In February of 2009, I turned eighteen and decided that the best way to celebrate was to do all of the things I was finally allowed to do as an eighteen-year-old. I was living in Kapiti at the time, which is roughly a forty-five-minute train journey into the heart of Wellington City. I hopped on the train and came into town.
My first stop was a dairy. I bought myself a packet of cigarettes and a Lotto scratchie. (I don’t think I have bought a Lotto scratchie since.)
The next stop was a sex store (sorry, I mean “Adult Lifestyle Shop”) to buy myself some pornography. I selected a title called “Jockstrap” which, I think, was about a sports team. I’m not certain about that. For some reason, I can’t recall the plot…
I met up with a couple of friends and we went to a park. We sat in the grass, chain-smoked (because cigarettes were cheaper then), and talked about musical theatre and the joys of finally being an “adult”.
We focused on looking maturely cynical. Everyone who walked past us would know that we were adults and that we finally deserved the respect that had been denied to us as young people – completely unaware that our attempt to look mature only highlighted how young we were. The remnants of our teenage angst were as visible as the acne still dotted across our faces.
Finally, the pièce de résistance.
I would be going to Ivy Bar.
Ivy Bar was the gay bar.
I would be going to a gay bar!
My anticipation was high. I had been out as a gay man for two whole years and I was finally going to be setting foot inside gay mecca. I had cigarettes, I had beer money, I had a sense of being absolutely bulletproof.
I knew exactly how the night would follow. I would be casually leaning on the bar (I had spent a long time perfecting my casual lean). The perfect amount of cynicism, aloofness, and availability would ooze from me. Every man would want me.
And, while I was leaning, I would be spotted. A beautiful, sleek Adonis of a man would spy me. He would saunter over. He would buy me a drink. He would whisper sweet nothings in my ear. He would take me home. We would make love. I would spend the next few days telling my friends every single detail, while acting like it was no big deal. I would revel in that sweet spot of pride and regret that, I assumed, came from one-night stands. The sort of feeling that I, as a new adult, felt entitled to have.
I strolled into the bar with my head held high, certain in my knowledge that I looked like I belonged. No one could see the fear and excitement that were broiling around in my stomach. I purchased a drink and brought out my internationally-acclaimed Casual Lean™.
Was my lean faulty?!
After about an hour of leaning and drinking and drinking and leaning, something finally happened.
I looked across the room, and there was my Adonis. He was stunning. He was tall and svelte. He looked like he’d smell of ocean spray and sandalwood. He and I made eye-contact, and he smiled. His teeth were almost luminous. I’d never understood the term “My knees went weak” until this moment. I was in. I knew I was in.
My fear and anxiety and excitement and self-doubt and anticipation were swirling around inside my stomach faster and faster. He turned and said something to his friends. They all turned to look at me and smiled. He was talking about me! He sauntered over. Confident and slow. Not needing to rush.
He reached me. He was standing so close. I smiled nervously.
He leaned down and whispered. So low, so quiet.
”Fat people aren’t really accepted in the gay community. You should leave.”
All of the feelings inside me vanished. I no longer felt excited. The anxiety and fear left because they were mollified. The self-doubt didn’t need to stick around. I no longer doubted myself. I knew what I was.
I was unwanted. A joke. Stupid-ugly-fat-fat-fat.
I left the bar.
Fast forward two years. I made a friend. This friend happened to be the manager of that same gay bar.
I hadn’t been back there since being told I wasn’t accepted, and my intention was to never set foot in there again for the rest of my life. I figured that if me and my body were so abhorrent to other people, I may as well not even try. This manager friend offered me a job at the bar. I was poor. I was desperate. I was still smoking and cigarettes were getting ever more expensive. I accepted the job.
I remember my first shift. I walked up the long flight of stairs to the third floor where the bar was located. My heart was pounding. I knew that every single stair I climbed was one step closer to being reminded of the many ways that I didn’t belong.
Step You’re too fat.
Step You’re too ugly.
Step You’re dumb and unfunny.
Step Everyone hates you.
Step Why are you trying?
But I walked up the stairs, entered the bar, and met some of the sweetest people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The bar staff were kind, patient and lovely. I adored all of them. Each and every one of them showed me that I was valued and appreciated. They treated me as a person with feelings, not just a tub of guts that serves no purpose but to be ridiculed.
A month or two into working there, the bar was quiet. We had no customers and four staff working. The staff started dancing. We were on the dance floor; the music was pumping. One of the staff took his shirt off. Then another followed suit. Then another. All three were dancing shirtless. They looked at me and I scuttled off behind the bar.
There was absolutely no way I was going to take my shirt off in public. No way. Never.
One of the staff members came up to me. I can’t remember the exact words he said, but he told me that it wasn’t a big deal if I took my shirt off. None of them cared. He was soft and calm. He deflected my deflections. Love and support was spilling from him. All he wanted in that moment was for me to be okay with who I am. He hugged me and went back to dancing.
I watched them dance from behind the bar. I looked around.
No one was there.
No one but my friends.
I took off my shirt and I joined the dance.
The other three cheered. Their cheering hit me. I was shirtless. My stomach and man boobs were clearly visible. Why weren’t they repulsed? Why weren’t they staring and pointing and laughing? They should have been flinging cruelties at me.
I was a vulnerable target. I was prepared for insults. I wasn’t prepared for kindness.
There were no insults. There was no jeering. There were no “jokes” about how I jiggled. There was nothing but acceptance, pride and love. I danced and danced and danced.
After a bit, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.
A beautiful young man had entered with two of his friends. He looked at us dancing and turned to his friend. He pretended to vomit.
I felt cold.
I thought: “Screw you. This is my bar.”
I kept on dancing.
In 2016, I entered Mr. Gay Wellington. I only wore a couple of strategically placed leaves. I came third.
Last year, I entered Mr. Gay Wellington again. I wore a dressing gown and underwear onstage. I won.
I didn’t cry after being told I wasn’t welcome in the gay community.
I didn’t cry on the train home that night.
I didn’t cry when a person pretended to vomit at the sight of my body.
I didn’t cry when people on Grindr sent me unprovoked, cruel messages.
I bawled my eyes out when I won Mr. Gay Wellington.
I cried because eighteen-year-old Mike had been so excited, and so devastated by a community he’d been a part of for the past two years.
I cried because on the night I won Mr. Gay Wellington, I had been involved in the queer community for over a decade.
I’d collected for charities, I’d spoken to schools, I’d set up queer youth groups, I’d worked tirelessly for ten years to benefit this community that has been more of a home to me than any house I’ve lived in.
I cried because even though I had done so much for this community, that was the first time I had properly felt like a valid part of it.
Ever since being told that my body type wasn’t accepted, I’d felt like a fraud. Someone who’d just stumbled into the LGBTI* party without an invite.
I know that I’m not the only person with a similar experience. I’m not the only eighteen year old who has felt isolated and ignored by a community they have been trying to find their whole life and I never want someone to feel that awful again.
This opinion piece is for the people who feel they are too fat or ugly. This is for the people who feel like the way they look means that they’re not a valid, valued, accepted, and loved part of this community. This opinion piece is for the people who feel like they’re at a party they haven’t been invited to.
Consider this piece of writing your official invitation to the party.
Last Updated on Jan 25, 2018