Riyadh Khalaf looks at body image pressures in the gay community. He meets Jamal, who finds himself femme-shamed.
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This programme contains some strong language
This programme contains some scenes of a sexual nature
Body image is all about a person's self-esteem.
And once you get over that massive hurdle of trying to come out,
the next stage is trying to figure out
how in the world you're going to fit in
to this brand-new community that you find yourself in.
And this will often start with how you look and how you behave.
The gay community has created some quite clearly defined tribes
based on your body. Whether you are fat, thin, hairy, muscular -
there is a label for it.
Bear, twink, otter, jock, femme, rhino.
Rhino isn't one, but you know what, it might as well be.
There are a lot of animals in there, that's all I'm saying!
These tribes, based purely on body image, define not only how we look,
but supposedly who our friends are and who we have sex with.
I want to know why gay culture puts such a heavy pressure on us men
to look a certain way, to act a certain way,
and what better place to do that than right here
in the centre of gay London, Soho?
One, two, three.
Four, five, six, seven.
Eight, nine, ten.
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.
Oh, shit! 22.
Looking for more dick.
Look at these!
You would be a very brave guy to wear a pair of these
if you didn't have a banging body.
No fucking way!
It's got padding in it.
Look, this is incredible.
Why have I not known about this before?
Not that I need it...
These ones are glorious.
I don't know if it's because of the gold bottom underneath it,
-but they are...
-They are one of our best sellers, actually.
I think it's because they are sheer.
If you go into Ann Summers, it's all that kind of fabric
and it's sexy and it's slinky and here you have it for guys.
Do you ever get people coming in who feel like
there is nothing for them here?
We have all walks of the scene coming in,
from your very slim twink-style guy,
to your very, very large bear-type guy.
What would you categorise me as?
You know, in these, like, tribes, what am I?
If I saw you coming through the door,
I would probably say you were probably very like myself,
in that, you know,
bottom and, you know, conscious of your body,
conscious of your appearance.
So would you say that bottoms are a little bit more feminine?
The stereotype would be that, yeah.
You know, that we do tend to lean more towards that ilk.
What would you say if I told you I'm actually a top and I go to the gym?
-Personally, I'd be very surprised.
But they also have "power bottom".
This is the whole thing, isn't it?
This is what the whole scene has been broken down to -
you're either that or that.
There is no in-between. If you're masculine,
you're going to be the top, you're going be the one doing the fucking.
And if you a power bottom, you're a sissy boy.
You're a queer, you're a poof and you're going to be ploughed.
You're minimised to a sexual act, that's your identity.
"Penetrate me. I am nothing more."
In the act of stereotyping,
there's a clear message in the gay community that masculinity
is highly prized and femininity is unattractive.
I identify myself as a male and I'm gay.
I am a guy that likes to be really feminine,
I like to experiment with different things.
I have always been this feminine guy.
Getting myself ready and heading out,
it kind of boosts my confidence, actually,
to wear make-up, because I just feel like I'm not the same
as everyone else. I look different. I have my own unique style.
Growing up, it was kind of like wrong to be gay.
So I didn't really fit in.
So when I hear comments such as "faggot",
or "gay", "queer", all of those,
it does take me back to my school days,
where life was hard and I was still trying to find myself.
Femme-shaming is when you bash people for being
really, really, really feminine. It happens in the gay community A LOT.
I have experienced being femme-shamed,
but still I walk with my head high and I still strut my stuff
like nobody's business.
So tell me about your identity.
I think of myself as a femme tornado.
Being me is a full-time job.
-I put so much work in, like, getting my hair done, you know,
spending money on make-up, spending money on my hair, skin,
and I've always wore really feminine clothes as well, so...
the tighter, the more revealing, the better, to be honest.
What kind of guy, do you think, is sort of like the most attractive,
in terms of the gay scene?
It's probably the straight-acting ones.
I don't fit in because most of them don't really like feminine guys.
I have been told so many times, with the way I am so feminine,
the way I'm so camp, that I give gay people a bad name.
So, like, I don't fit in with the normal crowds,
but then I stand out from, like, the gay community.
