Friday, January 28, 2011

Open Forum Friday: Scars

I was an ugly kid.

Now, I’m not making any great claims for myself as an adult when it comes to my looks, but for the most part, I’m fairly content with how things have turned out. In my series of Earl memoirs lately, though, I’ve been talking about my early and mid-teens a lot, and I don’t want to leave readers with the impression I was a beautiful young twink. Nope. I was a painfully skinny kid whose ribs one could count beneath his skin. My hair was bright blond, but greasy and long enough to scrape my chin. I wore very thick horn-rimmed glasses. Because I was so tall—always a head above my classmates all the way from second grade through high school—I had a tendency to hunch my shoulders when I was among my peers. My clothes weren’t the best.

And oh, I felt the pain. Every crack about my greasy hair I took to heart. When a girl named Sonja told me I had ‘little bitty piggy eyes,’ I spent hours in the mirror widening my lids as far as they could go to see if I could minimize the effect. I internalized comments about my oily skin, my big nose, my lack of a chin, my skinniness, my total, unloveable ugliness. And I believed every word.

Sure, it was the nineteen-seventies. All kids were hideous during the nineteen-seventies. It’s as if we were all shooting for Leif Garrett and falling short somewhere around Danny Bonaduce. When I graduated high school, I underwent a transformation of sorts. I got contact lenses instead of glasses. I bought a new wardrobe. I cut my hair shorter. I took several strides away from that ugly kid I was in my teens.

Now, during all those years I kept hearing hurtful, ugly things about myself, men were giving me compliments that were quite the opposite. Earl himself used to say the nicest things about my eyes—how translucent and shifting were their colors, and how deep they seemed. Men loved my body and told me so, in profane detail while they fucked me. I had strangers on the streets cruising me, pawing me, taking me to their cars, even paying me. I discounted every single one of their compliments, stated or implied. The only things about my appearance I could hear and believe were those that hurt me to the core.

What's crazy is that these days, when I look back at photographs of me in college, I don't see any of those things I held true about my appearance. I see a bright-faced kid, smooth and pretty and young, with a smile that could light up a room. I was my own worst judge.

Last night I was sitting across from Spencer in a restaurant, having our first frank talk about his scars. Spencer has had specific areas of his body afflicted with patches of cysts, in the past. Surgery has removed them, but it’s left small areas of scarring behind. White traceries, so faint they’re difficult to see unless they’re pointed out. There’s a few on one arm, several on the outside of a leg, and one on his cheek that I can make out only in very bright light, up close. He told me about the visits to his doctor that started in his early teens, the injections, the therapies, the recuperations. He talked about the mortification he felt—that he feels—each morning in the mirror.

When I look at Spencer, I see his strong jaw, his beautiful bone structure. I don’t see scarring. I see a forehead that radiates strength and serenity, and comical eyebrows that with one quirk can make me burst into laughter. I see the dimples in his smile, and the cleft in his chin, and a handsome face that makes men and women alike turn their heads when he enters a room. He sees blemishes, and imperfections, and the spots where knife has met flesh. It’s not just the scars he dislikes about himself. I hold him against me when we fuck and feel his narrow hips and his flat stomach; he mumbles about an imaginary spare tire. I see beautiful brown eyes that sparkle with life; he sees big bloodshot dog eyes. Another telling behavior: he sneezes, says “Excuse me,” and then in the same breath but a different, booming voice retorts, “There’s no excuse for you!”

I asked him why he always follows up his ‘excuse mes’ with those words. He told me they were his father’s standard retort when he was a kid, and that the voice was his father’s as well.

I tried to express my feelings to him, last night, as we ate. “You are not your scars,” I told him. “You just aren’t. I don’t think anyone sees it. Not the way you do. You are not your imaginary extra weight. You aren't your miserable thirteen-year-old self.'”

“Well, that's how I see myself,” he retorted. “And it sickens me.”

“There is so much more to you than those things,” I told him. “It seems to me such heavy baggage to carry, the shame for something you can’t control or change. They doesn’t matter.”

