Bob Paris – Sports Heroes: Physique – Brief Article
The former Mr. Universe shares his thoughts in an exclusive essay for The Advocate
I used to be a muscleman. Not anymore. I left bodybuilding behind six years and 40-odd pounds ago. I won the Mr. Universe competition 15 years ago. It’s even been a couple of years since my last indirect contact with the sport, when I wrote Gorilla Suit: My Adventures in Bodybuilding, a memoir driven by a postcompetitive perspective. Yet bodybuilding remains intertwined with how I am seen as a man.
Twenty-one years ago I began to train with weights. A year later I accidentally stumbled across the sport of bodybuilding. My teenage life was careening toward oblivion. I was a jock-artist-slacker-stoner-theater geek, but beyond all that I was a fag. Given the time, place, and so forth, self-destruction seemed–at the very least–entrancing. Where no true-identity romance was possible, a slow dance with nihilism appeared magnetic. And along came bodybuilding, pulling me in with a new way to fight against the downward spiral of life’s gravity.
Eroticism did not draw me to bodybuilding nor keep me there. The intersection between this particular sport and my young queer self came about because I was desperate for something–anything–that would lend focus and discipline to a fractured identity, and at that moment bodybuilding resonated. I fantasized that I might be able to blend and satisfy both my artistic and athletic sides. Perhaps it was also natural for someone whose innate identity was so misunderstood to latch on to a misunderstood sport. Those are the only intersections between queer and bodybuilding in my life–well, aside from the fact that it was also the place where, nine years ago, I crossed the line that separated out from out.
I came out to myself when I was 20 and within a couple of years covered the other three bases: family, friends, coworkers. I was out everywhere but the media. Then, after watching some of the bigger magazines heterosexualize me by omission, I crossed the line. Nine years ago I said in Ironman magazine, “I am gay.” Nothing’s been the same since.
The men who run big-time bodybuilding love to pretend that it is only for straight people. An openly gay champion complicates their efforts to overcome the old 1950s myths that said all bodybuilders were queer. The day I crossed the line, I went from being successful and commercial to being difficult and out of shape; at least, that’s what the sport’s yes-men said. In essence, I could be out, just not to their readers.
I stayed around to compete for two years after my media coming-out. I didn’t want to do it and then run away. My final direct contact came when the man in charge let me know that he no longer had any use for me. His loss. Big-time.
I have no regrets. I am proud of the work I did in the sport that saved me. I might not be a muscleman anymore, but I will never forget the way bodybuilding helped me to become the man I am today.
Former national and world bodybuilding champion Bob Paris is a writer and motivational speaker. His latest book is Generation Queer. A Gay Man’s Quest for Hope, Love, and Justice.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Liberation Publications, Inc.
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