Two years ago, I got talking to a guy on a dating app. I was excited when he asked me for a drink and we got to the swanky restaurant, and sat down with our glasses of wine, only for him to point out the cluster of spots on my chin.
Acne can range from pesky to debilitating for anyone but there are additional issues within the gay community.
There is a lot of pressure for gay men to ‘look the part’. A 2012 study revealed that 48 per cent of gay males said they would sacrifice at least one year of their lives to attain the ‘perfect body’. A healthy head of hair, trim physique and clear complexion are three of the most sought-after attributes.
Despite my negative experience, I was persistent in visiting gay bars in London to build a network of friends, and felt more confident with my latest crop of spots disguised at least partly under a layer of concealer.
But more often than not the night would end with my confidence hitting rock bottom, and me feeling vulnerable and close to tears. More and more, I ended up completely avoiding the gay scene, instead choosing to go out with my circle of straight friends, where I felt more accepted in conventional settings.
Finding acceptance in the cis and hetero communities has been something of a contradiction. I grew up as the only gay kid in my year in a small home counties town, being teased for not wanting to play football with the lads. With acne as well, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Now, once again, I was being made to feel like an outsider when acceptance was everything I had craved – but not from the people you’d expect.
My friends had faces similar to mine, faces that showed their acne and scars without the mask of make-up.
Maybe, like many issues that affect minorities, acceptance of acne comes down to representation. Straight celebrities tend to dominate mainstream media, which gives likes of Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber not only a platform to speak about their acne, but a ready-made audience who will accept them no matter what.
Acne is yet to be discussed by gay celebrities and this filters down. Now more than ever, celebrity culture has a strong influence on how gay men want to appear and this has naturally led to acne becoming a taboo issue.
However, for young boys struggling with their sexuality, acceptance is vital. Lack of self-worth and belonging at a young age can build up insecurity over the years, leading to an unhealthy perception of what your body ‘should’ look like.
The consequences can be serious: a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) revealed that sexual minorities with acne could be at higher risk of developing mental health problems.
As the years have gone by, I feel much more comfortable not masking my acne before going to a gay bar, but there are still anxious moments when meeting new people or my partner’s friends in the community.
I’m fortunate to now be in a very loving relationship and recently engaged to my soulmate. Even though I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, my acne is still a daily chore to manage and social gatherings still hold a lot of anxiety.
The attitude toward acne in the gay community is far from changing. Publications targeted for the gay market – that have held a huge amount influence over the decades – could make a significant difference in normalising the idea of having a few spots. In addition, gay public figures could do more to become inclusive and separate themselves more from the ‘body ideal’ and embrace vulnerability. What’s the fear of doing this?
There has been much talk over the years of women making a stand against public figures and publications for not portraying a realistic body image, but a similar movement also needs to be made in the gay community.
Acne is a condition that I did not choose and I cannot help but, if I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. It’s made me the person I am today: strong, independent and resilient.
Today, I feel proud to be a gay man. It’s come with many trials and tribulations, but my experience has led me to accept myself. I feel I can take on any challenge that comes my way and, although my relationship has played a big part in how I see myself, I can move forward without my appearance being at the forefront of my thinking.
Originally published here