Joe Westmoreland had all the right moves. Wasting syndrome is a real bitch.
"Go to a gym," my doctor ordered. "Build lean muscle mass. You're
wasting away." So it was time to hit the weights again. I chose the
gym closest to my apartment with tons of big, beefy, beautiful gay
guys. Tons of big, beefy, beautiful gay guy attitude, too. But their
attitude slides right off me. I'm invisible.
Or else I'm the skinny guy following the hunky trainer around
like a puppy. When I first joined, he showed me how to work the
machines. I just want to tone up, I told him. "Well, you can do that
too," he said, "but these machines will make you big."
"Stick With the Winners" reads a sign above the water fountain in
the locker room. I like the locker room because it's full of those
beefy guys with no clothes on -- my reward for coming. I slip my
jeans off and just show my skinny thighs, then pull my shorts on
quickly. My eyes dart around for a glimpse of flesh.
My workout takes two hours. The first hour is stretching and a
sit-up routine, half of which is staring at the ceiling daydreaming,
thinking of Miami Beach, my boyfriend, my liver. I also do leg lifts
and side curls. I start off slowly but do them over and over. My
trainer told me to watch myself in the mirrors that line the wall to
make sure I keep good form and don't strain. I get too
self-conscious, though. The good thing about the mirrors is that you
can watch other guys working out without their knowing you're
watching. A lot of guys watch themselves -- pose and flex and huff
and puff. It reminds me of a French Quarter disco in the late '70s,
where, in the afternoon, drag queens would dance in front of the
mirror. They'd be lip-syncing and practicing their steps, getting
their routines together.
I ride the exercycle to get my blood flowing and build stamina. I
watch the four TVs hanging from the ceiling as I ride and watch the
other people doing cardio. I see the guys I'm in love with, the ones
I'd have sex with in a second. I see other guys out of shape, some
fat, some skinny, some OK -- or just not perfectly toned or
muscular. We look at each other and look away.
The second half of the workout is for strength training.
Sometimes when I'm pumping the machines I feel strong and muscular.
Then I catch myself in the mirror and get embarrassed. How can I go
to the same gym as these sexy guys? But I do. I plop myself in the
middle of it. Put myself in an environment that will make me try
harder. Find an uncomfortable situation and stay there until I'm
comfortable. "Stick with the winners."
Don't get me wrong. I like muscle. I even like attitude up to a
point. And I certainly like being surrounded by big, beefy men who
feel good about themselves. I'd like to be surrounded by some big,
beefy men and get a good feel.
The steam room? I don't go there. I'm too ashamed of my body --
especially the Hickman catheter that I had in my chest for three
years. It's out now but sometimes it feels like it's still there: a
phantom Hickman. Like when your arm has been cut off and you still
try to use it. Or your best friend dies and you still want to call
him on the phone 10 years later to say something funny.
I save my favorite machines for last. I get instant gratification
from the work I do on my shoulders. I could pump and pump my chest,
butt, legs and no one would notice, but my shoulders pump up right
away. I wear sleeveless t-shirts and everyone says, "Joe, you look
so good. Have you been working out?"
I used to worry that I was cheating because my doctor had me on
steroids -- to help me build my lean muscle mass. HIV eats away at
my blood cells, my liver, my legs, my arms. And my full, round butt.
The crime of the century: AIDS stole my butt. But I still
have my shoulders. They give me something to show for all the time I
spend watching big, beefy, beautiful men go by while I build my lean