Danell Leyva: (Not Yet Openly) Gay Olympic Champ, Spokesperson for Generation Moron, Dim Bulb, Himbo

First published: August 14, 2012; see update below.

American male Olympic champions this year include three of the most insipid Himbos to come along in decades.

They are: Michael Phelps, 27, who, though he is from Baltimore, talks like a Valley Boy trying unsuccessfully to form a sentence (or a coherent thought) around the Speedo stuffed in his mouth and who serves as a singularly unconvincing emissary for the proposition that pot-heads are just as sharp as … uh, hold up dude, what was I saying?; Ryan Lochte, 28, whose main claim to cultural fame is the invention of his trademark expression “Jeah” (practically Shakespeare, this boy) and the fact that, at nearly 30, he still thinks it’s cool (he’d probably say “kewl”) to feature custom-made, diamond-studded grills when he goes before the cameras; and the baby (in more ways than one) of the pack, Danell Leyva who, at 20, is old enough to vote (though one hopes he won’t) but isn’t otherwise street-legal in his own home state.

Leyva is also pretty obviously gay, though he has yet to say so officially. In the meantime, he’s letting his sexting habit speak for him.1  In other words, however things stand in the coming-out department, Leyva remains an ambassador for the proposition that young fit man = piece of meat. (In follow-up to his “nude [actually peenless] workout” spread for ESPN’s “Body Issue,” Levya’s abs-heavy everything-but-nude photos were “somehow” leaked to BuzzFeed and, oh, every other celebrity-gossip site on the ‘net), but he can barely speak without saying something cringe-worthy.)

I do understand that the dedication and time required to become an Olympic champion at such a young age means having skipped a class or thirty-seven, but I still can’t help but wonder how it came to pass that three of our biggest-deal Olympians this year are poster boys for the proposition that America’s foremost export is stupid.

Or, in Leyva’s case, maybe stupid and mean. It’s worth noting that Levya admits that his now-famous “sexting” photos were sent to a young woman whom he was (his own words) “gaming.” You don’t have to be Roland Barthes to decode the semiotics of that.

Tempting as it may be to defend Leyva as a normal, horny millennial who is getting too much attention for his gym membership, in this case he wasn’t simply engaged in the time-honored tradition of line-baiting in the hope of reeling in someone who’d have his filthy way with him in the hot desert sun. In fact, we can’t even really call it “sexting” because Leyva was, by his own admission, not interested in hooking up with the woman in question. At least Anthony Weiner was trying to get laid. What was Danell Leyva trying to do?

My guess is that Levya was expressing the main thing his generation knows about sex (the only thing, one might argue): that sex is a commodity, that sexuality is an unserious subject but a seriously fungible object. The communication behind Leyva’s photos, in the context in which they were sent, is clear: “I’m hot and you can’t have me.”

Not accidentally, that’s the same communication transmitted by the hundreds if not thousands of sexualized images that stare out at us from TV and movie screens and from magazine covers. Only the hardest-core mass-media myopic would argue that such images can properly be viewed as an invitation to celebrate today’s “new” sexual openness and insouciance. They aren’t. What they are, instead, is a slap in the face, and the sudden and alarming spike in the number of young men—especially young gay men—with anorexia and other eating disorders tells us that both sexes are now reeling from the blow.

Leyva developed all those impressive muscles as a result of the training that allowed him to become an Olympic champion, but the sexting photos give the impression that the medals were secondary to the opportunity to become a famous, talked-about body. To be desired. By strangers who couldn’t have him. Call that playful if you like; just don’t pretend there’s not a hint of hostility at the core.

Leaving aside the question of what we can infer about Levya’s thought-to-action ratio from his willingness to broadcast his “me-in-my-Hugo-Bosses” photos to the known universe, “sexting” may not have been the silliest thing he’s done in public in recent months.

