Thursday, June 28, 2012

Emails from a gay student with confidence issues

A few months ago, a British student sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I stumbled across your blog in the early hours of the morning and have literally been reading it non-stop! I was wondering if you could give me some advice.

I'm 19 years old and I have just started University, I've been out since I was 15 and since I came out I started to going to clubs in London like Heaven and Ku Bar. When I first came out I was pretty chubby but now most of that weight has gone and I would say I have an average body figure, but I still look in the mirror and see my 15 year old self. Whenever I go out I never really talk to any guys because I'm shy, I feel ugly compared to all guys I find attractive and I've never been complimented by another guy in my life! Girls are always telling me that I'm gorgeous/attractive/"If you were straight, I would ..." but even then I feel like these comments are only being said to make me feel better, I know I am not ugly but I can't see anything about myself that is attractive. I have no gay friends who are guys, and I think I am intimidated by gay men. I'm also very inexperienced around guys, I have never been in a relationship or had any flings or anything like that, I just get really self-conscious around gay guys. I really want to find someone special but I feel too awkward to ever initiate anything and guys never approach me first! Recently I spotted a guy in a straight club who I thought was cute and got speaking to one of his female friends. I told her I thought he was cute and she told me that he had just come out to her a couple of days before but wanted to keep it a secret and now she wants me to go for a night out with her and her friends including him, I'm really worried that I won't even talk to him and create all these reasons in my head why I'm not good enough for him.

Also being around your typical tanned, toned and waxed gay men in clubs has really taken its toll on my own perception of my body. As I said before I am average build, I am slim but I have no muscle showing and on my part I'm doing exercise regularly to get my body looking nice but I have a lot of body hair. I have tried everything to get rid of it, shaving/waxing/creams but it never goes away and it really runs me down because I see all these hairless gods walking around and I feel like a werewolf!

I was wondering if you could give me any advice in regards to this message?


At the time there were several other emails ahead of him in my "Dear GB" queue in this blog's right-hand side-bar. So instead of making him wait a few months for a posting, I sent him a quick reply in which I included the following tentative pieces of advice:

Almost certainly, you're just a young guy who's a bit shy, especially now that you've (presumably) moved away from home and are studying at university. It takes a lot of people a while to develop their confidence to make their own way in the world. So probably the best thing to do is to keep on doing exercise, because that will build confidence, and build up your experiences slowly. Sounds like you haven't had many (or even any) *intimate* experiences with other guys but honestly, so what, everyone has to start somewhere! At university there are bound to be some guys who are just coming out, so in some sense you're 4 years ahead of them :-).

If it's not just a case of shyness, I suppose it's possible that you may have a version of Body Dysmorphic Order ("BDD"). There are many versions, including things like anorexia nervosa where people won't eat because they think they look fat, etc etc. For that, things like Cognitive behavioural therapy ("CBT") may work well. However, I'm not an expert with this stuff (after all I am a banker!), so to follow that up you'd need to go to a doctor.

Anyway, the most likely thing is that you just need to try and relax, be cool about everything, and things will sort itself out in time. Does that help?

I didn't hear anything for ages, but then last month, he sent me another email:

Dear GB,

First of all, thank you for your reply, and sorry that I was a little lax in replying to it. I thought I'd give you a little update on myself now and maybe you could help me some more. I wouldn't call myself a shy person, I believe I am quite outgoing around people I know and even people I have just met - unless they are gay men. For some reason that I cannot attest to, I just can't bring myself to be comfortable around gay men and it bothers me, because I want to have gay friends. I'm working on it though, and slowly I am integrating myself into the gay scene where I am at Uni but even so, it seems so superficial to me that I wonder if I even want to be a part of it.

