I believe that the relationship with our body is a sensitive topic for most queer people. I mean, many of us, if not all of us, lived a childhood or an adolescence period, constantly feeling wrong. At 36 I realize that I have always been ashamed of my body: it started around 11 when I was trying to hide the bulge my penis caused in my sweatpants, it exploded with the painful shame of the first pubic hair sprouting, to continue with the obsession with hiding my hairy chest.
Once I was rehearsing a very gay routine based on Everybody by Backstreet Boys with my girlfriends from school during the Music hour: my teacher, she was a very sweet one, noticed that I was covering my bulge with my sweatshirt, grabbed my arm, moved it away from my sweater action and told me “Don’t cover yourself, you don’t have anything wrong”. The shame was unbearable and a bully calling me faggot from the window in front of us was just the cherry on top.
I guess bullies, and I had many of them, were the speakers of the self-hate I was processing in my queer body and mind computer. I still remember when I went to the beach in the south of Puglia when I was 17: I was literally taking off my shirt only when I was about to bathe. What was wrong with my body? I was ashamed, not about being a man, but maybe about growing up and having to deal with my sexuality that I was denying so desperately.
I used to cover, and still do that a bit, the neck in the area from where the dark hairs on my chest proudly tried to make their way through the hem of the shirt. Once a close friend of mine touched that exact area and told everybody in front of me that I was a very hairy person. He was joking, I’m sure, but I felt embarrassment and pain. The memory of this incident is still so vivid today.
Studying dance certainly didn’t help. I was embarrassed to change in front of other dancers, even just to show myself in my underwear. I would sit on the chair or on the floor and take off my pants trying to expose my genitals and my butt as little as possible. I can remember people imitating the way I was changing my clothes, trying to loosen me up but instead it made me feel stupid and unworthy. And I had this habit up to the age of 24-25 even during my first jobs in dance companies.
Confronting yourself with your own image in front of a mirror during class is a way to be perfect, not to have flaws, “fat” or hair out of place. It is no coincidence that many dancers suffer from eating disorders. Once I had to wear very tight, shiny, unflattering shorts. One of my dance school teachers said “I see that you started eating more”, because of the skin folding around my belly caused by the tight pant. You are supposed to be skinny in the dance world and today I still cover that part of my body with high waist pants whenever possible.
When I was offered to go on stage completely naked in my 30s, my relationship with my body and with my genitals changed radically. I was rehearsing with the whole crew and during an improvisation, I decided to take off my briefs after everyone’s eyes were covered with clothes, except the choreographer. That was a turning point for me. It felt like the beginning of an ecstatic process. I was finally enjoying the eyes of other people on my body, and I liked it. Performing without barriers, posing in front of the lens of a photographer without filters, being the subject that artists paint on canvas, has a liberating effect for me. The fragility of the naked body hides a will of power, to subvert roles. And it’s a great medicine that helps me, slowly, in that process of unlearning the hate against my own body.