Gods on the Dance Floor

My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex. I wrote a book.

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Hi Cheves. Brazi here.

I was looking at your Instagram photos. And this message doesn’t intend to say you’re immensely hot, although it’s clearly a true statement.

As a photographer (especially interested in the image of the human body) I was glad to notice that your self-portraits decidedly avoid a certain kitsch attitude of “look how sexy I am”. That’s extremely common in the gay iconography, as you well know.

You portray yourself as a human being who says “this is me, entirely” – without pretending to be someone/something else.

This is evident, for instance, in the image in which your trousers are stained with white or in those you’re using only underwear. These are among the most attractive images of men I’ve ever seen.

I wonder: do you see yourself as an attractive man? Do you like your own image? Are you confident regarding your appearance? I ask you that because I can’t manage to see myself as attractive and invariably hate my image. This has seriously disastrous consequences as you might imagine.

I paint also. I think seriously about producing a painting based on one of your images. If I succeed, you will know.

I am utterly happy to know there will be virtual events during your tour.

Hug and kiss.

Hi Ygor (or Brazi — I’m not sure which is your name),

This is one of the more uncomfortable questions I’ve gotten lately, but not because of anything you said. I just don’t take compliments very well. So I’ll simply say thank you.

To answer your question: Yes, I do see myself as an attractive man, but I also see my attractiveness as an uphill battle and a struggle to maintain. I’ve managed to be attractive in spite of my features, not because of them. I feel — as I imagine many folks feel — that I must work harder than others to be good-looking because my body does not naturally want to be.

I have partial facial paralysis, a slight lazy eye, a body that wants to be chubby, a deaf ear, and acne-scarred skin. Beauty is not and has never been effortless for me, nor has the sex that has accompanied it. I have GI issues and a bad tummy and these things make bottoming — something I’m recognized for and proclaim to do well — actually quite hard and, the older I get, even harder. I’m not chiseled and don’t gain muscle easily. I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to look good according to gay beauty standards, though every victory contains a feeling of defeat over the fact that it’s taken me thirty years to feel good in my skin. How much longer do I have to feel this way?

Sorry for the ranting confession, but it has a purpose. It’s to show you that everyone — certainly every queer man — struggles with self-image. You do, I do. All too often, our idea of beauty involves everything we are not, everything we admire and crave and wish we had. Those we find beautiful — the gods on the dance floor — have their own crushing self-doubts, body dysmorphia, and body envy. All of us are conditioned to hate what we have and worship what we don’t.

Overall, when it comes to self-image, I net positive. The combination of my looks and my talents, my sexual skills and my voice, my mind and my cock, net consistently to a positive self-perception. If we only judge ourselves by our features beyond the skin, I’d feel limitlessly desirable and interesting, and I have a healthy ego when it comes to my inner stuff — my talent, my work, my mind — as I think a writer must. But sadly we don’t live in such a world — no one is judged only by the quality of their mind and character. I have a body — and body standards — to contend with. And since I’m a man who fucks men, those standards for me are more extreme, more unforgiving, as the most beautiful men on earth are part of this tribe. Ever since I was a teenager covered in acne, this thought has never been far from my mind: “If only the outside matched the inside.”

Part of me is looking forward to growing old and hopes that, when I do, I will have the maturity and wisdom to reach a place where I care less about all that surface stuff. Is that naive optimism? Probably, but I would love to someday be a person who revels in my intelligence and talent and doesn’t stress so much over whether or not these better parts of myself are contained within a sexy wrapper. Our bodies are vehicles for so many kinds of beauty, but I think that, when we’re young, we mostly notice the kinds we can see across a room.

I hope I can age gracefully out of that, and while I doubt I’ll ever give up the desire to be sexy — older folks want to be sexy too and desire attractiveness as much as everyone else — I would like to someday delight in not having to compete with the wiles and whims of youth.

Though you do not say this explicitly, I imagine you’re asking me how I see myself in order to gain some kind of reinforcement. You might want me to reinforce your negative self-image, perhaps, or your own perception of people you think are beautiful. You might want me to verify that those you find attractive are confident in their looks, and in doing so, prove to you that physical beauty amounts to self-love — that only beautiful people merit such love. That reinforcement would help you stay in an unhealthy feedback loop of self-hatred and keep your reality stable.

I won’t do that. If I said that I always see myself as attractive, I would be lying. I have good days and bad days, days when I feel desirable and days I don’t. I imagine you do, too.

Your question does not directly ask me for advice, but I’ll offer some. I wrote a version of this advice in my latest sex-ed slideshow for The Advocate.

You need to rethink your pillars. Everyone has pillars, things we ground ourselves on. Sometimes my body doesn’t look as I want it to, and when that happens I say, “Ok, that pillar is down.” When that happens, I have to prop myself up on something else, usually on my inner self — my talents, tastes — or my writing, or my ability to communicate in bed. I only need one pillar to keep going.

There are days when all my pillars are standing strong — when I feel sexy, accomplished, and more. Then there are days when I don’t feel that way at all (breakups, hospital visits), and sometimes all I have to hang on to is the fact that I can write a decent poem. But that’s enough.

