It started with a tweet. Actually, a series of tweets.
Justin Levy of Minneapolis was trading ideas with his longtime Twitter correspondent, Los Angeles cultural critic Mathew Rodriguez, a writer for Slate, Village Voice, Mic and INTO. The topic was body types for gay men.
Levy, who is thick like his late pro wrestler/pro footballer grandfather Butch Levy, wondered why he was attracted to men with bodies that he wished he had for himself. He then tweeted: “Why should bodies like mine take work to desire?”
Rodriguez, who is also thick, and Levy were immediately struck by the line. They agreed to put it on a T-shirt for a limited time in February and ended up donating $300 of the proceeds to the Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.
With June being Pride Month, Levy has decided to invest his own money in a second run of T-shirts.
“This started as a self-critique. Why shouldn’t I say: I look good today right as I am?” explained Levy, who is national fundraising manager for the American Public Media Group in St. Paul. “The project is to challenge folks to love their own bodies as they are and not seek to change it to be desirable. They are desirable as they are. The message is inclusive. I want folks of all different bodies to see that that’s a great question.”
Levy is hoping to do with the T-shirts what Minneapolis-launched singer/rapper Lizzo has done with such empowering, self-love anthems as “My Skin.”
“Yeah, I’m Lizzo without the rap but I’m white, gay and Jewish,” he joked.
Levy will be selling the tees for $25 — available in pink or goldenrod, in eight sizes from extra-small to XXXXL — at Cake Plus-Size Resale in Minneapolis and Subtext Books in St. Paul (the bookstore sells the shirts both in-store and online via subtextbooks.com). Levy is working with Subtext to offer a discounted shirt with each purchase of a book about body issues such as “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay or “Some Hell” by Twin Cities author Patrick Nathan.
The T-shirt project has made a profound impact on Levy.
“This has made me immensely more confident,” said Levy, who considers himself more advocate than activist.
“It’s made me more aware of the way folks, whether consciously or unconsciously, talk about bodies and how unfriendly we are to them. Why is there something I have to reach to be desirable? Asking that question has allowed for a lot of growth and allowed me to connect with folks and create a community around conversations. It’s not like everyone who has said it is fat or thick or plus-size or thin. It’s folks all across the board.”
What kind of reaction does Levy get when he wears his T-shirt?
“I wore it at a gay club, the Saloon, for the first time on my 29th birthday [in May]. No one said anything to me. But I saw people’s eyes linger,” he reported. “Sometimes my fellow gay men can be critical about bodies and how you look. Being able to challenge that in my own community is both terrifying and exciting.”