Men’s Fitness Magazine, Hypocrisy and The Gays’ willingness to take it on the chin.

I’ve been involved with the fitness industry in one way or another for all of my adult life. I worked for many of these for Les Mills which is a gym company whose founder and namesake famously voted as Mayor of Auckland against council support for their “Hero Parade”, which celebrated the LGBT communities in that region at the time. Thus I have long been acutely aware of the hypocrisy of the fitness industry in relation to the legions of gay men who populate the gyms, buy the supplements and read the magazines. In the New Zealand vernacular this attitude goes something like “I don’t mind them as long as they don’t shove it down my throat”.

Fair enough, I guess, none of us really wants to have the sexual orientation of others shoved down our throats. Yet, I’ve had to put up with it for years. I can’t open a magazine aimed at men (yes, indeed I am a man) without having to contend with endless facile pseudo-psychological articles explaining to me how to ‘attract, stimulate, maintain and then offload’ women as objects of men’s desire. In magazines that are fairly unambiguously aimed at the straight guys – no problem – but in the ones that ostensibly are intended for the health conscious gym-goer, it comes to me as an affront.

No need to speak to women, Men's Fitness can explain how to read their minds instead. This is relevant to my fitness how?

Never mind the (inexcusable really, in this day and age) notion of objectifying women and reducing them to some kind of rubik’s cube to solve in order to get a satisfying outcome. It’s the “the lady doth protest too much, methinks” deliberate insertion of these kinds of ‘articles’ into magazines that really have nothing to do with relationships and women that makes me so irate. I don’t think any self-respecting straight guy takes one moment’s notice of these pieces – I don’t think they’re there for that reason. They’re simply there to reassure the reader that even though they’re reading a magazine pumped full of imagery of beautiful young men with crafted musculature and perfect hair and even though they’re being told their skin-care regime is as important as their cardiac health, with the implication that they are obliged to consider themselves as an object of desire, they can still rest assured that the are not gay, nor behaving like a gay, nor any such horror.

And the gays who read these magazines and attend the gyms (and more likely than not pose for the photographs and write the articles), well, we just lie back and take it.

Maybe it’s me, maybe because I work in one of the last bastions of compulsory heterosexuality, but I’ve got to say I’m getting mighty tired of having everyone’s heterosexuality ‘shoved down my throat’.

2 thoughts on “Men’s Fitness Magazine, Hypocrisy and The Gays’ willingness to take it on the chin.

  1. An interesting response to a now very well-worn problem.

    I think there are a number of industries/professions where compulsory heterosexuality is still the norm, and in in each one, The Gays make a certain level of creeping progress from within towards some kind of visibility. The stakes certainly seem to be higher in the fitness industry, because of the importance of exercise and physical fitness in gay culture, and the ways in which many gay men (but not all, obviously) view keeping fit and looking good as an essential part of their sexual currency.

    There’s always a degree of masochism involved in taking on a straight institution (be it a magazine, an organisation, a religion, etc) and shaking it and wanting it to be gayer. Groucho Marx quipped that he’d never want to be a member of a club that would have him as a member, but for many of The Gays, it’s the other way around, and we want in on all the things we’re excluded from. Progress does get made, but it tends to be slow. In general, The Gays (or any minority, really) only start to get recognised when they can identify themselves as a consumer group and start slapping around the Pink Pounds, or when The Gays start running their own organisations. Soho Gym is good example of this – set up and run by a gay couple, with a gay-friendly marketing campaign, and shower rooms modelled on the sets for gay prison
    porn films.

    The case of Men’s Fitness and all those other gay porn mags for straight boys is interesting, because they seem to spend so much time pretending to be what they’re not. Some of us find that quite amusing, and maybe even enjoy reading “against” the declared straightness mags. (Mark Simpson has made a career out of puncturing the sphincter bastions of straightness and exposing the gayness beneath). But if you like your sexuality and your semiotics out in the open, reading Men’s Fitness can be a frustrating experience.

    What’s the solution? Well, putting down Men’s Fitness and opening another magazine is an option. Attitude magazine now has a health and fitness supplement that looks much the same as Men’s Fitness, and it makes no bones (or boners) about who its readership is.

    As for Men’s Fitness and the like, I have some sympathy for their “We’re not gay, we’re just blokes who use moisturiser” stance. Magazines exist by identifying an audience and catering for the received notions of what that readership wants. That usually involves being fairly conservative and not taking too many risks. So if your audience is straight men, putting a cover story entitled “Learn How To Suck Cock Better! Your 10 Step No-Gag Guide!”, you’re likely to alienate your audience, or at least risk alienating your audience, and losing sales. While it would be lovely to imagine that magazine editors want to push the envelope and lead their straight male readers towards a greater understanding of homosexuality, that’s a big risk for any commercial publication to take. To my mind, the only reason that those mags will change is if enough of The Gays who read it start making themselves known and demanding change. Some will, I think. Others will lie low, or just gravitate towards the gay-friendly publications as the path of least resistance.

    I suspect what may be at the heart of your polemic is not the fitness industry or Men’s Fitness editorial policy, but a general frustration at how so much of Straight Mansville is still frightened of The Gays, the ways in which The Gays get marginalised and have to make do with their own institutions (a new kind of aparteid?), and how the The Gays have internalised that “Don’t frighten the horses” mentality and become as good at marginalising themselves as the Straights are. It’s heartening to know someone still gets angry at this stuff, because it does need to change, and it aint going to change by lying back and taking it, as you say. So roar away, my friend, and let the world hear it.

    • First – thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      I agree with a lot of what you say here, and definitely appreciate the encouragement. One thing I’d like to query (love the homophonic possibilities there – oh and the inherent pun in that too) is the interpretation that I’m proposing we introduce items to the magazines that match the fatuous heterosexual ones already there. I’m just as uninterested in reading about oral sex with men as part of my fitness mag as I am reading about the same with women.

      I truly don’t think those articles are there in the Mens Fitness Magazine for any reason except as a way of affirming the magazines ‘heteronormative’ position (ugly term).

      I don’t want ‘representation’ here so much as a respite from having to censor all this protestation of heterosexuality from otherwise-unrelated content in order to not feel deliberately excluded.

      I don’t like the fitness magazines anyway, and in the end the fact that I’ve never spent a cent on one is my strongest protest.

      Maybe I’m also yearning for those early years of my sexuality where I could read men’s fashion magazines without being assaulted by rampant soft-hetero-porn and crass innuendo. I was quite interested in the fashion and felt quite as if I was included in the potential audience for those mags at the time.

      wistful days.


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