There are two similar, yet different topics I wanted to bring up in today’s Journey Post, so expect a bit of a long post today.
Bariatric Bear World
The moment I announced to my friends and family that I was getting the new sleeve procedure, I have been quietly contacted by several friends expressing their curiosity, their interest, and their own worries about their weight. A couple of them are now going through the process of doing a bariatric procedure themselves. The common thread we all have is that we identify ourselves as bears*.
In fact, I have learned over the last few months that many friends and acquaintances in the Bear Community have contemplated or even had the surgery. Most of us are in our mid to late 30’s or early 40’s, and I hear a common theme; I am tired of the struggling, I am tired of being big, I am tired of the health issues starting to pop up and I want to change.
Is Bariatric Surgery the mid-life crisis for the Bear community?
I say that partially in jest, but there is a hint of reality there. The Bear community (as it was sold to me as a young gay) is a community that askew the typical trappings of what “gay” is. When I fell into the Bear crowd, the Gay stereotype was thin, effeminate, and acted a certain way. The Bears were not that. They were bigger guys, they were nerds, and the didn’t fit the “stereotype” of what gay was.
Of course, that was 14 years ago, and a lot has changed. Now, the gay stereotype is more along the lines of muscular, sporty, masculine, and trim. While the old stereotype is still there, it seems that everyone, Bears and non-Bears alike are being molded by this stereotype. The “We love all sizes, especially big” mentality of the Bears is there, but it is being squeezed out by gyms check-ins and selfies, protein powder, and athletic feats. In fact, it almost feels that the “big is beautiful” mentality is now apart of the “Chub” sub-sub group, and the ideal bear has radically changed.
We fat older guys are seeing that, we see our health, and we want to change. Of course, I don’t think any of my friends have this in their minds as they are making this decision, but for many of us, the Bear community empowered us to enjoy our size, no matter what it was. If we were bigger, it didn’t matter, and at times it even went to the point of being self-reinforcing. “Why are you losing weight? you already look awesome!” As if losing weight was a betrayal of the Bear mantra. At one point, after expressing my want to lose weight, had a boyfriend tell me that if I lost too much weight, he would leave me. So, I didn’t lose weight because I was scared I would lose the people I came to know and love.
Except that now, it is no longer the case. Now, it is health, longevity, and lifestyle, and the person I love encourages me to strive for the person (and weight) I want to be.
In a way, losing your weight is almost like losing a part of your identity. Can you be a Bariatric Bear? Can you be a former bear? Can you still say “Big is Beautiful” yet shed 100+ pounds? Is there a place for me in the gay community anywhere if I don’t fit the new bear aesthetic, the old bear aesthetic, or even any gay aesthetic? hmmm, something to think on.
RuPaul and the Journey
Something I absolutely love is RuPaul’s Drag Race, having watched it from the very beginning, I have devoured and adored the series. I have had parties, get together, dressed in drag, and even had an evening with Ru herself. On this week’s episode, there was a pretty frank and honest discussion on eating disorders in the gay community. This also goes into that stylised gay stereotype. For all gay men, not just the Bears, we are faced with an increasingly impossible standard of attraction that leaves more and more men falling into eating disorders, body modification, and even Silicone and saline injections in their Balls, Ass, thighs, and calves and everywhere else to look more muscular, more attractive, and more desirable.
For me, it became a bit personal, because through my previous attempts to lose weight, I would slip into dangerous territory where I would starve myself for days, only to binge on a single meal, only to deny myself food for several more days. After my first major episode of this in 2009, I would vacillate between being hyper aggressive about losing weight and not eating anything to then stuffing myself full of food. These cycles could go for months in either direction. And the mindset… it becomes all consuming, and in reality, my inability to control the impulses of starving and bingeing is what partially brought me to 168kgs. From eating nothing, to eating a 20 wing bucket from KFC… not a good thing.
Since 2009, I have had three major episodes of this, followed by periods of eating pretty much anything I wanted. Each episode seemed to get worse.
But, watching these drag queens talk about their struggles with eating (and it was several of them) was heartening to hear. We never hear about eating disorders in men, and it is isolating when you do have one. Having that incessant drive to starve yourself, or that obsession to eat everything RIGHT NOW, to have the biggest musclebound body out of everyone is unhealthy, and we need to be more open and frank about it.
The surgery, and the Journey has been a little worrying for me because of this. Currently I am still eating less than 1,000 calories a day. When I am hungry, I eat and when I stop feeling hungry, I stop. So far so good… but then I look at that calorie count. I only had 650 calories today, and my body isn’t screaming at me? Am I starving myself, or just not hungry? Is this normal?!?! MyFitnessPal yells at me every day that I am not eating enough… shit…
But there are also times I have forced myself to eat. The other day, I had to literally stop and make sure I ate. I didn’t quite enjoy it, but eating suddenly became a chore and that is a completely new feeling. I am always concerned about slipping into an episode 4, and I know that with massive weight loss, my impulse to go further, faster, and farther than others figures hugely in my mind. My doctor says I am healthy, and I am walking and doing things I haven’t done in ages, so I will keep continuing, but that fear of my mania coming back is always in the back of my mind, and I work every day to make sure it doesn’t become a thing this time.
I feel that this discussion, men and eating disorders, needs to be talked about more openly, and be more empathetic to those who struggle with weight, in one direction or another. Also, within the bear community, it is starting to feel that the new mantra should be “Big is Beautiful, but Healthy is Gorgeous” and the bears who become Bariatric Bears have a place in our community too.
*Note: I am talking about Gay Bears, which is a subgroup of the Gay community.