ANALYSIS OF DATA I

 
My initial approach in analyzing the data was not take anything for granted and to question everything, especially in regard to my own prejudices and interpretations. During this analysis I sought to make comparisons, to collate the data into an organised form and further my own evolving theory whilst at the same time trying to disprove it. In the analysis I used my ability to look at information from multiple perspectives. I was assisted in this analysis and later in the development of my evolving theory by integrating themes and concepts borrowed from other studies that had relevance to my analytical and theoretical enquiry. I also made use of quotations in publications to support my analysis of data and further the development of my evolving theory.

In evaluating the mass of data that I gathered from the interviews I found that there was evidence of ideas, categories, and conditions (which all have a range of variability) that pertained to my theoretical investigation. According to Strauss and Corbin,

"Conditions are sets of events or happenings that create the situations, issues, and problems pertaining to a phenomenon and, to a certain extent, explain why and how persons or groups respond in certain ways. Conditions might arise out of time, place, culture, rules, regulations, beliefs, economics, power, or gender factors as well as the social worlds, organizations, and institutions in which we find ourselves along with our personal motivations and biographies ... Conditions must be discovered in data and traced for their full impact ... Their path of influence on action/interactions may be direct or indirect, more or less linear. Conditions may be micro (i.e., closer to the source of action/interaction such as peer pressure and wanting to defy parental authority) or macro (such as the degree of availability of drugs in the community and cultural attitudes toward drug use)."1 (My bold)

This provided the basic assumptions and underlying conditions upon which I built my analysis and interpretation of data. I now believe that macro and micro conditions intersect and overlap, interacting directly or indirectly in any given situational context.2 I do not think that the multiplicity of actions/interactions relies wholly on either micro nor macro conditions but are a combination of both in differing ratios, in any given situational context, much as I believe that incidences of unsafe sex do not rely on wholly conscious or subconscious decisions but are a combination of both phenomena that varies within any given situational context. Here again I must stress that I am not a trained social researcher. The conditions and range of variability of the conceptual categories that I have laid out below come from my understanding of their relative importance in the analysis of the data, embedded as they were within that data, and to benefit the advancement of my theoretical enquiry. The paths we choose to take in life are governed by such conceptual categories and conditions and I believe that an understanding of them, even an intuitive one, is crucial if you want to know what is going on in regards to the situational contexts and actions/interactions of self-esteem, body image and safe sex that take place in gay men and the resultant consequences and outcomes.

NB. Within the website and Thesis notes I have used the term '(sub)conscious' written in this form to mean a combination of both the conscious and the subconscious mind.

 

 

Body Image Desire

 
From my analysis it would appear that most of the respondents first found images of the male body that they were attracted to within the boundaries of family, school, the media, beats, consumer culture, and through sport. Some respondents had quite specific body image type desires even at this formative stage of male body image desire, whilst others sampled indiscriminately from numerous sources and fancied whatever took their eye at a particular time. Some respondents ideal body type was formed early on before coming out whilst other respondents ideal body types were formed later after exposure to the images present within gay culture, soon after coming out. Other respondents stated that when they first came out they desired older men because of the need to have the security that these father-like figures could provide. The traditional image of a camp fairy homosexual, confirmed by the character of Mr. Humphries in the television programme 'Are You Being Served' for example, was a real turn off for most respondents.

Most respondents body image ideals were based on the smooth, muscular mesomorphic body image although some respondents liked muscular hairy bodies as well. Very few respondents expressed a desire for fat or skinny bodies as their body image ideals. One respondent's idea of what a gay man looked like came principally from seeing muscular mesomorphic body images of gay men on Tv. Some respondents saw straight pornography magazines before they came out but most never saw gay magazines or gay pornography until after they had come out. One respondent, Gavin, formulated his gay sex identity solely from gay porn magazines and videos, his sexual interactions a learnt behavioural pattern dependent on the signification the body and male2male sex as site of multiple partners and sexual intercourses.

Gay pornography images of smooth, muscular men were important to a number of respondents in the formation of their body image ideals and I believe that these images help formulate a desire for this type of body image ideal through their presence and visuality within contemporary gay society. Some of the respondents who were small in body image stature desired the security that a larger, smooth, muscled body could afford them and the domination of that body over them. For others, desire for the muscular mesomorphic body image was a desire for everything the respondent was not - "being tall, toned, tanned, smooth, muscled and blond."3 Asian respondents were aware of the stereotype of the effeminate 'rice' queen and some sought acceptance in Western gay society by going to the gym to attain the muscular mesomorphic body. Other Asian respondents were still conditioned in the types of men that they feel they are allowed to desire (the stereotype of the older Caucasian gay man and the younger Asian man), although this was felt to be changing.

I found that the vast majority of respondents desired a good body image, close to their ideal, in their partner. This desire was either the body image alone or in combination with a desire for their personality as part of an overall package. I found that for a few respondents desire for good body image in their partner was not that important because it was their partner's personality that they were interested in.

