There is often a comical overlap in the worlds of gay culture and gym culture, but does that overlap exist for a reason? And would modern-day gym culture even exist without the gays?
San Francisco gym culture
You can’t talk about gay culture without looking to San Francisco, a city that was home to some of the most significant LGBT rights movements in history. In its day, San Francisco was a haven to an LGBT community that had not yet become accepted, and the gym was a significant part of gay men’s culture.
In the 1970s, gay hotspots such as Polk Street, Eureka Valley and the Castro were full of so-called “young men’s clubs” that were places for young men to go and workout, hang out, and comfortably walk around the locker room in the nude without any repercussions. (Try not to start singing the opening of YMCA.)
In addition to the YMCA, there were famous clubs like Solarius, Apollo, Muscle Systems, The Pump Room, City Gym, Market Street Gym, and many many more. Without these safe spaces, would gay culture have had the freedom to grow and connect like-minded individuals in a world where admitting you were gay was still met with fear, hate, and violence?
The impact on health & fitness
Is it any wonder then that there was such a strong emphasis placed on gay fitness? In a world where gay men predominantly met and socialised in the gym, it’s no surprise that hook up culture would quickly, and very obviously, favour those men that were fit and buff.
The 80s and 90s also saw the HIV/AIDS crisis spread like wildfire throughout the gay nation, quite possibly intensifying this pursuit of health and fitness.
A fantastic article in the San Francisco Bay Times commented that gyms became an integral part of gay culture, right down to changing pick-up lines.
Instead of approaching someone with lines like “What’s your sign?” or “What do you do?” it became more common to ask, “Where do you work out?”
Muscle Boys: Gay Gym Culture
So how does the gay gym culture from the 70s persist in this new millennium? Personal trainer Erick Alvarez surveyed nearly 6,000 male gay gym goers for his 2007 book “Muscle Boys: Gay Gym Culture”, and he broke down the responses into 6 subgroups of gym bunnies:
1. The Muscle Boy – 18 to 40-something-year-old men who do not strongly identify with other gym subcultures
2. The Older Male – Gay baby boomers who frequently work out
3. The Poz Jock – HIV-positive men who, as Alvarez writes, “use the gym and exercise as an important aspect of managing HIV and AIDS”
4. The Athlete – For these men, the gym is a cross-training tool that serves as an extension of their sport(s)
5. The Circuit Boy – These guys train hard and party hard too
6. The Muscle Bear – “Big, burly, and strong as hell,” Alvarez writes
Do you find yourself fitting into any of these subgroups, or has gay gym culture managed to evolve even further in the 10+ years since the book’s publication? With gay marriage now legal here in the UK as well as many countries around the world, could we develop a subgroup of gym husbands, those couples who workout together before brunch on the weekends?
Alvarez believes that distinct social groups and trends will continue to emerge out of gyms, spilling out into the rest of society. We have had a decades-long relationship with gyms that, for better and worse, will continue far into the future. “Simply put,” Alvarez concluded, “in urban America, being gay comes with a gym membership.”
Gay Personal Trainers
Whatever your relationship with gay gym culture, if you want a little help getting in shape, you might benefit from working with a gay personal trainer. They can design a training and nutrition program to suit your individual needs, and be on hand to help coach you towards your goals.
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