But as we argued, I realized how stubborn he is. He can’t give up that vision of hideousness that never existed, not yet. And I’m not enough to change the way he sees himself. He made my heart ache. I have an instinct to fix things when I see people I love in trouble, and these invisible wounds run too deep to mend.

I know so many beautiful, extraordinary people who don’t believe in their own gifts. It seems as if they’re stuck in some time warp, seeing visions and hearing voices of people who no longer exist in their lives, saying things that no longer have any relevance. They hear whispers that they’re overweight, or ugly, or not good enough; they stare at their reflections and instead of handsome, capable men and women, they see ungainly, pimply teenagers.

I don’t exempt myself from any of my own accusations. I yesterday looked in the mirror and found myself tugging at the corners of my lids and murmuring, “Piggy eyes.”

So for today and the weekend I’m opening up the comments section to you guys. What childhood or teenaged slights have stuck with you throughout your life, whether or not they’re really who you are as an adult? And how have you overcome them, if you have? Why do you think we cling to the bad things we hear about ourselves, and ignore the good? I’m curious to see if we have any commonalities between us.


  1. I have an overbite growing up in fact i still do dental work in this country is extremely expensive but i learn to get over the name calling and all the uglyness that came with it. It made me tough but there was also a family friend who was like an uncle to me. He sat me down once and told me not to allow the hurtful & hateful things people say to bother me and that there was a beautiful person inside waiting to come out, at the time as a kid you can guest what my thoughts were but as grew up i realize what he meant and was forever grateful for that small talk with him.I do believe that if we are unable to see our true selves and can only see what we assume people sees or the way we think we look, then we will never be able to love ourselves or appreciate the love we receive from others in our lives. It may sound mussy to many but its the honest true.

  2. Anonymous,

    I'm glad you had that family friend who could tell you those things. You might not have understood or believed them at that time, but the day eventually came when you did.

    And thank you for sharing that story. Sometimes being vulnerable to strangers is the bravest thing we can do.

  3. You wrote, "He can’t give up that vision of himself." This is true of all of us. What we look for in our adults lives are the things we became accustomed to (and even comfortable with) in our childhood/teen years.

    When I was a kid I had these hideous glasses (the 80s were not good for glasses) and braces that pulled my upper teeth out so that I had an overbite. I was made fun of daily by classmates and by family for the way I looked, and for the longest time, I wouldn't look at pictures of myself from that time. It wasn't until recently (I'm 35 now) that I've actually looked at those pictures and been able to say, I really wasn't that bad.

    But still, the words I taught myself - the words I picked up from others to describe myself - are still boiling around my body. I have a date tonight and ever since I've started talking to this guy, I have this image of me - my childhood self - running around my imagination. And I see him riding the bus, being made fun of and no one there to support him.

    I have no actual physical scars, but it's all there under the surface - like Faith said, it's scar tissue; but it doesn't fade.

    It doesn't help that I have to tell him about my pet virus too.

    Thus ends the whiny rant. :)


  4. Writer,

    You're a few steps ahead of me. I still can't look at the photos of myself from my horn-rimmed adolescence. Though in retrospect, I'd totally rock those glasses now.

    I didn't drag your particulars into it, but this entry was meant for you, too. You're a spectacular human being. Don't treat yourself like a second-class citizen.

  5. This entry really, really makes me want to cry (yea, i know). I look at myself and hate myself, both physically and personality-wise. I'm pretty heavy (about 360), and working on that with a trainer, but gays don't want fat guys. I was born with only one testicle and that coupled with a small cock has always made me feel less than other guys.

    These things aren't things that you can talk about. Ever. Sure, you can joke about them, but no one would ever say, "I don't care that you have a small cock and only one ball. I love you anyway." Instead, they wait until you turn around and laugh at you. Or worse, they drag a friend into the shower room so they can point and laugh (and yes that has happened).

  6. Anonymous,

    When it comes to the shower room incident, keep one thing in mind: that guy showed in an irrevocable way what an asshole of the first magnitude he is. And it's a lot easier to lose even a considerable amount of weight than it is to have a complete personality transplant and become less of an asshole.