Is it harder for you to find love, then?
I would definitely say it's harder, especially when I go out
and I'm wearing, like, batty riders and stuff...
-What's a batty rider?
-Batty riders are shorts that are, like,
with your bum cheeks hanging out.
-Oh, "batty", like arse?
-Batty riders, yeah.
-You can basically see your arse.
Do you think the guys in the gay community who are a little bit
more masculine see you as lesser in any way?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Because, you know, we're feminine.
You know, we're apparently trannies, which is not true,
because at the end of the day, I don't want to have a sex change.
I just like having long hair.
And I like experimenting with my make-up and looking different.
Being gay is a sexuality, it's not a personality.
And every single guy has a right to be
what they want and how they want to be.
So I don't understand why we have so many labels
in the gay community.
When you walk out onto the scene, say, into a nightclub,
what kind of reception do you get from guys?
I've had people come up and say, "You do know you're a boy, right?"
And I'm like, "Yeah." And they're like, "You're not a drag queen.
"Are you trying to transition?"
I'm like, "No." I try to make everyone like me,
but sometimes I do come across as
a bitch and a shady queen - which I love.
I mean, so? Be honest is the best policy.
But, um, no,
I definitely feel like sometimes my personality is a way for me
to hide behind, like, the hurt that I've been through.
When I was in high school, I was bullied out of high school,
actually, for being gay and being really feminine.
You know, I had people call me names,
I had people trying to rob me,
I had people, you know, beating me up all because I was...
-Physically beating you up?
So I decided upon myself to drop out of high school.
I had the exact same thing in school, but I was lucky because...
..I would sometimes pass as straight, as a younger kid.
But that's because I would try and butch it up.
Constantly butching it up, make sure you don't give the gay away.
Did you ever have that, where you tried to...
It would never work because I'm way too feminine.
As soon as I opened my mouth, like,
people would clock on and be like, "Oh, you're gay, aren't you?"
Has it impacted your life, the fact that you had to leave school early?
Has it made things harder for you?
I feel like when you have GCSEs, you have a better chance in life.
I feel like I was robbed of my future when I was in school.
Femme-shaming and stuff like that,
it does bring back memories of me being a child.
We should be kind of coming together as one big family
and kind of fighting off the homophobes.
Instead we're fighting with each other.
Jamal has had to become so resilient over the years,
from so much of that heavy, heavy femme-shaming.
And it's shocking to think that the one community
that's doing this mostly to him is his own.
I don't understand. You'd think that after all we've been through,
that we would be the most accepting bunch out there.
Femininity is frowned upon.
And it infuriates me because obviously, like, I'm quite feminine.
I feel like feminine gay people are at the bottom of the list, 1,000%.
I've even had comments such as feminine gay guys
are the gays that give gay people a bad name.
Some masculine men, they're like,
"Oh, why are you dressing like that?
"Why are you looking like that? You're meant to look like this."
The iconic gay body, well, we all know that.
It's sexy muscle boy and all this...
Oh, six-packs, eight-packs, um, tall, um, masculine.
Very toned, muscular.
Sort of overtly, kind of sometimes comically masculine bodies.
Tight tops, big muscles.
That's the sort of things that I see a lot of.
Gay men are their own worst enemy
within the community when it comes to body image.
So I have some news.
As part of this documentary...
I'm going to be doing a naked photo shoot - wahey!
It's for Gay Times Magazine
and a feature that they're doing on body image,
and I am terrified.
You know, we're constantly fed these images on Instagram,
through the media, everywhere online,
of the perfect body and what that is.
And it subconsciously makes you think
that you need to have that body.
So I guess...
I am worried about thousands of people seeing my body, in the buff,
as it is right now, and I feel compelled to go to the gym.
I'm sorry, I just don't feel comfortable getting naked as it is.
I just feel like I need to tighten up a little bit.
Is that OK?
Morning! So, before I have any breakfast,
I'm having half the juice of a lemon.
It speeds up your metabolism, clears out your lymphatic system.
Here's to a lovely body!
OK, it's dinner time.
Nice, spicy, garlicky chicken,
some stir-fried broccoli and I have actually toasted those cashews.