My identity as a bottom was a pillar until I started having bad stomach issues three years ago. I’ve mostly figured out what the issue is, but even with lifestyle changes, I still have a sensitive tummy — not great for a fisting bottom. I went through severe depression and thought I was losing everything about my life that I loved. “If I can’t get fucked, I’m not sure I want to keep living,” I said to my partner one day. And he reminded me of something I’ve reminded other people: sex is a long buffet table of different experiences, all of equal value. Sex is more than topping or bottoming. He said that, if I was willing to throw away all that over a narrow vision of my sex life, I was not the person he thought I was.

It takes a proverbial kick in the teeth sometimes to be reminded of a powerful truth. If something physical is a pillar of your identity, it’s not enough. Physical things fail. We all have bad days, days we don’t like how we look. If that’s all you have to hang your sense of self on, a day will come when you have nothing to grab. Medical issues happen, injuries happen, and the body ages. I’ve witnessed beautiful identities form even after cancer diagnoses and severe trauma. I’m not saying that it’s easy to let go of beauty standards — no one can live fully outside them — but you have to ground your sense of self in things that can’t be taken away in a car crash or on a painful visit to a doctor’s office. You have to love, nurture, and cultivate that inner stuff, the stuff that stays — gentleness, goodness, ethics, philosophy, a life mission, talent, taste, creativity. When the physical things aren’t strongest, you need to know there’s an inner person living in your body, one you can count on. Our bodies are just vehicles, the tools by which we move through the world. We are so much more than them. Through art, music, stories, and love, we extend beyond them.

Stay strong, and if you paint me, let me know. I would love to see your work.

Love, Beastly

I have a question for you what do you do if someone doesn’t reveal their HIV status on the first Hookup? I had a guy who didn’t tell me his status until 2 days later. and also what do you recommend for a 26-year-old guy like me to meet people who also has Autism as well

do you have any advice if so it would be appreciated thank you

Hi there,

Take PEP immediately. PEP is “post-exposure prophylaxis” — essentially a morning-after pill for HIV. Its efficacy diminishes the longer you wait, and two days is already a long time, so I’d go to your nearest sexual health clinic now.

Is the guy you had sex with undetectable? If so, he is unable to infect you. “Undetectable” means that he’s taking medication as prescribed to the point that he is unable to transmit HIV. Your only concern in this situation is if he is not undetectable.

If something happens — if you end up seroconverting (getting HIV) — you must bear in mind that the fault does not fully lie with him. Yes, he should have told you, but you also should have taken the necessary steps to protect yourself. You should not attack him or go after him in court. You are an adult capable of making your own sexual decisions and you knowingly had sex with him without asking him to take an HIV test beforehand or asking to see his most recent test results. If you had bareback (condomless) sex with him, you did so of your own free will.

Anytime you have sex with someone, you take the risk that they might have an STI or are HIV-positive and unmedicated, and the onus falls on you to protect yourself. We’ve laid the responsibility and the blame at the feet of people living with HIV for far too long, and the law still punishes HIV-positive even when the sex is fully consensual and both parties willfully engage in it. These laws overlook the agency of those who willingly fuck people without verifying their HIV status beforehand. I’m breaking that cycle now by telling you that you must own your choices and own the risks you take.

As for meeting people: It’s hard to know what advice to give when I don’t know where you live. No matter where you are based, you likely have the same options most folks have: in-person and online (or on app) connections.

In the U.S., there are near-endless ways to find people. Every stranger you interact with is technically a candidate for a more substantial relationship, especially if you’re friendly, outgoing, and willing to talk to people you don’t know. But doing that can be intimidating and risky — not all strangers are safe, not all strangers take “no” for an answer — so many people choose not to do that. Many choose to date via an “association web.” They find and vet people through the connections they already have. This means dating friends-of-friends and dating within defined social circles and structures (friends groups, cultural groups, religious communities, and so on). This can mean joining a sports team or local group oriented around shared interests (anime, gaming, books, whatever).

And of course, many people date online, which has its own risks and dangers, as no one is required to depict themselves truthfully online. But these dangers have been substantially dealt with since online dating became such a scary, buzzy topic, and talk of cyber predators has dwindled. Grandmothers date online now.

There are smartphone apps that link to people’s Facebook pages and show mutual friends (Tinder) and apps that allegedly foster climates of honesty and relationship-oriented pursuit (Hinge). And I know many queer men who have stumbled into relationships with men they meet on casual sex apps like Grindr and Scruff. There are websites for people who are interested in kink and BDSM as well as sites where people into various other niche things can meet.

You have options. Each of these options can be intimidating, but keep at it, and you’ll find your people. It took me years, but I eventually found my people, and they have loved me more than I thought anyone would, and they will love you, too.

Love, Beastly

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for rekindling my lofty wish to be in your life. I’d safely tucked it in the impossible crush compartment and now you’ve gone and made me pine for you again. (It’s undignified. 😁)
    The Gods on the Dancefloor, is the thoughtful, fearless observation and self awareness of a truly mindful, empathetic human being. It gave me “all the feels” (as the kids probably said longer ago than I’ve kept up with). I enjoy your worldview so very much.


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