Ryan Shea's picture

Why Being an 'Overweight' GoGo Dancer Helped Me Find My Confidence

As much as we want to fight this particular stereotype in the gay community, sometimes its hard to do so.  For several decades, we have been inundated with photos and videos of gorgeous men who are in the best shapes of their lives as a way for us to not only desire to be with them, but also look like them as well.

In doing so, it has led to a lot of negativity within the community, including gossip, body shaming, body dysmorphia and so much more.  All of that used to happen to me, but hasn't for two years now.  Here's why.

Being in New York City can be incredibly tough on anyone, gay, straight or in between, to really find your footing and identity as it can be a very "dog eat dog" type of world.  In particular, it's brutal for the gay community.  When I entered in this world almost a decade ago, I was completely aloof to how gay men treated each other as I came from a small community in Long Island and never truly dealt with this world until I was about 22.

I went through it all, like a lot of other gay men do, in terms of the horrific gossip, slut shaming and all that other horrible stuff that this community can do to each other, but through all the crap I had to weed out, I was able to find some pretty amazing "gems" as friends that I still have to this very day.  My mother passed at 42, but she always taught me a great life lesson in that "It's better to have four quarter than a hundred pennies, as there's much more value in them." 

My weight has fluctuated up and down for years (more recently up, as I'm a food writer and that takes a toll on your waistline no matter how you try to deny it), and it used to make me incredibly insecure whenever I would walk into a gay-related environment and wonder if every guy in there was making fun of or criticizing my "spare tire" and size.

Granted, over the years you develop a thicker skin and try not to let the silly things like that get to you.  Sometimes, they still do.  However, I wanted to challenge myself and see if I can really put it all out there for people to see and not give a flying fuck what they thought as a result.  And I did it in a way that to this day, I still can't believe I did.

The world of gogo dancing was something that I always thought was reserved for the muscle boys, who would stand on top of a platform with sweat dripping down their perfectly toned figure and gorgeous face.  Luckily, NYC has a ton of fantastic "bear" related events that cater to all different body types, including muscle, husky and more.  Seeing as I'm on the latter of that, and I've seen other "cub" related guys dance at these events, I figured I would give it a try and see what happens.

Furball is one of the biggest gay events in New York City, and it happens multiple times a year as a great way to get all the bears and bear aficionados together under one roof for an epic night of dancing and debauchery.  This was my opportunity to test myself on what I can really do to find that confidence I knew was in me.  

I asked guy who runs this event named Joe if I could be one of the gogo dancers at their event in June.  He happily obliged, and I spent the next two weeks in a state of excitement and nervousness that became an odd but great balance.  I also discovered one of my other friend Jorge was doing it, so I knew that if I was going to have a panic attack beforehand, he would be there to help me out and vice versa.

Cue the night of Furball.  I'm in my room and panicking like crazy.  Like a madman.  I thought about canceling last minute in fear of everyone pointing and laughing at me like this was high school and I was the nerd that everyone picked on.  At some point during the night, I let that thought process go, and walked over to Space Ibiza where the event was being held.

I wound up meeting a couple other guys who were dancing alongside of me.  They ran the gamut in terms of body types:  the big, beefy muscular daddy, the twinkish dancer with a big d**k, the muscular younger dude who does this professionally, and the "fat" cub who brought one pair of underwear to dance the night away (the last guy, is me).  

Was I intimidated?  Sure, who wouldn't be?  These guys were the prototype for what gogo dancers are.  I wanted to leave again.  But I didn't.  We discussed who was going where in terms of what part of the stage we would be on, and my first round was at 11:30.  I got onto the platform, and realized how much higher I was than everyone else so my goal was to look at the wall and dance the night away.

Within two minutes, I had several guys (some I knew, some I didn't) come up and shower me with one dollar bills (some more than that) and complimented me.  One guy even commended me for getting up there in the first place, saying he wouldn't have the guts to do so himself.  By the end of the night, I made out with about $200 (which I promptly spent on food shopping) and a renewed sense of confidence that I lost before I moved to New York City.

Really what this comes down to is mind vs. reality.  Your mind can play tricks on you and make you think one thing, when in actuality, its not.  Like that night, no one was judging me (that I knew of) and everyone was having a great time.  Finding your confidence doesn't exactly mean getting tons of dollar bills in your underwear, but it's more tackling your fears head on and knowing that you did it full force at the end of it. That's what makes life so great sometimes, taking the risk, and seeing how it plays out.  And chances are, it results in something great.