Ohh, look at that. Boom.
No wine. No gin.
Which is really, really hard for me.
Eggs, broccoli, chicken breast and basil pesto with olive oil.
Get them healthy fats, yo.
Just got my hair cut. Dinner tonight, I'm having sea bass.
Why dandelion tea, I hear you ask?
it helps with water retention.
I don't know if I have water retention,
but I don't want to take any risks.
So I am here in south London to visit
a male-focused inclusive gym,
to find out where that pressure for gay men
to have a perfect body actually comes from.
Personal trainer Stephen is going to show me around.
Right, the chest is always a very popular thing.
For the gays. Oh, tell me about it.
As soon as I go into the gym,
it's the first thing, I hit these boys.
-Well, let's start you off with one of the machines.
-Give me ten.
-That's a little tougher, isn't it?
-Yeah. I like it, though.
-"Feel the burn."
-Feel the burn. And other cliches.
-I forgot to start counting. What are we at?
This looks like a torture contraption.
Look, it's the same size as my head!
Amazing. I'm trying the same way you did.
-I'll get you off the ceiling.
Look, it's pulling me above the ground!
-OK, possibly that's a little too heavy.
Let's drop it down to two.
Across, like that.
-I like this one.
-You like that one?
-Because you can really feel it.
-It doesn't feel wasteful.
It's quite a heterosexual thing, actually.
To lift the heaviest weight possible
and outcompete the person you're training with.
But there's no technique in that.
Do you not think that there is a lot of competition
in gyms between gays, though?
Like, "Oh, he's doing 20s on each arm."
I think gays are more interested in who looks better
in their low-cut vests than what weights they are lifting.
Is there more of a pressure on a gay man
to look a certain way than there is for a heterosexual man?
Historically, there's always been more pressure on gay men.
Being muscular means being accepted.
It means you get more sex.
So this idea of going to the gym has almost become central
to the gay personality.
If you want to avoid being ostracised
as you were when you were at school or whatever,
then you hype up the masculinity.
Are some feminine gay guys
trying to sort of suppress that or make up for that
by becoming these bulky muscle gods?
Muscularity does counteract effeminate behaviour
from other people's perspective.
Effeminate is the thing that guys probably are naturally.
I know I am. And I love my camp side.
But it's not going to get you sex with the masculine guys.
Do you think that some of this pressure that exists comes from you
comparing and contrasting yourself
to potentially who is lying in bed beside you?
Yeah. And I think we've all done it.
You know, I've gone home with guys
and they've taken off their T-shirts,
if they haven't walked in the door with their T-shirt off,
and you see this fantastic physique.
And you compare yourself to them and think, "Am I good enough?"
You've actually felt that way?
-There's no hope for any of us!
I mean, what the fu...?
All right, three, two, one, it's like jumping in a pool.
So, what are you not happy with?
-There's like a little...
-Oh, I have that.
-That little pooch there.
I call it a papoose.
-It's a papoose of fat.
I guess another bit that I don't like is... See that?
Oh, the back fat? Yeah, yeah, I have that.
-You can actually grab mine like that.
Is that an invitation?
-I don't want to touch you without an invitation.
-No, grab it.
What bits do you like then?
I don't mind my chest when I do that.
-But only when you do that?
-Only when I do that.
Actually, I like my chest when I do that.
I like your chest when you do that.
Yeah. So, relax.
What do you feel about your chest now?
I don't like the shape of it.
What...? Describe more.
Er, I don't like the shape of it here.
I don't have like a nice line that just sticks out,
that has real deviation from the body.
It's a genetic thing.
You're not 100% happy with your own body?
There is a vast difference
between what I see and what other people see.
If I look in the mirror one morning and I see, you know,
less than what I want to - or more than what I want to -
then, yeah, it can make me unhappy with myself.
If you feel that bad about yourself,
depression and anxiety are natural consequences of it.
I hope that one day I don't feel...
I don't put myself under as much pressure.
That's probably the best that I hope for.
But I'm not doing this just to look good for other people.
But I can understand that that is a big part of it.
