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Cut

Hooray for the gym! Three months after my last sciatica1 flareup, I’m finally back in action, and up to a little bit over a quarter mile in the pool. Today around 4:00 I felt like I could barely type another line of code; now at 8:00, after a good swim, I’m full of energy. Sadness particles dissolved. Maybe the fish oil2 is helping too.

Physical fitness is great, mens sana in corpore sano and all that, but the culture surrounding it can be toxic. I don’t know how many hours I spent as a teenager poring over Men’s Health — I was reading it for the articles,3 obviously — but the practice encouraged deep habits of envy and vanity that I’m still trying4 to root out, and the gym can do the same thing.

You spend all that time looking in the mirror, and you tell yourself you’re trying to soak up the image of yourself as manly, as strong and powerful, trying to correct the false body-image that so many men with SSA struggle with — but you end up more self-conscious than ever, with a little self-obsession thrown in. It turns you in on yourself, which for me has always been the problem.

I read an account once of two friends, both with SSA, both seeing the same therapist. They didn’t know about each other’s SSA, but each of them mentioned the other to the therapist, saying: I just wish I looked as manly as he does.

My SSA, especially in the early years, has always had a lot to do with physical envy of other men. So it was easy for me to think, If only I looked like that guy, everything would be fine. And there’s some truth to it. I’m much more confident than I used to be, and part of this is the confidence of knowing I look pretty good.

But I think it’s a small part. My need to be emotionally close to other men is greater than my need to look like a man. It’s easy to focus on the latter, partly because the latter is more easily achieved. You can go to the gym for two hours a day and never talk to another soul, and be worse off emotionally and spiritually than when you started.

What’s harder, but more effective, is sticking your neck out socially: accepting the invitation for poker night, initiating a conversation with the intimidating coworker, calling a friend on Friday even though he might turn you down.

Like everything else I write about, this is something I’m still working on. Keep up those prayers, dear readers! I appreciate them more than I can tell you. I’m praying for you, too.

1 I once mentioned my sciatica to a friend, and he said, “Isn’t that something that old men and pregnant women get?” Real pal.
2 The bottle says: “No fish burps!” I wouldn’t have even though about the possibility of fish burps if they hadn’t mentioned it. Gross.
3 Unfortunately, I actually did read a lot of the articles. From what I remember, MH is a great resource if you want to learn how to be a degenerate, misogynistic lowlife. And get that beach body at the same time!
4 Sort of the same way St. Augstine was trying to be chaste. Lord, give me freedom from vanity! As soon as my triceps are a little bigger.

19 thoughts on “Cut

  1. Mandi @ Catholic Newlywed

    I laughed reading your footnote about the fish oil. I thought the same thing when I bought my bottle (and I bought it because I heard it was good to take during pregnancy – as if I don’t already have enough weird bodily functions going on right now, I also have to worry about fish tasting burps?).

    By the way, I was a history major in college and so I have a real soft spot for foot notes. And the fact that yours are so witty! Awesome!

    Reply
  2. Justin

    As usual you’ve named it. Story of my life. Envying other men’s bodies is how I got into this mess. And I have often made the ironic observation that the gay lifestyle is about men obsessed with having sex with other men they consider more masculine all while the other man considers THEM more masculine. This is truly vanity, in the Ecclesiasties (Ecclesiastical?) sense.

    I am finally happy with my body image (and I don’t even exercise) — part of it was being a late bloomer, part of it was learning that women really did find me attractive, part of it was years of not watching television and otherwise trimming my media consumption — but sadly it seems too late to undo my SSA. A very fine potential husband wasted.

    I’ve had fish burps. Yeech.

    Reply
  3. Lori

    Just wait until you pick up the wrong fish pills that don’t protect against fish burps … that’s REALLY gross ;-)

    As someone who has fought depression with similar methods (and lots & lots of prayer), I’d like to recommend a magnesium supplement as well. I think that’s “the one” supplement that I could tell a difference for sure … many of the others were kinda-sorta-maybe better.

    Keep blogging … love your insight, your sense of humor, and your courage. Praying for you bro.

    Reply
  4. Dante

    Ok Steve now you are talking my language. Unity and sanity of mind-body-spirit (and/or soul for those who prefer). I have found this to be the #1 Key for me in living a reasonably happy life in this world as a devout gay Catholic man and for hoping for eternal happiness in the next. Wait a minute…just reread your post…Men’s Health has articles?????

    I run into a lot of trad and midddle-road Catholics who seem to act and speak as if our bodies are some kind of necessary burden at best or evil at worst that they can’t wait to be free of in the life to come. And this is the motivation it seems for bodily mortifications (whoa…calm down…not against THAT…just against their REASON for that). And yes they among my family anf acquaintances are indeed the ones who think I am pumping iron on the path to hell (ok, maybe just to a deeper suburb of Purgatory). They seem to forget that the body is also being saved and will be transformed and redeemed (YES!!!!! Will I FINALLY have those 19″ biceps and 12″ forearms????!!!! I won’t mention my hopes regarding other body parts…ahem.)

