Some time ago I watched the third season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. One of the featured chefs, Jeong Kwan, is a Buddhist monk who lives in Korea and is world-renowned for her vegetarian cooking.
Everything she does is a mediation of sorts. Her day is a cycle of meditation and prayer, planting and harvesting, long-term food preparation (like preparing kimchi which needs time to ferment), and daily meal preparation for her fellow monks.
“Creativity and ego cannot go together.” — Jeong Kwan
In the Western world we are constantly striving
We are building things.
We are creating things.
We are solving the problems that we have created for ourselves. Read More
If you’re over 40 you might have come out at a time when you had to fit in as the “acceptable” gay. So you came out, but you still had to fit in!
As gay men we have lived lives of not always speaking our truth, of withholding who we are from others, and subsequently feeling shame for doing so. But when you unbox your hidden, suppressed truths, you give them life, and yourself freedom.
This is where change begins, with awareness of our closeted truths, of held back secret dreams and desires.
You can be out, but not expressing your complete identity. You’re out, but you’ve boxed yourself in to conform to social norms.
You may have lovely things like a house, a partner, a quality car, and fashionable clothes and accessories.
You may enjoy the finer things in life like the freedom to travel, to eat out at nice restaurants, to contribute or volunteer for charitable causes.
You might even have adopted the perfectly straight lifestyle and got married. Read More
“As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behaviour.”
The above is Kevin Spacey’s response to Anthony Rapp’s accusation of unwanted sexual advances by Spacey when he was 14-years old.
The challenging aspect of this article, for me, is to create an empathetic discussion about the potential “origins” of Spacey’s behaviour.
What I ask of you is to read through with an open mind. I am not condoning Spacey’s behaviour whatsoever.
Actually, I wanted to write that my body has betrayed me.
That sounds more dramatic and outside of my control.
The truth is that as I was leaning in towards the bathroom mirror to floss my teeth the other night, I looked down.
I looked down and in a moment of self-preservation unconsciousness I let my stomach out.
Couldn’t see my abs.
The hair on my stomach is going grey.
Fuck! I can even see how the tone and elasticity of my skin are changing.
For years I’ve had a stellar bod.
Not body. A body is just, ‘Meh, whatever.” A “bod”, oh ya, now that’s something to strive for!
“Hot Bod, man!”
The sort of thing that gets my attention (and the attention of others) on Grindr or on the beach.
Well. That large piece of red velvet cake didn’t help this evening. Nor did the small chocolate milk. As if the “small” made any fucking difference.
I grabbed a roll under my navel.
That’s fucking fat down there! This isn’t new but it’s getting to that point where I’m done with it. I can’t deal to look at myself like this.
It’s not that bad. Honestly.
I know how other people would react if I said this to them with my shirt off.
They’d call me obsessed or ridiculous.
But I know what I used to look like. I know how visibly ripped abs used to feel, both on the inside and on the outside.
Sometimes I’m self-conscious having sex with my partner. I know what I looked like when we met six years ago — pretty damn ripped and, in his words, “You had a rockin’ bod.”
You see now about the “hot bod” bit?
For some reason, one needs to drop off letters and use apostrophes to create emphasis. It’s a youthful thing and it sure as hell makes me feel good at 51, having a 30-year old partner.
Meh. I only have to work harder. But my toe hurts. I have low back pain. My left gluteus isn’t firing properly. My left side hip flexor is a bitch when squatting.
I’ve been dealing with these challenges (real) which are also excuses at the same time for well over 6 months.
I have not been exercising in a way I’ve been long accustomed to for a year or longer. I can see the loss of muscle, but I also feel the loss of interest.
I’ve been working out since I was 20.
I suppose getting bored with lifting is okay, but it’s not helping how I feel about myself.
As I write this I feel like I simply have to commit to lifting heavier again. Lift more often, but at a lower intensity and for a shorter duration.
Heck, I’m supposed to be a former fitness coach, right? I’m supposed to be exceptional at movement coaching and program design, right?
But wait, this is for me now and I’m one of my most challenging clients. Boy am I ever high maintenance!
When something in my body hurts or is tight I will stretch instead of lift which is smart. Or I try bodyweight, single limb, and fluidic movements to diagnose issues. But in the end, it feels like I’m procrastinating on me.
Which leads to something else, of course.
Something else is bothering me which has nothing to do with a loss of passion in lifting.
Sure, not being able to lift as heavy as I used to is part of getting older, and that does suck on one level. But I can always find a way to challenge myself.
It’s achievement in other areas that’s getting me down and lowering my level of happiness.
I feel as if I should have more money, more clients, or something generally “better” by now.
That stress plays out like this sometimes:
“Should I skip my workout today and do this other thing that might help me grow my business?”
