After moving into Toronto’s Gay Village, I figured my summer would be pretty much packed with at the very least some cool visits to local hang outs with both old and new friends I was sure to add to my address book.
Well, welcome to the big city UrbanGuyTO. No such luck.
In fact, since moving into the Village I’ve had my eyes opened to what I think a lot of gay men learned long before they got to my age.
The LGBT community is a lot of social silos. Breaking into them is not at all easy. Especially on your own.
Do we really want a community of exclusivity and cliché high-school-style clics? That is exactly what we have.
Is the advice to “just get out there” given by so many gay men that already managed to transition into comfortable groups of like-minded men valid or even helpful?
One story turnipHed keeps poking at me to share aptly applies to the way I am feeling these days. It goes years back to the first times I ever wore brief-style swimsuits out in public.
As a kid, teenager and young adult, I never learned to swim. My folks never swam, we never had a pool, and I was rarely allowed anywhere near any water you might consider to have swimming potential.
And while you could learn to swim in high school, I opted out of physical education early to avoid bullies and the associated beatings I was getting on a daily basis in high school.
Nevertheless, as the age of 25 I decide it was one skill I needed to learn. By that time of course I had several reasons for learning to swim, not the least of which was a growing fetish for minimal swimwear and a growing desire to display myself wearing them.
In many ways, the decision to take swimming lessons was an important learning and growing experience for me that I still learn from today.
I was going to “just get out there” and take the lessons like so many people had told me.
For people who are use to having a few friends around ((I am tired of people telling me they have no friends, and then I turn up at the bar alone and they are surrounded by guys. So get real. Before you tell me you have no friends and you know what its like alone, have a good careful look around you. If you’re walking into bars or clubs and talking to new guys, you are not alone and you have support somewhere.)) or even just one close friend, I don’t think they can really understand how tough it is to make these simple decisions without support.
We’re social animals. We are driven by a strong need to have social acceptance; to have the support of your peers; to feel you belong in a place; that you are part of a crowd.
An unfulfilled need to feel part of a community is at the root of a lot of the mental health and social issues the gay community faces.
Anyway, for years I had obsessed over men in brief-style swimwear, but never dared to wear one out in public myself.
Mostly due to the fact I had no real reason to wear one. Its not like brief-style swimwear is standard kit for the library or visits to my grandmother, which is about as athletic as I got at that age.
I certainly didn’t have athletic friends nor any friends wearing brief-style swimwear. Moreover, brief-style swimwear was already going out of fashion for men at that time and it was considered more and more a “gay” fashion choice by my peers.
But the opportunity to wear one out and about around others drove me.
I signed up for swimming lessons that fall at the local community centre. Its laughable now, but going to registration that night was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do on my own. I am still not sure why I was so nervous, but I think it had a lot to do with that fact I felt alone and that I was having to do it alone.
The classes were informal, the instruction mediocre and the crowd an odd cross-section of new immigrants ((I learned later that many new immigrants were encouraged to take “classes” at the community centre to socialize and swimming was a popular choice)) and retirees.
Packing for my first class I was sure to pack my new swimsuit. I had tried on and worn my new Jantzen ((a Canadian brand sold in the local Sears department store)) brief-style swimsuit many times by then – often sleeping in it at night.
By my standards today it was down right conservative. A true brief-style suit it had 4″ sides, no pouch or centre seam and a heavy thick lining that obscured any bulge.
It was a good comfortable suit though, there weren’t many other choices anyway and I really wanted to be wearing it out more to tan in the yard or to the local outdoor pool in the summer.
I didn’t wear it.
At the last minute, nerves got the best of me and I tossed in a pair of gym shorts ((boardshorts had not yet made their appearance as THE choice for male swimwear back then)).
At the pool seeing the geriatric crowd mixed in with numerous new immigrants all clad in baggy boxers, I chickened-out and wore the gym shorts.
I can’t tell you how upset with myself I was for the next week. Between classes I beat myself up over and over for not having the courage to wear the suit I wanted to wear.
Being told to “just get out there” and do it; and be the guy I wanted to be, simply didn’t cut it.
Like many guys, I need the support of friends and community.
Nevertheless, the follow week packing for lessons, I gave myself no option – I put away the gym shorts and only packed the smaller brief-style swimsuit.
