Biceps, quads, pecs - for many a gay guy, muscles make the man. And is it any wonder? A muscular body signifies male with a capital "M."

It's been that way ever since the days of ancient Rome, when gorgeous gladiators had great glutes, writes Simon Sheppard. Gays and gym-toned bodies weren't always quite so synonymous, though. In the days before Stonewall, the stereotypical gay man was a willowy "fairy," somewhere between the sexes. It's only in the last few decades that large numbers of openly gay guys have embraced masculinity, some would say with a vengeance, and with manliness came musculature. Add health-consciousness (due in part to AIDS) and you've got a nation of gym bunnies.

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"There is just something," says one gay man who's no slouch in the bicep department himself, "about a really well-muscled body that gets my attention and makes me hard." And he's far from alone; a romp through the porn videos of recent years will reveal an upsurge in bulk and definition.

"Muscle tone is good for you," says a gay personal trainer. "I know that when I started to work out I felt more energetic and self-confident." And sexier? "Well, yeah, of course."

On-line cruising is full of men looking to serve muscular hunks and guys who define themselves by how often they go to the gym. "Okay," says the trainer, "it may seem a bit obsessive, but at least the muscle guys are advertising what they actually are, rather than their possessions or jobs."

For some men, though, working out seems like a full-time job, and not everyone adores that. "Some of these hunks just work on themselves so hard that it makes me suspicious," says a skeptic. "It's way beyond getting toned. It's like they're running away from something, figuring their muscles will make them invulnerable to HIV, homophobia, ageing, whatever." There's even the nasty, though unfounded, rumour that the bigger the muscles, the smaller the dick. That's just sour grapes, of course; any cock is bound to look smaller when nestled between thighs the size of sequoias.

In the gay community at large, the power of six-pack abs has never been stronger. For some of us, the quest for physical perfection is bound to fail; great physiques are due to genetics as well as free weights. And the tyranny of the perfect bod can be as damaging to some guys' self-esteem as it is to women (and many gay men) with eating disorders.

But let's face it, many of us less-than-ripped guys will gratefully get down on our knees to worship lovely lats, ripped abs, and potent pecs. "When I'm with a well-built man," says a muscle seeker, "I feel so safe, like I'm in presence of a big, strong animal who'll take good care of me. And so I'll do damn near anything to please him."

Twinks and bears have their fans, of course, and not every gym hunk is looking for a partner as pumped-up as himself. Some great bods owe something to steroids, proof that some men will harm themselves in order to look "healthy." And then there are the muscle queens who are so overdeveloped they can't walk down the sidewalk without waddling. And yet there's undeniably something gorgeous about rippling muscles beneath taut skin, a V-shaped torso, calves as large as most guys' thighs. Want to get pumped? Perhaps you should pump up.





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