Most respondents noted that desire for different body images had widened as they got older. Respondents noted that this was due to an appreciation of difference, an acknowledgement that image is just surface, an acceptance of respondents and partner's body image and self, and the importance of personality as much as image in others. Several respondents commented that this widening in the appreciation of different body images may also be due to the availability of sex with body image ideals and the narrowing of choice in sexual partners as you get older, coupled with the feeling of being unable to compete with younger gay men for more sexually desirable body image partners. A few respondents stated that their body image ideals had hardly changed at all over the course of their life up until this point and they had basically remained the same since they were formed.

The range of variability of desire for body image ideals in the 31 respondents did not provide a large cross section of body image ideals. Most respondents wanted to have a sexual partner who fitted the muscular mesomorphic body image and did not desire fat or thin men. This desire was promoted by the macro conditions present within consumer culture, news media and the gay community through images of the muscular mesomorphic body as a consumer and sexual ideal. Micro conditions (present in a cruising environment for example) also promote the muscular mesomorphic body as a sexual ideal. Both macro and micro conditions are reliant on the gaze of the self and others. How we look at our own and other men's bodies and how they look at us through the gaze is, I believe, a key element in both macro and micro conditions of body image desire. (Please see the Eye-Pressure chapter for more information on the Sartrian, gay, and social gazes).

Exposure to different cultural and contextual environments when growing up (the beach, sport, school, and father figures, for example). provided some respondents with a basis for future male body image desire which was further supplemented in later life with images from the news media and actual sexual contacts. For other respondents desire for the muscular mesomorphic body image was a learnt behaviour that was formulated soon after entering the hierarchical structure of the gay community. Respondents desire for the muscular mesomorphic body image ranged from:

1.

A natural liking for this kind of body already inherent within the respondent.

2.

A natural liking for this kind of body reinforced and influenced by seeing these images in news media, TV programmes and magazines after coming out.

3.

A learnt behaviour by gay men (after coming out) through vision of these muscular mesomorphic bodies as the epitome of what a gay man should look like in magazines, pornography, clubs and dance parties that overrides other body image type desires.

4.

The need for the security that this body image offered.

5.

The need for the power and domination that this body image offered.

 

 

I believe that these are not fixed positions and desire for body image ideals is fluid for any given situational context. Different men can invoke different responses in sexual situations even though they have the same basic body image type desire that closely fits an ideal. For example a gay man with a desire for Sadomasochism might be more willing to undertake unsafe sex with a man with a muscular mesomorphic body image who is into S/M rather than one who is not because of the nature of his desire for both the muscular mesomorphic body and his desire for Sadomasochistic activity. Similarly the connection and 'fit' in a sexual encounter with one man with a muscular mesomorphic body can be totally different to another with the same kind of body because of the different personalities, connections, intimacies and energies that such encounters evoke. Body image desire alone (via the respondents objective/subjective gaze) or body image desire in combination with numerous other factors including the respondents objective/subjective gaze is fluid for any given situational context.
Most respondents realised that the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal was just a fantasy image but this knowledge did not stop most of the respondents desire to have sex with such a body nor letting that desire affect their self-esteem, depression and sexual activities. For respondents who did not fit body image ideals being happy in the self and acknowledging difference in others was crucial to an acceptance of sexual desire that was not necessarily based on a desire for the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal.

 

 

Body Image Perception and Self-Esteem

 
From my analysis I note that respondents concepts of their own body image varied due to different contexts, feelings, age, family, school, self-esteem, inferiority, alienation from self, perception of their body image when compared to others, appraisal of their body image by others and the reception their body image received in sexual situations amongst other conditions. All respondents reported fluctuating self-esteem in regards to their body image. Some respondents concepts of their own body image were affected through persecution by family, friends or at school when growing up and before coming out. Very few respondents reported little body image consciousness. Some respondents body image perception and self-esteem improved after they had come out onto the gay scene, due to acceptance of themselves, their body and their sexuality by themselves and others. A large majority of respondents body image concepts were affected by the ideal image of the muscular mesomorph after coming out into the gay community in a negative way.

This 'ideal' image impacted heavily on how the respondents related to their bodies, how they felt about those bodies and how they interacted with other men. Some respondents felt alienated from their bodies and unable to interact with other gay men because they did not have a muscular mesomorphic body. They developed feelings of inferiority in regards to a perception of their own body image. For example, when Michael came out at 20 he had, "Very little interaction with the gay community ... Michael felt alienated because he felt he did not have the body, could not make the friends - he feels it would have been much easier if he would have had the body to start with." 4
Several respondents said they felt they were alienated from themselves and their corporeality and had an inferiority complex about perceptions of their own body image. For some respondents this alienation and inferiority took years to get over and in others still continue to cause major self-esteem problems. For example Sam has had low self-esteem in regards to his body image perception all his life. "Sam still feels quite bad about his own body image and therefore has always had a low self-esteem in this respect - he has fought bouts of depression bought on by this low self-esteem all his life."5 Always may also be due to any number of other contributing factors relating to other phenomenon in his life but it is Sam's perception of his body image as a major contributing factor to his low self-esteem and bouts of depression that is important to him.

