Body Statement

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We have the power to pick the lock of our own suffering!

Our bodies.

There is perhaps no greater manifestation of anxiety than that which we place upon our physical form. We spend so much of our time in an elliptical of judgement, comparing ourselves to others. In a marathon of attack thoughts, we obsess over pounds we have yet to shed, muscles we haven’t developed, and physiques we may never attain.  It’s more exhausting beating ourselves up over our perceived imperfections than it is actually going to the gym!

Anyone who has known me for a while knows that I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my body. I’ve been obese, anorexic, and everything in between. I’ve carried the shame of being overweight, and I’ve known the pains of starving for perfection. At every weight, from a high of 240 lbs. to a low of 155; in lifestyles variances, a completely sedentary video gamer in my adolescence to a hyper active 7-days a week, twice a day gym goer by my mid-twenties; and in every diet, from processed fast foods to organically vegan, the feeling has always been the same: I’m not good enough.

That’s my life’s F.E.A.R. maxim, and by fear I mean “false evidence appearing real.” And indeed, it’s a pretty terrifying refrain!

Recently I started re-reading Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles. It’s a 40-day guidebook for manifesting a radically happy life. Four years ago, when I was living in Kansas and only dreaming of California, a friend randomly suggested it to me. What I thought would be another dust collecting Amazon purchase ended up being THE catalyst for a new and amazing life. I’m positive I would still be stuck in Wichita if I had not read that book and done the work that allowed me to attract the life I have today in Los Angeles. Three years later, everything about my life has changed! Well everything but one…

The sunset photos on the beach, selfies with colorful friends, inspirational meditation quotes, and vegan food porn pics have all been posted with that same “I’m not good enough” refrain lodged into my subconscious. That’s called the ego–the part of you that wants to cling to the familiar, playing it small so you never step into the uncomfortability  of the unknown. A positive statement about my body is what my ego fears the most.

So, of course, in reading May Causes Miracles again, one miraculous shift under my belt, it’s fitting that this longstanding ritual of body hating would surface. I’m so thankful that it did because in doing the course work this past week which was focused on the relationship we have with our body, I have finally come to not just know but truly feel a massive shift: You can either identify with the physique that is your body or you can vibrate with the grander purpose of what it is you are meant to do with the physical form you were given.

I’ve spent the last few days really meditating on exactly what it is that I, Jason Aaron Dilts, was put on this planet to do. Once the fog of attack thoughts cleared, it was so obvious. I am here to create community. I am here to bring people together as an activist under banners that collectively bring forward meaningful progress. I am  also here to use my gift of writing to articulate in spoken and written words messages that will resonate for positive cultural shifts and deep healing. When we let go of negative dialogue and limiting beliefs we allow in the freedom to receive everything those limitations have been blocking. Instead of the fear maxim of “I’m not good enough” I now have the mantra of “I am not my body. I am free.”

I know I am not the only person who is handicapped by body image issues. I am sharing this post because I hope if you too are gripped by negative perceptions about your body that you’ll be so bold as to step outside this limiting belief. Sit for a moment and think about YOU–not your body but your essence. What is it you were born to do? What brings tears of joy to your eyes when you think about doing it? What do you know you were put on this earth to do?

When you know the answer to that, you have the power to write your own body statement! And I want you to write it out. Sit in stillness and listen to a song that uplifts you. I listened to Donna DeLory’s “Sanctuary” while I wrote mine and I’m happy to recommend some otherbeautiful mantras. As the song plays, breathe in the feeling of joy that living this purpose will give you. Breathe out the any anxieties that arise.

Write it out.

There’s something powerful about putting down in words the essence of who you are.  Those words are your body!

I’ll start by pasting my statement in the comments. Share yours in the comments below if you feel called to. Or place it somewhere at home where you’ll be able to see it regularly to remind  yourself that our purpose is our body!

PS) Read May Cause Miracles–I’ll even buy you a copy if you can’t afford one yourself (serious, private message me!).

Don’t get COOKed. Own Who You Are.

Own It!

Own It! Courtesy of Dan Cook’s Instagram

Who you are matters. What you do with your life matters. The image you present to the world matters. And most of all, your identity matters. That’s because each of us occupies a distinct space on this planet that no one else can satisfy. Personalities, talents, and capabilities collide with mission, purpose, and destiny to allow the unfolding of 7 billion epic adventures—all at one time.

