I've never fit easily into classic gay types. I know that usually when someone says he defies labeling it's a case of a big ego refusing to believe its host is so easily categorized, like how Lance Bass (applause for coming out) told People Magazine he isn't gay, he's "also gay," because he's sooo many other things.
But once you're past the "I'm gay" hump, I feel like gay men are not only accepting of labels, they're all about them. It's been my experience that of everyone I've met, gay men are the most interested in ethnic ancestry (how many of them can tell you at the drop of a hat that they're Swiss/Dutch/French as if this explains some aspect of their personalities?), and stereotypes (so much of gay humor involves pointedly remarking on how all lesbians behave, what you can expect from black boys, how many beers it takes to get to the center of a straight man) and, well, roles.
I guess it's the concept of roles, not so much of categories, that I'm talking about, like there are kinds of gay to be. You can be a twink (boyish, barely legal, all-American), a Chelsea boy (musclebound and tan in sexualized clothing, or what twinks turn into when they get older and pass their 100th partner), a leather daddy (if you don't know what this is, you aren't one), a pig (showers are the enemy and all the assholes in the world are not enough)...the list goes on. When I published Boy Culture in 1995, the one part of the book that readers consistently bring up with me is the part where the narrator attempts to outline various gay roles, including that of the clubkid vs. the partyboy.
Rice queen, dinge queen, curry queen—forget the exotic labels, even just plain old top and bottom qualify.
Straight people have types and roles, too, of course, but—and I could be wrong—I feel like gay people in general embrace roles more readily, develop them more ritualistically, take comfort in them more fully. For better or worse. So when I say I've never fit easily into a role, it's more an admission of failure—a king without a castle!—than a self-absorbed shrugging off of my own inescapable sameness-as-you.
But if I don't watch out, I am going to be drafted into a role that I've steadfastly avoided ever since the first hairs appeared on my chest in junior high—that of the bear.
A bear, as I understand it, is a very hairy (check), stocky-to-obese (check-to-not-yet-check) guy who often has facial hair (nope) and who embraces his girth with mirth and considers his shag to be swag for other appreciative bears and/or junior bears, aka cubs. I have nothing against bears. I've been attracted to hairy guys since before I was one. I also have nothing against people who are overweight. I sometimes feel like I've been one since before I was one of those, too—but regardless, I'm probably as attracted to men of some size more than I am to string beans. I've read a lot about bears and I can appreciate the freedom they espouse, and the ability to accept themselves completely in a gay society where youth, fitness and depilation are worshiped.
However, I do not want to be a bear.
For one thing, as free as the bears are, they're not exactly wild. They're still working for a big Russian circus. I think this because: How free are you when you're fitting yourself into a mold in order to feel accepted and to fit in? Stating you're gay is not a role. It's not limiting because as history has shown us, you can be gay in limitless ways. To identify as a bear almost feels like you're joining a cult. Or maybe it's joining you? Bears have rules now. Just like the body fascists the original bears hated so much. Roles breed rules.
But less analytically, just because among the types of men I'm attracted to are the big and hairy does not mean I want to be that type. It's a cliché for divas to say they're gay men trapped in women's bodies—if I'm not careful, I'll be a twink or a Chelsea boy or...somethin'...trapped in a bear's body.
Not counting childhood (fat 100% of the time), I've weighed everything from X all the way down to X minus 53 pounds. When I weighed X, I went to see the movie Heavy (fab James Mangold drama with Shelley Winters, Deborah Harry, Liv Tyler and Pruitt Taylor Vince as an obese loser, or a loser who happens to be obese—whichever makes you feel better about it). In the movie, he is shown on a scale. He weighed less than me. It was comical. At this point in time, people were still frequently telling me I looked good, they didn't detect any weight gain, etc. Over time, I did lose some weight, to about X minus 10. This is not a big achievement as my weight fluctuates by up to three or four pounds from day to day...seriously! Then I got crazy into Weight Watchers and lo and behold, it took. I was maniacal in my devotion to blogging what I ate and actually did learn a lot about food. I didn't need cabbage soup or any kind of "cleanse," and I cheated occasionally and my rapidly shrinking body absorbed it with no worries.
