I can actually hear my muscle friends- which is pretty much all of my guys hilariously enough- collectively groaning and their eyes simultaneously rolling as they scan the title of this one, but still I pose the question: when does the gym turn into an obsession and who’s fault is it that so many boys cycle?

Let’s caveat this puppy by explaining that I absolutely value and actually appreciate the commitment of a gym bunny to a healthy lifestyle that includes a daily or every other daily trip to the ol’ Steve Nash or 24 hr fitness or what-have-you. But, what I don’t understand and argue, is when this “routine” turns into an obsession that begins to trump all other engagements and offers and turns from an interest in well-being to an addiction that verges on the pathological. Okay, strong words there, I’ll back off the psych-101 jargon and put this whole issue into perspective. My best friend and site owner Patrick very recently wrote an article about the sudden heart-attack death of a 30-year old porn star by the name of Erik Rhodes. Not just known for his kinks scenes, this man was adored and revered by many gays for his impossible body and musculature: and I do mean “impossible” as his well-published and unabashed regimen of steroids, HGH (human growth hormone) and everything in between were a huge part of the reason he was able to reach such extreme “heights”. Acknowledging that everyone likes something different and muscle isn’t a must-have for the wandering eyes of gay men everywhere, we all know that in our culture it by and large ranks Top 3 if not 1 or 2 overall. So, how much are we to blame for this and how crazy has it become, I ask.

Setting aside Erik for a moment and turning to the first issue of gym obsession, I look to the personal. On a trip last summer with 5 of my closest friends to San Diego for pride- that cost us about $2000 each- we were invited to have a great brunch at an awesome patio we’d never been to by some new acquaintances. As we all got changed and ready to head out into the pride-filled town, one of my musclier friends said: “Oh no, I can’t go. I have to do arms today.” And, that’s where I got lost… He literally wouldn’t and “couldn’t” take a day off from his routine to meet new people at a great venue for about 3-4 hours on a very short trip for the weekend he had put thousands of dollars into… he HAD to “do arms”. I.don’t.get.it.

I appreciate routines: brushing your teeth before bed, listening to your favourite song before a test, having your dinner before dessert but come on… you can’t change things up? Now, before you go discounting my friend’s refusal to alter his pattern even during a 72-hour whirlwind trip down south as a one off example of crazy (or maybe you totally agree with him), I need to say that he is not alone in this “focus”. About a month later we had our pride here in Vancouver and some friends were throwing a lavish all-you-can-dine and drink party on their patio and a muscle friend of mine who lives out in the burbs cancelled attending citing that it would take him to long to get from work to the gym for his full hour and a half workout and then change at home to be in time for the party… Again, my mind hit a wall as I questioned: “Yeah, I get you have to work, but can’t you just skip the gym and meet up with our friends for the night?” A query that was met with an: “Adam, are you stupid?” face that I’ve come to expect from buff buddies that all agree I just don’t understand it. This boy loves his free booze but couldn’t conceive of a situation that would permit him skipping the free weights for even a day.

I can see this argument comes down to priorities and that I can accept, but when this “daily event” becomes so entrenched in your concept of who you are that forgoing it for anything is sacrilegious, well, that’s when I get weirded out. Personally, I play soccer about 3 times a week and I LOVE it. I love the physicality, the health benefits and the comeraderie. But, I will miss it if need be; I’ll play a little harder next time and accept that I can’t always hit the field when I want to. You ask some of my friends to skip Fitness World for the night to attend a birthday dinner for a close friend and what you’ll likely receive is a hardy laugh and a shake of the head as you clearly “just don’t get it”. And you know what, I don’t get it. I don’t get what changing a routine for a day would do to your schedule; to your body; to your life in general. Sometimes, doesn’t it make more sense to seize an opportunity for something fun at the expense of what we’re use to? We’ve all skipped a lunch due to a deadline and our bodies didn’t die. We’ve missed an end-of-the-day shower because we’re just too tired. So why is asking someone to skip their leg workout so taboo? Yes, I’ll be the first to admit to my size: I am a LEAN BOY. I run like crazy on that soccer field and can’t put on a pound to safe my life. But, I feel like I can still appreciate the purpose and dedication of body improvement via the gym to a point that makes sense to me, it’s once things turn into an infatuation that I worry and give pause.

SPEAKING of worry, I now turn our attention away from the talk of gym time to the gay “tradition” of steroid use. Let’s get all these caveats quickly out of the way: no, I’ve never done it so can’t attest to first hand knowledge; yes, a ton of friends have and currently do and I don’t judge or tell them not to as it’s their decision to make and I don’t think any less of them as a person; yes, I still have an opinion about this issue (surprise surprise, right?). So, on a New Year’s trip to Puerto Vallarta with the same 5 as I went to San D with, we ran into some buddies we hadn’t seen in years. The first thing we all noticed was how humongous one had become since the last time we hung out with him: he had been juicing (no, this isn’t an opinion, this is fact). His delts were trying to choke him, his entire face had gotten bigger and the tummy wasn’t the flat pack it use to be. My reaction to my friends: god, I hope he’s okay… my friends’ reaction: god, he looks SO much better. And THAT’S what got me writing this article; that reaction right there. I pulled aside a very fit friend who was staring at the newly transformed jersey shore version of what use to be an old pal of mine and asked him if he was serious about adoring the new look and I got a bit aggressive asking if he even cared if this guy was being healthy to which my friend said, verbatim: “I don’t care what he’s doing, he looks gooood.” The rest of my friends there that night agreed wholeheartedly and didn’t get how I could disagree.

And, there exactly is why I don’t blame guys who “use a little extra” for doing so: because all they get from us at the clubs and at the gym is encouragement that “they’re looking better and bigger and badder than ever.” So, of course they’re going to keep doing it. It’s human nature to enjoy attention and feeling attractive, but it’s just plain destructive to demand it of our tricks, idols and friends to achieve it through dangerous and harmful means. Turning back to Erik Rhodes who combined his daily intake of hours of gym time with vials upon vials of magic pharmaceuticals, I’m worried that his final and sad death- likely due to a combination of these and other party “treats”- will simply water off a duck’s back with so many guys out there who’ll say that Rhodes just didn’t balance it right or got unlucky. Most of all, I’m terrified at the final thoughts of this guy- whom I know nothing about except what he’d written of himself in his twitter and trumblr etc- as people remember him as the paragon of being built and looking great doing it. His own production company’s resting words concerning him described him as a “man with extraordinary attractiveness and a massive muscled frame.” Honestly, it doesn’t seem like anyone will learn anything.

Many of you don’t like muscle at all, many of you are big but achieve it by the grace of good genes or just through the sheer willpower of your dedication to being healthy… a lot of guys just plain want the jacked muscle guy no matter how he got or stays there and to that I say danger Will Robinson. Anyone who knows me and my type knows I like em’ bigger than smaller but get me on a date with a guy who’s risking liver and limb to stay that size and I’ll be the first to ask him to think about the long-term and not just the immediate. Still, I’m no judge and I’m certainly no executioner: I’m just a gay guy who wonders how the need to be bigger supersedes all other concerns… maybe my friends are right and I really just don’t get it.