‘My only refuge was the local dance school. There, I could move my body freely, which helped me feel connected to the world. Together with the music, my body created symphonies. Because dancing was seen as an activity for girls, I desperately tried to keep it a secret. But we lived in a small Italian town, and soon enough, everybody knew. The bullying got worse.

I wanted to fight back and affirm that I was a real man, someone who is strong and not afraid of anything or anyone. I started learning karate. I loved it, but it didn’t teach me to be an aggressor. Instead, I learned how to be in control of my body. Karate felt like a mastered dance, where your body only makes the essential movements to reach its goal. I started to feel confident.

Image: Elvin Boer

When my sexuality emerged, I fully embraced it. With a circle of friends, I went out clubbing looking for affirmation and love. However, I was still chubby, and often men told me it was such a pity my handsome face didn’t match my body. These rejections not only reactivated my old feelings of inferiority and not belonging, they were also extra painful because they took place in a community that is supposed to be about support and acceptance.

Fat shaming in the gay world is intense. As teenagers, many of us have a troubled relationship with what it means to be a man, and as a result we become obsessed with attaining male perfection. We desperately want to fit in, and if you don’t, you are at the bottom of the pecking order.

‘I grew a beard and realised I had attained the hypermasculine ideal that seemed so unattainable to me’

I moved to Milan, where I enrolled into a program to become a professional dance performer. I loved it. In my second year there, I lost almost thirty kilos by dieting and going to the gym daily. Little by little, I saw my body change: my shoulders and arms grew muscular, my waist became smaller. I grew a beard and realised I had attained the hypermasculine ideal that always seemed so unattainable to me.

Image: Elvin Boer

Growing older and going through committed and loving relationships, my craving for validation based on appearance has evaporated. Affirmation by strangers doesn’t give me gratification anymore.

I love gender fuck: confusing people by appearing masculine and then behaving unexpectedly gently. With my butch looks, people don’t expect me to be open and kind, characteristics that aren’t often associated with masculinity. Many muscle queens confuse being a man with being arrogant and distant, while they just reproduce toxic male stereotypes. I love to shake things up and be myself.

‘We have become obsessed with attaining male perfection, we desperately want to fit in’

I still work out daily, but nowadays, disciplining my body has to do with self-care. I really like this sense of control, the idea of being in charge and having power over my body. I enjoy pushing myself to higher levels and achieving my potential.

However, I immediately feel like I am failing if I haven’t worked out for a while. On those days, when I look into the mirror, I cannot help but see a fat person again. I know this image is totally inaccurate. But I also know that, like an old ghost, it will always be there to haunt me.’

Image: Elvin Boer