Leading Edge / Spring 2009
All the Young Dudes

Toronto’s gay community favours young, fit, Caucasian men.


Feelings of unattractiveness can lead to health problems and risky sexual practices among urban gay males, according to a recent study by U of T sociology professor Adam Isaiah Green.

Illustration: Team Macho Green observed life in Toronto’s gay community over three years and conducted interviews with 70 gay men who frequented the area of Church Street between Wellesley and Carlton streets known as “the Village.” For many of the men he interviewed, sexuality and social life are intertwined.

In the study, Green outlines four main factors – youth, ethnicity, physical fitness and social class – that contribute to a gay male’s attractiveness, arguing that the Village’s status structure favours young, fit, middle- and upper-class Caucasians. On the other hand, black, Asian and Aboriginal men, working-class men and men older than 40 or overweight, faced considerable disadvantages in social status.

Green found that men in these latter groups were repeatedly rejected by potential partners and were avoided, ignored or in some cases overtly shunned in the sexual marketplace. “For instance, a man over 50 can have a really hard time in the urban gay downtown, and Asian men report they’re marginalized in the status structure,” says Green.

As a result of their low sexual status, less desirable males can suffer from low self-esteem and lack of control over their sexual life. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and alienation, depression and anxiety and to substance abuse. Green found that some were willing to agree to unsafe sex in order to please a desirable partner. “Older men may ‘trade off ’ safe sex to solidify a sexual interaction with a younger man,” according to the study.

These findings could have implications for battling HIV transmission in Canada’s largest gay community. As well, social workers should consider how feelings of perceived sexual attractiveness affect an individual’s overall physical and mental health, self-esteem and social support, says Green.

While working on the study, Green amassed a large collection of posters, magazines and fl yers from the Village. Nearly nine out of 10 feature an image of a young, fit, white model. For gay males who don’t meet this criteria, “it creates a feeling of disempowerment and of marginality,” says Green. “In some cases it can be quite consistent and severe.”

The research may be relevant outside of the gay community. Green refers to similar sexual status structures that exist in the heterosexual world, particularly among young, unmarried people and divorced men and women who return to the dating scene in mid-life.

The study was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour in December.

This story is adapted from an article published in
The Varsity.


Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by Scott Anderson on April 6th, 2009 @ 10:20 am

This article came as a great shock to me. I can scarcely believe that U of T participates in the objectification of humanity. How else can one describe research into the “sexual marketplace” that equates human beings with pieces of meat – sexual objects to be raffled off to the highest bidder? No doubt a portion of the gay community shares this attitude, but that U of T should implicitly support such a view is disgraceful! Why would the university support such research, and why would U of T Magazine not screen such an article to ensure that it never saw the light of day?

Merv MacPherson
BA 1984 Woodsworth
Trenton, Ontario

# 2
Posted by T.N. PhD%202004 on April 20th, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

Merv’s comments are frankly out of date. Challenge the research on rationale bases. It involved interviews with only 70 people in a narrow section of Toronto. Do all gay people live there? No. It’s good to expose racism and ageism. It’s real. But the Village is not all of Toronto and not every gay man habituates the Village. I value the research Green has done but it’s limited. Applying it to Toronto’s gay population as a whole is ridiculous and no doubt Green, a sociologist, would resist that generalization.

# 3
Posted by Nice on May 8th, 2009 @ 10:42 am

This article is so right: older gay males are invisible, I know because I am one. That is the reason I am not part of that superficial and boring sub-culture. Good article.

# 4
Posted by Stephen on September 17th, 2016 @ 10:56 am

Whoa, wait a moment. Racism and ageism? We are talking about sexual attraction here. If young, fit, white men are desired in our society more than others, so be it. It may be because we live in Canada and not Zimbabwe. It’s attraction and sex, not social engineering. What’s racist is the idea that white men are getting too much attention and that everyone else deserves more.

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