Above: Check out artist Vasili Gavre‘s series of meta selfie sculptures in Look@Me #SelfieSeries.

I like showing off.

Every time I post a half-naked selfie on Facebook or Instagram, some queen has to say something. Homos always have the most biting comments, and they hurt sometimes.

At the gym, we stand around on our phones cruising each other’s Facebook posts. When my picture appears, I get called thirsty, as if the hunger for validation and praise is something to be ashamed of. Does it make me look weak? I may not understand the rules.

I like my thirst. I like how hungry I get when I want to get fucked. But my selfies aren’t about that.

Here’s my truth. Whenever I meet someone new, I think their body looks better than mine. I still see my body as it was 4 years ago when I first started HIV meds. The drugs gave me weird fat deposits in my shoulders and face and belly. My skin broke out. I hated the drugs and stopped taking them in San Francisco shortly after I started. It was a dark time in my life.

It’s been over two years and I’ve switched to better meds since then. Now I’m healthy and undetectable. But I still remember that time. I was lonely, depressed, and escorting in a strange city. I don’t know why I was there — I wasn’t doing anything special or extravagant. But I was in San Francisco and that was enough. It was a thrill to be there, to meet up with strangers in the Castro and be invited up to their slings. Their partners were up there, naked and smoking. I was their evening meat.

It was fun, but I wasn’t well. My living situation wasn’t healthy. I left after a few months.

Wellness is a shifting, elusive, important concept that we must continually redefine. I tested positive more than three years ago. I have fought through many dark nights since then to reach a place where I feel healthy.

For me, being well means going to the gym almost every day and having a body that I like showing off. Yes, I may be seeking validation, but seeking validation beats the alternative — being terrified of my body and feeling ugly in my skin.

I take selfies for myself. Learning how to take them is a challenge. I’m learning to study myself in the mirror. I want to be comfortable with my body. Showing off feels good. It is supposed feel good. It’s a feeling I wish  everyone could experience, particularly everyone who’s ever looked in a mirror and started crying.

Wellness means other things to me. My life is slowly nudging to sobriety. I’m not there yet, but that clear-eyed, day-to-day feeling between my wild nights — my weekdays, gym routine, work schedule — is getting more enjoyable as I get older, and the toll of those wild nights is harder.

Drugs are a risk factor for me. I know how it feels when Tina (meth) kicks in and all you want to do is fuck — anything, everything. On paper, it’s easy for me to classify harder substances in a different tier from casual cocktails, but every time I meet friends at a bar, that tiny inkling, that little beast in me, wonders where I could be and what I could do and how many cocks I could take if I get fucked up.

When I post selfies, they act as markers by which I measure this slow, extended journey to self-care, which for me means reaching a point in my social and sexual life when I don’t crave drugs.

When I’m in that space where I’m triggered to use and I feel that trembling in my legs, I look at my last nearly-nude, post-gym selfie and I remember how I felt then — sweaty and strong. That felt healthy. I tell myself that if I go out and smoke, I will lose that feeling. I’ll be out of the gym for a week.

When I finally get back in the gym, I’ll have lost all that progress. I’ll have lost weight — in inevitable certainty of smoking meth. I won’t be healthy or look pretty. One night of smoking may be fun, but my self-confidence and my self-image will take a hit for weeks after. My body will regret it, even if my lusts crave a drug-addled gangbang with brutal, anonymous, verbally abusive tops for two nights. Selfies help me say no.

Selfies remind me that if I work hard, attend Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings, read my Big Book, and rigorously appraise myself, I can have those gangbangs — sober.

That feeling you get in the gym, when you’re taking the picture, is a different high. A good one.

Some guys say that the endorphin release of the gym may become another addiction. But who cares? It’s better than the feeling I get after going hard for three days on drugs, with intermittent naps, bad food, and a wrecked sleep schedule. It’s better than another horrible meth comedown.

Getting to a better place means discovering how other drugs — fitness, sex, shopping, friendships, body image, kink — feel better than those wild nights, and how these things can replace them in a reality in which everyone needs their fix. Selfies help me stay hooked on better things.

Vanity is how we care for ourselves. It should not be mocked. It doesn’t matter what kind of body you have, what shape or size or skin color. All bodies deserve to be photographed.

The next time you love how you look, take a selfie to help you remember that feeling so you can remember it next time you’re feeling down on yourself, hating how you look, and feel tempted to do something self-destructive. You’ll get back there. You’ll feel that way again. I promise.

— Beastly

Writer, blogger, illustrator, kinkster.

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