By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
It started with the clone. Crew cut, plaid flannel, faded button-fly Levi's with a sandpapered crotch. And let's not forget the unfortunate mandatory upper-lip hair. The clone begat the polo queen (button-down with sport shirt underneath, collar turned up), who in turn begat the act up punk boy (button-down with frayed collar, ratty corduroy jeans), who begat the prototypical gym bunny, early versions of which would by now resemble the proverbial 98-pound weakling.
Somewhere in this time line AIDS happened. And the prevalent iconography of (largely white) gay maleness took an unfortunate turn. Wifebeaters gave way to wheelchairs. White-tipped canes replaced strategically displayed keys. Cachexia took over from sculptured cheekbones, and looking "gay" became synonymous with appearing sick and sad.
Then the medical semimiracles came along. Combo therapies brought to a halt the ugliness, the lesions, and the disappearing people. By coincidence, the drugs some people used to arrest wasting syndrome turned out to be a great way to accumulate muscle mass. The hormonal supplements you'd normally associate with Steve "Stone Cold" Austin or the Undertaker went into wider circulation; there wasn't a gym south of 23rd Street where someone didn't know someone who was "stacking" on steroids. Briefly there was even a beefed-up drag queen who ironically adopted the name of a popular supplement. She called herself Diana Bol.
It was about this time the mid '90s, say that the body style favored by a certain group of gay men entered a new phase of evolution. Partly it was a reaction to AIDS; it may also have been a wrinkle in the consumerist pathology dictating that bigger is always best. But a flat stomach and an attractive pectoral arrangement were suddenly insufficient. Every halfway decent ween has those. If a guy wanted to be seen as bar bait at the Boiler Room or Splash or the Lure or G, what he needed was corrugated abs and a rack.
This won't come as news to anyone who's visited the quaint Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, where certain blocks have long given the appearance of being populated exclusively by bendable action figures. So entrenched in Chelsea is what performance artist Ron Athey once called "titty boy culture" that a weekday crowd at Big Cup can often resemble a casting call for a Wonderbra ad.
By late August, a good part of this population decamps to a small town on a barrier island 40 miles east of Manhattan, a place whose boardwalks and sand dunes form a littoral backdrop for the ongoing theater of white gay maleness in the late 20th century. Was it surprising that the Advocaterecently designated this place the number one gay resort community in the country? Not really. When it comes to per capita pulchritude, the Russian River or Provincetown, or even South Beach, doesn't offer much serious competition to the Pines. "At some point," says writer Chris Moore, "the best-looking gay guy from every hometown in America, the beauty star of his high school, winds up standing in the Pines Pavilion." This one small beach town is, in a sense, says Moore, "a Miss America pageant," with testosterone and masculine pronouns added, a place where "all the contestants are grinning and pretending to like each other, but each one wants to be queen."
¤ The contestants will be wearing hip-slung nylon surfer shorts. They will have V-shaped bodies surreally free of fat. Their tans and teeth and body hair will be perfectly even. They will be waxed and clipped and buff. "I do a lot of groin grooming," for Pines residents, says electrologist Peter Dabal. "I do front and back waxing. I clip the shaft of the penis so it drapes longer. I shave scrotums and wax perineum, anus, and butt." Dabal charges $55 for an hour-long depilation session and claims that his clients consider it money well spent. "They look masculine and clean, but not pissy. If your body is together, there's no reason for their groins to be a mess."
As an archetype of manly vigor, the Pines guy may be almost too good to be believed. It's a quirky irony of life there that a sizable percentage of these robust specimens owe their beauty not to natural selection but to a disease. "It's gotten extreme," journalist Steve Bolerjack, a longtime seasonal resident of the Pines, says of some locals' abuse of prescription steroids. "The fact is that a high percentage of guys here are [HIV] positive and able to get steroids easily. For some of us, it's a medical and not a vanity issue; I'm on testosterone therapy myself." But among the unanticipated side effects of combination therapies for HIV and AIDS, Bolerjack says, "is that protease inhibitors can increase your vascularity and testosterone and steroids can increase muscle mass. So, if you work out, you can really get so pumped up you wind up looking better than you ever have in your life."
You see them on the ferry dock each weekend evening, magnificent specimens pulling little red wagons filled with cranberry juice, Diet Coke, bottled water, and mesclun from the Pines Pantry, the town's sole grocery store. You see them on Saturday morning working up a prebeach pump at the Pines gym. You see them afterward, "promenading in the sand," adds Bolerjack, and again in the early evening at the Pines Pavilion's tea dance, which is no dance and takes place well past tea time, from eight to 10.