“I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be young and desired,” writes Ryan O’Connell in a genius new essay on Thought Catalog.
He continues, “I, for once, would just like to be used and objectified.” Oh, Ryan, honey. Me, too!
Anyone who has ever had body issues, self-esteem issues or simply wasn’t pleased with what they saw staring back at them in the mirror — excluding bad hair days, beautiful people (and you know who you are) — needs to read this piece. He sums up so well what so many of us have been thinking.
The gay media is terrible — let me rephrase — is TERRIBLE at portraying “the other.” If you are not a ripped, muscly, hairless white boy in the tried and true Tab Hunter tradition, well, fuggedaboutit. Heaven forbid if you are overweight or over 40 or you have an overbite or you limp.
Of course, it’s not just the media. Have you ever been to a gay bar?
The queer community is quick to be indignant so long as we can be indignant standing alongside some impossibly chiseled Ken doll. O’Connell again:
I know it’s embarrassing to admit all of this. Like, “Forget about my professional achievements and my cool brain. Just tell me I have a nice ass and that you’d like to come on my face!!!!” But TBH it’s how I feel a lot of the time.
Yep. I get it. Most of us, I would imagine, get it. It’s admitting that we get it; that’s the rub. In this essay and in his hilarious new book, I’m Special, O’Connell tells us all what it was like for him to grow up gay and with cerebral palsy and how excruciating — and really, sometimes hilariously funny — that could be.
Again, I get it. I was born with they call a “congenital anomaly,” which sounds better than “birth defect” or “club foot,” which sounds positively medieval and gross. The doctors were always quick to point out that it was “environmental” rather than “genetic,” so no one would worry that a horn or tail might start growing at any minute. No, let’s just blame Mom and her screwed up uterus; that’s better.
I had a lot of surgeries and wore weird shoes on bars that held my feet in strange positions and a lot of other random treatments, but basically I was pronounced “cured” by about age five and all of the problems I’ve had in the intervening four decades — knee problems, ankle problems, sprains, stiffness, pain — are all, according to doctors, so much better than if I had never had anything done at all. And while this may be true, the fact of the matter is that the surgeries were a mask. They made my foot look like a normal foot (20 paces is everything!) but they didn’t make it function like a normal foot.
(I also learned early on to hide my limp, which will probably lead to hip problems or something as I age. When I’m tired or have been walking a long way or simply forget, I get, “Oh, why are you limping?” Since that answer involves a whole can of worms, my stock answer is, “War wound.” There are those occasional annoying souls that insist on a follow-up. “Which one?” Crimean or Peloponnesian are my stock answers. Sometimes I thrown in Boer. It usually never satisfies them but it does shut them up.)
Like O’Connell, I also found love when I didn’t think it possible and found that someone could love me warts and scars and crappy knees and belly and all, which is something that I never really ever conceived of. (For the record, some of that is dramatic license. I don’t have warts.) Today, nearly a decade and a half after finding him, I still stand in front of the mirror and wish that I was taller or slimmer (nearly always) or that my hair hadn’t gone grey when I was in my 20s or that my stupid leg wasn’t hurting bad this morning so I could elegantly descend the stairs spouting witticisms like I was a character in a Noël Coward play instead of ungracefully clomping down like an ogre.
It’s probably all in my head, but, hey, that’s where all body issues live. What I have learned over time is that I don’t dwell on them quite so much as I used to. For much of my young adulthood they crippled me — emotionally — because I knew I couldn’t be perfect and therefore I shouldn’t put myself out there because I would just get rejected anyway and if a guy didn’t reject me, what in the hell was wrong with him?
I’m well over all of that but it doesn’t mean that being physically different doesn’t suck. It does and it never goes away. Acknowledging it and just living your life are the keys, I suppose.
I think Ryan O’Connell is my new Spirit Animal.