Hate Your Looks?
“I wish I knew what it felt like to be a handsome man,” said my attractive young gay buddy to me. He threw me a wistful look. “What’s it like?” I had to choke back laughter, afraid I’d offend him.
He was serious
I don’t know why, but many LGBTQ young people see themselves as unattractive. Many studies indicate that LGBTQ youth are at particular risk of unrealistic negative body images. In other words, lots of queer youth are perfectly attractive, but don’t believe that they are.
Straight/cis people struggle with body and beauty issues too, and I don’t want to minimize that.
All I can do is speak from my own experiences. I’m a storyteller, so let me tell you what it’s been like to be me, to live in my body, to find myself unattractive.
Iwas an outsider in high school, having spent most of my life in the insular world of fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity. I didn’t attend a normal public school until 8th grade.
I didn’t know how to fit into my new world. My hair was wrong. My clothes were wrong. My behavior was alien. I was a stranger in a strange land.
I had no idea that some people might find me attractive. I spent about 5 years fairly well convinced that my poor social status was a result of my looks. I internalized a poor self image. To put it more plainly, I thought I was ugly.
After high school, I discovered my gay Shangri La, the Question Mark Bar and Grill in Des Moines, Iowa.
I was popular there. This confused me.
Then I realized that people wanted to have sex with me. Aha! I thought. That explains it. People are horny. I’m available and willing. Two plus two equals four. Instead of changing my self image, I chalked up my little burst of popularity to sex and my willingness to have lots of it.
Then I started a military career and ended up in the closet again. Women were never interested in me, probably because I put out a very isolating vibe.
I had a few gay affairs, though, one with a very high-status, gorgeous civilian official attached to my base. I was invited to appear in a gay porn film. I declined, fearing for my career, but I never thought about what the invitation said about my own attractiveness.
I already knew I wasn’t handsome
After I left the military, I was wandering around Greenwich Village during Pride Fest when a cute guy handed me his business card and asked me to pose for his “fine art photography.”
I jumped nude off planks under hot lights in his Chelsea studio.
When Joe the artist showed me the prints, my stomach contracted. I hated them! I was so ugly! My husband framed three prints on the wall, though, and bragged to our friends. My image appeared in an art book that sold in gay book stores all over North America and Europe.
Did I believe after all that? Did I stop hating the mirror? No, I have never believed — not deep down where it counts — that I’m a handsome man.
Fast forward some decades. A couple of summers ago, a woman I’d just met raved about my looks and set me up with her gay best friend. We dated. The first time we were in bed together, he moaned in a moment of pleasure. “Oh, my god, you’re so beautiful.”
I didn’t believe him. Not for one single second. You know how I felt when he said that? Suspicious: I’m not tall, my jaw is too pronounced, my body isn’t shaped the way I’d like. I’m stocky and muscular when I prefer a slimmer build in my men. And that’s sort of the point —
I’m not attracted to me —
I wouldn’t cruise me. I wouldn’t try to pick me up in a bar. But isn’t that often how it works? Aren’t all sorts of people attracted to all sorts of different looks? Isn’t variety wonderful? How boring would it be if we all found exactly the same looks attractive?
We’re all insecure. We all just want to be loved.
Being beautiful or handsome is subjective. What it’s like to be good looking is probably impossible to describe, because people don’t know how they look to other people.
Hell, I’ve known some self-absorbed folks who carried on like they were God’s gift, when it seemed to me like they needed to be careful not to break mirrors!
What really matters is that you accept your looks, that you don’t compare them to some arbitrary standard of what it means to be beautiful, and that you understand that all sorts of people are attracted to all sorts of other people.
It’s perfectly OK if you wouldn’t date you. Lots of other people would!
It’s taken me a lifetime to learn that
I realize that telling one little story isn’t going to turn anyone around, but I’m gonna take my shot. All I can ask is that you think about what I’m saying.
Yes, you — the one I hear saying right now, “He doesn’t mean me. I really AM an ugly duckling.”
You’re EXACTLY who I’m talking to. Listen, being queer (or even just being human) isolates us and sets us apart. We’re different, even when we’re accepted. It’s way too easy to internalize difference as shame or poor self image. Understanding the problem is half the battle of undoing the damage.
Sure, we also have to worry about unrealistic role models, like preternaturally beautiful, photo-shopped models and Instagram studs, but the toughest battle is the one inside our own heads.