By Peter Fox

“I don’t wanna be a bitch, but...” It’s a phrase we hear all the time and mostly it just makes me laugh – largely because you know that whatever comes next will reach epic levels of shade that even Joan Rivers could be proud of.

But we preface our caustic tirades with that phrase because it allows us to kid ourselves that we aren’t so bitchy after all.

Only... we are, right? Bitchy, I mean. Not to shore up gay stereotypes, but isn’t it one of the things gay men are famous for? Throwing shade? And let’s be honest, gay men are nasty to no one more than each other.

Despite decades of progress in gay rights, the world still presents us with some shitty situations and what we ought to be doing is sticking together. And yet on a Saturday night, the gay scene is crammed full of ‘mean girls’ derisively appraising each others’ pants, pompadours and packages. Why are we so mean? Are we so unhappy with ourselves that we can’t resist taking it out on each other?

They say that comparison is the enemy of contentment. To compare yourself with other people is to constantly question your own value – and the idea of comparison is never more relevant than in a gay relationship. You can’t really compare breasts with pecs or penises with vaginas (vaginae?) – but it’s different for us.

When you take your clothes off with someone new, there’s that funhouse mirror moment of looking at a male body that isn’t yours. And it’s inevitable: His abs are harder than mine. His chest is broader than mine. Most fun of all: His dick is bigger than mine. And there it is: your self-esteem takes a sharp nosedive.

Are mean boys just using a diversionary tactic – covering their insecurities by drawing attention to someone else’s supposed shortcomings? Or are we mean to each other simply to boost our flagging confidence? Given media portrayals of masculine beauty – and the gay man’s somewhat understandable penchant for scantily clad boys – I wonder if the answer is all too obvious.

We’ve read countless articles about how skinny supermodels give girls eating disorders, but I think this is increasingly a phenomenon that affects men as much as women – and most definitely gay men. We are presented with utterly unachievable standards and beat ourselves up when we fall short.

One of my favourite authors – the wonderful David Levithan – suggests that all modern images of masculinity track back to one point of origin: the Mark Wahlberg Calvin Klein ad campaign back in 1992. I remember it well as a teenaged boy *crosses legs*.

That iconic image has been reproduced a hundred times with different sets of titanium abs and different pairs of bright white undies, each packing a different (but equally mesmerising) bulge. But if this is the paradigm of masculine beauty, the standard to which we all aspire, who here can honestly say that we measure up? Such images produce in me the inevitable horny half-on... which is always tinged with an undercurrent of shame – because I don’t look that way. And I probably never will.

Gay ideals of attractiveness are often all about extremes. The broadest chest, the hardest abs, the biggest dick. We pigeonhole everyone into ridiculously narrow boxes based on archetypes of bear, twink and otter. But this approach of constantly appraising and cataloguing individuals based only on their outward appearance, of chasing sexual extremes, seems to have made us unwilling to entertain anyone who is – most appalling of all – simply average.

Of course there are always things we can do to challenge our shameful mediocrity. We can work out at the gym and stack on some beef. We can keep our hair neatly coiffed, our skin clear and bronzed, our clothes impeccably chosen and delightfully accessorised. Because these are the ways in which we make ourselves impervious to attack. Our glossy exteriors are the armour behind which we hide – while secretly cursing the things we can’t change in ourselves and hissing at every passing boy. Because attack is the best form of defence, right?

How about we all try and be a bit nicer? I make it a personal policy to compliment people. This is hard for a Brit – and certainly a gay Brit – to do. But maybe if we bolster each other’s confidence a little, offer kindness to someone else, we may even find it possible to do the unthinkable: be a bit kinder to ourselves when we look in the mirror.

Can we accept ourselves and each other? Or are we all doomed to continue chasing the ‘perfect’ man – hung like a brontosaurus and with a personality to match...? It’s a shame that kindness doesn’t release growth hormone. That way, the nicest guys would have the biggest cocks. Maybe then we’d all be a bit more pleasant. 


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