By Tony Ortega
Queerantine Stories are personal essays or artistic pieces about the queer and trans community during the Coronavirus Pandemic. We hope their stories will help show their varied experiences in different communities within the Jersey City area and throughout the nation.
Queerantine has been one of the most life-altering experiences of my life, and not in the way one would typically assume. Sure, I have learned to work from home in my profession, which I don't like doing. I have also needed to get accustomed to home workouts when I typically go to a gym seven days a week (and two of those days I work with a trainer online).
Pre-quarantine, I was on the road to accepting my Thicc (as the kids call it nowadays) body structure and trying to let go of achieving that perfect gay male body (you know the kind I refer to). While I could never be slender, I decided to pack on the muscle and maybe go for jacked. Then quarantine hit and my plans went to shit.
The first week was the worst. The reality of New York City being shut down was daunting, and I was feeling physical symptoms associated with coronavirus. When I called my doctor, she all but confirmed that diagnosis, yet I was not severe enough (or rich enough) to get a test. I did feel well enough to exercise and my fear of getting fat was stronger than the symptoms I was feeling. I would go on solo runs for cardio around my neighborhood (and practicing social distancing). Having lived in my neighborhood for 12 years now, I have never explored it as I have in those runs. That was cool. I started slimming down and losing some of my muscle growth. Then the worst started to happen: My body dysmorphia, which has plagued me for decades as I was always overweight, kicked into high gear. The fear voice was screaming at me relentlessly. Living alone meant this body dysmorphia voice would be the only other voice I would hear besides my own.
I was convinced I would get fat again. Like, factually convinced. All the hard work I had put in with my personal trainer would be gone as this quarantine looked like it would never end. I never really dated or hooked up when I was overweight. My recent desirability in my neighborhood as the dominant daddy would be gone. My neighborhood has a reputation of being a sea of bottoms, so with that reputation gone, would I ever have sex again? Would anyone ever want to have sex with me again? Fear took such a hold that I would find myself in tears. The fears became so abundantly real, no matter what I would do or say.
I know in my work with clients that you need to let any feeling just pass until it’s done. I allowed myself to have these breakdowns, as I know breakthroughs can be right around the corner. And the breakthrough came—through social media.
There are many pages on Instagram that feature body positivity for gay men. And not just the "typical gay male body," but all kinds of bodies. I will refrain from using any descriptive labels because what I saw was beautiful. Seeing some of the guys who would post their virtually naked pictures, owning who they were and putting themselves out there, gave me pause as well as inspiration. Could I do that? Would my reputation as a psychologist be tarnished by allowing censored nudes of myself to be published on Instagram? I said fuck it, and did it. And I did it again. Every time I submitted a picture, that fear voice would be lower in volume.
I was able to meet some amazing guys along the way and I’m forming friendships in my virtual queer community. I went as far as to pose naked for an artist on the West Coast via FaceTime. I had never done that before and could not believe I was doing it. I felt so liberated after the session and I can’t wait to see the finished product.
This gave me more motivation to continue on a fitness path within the confines of queerantine. I don't know how I am going to look in the end, but what's more important is that I am accepting of myself, all of me, as I am today and that has been a gift from quarantine. I even shaved my 13-year-old beard off to discard that dom daddy persona and embrace my queerness. Maybe now I can do drag? Regardless, this experience has given me so many gifts and I thank you, queerantine.
Dr. Tony Ortega is a first generation Cuban American. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and author who has been in practice since 1992, currently serving the LGBTQ population in his private practice located in Brooklyn, New York. Tony is the author of#IsHeHereYet: Being the Person You Want to Be With (Ortega Psychology, PLLC 2017) and as well as the #AreYouHereYet: How to STFU and Show Up for Yourself, from Ortus Press in 2020. He is also created his first spiritual/LGBTQ comic book, The Accords (TheAccordsComicBook.com). For more information, Tony can be found online at drtonyortega.com and on social media as @drtonyortega .