Some respondents had a subjective fear of rejection that was caused by being made to feel inadequate and imperfect in their bodies by comparing themselves to the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal present within the gay community, sport and consumer culture. A few respondents retreated from interaction with the image to an appreciation of other mental and social qualities. This appreciation was more noticeable the older the respondent was. Respondents such as Marcus overcame low self-esteem due to body image perception and desire for muscular mesomorphic body image by concentrating on other aspects of self-esteem, such as job, friends, intelligence and family.6
Some respondents started going to the gym to increase their self-esteem in regards to their body image perception and start to feel better about their bodies through their ability to modify that body. They did it both for themselves alone and for themselves and others. Other respondents, including a different Marcus from the one above, started going to the gym in order to attract other men who had the body image ideals they desired for sex, and having sex with these body image ideals did increase their self-esteem, although this increase had to be constantly revalidated by their ability to have sex with these ideals and belong to this particular lifestyle.7 Other respondents, when feeling unhappy about their body image or body image in combination with other aspects of their lives also used sex to validate feelings of self worth. For example Caeli. "If he is feeling bad or unhappy, or if he is in need of gratification, or is feeling bad about his own body, then he goes and has sex with a cute guy and that makes him feel better in his own self-esteem. Instant fix - one way of getting gratification and having someone else remind him that he's OK."8

Several HIV+ respondents started going to the gym to improve their body image perception, to gain strength and generally build overall fitness.

Some of the older respondents noted that it was difficult to obtain body image ideals for sex due to the perception by self and others that you and your body were 'over the hill', a belief especially prevalent in a culture that is based on youth, beauty and desirability - the inevitability of getting older in a youthful culture. The respondents felt they couldn't compete with with younger men with muscular mesomorphic body types. Pete, for example, found it, "Difficult to attain his ideal body image in another man - the further he reaches out, the further away it seems to get. Thinks that the years have got away from him - nobody interested in him at his age."9 This perception tended to impact in a negative way on the self-esteem and body image perception of older respondents.

 

The range of variability of body image perception and self-esteem is large. In analysing the data I found that all respondents levels of both local (appearance) and overall self-esteem was affected by perceptions of their own body image, and perceptions of their own body image when compared to the body images of others. These perceptions are fluid, varying at different times and in different situational contexts (for example body image is not as crucial at beats where sex usually does not happen in the nude and several respondents said they had more success at beats where their body image was not such a factor). I believe that for the respondents physical appearance is of key importance in establishing personal levels of overall self-esteem. These levels of self-esteem and body image perception are affected by reflected appraisal and social comparison,10 that is, how the respondents thought other men viewed their bodies in comparison with the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal present within the gay community.
Most respondents felt inadequate, vulnerable, and imperfect when in competition with this type of body image. To a large degree this impacted on their body image perception and self-esteem in a negative way. Their inability to compete with other men who did possess the muscular mesomorphic body image generally led to lower local and overall self-esteem. In regards to obtaining sex with this kind of body image ideal the respondents who did not fit this ideal positioned themselves at a lower level within the hierarchical 'order of desirability' of men in the gay community. Macro conditions, such as the prevalence of the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal promoted within magazines, pornography and advertising did affect most respondents levels of self-esteem in regards to their bodies.
Micro conditions, such as the fear of rejection by a muscular mesomorphic body in a cruising environment because of the respondents perception of that man's reaction to their body image, also affected respondents levels of self-esteem in regards to their body image. Both macro and micro conditions (of which these are only one example), intersect and interact with each other within an individual and between individuals in each situational context to varying degrees, and these interactions also vary from one situational context to another.

 

Footnotes

1. Strauss, Anselm and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998, pp.130-131.

2. "Macro conditions often intersect and interact with the micro ones and thereby, in direct or indirect ways, become part of the situational context. The paths taken by conditions, as well as subsequent actions/interactions and consequences that follow, can be traced in the data."

Strauss, Anselm and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998, p.182.

3. Interview with Kieran, 25, 170cm, 70kg, white, middle-class. Melbourne. 20/10/1997.

4. Interview with Michael, 22, 5'10", 83kg, white, clerk, working-middle class. Melbourne. 05/10/1997.

5. Interview with Sam, 34, 5'10", 85kg, white, Cypriot, working/middle-class. Melbourne. 14/10/1997.

6. Interview with Marcus, 23, 5'4", 65kg, white, middle-class, worker - storeman/packer, waiter. Lives country area,. Melbourne. 28/09/1997.

7. Interview with Marcus, 27, 183cm, 74kg, medical graduate, Chinese, middle-class. Melbourne. 15/10/1997.

8. Interview with Caeli, 22, 178cm, 70kg, white, middle-upper class. Melbourne. 25/06/1998.

9. Interview with Pete, 44, 5'11", 74kg, white, lower-middle class. Melbourne. 09/06/1998.

10. "Self-esteem is formed at an early age, through reflected appraisal and social comparison. In the process of reflected appraisal, children gain information about their competencies and acceptability through the reactions of others (especially people who are highly valued)." (My bold).

Wankel, Leonard. "Self-Esteem and Body Image. The Research File: Information for professionals from the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute," in Canadian Medical Association Journal. 153, (5). September 1st, 1995, p.607.