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The Outfield: Bodybuilding and beyond
The Outfield: Bodybuilding and beyond
by Dan Woog - SGN Contributing Writer

When author Benoit Denizet-Lewis began researching _America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life_, he wanted his book about addicts to include someone from the LGBT community. In "Todd" - a 40-year-old addicted to steroids and crystal meth - he found a complex character: a Bisexual bodybuilder with a sideline as a male escort. Todd took Denizet-Lewis into a world where sport and sexuality mix warily. Issues of body worship, homoeroticism and self-esteem - never far from the surface in any athletic endeavor - are magnified in the hyper-masculinized arena of male bodybuilding.

Denizet-Lewis - a Gay man and former athlete who chronicles his own sex addiction in the book - admits, "I didn't know a lot about bodybuilding before I met Todd. But I had a friend who was into it, and I've always been fascinated by that culture."

As he got to know Todd, Denizet-Lewis realized that "a lot of Gay men struggle with body image. Many of us think that our body is not big enough, toned enough or perfect enough." At the same time, some Gay men - and a number of bodybuilders - engage in contradictory behavior: using steroids to get bigger, and party drugs that make bodies smaller.

In his book, Denizet-Lewis says, "I wanted to explain why Gay and Bi men have higher rates of addictions." Part of the reason, he says, stems from growing up in a culture that teaches Gay boys, at an early age, to feel ashamed. As a result, he says, "we learn how to compartmentalize, lie, pretend, and not share ourselves with others. It's no surprise we become addicted to things."

The bodybuilding world, Denizet-Lewis discovered, is "very interesting. Most bodybuilders identify as heterosexual, but many of them do escort work on the side." Some have only one or two clients to supplement their income; some only pose nude for men with muscle fetishes, or allow themselves to be touched but do not reciprocate. Todd escorts full time, and is an active partner.

Christian Matyi, who is both a bodybuilding coach and competitor, describes his sport as an outgrowth of American society. "Every little boy grows up with an imprint of being a bodybuilder," he notes. "Whether it's catalogues like Abercrombie & Fitch or pro wrestlers rolling around, boys see an image of maleness that makes them want to look like bodybuilders."

In his book Denizet-Lewis says that Matyi never used steroids, but was drawn to bodybuilding while recovering from an addiction more than a decade ago. Thus, Matyi recognizes Todd's addiction, and calls it psychological. Steroids make a person feel "powerful, dominant, unapologetic," Matyi says. That helps them project confidence during competitions. It also explains, in part, how they can engage in escort work - as the object of muscle worshippers - regardless of how they identify sexually.

Matyi bristles at the implication that bodybuilding is an athletic manifestation of a sexual fetish. But he knows it's there - and that it contributes to the sport's somewhat sketchy image. "Some people have helped give bodybuilding a bad rap," he says. "Of course lots of young guys are attracted to the idea of bodybuilding; it's a chance to be strong, heroic, and express your sense of masculinity.

"But when they get involved without someone to help them navigate the sport, it's not long before they stumble on all sorts of criminal and tawdry sexual elements. With that kind of association, of course they're apprehensive."

The internet, Matyi says, has "helped fuel the myth that bodybuilding is Gay. If you type 'bodybuilder' in Google, many of the sites that pop up are sexual fetish sites. And in our culture, if anything seems even the slightest bit Gay, then it's automatically deemed contrary to being a man, and that freaks out a lot of young kids. Kids are trained to say, 'Keep me far away from Gay stuff, it will feminize me.' God forbid, right?"

The gay media shares part of the blame, Matyi notes. "Bodybuilding is no Gayer than football or tennis. Sports are sports. But the Gay media has helped sexualize it. Bodybuilding is Gay in mythology, but not in reality."

Yet Denizet-Lewis sees an upside to bodybuilding's emphasis on looking good - and to the addictive personalities it seems to attract. In his research on addiction he has met a number of people - Gay and straight - who used drugs and alcohol in their teens and 20s. As part of their recovery process, they began taking care of their body. The endorphins released by exercise - and the positive reactions these people received as their bodies grew leaner, tighter and hotter - fueled a cycle of even more exercise and working out.

"In sobriety, that becomes an addiction in itself," Denizet-Lewis says. "A healthier one, but an addiction nonetheless."

Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.

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