“Men are gay because they like men. You should think about putting on a little muscle next time.”
These words were spoken to Jason Wimberly on one of his first trips to a gay bar. They shook him because he was a dancer. He had kept himself very thin and there was never a question about his size and shape…in fact, thin was in. And he’d known since he was a teenager that he was gay.
And then these stranger’s words questioned not only the “rightness” of his appearance, but his identity, his desireability, his presence. In his words:
My name is Jason Wimberly, and I grew up in a small town called Lodi, California,
So I was fortunate enough to go to this amazing art school where you would major like in a university but it was in fact high school. We lived in dorms and there were 220 kids from 13 countries from all over the world. And so you majored, and I was a dance major, it was amazing, I had only been dancing for a year and a half by the time I went to the academy. And after a year and a half there, we got invited to the National High School Dance Convention.
Now this was a huge honor for most of us here to audition, the director had to send in videos, it was a really big thing to be invited because every university, every ballet academy, every company was there scouting, it was like this national draft. I just went a little crazy. I was really excited but also nervous. I started dancing even more, rehearsals were 8 hours a day sometimes. And I just sort of, as was normal in that world, stopped eating as much as I maybe was. And after weeks of preparation for this conference, I realized really quickly that by the time I got there I was my thinnest I had ever been. Now in the ballet world, being thin is a commodity. The leaner you are, the longer you look on stage, the taller you present yourself. So it was normal for a dancer to be cognizant and aware of what they were eating and how they were training. But as we prepped for this big convention we sort of forgot all the ways to be healthy and were just working to be there.
When I look at how intense it was, I had gotten down to about 119 pounds at 5 foot 11. And it wasn’t that I was trying to lose weight, it wasn’t that I was overweight and scared of the way I looked, I was just doing my best and working as hard as I could to be what I thought they needed. After 3 days of hard, hard work, it came back that out of the 11 dancers that were there from my academy, I got the most offers than anybody. Full rides to colleges, scholarships to NYU, Juilliard, offers from San Francisco ballet, so when I got all these offers back, it just reinforced in my head that the thinner I was, the better. And I was always celebrated for being long and lean and the thinnest one in the room and it just reinforced that in my head. So it just sort of became this thing where I had to exaggerate the aesthetic and after all those offers I just realized I needed to keep it up as much as I could.
So years later after I had come out of a long relationship and I was finally 21, put on a little bit of healthy strong weight. I wasn’t dancing quite as much, I had been dancing with different companies in San Diego, I went to one of my first gay bars ever, I’ll never forget it. I remember I met this guy, I don’t even know his name, I don’t think he even asked mine, but he literally walked up to me and said, “You know, men are gay because they like men. You should think about putting on a little muscle next time.”
At the time I just sort of questioned him, I didn’t know what he meant. I was like, “What do you mean? I came out when I was 14, I’ve been gay my whole life, I’m a gay man.”
And he just repeated, “Men are gay because they like men.”
And he walked away.
Even in ballet, it’s a slightly effeminate art, we’re wearing tights and leg warmers and I wear stage makeup to perform and I was not afraid to put on a little lip gloss to go out to an event. And I had never thought anything of it, I was just being myself and all of a sudden this person I don’t even know told me I wasn’t the right size, I didn’t look the right way, and essentially I just wasn’t even doing it right. After this moment of someone telling me I’d never attract men because I didn’t look like one, I thought, “What can I do?”
I was healthy, I was eating, I was active, I didn’t know what else there was to do to fit in to be what this person I didn’t even know told me I needed to be.
So there were times where I got a little desperate, and I thought maybe I’ll fix it, maybe I’ll do something and I had always heard stories and I ended up taking testosterone. I thought maybe I needed a little help to get that muscle on, to be the man that can attract men because apparently someone thought I wasn’t. And it was hard. It was one of the worst things, if not the worst thing, I’ve ever done to myself. My body was a wreck, I felt horrible every day, I broke out everywhere, on my arms, on my stomach, I wasn’t myself. And beyond the chemical reactions that were happening in my body, I just wasn’t happy. I was trying to force myself to be something I wasn’t because I thought that’s what everyone else wanted me to be.
I don’t even know what eventually helped me stop thinking that, besides the fact I knew it wasn’t who I was supposed to be, I wasn’t happy pretending to be someone else. And so I’m so fortunate now that while it happens on a daily basis that people still judge me for the way I look, I’m happy with it and eventually I know other people will be too, and if they’re not that’s okay. But we gotta be ourselves, you can’t let someone else tell you who you need to be. Whether it’s too big or too little or with tights or with lip gloss, you do what you need to.
Originally posted at ImFromDriftwood.com. I’m From Driftwood envisions a world where every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer person feels understood and accepted, and every straight person is an ally.