And I would be a liar if I said it wasn't.
Because, you know, who doesn't love that validation?
The problem is, what is perfection?
You're going to be constantly going around like a hamster in a loop,
in a loop, striving for a thing you cannot get. A bit depressing.
There's no up.
Do you get me?
Body image is huge.
You want to look as good as you can.
Like, muscular, a nice bum.
Think Tom Daley.
To be honest, it's all gym and fitness.
Really muscly and masculine.
You know, kind of rugged.
I feel there's a majority of gay men out there that are like spending
their lives at the gym because they know it's going to, like,
attract who they want to attract.
I think that's a problem
because beauty doesn't solve anybody's problem.
-It's the community that is making things worse for itself.
Because they're constantly having to
live up to the stereotype or this image, or...
-And it's just so tiring after a while.
You know, we all come in different shapes and sizes.
I moved to London just over six years ago.
It was quite difficult coming out at 16, living up north.
I feel people's attitudes are different
and that made it more difficult.
The bulimia took effect when I was about 17,
but I would say I had issues with my body image
and how I looked before that.
Within a year or two, it was full-blown
and pretty much lasted for the next nine or ten years.
It's difficult to explain exactly what the motivation was,
I suppose, behind throwing up.
But it had a lot to do with how I looked.
It's a control thing.
I felt like for a long time it was the only thing I had control over.
..very, very lonely.
To be honest, I don't know how I survived.
With the community putting so much emphasis on how you look,
it's no surprise that gay men are three times more likely
to suffer from an eating disorder than straight men.
'I'm on my way to meet Rye, a 26-year-old man...'
-'..who suffered from his own
'eating disorder for ten years.'
Do you think the gay community in general is quite judgmental?
Yeah. I think it's very judgmental.
I almost feel that, as a gay guy, it's harder to please other gays
than it is the rest of society sometimes.
What things must a gay man do to fit in?
A lot of it is based on looks.
If you don't kind of conform to certain things, then, you know,
you're not going to be accepted.
And then, when you look at other guys who are already fitting into
those stereotype and tribes,
and everyone looks like they're having fun and accepting everyone,
why wouldn't you think, if I act like that, or if I look like that,
I'm going to be included.
I wanted to fit in.
So I thought, "What kind of is the most achievable?"
So obviously me being young, it would be kind of what we call
-like the kind of slim twink.
So in this period of adjusting myself and becoming the twink,
it did more and more become about liking my body type
and how slim I was.
I basically developed an eating disorder.
So...I was still eating,
but I was starting to throw up meals and vomit.
It started off slow but eventually it was every day.
It becomes ingrained.
It's everyday life.
Oh, my God!
Are you sucking in here?
I think I'm tensing.
-But you can see...
-It's so skinny!
-Look at the hip.
-My hip sticks right out
and my ribs were sticking right out.
If you could say something to him right now, what would you say?
Get some help.
Really, get some help.
And what kind of feelings or things go through your head then
at the worst moment, and you know you can't get out of it?
It's isolating. Even though I had friends.
And there were a few times people asked questions - "Are you OK?
"What's going on? You look sick. Are you sick?"
But I could never open up.
It affects the way you interact with people.
It does affect the friendships and the fact that, you know,
you love your friends, love your family, but you're always hiding.
It's not just about the physical deception of maybe wearing clothes
or wearing make-up so you don't look sick.
It's actually having to make lies up and...
follow them through and remember what lies you've told people.
It made me really low.
In the worst times it made me suicidal.
Those thoughts actually came into your mind?
At what point did you think, this has gotten too far?
I'd been in hospital quite a few times.
At one point I was drinking quite a lot as well.
Obviously, if I hadn't ate for a few days,
or I have ate and I've thrown everything up,
it's understandable that my body can't take alcohol.
So I would have two or three glasses of wine
and pass out and wake up in hospital.
And the last time it was actually
a nurse who had already seen me in hospital.
And she had said, "You're going to kill yourself.
"You're going to die if it carries on."
And I wouldn't say that that was the moment of change, but it was...
..the trigger of the change to recover.
