Looking actor Russell Tovey’s controversial remarks to The Guardian set off a firestorm in recent days – should an effeminate gay man be celebrated as they are or ‘toughened up’ so they can fit in? – and rightfully so. But though the actor quickly apologized via Twitter (where else?), one aspect of his story is also worthy a closer look. Here’s the quote in question:
… I’d see groups of lads, even in a pub, and I’d feel intimidated…The pack can sense you’re weak. It made me so frustrated. And going down the gym, discovering the gym three years ago, and really going for it – I feel a lot more in charge. I needed to exorcise that feeling of being a little scared, skinny rat.”
How many gay men have turned to the gym, to muscle-building and sculpting a perfect body -- just as Tovey (shown here in a pic a reader sent to Attitude) described -– believing that was gay life’s Holy Grail? And how many just as quickly use those new-found muscles as justification to bully, demean and dismiss other gay men, especially on Grindr, Scruff and other online dating apps?
It’s a fascinating parallel Universe of sorts, with no easy or definitive answers. But does Tovey really look down on skinny, effeminate gay men (which he himself says he was) as some inferior species gone wrong, an attitude widely shared on many of those online dating/hookup profiles? Is hitting the gym and becoming ‘hot’ really a gay man’s only salvation? Or is being loved as you are the far greater solution, as Noah Michelson wrote so eloquently in the Huffington Post?
Not everyone’s lucky enough to have that kind of unconditional love, of course. And going to the gym is an empowering, healthy choice. But the pervading belief that hitting the gym, bulking up, and then passing for ‘hot’ as the go-to solution for a traumatic childhood of bullying – basically the gist of the Guardian article -- has to evolve. Period.