    So you've got things you don't like about yourself. You're working on fixing them, and that's ultimately what will make you feel better. There are plenty of men out there who love bigger guys, you know. I'm an admirer of the bear community, and frequently get ignored by them for being too thin. But good for you for working with a trainer. I'm willing to bet that as you lose weight, your dick will appear considerably bigger.

    Not that, in the end, dick size really matters that much. But it will make you feel better.

    One of the men I've written about very lovingly in here had no balls--and I mean that in a literal sense. It didn't make me appreciate him any the less. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was with a guy and thought to myself, "Thank goodness, this fellow has the requisite number of testicles."

    I'm not dismissing your points of self-disappointment. I think it's easy, though, to pile them all on top of each other and see a freak show through the crazy lens they form.

  7. Sometimes it's easier to hold on to fallacious beliefs because it makes one feel safe. So keep up the emotional support for Spencer.

    With reference to yesterday's post. You Did Not Fail!!! You succeeded massively in a new and different way.


  8. Alex,

    I agree with you. Branching out into new ways of thinking about oneself is scary, even when the new way might be entirely positive.

    And thank you.

  9. Writing to Anonymous with one testicle, small dick and big body -- Immediately there was one comment I knew I wanted to make which you wrote in your comment. I'm telling you right now that "I don't care that you have a small cock and only one ball. I love you anyway." Even though we haven't met - please, please know that this is true and please take this to heart that every day you will be in my thoughts. If you'd like to email further ask Rob via email to have him email you my address and we can talk some more. I'm still walking that walk of healing for myself. We all need someone to tell us that we are loved - which comes in many ways. I love you, you are loved.

  10. Aw, Sammy Bear, that was sweet in a major way. Thank you.

  11. I have several issues about my body. I do not like having my picture taken because I don't like seeing myself.

    I see the acne scars on my chin if I shave my goatee. I was very skinny growing up.

    I have had weight issues and not realized it because of a girl telling me I had no ass. I ate all the time growing up; just had a high metabolism. I weighed 50 lbs in 6th grade and graduated high school at 110 lbs.

    I had put on a lot of weight since going through the college 25 and though life since. A year ago I was pushing 190 lbs and am now done to 157. My goal is 145. I just don't want to loose my best asset ass.

    I see fat but everyone else is seeing that I am getting in shape. 145 is my ideal weight via the doctor and from what I remember looking.

    I used to be a pure blond but as I have gotten older it's turned to a dirty blond or strawberry blond but another issue is my hair is thinning on top.

    I am getting to the point of where as long as I am healthy I got to be happy with how I look.

  12. And that's the point at which we should all be, RAW. Thank you for speaking up.

  13. Maybe this would be a great time for you to pull out photos of you in glasses in your adolescence, sit Spencer down and recount the story that you told us. He certainly doesn't see "piggy eyes" and he doesn't see "ugly" when he looks at you and I'm sure he wouldn't see it in your adolescent photos either. Maybe that method would help him to understand that we're all harder on ourselves than is really warranted and he'd come to accept your compliments and see himself in a different light. It might be good therapy for you too.

  14. I was a tiny and frail Asian boy with long, wavy hair. I didn't like having my picture taken because I didn't want the reminder that I looked more like a girl than a boy. My wizened French teacher once grabbed my hand, gave it a good slap, and announced to the entire class that I had pretty hands. While I was still in the closet, older gay men would tell me that I should either become a call boy or a drag queen. I was extremely uncomfortable appearing effeminate.

    In my mid-twenties, I hiked 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail, took up running and tennis, and focused on bulking up. Now in my mid-thirties, I hiked another 1100 miles of the AT and was comfortable telling other hikers that I wanted to be dainty on the trail, rather than a rugged and unkempt traveling miasma. At 5'8" and 160 lbs, I'm still compact but no longer tiny and frail. There are still feminine qualities to my appearance and personality, but they don't bother me now.

