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How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Gut

It only took me five decades to realize that none of it matters

Shirtless man showing large belly with the words I LOVE YOU written on it
Paul Spella/Getty

Hello, my name is John, and I'm a gay fat man.

Some of you might bristle at those words. Why would anyone self-identify as fat? And what does being gay have to do with it?

Calling myself fat isn’t fat-shaming. Because I'm not ashamed of my fat. Well, not anymore.

I've been overweight for most of my life. That self-hatred only intensifies when you're gay. I came out in the pre-AIDS ‘70s when thin was in and boys were dancing in their briefs in disco cages. My first thought when I entered a gay bar was, Oh my God! The second was, I am so fat.

I know that judging yourself harshly for your weight isn't exclusive to being gay. Recent research from the UK suicide prevention charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) found that 35 percent of men between the ages of 16 and 40, both gay and straight, are unhappy with the way they look.

But in the straight world, it's possible to go to a social gathering where every guy in the place doesn’t whip off his shirt to display a perfect physique. I have straight friends who've never seen each other's nipples.

I'm not going to say we have it worse than straights, but, c'mon, we have it a little bit worse.

It wasn’t an epiphany that changed my mind. It was years of struggle and terrifying moments. My first time dancing without a shirt (though with an undershirt) at a gay bar. My first time showering in public (though wearing swim trunks) at a gay resort. My first time visiting a bathhouse, my towel tied tightly around my waist. Each time, the heavens didn’t fall, and people didn’t run screaming from the room.

Slowly, I learned to like myself. I like the curve of my man-breasts, which are still perky after all these years. I like the roll of my well-fed haunches. I like the heft of my gut.

Just before my 50th birthday, a friend asked me to ride his float in the Chicago Pride Parade. I said. “Hell yeah!” And then immediately thought, ‘Oh crap, what have I done?’

He provided the crown and the cape, and I provided the sneakers and matching red satin gym shorts. And nothing else.

As I rode that float, with my belly and breasticles proudly displayed, the crowd gave me their love. There were other big men in the parade, but most of them were muscled and dressed in animal skins. I was different. And even the young and beautiful people in the crowd knew enough about shame and rejection to be excited by what they were seeing. 

My biggest regret on that float, with my gut hanging out for the world to see, wasn’t that my physical imperfections were being exposed. It was, ‘I wish I’d done this sooner.’

Fat is where it’s at, at least for me. And thin may be in for you. Or “not as fit as I’d like to be and a little hairier than I want but I’m doing the best with what I’ve got.” It doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re working with, don’t miss out on your chance to dance shirtless in a gay pride parade.

I mean that metaphorically, of course. Unless you want to put on the crown, ditch the clothes and flaunt it for the crowd. Hey, you only live once, right? I’ll save a spot for you on the float.