My childhood growing up in New Jersey was marked by the somewhat confusing feeling of being both on the inside and outside of my social world. I was always overweight, which I clearly could not hide. I was also gay, a secret I guarded vigorously – driven by an intense fear of being forced completely to the outside and providing those who already used the word “fat” to keep me down with “fag”…the ultimate insult. My weight and my sexuality will forever remain inextricably linked in my psyche.
After college, in NYC and well over 300 lbs, I undertook a personal overhaul. I remain a “big” guy today – but one remarkably smaller who goes to the gym four times a week and eats significantly healthier. During the first two months of my renovation project, I lost over 50 lbs, and as people began to notice me as more than a spare tire farm, I began to recognize that the inevitable question of why I wasn’t dating anyone would soon come up. I couldn’t hide behind my weight in quite the same way anymore.
As I grappled with this, a close friend of mine who recently began coming out ran into an old friend of his at a gay bar. He seemed just like me…unsure of what he was doing, freaked that my friend saw him there, grappling with all sorts of issues. He was cute, but that wasn’t the point. I didn’t come on to him. I called him one night, went over to his apartment and came out to him. I relished the idea of being able to talk to someone who was not only in the same phase of coming out of the closet experience, but who was also, aside from our one common friend, completely detached from the rest of my social life. That night, I said quite a few things out loud for the first time. Saying I thought a guy was “hot” – in essence, articulating a thought I had thousands of times but until that moment would never dare say aloud – remains one of the most liberating moments of my life.
At nearly 27 years of age, 3 weeks after I garnered the strength to come out to one person, my mother asked me if I was gay. To this day, I am not sure what tipped her off. Maybe she was wondering why my weight loss did not translate into a (straight) dating life. Maybe she always wondered. Maybe she saw my iPod playlist. Whatever the reason, without warning and not quite ready, I was out to my parents, the next day to my brother and sister-in-law, and then to friends. The process proved to be so much more positive and revealing (you’d be surprised what people feel comfortable telling you once you come out to them) – that I felt borderline crazy for having suffered through so many years of laying awake…so many times I wished the “gay” away, crying silently, recognizing simultaneously that his was “no phase” and that I did not have the courage yet to say so.
With all the changes going on in my life, the pervasive same feeling from my youth – of being both on the inside and the outside – remained. My past was straight – and I wasn’t. My future was gay – but my social life wasn’t. I was nowhere and everywhere. Once the novelty of coming out was over and I, along with everyone I knew, at least appeared to be at peace with it, my life began to resemble my workouts. I was going around and around on an elliptical…sweaty and tiring and requiring a lot of energy – without actually moving forward. After the initial and dramatic weight loss, I found that it required more effort to lose less weight. After coming out, it similarly required far more effort to take even the smallest step forward toward my future.
Now, nearly five years later, I have met and forged friendships (sometimes more) with plenty of incredible guys. I still have weight to lose, but I never put back on. I am still on that elliptical…but now there’s the treadmill, core exercises, weights. Both “inside” and “outside” of the gym, I go in circles with occasional movements forward.
Slow progress can be difficult to accept after losing 50 pounds in two months, and letting go of a secret I held for over 20 years to everyone I know in the same amount of time. Living life openly, however, means each tick forward means so much more.