Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 04 August, 1997

LIFE OUTSIDE:

THE SIGNORILE REPORT ON GAY MEN

By Michelangelo Signorile

Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook


LIFE OUTSIDE: THE SIGNORILE REPORT ON GAY MEN: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, And The Passages Of Life by Michelangelo Signorile; HarperCollins; 315 pages; $25.00.

Journalist Michelangelo Signorile's status as an "authority" on gay life came out of his columns for the now-defunct Outweek, his very successful Queer in America and his less successful Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends, and Coworkers. As a member of ACT-UP and an early proponent of outing, Signorile was thought by many to be a gay radical, a view confirmed by the in- your-face Queer in America. Life Outside, modestly subtitled " The Signorile Report on Gay Men," reflects an older, more conservative Signorile: the respected, and happily married, contributor to Out magazine and several "mainstream" publications.

In Life Outside, Signorile continues the critique of contemporary queer life he began so eloquently in Out magazine. His target is the fast-lane, urban gay life, also known as the "cult of masculinity", the "party circuit", or the "hot boy party life". This, Signorile tells us, is a "mostly white, youth-focused, and often drug-fueled social and sexual gay male scene that is highly commercialized and demands conformity to a very specific body ideal. Its cultural influence and impact are significant, and it affects many -- perhaps most -- gay men, even if they think they are far removed from it".

As a younger man, Signorile was no stranger to discos, drugs or frantic workouts. Now older and wiser, he views the urban gymboy culture as a "homo rocket to hell". Having come out from a world of "enforced heterosexuality," many young gay men (and a few older ones) joined a world of "enforced cult homosexuality, with parties, drugs, and gyms ruling their lives." The "shaved muscle boy aesthetic" led to a system of "body fascism" that glorifies and dictates a "genetically superior" body type at the expense of all others. In order to achieve the perfect body, many men ruin theirs with steroids. The use of drugs --especially Special K, Ecstasy and crystal -- is almost universal at circuit parties and other shrines of this "cult of masculinity". Even worse, "the frenetic lifestyle, the highly competitive body culture, the rampant drug use, and other pressures of the cult of masculinity ... created some of the conditions that kept young men and older men alike from using 'a condom every time' ", leading to a second wave of HIV transmission.

Signorile blames the "cult of masculinity" on "the anxiety about masculinity that has played itself out in ... American culture for at least the past century" and "the sudden, broad-based commercialization of gay sexual culture that came about shortly after Stonewall and the birth of modern gay liberation". It's more likely that the gymboy culture is an attempt by many gay men to prolong their adolescence and delay the inevitable aging process. Furthermore, in a community decimated by AIDS, the buff, muscular body is seen as a sign of health, regardless of the fact that half of those buff bodies are HIV positive.

In any case, Signorile is concerned enough about the consequences of the cult to provide, in an Appendix, with "Six Ways to Deprogram from the Cult" -- a veritable Twelve-Step program for disco queens.

Of course there is more to gay life than the bars, gyms and sex clubs of Chelsea, South Beach and West Hollywood, and Signorile explores them somewhat in Life Outside, the second part of Life Outside. After his in-depth discussion of sex, pecs and drug use at the White Party, Signorile's account of happy, monogamous couples in the suburbs is a bit of a letdown. Not only does sin make better reading than virtue, but Signorile obviously didn't spend as much time in the 'burbs' as he did on the party circuit. Gay men, we are told, are leaving the gay ghettoes in droves, finding through "deghettoization" and "deurbanization" "wider choices beyond the narrow options offered by the cult of masculinity."

One of those choices is marital fidelity, and Signorile goes on to tell us how, through "postmodern monogamy", many couples are creating a domestic world light-years away from the circuit's fast-food sex.

Finally, in "The Death of the Lonely Old Queen," Signorile makes the startling discovery that "older gay men -- men over forty[!] -- once out of the closet, are comparatively content with the quality of their lives."

Signorile's alarm at the proliferation of gay sex clubs and drug-soaked discos led him to join Gabriel Rotello and other gay "leaders" in a campaign against some of the sleazier aspects of gay urban culture, even to the extent of collaborating with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign against that city's sex culture. Though the proliferation of crystal meth and "bareback sex" -- anal sex without a condom -- is startling enough, there are better ways to deal with it than a full-fledged assault on gay sexual freedoms and civil liberties. Certainly a book like Life Outside, though sensationalistic and judgmental at times, goes a long way to acquaint the gay public with some of the worse excesses of urban gay life, even if those who need to read this book the most will never do so.

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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