At the risk of falling into a pool of narcissism, I must say that I love this photo. It was taken last month when I was down in Austin for my friend Cody's birthday
. I love this photo because it isn't a "good" photo. Oh, it's beautifully shot, but it also is an image that shows many things about my appearance that have long made me insecure. The thick chin, the receding hairline, the crooked teeth, the bulbous nose, the deepening lines around my eyes, all are things that I would often try to avoid in a picture where I was trying to impress.
I'm a single gay man who works in the fashion industry, for god's sake! Aren't I supposed to be striving towards a low-body-fat, firm-jawed, tight-bodied, perpetually youthful image? In this picture, my age, my weight, my round-faced thickness, all the things that since puberty have alienated me from my own body and made me awkward with my physical nature, all the shortcomings that made me jealous of my peers and horribly shy about my own flesh, all the things that drove me as an adolescent and young man away from sports and leisure and sex and into a cocoon of books and a Cartesian rejection of the body for the life of the mind, a false dichotomy that continued without interruption until I was almost thirty, all these elements are on display here.
But in this photo, I'm blissfully happy.
I'm blissfully happy because I am with real friends. I'm blissfully happy because I am in a beautiful place. I'm blissfully happy because I'm healthy. I'm blissfully happy because at a certain point in my life those insecurities started to fall off.
It started with sex. Or rather, with the desire for sex. When I decided to come out, I knew that I couldn't continue to neglect my body. At first, I tried to radically change my self, losing weight and spending a lot of spare time in the gym. After a few years, it was evident to me that I would never be that cliche of fit that floated above Los Angeles like an imaginary god. I was stuck with my white trash/native American gene pool, with the kind of body that an axe-wielding Saxon foot soldier would be proud to own. So I played to my strengths and started playing rugby.
I'm not a great rugby player. I didn't take up the game until I was 31, after all. But I loved instantly the sheer, almost drug-like physical bliss that rose from using my body at it's limit. Out on the pitch was the first time that the fake wall between my mind and my body tumbled, and I felt my two sides come together. That analogy that Socrates created about human beings searching for the other half we had before the gods split us with their lightning? It was like I had found my other half.
I still have some of the old ghosts haunting me. I don't like taking off my shirt at the beach at Laguna. I'm not yet happy with my weight (though I'm getting there, thanks Cedars-Sinai!) and I still feel like a defendant in the dock every time I step within the city bounds of West Hollywood.
But I don't go to West Hollywood that much anymore. Instead, I go to Texas and float down a river with my friends. Instead, I hang out with the Australians at bars that we pick for the music. Instead, I accept that this is the only body I will ever have. Lots of burly gay men embrace the label of "bear" as a way of defining themselves and creating a tribe. I don't. Yeah, I'm a bear, in that I fit the physical requirements. I use the term sometimes as shorthand, but I also find it incredibly silly. I don't need to be part of an exclusionary culture based on fitting a physical type, even one that I happen to meet to the T. I may be the beariest bear in beartown, but in the end, I'm just me, Spence, the guy in this snapshot. Either you get it or you don't.
Either way, I love this photo.