  15. I've always struggled with my weight - always been heavy, always been just 'obvious' enough to be called fag long before I knew I was gay. To my family, I was always just... different. I remember despising Jr High, wanting to never set foot in that building again. I still look in the mirror and see all the imperfections. I think that, at least in part, in my mind if I'm overly self-critical, then no one can say something worse. Sad as that sounds.

    Some days, I can see the strides I've made in my life. I'm trying to make those more of the rule, less of the exception.

  16. Krysm,

    Thanks for sharing that personal confession. I sympathize. I had my MOTHER telling me I should consider female impersonation as a career.

    It's a shame that so many gay men are instilled with fear of effeminacy that the whole 'straight-acting' thing has its own hegemony and, even in this day of gender bending and RuPaul's Drag Race, a lasting power all its own. There's no shame or dishonor in bulking up, mind you, but it is a pity you weren't permitted to be comfortable in your own skin, growing up.

  17. Richard,

    That part about "if I'm overly self-critical, then no one can say something worse" rings very true to me. I recognize it entirely.

    You're a great guy. And you've had more porn stars than I have!

  18. Oh, lord, where do I start Rob?

    My recent photoshoots -- as well as more private shots I've taken -- are all about, in part, me working through these issues. Did you ever look through the Flickr set of photos I have up, "Through the Years"? That set exists because I was trying to work through what I do look like. It helped me realize that some of my demons are the product of having the bad fortune to be a teenager in the 1980s.

    It's so hard to shake my mental images of bad hair, awful eyeglasses, ugly clothing, and the look of pain & exhaustion from my teenage pics (although one of the early ones, my mother reminded me, was taken when my brother & I were awoken at 6am to say goodbye to our cousins before they left for Ohio, so there's a reason we look so bad.

    I see that set & I also look at my late 20s pics, when I thought I looked ugly.. and, um, now, yeah, no. Even I can see that. But the internal scars still haunt me, and I'm still amazed to have the attention of so many guys I find hot.


  19. M.B.,

    See, you're one of those guys I look at and think, "Wow. Must be real nice to be him." I'm not surprised that you have old hangups any more than I'm surprised any among us have them. But I look at your photos, including the recent ones, and think, "I know guys want to be all over that!"

    So I guess even the more comely among us have issues. Again, no big surprise. It's a pity, though, that we're given to such doubts and self-dislikes.

  20. Much of my body image issues are defined by what I'm not. It was always hard for me just because I don't really fit into the typical image of a Black Guy people are used thinking of. I'm not tall like a Basketball Player, and I'm not a huge Linebacker. Even when I workout in High School and ran 3 miles a day I was never really thin. I had and have more of a Wrestler's body. I've always thought of myself as unattractive and I'm always asking people if I'm a decent looking guy. I hate trying to talk to guys because I've found that so many people are out looking for a fantasy man that none of us can really be.
    I've found that its really a constant battle, you just have to keep telling yourself you are ok and attractive and someday some one else will see that.


  21. What a great post. I was not simply a head taller, but three heads taller as I was already 6'2 in 8th grade. My hair wasn't blonde it was almost white. And thanks to my mothers fondness for Prell shampoo, my hair was stripped dry and looked like Kid Dynomite. I was so thin my gym uniform looked fit me like a pair of Aussie Bum briefs. If the shit I took at school was bad, the abuse I took from my brothers was worse. Oh yeah. My one brother would ask at the dinner table if I flossed with Gone With the Wind, the space between my front teeth was so wide. Baggage? We all carry it around and sometimes it is the size of Santas sack. But isn't it amazing when just the smallest compliment or gesture can make you feel like a God? The redemption is in passing that on to someone else.


  22. And for the record. Writer you are hot as hell.

  23. Hi,

    Will here. I posted last year, admitting my abuse when I was younger. I can relate to how Spencer feels. I grew up with a nasty combination of anorexia and bulimia through my teens. I finally had to learn to not care how ugly the guy in the mirror seemed to me. My boyfriend says I'm handsome, as do friends. I consider it a triumph that I've finally been able to see that the 'ugliness' was internal..and it was comprised of shame for abuse I never asked for and didn't deserve. I hope that a similar epipany awaits Spencer, too.

