Guy Trebay’s article “Babes in Boyland: Pumping It Up in the Pines,” which appeared in the August 24 Voice, prompted an unusually large reader response. Following are some of the letters received in reaction to it.
Out of this World
Very good piece on Fire Island Pines culture. My boyfriend and I have been going for two summers now, visiting a friend who has a permanent home there. We don’t get involved in the party/drug scene, but are continually amazed at how out of control the gay men have gotten— it’s insane. They are like creatures of another planet, landed on FI! Thanks for an
interesting and informative article that sheds light on some reasons why the gay culture in the Pines has lost its mind.
The author of “Babes in Boyland” seems
alternately threatened and envious of men who care enough about their bodies to spend several hours a week at the gym. Considering that the average American watches eight hours of TV per day, going to the gym regularly is not all that self-indulgent. Trebay also exaggerates the muscularity of gay men at the Pines. Any Calvin Klein model has the same kind of musculature without incurring fear and loathing. When I see someone criticizing the gay muscle culture, he’s usually either fat or very thin. Can you say “sour grapes,” boys and girls?
Los Angeles, California
Pigs in the City
Re Guy Trebay’s “Babes in Boyland”: I couldn’t agree more. Chelsea and Fire Island are perfect examples of how much contemporary gay
When I moved to New York at 18 and
finally came out of the closet, I thought, wow— I’m finally going to have a place to fit in. To kids like me in the suburbs, NYC and the Village had a mythic reputation for being a place where anything goes, where you could be who you wanted to be— and be celebrated for it.
Little did I know that contemporary gay culture here would actually be less accepting and more intolerant of difference than the place from which I came. I’m proud to be gay; I’m ashamed of gay culture.
Pecs Bad Boy
It was with much amusement and annoyance that I read Guy Trebay’s “Babes in Boyland.” Chalk up another article to a bitter individual who must find fault with others to feel better about himself. What is wrong with wanting to be physically fit and look good? Should gay men be any different than straight men or women? Why is it that gym-toned bodies and wax jobs are expected, and celebrated, in articles about the Hamptons, but ridiculed in pieces about the Pines? I sense that Mr. Trebay has some not so subtle internal or external
homophobia. The fact is, many HIV-positive men are living longer and healthier thanks
to combination therapy, which often includes the use of steroids.
It also saddens me that people like Mr.
Trebay continue to view the Pines as nothing more than a beautiful place filled with beautiful men. Yes, it is amazingly beautiful. Yes, there are a lot of beautiful men. But beauty, in addition to not being skin deep, is also not found
in a Prada outfit and Gucci bag.
First and foremost, the Pines is a community. As such, it is a place where one can find all shapes, sizes, and types. If all Mr. Trebay
notices are the stacked pecs and the tanned faces, shame on him.
Fire Island Pines
From deep in the plains, Guy Trebay’s story on the Pines came across as written with that droll perspective which that scene deserves. How
interesting that, now that we have become “mainstream” (but only in certain places), the best use of our new position seems to be the pursuit of incredible artifice and empty lives. If that’s the mainstream, I prefer the view from here, thanks.
Guy Trebay does a great job of skimming, then slamming, the surface of the Pines. Maybe
he was so distracted by the beautiful boys that
he failed to see the rest of us: the hard-working, rest-seeking masses who also get off
the ferry every weekend. Some of us are beautiful, too. Especially our 18-month-old son. We are devoted couples and growing families. Look for us the next time you’re out there. We’re
not hard to find.
I loved this article. It’s about your body in
the clubs— not personality. The phenomenon
of the “action figure” queen is freaky. If
you don’t have big pecs and arms, you’re “out.” Personally, I believe this is just another way
to push people out of the “scene”— another type of segregation in the gay community. Here
in SF if you’re not white with muscles, forget about meeting anyone.
San Francisco, California
The article about the Pines seems to be full
of internalized homophobia. Most people struggle to feel good about themselves, and this can be particularly hard for a repressed and disliked minority. I work out, and even here in West Hollywood have what some people call a “great body.” I work part-time as an exotic dancer and go-go dancer. Yet I have a master’s degree in psychology and have worked with abused children for almost 10 years. I probably look pretty superficial to people who don’t know me.
Let’s stop being so down on others who have gone to extremes and try to have a little compassion and understanding as to why
they have gone there. After all, the very people
the author trashes are struggling with a life-threatening illness.
