Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Self-Acceptance Is Not Just About Sexual Orientation
A gay man goes to a spa to have his face injected with Botox and dermal fillers. He's obsessed with getting rid of lines and wrinkles. His age? Twenty-seven.
One of my favorite gay male bloggers admits to having life-long body image issues. He writes about the rituals he puts himself through, to ensure people he doesn't know don't see what he perceives to be his physical imperfections when he wears a Speedo swimsuit. He's in his late 40s.
A gay writer writes, in a recent article appearing on Advocate.com:
A few months ago at Pride in West Hollywood, I was standing on the crowded front porch of the bar Micky's, waiting to enter, when an extremely handsome 50-something friend of mine stormed past. I asked where he was going and he replied, "Home. I'm pissed." Why? "Some queen just shoved me and said 'Get out of the way, old man.'" (From "In Defense of Aging," by Jon Bernstein)
It's occurred to me more than once, as I read these pieces, that it isn't just our sexual orientation we, as gay and lesbian people, need to accept. It's also our bodies, our faces included, and, more specifically, ourselves as we age.
I know something about this. Up until I reached the age of 50, I was more or less happy with the way I looked. I'd faced the fact I would never have the buff body I'd always wanted, despite nearly twenty years of working out, which had made me fit but not buff. And I thought I was still on the upward swing of looking better and thus feeling better about myself.
Then, in October 2009, I hit the proverbial wall. Suddenly, there was no longer a four at the beginning of my age. I'd reached the half-century milestone, and I started to realize that maybe my long and steady climb toward that ideal of physical perfection had come to an end (or was surely slowing down, due to no fault of my own).
Over the next several years, I sunk into a deep depression. A cup-half-empty type by nature, I began to fixate on everything that confirmed I was no longer getting better, I was getting older. That stomach area that would never be flat, even defined, despite my hard work over the years. Those criss-crossed lines below my eyes (not to mention the laugh-lines at their corners) that looked like a sheet of graph paper tilled sideways. And that grey hair that was no longer just above my ears but had pretty much take over my entire head.
For two and a half years, I dreaded getting older. That's dreaded with a capital D. I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I hated that, despite my commitment to eating healthier and exercising, I would never be young and beautiful again (I was once one, no doubt, but the other is open to opinion).
That dread was so bad, it permeated my entire life. There was not one single thing I looked at, or experienced, that didn't have a dark cloud hanging over it. I began to have panic attacks again (something I fought hard to overcome in 1994 and then ten years later). I was scared to get into a car for fear of being in an accident. I was scared I'd lose Chris (even though there was a period when I believed he would be better off without me). And I was scared of dying before I achieved what I thought I was put here to do.
Nonsense. All of it was nonsense.
You know what turned me around? It was so simple, you won't believe it. And it can work for you too.
I was walking through the parking lot at our local Save-On Foods in the spring of 2011, and a saw an old lady carrying bags of groceries to her car. There was nothing special about her. She was an old lady, just like any of the old ladies I'd looked at throughout my life.
But for the first time, I saw her. No, I mean I really saw her. Not just the fact that she was old, but beyond that. Inside. I saw her soul. I saw the incredible dignity she had as a simple human being, completing an everyday task. And I saw how utterly beautiful she was. Yes, beautiful. Lines and wrinkles and sagging skin–all of it. In that moment, she struck me as stunning. And I could not imagine how I'd never seen aging like that before.
From there, I put the pieces together: If we're very lucky, we get to age. Aging is neither good nor bad, it just is. It's a part of life like any other. But, truth be told, it's even better than everything before, because it's our time to put to use what we've learned about the world and ourselves.
In the Advocate.com article referred to above, Bernstein writes, "The journey of self-discovery takes a lifetime." And so it does. If we're lucky, the great blessing for all of us is that we're around long enough to end that journey when it logically should, so we learn everything we possibly can about having an open heart, a generous spirit, and an easy laugh.
And the body? It's nothing more than a vessel–a vessel that gets us from point A to point B, whether the journey be physical, intellectual, or spiritual. By all means take care of it, respect and honor it, because it's the only one you'll ever have.
But, in the end, it doesn't matter one speck what it looks like, as long as it gets us to where we're supposed to go. And the longer we're here–assuming our focus is right–the more likely we are to arrive at exactly where that is.