Do you think, in the community,
the fact that this is happening to so many people,
is known, or even understood?
It's like a taboo subject. People don't want to talk about it.
And because people aren't talking about it,
how can anyone understand it?
But I would be surprised if...
..someone was able to prove that this wasn't happening
to a lot of guys, because I think it probably is.
The gay community puts so much pressure on us
to look a certain way,
and Rye is a perfect example of when that pressure
for the perfect body goes too far.
Although I knew there were issues in the community with this,
I now understand that there are so many people suffering in silence.
It's way bigger than we ever imagined.
People are really good at hiding it though.
In a bid to raise awareness about
all the body image issues I've come across,
I agreed to bare all for a photoshoot.
And today is the day.
So we've arrived at the studio.
Say hi, guys.
This is Ryan from Gay Times.
-So, Ryan just gave me a synopsis of what's going on.
What is it that I have to do today?
-Take all your clothes off.
-All of them?
-All of them.
-Not even like tighty whities?
So, this was the last naked issue for Gay Times.
Oh, my God. They're so attractive.
It's not too posed, it's playful and it's a good way
-of showing your personality as well.
The most important thing, for any photo shoot,
doesn't matter what you're doing, is it's all about confidence.
Confidence is the key thing.
And I reckon, give it ten minutes of the photoshoot
and you'll be absolutely fine.
'I've trained, I've dieted, I've spray-tanned,
'but Luke is going to give me a final polish and finishing touch.'
Just take your jacket off.
The first of many items to be removed.
What would be your concern about doing a naked shoot?
I just... I don't feel like it's perfect.
But also then I realise that nothing can be perfect.
Just stand up and take your shirt off for me.
Lovely! Can we do this again?
-What's this, now?
-This is a bit of oil.
I'm being oiled. I'm literally being oiled.
That's nice. I like that.
Do you normally contour your models' bodies?
Some of them, yes.
But, for the purposes of this shoot, I'm not going to do it.
-It just needs to be you - raw, real, as it is.
I'm feeling OK...I think.
I am worried about getting aroused.
Don't...don't even go there.
So, what do we do now?
-Come on over. We'll do a couple of test shots and then get going.
LAUGHTER Can someone help me?
No, now I need to change hands!
I'll keep hold of that.
OK, so take a seat.
OK. Let's start with a couple of slightly moodier sort of looks.
Stripped bare, this leap of faith
is about so much more than a pretty photo.
Perfect. That's good.
I've been handed the chance to highlight issues
in the gay community about the body image pressures people feel,
which, for some, lead to very dark places.
But, for everyone I've met, these issues have led to second-guessing,
moments of insecurity and the desire to find validation.
Can I see any of them? It's like I have no neck.
That's the only thing I'm noticing here.
That's nicer. Oh, I like that one.
I've seen a couple of the pictures and I'm really surprised.
Like, I'm really happy with them.
My confidence is through the roof. I look like... Whoo, I don't care!
Standing here, in my birthday suit,
the one thing that is absolutely clear
is that my body doesn't define who I am.
Can you maybe swap hands quickly?
Do it the other way.
Good, perfect. Hold that there. Try the other way.
Let's have your other hand up with your glasses.
OK. So, slightly moodier.
Three, two, one...go.
Yeah, that works really well.
Three weeks ago, I did a naked photoshoot for this magazine
to promote body positivity and body-love and self-love.
Ta-da! All my God!
There it is there.
Can you see that?
A six-page spread.
This is the next one. This is my favourite one.
That's a nice angle, isn't it?
Look, it's favourable lighting, I got a spray tan the night before.
And this is the last one, on a chair.
Using my foot and my leg
to covertly cover my special bits.
That's the feature. I think it's a really great read
because hopefully it will give you some insight into the issues
that exist in the community and how you can kind of
be more at one with your body.
I know, after doing this,
I have gained so much confidence in my own appearance.
I'll chat to you in a couple of days, my loves.
Riyadh Khalaf looks at body image pressures in the gay community. He meets Jamal, who finds himself femme-shamed, and Rye, who has recovered from bulimia, and he also gets his kit off for a naked photo shoot with the Gay Times.