A recent celebrity encounter on the beach reminded me of my own responsibility. Yes, that’s the most LA sentence ever written.

It was a sunny day in Venice and I just wanted to soak up the rays. I was landlocked in Kansas for 15 years so whenever it’s above 80 degrees there’s a personal mandate that I find at least an hour to suntan. So I threw on my banana shorts, ripped off my shirt and put on my shades. A 2-minute walk later and I was lying in the sand, caring only about how beautiful the rolling ocean in front of me appeared. This dabble of luxury was actual an act of defiance.

Laying shirtless in the sand for me means bearing some of my deepest personal wounds to the world. I was overweight as a kid and well into adulthood. Ten years ago I dropped 80 lbs., going from a blobby high of 240 down to a very thin 160 in 10 months. Stretch marks envelop pretty much ever corner of my body as a result. I’ve been obese. I’ve been anorexic. I’ve been many things in between. Right now I’m at a point where I could afford to lose a good 10 lbs. and tone up my muscles a bit. So on top of the stretch marks, I’ve got a thicker gut that I’m used to carrying around. Hence the defiance—I’m keenly aware that I’m no pinup model and this, after all, is Southern California so if ever I forget, a constant parade of shirtless muscle boys with toned asses and chiseled chests will remind me.

Weight, in excess or in absence, is the physical manifestation of much deeper forces. I was obese as a kid because food was where I found comfort—an escape from the taunting and teasing I endured throughout my adolescence on account of being gay. As an adult, it’s still all too often where I find solace. Especially when I’m stressed or lonely, food becomes my comfort. If I don’t keep my insecurities in check, the beach turns into a discomfort. Which is part of why I constantly put myself in a situation sans shirt. When I bear my chest I’m baring my soul—sometimes messy, but always true.

Since July 2013, taking off my shirt has revealed more than just my stretch marks. I have a giant sized Buddha engraved squarely between my ribs that runs the entire length of my abdomen. The words CHANGE YOUR LIFE are floating inside the jolly deity’s tongue. Those words are there to remind me that forward motion is the only trajectory. They were purposely etched onto the spot where I carry the most shame so that I could be continuously reminded to keep the negative self-talk in check. It’s working—and if I ever needed proof the universe sent it to me in the form of Dane Cook. Yes, the comedian Dane Cook.

After spending a good 2 hours tanning, I took a walk along the ocean and called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. In the middle of explaining the spiritual significance of plant based medicine (which I’m pretty sure one-ups the “I’m the gay son” quotient) some guy asked me if he could take my picture, specifically of my tattoo. Not having much experience with paparazzi, I obliged, a little annoyed that my conversation was interrupted. I didn’t bother to introduce myself or even take the time to get off the phone. Turns out it was a celebrity taking a picture of ME.

An hour later, I learned that I had been COOKed, DANE COOKED. Apparently, he found my banana shorts, Andy Warhol hair, and giant tattoo amusing enough to have his way with me on social media, snarky comments about self-identity and all. My phone started to blow up as I watched a steady stream of several thousand Facebook “likes”, Instagram “loves”, and Twitter “re-tweets.” Then there were the comments—all 500+ of them in total. That’s where shit gets interesting….

The initial reaction to my likeness being blasted to over 5 million people was a mix of body shaming/gay bashing/transphobia (I’m not transgender, though it would be cool if I were…)/Miley Cyrus jokes. Apparently some people think I look like a wrecking ball…

Basically ever insecurity I had ever encountered was on full display for the world to see; and the world was giving me back exactly what I had been giving myself! The first few dozen comments were harsh. I had a moment when I started to go into the story of believing them. Then I realized we write our own stories! The venom in those comments doesn’t even come close to the potency of the defeating words I’ve often found floating around in my own mind. So I decided to just OWN IT.

I’m gay. I wear colorful clothes. I have weird tattoos. I rock large crystals around my neck. I have spiritual beliefs many find bazaar. I have stretch marks and body fat. That’s me, right now in this moment. And I’m good with that.

So I posted a simple statement that read: “Happy to be comfortable in my own skin. Proud to be gay. Own who you are. Love is the only thing that’s real. Everything else is an illusion.” Then I pasted a link to this blog explaining the origin of the tattoo.

