A gym-built body and ripped abs ("cum gutters" in porn parlance) can make some gay men fizzy with lust, but when it comes right down to it, being with a partner who is simply comfortable in his own skin can be an even bigger turn-onan idea that is at the center of the J. Julian Christopher's play, Man Boobs.
The Chicago premiere of Man Boobs a dark comedy about love, body image and acceptanceopens Pride Film and Plays' 2012 season. In the one-act play, Christopher, 34, a college professor and veteran of the New York International Fringe Festival, introduces audiences to "Spence," a librarian, and "Marty," a macho truck driver who tries to get his paramour into bedunknowingly pressuring him to reveal more than his overweight torso.
Directed by David Zak and starring Rick Heintz as Spence and Michael Hampton as Marty, Man Boobs opens Saturday, Feb. 18, at 7 Mary's Attic.
In Australia to catch the premiere of Man Boobs, Christopher fielded questions via e-mail about the play and its impact on audiences.
Windy City Times: Let's start with the title of the play: Man Boobs. Why did you select this particular title for your play?
J. Julian Christopher: Honestly, I just thought it was a funny title! I thought it was catchy and [captured] exactly what the play is about. The title doesn't ruin the reveal of the play; a lot of people think there is a revelation about Spence being self-conscious about his body, but to me that isn't a revelation. The play is about how [body image] drives Spence to handle relationships.
Man Boobs also has double meaning for me. A "boob" is often a term for someone acting stupidand Spence and Marty both act like boobs at certain points in the play.
WCT: Is Man Boobs autobiographical?
JJC: Man Boobs is slightly autobiographical. Spence is based on myself, and Marty is an amalgamation of various men I have dated. I have sabotaged relationship after relationship based on my poor body image, and it is just now, as I have come into my 30s, that I have begun to come out of this idea of what my body "should" look like and embrace the one I have.
WCT: A recent study revealed that almost half of the gay men surveyed would give up a year or more of their lives to have a ripped, gym-body. How do the results of this survey register with you, both as a gay playwright and as a member of the bear community?
JJC: Well, I am definitely a proud member of the bear community, and I honestly hate the findings of this surveyalthough I think that they are, sadly, quite accurate. Five years ago, I would have been one of the respondents to this survey who would have given up a year of my life [for this], but I think there does come a time when you finally wake up and look in the mirror and you say "Screw it." That doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind and not taking care of yourself, but it means you start to not care about your ideal of what a perfect body is because it is just thatan ideal.
The play directly deals with the findings of the survey. Spence, the main character, would probably be one of the survey respondents who would voluntarily give up a year or more of his life to look a certain way. Truthfully, the survey says less about "gay vanity" and more about what we think makes us a better man. This thinking is skewed, and that is why the bear culture exists as it does now, in absolute defiance of that societal norm.
WCT: Man Boobs toured Montréal and Quebec in 2011 and premiered at The Midsumma Festival in Melbourne, Australia, this month. Does it surprise you that the play has struck such a chord with audiences around the world?
JJC: I am not surprised that the play is connecting with people all over the world. I think that body image and self-worth are universal themes. I am, however, often surprised by how audiences react to the piece. Audiences have gasped upon seeing the unapologetic sexuality in the play.
In the beginning, I tried to wrap my brain around why this was happening, but I think it is because straight and gay audiences are not used to seeing two large men explore their sexuality in a truthful and honest way, in a context that is not comedicand they enjoy it! In queer theater, we don't really see these kinds of images and it can be quite jarring.
I truly believe that it is still socially acceptable to discriminate and make fun of overweight or obese people, so when Marty and Spence kiss and are enjoying their sexuality in a truthful way, I think that makes most audiences uneasypurely because it's something they don't see often or have ever seen.
WCT: If the overt sexuality of the play makes some audience members titter in their seats, I have to ask: Do the guys do more than simply kiss on stage?
JJC: The play has lots of sexuality in it. There is nothing more than kissing, but clothes do come off and the kissing is definitely sexual in nature, and much more than just a peck.
WCT: In a recent column on Gay.net titled "No fats, femmes or … the ugly side of online dating," the writer notes that online dating has always featured gay men candidly stating what they want from a partner or fuck buddy in terms of physicalitybut with the immediacy afforded by technology and apps like Grindr, these physical expectations have actually gotten more extreme. Do you agree?
JJC: I think that online personal ads are based on the ultimate sexual fantasy. I have also seen personal ads looking for overweight men, men with small penises and men with flat feet. I think that personal ads ultimately serve on purposesexual fulfillment. If people are on Grindr looking for dates, then there is a bigger issue at hand. Finding someone you connect with or a future partner is a different story. I think, inevitably, we learn that what we thought was "our type" isn't always the person we end up with.
WCT: You also produce a Web-based drama series, BULK ( www.bulktheseries.com ), which follows the character of Leo DurĂ¡n as he returns to the New York City bear scene after a devastating break-up. Are you trying to reach the same audience with BULK as you are with Man Boobs?
JJC: I created this series along with D.R. Knott. We wanted to give voice to underrepresented communities, and I believe that the bear community is one of those communities. The series does have a similar audience as Man Boobs, but that's not to say that I don't want other audiences who are not bears to think that these shows are not meant for them. I write about relationshipsand these guys just happen to be big and furry. I think both BULK and Man Boobs celebrate the sexuality of the bear culture, and the notion is that these characters are real menthey just happen to be larger.
Man Boobs runs Feb. 18-March 10 at Mary's Attic, 5446 N. Clark St. Tickets are $15; visit www.BrownPapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.