Would You Change Your Body for Love?

I’m Alexander Cheves, a writer, author, and sex educator. My nickname is Beastly. I give adult advice on this blog — no question is off-limits. To ask me something, email AskBeastly@gmail.com or send a message via the Ask Beastly contact form.

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Hello beastly,

I am a 27 year old gay man who has never been in a relationship or had sex. For most of my life this has been because of my being closeted and having an isolated upbringing. I came out at 19, and while I became involved in my college’s gay activist and social groups I never hooked up or actually dated. The closest I’ve ever gotten is just chatting and sharing pics on apps. I didn’t visit my first gay bar until I was 24.

A few years after coming out and seeing how few men seemed to be attracted to me, I decided that I would hold off on dating and sex until I had gotten in shape. At the time I was overweight and broke out sweating just walking around campus. I started working out and although I have lost a lot of weight, I am nowhere near where I want to be or where I feel comfortable to start dating. However, I’ve been having thoughts recently about if I should let go of this resolution, and try to be open to dating. My friends have stated that they’re concerned about me, saying that I shouldn’t care about how my body looks and just find someone who cares about me. I am having thoughts about how much of my youth has passed, and if it will be even longer before I get to the point where I feel comfortable with my body to be open to dating.

At the same time, though, I do want to wait until I’m in shape to date. As I’ve said before I don’t feel comfortable with how my body is right now. In addition I’m drawn towards athletic and muscular men like bodybuilders, and I don’t believe that those men would feel any attraction to me unless I’m in shape. Thus, it only seems logical to wait. Plus, considering the quarantine I was thinking that surely I would have time to work out at home and possibly get to the goal I’ve set without having to worry about men.

My question is, are my friends right? Am I actually being unreasonable and only holding myself back? Or do I have a point in making this resolution? I’ve enjoyed your blog, and I thought that you might be able to provide some insight into my situation. Thank you.

Hi friend,

Without being alarmist, I must remind you of your mortality. Life is brief. Don’t wait.

Your friends are right. Relationships are not exciting events to wait for until you’re ready, like turning 21 or buying your first car, because you’ll probably never be ready for the trials and tribulations of intimacy. No one ever is.

I think most people believe that playing the field is easier when a person is fit, and mass media generally supports this idea. But the truth is, I believe everyone struggles to play the field. Dating and all the experiences that go with it — vulnerability, judgement, rejection — are hard.

You and I are part of a subculture — we’re faggots — and though we may be very different, we share one thing: the feeling of measuring ourselves against the most beautiful creatures on earth. Ask any straight woman (or straight man) where the loveliest men exist: they’re on our team. Queer culture contains the muscle gods and gym queens — it has since the ’80s, when clones and leather defined and popularized an athletic, masculine ethos. These gods exist still today because gay beauty standards have generally been more punishing and rigorous than our straight counterparts’. I’ll leave it to therapists and sociologists to explain why that is, but it makes things harder for regular guys — guys like us.

I know how you feel because I’ve felt the same. I wonder how many hours of my life I’ve spent looking in bathroom mirrors, studying my acne scars, wishing I had a squarer jaw and better beard. I’ve purchased more ridiculous supplements and products than a person should ever spend money on — lotions, dyes, tools to work my face muscles, the absurd list goes on. Even on good days, one unflattering glance in the mirror can drop my confidence to nothing. I imagine you can say the same — I imagine a majority of Queer men reading this can — and I believe these feelings are exacerbated and sustained by the apps and social platforms through which we now most commonly view each other.

So we’ve established that what you’re feeling is normal, even universal. But these feelings don’t justify waiting. Start now, because: a) you literally don’t know what you’re missing and b) you have some hard lessons to learn and emotional hurdles to overcome that can only come through practice. You need a messy breakup and a broken heart and all the other lessons that come in first relationships — the communication failures, negotiations, and hurts we must get through and grow from.

