I ventured into unfamiliar territory, my palms moist with nervous perspiration, my heart beating a hectic rhythm. For a moment, I thought it might abandon its post and come bursting from my chest. Eyes wide, I assessed the situation into which I had stumbled blindly.
An arsenal of alien contraptions formed a semi-circle in the middle of the room. To the left, a myriad of faces contorted into one grunting, determined mass. Taking in a deep breath and psyching myself up for whatever lay ahead, I walked into a gym for the first time.
When I decided to truly start living my life again and reintegrate into Vancouver’s gay community, I immediately knew I would need to join a gym.
There were many reasons to do so. To experience great mental well-being, I would need to work on my physical well-being. Logically, the two go hand in hand.
Plus, I have also been somewhat fascinated by what some might consider the “gym culture” prevalent in gay society. So like Dian Fossey studying the habits of the gorilla, I made a foray into one of Vancouver’s more homocentric body temples.
Now, I know that body image is something of an obsession in the gay community. Of course, this can be said for many aspects of society, regardless of sexual orientation. Far be it from me to either condemn or celebrate the fact that so much importance is placed on physical appearance. I could hazard a few theories as to why it’s so important to us, but I would rather not bore myself with contemplation.
The point is that as a gay man, I cannot help but ingest the media’s enforcement that a well-toned, muscled body is the epitome of wanton sexual desire. Which is kind of too bad, since I have always felt somewhat self-conscious about my body.
For the longest time, I had what I considered to be the slight frame of a twink. My boyish stature served me well in my early 20s but my, how the times have changed. Now a 30-year-old, I have observed my once speedy metabolism winding itself down, my flat stomach beginning to bulge with the onset of belly.
I am not quite sure what I expected during my first excursion to the gym. I had gone to both investigate the clientele and learn how to use the equipment available. I suppose I was anticipating something along the lines of a meat market: a gaggle of sex-starved beefcake studs sniffing out more tender morsels, a communal shower wetting a dozen bodies dressed in nothing but lather and foam, a series of lurid trysts thinly veiled by the gathering steam.
Although I encountered a few prolonged stares denoting some sexual interest, the gym was not all I thought–or hoped–it would be. Rather than an orgy of muscled gents, the atmosphere was one of hard work and incredible self-discipline. There was little time afforded to anything other than working on one’s own body.
Granted, I had neither the courage nor the audacity to enter the locker room after my first couple of visits.
Forsaking the need to cleanse myself after what I considered to be gruelling workout sessions, I bypassed the men’s room. It had, through my own lack of experience, become a place of legend and speculative rumour. What exactly went on behind those doors? What tantalizing acts may be committed in the blinding steam of the hot showers?
On my third visit, both my curiosity and my need for personal hygiene drew me into the locker rooms. Could I withstand the leering approach of a stranger looking for a good time? Would I compare my own naked frame with that of a well-seasoned muscle man and cower before the majesty of his superior strength?
After a great deal of apprehension and unease, what I encountered could not have been further from what I imagined. Honestly, I don’t know if this came as a relief or a disappointment.
Some men were engaged in cell phone conversations. A few were in the showers, but they barely even acknowledged each others’ presence. The only lurid act to be found was that of an elderly gent picking his nose and wiping it on his towel.
It would be feeble of me to make any grand deductions about what role the gym plays in gay society. Still, at the risk of sounding trite and unapologetically corny, I have to say I believe the gym actually boosts a sense of community by providing a space where we can collectively engage in social activity without the use of caffeine, alcohol or (ideally) recreational pharmaceuticals.
Still, if I am going to find the kinship I am searching for, I know it will be up to me to find my own standard of beauty. I may never become He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe, but I can definitely have a lot of fun watching him while I work on my quads.