Rapper Lizzo has struck a chord with many gay men. (Image courtesy of pexels.com)
During her recent Australian tour, I watched social media go wild as a number of gay men ? some of whom I knew, many of whom I did not ? posted their videos, memes and general adoration for Lizzo.
The US rapper once known as Melissa Viviane Jefferson has, not surprisingly, become both an ally and icon for the gay community. ?My shows are very inclusive safe spaces for everyone, especially marginalized people, more specifically the LGBTQIA+ community,? she told Variety.
Personally, rap just isn?t my thing. I tried listening to Lizzo, but the truth is simply that I prefer the indefatigable melancholia of Lana Del Rey, or the urgency of riot grrrl rock band, Sleater-Kinney. In terms of body image, I can appreciate Lizzo, though I suspect that, for many gay men, much of her appeal lies within the sassy lyrics from ?Truth Hurts?: ?Turns out I?m 100 per cent that bitch.? I?ve lost count, by now, of how many gay selfies I?ve seen with exactly this caption.
Lizzo?s hit, ?Truth Hurts?
Like lesbian performer, Beth Ditto of Gossip, whose band (then known as The Gossip) mostly held a cult status before exploding back in the late noughties with their first international hit, ?Heavy Cross?, which became a staple on the playlist of gay clubs globally, Lizzo occupies an unusual and coveted space in pop culture: a woman (and a woman of colour) commanding the world?s attention.
What disappoints me most is that her influence hasn?t particularly changed the mindset of many gay men.
Lizzo, in case you live in the same vacuum I often take refuge in, embraces body positivity. I?m not going to publish her weight here because it doesn?t add to anything; suffice to say she doesn?t have the sickeningly skeletal frame that has long been a prerequisite to being a successful popstar ? or in some cases a successful woman.
She might sing that ?thick thighs save lives?, but in the gay world, fat-shaming is rampant. Even if you?re not overweight, without muscles you?re nothing ? nothing appealing, anyway. Gay men?s magazine, Attitude, conducted a body image survey which revealed a staggering 84 per cent of respondents cited an ?intense pressure? to have the right physique. Another article in GQ mentioned that the ?inability to meet body image ideals within some LGBTQ+ cultural contexts? was a contributing factor for eating disorders within the queer community.
Pity the inexperienced or lonely gay man who delves into the toxic cesspit of Grindr, Scruff et al without any prior warning. A profile lacking photos of a gym body almost certainly guarantees one or two things will happen: stony, impenetrable silence, or a Devil Wears Prada-style take down.
?Eat a sandwich and go to the gym,? one man told me when I tried to make conversation.
My weight, at the time, was in the mid-sixties. I am reasonably tall. That?s by no means unhealthy, but it certainly doesn?t make me attractive. I also have a face which you might consider freaky.
I know that I am not alone in this debacle. I belong to a number of support groups and hear these ? or worse ? stories every day. My dear friend runs the Instagram account Different Kind of Gay and receives more messages than he can keep up with from men around the world who have been shunned by the very community they should belong in.
This all makes me wonder ? as I?ve been wondering a lot: would Lizzo have the same ? or even any ? kind of power if they were an overweight gay man? It takes more than a leap of faith for me to believe that could be possible. Can you name a gay pop star who is even close to Lizzo?s size? Nope, didn?t think so.
Recently, I started listening to Gossip again after years of barely remembering them. It wasn?t hard to see why ?Heavy Cross? was so popular.
The song is infectiously upbeat, despite ? or perhaps because of ? lyrics like: ?It?s a cruel, cruel world to face on your own/ a heavy cross to carry alone.? It spoke to gay men everywhere: maybe that?s not who they were, on the dancefloor at that particular time, but they?d been there at some point before.
Few gay boys get through the nightmares of adolescence unscathed. Teenage years are torture, full stop. But just because you?ve shed your awkward skin doesn?t mean it?s excusable to ostracise those who haven?t made the same transformation. Sadly, it?s still a cruel world for too many of us, and even this writer with an aversion to rap knows that?s not what Lizzo is all about.