Dating is something you can only learn to do as you do it. You won’t be ready for your first relationship or even your second one. But the third one will be a bit easier, and the fourth one, even more so. In these relationships, you’ll learn life’s most valuable lessons: how to trust, how to talk, how to communicate, how to reveal your desires and fears, how to move on. Everyone needs to feel the sting of rejection. Rejection stings the fifth time and fiftieth time, but every time it stings a little less. These are lessons on how to be in a world filled with people, and they matter because our lives are just a collection of exchanges with others — brief, long, familial, fraternal, romantic, rude. You have to get started.

In your question, you make a major assumption about men you find attractive. Here’s a message for everyone: STOP PUTTING YOUR IDEAS OF ATTRACTIVENESS INTO THE MINDS OF OTHERS. This is called “projection” and humans do it every day. In many ways, projection is useful — we must make some assumptions about each others’ minds for society to function. But in dating, projections can hurt you, especially if you have issues with your body, because you’re likely to assume that no one finds you attractive. This is your own head talking. Give others their autonomy by at least giving them the chance to state what they consider beautiful.

And look around you! Many gay couples look different from each other: big with thin, muscular with chubby, tall with short. Offhand, I can think of several in my own little orbit. Find someone who likes you for you. If you want to change your body, that’s fine, but find someone who likes you as you are now, not as you’d like to be in two years.

You may know that I love the gym. (The only picture of me on this blog, on my bio, is of me in a gym.) I am happiest after a workout. (And — big surprise! — I have body dysmorphia.) As someone who loves gyms, I can assure you that, while external validation certainly plays a role in fitness, it cannot be the only thing that drives you to keep going.

You like bodybuilders, and you imagine you must be a bodybuilder for them to like you back. If this is your sole motivation to be a bodybuilder, you will not become one. Significant body alteration (without steroids) takes years, not months, and those years will include setbacks, plateaus, medical issues, and plain bad days. The only way to stick with the gym is to see it as “you” time — something done for yourself, not others. I like the attention guys give me after I’ve been working out hard, but regardless of their attention, I must work out to relieve my anxiety. It’s self-therapy, not some prerequisite for being in an exclusive gay class. If it was only the latter and did nothing for me mentally, I would have quit long ago.

If you spoke with any of the bodybuilders you desire, you’d find that most of them are just as scared of rejection and dating as you are. Most of them have body dysmorphia and crushing insecurities. No one is ever ready for the vulnerability of being on the market or feeling rejected, but you have to make yourself available because that’s the only way to find love.

Imagine all the men who were looking for someone like you during these years you decided to hold off. They’re waiting for you.

Love, Beastly

Hi, Beastly.

I’m 20-year-old closeted guy (he/him) and I hate my skinny and extremely hairy body. I’m so ashamed of it. Can’t feel any connection with my body. I feel awful especially after masturbation. I realized I’ve started hating muscular guys and generally people who are happy in their bodies because I want to be like them.

I presume you are okay with your body image according to your previous topics but do you still have struggles with your body image? How did you get rid of it?

Thank you!

Hi my dear,

One of the hardest parts of being a sex writer is feeling like my actual body must measure up to my body of work. Some people think I’m getting fucked every three hours. In truth, I sometimes go months in self-imposed dry spells because I don’t feel great about how I look.

So, yes, I still struggle with body image. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t, though I can say these feelings seem to get better with age. Anecdotally, most gay men seem to grow more comfortable with themselves in their late-twenties and thirties, and I’ve heard empowering tales from gay men in their forties and fifties who say they’ve never felt more confident or had better sex.

While I try not to make generalizations, I think most Queers struggle with self-image, especially gay men. We’re a marginalized populace. A gay man who grows up with straight men may feel rejected and expectedly so, but imagine his hurt when he finds rejection among his own. If he can’t make it “out there” in the straight world and he can’t make it “in here,” where does his body belong?

