You start by swimming. You swim because most of the other swimmers are septuagenarians and older, and it’s unlikely you’ll see anyone you know. Swimming is also likely the one sport you enjoyed doing as a kid, not because of the speedos but because you didn’t have to talk to anyone. In fact, it’s the lack of interpersonal contact that made the pool so attractive to you as a little gay kid. The homoeroticism of team sports was too much to handle. Besides, nothing ever gets accomplished in groups. Ayn Rand said that.
The other good thing about going to the pool is that, even though you weigh 120 pounds and have zero musculature, you are one of the fastest people there. Smooth strokes actually take a fair amount of practice, no innuendo intended, and the buff guys “training for a triathlon” or “just doing cardio” don’t hold a candle to you, former “competitive swimmer.” No one acknowledges that you’re racing, but that doesn’t make the feeling of beating the 6’4’’ guy in the skimpy red speedo any less triumphant. You think of the varsity rower you used to hook up with, and you feel like you’ve won at something.
The process of swimming is better than you remember it, much better. Some of the other guys are good-looking, and you don’t feel so bad ogling now that you’re officially gay and not a closeted faglet. You feel a little guilty, but hey, everybody has to turn their head to breathe, right?
You fantasize about meeting the love of your life in that pool. You just know, one day, you’ll be rinsing off next to that adorable Hispanic guy in the black jammer and he’ll smile and ask if you want to get lunch. This won’t happen, of course, but there are new people coming in everyday, and who knows? Anything’s possible.
It won’t really matter anyway. After a few weeks of swimming you notice your arm muscles have grown a little bit and your shoulders are a little bigger. You look in the mirror and think yourself almost attractive. You remind yourself that, for a certain niche, you’ll always be at least a 6, which translates to a 4.5 for people without Twink fetishes. But now you upgrade your self-image to a 5, and you change your body type on OkCupid from “skinny” to “thin.” You’re moving up in the world.
You start leaving clothes and toiletries at the gym. You feel comfortable showering there. You notice “the gym” slowly creeping into your daily conversation. “Yeah, I’ll go out, I just need to go to the gym first.” “I’ll call you back in an hour, I’m about to go to the gym.” You have dinner with your extended family, and elderly relatives who used to compare you to a Holocaust survivor (we’re Jewish, it’s allowed) comment on your improved physique. “And you seem happier, too!” they say. And you are.
You upgrade. You start running on the treadmill. You’re a little nervous in the cardio room those first few days, what with all the other humans and all. Faces are visible up there, not like in the dank pool three stories underground, and you might run into someone you know, possibly even an ex-hookup. But so what! You’re a gym rat. You have to get your daily workout in, otherwise you just don’t feel like yourself. This is what people say; this is what you say.
The ability to listen to your iPod is a big plus, and you wonder how you ever managed to swim for sustained periods of time without Shakira, the Beatles or Childish Gambino. You find that reggaeton gets you especially amped, and you find you’ve never felt hornier than you do on that treadmill. And now that you’re this sexy gym rat — no, even better, gym bunny — you have the confidence to go out and get it… gurl!
One day, you get off the treadmill after your usual 5k — no big deal — and you take a swig from your Nalgene. You stand there in your XS American Apparel v-neck, hands on your hips, and realize that you — yes, you, you tiny, gay elf! — might actually be a gym rat after all.
On that day, you know the time has come. It is time for you to become a Hot Gay Guy.
The Hot Gay Guy is very different from the “cute gay guy” that your girlfriends call you. Hot Gay Guys are a whole other level, a special kind of super gym rat. They go to different bars, have different friends, work at different jobs. You don’t even bother talking to the Hot Gay Guys, much less hitting on them; you consider yourself lucky if one will call you his wingman.
You close the water bottle and walk by the other runners on their treadmills, the skinny girls and the overweight guys, and you think that you have surpassed them. “I am running this b-tch, you are just a dog walker,” Childish Gambino says in your earbud. You nod your head in agreement. “Why, yes. I AM running this b-tch.”
You amble downstairs casually, as if you’ve done this a zillion times before. And then, there it is. You have now entered Hot Guys’ territory. This is The Weight-Room.
You immediately notice the biceps, the incredibly bulging biceps that you’d forgotten existed in real humans other than Ryan Gosling and porn stars. These Herculean hunks are pumping iron, and you remember that term has a literal meaning.
One pump, two pump — their fists clench a bar twice as heavy as you are, their temples are covered with large, intense sweat droplets. You now understand why they call it “sweating bullets,” and you understand this is something you will never experience. Not here, anyway. Not now.
The song ends, and now it’s just the sounds of guys grunting and metal clanking. The weight room isn’t only Hot Gay Guys, it’s downright heterosexual. This is the athlete’s version of a WASPs-only country club. This is middle school gym class, and you’re last pick. Again.
You pretend you’ve gotten a call and have to leave. Not that anyone noticed you. You practically fade into the air, you skinny little thing. You run upstairs, run away as fast as you can. You might forget your water bottle down there in the heat of the moment, but you won’t have the courage to go back for it. Maybe tomorrow you’ll check the lost and found.
Tomorrow, when you’re back on the treadmill. You’ve gotta do your 5k. You just don’t feel like yourself if you don’t. You’re a gym rat, after all.