West Hollywood, California
I am writing to commend Guy Trebay for the
article “Babes in Boyland.” Gay people do themselves a grave injustice even using phrases such as “str8 acting”— especially since the fact is that if you are having sex with another man, you are not straight acting. Mr. Trebay has great insight into what is really going on in a sea of gay people who don’t seem to have a clue. How can you expect equality when you are not offering it yourself. Discrimination is no better when you do it among yourselves. As a matter of fact it is worse when it is a reflection of oneself!
Atlantic City, New Jersey
There is a sizable minority of Pines-goers, like myself, who look and act nothing like the
roid-raving male impersonators Guy Trebay describes. Our Pines experience, while quite gay, does not involve pumping iron, popping steroids, or whatever it is they do. Our time on “The Island” is spent cooking exotic dishes at a friend’s fabulous home, swimming in the delicious sea, and leaping off the second-floor balcony into the pool while lip-synching to Air Supply. Perhaps our only real link to the walking, talking cartoon queens Trebay writes about is our mild excitement over the diva remixes at the tired local disco and the fact that we buy our mesclun where everybody else does. I personally cringe at the uniform, boorish appearance and behavior of these “men” who work so hard to look like boys. I think it’s sad that people inevitably think they represent “the gay community.” There are much more interesting people, young and old, who frequent the Pines. You just have to take a closer look.
As always, Guy Trebay is amusing, prescient, and thought-provoking. As a longtime visitor to the Pines, a former Advocate staff member, and an ardent pec admirer, I disagree, however, with the implication that this is a new phenomenon. Andrew Holleran had it right years ago in Dancer From the Dance, when Sutherland said on the Pines beach that
once everyone has seen his tits, they can all
go home and get ready for the pink-and-
green party that night. Life, even in the age of AIDS, goes on.
Mark D. Owen
Wayne, New Jersey
Driving Miss Gay-sy
Regarding Guy Trebay’s “Babes in Boyland”:
I guess I missed a ramp on the highway to
enlightenment, but I did not think that the
effects of liberation, gay and otherwise, would bring us to this cul-de-sac of superficiality
and narcissism. Hasn’t our culture encountered this already in the damaging apotheosis of
female pulchritude? Had this article been written about a straight phenomenon, I don’t think the author would have been so accepting.
Guy Trebay is partially accurate in his assessment of the influence of AIDS on the idea of the
masculine-as-physically-ideal male. My research for a chapter on “Masculinity in the Age of AIDS: HIV Seropositive Gay Men and the Buff Agenda,” in an anthology on gay masculinities to be published next year, suggests that the overemphasis on physicality during the 1980s and 1990s has been in some ways related to the wasting and deterioration faced by HIV-positive men and more recently to side effects caused by combination therapy. Reactions to the epidemic have been to look strong and “masculine,” since HIV-positive men feared that if they did not look this way, they would be
labeled as having AIDS. Soon this “look” was adopted by negative men too.
However, despite the genealogy at the start of his piece (“the clone begat the Polo queen . . .), Trebay is shortsighted to give the amount of emphasis he does to the phenomenon of steroid use by HIV-positive men. The roots of the movement took hold in the 1950s when some gay men staked their claim to masculinity — a construct that had been reserved, and in some ways is still reserved, for the heterosexual community— by taking on appearances that were “butch” and “buff.”
The phenomenon has existed throughout the last few decades and perhaps has been
accelerated in the last 15 to 20 years because of the AIDS epidemic. The epidemic was
more of a catalyst in forcing men to define their masculinities in this manner than the simple cause of it.
Dr. Perry N. Halkitis
Department of Applied Psychology
New York University
I remember a friend in college fretting over his weight because he did not want gay men in bars to think he had AIDS. That was about six years ago. He quickly changed his diet, reduced his stress, and gained enough weight to not look frail. Half a decade later, he is again mindful of not being too built because he does not want gay men in bars to think he has AIDS. Suddenly, hypermasculinity, not frailty, has become a reactive goal for gay men not infected with HIV. The pretty pastels in Guy Trebay’s “Babes in Boyland” might be an insight into the vicissitudes of gay culture in the age of AIDS, but in reality the new generation of gay men do not want to be hulks. The normalcy we seek lies between the sunken cheeks and bloated chests.
Fort Worth, Texas
Guy Trebay’s article about the men at the Pines was a great story about our culture. However,
I think it would have been even better if you had included more photos of the community and the people who live there. Photos could have taken us to the next level of understanding and helped us really see what is going on. You missed an
opportunity to increase our understanding.