Once I flipped the dialogue in my own head a funny thing happened—the conversation online shifted. A cavalry of “be yourself” defenders came riding in. Words about being who you are, loving yourself, and accepting your physical form overtook the haters. My message box started to be flooded with people telling me their own stories about battling eating disorders, feeling out of place, and wanting to change their lives. Shift the energy within and it emanates out.

Getting good with who we are is important not so much for our own egos, but rather for understanding how the uniqueness of our being fits into a broader collective. For me, I live as boldly and authentically as possible, presenting a colorful, loud and unique avatar so that others might step out of their shell and step into the fullness of who they are. When we work to ignite the spark in others, we all grow exactly as we should.

Dane Cook had his way with me at the beach, but we’re the ones who can get the last laugh if we just drop into the uniqueness of our own identity. OWN WHO YOU ARE

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!

Adonis and Narcissus- In Search of the Dance Club

Identity is a myriad of personal circumstances. Though we live in a diverse world, there are certain hegemonic standards we measure ourselves against. Deviation often proves difficult. To embrace being gay, one has to accept the difference within. Unmasking Adonis requires an examination of sexual orientation’s potency. Finding its connection to body perfection is a search for the location to an exclusive dance party.

A 2007 study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health gave credence to the suggestion that gay and bisexual men are at a higher risk for eating disorders than their male heterosexual peers. This is one of the only known studies thus far that zero-in on LGBT populations and eating disorders.  Of the 516 subjects, 15% of the men who identified as gay or bi admitted to at one point suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorders. That’s a full 10% higher than straight men in the same study. It’s also higher than the study’s 10% of lesbian and bisexual women and 8% percent of heterosexual women who reported the same eating disorder issues. While men attracted to men make up a low percentage of the population overall, they appear to be disproportionate members of the eating disorder population. Ironically, a “women’s issues” seems to be tinged in testosterone.

The reasons for this discovery within the gay community are not entirely rooted in association, though. A key competent to this study was the investigation into whether gay and bisexual men with greater connection and affiliation with the gay community are more likely to have eating disorders than those with lax or no ties. Principle investigator Dr. Ilan BLADE. Meyer’s original theory that active participation in gay culture gravitated men toward certain body standards proved inconclusive.

“It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders,” said Dr. Meyer. “One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.”

Adonis and Narcissus dance at another club, perhaps.

“Even gay and bisexual men who participate in gay gyms, where body-focus and community values regarding attractiveness would be heightened, did not have higher rates of eating disorders than those gay and bisexual men who participated in non-gay gyms or who did not participate in a gym at all,” observes Dr. Meyer. “This suggests that factors other than values and norms in the gay community are related to the higher rates of eating disorder among these men.”

Author Tim Bergling explores some of those “other” factors in his book Chasing Adonis: Gay Men & the Pursuit of Perfection. Though not an inherent investigation into the root causes of eating disorders among gay and bisexual men, the text explores desire and questions physical attraction. Bergling interviewed over 200 men to examine how gay society objectifies the male body. The dynamics of Steroid use, body image disorders, gym culture, Internet hook-ups, obsession, stalking, porn, erotic Web sites, and strip clubs are all discussed.  There’s no conclusive reason for why men chase after the illusive Adonis, but a reading of the quotes by the men interviewed reveals some pretty raw truths about body image and physical expectations.

“I’m not fat. I’ve never been fat. Can’t imagine living life like that, especially as a gay man. I’ve seen how we treat fat guys, and it ain’t pretty,” said Brian, an accountant from Tennessee. An anonymous “Bill” put it even blunter. “The gay male is obsessed with beauty and youth, and we objectify and diefy muscles and looks over all else. There is no way brains will ever win out over beauty in today’s gay culture.”

“Working out is like a way of life for me, almost an addiction. I get depressed if I miss one workout and a panic attack if I miss more than that. Some people say I am way too obsessed, but a lot more are always telling me how much they would like to feel my chest and biceps. I listen more to that second group,” said Hawaii model John.

Bergling’s book is notable not for its scientific evidence, but rather for the honesty his subjects offer. Each chapter contains poignant, humorous, and sometimes harrowing accounts of how body-image obsession has impacted how gay men see themselves and their peers. Ultimately, it’s a broad window into the psyche of same-sex desire.

Somewhere inside that consciousness, Adonis and Narcissus dance seductively.

