Leaving Junior High Behind

The memories of junior high school still haunt me.

Posted Feb 05, 2015

Oh…the memories of junior high school gym class.  So many of my gay clients painfully confess to being uncoordinated as teens and fearing gym class more than anything. Gym class was the dreaded place, the place where a gay teen was made to feel different, marginalized, isolated, and where he was often subjected to ridicule and teasing by students and even teachers.

Over the years, people have shared memories from junior high gym class that still invoke feelings of inadequacy or worse. Whether being placed out in the right field in baseball, or being the last pick when the time came to divide teams, these stories have a common theme. And I share many of the same memories of feeling like an outsider, humiliated and ashamed. This sense of identity can and does carry well into adulthood. In my gay male therapy groups, this topic is often discussed with humor and muffled laughter, but we all quietly recognize the pain beneath the laughter.

Isn’t it ironic that so many gay men have found their way to the gym? The body that carries these memories has many opportunities to recover. The gym empowers us to become the strong, determined athletes we never were before. Here, we can try to morph ourselves into the masculine ideal that was seemingly out of reach during adolescence. I refer to these healing moments as “befriending the body.”  The gym provides an opportunity for this powerful kind of healing. In realizing that he indeed possesses the capacity for athleticism, a man can cope with the painful memories of being an outcast in gym class. It’s important that this isn’t a moment to overcompensate, still fighting the old feelings, but rather a moment to renew a sense of compassion and care for yourself.

Aside from exercise, there are other positive ways of befriending the body: meditation and mindfulness are two central ones. Gay men can use these methods to develop a deep place of serenity inside, a place to experience their own true strength.  They can find current resources through which to update their sense of self, one that is reliable, allowed, and free from old images. They can set the time aside to feel this new expansiveness and calm viscerally and internally.  Through mediation and mindfulness, gay men can welcome in and explore a new level of happiness and confidence that may never have been previously realized.