How do men’s bodies inform their GBTQ identities?
In the Seinfeld episode “The Apology,” Jerry Seinfeld becomes incensed when his nudist girlfriend bars him from also walking around naked in their apartment. When Jerry later asks Elaine, “What is wrong with my body?” aside from “chicken-wing shoulder blades,” Elaine claims that naked just isn’t a good look for a man. While the female body is a “work of art,” the male body is “utility” and simply meant for “getting around–like a Jeep.”
While this may seem like an affront to the male form, what this exchange really depicts is the rigid conventions that both men and women’s bodies must conform to in order to fit society’s expectations. Of course in reality, when a woman’s body doesn’t resemble a Greek statue, or a man’s body isn’t utilitarian, then Elaine’s model of physicality very quickly falls short of being true.
These problems of identity are pertinent within the LGBTQ context, where gender is highly politicized, and the body has become a canvas for political statement. Acting in a world where societally accepted gender models predate gender equality, LGBTQ-identified people must on a day-to-day basis negotiate these engrained gender models, often forced to walk a balance between marginalization and self-expression. As a person who doesn’t necessarily fit into them, how does one position oneself in relation to these outdated models? And what does that positioning say about a person?
With those who identify as men, it is almost essential we return to Elaine’s model of a man: rugged, capable, and physical. This is Hercules, the Marlborough Man, and James Bond—a model of masculinity
that seems to be as old as time, and an image that men around the world aspire to emulate. In the GBTQ world, he goes by different names—beefcake, muscle bear, gym bunny, college boy, jock—and his form is sought after through exercise, tanning, food deprivation, hair removal, body modification, steroid use and surgery. When does gender conformity become unhealthy in the pursuit of traditional masculinity? Where is the line between gender expression and gender performance? How does the media choose to represent the GBTQ man’s prototypical body? How does a GBTQ man with a disability express masculinity when traditional models of masculinity favour exaggerated physical ability? And must a trans man conform to antiquated, seemingly destructive images of masculinity in order to be fully embraced as a man?
It is the mission of m.bodiment to pursue these questions of masculinity in length, and to deconstruct traditional notions of masculinity within the GBTQ context. You are encouraged to join the conversation here, on our forum, on social media using the hashtag #mbodiment, or by becoming an mbassador and adding flexibility to what it means to be a man.