Sunday, April 7, 2019

Body Image

I often debate whether or not I should be writing such personal posts but lately I have been opening up more and more about some of personal battles.  I hope in sharing my personal stories that it will help others realize they are not alone and that there is hope and a healthier way. 

I have always struggled with body image issues.  These issues have led to a lack of self-confidence and a variety of eating disorders.  I have starved myself for days in hopes of gaining a competitive edge or getting under the maximum weight for a part I was auditioning for.  These eating disorders started back in high school.  As you may know from some of my other post high school was a very challenging time for me like many of us. 

I have tried almost every fad diet, crash diet, cleanse, miracle weight loss pills, etc.  The interesting thing is that none of them worked.  It wasn’t long ago after being called fat by a choreographer that I turned to bulimia.  The thing about bulimia is that is disgusting and a waste of money.  You spend all this money gorging on food only to go and purge it.  Not only is it a waste of money but it damaged my teeth and I had to spend a lot of money fixing my teeth. 

I understand that many of you may not understand why I have body image issues.  I do work hard to stay in shape for many reasons.  The are many health benefits to staying in shape especially for those who are HIV positive like myself.  It is also a great way to reduce stress, clear your mind, boost energy levels, and many many more benefits. 

To give you small picture of what dancers face at auditions and within their careers here are a few of the situations that I have been in….

In high school I attended a modeling scout event were agents went to find new modeling talent.  One of the agency approached me and said they wanted me to get photos with a particular photographer and then they would decide if they wanted to sign me.  So I book an appointment with the photographer and paid him the $150 fee per roll (yes roll of old school film).  Once I received the slides and negatives back I went back to the agency and they told me I was too fat.  

When in Jubilee we had to re-audition for the show every six months and part of the audition was standing on a yellow line on the stage in your g-string.  Then you would have to make a quarter turn when told until the casting team had time to inspect your whole body.  They would also send out notices to the cast about “perfection in performance and perfection in appearance.” 

One day I received a call from the casting director for JAR and he was offering me a spot on a cruise ship.  Since I had not been to an audition with them and I was referred to them from one of their other dancers he asked me about how I looked and the conversation went something like this…

Him – “How tall are you?”
Me – “6 foot”
Him – “How much do you weigh?”
Me – “195”
Him – “and how tall are you?”
Me – “6 foot”
Him – “and how much do you weigh?”
Me – “195”

This went on 6 more times and I could hear his interest fading and my job slipping away with each round.  I finally said I just had my body fat percentage tested at the gym and he said “oh great, what is it?” and I let him know I was 10% body fat and that set in the deal.  Off I went to my first cruise ship.

On cruise ships we were also assigned “show weights” and were weighed in on a weekly basis to ensure we stayed in shape. 

During rehearsals for my last cruise ship I stepped out of the studio to use the bathroom and when I walked back in a minute later the choreographer asked me to pick up my shirt.  I was a bit taken back and she asked me again to pick up my shirt because everyone else did I was in the bathroom.  I lifted my shirt and she poked my stomach with her finger and said, “eh it’s okay.”  A few weeks later we were on the ship and it was her last night with us, so we all went to a have a drink with her.  Earlier that day we rehearsed for about 4 hours, did two shows, and I went to the gym for an hour and half.  As I walked into the bar, she looked at me and another cast mate and said, “aren’t you two looking fat!”  She is the reason I turned to bulimia to stay within my allotted show weight. 

The most important part of my story is how I have overcome these challenges.  The truth is there are times I still struggle with body image and eating disorders.  It is hard at times and since I have been more open about my struggles, I have people who help keep me on the right path.  The biggest piece is the financial impact of bulimia.  The amount of money you spend binging on food only to purge it and then the damage it does to your teeth!  I spent around $10,000 fixing my teeth!  How ridiculous is that!

If you have body image issues, eating disorders, or any other mental health issue please get help and know you are not alone.  There are many people who love you and will help get on a healthier path but you have to let people know you need help!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

My Struggle with Depression

I have been debating whether or not to tell my story for sometime now.  I did not want to hurt anyone or make anyone feel bad about my story so I have kept pretty quiet about it.  But now it is time to tell my story and the obstacles, thoughts, feelings, etc that I have dealt with and over come in the past.

I have battled depression on and off for sometime now.  I didn't realize I was dealing with depression in junior high and high school I just thought it was part of being the gay closeted kid who was terrified for his life.  I would walk down the hall and be called "faggot" "queer" "homo" and other names.  People would come over to our house to see my brother and sister and make comments about "how gay" I was.  I didn't feel safe in my own home let alone at school.  The one place I did feel safe was when I was dancing or when I was at swim practice.  My swim and dance friends were my tribe and kept me feeling safe.  My family had no idea what I was going through or what I was feeling and that is because I did not tell them.  My mom and dad told me later in life that they felt awful they didn't know and didn't do more to protect me.  I let them know that I wasn't ready to address it or discuss it and there was nothing they could do to change it.

When I was 17 my cousin told me about an audition for a parade in Disneyland.  So I booked a flight and went and auditioned on April 1, 1995.  I was at the audition for 9 hours and was finally around other people like me.  Guys who danced and guys who clearly weren't straight.   This was my first professional performing job and I was so excited to start.  My family saw how important this was to me and they move heaven and earth to make this happen for me.

Being some where I fit in was so important to me that I almost dropped out of high school to make sure I could make rehearsals for Disneyland and the Lion King Celebration I was cast in.  Rehearsals started in mid April and I had not yet finished high school so my mom and I took my rehearsal schedule to the principal and said we would need to excuse me from those days.  The principal said that would be too many absences and I would not be able to graduate.  I told her to give me the form to drop out then!  I hated high school and I needed to get somewhere I fit in, somewhere I could be me!  We all ended up agreeing that if my teachers would let me take my finals early I could graduate, and I did.

After one of the first rehearsals I attended at Disneyland I remember someone asking me if I were gay and without hesitation I said, yes!  It felt so good to be me and to find others like me.

I am just rambling at this point and it all boils down to this....  At times I still battle with my depression and I suffer from seasonal depression and moving to San Fran during one of the rainiest seasons on record was a test!  I was away from my family and my tribe in a dark, cold, and rainy place!

A few things that always lift my spirit and get me out of my depression start are:

My family! I am so fortunate to have such an amazing family and we have been through so much together.  I want to see how amazing my nieces turn out and all the amazing things they accomplish.

My tribe! I am so lucky to have amazing friends and many of them I consider my family.  I have always had a strong tribe at my side and I have a tribe here in the bay area!

Dance!  Dancing is what I am passionate about it and it helps me to work out my emotions and connect with myself and everything that balanced me throughout my life.  Don't get me wrong - dance has also been a source of pain over the years.  The rejection from auditions, the reason I always feel fat, the cause of my eating disorders, etc.  It has taken a lot of time and work to overcome those feelings and at times they are really hard to fight but at least I don't suffer from the eating disorders anymore.

Anyways.  My point is that life is beautiful and I didn't want to miss out on it.  I also have seen how much pain and anger is left behind when someone decides to take their life.

Please realize how amazing you are and how much you contribute to this world.  I know it is it hard to recognize those things at times but trust me it is worth it in the end.  Ask for help and love yourself.

I am here for you and I am just one of the many that are here for you.

Here are a few resources if you are struggling with depression or just need someone to talk to:

Please get help some where.