Adonis and Narcissus- In Search of the Dance Club

Identity is a myriad of personal circumstances. Though we live in a diverse world, there are certain hegemonic standards we measure ourselves against. Deviation often proves difficult. To embrace being gay, one has to accept the difference within. Unmasking Adonis requires an examination of sexual orientation’s potency. Finding its connection to body perfection is a search for the location to an exclusive dance party.

A 2007 study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health gave credence to the suggestion that gay and bisexual men are at a higher risk for eating disorders than their male heterosexual peers. This is one of the only known studies thus far that zero-in on LGBT populations and eating disorders.  Of the 516 subjects, 15% of the men who identified as gay or bi admitted to at one point suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorders. That’s a full 10% higher than straight men in the same study. It’s also higher than the study’s 10% of lesbian and bisexual women and 8% percent of heterosexual women who reported the same eating disorder issues. While men attracted to men make up a low percentage of the population overall, they appear to be disproportionate members of the eating disorder population. Ironically, a “women’s issues” seems to be tinged in testosterone.

The reasons for this discovery within the gay community are not entirely rooted in association, though. A key competent to this study was the investigation into whether gay and bisexual men with greater connection and affiliation with the gay community are more likely to have eating disorders than those with lax or no ties. Principle investigator Dr. Ilan BLADE. Meyer’s original theory that active participation in gay culture gravitated men toward certain body standards proved inconclusive.

“It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders,” said Dr. Meyer. “One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.”

Adonis and Narcissus dance at another club, perhaps.

“Even gay and bisexual men who participate in gay gyms, where body-focus and community values regarding attractiveness would be heightened, did not have higher rates of eating disorders than those gay and bisexual men who participated in non-gay gyms or who did not participate in a gym at all,” observes Dr. Meyer. “This suggests that factors other than values and norms in the gay community are related to the higher rates of eating disorder among these men.”

Author Tim Bergling explores some of those “other” factors in his book Chasing Adonis: Gay Men & the Pursuit of Perfection. Though not an inherent investigation into the root causes of eating disorders among gay and bisexual men, the text explores desire and questions physical attraction. Bergling interviewed over 200 men to examine how gay society objectifies the male body. The dynamics of Steroid use, body image disorders, gym culture, Internet hook-ups, obsession, stalking, porn, erotic Web sites, and strip clubs are all discussed.  There’s no conclusive reason for why men chase after the illusive Adonis, but a reading of the quotes by the men interviewed reveals some pretty raw truths about body image and physical expectations.

“I’m not fat. I’ve never been fat. Can’t imagine living life like that, especially as a gay man. I’ve seen how we treat fat guys, and it ain’t pretty,” said Brian, an accountant from Tennessee. An anonymous “Bill” put it even blunter. “The gay male is obsessed with beauty and youth, and we objectify and diefy muscles and looks over all else. There is no way brains will ever win out over beauty in today’s gay culture.”

“Working out is like a way of life for me, almost an addiction. I get depressed if I miss one workout and a panic attack if I miss more than that. Some people say I am way too obsessed, but a lot more are always telling me how much they would like to feel my chest and biceps. I listen more to that second group,” said Hawaii model John.

Bergling’s book is notable not for its scientific evidence, but rather for the honesty his subjects offer. Each chapter contains poignant, humorous, and sometimes harrowing accounts of how body-image obsession has impacted how gay men see themselves and their peers. Ultimately, it’s a broad window into the psyche of same-sex desire.

Somewhere inside that consciousness, Adonis and Narcissus dance seductively.

Filmmaker Travis Mathews visualizes collective body ideology in his documentary “Do I Look Fat?” It’s a 70-minute film that follows the stories of seven gay men who have struggled or are struggling with body image and eating disorders. It digs deep into both gay culture and straight society to examine root causes. Themes such as childhood wounding, internalized homophobia, the effects of HIV/AIDS on the body and the prevalence of substance abuse histories are among a few that underscore the film. Perhaps most importantly, the film doesn’t shy away from asking why these common histories have, until now, been left in the proverbial closet at a community level.

The film blends personal narratives with clinical support from several experts in the field of eating disorders including an M.D. of a renowned eating disorder clinic, an art therapist, and a gay therapist who’s battled with his own body image issues. The word “fat” becomes the focal point for how gay men shame themselves and each other. Gay culture is taken to task for its part in promulgating a “one size fits all” narrative. The men interviewed have approached body image differently. Some have suffered with anorexia and exercise obsession, while others have grappled with bulimia and binge eating. Their stories are weaved into the larger narrative of the scope of this issue. While gay men are thought to represent about 5% of the male population, they alarmingly represent up to 42% of men with eating disorders, according to research done by Dr. William Howard at the John Hopkins University School. Each story in this documentary is another window into a problem so easily seen, yet readily dismissed.

“The reasons behind the high numbers are complex, painful, and in part, unflattering to the community, but the alternative to facing them head on is continued isolation and shame, both of which feed our proverbial friend, the closet,” says Mathews. “As I’ve traveled with the film, people continue to ask me how prevalent this is. My answer remains the same: it’s difficult to know with real certainty. Men, both gay and straight, are generally reluctant to seek medical attention for any health related issue, eating disorders being no exception. Our culture feeds this reluctance by its steady framing of eating disorders as a woman’s issue.”

In looking to debunk Adonis, I discovered that silence was perhaps our worst enemy. The common thread in all of the research I found was a universal understanding that there is a problem within the gay community as it relates to body image, but there is also a relative dearth in knowledge as to numbers. The trajectory for tracking this forward remains elusive. The normalization of narcissism as a means to skirt the larger issue of body fascism means our problem exists in a vacuum. If we aren’t willing to confront these fragments of our own shadows, few are going to help us sweep them up.

Cleaning up after raucous revelry is no fun; it’s far more fantastic to continue the Adonis/Narcissus dance party!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: