The Community Initiative, which used to be called the San Francisco Gay Men's Community Initiative, presented a Body Image Forum at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on May 20, 2009.
During his introduction coordinator Lewis Nightingale thanked the 70-plus member audience for passing up the “American Idol” finale.
The panelists were diverse and carefully chosen:
Therapist Mark Paterson Estrada, who wants people to make an effort to have a better body image, and to be aware of the danger
of crystal meth, personal trainer Patrick Baressi, who is also an actor, activist, and teacher, self-identified Bear Phil Siegel, drag performer and actor Trauma Flintstone, academic and erotic film star Derrick Hanson, student and activist Smoke Man, and HIV testing counselor Blue Buddha.
MC Tom Orr, who is a well known and provocative composer, singer, actor, playwright, and erotic film star, spoke seriously about how young men are missing mentors due to the death of so many older men from AIDS. Many of the young men need guidance in dating, building a household, and establishing a career. Then he sang his own version of “I Feel Pretty” which stated that most of our community’s problems are related to poor body image and low self-esteem.
The Community Initiative is able to receive funding and contributions because the rising STD and HIV rates were connected by surveys to alienation among queer men. Events with bonding rituals, a series of interesting projects, and a high level of coordinator consciousness has made the Community Initiative a role model for groups that want to being everyone together.
The subject of the forum drew much of the audience, and others were drawn by their appreciation of the film appearances of Derrick Hanson and Tom Orr. They have given a lot of men a lot of pleasure. And both are tireless charity fundraisers for combating AIDS and crystal meth. And Hanson and Orr are spokesmen for the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s “Sex Without Meth Is Hot Sex” campaign.
Derrick Hanson was put on the spot because panelists and audience members felt that he is so good looking, muscular, and sexy that he cannot relate to their difficulties. Hanson responded that he was a skinny, openly queer youth in school and was widely hated. He also mentioned that he has been in the sex industry since age 12, and that he sees beauty in everyone with whom he comes in close contact.
Phil Siegel made an observation that after a certain age, men become invisible in the Castro. And Blue Buddha spoke about the Bears judging each other’s clothes, behavior, and body shape. Phil Siegel responded that people want to belong to a tribe, and since there are so many open gays, there is going to be subdividing.
Panelist Mark Peterson Estrada said that he wants people to treat each other better, and not go along with bad behavior. Patrick Baressi mentioned that even when guys work out a lot, the idealized shirtless men in advertising discourage them. Tom Orr responded that the men in the ads are discouraged also, since their images are heavily enhanced.
Blue Buddha and Smoke Man spoke about their experiences as African-Americans, and an audience member suggested a forum high-jacking since the event was to discuss body image and not race. The Community Initiative is credited for their racism forums.
Trauma Flintstone spoke about the importance of the wide acceptance of flamboyant “American Idol” contestant Adam Lambert, and how effeminacy is in the range of male image, with its supposed opposite — that of extreme macho Tom of Finland posturing. Then he sang “What Makes a Man” to sustained applause.
The panelists each spoke a couple times, and there was a lot of audience input, which is the mark of a successful forum.
The finale featured MC Tom Orr flexing himself into butch poses and then flinging his arms into showgirl stances on the edge of the stage. It was beyond brain-twisting.