In terms of my own body image, there hasn't been any real improvement there although I have started to have blond hair and a tan - a bit stereotypical, I know - and it is making me feel a lot more content with the way I look and I am starting to get over thinking that I am more chubby than I am. My biggest problem is that I don't find anything about me attractive, so I don't know why anyone else would and I guess this is why I prefer girls' company because I am not seeking their attention in that way. The compliments from my friends never help and I have come to the point of just ignoring them, I feel like they are lying to me because they have to. My recent mentality, and one that I stick by now, is that I am perfectly content to spend the rest of my life alone, a little melodramatic but realistic to me and I don't think there is anything wrong with that, that doesn't necessarily mean I would want my life to go like that but its more preparing myself for the worst. Coincidentally, following an assessment from one of my lecturers, I was told that I was 'heavily critical' something which I think extends from my work into my persona. I guess again, if I am critical of myself then what others think of me isn't so bad.

I know I just sound like a ball of confusion at the moment, and I'm a complicated person to work out, even to myself but I am kind of resting on the fact that later on in life I might finally be in a place where I am happy with my body and overall I am happier person than when I last wrote to you. I am blessed with amazing friends and a family that strives to give me opportunity in every way possible so my life isn't full of self-pity - just thinking of myself like that makes me feel pathetic as well - so I don't want to paint the impression that I am depressed or anything like that, I'd like to think I'm quite similar to a lot of gay guys who are entering the gay community, even if I have been waiting at the door for 4 years.

I'm not really sure if asked any direct questions here, but it did help for me to write out how I am feeling and maybe you can help steer me towards the right path. :-)

It's an old cliché, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, every person's perception of what is beautiful and who is handsome (or anything like that) is particular to the person who has the view. Other people may have a different view, and sometimes very different views, about whatever it is that's being observed. So the fact that this reader doesn't think that there's anything attractive about him means absolutely nothing in terms of whether other people might find him attractive.

As an aside, I'm a bit of a science fiction fan, and thinking about this reminded me of an old Red Dwarf episode called Me². In that episode, the character Rimmer creates a copy of himself, and the two of them move in to live together in the same cabin on the Red Dwarf spaceship. However, although Rimmer did this because initially he found himself attractive, it all ends in tears because the two Rimmers drive each other crazy. So I think it's a very good thing that the reader doesn't find himself attractive!

Although the gay media is often full of images of young and fit men, and gay clubs like Heaven contain their share of other stereotypes too, the reality is that there are very many different types of gay men. So if the reader isn't comfortable in the company of the types of gay men that he's currently meeting, then it just means that he's meeting the wrong types, because there will be other types of gay men that he will be comfortable with. Also, although some types of gay guys thrive on the gay scene, some guys like the reader find it quite superficial. Again, that simply means that he needs to look elsewhere for a boyfriend.

In fact, there may be a bit of an inconsistency in some of the reader's views. On one hand he says that the gay scene seems so superficial, but he also gives me the impression that in terms of measuring attractiveness he just focuses on what someone's body looks like, which is also very superficial. For me there are many other attractive features that guys can have such as confidence, intelligence, wit, charisma, etc. And in terms of finding a boyfriend, there are plenty of other important aspects too, such as having some common interests.

However, although it's important to have some common interests with one's boyfriend, it's also important to have different strengths and different areas of interest. In straight relationships the complementarity is provided naturally by the gender difference, but in gay relationships it needs to come from elsewhere. So I've seen several situations where there's a classically good looking guy of average intelligence who's the boyfriend of an average looking guy who's smart and witty. This just emphasises what I said above, namely that you can't work out what people are going to find attractive about you.

It's good that the reader is gradually building his confidence, and getting over the fact that he didn't like the body image he had when he was 15. But let's be clear, if he's started to have "blond hair and a tan", the important thing isn't what superficial features he's acquiring it's the fact that they give him more confidence. As it says in the title of this posting, I reckon this is just about a reader who's just got a few confidence issues as he works out where he fits into the world. He'll have no problem finding a nice boyfriend for himself once he realises that :-).

Do any other readers have any thoughts that might help this guy?