| Muscles and Mascara
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.
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
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.
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
bodybuilding contestants and titlists advertise in gay-solicitation
columns, even on billboards, as "personal trainers," "escorts,"
and "models," often euphemisms for prostitution.
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.
brought bodybuilding more clearly into the realm of gay
performance than the recent emergence of a new gay man,
the effeminate bodybuilder.
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
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.
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
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
Los Angeles, California
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Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.