Thursday, April 11, 2013

The gym, the gay best friend, and performative sexuality

So. I'm still going to the gym.  I'm enjoying it again and I'm going regularly.  Tonight I went to a new class, Sh'bam.  It is described on the Les Mills website thusly:

Featuring simple but seriously hot dance moves, SH'BAM™ is the perfect way to shape up and let out your inner star - even if you're dance challenged.
Set to a soundtrack of chart-topping popular hits, dance music that is heard in the hottest nightclubs around the world, familiar classics remixed and modernized Latin beats, SH'BAM™ is the ultimate fun and sociable way to exercise. Each 45-minute SH'BAM™ class is vibrant, unique and varied - and like all the LES MILLS™ programs, a new SH'BAM™ release is produced every three months with new music and choreography.

I thought it might be fun.  It was on at a time that suited so I went.  Now it probably isn't for me, although it was a decent workout, but there were a couple of things that really stood out for me during the class, that aren't what people would associate with a gym class.

The instructor we had is either gay or straight and camp.  For this discussion it doesn't matter whether he is gay or straight, what is relevant is how people read him.  Now, I've had a few male gay friends over the years.  I've read women's magazines, I've seen the films and the TV shows and I've seen how people react to men who read as gay or camp.  There's this concept of the 'gay best friend'.  In popular media the gay best friend is usually a supporting character, who helps the straight woman out with her romance problems, is flamboyant, a great dancer and dresses well. Often they are seen as non-threatening and just like a woman, but better because they are a man.

Then I see straight women in real life around gay men.  And the gay man is perceived in a certain way, they are perceived to be the same as the fictional characters on the telly or in the books.  And it strikes me that the women are treating the gay man as a commodity.  As an idea, not as an individual.  They all want a gay best friend, and they want them to act in a certain way.  They don't care about the individual.  They want the concept.  And sometimes it seems like they are fawning over the gay man, and vying with each other for his attention.  And I wonder why is a gay man afforded more (temporary, assumed) status than a straight man, or a straight woman, or a gay woman?  Or a bisexual woman or man.  What is it about the gender relationships and power balances that drives some women to want a gay best friend as opposed to a friend?

The whole thing is insulting it commodifies gay men and reduces them to their sexuality and an idea, a package.

And I see the women in the gym acting in this way with this instructor.  And it frustrates and saddens me.  Now this is not to say that the instructor is displeased with these women.  It's not to say that they aren't genuinely friends.  But it still saddens me because I think the relationship is riddled with subtle homophobia.

As for the performative sexuality part.  Well, the class was opened with the sentence, 'what happens in sh'bam, stays in sh'bam'.  I wasn't aware that I was signing up to a secret soriety, but that sentence seems to put forward an idea that the class is an exclusive club.  Then throughout the class there were women posing and strutting and checking themselves out in the mirror.  Now, the class is meant to be fun, and silly, and it is based on 'the hottest dance moves', but what I didn't anticipate was something which was encouraging us to shake our arse, our boobs and act like we were the sexiest things on the planet.

And that's what I mean by performative sexuality - I don't want to do that in the gym.  I'm there to work out and to get fitter.  I'm OK doing all that in a club (especially if I'm drunk), but at the gym I don't want it.  I'm not comfortable in an atmosphere that encourages you to perform sexuality, unless it's in a club, and even then sometimes I just want to cut loose and not give a fuck about being hot.  I don't want to have sex and sexuality creep into every area of my life.  I'm not a prude for saying that, I just think that there is a time and a place, and it is not in a gym.

A few months ago I was waiting to go into a CX Worx class.  It's to strengthen your core and improve your abs.  It's good, but it is bloody hard work.  Anyway, before this class there was this 40 something dude and his mate also waiting.  And 3 women in our 20s/30s.  The 40 something dude started the conversation by commenting about the Les Mills name - he doesn't know how to pronounce it. But he was leering, and insinuating that pronouncing it 'Lez' (not 'Lay') would be funny, and why would anyone have a name pronounced 'Lez'.  Which is incredibly childish.  He seemed to want us to join in with him.  We didn't.

One of the women explained how the class worked, what it did and why it is good.  Then he started saying that all of us lovely women didn't need to to work out, and he doesn't think any of the women here need to exercise hard.

I'm sure he thought he was complimenting us, but what he was actually doing was commenting and judging our bodies.  I don't want my body judged at a gym.  I don't want it judged by a  stranger.  I don't want it's attractiveness measured up.  The only possible way I want my body measured at a gym is to discuss how to get bigger muscles.  The other women were either giving nervous titters by this point or just doing half smiles.  I was probably glaring.

The thing is, he asked about the class, but really wanted to talk about our bodies.  he wasn't interested in what the women were saying, just in his own views.  Prick.  I was very pleased to see that he didn't cope very well with the class.

And that's my gym update.

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