I changed with the other guys before class and while there we no overt comments, there were certainly some noticeable looks. I couldn’t have felt more nervous or more proud of myself.
I took the class in the suit and felt great.
Exactly what I had imagined. I felt comfortable. I felt “free” and more importantly I felt like myself.
I decided then I would never again wear baggy swimsuits and would always allow myself to feel comfortable in minimal swimwear ((of course, this is a few years before I decided I was a nudist, and therefore would opt to not wear any kind of swimwear at all when I was at the beach or swimming where clothing ought to be optional)).
So here is the most interesting part of the story.
The following week, after pulling on my brief-style suit and showering, I was joined in the shower by not one but two other guys who also were now wearing brief-style swimwear.
They never really said much of anything to me about it ((Later I talked to these much older men about it – because I needed to know – why all of a sudden they were wearing brief-style swimsuits – I wasn’t happy with the answer – they said they always had at that pool but because they didn’t know if other new men would wear them – so they weren’t going to unless someone else showed up wearing them. Exactly that kind of thing that needs to be corrected. If you are doing something – continue to do it – offer up the support – reach out – and add to the community. To me they were cowards – the worse kind – they let me be alone knowing they could be supportive from the start)).
A week later I had a very interesting conversation with another classmate.
I showed up to class one night to find a guy – the only guy even close to my age in the class – sitting “in my spot” in the lockeroom. He was just sitting there. In street clothes, not talking.
He smiled at me, said hello but just kept sitting there – watching me.
Not really sure what to make of it all, I just got naked and changed into my swimsuit. Well, within seconds my new friend was naked and pulling on a very brief-style swimsuit of his own!
I am paraphrasing here, but he explained while we showered he was glad I was wearing “adult” swimsuits, and explained that he didn’t understand why men in Canada were swimming in “diapers” rather than proper swimsuits.
His wife, who would watch the classes from the pool deck, kept bugging him to pull on a “proper” swimsuit and after I turned up wearing mine she almost insisted he start wearing what I can only assume was a suit he’d always worn swimming.
I learned, that from whatever Central American country he came from, no adult male would ever be seen wearing a baggy swimsuit.
Baggy swimsuits were for children. Men always, regardless of body type or age – his wife clearly explained that to me, wore small brief-style swimsuits because they didn’t need “diapers” on. ((The baggy short style swim suit was to accommodate for the diaper.))
Baggy swimsuits confused him and seemed to shock her. But seeing no support, no other men in brief-style suits, he didn’t dare to wear one and somehow break a community rule.
Now with the majority of men in the class wearing brief-style swimwear, our last two hold-outs also pulled on very brief-style swimwear by the next class too! Citing various reasons why they hadn’t initially, we all tended to agree, it was just way more comfortable.
The whole event, even to this day, both puzzles and angers me.
Why hadn’t even just one of these guys worked up the courage to wear the suit of choice, as I had done?
Here we have a guy who in his home country was use to and expected to see such gear on men; two guys who actually did wear the gear in previous classes at this very pool; and a few guys who clearly felt like it was the better choice, and because they had well worn suits, had obviously worn them before to other pool.
Not one would reach out and wear the suit and make it known it was okay to wear brief-style swimwear at this pool with these men?
They didn’t fee like their choice would fit in with the new community they were trying to break into. They needed someone to reach out from that community and make them feel comfortable about their choice. To make them feel like they fit in.
Putting yourself out there and working up the courage to be the kind of guy you want to be when you have almost no actual support gets very little credit in the LGBT community.
We allow ourselves to be far too invisible; we fear judgement at the expense of finding new support and friendship in new faces.
The worse offenders are the guys who have already managed to find that space where they are both psychologically and physically comfortable with not only who they are but how they want to express themselves.
I want to see more of those guys reaching out. Reaching out the way I do when I am comfortable – at the nude beach – at the pool – by being the guys they are and making sure others SEE and EXPERIENCE the openness we say we want as a community.
There are plenty of guys out there like me needing a bit of support and encouragement to break into new communities.
And like you guys there now probably had, we need someone to reach out in real ways and offer up support.
Be vocal. Be open. Be there. You might be surprised how fun new guys can be.
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