Looking Good, Being Gay

Image“You actually have to look good to be gay. You don’t make the cut.”

That’s what Brock, a bisexual boy at my high school, mockingly said to me the morning after I came out of the closet. His words were my first introduction to the LGBT community. I was 15, 5’11, and overweight at 220 lbs. I knew that I didn’t look good; but I also knew that I was gay, and that there was nothing I could do to cut that fact about myself.

We can’t have a conversation about LGBT health without confronting a silent epidemic within the gay community. A 2007 study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that gay and bisexual men are 3 times more likely than their hetero-peers to develop eating disorders. An alarming 15% of gay and bisexual men have at some point had serious issues with disordered eating.  Proportionally, statistics suggest that there are actually more gay men dealing with body image issues than heterosexual women.

When we come out of the closet, we immediately yearn to be embraced by the LGBT community we come into. There’s an awkward element of body fascism among many gay and bisexual men that can make this a rocky transition. A lot of us get bullied by our heterosexual peers in school. We internalize their rejection of who we are, and we hope that the people who are like us—other gays—will be accepting. The truth is, though, we’re often harsher to each other. When the bullies go away, we often step in to take their place. Enforcing a strict code of sexual attraction is one way we perpetuate the bully narrative.

Brock was a proxy for a larger truth; bodies are a big deal in the gay community. A study came out last year from England in which close to half of respondents said they’d trade a year of their life for the perfect body. It’s a hypothetical situation that sounds hyperbolas, but it speaks to a larger insight into the pursuit of perfection.

Starvation diets and over-exercising are avoidance tactics for dealing with the issue of body image. We’ve done a great job of normalizing physical obsession, but we as gay and bisexual men need to come to terms with our corporal selves. A lot of issues that plague our community, like alcoholism, smoking, and eating disorders, have their root in early encounters with homophobia. We have to deal with our past and how we see ourselves mentally before we can truly get a handle on our bodies.  We also need to stop beating each other up and start embracing everyone. No one should ever feel like they have to starve themselves to be a good gay!

We have to stop punishing our bodies and start nourishing them, too. Instead of an hour and a half of cardio everyday, maybe we’d be better off integrating a weekly yoga routine so that we’re in tune with our body and our soul. Rather than painfully avoiding food or eating miniscule Lean Cuisines, perhaps we can embrace more sustaining eating habits like adopting a whole foods, plant based diet.

Words have a way of lingering; what was a stupid, adolescent put down haunted me through years of body shame, over exercising, and disordered eating. I eventually slimmed down and “looked good”, but ultimately I wasn’t truly at peace with my own body until I made peace with what I was putting inside it. Last January, I became vegan, meaning I don’t eat animals or animal byproducts.  It’s a way of living that mixes good food with good karma to optimize your body, sharpen your mind, and strengthen your spirit. I still don’t have a perfect physique; what I do have, though, is a healthy lifestyle I can feel good about.

That was my journey. Everyone’s path will be different. We must all make our own cut, not because you have to look good to be gay, but because being gay should feel good for you!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Nathan
    Mar 27, 2013 @ 08:27:05

    Do all gays long to be embraced by the community? I have some doubts about that because I remember being a gay teen and I really didnt fit in and neither did I want or expect to. Some gay people do have obsessions with body image, and many people I meet do have disorders but that is true of many people whether they be gay straight or bi or transgendered. I think what is important and what so many people forget is that its healthy to be yourself. To represent yourself as you are. Who wants to be a clone anyway? (okay I know many people do but thats never been an attraction for me).

    Reply

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