  24. Blackwatch,

    You're a very attractive man. Seriously.

    It's true, though, that so many men are looking for a fantasy man. They see you for what they want you to be, rather than who you are. If I suspect a guy has an agenda for what he wants from me that doesn't coincide with my own, I tend to shut him down right from the start. I'm not going to try to fit my square peg self into his round hole.

  25. Loki,

    You were tall! What height did you finally reach?

    I'm glad you hear the compliments, now. Too many people--including me, most of the time--have a tendency to let them fly past unheard and unclaimed.

    And yes, Writer is hot. I agree.

  26. Will,

    Listen to your boyfriend and friends. They know the truth about you. And thank you for sharing those personal truths.

  27. Hey all,

    Big guy with one ball here (again). Thanks for the comments. I was a bit down yesterday when I posted and I apologize. I should know better, lol. Today is looking much, much better though. Thanks again for your kind words.

  28. When i was young, i look like a nerd, big glasses with hair sometime to my shoulder. People was always teasing me and the call me "ti-monstre" or "little monster" in english but when it was time to choose somebody first in the gym class, i was always the first one because i was fast and very good in sports and in track & field.
    At home, i couldn't do anything because my father didn't want me play sports because i had glasses and he didn't want me to break them but my brother who is 1 year younger than me can do everything and he wore glasses too.
    My father want me to help my mother to do stuff in the house because my two sisters were always gone when it was time to do chores.
    When i was a little bit older, about 16 or 17, i wasn't going out with girls and i didn't have a lot of friends, my father told me that if i was gay that he would kill me and that stays with me for a long time and even after his death, it took me a while to get over it.
    My best friend that i had back then and is still my best friend today after 25 years, help me a lot but it's still trouble me sometimes even today. I still don't have a boyfriend and i am still scare to look for one.
    I am a 54years old, almost 55, and i see somebody once in a while but not often because we are not working on the same hour shift. All of that is going to change soon because i'm going on day shift and i'm going to start playing in my gay bowling team so i'm going to have a little bit of nice time soon.
    You are the second person, after my best friends, that i tell my story too and thank you because it help me a lot to talk about it.
    Don't stop your good work and i'm still in love with your blog. I read it every day even if i don't put a comment every time.
    Thank you again sexy man.


  29. Breeder,

    I am a bit over 6'5". Now I grow in other ways.

  30. I may be among the last to write (since the weekend is almost over), but I do feel the need to write even so. My physical scars reflect what so many of you have spoken of - the weight struggles, the receding hairline, the skin.....and I still spend too much time beating myself up for them all. But the worst scars for me are mental/character trait ones. Above all, I guess, cowardice. Like so many who have written here, I was the kid who others could identify as a "queer" long before I knew the word - or that I "was one." I was confused and hurt and didn't understand what the label even meant. But what shamed me than, and continues to shame me now, is that my reaction was to run. It taught me cowardice. I remember being surrounded by a gang of kids who may (or may not) have intended to "beat me up" - and the only response that even occurred to me was to RUN. So I did. And my body got away - but my mind never did. Learning to stop running - to not be AFRAID - has always been the struggle. And it's very specifically a PHYSICAL fear. My mind you will not intimidate. But my body? That scares me. So I still struggle to "live inside the body" - to not distance myself from it. At some level, I want to lock it in a closet, forget it's there, ignore it - not let others or myself see it, now let others or myself touch it - for fear it will be hurt or betray itself as weak. What my body looks like carries one set of problems with it - but what it fears will happen to it is worse.

  31. "Why do you think we cling to the bad things we hear about ourselves, and ignore the good?"

    Too many hypercritical authority figures during our formative years may apply. And many of us are "born sensitive". In trying to please them, we learn to motivate ourselves with self-criticism, and become somewhat superstitious about recognizing positive feedback. Another cost is misapplying the motivating factor and being unnecessarily self-critical, often an indirect way of asking for praise. Some eventually learn to use self-criticism positively, avoiding those traps.

