entirely possible that the prime manifestation of the world of sculpted bodies will turn out to be a new grand creation already shaping, the proud and elegant muscle queen. 

John Rechy
Los Angeles, California
March 1998

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