Really Thin Guys: Cruising at the Intersection of Narcissus and Adonis

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Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.

There’s an adage in homo-culture that states “the gym is gay church”. While it’s a tongue-in-cheek statement, it’s also darkly ironic. There’s an unspoken expectation among gay men that physiques be toned and muscled or slim, trim, and spryly sculpted. At a time when obesity is at an all time high, many even within the gay community assume that LGBTs are just as overweight as the average American.  Observe what’s happening around you— both in popular culture and with personal connections—and you’ll likely unearth an unspoken epidemic.

Gay and bisexual men have normalized body obsession to the point that eating disorders are an accepted and unnoticed way of life. Most would assume that body image issues and unhealthy eating habits plague heterosexual women. Though little research has been done on this topic in regard to men in the LGBT community, evidence does exist to give this issue weight. Sporadic studies with startling statistics, a few books that touch on the topic, and a documentary that focuses on gay body image do exist. Understanding eating disorders within the gay community, though, requires examination on multiple fronts. Personal stories need to be told. Research needs to be put into perspective. The facts need to be absorbed into the larger prism of gay identity.

Though worship of the gods from ancient Greek mythology ceased thousands of years ago, the chase for Adonis and the reflection of Narcissus are modern venerations of the gay community. Immortalized for his undying youth and brawny splendor, Adonis didn’t just attract the eyes of Persephone and Aphrodite. In the dance club, at the gymnasium, and on a stroll in the park, a gay man’s gaze is always cruising for his contemporary incarnation.  Absent Adonis, Narcissus comes knocking. Though legend says he drowned reaching for his own reflection, gay culture has resurrected his vanity. For many gay and bisexual men, each gaze into the mirror is a summons for his spirit. We all want to fall in love with the reflection staring back at us. It’s at the intersection of pursuit and desire that Adonis and Narcissus come back to tango…and we’re in search of the dance club!

There’s a certain mythology to our own lives.  What starts out as fantasy quickly collides with reality. I survived the ordeal of being at war with my own body. I count myself as a wounded soldier in the body wars. I had an intimate encounter with anorexia nervosa. I’m lucky to have survived its abusively fanatical embrace. In searching for Adonis, I became Narcissus. Ultimately, that ordeal lead me to question why so many gay men have a kamikaze obsession with being thin. At the time, though, my fixation was on being noticed by men—and my 22 year old, 6 feet tall, 240 pound self just wasn’t getting the glances I desired!

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Too many gay and bisexual men are staring into pools of their own demise right now.

In the next few posts, I am going to tell a very difficult story from my past. I’m also going to relate it into larger issues about the present health crisis in the gay community. Eating disorders an an epidemic and we need to start talking about them. I hope these posts start a conversation.

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