White Gay Men, Anti-Racism, and Diet Culture

If white gay men want to be anti-racist, they need to dismantle diet culture.

Jeffry J. Iovannone

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The events of the summer of 2020, namely the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the rise in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, made many white Americans newly aware of the history and legacy of systemic racism in the United States. The term “systemic racism” refers to the ways racist beliefs and policies combine to form an overarching social structure that produces and normalizes inequality on the basis of race.

White gay men, like many others, took to social media to profess their support of Black Lives Matter and their commitment to anti-racism by posting and retweeting anti-racist content, or adding #BLM to their profiles. The question remains whether this energy on the part of white Americans represents a long-term commitment to anti-racist practice, or if it is little more than social media punditry. Posts and commentary on social media are not equivalent to building the movements — the collective grassroots people power — necessary to bring about structural change.

Feminists of all identities who are committed to anti-racist work have increasingly called out Western diet culture as a fundamentally racist system of beliefs. Similar critiques are rarely present among white gay men. If white gay men are truly committed to practicing anti-racism, then they must also work to dismantle diet culture. Diet culture is “a system of beliefs that equates thinness, muscularity, and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue; promotes weight loss and body reshaping as a means of attaining higher status; demonizes certain foods and food groups while elevating others; and oppresses people who don’t match its supposed picture of ‘health’” (Harrison).

Diet culture is an often unrecognized, though central, part of gay male culture. Gay culture’s body norms are not solely about the attainment of thinness, but conforming to a particular body aesthetic and level of muscularity. Because dieting is primarily associated with women and femininity, gay male culture cloaks diet culture within a language of muscularity and fitness as a path to self-actualization. These norms are also rooted in anti-Black racism.

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Jeffry J. Iovannone

Historian, writer, and educator with a PhD in American Studies. I specialize in gender and LGBTQ history of the U.S. Email: jeffry.iovannone@gmail.com