And where is the body?
Like many queer people, I tend to hate my body (a fact I am not proud of). With the muscle-less build of a prepubescent seventh-grader, I fear being naked outside of shower time. Going swimming is a dreaded task, not just because I don’t like taking off my shirt, but seeing Fire Island-groomed gays in speedos often throws me into a spiral. Opting into this activity was, to put it lightly, deeply out of character.
These lines were written by Fran Tirado, an OUT magazine writer, but they could have been written by me. I, like Fran, have a weird relationship with my body, mostly stemming from a childhood and adolescence that was more dedicated to indoor activities than to sports or physical activities that would later translate into an athletic body. I was not an athlete and never thought about being one.
I was a geeky kid. I would rather listen to music or the radio and read books than go play ball. I did play some sports for fun but never seriously. I rode a bike and roller skated but sporadically and depending on the season. By the time I was in high school, I had developed an aversion to being in a locker room. I knew I liked men and the prospect of being alone and naked with handsome, muscular classmates made me absolutely uncomfortable. I could manage jocks in the classroom or in the cafeteria, where my sharp tongue and the protection of some upperclassmen would save my ass from being bullied, but the locker room was their territory and I was at a disadvantage. So I never really practiced a sport, mainly out of self-preservation.
Fast forward to adulthood and suddenly everywhere you look there's fit, broad-shouldered, slim-waisted, perfectly proportioned men looking at you from every porn movie, every gay rag, every instagram post, every gay blog, every advertisement aimed at you. And you feel strangely inadequate. I am not one of those men who takes his shirt off at the drop of a hat (or a hot house music track). I don't have a gym membership. Weights intimidate me to no end, so I leave them to the professionals. So my body is less than average at best. And I don't like it at worst. I look ok dressed, but naked that geeky kid comes out and refuses to leave.
So when I read this account of somebody getting naked in front of a stranger to get drawn, I thought: madness! who would do that? And I remembered one time, a few years back, when one of my friends totally insisted that I should pose for one of his friends, who needed subjects for some black and white photos he was taking. I recoiled, aghast. Me? Posing for someone? For a photograph? There was no way I'd do that. So I said no. His friend was disappointed. I felt relieved.
And that happened because I failed to see what Fran saw after his experience: when I see my body I see the things I don't like or the things I feel do not conform to what the gay (and mainstream) media has brainwashed me into believing. I see that my shoulders are not wide enough, that my upper body does not have that V shape that we all admire. That my waist is not thirty inches in circumference and my abdominal muscles are not visible. I see that my chest is not puffed out and that my biceps do not strain my t-shirt. What my friend and his friend saw was something different. They saw somebody they wanted to put on a photograph: they saw what others see.
I think we all get into this frame of mind where we think others see what we see when we are naked. We lack the confidence professional athletes or dancers have and their easy rapport with their bodies. We seldom grow out of the image we have of our bodies. And image that we developed during our early years and sometimes keep all our lives. It's hard to see ourselves with the eyes of those who want us or love us. And I think we need to get over ourselves and learn to see ourselves with other eyes.
Not like I'm going to pose naked for a fashion illustrator any time soon, but I promise I'm going to accept compliments more often and I will try not to downplay it when somebody tells me they like my body. I will take into account my age and my body shape and the fact that I do not spend four hours a day in a gym working out and therefore the body I have corresponds to that reality. I promise the next time you tell you you like my body I'll look you in the eye and I'll smile and I'll say something like 'why, thank you, kind sir'. And I'll hold it against you.