Filmmaker Travis Mathews visualizes collective body ideology in his documentary “Do I Look Fat?” It’s a 70-minute film that follows the stories of seven gay men who have struggled or are struggling with body image and eating disorders. It digs deep into both gay culture and straight society to examine root causes. Themes such as childhood wounding, internalized homophobia, the effects of HIV/AIDS on the body and the prevalence of substance abuse histories are among a few that underscore the film. Perhaps most importantly, the film doesn’t shy away from asking why these common histories have, until now, been left in the proverbial closet at a community level.

The film blends personal narratives with clinical support from several experts in the field of eating disorders including an M.D. of a renowned eating disorder clinic, an art therapist, and a gay therapist who’s battled with his own body image issues. The word “fat” becomes the focal point for how gay men shame themselves and each other. Gay culture is taken to task for its part in promulgating a “one size fits all” narrative. The men interviewed have approached body image differently. Some have suffered with anorexia and exercise obsession, while others have grappled with bulimia and binge eating. Their stories are weaved into the larger narrative of the scope of this issue. While gay men are thought to represent about 5% of the male population, they alarmingly represent up to 42% of men with eating disorders, according to research done by Dr. William Howard at the John Hopkins University School. Each story in this documentary is another window into a problem so easily seen, yet readily dismissed.

“The reasons behind the high numbers are complex, painful, and in part, unflattering to the community, but the alternative to facing them head on is continued isolation and shame, both of which feed our proverbial friend, the closet,” says Mathews. “As I’ve traveled with the film, people continue to ask me how prevalent this is. My answer remains the same: it’s difficult to know with real certainty. Men, both gay and straight, are generally reluctant to seek medical attention for any health related issue, eating disorders being no exception. Our culture feeds this reluctance by its steady framing of eating disorders as a woman’s issue.”

In looking to debunk Adonis, I discovered that silence was perhaps our worst enemy. The common thread in all of the research I found was a universal understanding that there is a problem within the gay community as it relates to body image, but there is also a relative dearth in knowledge as to numbers. The trajectory for tracking this forward remains elusive. The normalization of narcissism as a means to skirt the larger issue of body fascism means our problem exists in a vacuum. If we aren’t willing to confront these fragments of our own shadows, few are going to help us sweep them up.

Cleaning up after raucous revelry is no fun; it’s far more fantastic to continue the Adonis/Narcissus dance party!

Adonis Boys

Image“I only date really think guys.”

Those words fell out of my crush’s mouth like a prison sentence falls upon a convicted felon. I sat across from him at the Barnes and Nobel’s café in north Wichita, eating a blueberry-chocolate muffin. Instead of enjoying the sensation of sweet fruit colliding with milk chocolate, I began to notice the impression of my own muffin-top underneath my shirt. I knew he would never find me attractive, at least not in my current state. I excused myself to the bathroom, where a familiar ritual unfolded.

Find a mirror. Life your shirt. Gaze at the reflection in total and complete disgust. Curse your existence. Close your eyes. Wish you were thin. Get depressed when your sockets open to the same sight.

Call it a Narcissus séance.

That was the ceremony I had been accustomed to practicing since I became aware of the meaning  of the word “weight”. While I wasn’t hideously obese, I’d always been a pudgy kid. A large part of that probably had to do with my distain for athletics and sports. It wasn’t that I despised physical activity. It’s just that from a young age it was very obvious that I was “different”. Every time I tried to be athletic, my masculinity was measured against the testosterone of my male pears.  To avoid their name calling, cackling, and physical abuse, I decided at a young age to be as anti-athletic as possible. That muffin shape that cowered beneath my chest was a constant reminder that this wasn’t exactly a fool-proof escape plan.

I decided in that B&N bathroom that I wanted a trapdoor! I had come out of the closet at 16 and had yet to have a boyfriend—hell, I had barely had sex at that point. I was tired of the sense of rejection I felt every time I read a Gay.com profile that stated “no fats”. I was fed up with being digitally dismissed every time I went onto a dating sight where most of the guys wanted “only slim/athletic builds”. More pertinent, though, I was willing to do whatever it took to get my crush to heart me back. If he only dated “really thin” guys, I would figure out how to become one of them!

I had a mentor to help me out, too. Blade and I went to high school together. Like me, Blade had always been overweight. In the years since graduation, he had magically transformed himself from a size XXL to a small. I wanted in on the secret. He promised to teach me the ways.

