One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I knew I was gay my whole life, but sixteen was the age I decided to come out to my Mum and sister (who were, and are, my biggest supporters). It was during the same year that I fell into the throes of an eating disorder.

I remember always feeling apart from other kids: my parents divorced when I was very young, we moved a number of times, and I had trouble making close friends. I lacked confidence as a child; I was always overweight, being teased and bullied for being "gay" - before I was even old enough to know what "gay" was.

Like any young person attempting to find and understand themselves, I looked to the media for clues about how I fit into this ever-expanding world around me. What I found devastated what little posistive self-image I had: every happy portrayal of gay men, especially those as couples, involved a hyper-masculine ideal with an overwhelming focus on physicality. Because my body was not like theirs, my young mind determined that their happiness could not be mine either. My sense of self-worth - of being "good enough" - became entirely reliant on how drastically I could change my body to match what I thought society expected of me.

It was a contradictory position that I found myself in: aspects of my sexuality, depicted in media, seemed as masculine as they could be feminine. It was polarizing; I should be one, or the other, but not anywhere in between. I tried to be both, but succeeded at neither. Somewhere, underneath my "imperfect" exterior was someone that I felt I was supposed to be; someone deserving of happiness, whereas I - categorically - was not. I determined to find that someone, no matter the cost.

Diet and exercise succumbed quickly to the obsessive and compulsive qualities trademarked by an eating disorder. My body changed; the more it changed, the more I hungered for approval and acceptance. My body deteriorated; its frail form was a far cry from the muscle-ridden images I had aspired to when I first came out. I never felt like being gay was a choice, but it's a difficult place to find yourself in when the community you intrinsically belong to and want to participate in exalts certain physical ideals at the core of its membership...and you find yourself not fitting into any of them.

It took some time, some convincing, and a serious commitment to myself to even begin the journey to get well. I spent six months in a day treatment program at North York General Hospital - ironic because, even at my worst, I never believed I was "sick enough". I fed my body, I nourished my soul, and I learned that my life and my happiness are exactly that: my own. I am defined by the life I lead, not the labels I carry.

Stephen draws strength, compassion, and empathy from his experience of overcoming his eating disorder. He lives happily in downtown Toronto, with aspirations of completing his Social Work degree and becoming a youth counsellor.
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