Welcome to ¡Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at [email protected]
So, I've been hooking up with this guy for about a month now, and it's been pretty good so far! That is, until he started calling me his "sexy little cub" in bed. I've never exactly been a twink, but my mind revolted at the idea of being called a cub. I justified my reaction by telling myself "not that there's anything wrong with that, but it’s not me.”
How do I move past this internalized hang-up on gay body standards, especially when I know on some level that it's all made-up nonsense based on animals? Or am I maybe in the right here?
Bearly Holding On
Hey there, BHO!
Oh, I have an anecdote for this one. A few years ago, back in my Tumblr days, I posted some photos of myself in a wrestling singlet ahead of the Mid-Atlantic Leather Convention in D.C., which I regularly attend as a matter of my personal faith. The pics didn’t get many notes until they were stolen and posted on a page called “hot chubby cubs” or something along those lines.
My reaction was mixed. On one hand, I was glad for the attention, which I need to stay alive. On the other, I didn’t think of myself as a “chubby cub,” and as an alumni of the Husky Kids’ clothing section of Walmart, it triggered some nasty feelings in me that I had trouble sorting out. I thought of myself as a person who accepted all body types, but my visceral reaction to being categorized among them told me otherwise.
Before we get into the part where we work through our body issues, I want to make it abundantly clear that you get to determine what people call you in bed. I’m not ashamed of being Latino, for example, but if a guy calls me “papi chulo” in the sack I’m probably just going to laugh at him. It’s a respect thing, and you should feel empowered to set those boundaries. With that out of the way, let’s talk about internalized hang-ups and anxiety, because that’s my idea of fun!
There’s something inherently vulnerable about being seen, BHO. When someone lays eyes on us, we surrender a piece of ourselves to a process we have no control over. People bring their own biases to their understanding of our bodies, and they often correspond their conclusions to how they treat us and how they talk to us. Yes, we can try to steer people in specific directions with our clothing, our mannerisms, and so on, but ultimately, people will make their own judgments about you based on the information they’re given and the way they see things.
I mean, that’s why being fat was such hell for me back in high school. I knew people were looking at me and assuming things: that I was lazy, unhealthy, and undesirable. I wanted to shrink myself, physically and spiritually, to give people less surface area for their scorn. I was anxious about taking up space, about showing any skin, because I knew that the process of being seen often ended in emotional violence of some kind for me.
The gay community’s nomenclature is indeed made up and often exclusionary. But body shaming is very much real, and it’s a serious issue we need to tackle. While we can’t control how other people view us, we can control how we see ourselves and, by extension, how we see others. For example, if you find you’re terrified of being associated with fat people, does that not say a lot about how you view fat people? It’s projection 101. We often dislike or are discomforted by certain people because they embody the insecurities we have or the pressures we put on ourselves.
I want to reiterate that you could decide you’re a “cub” tomorrow and still not want to be called that. I mean, there are worse animals to be called in bed I guess. Boll weevil. Archaeopteryx. “My sexy little hatchet fish.” If anything, “cub” is pretty up there in the ranking. But if you’re uncomfortable with it, tell him to stop, and that should be the end of that.
But I would still encourage you to question the lens you see yourself through. Ask yourself: what biases and judgments am I bringing to the act of looking at myself? Am I doing that with other people? Is there a different way to look at myself, and would doing so help me be better to myself and others? It’s a worthwhile exercise regardless of where you think you’re at in terms of internalized shame. It can make our whole world look that much more beautiful.
Your sexy little coelacanth,