I had loathed going to the gym. Blade told me, though, that this magical contraption called an “elliptical machine” existed that could drastically trim my odious reflection. The first time I straddled the bulky machine, I was exhausted after 10 minutes. I wanted to quit. Blade reminded me of an unspoken axiom: as an out gay man, you’re already ostracized; to fit into the gay community, you best fit into the image of what a gay man is…and muffins be damned, gay men are supposed to be thin! I wanted to fit in, so I figured out how to make working out fit into my life.

The pounds began to roll off, too! Within a month, I was able to do an hour of cardio a day and I had lost 10 whole pounds. I wasn’t even altering my diet much. Within three months, I was down to 200. I felt great, and rightfully so. There was no reason for someone my height to weigh as much as I did. I should have started to work out. However, I should have wanted to lose weight for health’s sake, not boy’s sake.  About six months in, somewhere around the 180 mark, losing weight became an obsession.

I always hated math, but ironically numbers began to define my life. My self-worth was based entirely on the number I weighed in on the scale. I was working out 2-3 hours a day and re-arranging my schedule so that I could weight in as low as possible. Often this meant getting up at 5am for my first daily working out and not eating until 10pm so that I could get a second work out in, with yet another positive affirmation from the scale. In addition to excessive workouts, meals were being skipped. Sometimes I would go 2-3 days without eating more than 1,000 calories. I kept my eye on the prize, though—converting crush into boyfriend!

Along the way, I had lots of encouragement. I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I did have lots of attention from boys. Once invisible at the clubs, my body was suddenly a hot commodity. Guys who had turned me down for dates in years past were lining up. Go-go dancers who I once had to fling dollar bills at to get attention were now dialing my number. The reaction to my reduction was collective encouragement from everyone around me. It was gay men, though, whose words mattered most.  Constant accolades greeted my every public appearance. Lauds of “Wow, where did you go?”, “You are thin as a rail” and “You’re practically invisible” only fueled my obsession.  The grueling workouts and constant stomach rumbling were the cost of admission to Adonis and Narcissus’s exclusive dance club of acceptance—or so I reasoned.

Though companionship had been my original intention, I found that all the time I spent at the gym left little time for socializing. Most men—including my aforementioned crush—got annoyed and bored by my incessant ramblings about my diet and weight. When you starve yourself, your hunger signals eventually start to turn off. Unfortunately, I discovered that when one signal gets turned off, others follow. I had thinned myself out to faun the attention of men, but over time my sex drive had dried up…or maybe it got burned off on the elliptical machine, too!

The one consistent contact I did have, though, was Blade. Several of our friends had warned us that we had turned weight loss into an unhealthy obsession. The idea that two overweight men could have an eating disorder was laughable to us. Eventually, though, being anorexic went from a punch-line to a point of empowerment. We dubbed ourselves the “Ana Twins” and made up t-shirts to show off the sense of pride we felt in starving ourselves. I was “Ana”; Blade was “Rexia”. We wore the size small shirts to a gay club one night to near universal accolades. Blade’s crowd of club friends delighted in his “accomplishment” of having come so far—and bringing me along with him!

Eating disorders have a way of isolating you and altering your reality. We’d done a good job of segregating ourselves from most social occasions that revolved around food. Though I had already lost over 1/3 of my original body weight—and Blade even more—no number was low enough. We set a competition to see who could get to 150 lbs. first.

Blade won. He died 2 months into our game. His heart gave out after he didn’t eat a morsel for several days. Blade was found dead in his apartment, logged onto Gay.com. I assume he was trying to find a date. His physique matched many of the men’s desired dimensions. Unfortunately, I’m told ashes don’t weigh much. At the intersection of Adonis and Narcissist, lean becomes lethal.

There aren’t words to describe the difficulty of coming to terms with a friend’s untimely passing, especially one that played out in such a sequence. After I had time to process what had happened, and once I had dealt with much the guilt of having willingly participated in a farce that lead to someone’s death, I became curious about the people behind those profiles.  Who were these anonymous men engaged in a digital pursuit of Adonis? Our obsession over losing weight was greeted with raves of compliments by our gay peers. Why did their praise lead Blade to drown in a pool of his own vanity?  I need to the bottom of the pond.

