Monday, May 26, 2003

(An entry in honor of Memorial Day:)

The change of season always throws me. I love reasonably warm, sunshine-filled days as much as anybody, but my fantasies tend to be dark (in more ways than one) and prone to fulfillment in the middle of the night. Some of the happiest, most relaxed and contented hours of my life have been those I've spent in full bat or cop regalia in the deepest reaches of my basement, far from windows which would let me know whether or not the sun has risen again. In a perfect world, I'd stay down there in my makeshift batcave for days on end (and I sometimes have) -- but then there's another side of me that either wants or needs to re-enter the daylight world, a transition which pretty much requires that I cast aside the black lycra/rubber/leather armor and resume my public identity.

And that's why god made biking and exercise culture, I'm convinced. I was ecstatic when spandex hit the mainstream exercise world in the 80s -- I was never one for the gym before that, but eventually my love for the outfits led me (in a halting way, strictly on my own terms) to the workout lifestyle. It dawned on me sometime in the late 90s that since I'd been raiding sports stores for years in search of batsuit items to wear in secret, I might as well adopt some of them in my Bruce Wayne existence. So it is that I'm sitting at this very moment in lycra cycling shorts, having cast aside my tight-fitting, leather-palmed bike gloves and waist-hugging fanny pack (a poor but serviceable replacement utility/duty belt) after a long, satisfying ride. It's my way of walking in two worlds at once: I can appear in public (still a bit shyly) in socially acceptable attire, which also constitutes a daytime version of my favorite nightwear. All I lack is a lycra top that doesn't call attention to my ever-expanding gut.

I don't exactly have the physique to pull this stuff off convincingly, but I don't really care. Years ago, a leatherman friend of mine pointed at a middle-aged shlub in form-fitting tights jogging down the sidewalk and clucked, "Some people just weren't born to wear spandex." I'm not sure I agree. We don't all look like superheroes (or supervillains), but that shouldn't stop us from acting like them any time we please. One of the things I like most about leather bar culture is that the clientele appears to be considerably less body-obsessed than the rest of gay male society. Maybe that's just an illusion (bear lovers can be just as fixated on flab and fur as twink afficianadoes are hung up on abs and hairless chests), but if so I'm maintaining the myth as long as I can. While I've seen my fair share of greek gods in bars with names like The Eagle and The Lure, I've also seen guys with beer bellies, nerds, men in their sixties, and more than a few people with visible disabilities.

Online lycra fetish forums (of the sort you can find here) invariably include discussions about how intimidating it is to wear the stuff in public. Part of me feels like, "Come on guys, get over it: You're not talking about capes and masks or harnesses and chaps, but stuff that was always intended to be seen and worn in broad daylight in middle America. If you didn't feel the erotic charge, you probably wouldn't think twice about dressing this way." But when I'm honest with myself, I realize that I experience that same self-consciousness all the same, as if my secret alter ego is about to be uncovered if I hop on my bike in black cycling shorts or jog around the block in tights. This stuff carries a baggage for me -- and my kinky brothers and sisters -- it simply doesn't carry for other people. And that's part of the appeal.

Come to think of it, I've also received my fair share of taunts yelled from passing cars and asshole adolescents for the way I'm dressed. A couple have even tossed out semi-incoherent references to Batman and his ilk. It's another aspect of the masked superhero mythos that fascinates me: the costumed crimefighter's insistence on adopting a guise that makes him (or her) a figure of fun. Batman says his get-up is intended to strike fear into the hearts of criminals ("a cowardly, superstitious lot"), but in reality it's far more likely to make him a target for rednecks. It's a disguise which both conceals its wearer's identity and proclaims it to the world.

More to be said on that last point later. For now, it's time to shed the shorts and slip back into street clothes for a few hours. Such is life: one costume change after another.

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