I told myself I'd work out once I hit my goal of X minus 48. But I didn't. Still, I wound up at X minus 53 and looked, for the first time in my history, thin. Not skinny, but thin. Thank God a picture was taken that day. I was very cocky about my progress and felt so much better. All those obese people out there who rave about their plump bodies and state they're happy as they are—I just wonder if they wouldn't be even happier thin. Is this a terrible thing to think? I don't believe it is. I don't look down on anyone for their weight and of course starving yourself to get skinny is gross and foolhardy. But I can honestly say that when I was downright thin, I was fuckin' thrilled all the time. Isn't it just possible to be thin and still be the cool person you were when you were a whale? I think the best thing to be is thin after having been fat. That way, you appreciate how the other two-thirds lives and yet you're healthier and feel better.
Over the past three years, my weight has slowly crept up. It's certainly not going anywhere near X again! But I've packed on 20 pounds and can't avoid acknowledging it. I hate that I let some of it come back. I feel empowered knowing why it came back—I know what I ate and I know that I've been motionless at a desk far too often and for far too long. I think I'll be able to get rid of it again. But the closer to X I am, the more bearish I feel. And the more appreciative looks I get from bears and cubs. (My partner, I guess, is even more uncategorizable than I am and has even more catholic taste as he's been around through my various transformations.)
But speaking of hair, there is another transformation that may or may not take place for me. Several months ago, I was getting my hair cut. I've worn it spiky for years and it was so liberating when I went to that cut from the droopy Leo DiCaprio look in the past, or the gelled-stiff ’80s ’do I rocked well into the ’90s. "Can I suggest something?" he asked. I thought he was going to urge me to get highlights again. "Sure!" His suggestion was that I try Propecia because my always very fine hair looked, to him, like it may be thinning on the top. Maybe.
My grandfather was bald and was teased mercilessly for it by family members unworthy of eating at the same table with him. Yet despite knowing that baldness happens like, you know, shit does, I'd always dreaded the possibility. My head is just too round to look good without that accessory. But he went bald in his early twenties and I'd made it all the way to 37, so I never really thought it could happen to me. It still might not happen to me—there is some debate as to whether I'm losing hair at all. But I was on Propecia within the week. Keep in mind my haircutter is as sexy as any man out there and is balding. Too? But no matter.
Propecia was developed from a drug used to reduce prostate swelling, so it works by cutting testosterone, which apparently causes or can cause baldness. I found this painted a picture—a man so virile that he has all this testosterone is just percolating up to the top, singeing off the hair at the crown of the head...while leaving all that useful back hair full and flowy. This testosterone-choked guy didn't sound any more familiar to me than the bald bear did.
Maybe that's why everyone in Chelsea is bald. It's not that living in Chelsea ups your testosterone output, but maybe having tons of it to begin with leads you to migrate to a place like Chelsea, where it's very easy to find ways of disseminating some of it amongst like-minded friends.
Anyway, if I do eventually go bald, I'll again be turning into someone I would find attractive—bald guys are hot!—but would exhibit characteristics I do not find attractive in myself—I want every hair on my head until a mortician is forced to comb it one last time!
I'll tell you this—if I keep inching toward X and lose my hair, I will have to eat my words about not wanting to be a bear, grow a goatee and beg to join their den.
With all the roles and types and categories out there, it could also be said that there are two kinds of people: The ones who physically transform themselves (which is always a work in progress with no time to rest on your laurels) and the ones who sit back and allow nature to physically transform them. One or the other will inevitably happen. We're not like food mixed up on a dinner plate—you know, "It's all goin' to the same place anyway!" The time we spend on earth before we end up in that same place is important, so the decision to transform or to be satisfied being transformed is major.
So I guess the solution the solution for me if I'd rather not be a bear is to stop eating like I'm about to hibernate for the winter. I have a choice—I can become an accidental bear, or I can become something else on purpose. There's nothing wrong with being or wanting to be a bear, but there's everything wrong with being anything you don't want to be by accident.