Last week I put together a piece about gay men using steroids/testosterone/etc. and interviewed three men who are either currently on a cycle or have recently been on one. Their frankness about their reasons and results was enlightening to me and spurred an exploration of steroid use in the larger community around me as well as gave me pause to reflect on my own feelings on enhancing.
As soon as I posted about steroids on my Facebook page, I had a half-dozen friends contact me with concerns: “Are you considering doing them?” “You don’t need them, you’re beautiful the way you are!” “We’ve all been tempted, but it’s just not worth the risk!” “Are you sure you want to be so open about posting about steroids on your profile?!” The alarming responses made me realize how much of a stigma steroid use has to the general public…and how some friends are REALLY against using them. I empathize with these sentiments of “natural and safe are good enough”, but at the same time I realize how much I approve and love a big muscular man. Do the ends justify the means?
Then I started having friends come to me to share about their own steroid use. I was stunned by the number of people who have enhanced at some point–young guys wanting more bulk, middle-aged guys finally achieving their long-sought muscle status, older guys juicing up to counterbalance the loss of muscle mass and testosterone that naturally comes with age. And all of them spoke of their enhancing as a way to improve their look and status within society, often as a reaction to being a fat/skinny/awkward teenager. They told me about improved confidence, more attention from men, feeling invincible, incredible orgasms, and mostly safely navigating potential side effects and dangers. Fuck it sounded great!
Suddenly this magical method of becoming a superman seemed so alluring and possible. My biggest issue was safety and with all my new contacts surely I could find ways to get quality products and keep the risk to a minimum. Yes, such power could be mine! I could be a titan of masculinity–a thick, sexual warrior roaring with passion and virility! All will love me and despair!
And then in that moment of delusional muscle-lust I realized that the pursuit of such a goal was short-sighted and in conflict with my core values. I felt like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings when she resists the One Ring (zoom ahead to 1:45 for the specific moment) or Luke Skywalker from Star Wars when he throws down his lightsaber after being offered rule of the galaxy via the Dark Side (fast forward to 4:30). Such power and beauty come at too high a price–in the words of my friend Tony, the surrender to the “image obsessed, body dysmorphic shame culture prevalent in urban gay life.”
I’m no expert about steroids, but I know they can be harmful especially when procured from the usual disreputable ways and used excessively over time. And even if they were completely safe and didn’t risk heart, liver, and brain damage, the emphasis on obtaining an unrealistic body is harmful to our psyches, our relationships, and our community. It’s an overindulgence that’s rewarded because we live in a vicious society ruled by desire, shame, and loneliness. An amazing body would be fun and hot, but it wouldn’t make me a better man, friend, or partner.
Of course we are all on our own journeys in life and I can only decide for myself what’s best. And even as I write this I know that some of the men I lust after are on enhancements, so how do I navigate my feelings for them? By desiring them and complimenting them am I enabling harmful behavior? I’m really not sure, but I hope that as we live and play together as gay men, we can be kind to each other and encourage one another to be the best men we can be without all the emphasis on needing to be supermen.