By Robert Levithan
The other morning I was lying in tender afterglow with the (much younger, HIV-) man I am seeing. For a blissful moment everything in my world was in place: I felt healthy, cared for, safe, at ease� Idly, my companion ran his finger down my forearm. �What I like most about your body,� he said, �are the veins on your arms and legs. I notice details�� The statement was sexy, even warm, but unbeknownst to him, loaded.
In one sense, I�ve finally arrived: I have the body I always wanted: lean, muscular, masculine, defined�less useful than when I danced for Twyla in the �70s, but more sculpted. There is a catch: At least in part, it is the result of an anti-viral side affect, lipodystrophy (the medical condition in which body fat disappears or redistributes in odd ways). Currently, I am experiencing its advantages, no hump or hard belly, just the evidence of �something is happening.�
I have been on a perpetual diet since I was a teenager. That means that I have been more or less hungry for 30 years. I have dieted out of desperation; I have dieted for professional reasons; I have dieted as a pastime of sorts. Mostly, I think I have dieted to banish the roly-poly baby I was, and the Pillsbury Doughboy child I thought I was, however long ago that might have been; then I dieted to avoid acne, then I dieted before a photo shoot for cheekbones and to fit into an Italian bikini; there were diets to maintain a 30-inch waist because a 32-inch waist would mean defeat. I lusted for perfection. The �best little boy in the world� was thin. I even became that rarity, a (borderline) male anorexic. Dieting became a habit�a way of life.
Therefore, I had no trouble adjusting my eating habits for the difficult Crixivan regimen. I actually have a fondness for my medications, as they represent a return to health. The biggest challenge was dieting to gain weight after a bout with PCP. It was a brief time-out from vanity, a time when there was such a thing as too thin (yes, the Duchess of Windsor was wrong). My weight rose, my strength and vitality returned, and so did my obsessions. I returned to weight-lifting, ever more attached to pictures of perfection. At times, I�ve been acting out of latent anorexia and �biggerexia��never thin enough and never big enough.
I first saw lipodystrophy in clients and friends. Bodies changed, faces collapsed. I didn�t know where to look or what to say. There is nothing to say, at least until they bring it up and talk about their feelings: Anger, sadness, loss, acceptance. As one friend said: �It�s a small price to pay for health.� Once again, the good news and the bad news come in the same package�
Additional side effects are higher cholesterol and bone density loss. Small prices for so much gain. And, yet, my cocoon of safety is penetrated: What will the next side effect be? And, perhaps most troubling: Am I such a slave to vanity that I would consider risking my health to forestall side effects which only impact how I look?
Right now, nothing is really wrong, yet every compliment or admiring glance reminds me of my attachments and of my mortality. What I didn�t say to my potential boyfriend that other morning: This body is brought to you by AIDS.
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