Why I Stopped Eating
Photographed by Cassidy Palmateer of Sophie Dehn
By Jack Turpen
Trigger Warning: I will be discussing topics related to self-harm and specifics surrounding my personal experience with eating disorders.
I was never expected to have any troubles with eating. Being a boy, it seems to be the last thing that anyone worries about. But now, as a man, it has become the thing I think about most. Going into my first year of college, away from home, I had two fears: my straight, male, roommates are going to hate me, and how am I going to eat. I can happily say that my roommates were amazing people who accepted me without hesitation. I am still on an acceptance path, however, with the food I eat, and I am worried I will not see an ending in sight.
I came out as gay the summer before my sophomore year in high school. I know that does not sound as though it matters for this particular story, but trust me it does. I was not prepared for the issues I would face upon coming out. The worries I had were based on the acceptance of others, mainly my family, and the way it would change my relationships. But, no one was there to brief me on how drastically it would change my relationship with eating.
It did not start right away, it took a while. When I came out, I was not attracted to men. I did not find myself desiring them in any way, but I knew I did not like girls. But, when I did start to find men attractive, my mindset shifted in relation to everything I did. I moved differently, I dressed differently, I even spoke differently. I began by painting a picture that I believed other people would find appealing. When it came to food, I started to look at it in a different light. I started experiencing large amounts of anxiety when it came to choosing what I ate or how much I ate. In simple terms, for some odd reason, it felt like everyone was waiting to call me out for something unattractive, and for some reason I viewed eating as unattractive.
I found food disgusting. The idea of eating revolted me, so I just would not eat. I was physically unable to eat in public spaces, as I feared so greatly who was near me. The idea of a male, viewing me consuming food, physically made me ill. When I was at school, I dreaded having to go to lunch. I was a hot lunch kid, and the idea of standing in line and getting my food, made me so upset. I felt as though there would be so much judgment surrounding what it was I ate. I felt more comfortable around my friends, which is why I started to fear college even more. Going into a school in which I knew no one meant that I would have to experience eating alone in public. To this day, I have never eaten in a dining hall by myself, I simply cannot. If it meant I would not be able to eat, I was willing to accept it. This is not the answer to my challenges, but I was just doing what I felt was the best option, and I will not blame myself for doing so. I do, though, wish I found other ways to cope with that anxiety; in the end, I was only ever hurting myself. But, again, I will not blame myself for acting based on the imagery I experienced and the expectations that were placed upon me.
Many of these unrealistic expectations came from gay culture. ‘Gay culture’ is a toxic culture to be forcibly subscribed to. But, alas, being gay comes with a subscription that never ends. I do feel as though my fear of weight gain came from living in the gay world. I honestly do not believe I would have so much anxiety surrounding food had I not been gay.
Why is it that the only reason men find me attractive is because I’m skinny? I have no idea and I am not the one to answer that question, but I will say it is certainly not the role of a straight person in my life to put in their two cents. “Well if they don’t like you for being you then you should just find someone else”. That is a very healthy message on paper, but the fact is, I play for a different team with a different set of rules. My options are incredibly limited, but that is just the nature of the game. The image of the perfect gay person has been painted for me. Again, I do feel as though if I was not gay, I would not face these struggles.
I can sit and spew that it was never challenging, even if the general public was never seeing that struggle. It has been a problem addressed by my family, friends and doctors. I find it hard to manage and I find it even harder to convince others I am doing everything right. This is a problem that I had never intended on others knowing. I encourage readers to be open about their challenges. Had I not been open about them, I would have never found people like me. People I was already close with, expressing that they face a similar challenge. It has made me feel less alone, especially as I start to experience a different side of gay culture.
By hearing other gay people express their similarities with my experience, I have started to reshape the way I think about not just the food I eat but my gayness as a man. My biggest piece of advice to those experiencing similar problems would be to start looking at the reasons in which you are feeling this way, and start to separate yourself from it. This obviously does not apply to all, but in my case, it was best for me to start separating myself from the media that was only making me feel worse. You have to seriously consider the things around you that have deeper influence than you may be aware of. If you are in need of resources regarding eating disorders, self-harm, and mental health, reference the resources posted below: