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Kennedy bares it

 Common Sense Common Sense Archive  
April 2008 Email this to a friend
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The Swimsuit 'Issue'
By John Mitzel

In my years as a contributor to The Guide (over two decades, my goodness!), I do not recall this publication ever running a "Swimsuit Issue." I suspect this places The Guide in a minority amongst gay men's magazines. I like a springtime swimsuit issue as much as anyone else -- so long as I don't have to be in it. Over the seasons, my eye has been trained to note the changes in men's aquatic attire.

Illustrating this column are two pictures. One is a snap of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, from the summer of 2007, emerging from the surf in Hawaii. The other is of then Massachusetts Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in the summer of 1960, when he, too, was seeking to gain the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Kennedy is also featured in swimwear. Both Senators seem to favor the boxy fashion. Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, when he ran for his party's nomination in 1992, was famously photographed in a swimming pool; Paul wore a skimpy Speedo. He looked good. I thought I was a savvy student of the American political processes, but it took me some time to come around to the idea that part of running for president is the obligatory swimsuit shot. Even as President -- Mr. & Mrs. Clinton were famously photographed on a beach in swimwear, and the commentariat buzzed about their figures, in both cases being judged too plump.

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It's interesting how the bodies of male public figures get undraped in the public sphere. The current California governor was famously physically exposed in his public life, first as a bodybuilder (in tight trunks), and then in his acting career in action movies.

And he still made it to the governor's mansion, in what always seemed to me the electoral equivalent of a coup, a point made brilliantly by Gary Indiana in his book, Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Contempt. In all the current brouhaha about the use of steroids in professional sports, it seems odd that the use of steroids among politicians has not gained notice. The governor of California may have had a long association with muscle-building substances -- I do not know. But if he had, I was always curious as to how it impacted his cock size and the droop of his testicles. The gay mags that do have the swimsuit issues will feature gentlemen of certain endowments; the pictures I've seen of the governor, back in his bodybuilding days and clad in tight posing briefs, gave me the impression that his cock and balls were of a modest nature.

Greg Louganis always looked terrific in his swim trunks. As he was a professional diver, such apparel was in fact his work clothes. Actually, when I met Louganis -- he was signing his book at the old bookstore some years back -- I thought he looked sexier in his street clothes. It occurred to me that if Louganis had been in a diving competition in the ancient Greek Olympics, he'd not have been attired in a swimsuit. The gentlemen back then performed their feats of athletic prowess in the buff.

Taking it off on order

Consider my own modest history as a swimmer. In the fall of 1960 -- only months after this picture of JFK was snapped -- I found myself in seventh grade at a public school in Cincinnati, Ohio. A swimming class was required. The boys and the girls each had separate facilities and the boys were required to take class in the nude. (Ditto for the girls? I've no idea.) Male nude swim classes had been the tradition at this school for a long time. By the time I was on the swim team, the guys were wearing Speedos, and I fell madly in love with one of my teammates, but that's another story.

When I arrived in Boston in 1965, I promptly joined the local YMCA, where I would partake of my daily swim. The facility was all-male, of course, and there was a large sign at the entrance to the swimming pool: "No Swimsuits Allowed!" Nudity in the pool was a mandate! It was two or three years later when this sign came down and was replaced with an instruction that all swimmers must wear swimsuits. Why did this happen? I never found out, but I thought it was nutso. You get used to swimming in the nude, and there's the convenience of not having to tote around your wet swimsuit after each dip.

Looking at this picture of JFK, I recall that a friend of mine who attended Harvard College at the same time as Mr. Kennedy reminded me that all the young men who matriculated at that august institution would, as part of their intake, have a number of pictures taken on them in the nude -- front, back, sides. I'm not sure why this was done, but it has the whiff of eugenics about it. My friend told me that this was also the custom at other all-male ivies at the time (the 1930s). The JFK nudes went missing at some point; what has Harvard done with their collection of the other male nudes of legions of 18-year-olds? They might provide content for a series of calendars -- Harvard Men Nude, perhaps something even more eye-fetching than yet another Swimsuit Issue!

Author Profile:  John Mitzel
Mitzel was a founding member of the Fag Rag collective, and has been a Guide columnist since 1986. He manages
Calamus Books near Boston's South Station. His latest novel is called Inferno Heights.
Email: mitzel@calamusbooks.com
Website: calamusbooks.com

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