Were eating disorders a silent scourge in a community that already has a lot of heavy baggage? If so, what forces were at work in the culture at-large that contributed to this new outlet for self-loathing? Even more important, why weren’t we talking about this within the gay community? What was being done in the medical realm to remedy this? In the quest to exit Narcissus Ave., these questions are more important than any one story.

Really Thin Guys: Cruising at the Intersection of Narcissus and Adonis

Image

Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.

There’s an adage in homo-culture that states “the gym is gay church”. While it’s a tongue-in-cheek statement, it’s also darkly ironic. There’s an unspoken expectation among gay men that physiques be toned and muscled or slim, trim, and spryly sculpted. At a time when obesity is at an all time high, many even within the gay community assume that LGBTs are just as overweight as the average American.  Observe what’s happening around you— both in popular culture and with personal connections—and you’ll likely unearth an unspoken epidemic.

Gay and bisexual men have normalized body obsession to the point that eating disorders are an accepted and unnoticed way of life. Most would assume that body image issues and unhealthy eating habits plague heterosexual women. Though little research has been done on this topic in regard to men in the LGBT community, evidence does exist to give this issue weight. Sporadic studies with startling statistics, a few books that touch on the topic, and a documentary that focuses on gay body image do exist. Understanding eating disorders within the gay community, though, requires examination on multiple fronts. Personal stories need to be told. Research needs to be put into perspective. The facts need to be absorbed into the larger prism of gay identity.

Though worship of the gods from ancient Greek mythology ceased thousands of years ago, the chase for Adonis and the reflection of Narcissus are modern venerations of the gay community. Immortalized for his undying youth and brawny splendor, Adonis didn’t just attract the eyes of Persephone and Aphrodite. In the dance club, at the gymnasium, and on a stroll in the park, a gay man’s gaze is always cruising for his contemporary incarnation.  Absent Adonis, Narcissus comes knocking. Though legend says he drowned reaching for his own reflection, gay culture has resurrected his vanity. For many gay and bisexual men, each gaze into the mirror is a summons for his spirit. We all want to fall in love with the reflection staring back at us. It’s at the intersection of pursuit and desire that Adonis and Narcissus come back to tango…and we’re in search of the dance club!

There’s a certain mythology to our own lives.  What starts out as fantasy quickly collides with reality. I survived the ordeal of being at war with my own body. I count myself as a wounded soldier in the body wars. I had an intimate encounter with anorexia nervosa. I’m lucky to have survived its abusively fanatical embrace. In searching for Adonis, I became Narcissus. Ultimately, that ordeal lead me to question why so many gay men have a kamikaze obsession with being thin. At the time, though, my fixation was on being noticed by men—and my 22 year old, 6 feet tall, 240 pound self just wasn’t getting the glances I desired!

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Too many gay and bisexual men are staring into pools of their own demise right now.

In the next few posts, I am going to tell a very difficult story from my past. I’m also going to relate it into larger issues about the present health crisis in the gay community. Eating disorders an an epidemic and we need to start talking about them. I hope these posts start a conversation.

Bullying–Getting Used To It

From “Bully”
Alex’s mom isn’t about to get used to it.

“Do you understand that at some point, you got used to this?”

That’s what a very alarmed mom in Sioux City, Iowa asked her 12 year-old son, Alex, after being shown harrowing video footage of the hazing he encountered daily from his peers at school. In the midst of filming for the documentary Bully, the filmmaker felt obligated to show her what was occurring. Her middle school son was befuddled by the question; being the target of verbal and physical assaults had become so routine that he normalized what was happening to him. He even considered his assailants to be his friends. If they weren’t, that meant he didn’t have any. He had gotten used to it, but the mom said she never would.

Nobody wants to be alone. Everyone wants to fit in. Sometimes, that means you end up accepting the cruelty of others in a bargain for having your own ground to stand on. Adolescents must carve out their own place in the world. Their unique connections, friendships, and interests are what usher them into eventual adulthood and distinguish them from their parents. It’s a natural part of development. Bullying interrupts that progress, though. For a kid like Alex, he might be hated on, but at least that’s happening in his own space. The top yearning of teenagers is to carve out something distinct to them.

Eventually, we all grow up. Bullies do go away. When they do, their ghost remains. The victim often steps in to pick up where they left off. You can do a much better job of bullying yourself than another person ever could do in oppressing you. After all, no one else knows your darkest vulnerabilities.

