| WeHo's untouchables
When Peter Dragon moved into West Hollywood in the fall of 1999, he began working out at the 24 Hour Fitness right in the heart of WeHo. Although he wasn't friends with most of the gym rats, he knew them by sight. They worked hard at staying in shape, and it showed.
Peter doesn't work out every day, and he definitely does not have a perfect body. The marketing director for an Orange County non-profit group, he has a body in the image of Alexander--not Alexander the Great, but Jason Alexander. But try as he might, Peter could not escape the community's fixation on physical fitness when he lived in WeHo. It permeated all aspects of life there. Just flipping through Frontiers magazine, a free publication available at many gay businesses and nightclubs, made that clear. "Every other page is a plastic surgeon. Most of the ads feature shirtless guys," says Peter, who is forty-two.
The pervasiveness of that gym culture disturbed Peter. "If you don't fit the mold or don't get into the scene, West Hollywood can be a very uncomfortable place," he says. "The whole culture in WeHo is about style over substance."
He was not alone in his criticism of WeHo. For some time, he attended a men's rap group at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. All that the group talked about was how awful the WeHo scene was, Peter says, and how it was filled with pretentious gay people and drag queens.
For his part, Peter liked the neighborhood's openness about sexuality. But he never felt that he fit in. There, gym culture was taken to an extreme. There, the buff men were the only ones who got the dates, who got the looks; the rest might as well be untouchables.
After seven months in WeHo, Peter moved out and headed to the more tranquil shores of nearby Long Beach, California. He had had enough, he says: "West Hollywood is not the best picture of reality."
Justin McKinley, a WeHo resident who works at a Los Angeles dot-com, is more upbeat about his neighborhood. He has reason to be. He's twenty-eight, thin and fit, with a pearly-white smile. When he goes to clubs alone, he's not alone for long. One year during a Halloween street celebration, a drag queen yelled out, "Look at this stallion!" and started to unbutton Justin's blue jeans. Justin blushed bright red.
But Justin also remembers another occasion, at last year's gay weekend celebration in Palm Springs, California. That time, he ventured to take off his shirt--only to have a buff stranger gibe, "Huh, that's not much to look at."
Even an attractive gay man like Justin can consider himself a peon in WeHo's muscle-bound pecking order. "I feel out of place sometimes because I don't have a buff body and I'm not a model or actor or porn star," he says.
Like Peter, Justin has his criticisms of body fascism. "These gym rats are dumb, vacuous, and enamored with nothing more than the superficial affections that coat their inner shells," he sniffs. Still, Justin admits to feelings of physical inadequacy. He doesn't have the pert pectorals and bulging biceps of those higher lifeforms, the gym rats.
If he were a heterosexual man, this wouldn't be a problem. If he were a heterosexual women, he could get away with a trim, toned body. But he's a gay man, and he lives in West Hollywood. Here, being desirable means more than a pretty face--or even healthy muscle tone.