Blonde bombshell, and RuPaul's Drag Race finalist, Courtney Act is a singing sensation. A recent transplant from Australia, Courtney lives in West Hollywood, a part of Los Angeles that's heavily populated by the LGBT community. World-renowned gay bars like The Abbey are located there with pulsating beats and dancers with body fat in the single digits. Bringing her vocal abilities to a new single, appropriately titled "Mean Gays," Courtney targets the disproportionate beauty culture in the gay and bi men community. Through the pop dance beats there is a clear message of Courtney's personal struggle in the queer community.
In an era with sex on our fingertips, literally just a swipe away, we have seen an increase of beauty culture that has required Adonis-type bodies to be deemed attractive in the queer community. In an interview with Out magazine, Courtney discussed body image in the gay community:
Gay men have all sorts of body image issues, which I definitely know now living in West Hollywood. Facebook is just white, topless, muscular gay man after muscular gay man. For years I was clinging to this image of a man -- I wanted to look like a DNA underwear model. And I remember struggling with drag because I wanted to be more masculine, but then I also respected Courtney and wanted her to be the main focus, because my passion for drag was so strong. I was always trying to be a bit more butch in the bedroom, and I literally felt myself going, 'Hang on, he's into women; you shouldn't be butch.' And I wasn't going to be feminine either because then I'd feel strange as well. In these moments, I'd be like, I don't know; it does not compute. It was only recently that I was getting intimate with someone, and I just realized I was completely comfortable with being a feminine kind of boy. Like, "Oh, you know, you don't have a six-pack and you're not an underwear model, and that's okay." It was a nice little moment for me.
Courtney is reiterating what many of us in the community already know. The largest queer media platforms have been washed to look as conventionally beautiful, white, muscular gay men. Nightlife posters plaster single-digit body fat percentage forms and even the political world opts for homonormative conventional gay couples. Courtney's revelation of self-acceptance is a feat that not many accomplish as our own queer media encourages unfair body standards.
We all know that LGBT people face higher rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety; a variety of mental health issues due to the microagressions we face on a daily basis. But something we don't talk about enough is the higher rates of eating disorders our communities face as well, especially in the queer male identified community.
Gay guys with abs are only friends with other gay guys with abs.
— Calvin (@aurosan) May 27, 2014
The national eating disorder organization says that "gay men are thought to only represent 5 percent of the total male population but among men who have eating disorders, 42 percent identify as gay." A lot of this can be attributed to the rejection of coming out or the pressures of being in the closet. But is the queer community doing anything to help those who have dealt with these body image issues? Aren't we doing more harm than good by encouraging such strict body expectations?
There's a key difference between encouraging people to be healthy and encouraging to fit a certain body mold. From my own experience as a bisexual man in the queer community, the encouragement seems to be emphasized more so on how I look. I know my experience isn't unique.
Psychotherapist, and gay man, Matthew Dempsey released a video on queer men's body images. A fit man himself, Dempsey discusses the real and harmful body image issues that plague our community.
When we do heavily invest in our experience, it can actually be counterproductive to our sense of self-worth and our ability to connect to others. Literally staying on the surface can be easier because it's not as tender as the deeper and more complex emotional issues that we all struggle with. Since things like beliefs and feelings are so abstract, project those issues onto our physical selves gives us something we can tangibly fix. The problem here is that we're only scratching the surface; and treating the symptom, not the issue.
The problem is not only that we as queer men are projecting body images onto ourselves but also that our queer media is influencing it as well. A friend who recently went to one of the large circuit parties told me:
It's incredibly narcissistic. I mean, I'm attracted to men who look like me, so if I get a better body I get to be with guys with better bodies, too. When planning on going to this party, the last few months revolved around getting ready for this party by working out twice a day and eating absolutely no carbs. You're going to be half naked in a sea of men with amazing bodies and you don't want to feel self-conscious because gay men are viscous.
In a community that faces rejection every day, we are now finding ways to reject each other and this time it's due to our personal appearance. We have become the same bullies we faced in our younger years. Our emphasis shouldn't be placed on our bodies but ourselves as persons; As powerful, strong queer individuals. We need to start celebrating and affirming all of our bodies, our community is diverse and it's time we embraced all of it.
*This is the first installment in a series dissecting beauty culture in the LGBT community*