Skinny Homos, Queer Anxiety and Dominant Culture
A certain queer ontology has been gaining a concerning amount of trendiness of late: the skinny homo. While I am acutely aware that the everyday stresses of being in a marginalised group take their toll on the body in one way or another, the glamourisation of an anxiety-producing, appetite-suppressing, ‘busy’ lifestyle is just not that subversive.
The skinny homo as cultural phenomenon seems to rely on an appreciation of anxiety and its dramatic (and drastic) effects on the body (/ life): fight or flight mechanisms direct blood away from the digestive system in stressful situations causing a loss of appetite or inability to eat. Certainly, queer sexual and social lives can induce this reaction for extended periods of time (half-days, days, weeks). However, even if the skinny homo aesthetic eventuates out of something other than not eating to actively ‘diet,’ it nevertheless results in a culture and celebration of skinniness highly conveniently aligned with current mainstream ideas about desirable embodiment.
Along with the behaviour itself, the way in which it is talked about reinforces this reverence of skinniness. Not eating becomes ‘culturally-legible’ as it is reiterated: “look how skinny I am…you’re so skinny…things are so fucked up.” Here, the tendency to directly relate ‘how bad things are’ to a level of skinniness results in a physically manifested hierarchy of oppression, named and duly noted as unhelpful by queer theorist Jack Halberstam as “transgressive exceptionalism.” Having a healthy body is no longer read as strength but rather that things ‘simply can’t be that bad.’
Our bodies are the ultimate metaphor for power and control within our grasp. And we do suffer. Embracing such a ‘lifestyle of starvation’ comes to metonymically represent our being in the world: as damaged. Furthermore, the discourse of ‘the skinny homo’ affirms a self-harming sado-masochistic pleasure in watching one’s body disintegrate. Albeit in a different context, this nevertheless reinforces culturally dominant ideas about skinniness, idolizing a state of fucked-upness as desirable; that is, “I can’t eat, oh, well, being skinny is not only so cool, but also shows I’m the most oppressed.” The citation of the skinny homo encourages continued failure to eat because it is considered somehow a part of queer culture, and not a particularly problematic one. But it clearly is.
Negotiating our way in an oppressive and violent world can be devastatingly hard and painful. But we are strong and endure. We need (our bodies) to be healthy; our lives sustainable.