I don't know about you, but I remember being infinitely curious about my own body as a boy. I remember being infinitely curious about other boys' bodies, too, and particularly about how mine stacked up against them.
I don't think I started to be self-conscious in this regard much before reaching puberty, but in the boarding school I attended after I reached the age of 12, I remember worrying a great deal about my physical strength in comparison with others'. I remember the feeling of envy when I saw boy's bodies that I judged stronger, more muscular, more masculine than my own. I was plump as an early teenager, a little flabby. I remember comparing the growth of hair--as in the story that follows--and wanting more of it than I had. I remember great anxiety around the length and girth of my dick. Whilst immensely curious about others, I went to great pains to hide my own, and indeed the rest of my body, in the changing rooms.
For this reason, the following story spoke powerfully to me about that particular boyhood obsession, which I imagine I shared with a great number of my peers--but which I would never have spoken to them about. Knowing my own history, I do not believe that a fascination with--or a delight in--other men's bodies is restricted to gay men. I'd be interested to know if other straight men agree with me. Is it clear, or does it matter, that today's story was written by a man who grew up from boyhood to be gay? The title, somewhat arbitrary, is mine. The story comes from Bob Glover, a ceramic artist whom I have known personally since were were colleagues at (what was, then) Otis Art Insitute, and whose work I have always admired.
by Robert Glover
Mumps, measles, chicken pox, and now scarlet fever. Being infected with all those childhood illnesses within months of each other. Rumors started about my missing a year of grammar school. Worry.
The front door has a prominent quarantine notice taped on it and I’ve been placed in isolation. A makeshift bed is in the dining room away from the family and I have a stack of comics and body building magazines. My uncle brought his collection of muscle magazines to illustrate good health in anticipation that when I’m feeling better, I can visit his gym and perhaps erase the “weakling physique” of a ten year old child… can’t take the chance of growing into that young man on the beach who had sand kicked in his face by some big brute! One should become smooth and muscle bound, glowing in the sunshine!
My dad and uncle conspired to work out in the gym during the summer months. But on weekends, the gym was full of adult males all pumping iron. I can still remember the distinct cacophony of clanking bar bells and the gymnasts doing all that grunting and groaning with a distinct exhaling of lungs, with a “p-ish” sound with each new move. Grunt, “p-ish”, groan, grunt, “pish”, groan, grunt, "p-ish". There was always the proper way to inhale and exhale.
The gym was located by train tracks and the rumble and rattle of locomotives were common sounds during the day, shaking the ground and the gym. The sounds of steam release of those dynamic pistons reminded me of the sounds coming from the gym. Both being masculine and powerful.
I must return to the dreaded exercise program and invent ways to study the men working out and yet not stare at their bodies, in addition to not losing the count required for each set. One of the methods I developed was to develop a quick scan in order to absorb the fascinating details of their bodies. A few times I was caught lingering too long and an uncomfortable self-conscious glare would descend on me. One had to be very careful not to be obvious, as this was socially unacceptable. At least it must have been since the banter and jokes started to be about “queers”.
During a most potent quick scan, I would take mental pictures of the variations in male body hair. Some had chest hairs peeking above the T-shirt neck line, which was hinting at the prospect of a full blown hairy reward. However, some had little showing one their bare chests which did not fit into the ideal. Then there was a secondary indicator. Checking out the hair on legs and arm pits. The five o’clock shadow was another indicator of potential. But one had to be careful of eye contact and the potential fist in the face which could come unexpectedly out of the blue like the brute force of God.
I would anticipate the day of my first pubic hairs. It was always a singular desire to have a hairy chest. Lingering during bath time, or looking in the mirror. Patiently I waited for each little sprout to appear with the hope for a decent hairy adult pelt. This was the reward for growing up and having my own hairy chest to touch and observe.
Somewhere in the genetic program this was not to happen. At least, not to the degree I had hoped for. I would forever be the observer of other hairy men .Constantly building that ideal model. Looking at legs and arms during hot summer days. Just to imagine the natural treasures hidden from view. Someone suggested that if you shaved those hairs, they would double their growth. What a hoax! One would be more likely to end up looking like a plucked chicken.