    BUT…you know fitness doesn’t HAVE to be about salivating over another guy’s ripped abs or rippling biceps (or one’s own). It can be the tangible foundation and measuring rod (tee hee…I said ‘rod’) for a solid lifestyle that gives equal and ample time to MIND and SPIRIT/SOUL. I have a personal commitment to devote the same amount of time to prayer/meditation and study/reading as I do to physical fitness (so that’s about 1 hr daily for each aspect). This is my way of keeping everything in balance in that human triad of existence. And, indeed, I have found this overall approach to be the best remedy for the blues along with throwing in a decent amount of Christian service to others.

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  5. Peter

    Right on, as usual, Steve. Ironically it’s about time for me to go do my five-days-a-week workout. Think I’ll spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament first, though.

    Don’t mean to freak anyone out, but this whole SSA body image thing is really clearly expressed in the whole gay fantasy genre of “seducing the straight guy”. My therapist once described it (vividly, disturbingly, and yet somewhat accurately) as a sort of cannibalism; you want to somehow consume the masculinity in the other that you feel you lack.

    Reply
  6. Dante

    Peter – from my experiences I would say that it is very true but I would not limit it to gay people. The WAY its done is gay but the FACT of the doing is much more universal. Primitive peoples ate the heart of a brave warrior to absorb his courage. Women wear the latest hairdo of a celebrity to somehow share in her glory. Guys wear their favorite athelete’s number on their jerseys to share in some way in his prowess. We are social beings with the drive to the communion of persons, not just in marriage, but in our everyday lives.

    Reply
  7. SD

    Haha, so I was actually tricked into taking liquid-form fish oil (that’s right, as a spoonful, not a pill) by a friend of mine’s aunt who’s two kids really look up to me! I was laughing as she was trying to get them to take it and then she said “look, SD will take it” and I was like “What? No!” But alas, there was nothing I could do, I had to set a good example right? Nastiest experience of my life.

    Anyway, envying other people’s bodies has been an issue for me for forever. I’ve always been bigger, and I still struggle with it to a large extent today and don’t really know what to do about it.

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  8. Peter

    Dante – you’re right, the idea of consuming another person’s “essence” seems to crop up all over the human experience; in fact, I think that my guy did reference the customs of some primitive tribes in describing it. And I think you’re right to say that that desire (or something like it) affects us all. I know plenty of straight guys who are a bit envious/jealous/wistful of the masculinity of others.

    I think that it’s more significant for us inverts, though, because it’s sort of a pillar of SSA. What a heterosexual man is looking for in a woman is something he can’t find in himself (complementarity of the sexes, h/t JPII). What a homosexual man is looking for in another man is something that he feels should be in himself, but isn’t. At least, that’s my basic understanding; I’ll admit I’m neither a biologist nor a psychologist. Cheers!

    Reply
  9. Ron

    Honestly, I have to admit…when I first saw the title “Cut” I was thinking, “Why is talking about circumcision?”

    Reply
  10. Dante

    Ron – WOW what is WRONG with me? I TOTALLY missed the CUT innuendo. But since it was brought up…WHY is that such an issue in gay circles (no pun intended)?

    Peter – I think you got much of that spot on BUT I was referring to homoSOCIALITY with str8 guys and gals, not homoSEXUALITY. When it comes to relating socially to same gender they exhibit the “really wanna be just like him/her” desire as well and very strongly. Hell…that’s what much of the atheltic and retail worlds depend on!

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  11. Peter

    Dante – true dat; maybe homosexuality is just a deeper, sexualized form of that social insecurity.

    Justin – Ick, indeed. I get depressed sometimes just thinking about it.

    Reply
  12. albert

    Thank you steve for yoooourr honesty,I have always struggled with tryong to maintaijj the “perfect” motive for working out in a gym. I’m glad your. Mentioned that part of the reason you’re more confident comes frrrom knowing you look preetyy good,I must also learn to ccome to this realisation as you did.

    Reply
  13. Laura

    Fish burps? GROSS! … see? you’re very manly, talking about disgusting stuff ;) I wish I had something to say about the self-image issue. I’ll tell you that I prefer men who don’t look like they take esteroids for breakfast :) Anyway, you’re a unique creation in all time and space, just the way you are, which is pretty awesome.

    Reply
  14. JP

    what a great blog! and an incredibly insightful post.
    also: some great, insightful comments!
    as someone who struggles with SSA, i’m right there in the same boat of experiencing deep envy of other, younger men’s bodies, looks, and not to mention their confidence and swagger. it almost seems like envy and lust are two sides of the same coin. maybe this explains why more effeminate men are usually less attractive (to me, anyway), since their “femininity” sort of takes away from the “gay fantasy” of muscular, confident manly men (as someone above noted).
    at any rate, i look forward to reading.

    pax,
    JP

    Reply

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