New York gay about town and Barneys creative director Simon Doonan just sold a manuscript for a diet book called Gay Men Don't Get Fat. While this is true, the real reason why gay men don't get fat might not be the most marketable message.
I'm a little upset at myself that I didn't think of this idea first. Doonan's book seems to be a take on the best-selling book French Women Don't Get Fat, which makes an argument that if you follow the culturally ingrained diet and lifestyle of a French woman, you too can be skinny, fabulous, and look good in Chanel. The advice from French woman (and millionaire CEO) Mireille Guiliano is cute, fun, and witty.
Doonan's advice will probably be equally cute, fun, and witty. The book is supposedly, "a stylishly slimming discourse that proves gay men really ARE French women: prone to disdain, favoring cheeky underwear, convinced of their own artistic brilliance, and (of course) calorie-obsessed." Clever, but where does that obsession come from? The advice as to why gay men don't get fat isn't as palatable.
There is only one thing that keeps gay men in shape: fear. Yes, every gay—at least those of the stereotypical abdominal-obsessed physique that populates Fire Island and Palm Springs—is brought about because gay men are afraid that they will be alone for the rest of their lives. If a gay man is not "serving body" while competing to find a trick or boyfriend in one of the more muscle-bound climates of gay culture, he will be sorely shut out. That is why gay men don't get fat, because if they don't have pecs, guns, and glutes, they're going home alone.
Gay men, unlike their straight counterparts, don't have the luxury to stay in "fighting shape" just long enough to find a partner before letting their bodies fall to shit afterwords. No, gay men have to get buff, get married, and stay buff. Why? Because of three-ways, obviously. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: There are countless committed gay couples out there who like to either play on the side or invite guest stars into their beds. And you're not going to get any A-list guest stars if you're giving D-list torso with a four-star gut. Yes, gay men go to the gym to stay competitive, but since the man-eating marathon doesn't end after marriage, they just keep on competing and competing until death do they part.
The funny thing about the gay competition is that, because men (especially of the gay variety) are so visually stimulated, the only piece on the chess board that matters is having that traditional lean body. If straight men are lacking in some area, they usually make up for it by becoming rich or powerful, things that some women (see: Real Housewives of Orange County) find just as attractive as a washboard stomach dusted with natural body hair. But for gay men, only body will do. If a gay guy is a little short, his solution is to go to the gym. Got a shitty job? Go to the gym. Busted in the face? No biggie! Head to the gym and no one will look above your neck. Totally shy and doesn't socialize well? Gym, baby, gym! A good body is the only currency in this game.
What also makes this unique for gay men is one of the other strange quirks of homosexuality. Gay men are attracted to, essentially, themselves. No straight man wants to look like a woman (and certainly not the reverse) but gay men find what they are physically attracted to and often remake their bodies in the image of their ideal mate. Since society tells us to want muscle-bound athletes, that's what gays want, and that's what they make themselves look like in the pursuit of their ideal. If you want to bed muscles you have to have muscles, if you want to land a twink, you better be a twink (or at least some other type that is easily cast in any gay porn movie).
Still, gay men come in all shapes and sizes (embrace the rainbow, people) but still gay culture and iconography is largely dominated by the same juiced-out body type (and awful tribal tattoos) that you'd find on Jersey Shore. While there are plenty of average-physiqued homosexuals (who barely merit mentioning) there has been a reaction to all this body fascism over the past so many years. Yes, the "bear" movement, spearheaded by gay men who are hairier and chubbier than average, is forever gaining steam. Mostly it's because these guys gave up on the regular competition and decided to host a competition of their own. Theirs, instead of relying on protein shakes and bicep curls, relies on barbecue ribs and beer guts. These men only socialize (and sexualize) with other men that are as big and burly as they are. While they might be reversing the normal aesthetic ideals of gay culture and American culture at large, they still discriminate just as much based on physicality as their circuit party-loving brethren.
Doonan is trying to capitalize on those skinny gay men of legend, but what governs them and governs the bear is really the same thing: fear. Many gay men spend their adolescence as outcasts or misfits, and when they finally get to a place where they can join the gay culture at large, they react to their years of social solitude by conforming with the sort of fervor usually reserved for packs of teenage girls. That means looking the part, which, of course, means joining the gym and becoming a regular. It has nothing to do with being healthy or looking good, it has to do with that deep-seated fear that one day you will wake up and it will be just like high school all over again, with people hating you or picking on you for being different. Never again!
That middle-of-the-night terror is not an easy thing to teach, and it's not really the kind of advice that you can slap a sassy cover photo on and get millions of people to pay $22 for. Most gay men get it for free, and now, with this book, you too can be a pariah for years, then enter a conformist culture of casual sex and glistening bodies, followed by a lifetime of hookups with your significant other and the waxed dolphins you pick up on Grindr. That's the secret of how gay men don't get fat.
For me, well, I'd much rather be French.
[Image via Shutterstock]