As many of you know, the LGBT Pride season has just drawn to an end. Originally, the timing of Pride festivals was set to commemorate the Stonewall Riots that took place on June 28th, 1969. However, in many communities, Pride has ceased to be a political rally and celebration of newfound liberties and freedoms; it has instead become a commercialized event referred to by some as “the gay Christmas”. In these commercialized Pride events, political advocacy and visibility of organizations focusing on such diverse queer-oriented topics as health, parenting, religion, and community centres has taken a step back in favour of highly sexualized corporate sponsorships. Trojan and Viagra (Pfizer) lead the way in parading large numbers of scantily-clad men (and probably some women) through the streets of the city, advertising their products.
“Ok, ok, so what’s the point? What does this have to do with body image?” you must be wondering. Well, a lot. Pride is a time to celebrate who we are and the relationships that we can now have in public, not in hiding. Sex is a part of Pride, because it was precisely the puritanical values that shamed sex that kept us in the closet for centuries; this is the time to celebrate the end of institutionalized puritanism. So yearly we celebrate our “gay Christmas.” But what are the messages we are sending about this pride? The aforementioned scantily-clad bodies are all perfectly sculpted and often hairless. Twinks (a term used to describe skinny, young gay guys) walk around in underwear, while most of us fear rejection or scoffing should we decide to remove our shirts. We are excited to see the near-nudity of “perfection,” but yet we know that this “perfection” belongs to someone else, not to the majority of us. There is a constant struggle to feel physically good enough; consequently, the “pride” that we celebrate in this type of event doesn’t include all of us. In this environment it is hard to be proud of our own bodies.
The term “Body Image” was coined by Paul Schilder to refer to the way we perceive our own bodies in terms of sexual attractiveness and desirability. This is key to my argument. We, the Rainbow Community, come together but once a year to celebrate ourselves. We are a diverse group of people who may have few interests in common the rest of the year, but during Pride season we unite around one banner. Nevertheless, we have created an environment that fosters insecurity amongst our members. People look with judgemental eyes at those who are not deemed “perfect” while we place physical perfection on pedestals. 45 years ago we started a riot for the right to be ourselves: for drag queens and trans people to be able to wear clothing that society did not believe to be “gender-appropriate” and for all of us to publicly love whomever we please. Yet now we cannot celebrate Pride as we are. What’s more, we have no one to blame but our own community.
So what can we do? Well, we need to take Pride back. Pride is not about being proud that models can walk through the streets; I’m pretty sure no one was ever arguing about that. Pride is about being proud of who we really are. It’s about loving ourselves and believing that we deserve to be loved and appreciated without reservation and without pretending. We can remind revelers that corporations do not hold the monopoly on our pride and that the porn industry does not determine the canon of beauty. There is a place for everyone in my community. Physical attraction or lack thereof is subjective and does not determine someone’s value or worth in this community. I am proud of all of the expertise, conversation, shared interests, sense of family, and kindness that stem from this community. Our community has an amazing power to create families that is unequaled. Many of us have lost family through our coming out process and it is the Rainbow Community that rallies together to create new families and support our own. This is, in my opinion, the Pride we should be celebrating. Let’s all make a place for ourselves and our loved ones in Pride next year.
This is but the beginning of my examination of body image in the gay male context. There is so much left to be said, but I needed to start somewhere. Fear not, more is on the way.