“Should I workout first and hopefully have the focus to work on that thing I want to achieve?”
Onwards rolls the conundrum down the hill gathering momentum.
What’s the truth, the reason simmering below the surface?
Is there something you’re struggling with? Do you think you know what the problem is, but really, it’s something deeper?
The problem in this storey is not my body. In fact, this post is based on a journal entry from over a year ago.
I tell the story because I found myself stuck. With the help of regular journaling and working with a coach I realized the “dissatisfaction” I was feeling about my body was misdirected.
I realized I was in the wrong business! Once I found that clarity I was able to move forward and everything else started to feel better.
Everyone has a story about their body. Some of us want to look great for the beach, to feel powerful and sexy when we’re in bed with someone, or to move easily without pain or discomfort.
My body’s story has everything to do with being gay.
As a kid, I was always sick and had more allergies than you could count. I had allergies to foods, dust, pollens, and fragrances. I reacted in many ways, from a skin rash to hives, earaches that were beyond painful, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, and days spent sick in bed. To make matters worse, I was diagnosed as ADHD. Imagine pairing an allergic reaction and ADHD together! Suffice to say I never felt like I had much control over my body as a child.
Being sick a lot made me aware of how my body responded to food and foods that did not agree with me. Perhaps because of my mother’s intervention and being so reactive to food as a child, I never got fat. I was always skinny. When you’re sick all the time it’s difficult to gain weight.
Just imagine a sickly and highly reactive hyperactive child. How do you think my schoolyard peers and teachers responded? I was a handful, not because I was a bad kid, rather I simply had little control.
As a little boy, I didn’t have a lot of friends and most teachers had no clue how to handle me. That was the beginning of knowing I was different. Different because I couldn’t control my body’s reactions. Different because I was dyslexic and had trouble reading and comprehending. Different because I knew since I was five years old that the way I looked at other boys was not normal.
Adolescent Gym Class
One of the first times I was acutely aware of my body in public was in grade seven when we were introduced to taking a shower after gym class. I was fucking terrified. I was terrified of what I might see, afraid that the boys might notice me looking at them, and ashamed — for no clear reason at that time — of my body.
After showering, one of the boys was confident enough to say he was afraid of getting naked because he was the only one who had not yet reached puberty. If only I could have openly said that I was also nervous, but because I was curious to see what other boys look like naked.
Gym class remained one of my least favourite periods at school, mostly because I wasn’t very athletic. I felt awkward and I didn’t feel like one of the boys. Somehow the other kids understood this and my physical weakness was continually reinforced as one of the last kids picked for any team in gym class.
High School Gym
There was a special moment in high school grade nine. We were bussed to another school to learn about gymnastics. I loved it. I was a natural and I was one of the best on the pommel horse. I never continued with gymnastics because I was afraid of being labelled gay.
This was the early 80s in Mississauga (a suburb outside of Toronto, Canada) and everyone at my high school who was a boy called everyone who was in gymnastics a faggot. I thought I was the only one.
It wasn’t until after high school when I joined the newly opened Gold’s gym in Mississauga, that I started to feel comfortable with my body. Probably because I could finally do a sport where I was competing only against myself. I was building my muscles and making myself stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Another surprise was that I slowly grew out of most of my allergies after puberty and during my teenage years. What a relief to not be sick all the time.
When I first came out and started going to gay bars in Toronto in 1984, I started to feel more confident because I was having a lot of sex and getting a lot of positive feedback about my body and my sexual energy. Yay! Other attractive men liked me!
At the time there was something frightening happening in the gay world and it was too early to know what it was exactly. It was called GRID from 1982 to 1984. It wasn’t until Rock Hudson passed away from AIDS in 1985 did that name become prevalent and constant in the media.
Just as I was starting to feel comfortable about myself there was a fucking disease that was killing gay men; the same gay men who were making me feel self-confident and attractive. It was a disease the Christian fundamentalists and right-wing politicians could use as evidence that I was not a human being and thus I was not entitled to equal rights.
The struggle was now an even greater one. The struggle was to disassociate gay men from sickness in the media and in the minds of weak-minded and ignorant people. It was no longer an individual struggle for self-acceptance. My body became part of the gay body collective.
Body Hair: In, Out, In…
I’ve always had a good amount of body hair, especially on my chest and stomach. Towards the late 80s, pornography and the representation of gay men changed dramatically. Until that point in time, it was the hairy man, the butch man, the moustached and rugged man who was celebrated in the late 70s and early 80s – especially in places like New York and San Francisco.
Subtly, pornography changed all that. The perfect male image was of a buff muscular man (who may or may not be taking steroids) who was shaved perfectly smooth, which somehow equated to cleanliness and being disease-free. That became the new visual standard of how gay men should look, and once again I didn’t belong.
For many years I would be turned down by gay men because I was too hairy. I figured out a way to deal with that – I trimmed my body hair. Shaving wasn’t for me, nor was waxing, which was one of the most torturous physical ordeals I’ve ever experienced. The pain-cost of waxing was too high a cost to buy a sense of belonging, solely based on my physical exterior.
History seems to repeat itself and in the late 90s Bears became a new sub-culture in the gay community. These were gay men who were hairy, who did not shave or trim and were generally speaking husky or overweight.
Essentially everything that was once considered ugly, reprehensible, and not sexy, became attractive to some. If you belonged to that group it became somewhat incestuous, mostly because there weren’t too many bears around.
Where did I fit in with all of this? I finally figured out what I liked about my body and I realized that what other men liked about me was okay, and it was good enough. I remember one night out at a club in Toronto a gorgeous man stopped me on the stairs. It was summer and I had my shirt off, proudly displaying my physique. “What a sexy, hairy chest!” he told me. It felt like that compliment was over 15 years in the making.
What’s Your Body Story?
I share my story to be transparent and make it known that we all have a back story about why we believe our body is the way it is, or why we are striving to change it and become something else.
If you don’t know why you’re overweight, if you don’t know why you skip meals because you like to be super skinny, if you don’t know what you just ate because you weren’t paying attention, if you don’t know why you are over-training at the gym, stop.
Stop and take some time to reflect, just as I’ve done here with this mini-memoir. Start with your childhood memories. Start with the relationships with your parents and siblings. Go back in time to high school when you were starting to develop more of your ego and identity having reached puberty.
Go back to that abusive relationship, that failed relationship, the person who said something to you so hurtful that you allowed him or her to damage your self-esteem for years.
Remember that moment when you felt confident, secure, and loved for you, and for your body. Knowing is important and the first step to making any positive change. You might be strong enough to make changes on your own, or you might choose to ask for help.
You only have one body.
Your body is as important as the air you breathe. Without oxygen, you die. The longer you starve your body of healthy nutrients, proper exercise, and self-love, the more it will decline.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” — Jim Rohn.
Want to talk about how to take care of your body with pride and love?
The 10 Commandments of heteronormativity for gay men who want to fit in, fall in line, and be respectable.
1. “Thou shalt judge other gays.”
The way to fit in and never be suspected of being gay is to make fun of people who are clearly gay. Flamboyant much? Sound like a sissy fag? Perfect targets for humour and distain. Subvert the shame of your closet by making fun of someone else in an attempt to falsely make yourself feel better.
2. “Thou shalt hold your voice silent when others make homophobic comments.”
Don’t rock the boat. You wouldn’t want to be outed. Even if others don’t suspect you of being gay, just keep silent. The status quo loves it when you don’t support or stand up for the other. Read More
One of my biggest realizations from reading The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs was that my success in life is directly related to my experience of having grown up in the closet.
The truth is I’m not afraid of success. Rather, I sometimes shy away from other people SEEING me as successful! I have been successful in many areas of my life and I’m aware of the difference between success and accomplishment, which I talk about in, “How Does It Feel When You’re Living Your Calling?”
An Interesting Paradox
If I want to help people think more queerly, the think outside of the status quo, I need to be fully out, vulnerable, and take risks. But at the same time, the young Darren that once lived in the closet likes the safety of not being recognized. Read More
The trappings of normality in the straight world come with a cost.
Fitting in requires an investment of false energy (you not expressing who you are). Do you have the things everyone else does, like a house, a car, 3–4 weeks of vacation per year, marriage, children, etc.?
It’s easy to get lost in your career, pursing one achievement after the other. You neglect your health and your partner, unaware you’re still trying to silence the pain of being gay.
There is nothing wrong with having any of those things, like possessions or a successful career. But they can be distractions showing up as external validation. Fitting in, being seen as a success, helps you deal with your gay shame. Your outward achievements help you feel good enough in the eyes of others, but they doesn’t make you feel proud.
Being out and unapologetically fucking PROUD is a huge act of defiance.
Often as a gay man we feel there’s got to be more to life, that something is missing. How do you see your way out of the box if you don’t even realize you’re in one? Read More
For many gay men it’s challenging to feel good enough, like we belong, and have an equal place in society.
Sometimes I wonder what holds me back, why that voice inside my head tells me I won’t succeed. Recently I was reminded of my childhood and how isolated and unwanted I felt by my peers. This has had a profound affect on my emotional, intellectual, and psychological development.
Faggot, Queer, Gay Boy, Sissy… What were you called?
At a very young age, when you’re brain is still in a developmental growth stage, what is the effect of not feeling good enough? How is your emotional intelligence affected? What behaviours are created to protect and deflect criticism and to have any sense of self-worth? Read More