SAN FRANCISCO -- Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the buffest of us all? NI'm working out at Gold's Gym in the Castro, arguably the gayest gym in the gayest neighbourhood in the gayest city in North America.
It's days before San Francisco's Gay and Lesbian Pride Week, and there's a last-minute-crunch feel to the place.
Like students cramming for their final exams, the chiselled, tanned, tattooed and goateed gods around me are busy bulking, tightening and squeezing.
"Pump it out," shouts one tweaked and smooth-chested behemoth to the guy he's spotting on the bench press.
"Oh, yeah," groans the other man, his pecs popping.
Overhead, Cher sings, "Do you believe?" for the millionth time, her voice electronically distorted.
These men obviously do believe -- in the body beautiful, that is.
So do I. But I'm losing faith. Paler and plumper than my bronzed West Coast brethren, I'm too easily distracted.
I'm also suddenly nursing an annoying shoulder injury. I put down my dumbbells, sit on the bench and surreptitiously stare.
Forget the weekend parade. There's a parade right here.
Tank-topped men, reflected endlessly in the room's mirrors, wave to each other across the gleaming hunks of metal and iron. They flirt over treadmills and stationary bicycles, their earphones plugged into prerecorded music stations labelled Show Tunes or Dance Music. They talk over bottles of designer water.
Model talk And, as always, the mirror beckons. Who's got the most beautiful body? Him? Or him?
"The awful thing," says one guy who looks like a Men's Health cover model, "is that he didn't even walk me back to my door."
"Fuck him," says his friend, sipping a Davani and checking out his Nike workout outfit in a mirror.
"I wish I had," laughs the first guy.
I recall reading a book on gay men and dating. We're visually stimulated creatures, the author opined. There's no reason why we shouldn't all proudly display washboard abs and big biceps.
The problem is, what happens when everyone looks exactly the same? Having zero body fat doesn't prevent you from having zero personality, too.
I look around and try to think positively. Maybe if everybody becomes a buff gay clone, things like wit and flair and intelligence will eventually begin to count for something again.
Gay putdown Or maybe not.
I overhear the Men's Health model and his friend giggling girlishly and am instantly reminded of that classic gay putdown:
See Tarzan, hear Jane.
Outside, rainbow flags line Market Street -- San Francisco's Yonge Street -- for miles and miles, all the way down to the business district, where straight tourists hop on imitation cable cars.
But where's the diversity here in the gym?
I look around. There are a couple of badly dressed women who look like Lili Taylor in I Shot Andy Warhol. A few latinos and one or two Asians, myself included -- I spot my reflection in the mirror.
Frankly, I miss the others. I miss men with paunches. I miss men with bad hair or bald heads with fringes on the sides. I miss middle-aged men. I miss straight men. I miss straight women.
It's so ironic. The rainbow flag represents diversity, and I've never seen a more homogeneous group in my life.
"Why am I still alone?" ask my single gay friends in Toronto. It's become a chorus they chant, over and over. Hell, I join in the chorus myself, especially around Pride Day.
Why are we still alone? Aren't we attractive, smart, funny?
Yes, we are. But maybe we're also spending far too much time in front of the mirror.