Toronto
3 min

Buff no more

I sincerely hope nobody is buffing up for Pride. It’s such a cliché and an empty one at that. You hear people talking about pumping up for Pride but they say it in the same way they cry and cringe about the number of calories in a piece of chocolate cake minutes before wolfing it down. It’s an important ritual but largely rhetorical.

Besides if you’re using the words “pumping” and “Pride” in the same breath, you know you’ve left it too late. Three-minute workouts aside, fitness takes time. The only people who are going to be “ready” for Pride are the ones who spend seven days a week at the gym all year round — and how boring is that?

I stopped doing the weight thing a couple of years ago and I can’t say it’s made much difference to my sex life. After years of thinking I’d never be able to stop — not in my 70s, not in my 80s! — because that way lay certain decrepitude and sexual decline, I realized I just didn’t care. A combination of a slow-healing shoulder injury and major ennui made me rethink the program. After a certain age, I realized, you don’t look muscular with weights; you just look kind of ropey.

These days I stick with a bit of yoga, a bit of cardio and a free-floating palette of crunches and whatnot. The verdict is mixed. Friends say I look skinny, but strangers don’t seem to care.

It helps that I’ve always liked skinny guys myself so there’s relatively little discrepancy between who I am and what I want. Gay guys tend to confuse the two and it can really warp your self-image.

Years ago I met a skinny little guy who was both very cute and very sexy. Sometime in our admittedly short acquaintance, he announced that he was too skinny and was going to start working out. He described himself as a “runt.”

Puzzled, I tried to explain to him that it was exactly his runtiness that I found appealing. If he got too big, I wouldn’t like him anymore.

It didn’t work. He stuck to his viewpoint and I to mine. But ever since I’ve been convinced that the very things we dislike most about ourselves — a runty physique, a big nose, a bald head — are often the very things that other people find most attractive. Calvin Klein ads to the contrary, human desire is not uniform.

Working out can sometimes help. In fact, everyone should probably work out seriously at least once in a lifetime. Aside from the obvious health benefits — and who in our vain little world pays any attention to those? — exercise can produce some interesting shifts in self-image.

For me, the highpoint of my unnaturally prolonged weight-lifting career probably happened sometime in 1991 at one of the legendary afterhours underwear parties on Richmond St W when, for the first time in my life, I took off my shirt with ease and alacrity. I was chuffed. I fondled everyone in sight and went home with the hunk du jour.

The thrill, however, lasted no more than a summer or just long enough for me to realize that guys with hot bodies were no more likely to stick around than anyone else. As the proto-fag character in the 1944 thriller Laura says to the young woman who is about to leave him for a better-looking but less sensitive guy: “Laura, you have one tragic weakness. With you, a lean strong body is the measure of a man, and you always get hurt.”

I try not to discriminate against muscle gods. There’s a couple of pint-size models I wouldn’t mind touching, but I’m happy to leave the responsibility of looking that way to them. After all, it’s a lot of work and I just want to do them, not be them.

The best cure for an out-of-whack body image, though, is good old-fashioned experience. I used to be terribly self-conscious as a kid and not because I was ashamed of my body per se. I couldn’t take off my shirt in public because I thought of it as just too flagrantly sexual (ah, male nipples!) and I couldn’t imagine being that brash.

But I got over that real quick once I came out and started sleeping around. Casual sex can be therapeutic that way. After you’ve been naked with a couple of hundred dozen men, you just don’t care anymore. Either they like your body or they don’t, and if they don’t somebody else will. Which isn’t to say you won’t get wobbly knees in the presence of a particularly desired Other, just that with luck you’ll preserve your perspective.