There are a lot more pressing problems in the world right now than the physical condition of my body. A pandemic out of control, black lives matter, a fascist-wanna-be president, Netflix options running out — the list goes on.
So it might seem odd, then, that I even bring up the subject of my physique, which is, incidentally, in decline. At best an example of extreme narcissism; at worst, a severe case of white privilege. “David Toussaint’s lamenting about his extra COVID pounds? I’ll try to shed some tears in between dodging cop bullets and fighting off this six-week-long virus while I search for employment. Thoughts and prayers.”
But here I am, naked in front of you (ironic wording, ain’t it), dissecting what the end of my body means in the grand scheme of gay things. Thing is, it’s both about my body and every body. As my build goes so goes a generation of gay men, sculpted pioneers, defined not by our marital status or pronoun preferences or “tribe” association, but by the shape of our stomachs. We’re dinosaurs out there now, holding onto our Speedo’s like Confederate statues, pulling out our guns like it’s the end of the second amendment world.
You see, young lads and lasses and every they in between, New York back in the 80’s and early 90’s, Manhattan mostly, Chelsea specifically, gave birth to a new breed of man (who, incidentally, wouldn’t dare do something unsafe like “breed”) determined to rock the world off its socks. Our bodies weren’t just our temples (hardly, as drugs and alcohol poured into them over weekends), they were vessels to gay-topia, a place where men could marry men and politicians would live among us, and viruses wouldn’t topple over our self-reflective mirror monuments. Can you imagine such a place?
We were going to make it into the mainstream, finally, and that meant looking the part. Sissies were for sissies. We resembled the same men we dreamed about growing up, our idols, the winners, and if we were Stepford Clones it was as armor to prove to a doubtful world that we could be as conservative as anyone else, that we could fit in, re-create the image of every macho man in history. Even if it was just a hat trick. Madonna was our role model because she, too, was a sexual degenerate, but one who debased herself in the commercial realm. Against all odds she made it, and survived it. As far as tragedy goes, we were so over it.
Our bodies were like the streets we now occupied — straight up and down and rigid — and they replaced the curvy uncertainty of the Greenwich Village roads of the 1970s. We wanted lines, formation, war. They called us Chelsea Boys, a phrase that, within it, contained both sarcasm and envy because we looked straight until we spoke or opened up our behinds. It was advanced regression: We wanted to be called boys to compensate for years of our counterparts being lucky enough to be objectified and called girls. Why couldn’t we have the same obstacles as women? Nothing made us happier than to be whistled at.
Lots of gay men today have fantastic builds, but it’s no longer a prerequisite to perpetuate the species. You can live anyway you want to, god damn it, come up with your own label, ignore the Insta-Gays altogether. They’re no longer in charge and don’t call me baby.
So those bodies, our bodies, my body, are the last of the Greatest Gay Generation and should be respected as such. We gave up our lives and lovers and carbohydrates so you could be free to post unkind comments without remorse. We cared so you wouldn’t have to. Once we experience physically decay, it’s the end of something wonderful and lovable and sentimental to the core. Something, ironically enough, full of depth. Having a great body in the age of AIDS was never about superficiality; it was about being in charge of the one thing you could control: your stature.
As for 56-year-old me, personally, I never had muscles on muscles, never took steroids or supplements of any sort, but, since 1987, spent more time at the gym than I did anywhere else besides my day job. I looked the part well enough to succeed in this life. The gyms in my area were both church and high school, and if you didn’t belong to one of them you were sacrilegious and a drop-out. For 30 years I’ve had a chest that entered a room before my eyes, biceps that connected me to the upper classes. I’ve had a tribe, I just didn’t lead it. Fire Island has always greeted me with a smile even if I’m seated on the back of the ferry. There’s a lifeboat with my name on it.
With a new pandemic comes a new quandary. Is it time to say goodbye to body beautiful for good? A lot of my peers retired years ago, resting on their laurels (literally), and enjoying the two free hours they now possess each day. Some of them even go to the Museum of Natural History, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves at the Roxy. It’s tiresome, these workouts, what with muscle fatigue and plateaus and injuries and that extra pound that comes on each year and endless fads and diets and competing with those young straight guys who, with the exception of their voices and opening up their behinds, are far gayer than we ever were. And now COVID and no gyms and those stupid bands that end up slapping you in the face before taking up permanent space in a closet once occupied by you. In the name of Cher is it all a sign? There’s no U-Haul on a hearse and no space for dumbbells in a coffin. It’s going, my friends.
Rhetoric is the name of this paradox game, because I don’t have a choice but to say goodbye with flair. One day you want to look like a dad, next day you’re a daddy, then you’ve got a dad bod, then you either have children so you can be a dad or you write gay-bod articles so you can dispense fatherly advice. I hope I chose wisely.
In the end-time, I’m gonna do my best to enjoy the new shapes, the physical highs and lows that often orchestrate the mental moods, those new bulges that guys often, and oddly, find attractive, and that, if attitude-ed correctly, almost look like you intended them to grow that way. Until I can no longer work out those muscles that I worked but never used for actual work, I’ll hang on and have fun. I’m gonna stretch the stretching. So don’t worry, my fellow compatriots and any young-ins listening in, ultimately, and with the weight of the world not giving a damn, I have every intention of exploiting everything that’s still available. Bottoms up!