Column: Benny’s Back
By: Benny Cartwright
A couple days ago, I was walking through Hillcrest, minding my own business, when someone I have known for many years approached me. He told me that he needed to get me a new shirt, and “one that is not size medium.” He then grabbed the back of my collar to check the size label and said “Oh … it’s already bigger than a medium. Yikes!”
His point in all of this, of course, was to mock my weight. I’ve known this person for over 20 years, so he knew me when most would have considered me a “twink.” I was 50 pounds lighter than I am today and the fact that now, in my 40s, I carry around some extra weight, particularly in my belly area, is not lost on me.
And really, it’s no one’s business but my own. But I am going to open it up and share with you all today for the purpose of this column.
Weight and body image issues have always been a difficult issue in our society and particularly among gay men and I have written on this topic several times before. But one thing I have not really opened up about is my own body and how it has changed over the years and my own thoughts on my own personal weight loss and fitness journeys.
I grew up in this community. I was born and raised in San Diego and have been hanging out and active in the Hillcrest and LGBTQ communities since I was 17 years old – over 25 years now! Many people who have been around that long have seen me grow up and some just can’t comprehend that I am no longer a “twink.” I have heard some friends make cracks like “Where you’re clearly not a twink anymore” (pointing to my belly) or worse, people approaching me and saying things like, “Looks like you’ve been well fed!”
I am very aware of the things I need to do to maintain or get back to a healthier weight. I have had multiple personal trainers over the years and have learned a lot from them and consult regularly with my doctor. I walk a lot and workout when I get the motivation. And while I am generally very healthy, I have seen that when I have a little more belly fat, my blood sugar numbers creep up toward that range that could become diabetes, my joints hurt more often, and I can be out of breath more often when I am active.
I was very thin my entire life until I hit about 37 years old. I used to be able to eat what I wanted, when I wanted and my weight never crept past 180 pounds, which is considered a healthy range for a 5’11” man.
Around the time I was 37, however, some traumatic things happened in my life (things I’m not prepared to get into today) and these traumatic things led to a domino effect of other traumatic things for a couple more years. I smiled through all of these rough times, continued my involvement in the community, and only my closest loved ones knew what was really going on with me.
And these traumatic events led to bouts of depression — something I never acknowledged to myself until recently. For years, I have seen therapists and psychiatrists to make sure my mental health was in shape and to get treatment for what I thought was an anxiety problem. Whenever they asked questions related to depression, I knew deep inside me that I was not being honest with them. I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that I might be feeling down and needed support.
This led to periods of inactivity and drinking more than I would like to on some occasions and weight started to pile up in my belly area. I didn’t think much of it at first, as I would then exercise and eat healthy for a few weeks and shed the pounds, but over time the pounds just started to add up.
I consider myself lucky, actually, because so far I have really only gained some belly fat (that “beer gut”) and no other issues. I haven’t gotten to a point where it’s caused any mobility issues and I can pretty much function like I always have. But even with a little protruding belly, people can be cruel. It makes me wonder how these people treat people with much bigger weight problems.
I recently started a new fitness and healthy eating/weight loss journey and am looking forward to the results. Some people love to post about their fitness journeys on social media as they want to have that community accountability — and that is great. For me, that’s not something I am comfortable with and I have my own supportive network that keeps me on track or reminds me when I get off track. But regardless, whether I’m on a fitness journey or not, it doesn’t matter.
The point of this column is a reminder to everyone; do not make unsolicited comments about anyone’s bodies or size, ever. Even the jokes like, “You look like you’re well fed” or “Are you growing a baby in there?” are not funny, in fact they’re cruel.
I get enough comments from those closest to me (whether I’m skinny or overweight – and they won’t change) so I don’t need it from anyone else. I’m obviously aware of my body’s dimensions at all times – I live in it every day — and I don’t need your input.
I have always been confident in myself and I’ve heard a lot of nasty comments in my time — but for some reason, this interaction a few days ago really got to me. Please don’t be that guy … just let everyone be!
Lots of love as always!
–Benny Cartwright is a longtime activist and community leader. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @BennyC80.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and hope you will also consider supporting our independent news organization. LGBTQ San Diego County News is one of California’s last LGBTQ print newspapers. But we are in danger of going out of print. During times of crisis, celebration, and mourning, crucial information about our community comes from local reporters and writers. LGBTQ San Diego County News needs your help and support in order to continue printing.
Please consider supporting LGBTQ+ San Diego County News. We are one of just five California based LGBTQ+ newspapers that are still in print. Donate. Subscribe. And if you have a business that’s able to, advertise with us. Your support is critical to sustaining the dedicated journalists serving our communities.
Our local LGBTQ+ newspaper helps keep us safer. We keep an eye on city hall, on corruption, and shady business practices. Together we can ensure our local news is covered for years to come.
-Eddie Reynoso, Publisher