Thursday, December 12, 2002
In Truth, Beauty. In Beauty, What?

Well, let’s see, what do we have today? Ah, I spot “The Steroid Panic,” yet another paean to testosterone from everyone’s favorite `roid, Andrew Sullivan. Since SullyWatch practically begged me to blog about this, I will. (But I would have anyway.)

In the event you haven’t read it, the piece is, ostensibly, a comparison between recent articles on steroid use in the New York Times (Howell Raines. Therefore, bad! Very, very bad!) and Reason magazine (Libertarian. Therefore, good.) (Andy is very Manichean, as you well know.)

Writes Andy: “[W]here both pieces agree is the need for much more research on how steroids can improve health and beauty, if used responsibly. I’ve experienced this myself and seen it in others with HIV and AIDS - enough to wonder how much more good these drugs could do if allowed to be used more widely.”

At last, the truth. At least, the truth according to Andy, which is that access to anabolic steroids shouldn’t be restricted to those who have a genuine medical need for them, a group that unfortunately, but providentially, it seems, includes Sullivan. Instead, they should be readily available to everyone. Andy is a little vague on whether that availability should be immediate or should be delayed until the long-term health effects of steroid use can be thoroughly studied. The health, safety, and well being of the general public would suggest the latter course to any reasonable person, but don’t count on Andy joining that bandwagon anytime soon.

Either way, though, Andy, and many others like him, win out. After all, Andy still has his Androgel script and I suspect he knows plenty of men who have access to steroids through script-pad-happy doctors, gay or not, who are willing to supply their needs (or demands). As for those without such resources…they’re just stupid losers. And skinny little wimps, too. And Andy could kick their asses! And they would deserve it. Why are they sitting there moronically worried about possible (remotely possible, I guess we’re to assume) liver damage, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, strokes, psychotic episodes, acne, and shrinking testicles when they too could become things of “beauty.”

We must keep in mind, however, that Andy, always the voice of moderation (except when it comes to Howell Raines, the New York Times, Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party, etc.) implies that he uses anabolic steroids “responsibly.”

“Responsibly” is an interesting choice of words here. My nearest dictionary, Merriam-Webster, defines “responsible,” the adjectival form of the adverb “responsibly,” as: 1. liable to be called upon to answer for one’s acts or decisions; 2: able to fulfill one’s obligations; 3: able to choose for oneself between right and wrong; 4: involving accountability or important duties.

I suspect Andy meant to say “judiciously” (“judicious, adj.: having, exercising, or characterized by sound judgment”), but I’ll be generous and presume that in choosing the word “responsibly” Andy was employing the word as defined in Merriam-Webster’s third entry for “responsible”: “Able to choose for oneself between right and wrong.”

We know already that Andy is operating on his own with respect to matters pertaining to his health (and the health of many others) and, it has been sad to witness, with respect to his writing career as well. As one of SASsy’s readers, an internist, wrote: “I am tired of hearing about the virtues of testosterone from a man who obviously takes more than is needed. You could make the argument that the ‘marvelous feeling’ [Sullivan] describes [after applying Androgel] is just a lesser version of the psychosis that has been well documented from anabolic steroid abuse.”

And Andy himself has expounded on how testosterone can make men “feel good” (actually, feel better than there are “allowed to”), and more recently, to help men “feel more like men.” Given Andy’s self-confessed off-label and physiologically misdirected usage of Androgel, it’s clear that he not only fails to comprehend the lexicographical difference between the words “responsible” and “judicious,” he fails to make the corresponding distinction in his use of prescribed medications.

Having said all that, I’m sure readers were struck first and foremost, as I was, by Andy’s use of the term “beauty” in this particular post. Andy says we need “much more research on how steroids can improve…beauty.” We do? Says who? Not me. And I say the only word for an HIV-positive man who advocates that precious funds for medical research be devoted to studying the aesthetic benefits of steroids is appalling. OK, maybe grotesque.

With these small sentence fragments Andy revealed where his priorities lie. They lie in beauty, not truth; surface and not depth; the skin and not the heart, let alone the brain. Never again should Andy be allowed to criticize other gay men for being shallow, superficial, or narcissistic, or to criticize those who do, because Andy, this self-appointed arbiter of all things gay and bright and “conservative,” has revealed himself to be exactly that -- shallow, superficial, and narcissistic. And less. Much less.

As noted above, Andy adds: “[I] wonder how much more good these drugs could do if allowed to be used more widely.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? What “good” do these drugs do, anyway? For one thing, they help people with AIDS-related wasting syndrome to maintain a healthy weight and obtain more benefits from the food they eat. They help men with a genuine testosterone deficiency to bring their hormones into balance. Beyond that, the “good” they do is purely cosmetic. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. We as a society have approved a number of treatments that are solely cosmetic in nature, and beyond the medical industry, there is a huge business in lotions, creams, powders, ointments, and the like, all designed solely to enhance one’s appearance.

But other than for the tiny slice of the population that has a genuine medical need to anabolic steroids, Andy is recommending that these untested substances be more freely distributed, and this in the pursuit of the undefined virtue of “beauty.” Toward what end? The creation of a more beautiful people? The most beautiful flock of eagles known to mankind? The eradication of ugliness in all of its forms? Mustn’t disturb the crown prince, you know.

What the hell, I’ll go into deep Susan Sontag-Bertram Gross-Michelangelo Signorile mode here: This is fascism. This is fascism with a friendly face. This is fascism with a Chelsea boy’s face. And it’s not pretty. And deep down, it doesn’t fit Andy, and I suspect Andy knows this all too well.

After all, Andy is writing honestly when he says that he has seen the ways using steroids has improved his own “health and beauty,” at least when it comes to the “beauty” part. (I can’t speak for his health since I’m not his physician and I do not know Sullivan, but as for his “beauty,” and I’m defining that in the broadest possible terms, he’s absolutely correct.) Andy, who cannot be described as tall, was once a slender 20-something young lad. Over time, however, he became what most people would call a little chubby. (There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just stating it as a fact.) More recently, however, he has become more lean and solid. It has been, I must say, a striking transformation.

I respect Andy, I truly do, for being honest about the source and spark of his dramatic, but unnatural, metamorphosis. As the Times article noted, many steroid users, when pressed, will swear their increased muscle mass stems entirely from consistently heavy exercise. Andy’s status as a “public figure” of sorts likely weighed on his decision to go public on this issue, but he obviously is pleased with the outcome of his use of steroids, happy enough to share his glee.

As I wrote this little sketch the larger point came upon me suddenly. While Andy bitches that the concern of the Times and (many) others about the potential risks of non-prescription steroid use to an individual’s physical health, he says not a word about the links between non-prescription steroid use--and abuse--and the steroid user’s mental health. This is an odd oversight, but one that is very revealing.

Far be it for me to call Andy crazy, and I’m not doing so, but I can’t help wonder what lies in the mind of a man who so unabashedly chooses a chemically derived version of “beauty” over the natural glory of a well formed and physically disciplined man. Or what goes through the mind of a man who thinks men need drugs to “feel more like men.” Or what goes through the mind of a man who approaches a nearly orgasmic state of ecstasy after applying Androgel to his chest and then feels the need to tell the world about the experience.

I have the feeling it has nothing to do with his physical health.


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