Asian Gay Men's Bodies
Drummond, Murray J. N., The Journal of Men's Studies
Contemporary males are being viewed differently than they have in the past from a range of perspectives. The culture in which males now exist places far more scrutiny on the aesthetic attributes to determine one's masculine identity. In the past what a man could "do" with his body often defined his masculinity not only to others, but also to himself (see Connell, 1983). However, in a culture that has commodified the body as a marketing and iconic figure, the way in which a man looks in terms of his physical stature and muscularity plays a significant role in his outward and personal masculine identity (Drummond, 2001, 2003; Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000). Indeed, both academics and the popular press acknowledge the notion that men's bodies are being scrutinised more than ever. However, the popular press, with its broad appeal, has identified men's body image concerns as a heterosexual men's health issue when arguably it is gay men, immersed in an aesthetic-driven culture, who are most susceptible to body image concerns (Boroughs & Thompson, 2002; Lakkis, Ricciardelli, & Williams, 1999; Siever, 1994; Silberstein, Mishkind, Striegel-Moore, Timko, & Rodin, 1989; Williamson, 1999).
Gay men exist in a culture that is heavily aesthetically oriented (Beren, Hayden, Wilfley, & Grilo, 1996; Dillon, Copeland, & Peters, 1999; Herzog, Newman, & Warshaw, 1991). A gay man's body and overall "looks" play a significant role in determining his cultural status and sex appeal to other men. The look of his body has the capacity either to attract or deter potential sexual partners; such is the image-driven gay culture. Undoubtedly, the body becomes a central point around which young gay men develop and ultimately exist. Much of the focus is centred on the body's looks, its ability to function, and its capacity to fulfil a dual role in which the men often live separate lives--that is to say, a gay life and another one that allows them to "blend" into the heterosexual world. This can be an extremely difficult duality for many gay men. However, for males growing up in masculinised cultures, it becomes a further challenging predicament.
This paper is based on in-depth interviews with six young Asian gay men. Each provided life historical accounts of their difficulties associated with body identity and masculine identity growing up in masculinised domains. Some have had the opportunity and capacity to identify their sexuality to their parents. However, others have masked their sexuality through masculinised veneers. The men have all been a part of a specific counselling service dedicated to young gay Asian males in South Australia. The men discussed their plight at having to look a certain way for the gay culture and yet look and act another way for their parents and the culture into which they were born. The men's stories provide valuable insights for health promoters working with young Asian gay men around sexuality, body identity, and masculinity in a challenging masculinised environment.
Data for the study derived from a series of individual in-depth interviews with gay men aged between 18 and 25 years--with institutional ethics approval. A cohort of six Asian gay men were among the participants and have been selected for this paper to highlight specific cultural issues these men confront with respect to body identity and masculinity (the full study is reported elsewhere (see Drummond, 2005). Prior to the individual interviews, a two-and-a-half-hour focus group interview was carried out with a cohort of gay men of the same age group and from a variety of cultural backgrounds. As a heterosexual male from an Anglo-Australian background, I undertook this initiative in order to develop a sense of the issues impacting young gay men from a variety of perspectives and to assist in the construction of the individual interview guide.
Potential participants became aware of the project through the Bfriend e-mail network, which has more than 500 subscribers in South Australia. …