Sunday, 2 June 2013

Turn and face the change: The truth about masculine transformation

Two years ago I did a fitness program and I fell off. I actually achieved a lot. I lost twelve pounds, and by the end of it I was slim. But I didn't quite reach the goals I had set myself. I always wanted to be toned, to be able to wear slim fitting t-shirts, and to have the kind of body that means you can pull off any piece of clothing and it won't look awkward. To not feel dependent on how I present myself, in order to feel confident about my sexuality and my appearance.

I was always a fat kid. As far back as I have memories, I eat for emotional reasons. Sensitive doesn't really do it justice, I was a proper high-maintenance child. But I say that with affection for my child self. I was always restless and creative, full of imagination and I loved parties and opportunities to be the centre of attention. I liked to entertain other people.

But when you are a boy, this kind of behaviour is treated with suspicion. Certainly, the Scottish protestant ethic doesn't welcome emotional outbursts, especially from young boys. It's unsightly, and anyway, children should be seen and not heard.

Maybe the best way to be seen, if I couldn't be heard, was to get fat. Having the piss taken out of you for being chubby is not ideal, but it's attention. People notice you, it gives you an identity of sorts.

I battled this emotional eating, this need to be noticed, all through my adolescence and my twenties. I even lost weight. I got addicted to that moment people start to realise that you have lost weight, the double look they give you. Especially from women. But all my projects to lose weight were overshadowed by a sense at the back of my mind, that I hadn't really changed, that the fat kid would still rather be fat, and that his emotional needs were still not being fulfilled.

I think this is the reason that no matter how hard I tried, I was never able to truly fulfill my proper goals in terms of health and weight loss. I never wanted to be ripped. I'm not interested in being a body-builder. I want something a little more softer round the edges. I want to look streamlined. More like a swimmer. More Brando than Schwarzenegger.

What keeps me from this, is that last layer of body fat. I have this thing where I lose a lot of weight, and I can even get quite fit very quickly. I have a lot of natural stamina, and I am a physically restless person, so I eventually start to enjoy working out. Where I lose faith is that last stage, the place where I always plateau. And of course, it is the very thing that I want to eliminate in the first place. More important than all the compliments about losing weight, and even the basic health benefits, is the sense of feeling satisfied with my body.

Is it is a superficial thing? Is it a narcissistic thing? Maybe. It's definitely linked to sexuality, to being confident enough in your own self-image, so much so that it informs your erotic ego. 

But it's more than that. I truly believe it is a question of self-expression. About having a body that reflects the authentic truth about who you feel you are. It's about honing yourself so that you can fully express yourself through your body, rather than rely on fashion or smoke and mirrors to get laid or get attention.

Stanislavsky said that all actors must be athletes, that the body is an instrument, and we must perfect our relationship to that instrument. This is a great metaphor. In fact, it is more truth than metaphor. The body is there to be the manifestation of your mind in the world. But the relationship of the mind to the world is not simple. It is very like a musician's relationship to a piece of music. A pianist might establish a quick and direct relationship to say Rachmaninov's second concerto, but that emotional connection will not translate into to a physical one unless the musician practices like a motherfucker. The authenticity of the connection is one thing, and it is very important. But it doesn't mean that expressing that connection is easy. A musician seeks self-expression, she seeks the truest and most powerful form of authentic fulfillment through her work. And to do this, she has to sweat, scream, and hammer her faculties into the right habits.

This is what we do when we train. Our body is our instrument. But being able to pull off a few tricks and rudiments is one thing. We can impress our friends around the fire with a few chords on the guitar, just like we can pull off fifty press ups and make people think we are athletes. But being an athlete, like being a true artist, is about having command over our instrument. It's about having the same relationship to our bodies that Eric Clapton has to his guitar. At that level of genius, the instrument is fully available to the player, it's an extension of himself. And it takes years of lonely, hard bloody work to get there. There are no shortcuts to genius.

So that's what my goal is. To achieve a sort of authenticity and genius between my mind and body, that fully expresses who I am in the world, and which fulfills my needs. That is, a relationship completely opposite to the one I have experienced most of my life, one of being trapped inside a body that does not reflect my identity, that is not equipped to reflect my inner power and my sexuality genius. There I said it. If my saying something like that aggravates you, then perhaps we should part ways here. Because that's the way I am thinking of it from now on. 

Health and feeling sexy, are one and the same thing. You can feel fit and still not feel sexy. Feeling sexy is a function of being human. Our sexualities are expressions of our eroticism. And our eroticism is a word that has biological connotations. It's about connectivity, it's about relationships, it's about human ecology. Eros was one of the gods of love. The god of sexual union and physical love. Health, then, is about cultivating the erotic instrument. It's about building a relationship with the body that means you are the Jim Hendrix of sex. The Muhammad Ali of love. The Rachmaninov of physical fitness.

Being yourself. This is the cliché on the tip of everyone's tongue. As if it was the most natural thing in the world. And I suppose that it is. But natural does not mean easy, and maybe that's where I have struggled in the past. It's not healthy to keep hammering away at a task that is not authentically yours. If it feels wrong, then it probably is wrong. The New-Agers are right on that front. But just because something is hard, doesn't make it wrong. However hard the task is, the real test is how much of a buzz it gives you. If you don't have that same post-orgasm feeling as you do when you complete something that you love, then it's probably not right for you. But just because it's hard, is no reason to dismiss it.

This is one thing I think women don't understand about men. Whereas men will never understand childbirth, women will never understand the trials a man must go through to become a real man. That's because they are largely emotional trials. All women know a real man when they see him, but most couldn't put into words. They may say something like, 'confidence' or 'he stands up to me' but these are really just superficial characteristics of a man who has got his erotic and emotional shit together. And what they don't know, is that most men have to work at it. They have to go through years of being a fuck up, and an emotional mess, to get to that place. Some men don't. I have met these men, and I hate them as much as I love them. But for the rest of us, that ineffable genius that characterises a man, that means he is the John Coltrane of his own chemical make-up, is a hard won achievement. It will not happen overnight. And it means being no stranger to failure. 

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