These pages tell the stories of men talking about being gay, body image, self-esteem and sex. The first story is autobiographical and the other stories are from interviews that I have conducted as part of this research project. In the other stories all names and places have been changed.
Marcus is 42 and lives in Melbourne, Australia.
have no photographs of myself before the age of 17. My father used to
beat up my mother and I used to get caught in the middle. I was sent
packing to boarding school at age 12 and there I began to have bouts
of depression because I was ostracised at school when the other boys
found out I was a poofter (I got an erection 'mucking around' with other
boys). I didn't even know what the word poofter meant.
I had a nervous breakdown because of college, family and sexuality when I was 18. I spent six months in bed just lying there. A year later my father found out that I was gay and we had this meeting in a lay-by at dusk. He drove up in his car and I drove up in mine. It was like a scene out of Casablanca. He said that I could come and see him if I didn't bring any poofter friends of mine. I haven't seen him from that day to this. It took me a long time to get over the rejection but I did.
My car the last time I saw my father
I think that when I started to feel more comfortable with my sexuality this helped me accept who I was as an individual and that I was going to lead my life the way I wanted too. When I was 21 I left college and gave up what I had been studying. When I was 21 I was raped by this guy continuing to fuck me after I had asked him too stop. He said that I should "take it like a man."
I used to suffer from terrible bouts of depression. My self-esteem was low. I was always so thin, so scrawny and could never put on any weight. I always thought of myself as unattractive when I looked in the mirror. It got me very depressed when I looked at other men's bodies, all buffed and polished, in the gay press and the porno videos, out at the parties and the clubs. I wanted to be like them! I wanted to be big and powerful. But it was physically impossible. I went to the gym and put on some weight which improved my self-esteem and my fitness a bit but I could never really be who I would have liked to have been, in relation to my body image. I even took a course of steroids at the gym to try and get bigger.
I rejected the feminine side of myself as many gay men do, thinking it not 'manly' enough. I'd always been into the working-class look, that gay 'fantasy' of a straight 'lad', and adopted the gay skin 'look' as a tuff image. I started to get tattoos all based on the alchemy of the 5 elements.
Eventually I realised how I was running after my own 'ideal' but even now I still like this fantasy image as an 'ideal', one among many. I don't think there's anything wrong with that now because I recognise the underlying reasons behind my desire for this image. The need for security, love, intimacy and masculinity among others. Of course I lusted after those muscular bodies but I never had anal sex without a condom with someone who had that kind of body. It just was just something I didn't think about doing, probably because a lot of my friends at the time had contracted the HIV/AIDS virus.
Gradually the 'ideal' became less important to me. I learnt to value myself as different, individual and desirable because of it. I learnt to appreciate this in others. The muscular bodies, the thin bodies, the Asian bodies, the broken noses, the bow-legs, the intelligence, the humour and the love. I accepted their good energies as well as my own. I started to rediscover my feminine side and found that it helped lift my spirits. I became creative again. I studied Zen and reiki and had some amazing out of body experiences. I had some tribal scarification (body modification) performed on me. Feeling no pain by putting my mind onto a different level of consciousness separate from my body, I experienced a metaphysical and spiritual journey when having the scarification done.
Now I wear my techno clothes one day, my punk clothes another, a suit or a skinhead look and feel comfortable in all. Talking to people and reading a lot of books about life really helped me sort things out. I still have the same body but depression over a host of things - family, not having a sense of what I'm supposed to be doing on this planet, body image, sex, self-esteem - now seems to be on a more even keel.
I've found there are no quick solutions. I believe that actually doing things that you like, things that make you happy, are really important in improving your self-esteem. It's not just in the outcome, its also in the process of enjoying yourself when you do something, whether it be cooking, working, or making love! Being 'happy' is a state that lasts only a few seconds but being in a state of 'happiness' can last a much longer time. I also began to understand how gay men can become trapped by stereotypes and 'lifestyles'. I wondered how other gay men interacted with the stereotype of the white, hairless, muscular body, the epitome of what a gay man should look like, and how this image affected their self-esteem and safe sex practices.
What would gay men do to have sex with their body image 'ideal'?