Many of us are so terrified of not having value within the fringe community we inhabit that we struggle — and suffer, and go to great lengths — to be desirable in it. Many years ago, when I was still discovering gay culture, a gay man in Atlanta told me he was “gay fat.” I asked him what that meant. He squeezed the small flab on his belly and said, “If I was straight, I’d be normal. But among the gays, I’m fat.” At that moment, I did not particularly want to be “among the gays.”

If I had a magical solution for body insecurity, I’d tell it. My personal solution has been fitness and weightlifting — a band-aid solution at best — and it works for me, mostly. I draw the rest of my confidence from others areas — strength in my talent, my mind, my art — and use these to balance out the body issues when I need them to. Life is a process of finding one’s strengths and struggles and learning how to use the former to fight the latter.

The only thing I can say which might be helpful — and probably predictable — is that sex can and should be empowering, and some of the best sex people (sex workers, sex artists, and proud sluts), struggle with self-image, and they use sex to heal. Good sex should make you feel good about yourself. Done right, sex is mutually rewarding, mutually empowering. In every encounter I have, from the rough and fast to the slow and intimate, I want both parties — me and him — to walk away feeling impressed with our abilities. I want to wow myself.

When I do, I realize that this body, this thing I doubt and judge, can do an awful lot. It can make me feel really good. And that knowledge makes me feel really good.

Some will accuse me of offering sex as a crutch, but everyone has crutches. My gym thing is a crutch. Some people depend on alcohol and other drugs to get by. We need things to prop us up when we can’t prop up ourselves, and those things can be hobbies, sports, substances, money, goals, or any number of things. Our capitalist culture rarely condemns people who live to work, but we quickly shame those who live for sex, because the latter is less profitable for the one percent at the top. But sluthood is radical. There are worse places to draw one’s strength from than sex, so if you’re feeling low, try fucking.

Love, Beastly

1 Comment

  1. I don’t know if this story will be helpful to anyone but here it is anyway. Three years ago, at the age of 47, I was 265 lbs of extremely hairy fat at six feet. I hated myself and I realized that if I didn’t change something now, it would soon be too late ever to change at all. Within a year, I had lost 100 lbs, and realized that contrary to my naive expectations, underneath all that fat wasn’t a lot of muscle working to move the weight around, but rather that I had a completely atrophied, skinny-fat body with no muscle whatsoever, and I could barely move at all.

    So while losing the 100 lbs, I started a bodyweight workout routine at home. I say workout, but it was really more like physiotherapy because I couldn’t do one push-up, I couldn’t do a single squat, I couldn’t even think about doing a pull-up; I had to start by doing partial movements of each of these things, assisted in various ways when necessary, for as many reps as I could manage (I set myself the target of working up from 1 rep to at least 6 reps per set). I also did each rep slowly (3 seconds up, 3 seconds down) to try to maintain control of the movement.

    It would have been easy to give up on this level of effort pretty quickly and just go back to hating my body. How did I get myself to do the work? Every morning before I started my workout, I told myself it was now time to do something that gave me good feelings. And during the workout, I would focus on how good each movement felt (just the movement itself), and how good I felt between sets. I made it playful, turned it into a game, and played around and laughed as much as possible while the timer was counting down my rest period between sets. Slowly, slowly, over the weeks and months, I began to make friends with my body and learn what it could do and how good it could feel.

    I will never forget a kind of breakthrough that happened one day, after about a year-and-a-half, when I was doing push-ups elevated on a step (I still couldn’t do them on the floor). There was a moment when I realized that I suddenly actually had complete control of the whole movement for one rep (just one!), from top to bottom, without feeling like the weight of my body was going to crush my arms at any moment and they would give out from under me. It sounds silly, but at that moment, I felt like a gymnast and I realized that I had actually made progress.

    None of this would have been possible had I not made friends with my body and started to love how it could feel and what it could do. You cannot change your body by hating it; you can only do so by finding ways of loving it and connecting with it. And the strange thing is: when you do that, other people end up loving and connecting with your body too, and you end up loving and connecting with theirs. And the really funny part is that when this happens, your and their body type don’t matter nearly as much as you thought it did.

    Like

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