I’ve explained in a previous post my own encounter with bullying. This column isn’t about what happened to me at school 15 years ago when I was a teenager. It’s about the effect that has had on my life as an adult. I offer up my story as insight into the seriousness of this problem in hopes that if you have kids, you’ll do everything you can to ensure they reach adulthood healthy and adjusted.

Kids become targets for different reasons. I was bullied because I’m gay.

I didn’t come out until I was 15, but somehow all of my peers knew when I was 7. School was a daily landmine of verbal insults and physical assaults. I never told my parents because doing so meant I would have to admit that their words were true. I grew up in a somewhat fundamentalist household. We went to a tongues speaking church three times a week, and I attended a Southern-Baptist influenced Christian school. When I wasn’t being called “faggot” on the playground, I was hearing my parents discuss AIDS being God’s punishment for homosexuals at home. When I wasn’t having spitballs thrown at my head, I was listening to Mrs. Lovelace, my 7th grade Bible teacher whom I idolized, explain that gays and lesbians had demons living inside of them. When I wasn’t getting punched in the locker room, having my charismatic youth group pastor invite in the so-called ex-gay ministry to remind us that we’d be going to hell if we committed “homosexual acts” was just as painful. I knew exactly who I was, and I accepted myself. There was no one around who embraced me, though.

So, I compartmentalized. I never believed their lies, but I did let their limited knowledge effect me. I was reminded daily that my feelings for other men were disgusting, and that I was an abomination. Their ignorance arrested my sexuality. I graduated high school. I stopped going to right wing churches. My mom became a liberal-minded borderline-Buddhist who meditates and reads the Kabbalah. My dad, though limited in his interest of sociology, nonetheless loves his gay son. I’ve had amazing friends. I’ve had really good jobs.  But I have never known the love of anther man because everyday, I have stepped in where all those bullies used to be. I became so used to being alone, isolate, and beaten down that I never allowed myself to form a healthy attachment to another man.

At some point, I got used to it.

If teenagers yearn to carve out something distinct, as adults we come to believe we are entitled to our own autonomy. My arrested sexuality took on a mutant form in its pursuit of sovereignty. In my early twenties, I developed intense, obsession-like crushes on a series of three different men. All three were high quality individuals, but they simply were not interested in me sexually. I knew that early on, but I lingered, telling myself that their feelings would change. I was really just flagellating myself in the same fashion others had once abused me. The kid punching me, the pastor preaching at me, and the parent indirectly condemning me had left; but I stepped in and took their place.

Unrequited love became the theme of my life. I always picked people I knew I’d never have. I would fall madly in love with straight friends. I would find gay men emotionally unavailable. I became a lightning rod for anyone with a stormy presence. If I were abounded by complications, I would never truly have what I deserved. That’s just what the bullies wanted; I did a much better job than them of denying myself happiness.

I am one of literally millions of gay men who have “gotten used to it.” We seem to have a special way in homo-culture of torturing each other after others stop tormenting us. I would venture to say that a large reason why gay men are so prone to drug use, promiscuity, alcoholism, and body fascism has to do with a culture of self-affliction that arises from the aftershock of being bullied. We continue the cycle of abuse by putting unrealistic expectations onto ourselves so that we never experience the one thing we truly deserve—happiness. We surround ourselves with friends who are bad influences, do activities we aren’t really fond of, and eventually we just tell ourselves that it’s all ok.

We just get used to it.

Just because you survive adolescence doesn’t mean you’ve gotten past the effects of being bullied. I’m just now coming to terms with what happened to me as a teenager…and I’m almost 30 years old. There’s hope, though. It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to ignore problems for a decade and a half and miss out on enjoying your youth. If you’re involved with a child in any way—as a parent, teacher, mentor, or authority figure—make sure you know what’s going on in their world. Put your own prejudices aside for the sake of their health and safety. Kids don’t tell their parents that they are being bullied because they are worried they’ll disappoint them. Make it clear that the only thing disappointing is an unhappy child.

Be like the mom in the movie Bully. Don’t get used to this.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you’re someone who survived being bullied, but you let a part of you die with that experience. If so, go back and revivify that which was taken away from you.

The bullies of our past have moved on; it’s time for us to do the same.

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