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Calories Are a Bullied Gay's Best Friend

Calories Are a Bullied Gay's Best Friend

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Josh Sabarra shares how being bullied as a young gay teen led to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Joshmain_0(The following is an excerpt from Porn Again: A Memoir, by former Hollywood executive Josh Sabarra, pictured right.)

"Do you really need that?"

The jumbo slice of red velvet cake was decadently moist, and its whipped cream cheese icing? To die for.

"That's your problem," my father continued. "You don't need the cake. Order sorbet instead."

Scientifically speaking, he wasn't wrong about the nutritional value of frozen fruit in comparison to a baked dessert; the cake at our neighborhood restaurant was highly caloric and contained enough fat to stop a fast-beating heart. What he couldn't understand was my unique relationship with food. I did, in fact, need it. I was its prisoner.

I felt loved by my parents and my sister, but, in my mind, that was their emotional responsibility - after all, I belonged to them. Food had no obligation to me and yet was unconditional in making me feel whole and satisfied, even if for only the fleeting moments that it lingered on my tongue. And, it let me have control; I could decide how much of it I wanted and when. I had the power, and I made the rules - the food was happy to oblige. Unlike my classmates who were relentless in teasing me about my sexuality, pecan pie was accepting. It comforted me after a verbal battering, filling me up and hugging me with its buttery crust. And cheesecake? Well, there was nothing more dependable and empathic than a thick slice of creamy chocolate swirl. It understood what I was going through and assuaged my sadness and anxiety with its intoxicating richness.

Sweets weren't the only foods that rallied around me. Their savory friends - pizza and Chicken McNuggets made up the "inner circle" - never let me down. Not surprisingly, French fries were particularly helpful; the salty goodness could melt away a couple of hours of pain. Nothing made the word "faggot" sound less lacerating than a plate of golden potatoes fried to perfection. Whether they were curly, shoestring or of the steak variety, their crispness in my mouth replaced, for a few minutes, the parts of my self-esteem that had been chipped away by cruel epithets.

Food was my solace, my support system outside of my immediate family. It didn't care if I wanted to fuck a man, a woman or a moose. It simply wanted me to be happy - and it worked overtime.

"I do need the cake," I told my dad, "it's December; the sorbet is too icy."

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"Have the cake. But, remember it next time you don't want to tuck your shirt into your pants because of your stomach. Or, when you buy an extra-large t-shirt to cover your chest."

The food had been so good to me; how could I turn my back? And, where would I find those moments of peace when the stomach that had been ripped out by my school "friends" felt empty to begin with? My soul was trying to survive at the expense of my body.

Because the sensory satisfaction that came from putting desirable foods into my mouth lasted merely moments, I began to increase my intake. The frequency of my snacking was directly proportional to the frequency of positive feelings. And, it wasn't as though carrots and celery sticks masked the internal hurt; only the sweets and salts were up to the job. The more I ate, the more I numbed myself to the shame.

As my small, 5'8" frame ballooned to a "startlingly" chunky 175 pounds, my distended belly eclipsed my feet; my chest gave up its natural contour in favor of protruding breasts. My legs were never anything but skinny, making me look like, I thought, a Cambodian refugee or one of the children Sally Struthers collected money for through her toll-free number. Eventually, I was living in a grotesquely misshapen body that became an outward representation of the unlovable person who was locked inside. Or, at least that's the person I saw in my reflection.

I was not obese. Photographs taken through the years showed a mildly overweight teenager who could have benefitted from some physical activity. My mirror harshly yelled another story. It told me that my body was as abnormal as the feelings that were stirring inside it, the sexual feelings that bubbled below my skin. Those feelings that other kids picked up on but that still made little sense to me. Kids usually made fun of physical differences - "fatty boombalatty," "fire scalp," "midget;" no one could escape if he was heavy, a redhead or short in height - but they were somehow able to see through my body to the emotions under the surface.

I attempted to harden myself by not looking past my exterior. Instead, I obsessed over my weight. I looked into every window or piece of glass that I walked past, staring closely at the unattractive ball of fat that was gazing back at me. In my mind, I had become such a freakishly fat person that even my father was unforgiving in his comments about my food intake.

The truth is that I was a little pudgy, not dissimilar to just about every adolescent going through hormonal changes and growth spurts. But, my classmates' unwavering contempt for my romantic inclinations continued to fuel poor eating habits that soothed my insides. My father would then harangue me non-stop about my food choices and quantities, leaving me nowhere to hide. I was figuratively beaten down at school and then punched some more at home for trying to comfort myself. I was a hostage to food. I needed it to feed myself emotionally even though its upside had a price. It offered a temporary salve for the internal aching but left me with a body that called even more attention - both inside and outside of home - to my differences.

Excerpt from the chapter "Take A Load Off," from Porn Again: A Memoir, by Josh Sabarra. Available now from J|B|S Books at Amazon. More information about Josh Sabarra can be found at www.joshsabarra.com.

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