For my money, Leyva’s two prime performances in this year’s Olympics of Vapid are his March 2012 YouTube video in which he shaves his head in “honor of all the cancer patients undergoing chemo,” but which somehow still manages to be All About Danell (“I shaved my head for your guys. Hope you guys liked it. Hope you guys appreciate it. And I hope all of you guys get better, very fast, like tomorrow, OK?” Okay, Danell, because that’s just how chemotherapy and cancer work—you make the gut-wrenching, enormously meaningful personal sacrifice of shaving your head, and cancer patients are healed, like, instantly); and his response to Judy Woodruff’s serious question during her post-Olympics interview with him on PBS’s Newshour. What did the future hold for Danell Leyva? she wondered. What would be his next big challenge? “Well, if I could get invited to host Saturday Night Live, that would be, like, totally awesome.”

There’s a wonderful moment in Bullets Over Broadway—what some call “the birthday gift scene”—in which Dianne Wiest all but crams her cigarette holder in John Cusack’s mouth as she admonishes him, “Don’t speak. Don’t speak. Don’t. Don’t speak, no, no, don’t speak. Please, don’t speak. Please, don’t speak. No, no, no. Go, gentle Scorpio, go … Don’t speak!”

Danell Levya’s birthday is October 30. NB: He’s a Scorpio.


1Rio 2016 Update

For a couple of months now, this blog has been under troll attack by some random guy whose name is (of course) “John.” “John” regularly attempts to post comments expressing his outrage over UVV’s statement that Leyva is gay because, he argues, saying something like that about someone who is an “ally” to the queer community is an insult and a disservice.

OK. First of all, let’s just bask in the irony for a moment. Leyva is a committed LBGTQ “ally,” but he would be insulted and harmed if someone said he was gay. Wait … what? If Leyva isn’t gay, then what’s the problem with saying that he is, even presuming it’s inaccurate? (The crux of this post, in any case, is not that Leyva is gay but that his public behavior around the time of the 2012 Olympics was embarrassing, even for a twenty-year-old. That remains true no matter who blows him.) No, a problem only exists if Danell Leyva is closeted … and nervous.

Second, it seems more than possible that “John” is someone who knows Leyva and is acting on his behalf. In part that’s because the email address from which “John” writes almost literally does not exist on the internet. Other than to attempt to comment here, the writer, whose IP address is in Philadelphia, has apparently used the address for online posting only twice in the last two years, both times under a name other than “John.” It’s also because this post has gotten more than 15,000 hits since it first appeared but not one negative comment. Ever. Suddenly, in the run up to the Rio Olympics, from which Leyva is expected to return bearing some serious carat-age and because of which he is once again in the media spotlight, a person has appeared whose mission is to “defend” Leyva. Circumstantial, yes, but still suspicious.

In light of all that, however, I’ve very slightly modified the original post. Though it was absolutely my intention to criticize Leyva for behaving like a yob, I am disturbed by the accusation that I was attempting to humiliate him by saying he is gay. Given that I don’t think being gay is humiliating, that wasn’t my point at all.

I cannot help, though, but recall Tallulah Bankhead’s famous (and perhaps apocryphal) response when someone asked her whether Montgomery Clift were gay (“I don’t know, darling. He never sucked my cock”). So let’s just take a second to remember who else was absolutely most definitely not gay: Greg Louganis. Ricky Martin. George Michael. Tiziano Ferro. Johnny Weir (that was a jaw-dropper). Wentworth Miller. Jodie Foster. Sean Hayes. Ian Thorpe. Tom Daley (regarding whom, you may enjoy Mark Simpson’s rather silly 11 September 2013 article from The Guardian, “If You Think Tom Daley is Gay, Perhaps It’s Time to Reset the Gaydar“; as of this writing, Daley is engaged to marry the Academy-award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer, Dustin Lance Black).

Sometimes, in other words, you can also be known for the company you’re failing to keep.


Posted on 14 August 2012, in AmeriKKKa the Bootiful, Queer ... Plus All Those Acronyms, Write ... che ti passa. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Not having paid close attention to these things, I wasn’t aware Leyva was just another vapid narcissist. Interesting and relevant points about the messaging behind all the images of bodily perfection — the subtle hostility of untouchable beauty. Glad I found this website.

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