When Does the Gym Become an Obsession and Who’s to Blame for Gays Juicing?

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.

  • Drew

    This article was eye opening to say the least. I am not a muscle guy by any means, but I have a very lean body and I try to go to the gym every day. Thank you for reiterating that life isn’t all about the gym and hard bodies. I so often forget this simple fact.

  • Homegirl No5

    Agree with all of your points. But skip a shower for a day? Gurl, is you crazy?

  • Bill Gray

    I can totally relate to this. I also don’t think this is a gay issue. My little sister is the same way. I am similar as well. I have dabbled in steroid use as well. I think, for me, it isn’t about impressing others or even keeping up with appearances. It is pure guilt. I have conditioned myself to reach goals based on actions and being disciplined. I have achieved the goals I have through unwavering commitment. If I do “arms” on Saturday, I will always do arms on Saturday regardless of the location, events etc… In fitness, our bodies plateau at our genetic potential. When you give yourself a little extra, you witness those peaks destroyed in a short time. It can be very addicting. My friends say the same thing, “Oh just take a day off, you’re hot.” It isn’t about that. It is about alleviating the guilt that will set in if I don’t remain committed to my structure.

  • Colby

    I too can relate to this, and I agree with Bill: its about guilt. I go to the gym not just for the health benefits but because it makes me feel good about myself. Being committed to something healthy and making that healthy choice, even in the face of other compelling but less healthy choices, makes me proud of myself. Its also about priorities. When faced with the other compelling but less healthy choice, each of us makes a decision about our priorities. I agree with you, Adam, that some people make inexplicable or confusing choices in these situations. I have chosen many times to skip the gym in favour of a fun social engagement. I have also declined social invitations that weren’t as important to me as my workout. I see my friends make the same choices, and I agree with some and not with others. But they’re THEIR choices based on THEIR priorities.

    As for juicing, its not something that I have done, although I have been accused of it many times and I know some people are convinced I have. I don’t know much about it, but I’m vaguely aware of some of the health risks. I have also seen the amazing effects on some friends and acquaintances, effects that have tempted me. When I see these effects, I’m not surprised that many gay men try it – based on what I have seen personally, there seem to be many positive effects and few negative. Stories like what happened to Erik Rhodes should serve as a reminder of the risks, though, and its part of the reason I make the personal choice not to try it.

  • William T

    fun article, but hardly enlightening…especially when the author basically answers his own question, “I don’t get it”?. He seems to enjoy being around buff muscle guys for a reason and it’s probably the same reason guys get obsessed about perfection. Who doesn’t like to be around attractive people? While certainly a complicated issue, it all plays a part in promoting the “Adonis complex” that’s rampant in the gay community. So it’s a bit disingenuous to act as if having no clue as to how it happens. Also look at most of the postings on the Homorazzi blog…they’re predominantly articles and pics of hot perfectly buffed dudes that I’d expect to see in a typical pre-teen adolescent girl’s fan rag. If you really think this is a troubling issue, then choose not to be part of the problem. Just saying’.

  • Adam

    Bill, thank you very much for your personal take on this story I really appreciated it ! You and Colby both definitely pointed out a side from this issue that I didn’t consider/know about which is the self motivation to achieve and maintain these levels of builtness and fitness. I realise it migh have been a bit clumsy to combine the issue of gym obsession and steroids but the “gym culture” in general boggles me and with people now hittin themselves to reach these expected heights I wanted to comment.

    It’s most interesting to think that people look down sometimes
    On guys who cycle but at the same time still appreciate and even demand the after effect.

    William, I do see that my appreciating a nice
    Physique may seem to perpetuate the problem but as I said, it’s all about moderation and reasonable limits. I do love a muscle guy but if he cancels seeing me because he hasn’t done legs yet I wouldn’t be too happy and smile away just cause “my guy is staying huge”. And, like I said, if it was a guy I
    Was actually seeing we’d be having words if he was taking injectable enhancements. Looking fit is great but not at any cost.

  • jack l

    I would do anything to look like that, except go to a gym.

  • Ryan

    Life is precious and if people are too wrapped up in their own personal demons to not recognize their selfish addiction issues, let them croak. There are plenty of people facing larger life challenges who happen to still be alive, because they want to be.

  • Jim

    I am not a gym bunny. Although I did once go to the gym religiously but no matter how trim I got I was never going to have that “body” that is expected. I found the gay community to be more bigoted than high school. I have since completely stayed away from them and my life has been much better. The last time I was at a Gay pride parade I was being verbally abused by other gays simply because I did not have a six pack. It has gone to a very sad extreme…FYI this was in West Hollywood

  • Mitchell

    This is definitely a tough one. Growing up as the fat kid, I quickly learned that being the wrong kind of big was cause for emotional and social distress and isolation. Add being gay on top of that and you have a recipe for years of crazy diets (some good, many bad), an excessive need to work out, spending too much money on personal trainers, and constantly feeling like you’ll never be good enough.

    I’ve never done steroids (I don’t need to – I think I can simply breathe and gain 10 lbs), but I do understand resorting to unhealthy methods to feel attractive and accepted by your community (and this isn’t limited to the gay community).

    What I’ve learned throughout it all is that it’s really all just a bunch of bull shit, and we bring it upon ourselves as members of the gay community. Sure, we all like hot men; but we need to stop focussing on sex appeal as being the first and foremost attractive quality. Why do we idolize abs over aptitude? Beauty fades.

    I like Homorazzi, but sites like this DO contribute to this overly superficial culture. Just click on the “Totally Gay!” section. Man Crush, Sports Stud, Swimwear Campaigns etc. It’s all projecting this notion that being hot is everything. Maybe you need to start regularly profiling REAL gay people doing REAL things in this world. Our community has much more to offer than just abs and asses; so why not showcase that a bit more?

  • Okay, I agree with most of this article, but am still upset from the constant diversion of Erik Rhodes death being related only to steroids. The man was injecting a gram of meth at a time!! While steroid use is a problem in the gay community, so are drugs – particularly meth (especially among porn actors). Why do keep glossing over that fact for political expediency? Are people less likely to pay attention because our community is also so permissive about drug use? I don’t get it at all. The is the second article on Homorazzi I’ve read since his death that made no mention of it and I am concerned about bias.

  • Aaron, I’m sorry you feel I’ve ignored the aspect of him doing non-steroid drugs as being a part of what might have killed him. If you re-read the article you’ll see that I never actually declare him dead directly from steroids and I even include the likelihood that other recreational drugs played their part:
    “I’m worried that his final and sad death- likely due to a combination of these and other party “treats”…”

    Sorry if you think we have a bias ..?