  32. At last! A topic that touches on my real life rather than my fantasy life!
    I tortured myself agonizing over my "substandard" physique from the moment I understood what "physique" meant right through adolescence, university, marriage...... well, until recently. For whatever reason, some time in my 40's I looked at a photo of myself at 20 and, for the first time, realized I had been a hot little number and never had the good sense to enjoy it. And then I decided I was not going to look back from 90 on a picture of myself at 50 and have the same regrets. It gave me permission to work out, have lots of rambunctious sex with a very appreciative wife, buy clothes that fit, and generally feel a lot better about life. Best positive outcome of having a poor self-image in my youth - being too embarrassed to spend hours and hours sunbathing. At 50, I have the complexion of a new-born baby (okay, a new-born baby with 5 o'clock shadow, whatever).
    I enjoy your blog immensely. Anyone can spin a narrative about fucking, but no one else gets inside my head the way you do sir. The things you growl into willing ears - fireworks behind my eyes every time. Thanks a lot for all of it.

  33. Jonking,

    That flight-or-fight reaction is just the animal in you. When you're a sensitive kid, running like you did is instinctive. I did it. I do it still.

    I often find it easier to react to things in writing because that's the focus of my life of the mind. In person, I am not awkward or shy, but my body still instinctively reacts in fearful ways, in some situations. I don't like it. I don't like how my primary instinct is to shut up and shut down when threatened or verbally abused; I don't like it how automatically I react with smiles and apologies when people are rude and should be apologizing to me.

    Overcoming some of those instinctive reactions sounds like a challenge both of us are trying to face.

  34. Anonymous who quoted me:

    You're totally right, of course. And I dislike those people for whom self-criticism turns into a passive-aggressive way to elicit praise; I never feel as if it's really my job to make someone else see their self-worth, if they're giving me hints I ought to.

    Self-criticism can lead to self-improvement. Excessive use of it can be almost as obnoxious as a feeling of overweening self-worth.

  35. Good-complected Anonymous:

    You're a wise man not to make the same mistake twice. I highly approve of your improved attitude toward life, and especially the rambunctious sex with the wife.

    Need a third?

  36. Yves,

    I'm very touched you were emboldened enough to share your story with me (and with everyone else reading). Thank you.

    The gay bowling leagues with which I've been acquainted have been a really good way to meet all kinds of men in a fun atmosphere that's not inside a bar or bathhouse. I have no doubt you'll be making all kinds of new friends, and maybe find a special someone who'll make you feel like it's time to put those doubts behind you.

    Just remember that you deserve a good life. You deserve love, and sex. Once you open yourself to it, it'll happen.

  37. Good-complected Anonymous will use the idea of the Breeder as "third" to whip himself into a rambunctious sex frenzy.......and that's about as far as that is likely to go. But it is very gracious of you to a)respond and b)offer. A Southern gentlemen, through and through ( go ahead, make a sexual pun out of that one too).

  38. Glad to know more real men are posting about themselves. I myself was underweight, had big ears, receding chin, plain brown curly hair and a damn voice that wouldnt properly change until I was in my twenties. I started wearing glasses my first year in college and started biting my nails almost a year later because that looks better than the dead white on the ends and short nails on men are a turn-on for me especially when jacking off. A mechanic with dirty nails didnt turn me off though.
    Unlike my snot-nose years, the guys I fucked and who sucked me off liked my masculinity and my dick and some said I was a handsome stud.
    As I matured I shifted my likes of certain "handsome" men to that of blue collar men and even geeks as well as chubbies, "homely" and "ugly" men and men old enough to be my grandfather. If a man bit his nails to the nubs or had other masculine traits and was gay or bi he was sexually attractive to me regardless of his looks.
    The so-called ugly men I shagged and shared bottoms with were better as sex buddies and just plain friends than most of the Hollywood handsome types.
    I'm in my fifties and am turned on by men forty and older.
    Hugs & kisses to all you fellow men.

  39. wow you have a gift for writing. I wished i could feel like you feel about yourself but i don't. But i loved your blog, i will go read more.