I’ve been diagnosed with HIV since before it was called HIV. I’ve had many health issues- several carcinomas, rectal cancer, I’ve been through chemo several times. 
So considering all the torture my body’s been through, I’m happy with my body. I’m happy that my body has sustained so much.

I participated in recreational drugs for most of my life. With increasing health issues, and when I had a breakup after fourteen years, things spiralled out of control and I was using meth. The recovery community in New York City is pretty incredible. It’s the first time in my life I’m not running from lots of things. One of them being body issues, how we look to others and how others perceive us. I think there’s a lot of fear of what goes into perception.

I found a photo of myself today, where I guess I was at my peak, it was right before I became really ill. I was in good physical shape, but I didn’t necessarily know that in my thoughts. I certainly had insecurities. Now that I’m older, I’m aware of how, for example, the HIV medication is affecting my fat content, so you know, I have a little bit of a pouch. It’s never going to go away. I can keep it from getting huge if I work out very hard, but it’s a struggle. Do I have issues with it? Absolutely. But I have to live with it and accept it.

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Leon Silvers

Being in recovery has been a great thing. It attacks some of the issues that go way way back and I think a lot of those issues have to do with physical appearance and overall insecurities. That’s why a lot of people usually turn to substance abuse. It’s not only that we want to belong to something, it’s also that we want to impress, we want to feel loved, and likable, and it’s got a lot to do with your overall image. If you’re not happy with yourself, at least in my case, that’s why I turned to abusing. Recovery has made me think or pause and look back at my way of thinking. Now, instead of thinking that there’s a problem with me, I can think maybe it’s not that there’s a problem, I just need to accept things as they are.

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Leon Silvers

I identify as a trans-masculine person. I used to be really self conscious and I’d wear certain clothing to disguise how I look or wouldn’t go outside or hang out with certain people because I felt I had to fit in a certain way. I’m out of high school now, but a lot of times in school I’d have to talk a certain way, act a certain way, to be popular, or just to relate to them. I felt like I was just really pushing myself to be someone I wasn’t.

I used to go to school on 116th, where it’s a largely white community. Even the LGBT community there isn’t very open-minded. A lot of times they wouldn’t want to hang around me because of where I was from or my accent was 'too black.' I feel like a lot of times, my white allies don’t really understand the struggles that people of color go through. They feel like it’s okay to make certain jokes because they have a black token friend, a Spanish token friend, but really, it doesn’t give them the privilege to say certain words like, the N-word, for example. A lot of white people in my friend group were comfortable saying the N-word because they were friends with a black person. They thought that they got that pass, when really, it shouldn’t be like that at all.

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Leon Silvers

I’ve had AIDS for 34 years, which has been a bloody long time to be HIV positive and still alive. I’m not complaining, but a lot of symptoms have taken their toll over the years. From 1983 to 2006, it was really pretty easy. I took the pills and lived a pretty normal life. In 2006, I got Hepatitis C and had to take a very invasive treatment for that and have been on disability since.

I was married to a wonderful man for 20 years and he died two and a half years ago and it’s been really tough. I was 12 years clean and sober, but when my husband died, I started drinking and that ended up with ten hospitalizations in two years, for drinking. So now, I finally have 81 days, so almost that magic ninety day mark, so I’m hopefully there.

At one time, I weighed 292 pounds and being fat is one of the grave sins in the gay community. Usually if you don’t have a great body, nobody wants to know you. And then I started working with a trainer three days a week and by the end of it, I had this great muscled body and all of a sudden, I was very popular on all the hookup apps and it was so weird to have gone from a sort of fat pariah to a hot daddy. And now, I’m somewhere in the middle. Drinking a gallon of vodka every day is not good for the health. If you do it for many days in a row, you too will go by ambulance to the nearest ER.

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Leon Silvers

Finding your space as a trans queer femme is so hard, especially as a plus sized person. 

I had really bad bulimia. And I was dealing with a lot of intense self harm because I would look at myself and I would see scars from past surgeries or I couldn’t see my feet when I looked down, or my breasts were saggy. No one talks about that in the media, and everyone in high school was starving. There aren’t spaces to talk about it. It’s not just skinny white girls. There are beautiful, fat people who have eating disorders.

I usually identify as either gender non-conforming or trans femme. I feel like I’m always transcending whatever gender is. I’m okay with my body parts and I also know they don’t determine who I am. I can be a feminine person as well as be a masculine person, and still be me. As a gender non-conforming person, there’s not a lot of representation for us. It’s usually just the binary. 

Being trans is not just, 'I’ll get surgery and then I’ll be happy.’ It’s a process. For me, it was a lot about being able to claim my identity without being ashamed of it, without someone saying, ‘Oh, you’re not trans enough.’ Or, ‘You dress too like this, so you can’t identify.’

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Leon Silvers

I’ve never felt good about my body, so that’s my new thing. When I was a kid, I was real skinny and we would go to the pool and my sister used to say, “Ew! You’re so skinny!” So I’ve always had body image issues. It’s all that leftover childhood crap. Dysfunctional family stuff. I was never told by my family, “You’re good-looking.” So, it’s all that kind of crap.

When I was forty, I started going to Twelve Step programs and I’ve done that now for twenty six years. I haven’t drank or drugged, so that’s helped tremendously with all that dysfunction. Twelve Step helps you get honest about yourself. It helps you separate your emotional luggage from other people. It secures boundaries between people. The Twelve Steps are a lot like Buddhism. Because you go through this personal transformation that addresses your problems and you find peace. The illness is self-centered fear. So you go through this process of the twelve steps and address all the self-centered fear. The last step is helping other suffering addicts. That’s what Buddhism is. The process of Buddhism is addressing all of your problems so you can be of service to other people.

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Leon Silvers

I think as a biracial person you don’t really fit into either category in terms of racial identity. And that affects body image. I was born in a family in the late sixties, which wasn’t exactly an ideal time for interracial couples to be together. So depending on which family you’re with, they have different expectations around body structure. On my African American side, my family was very accepting. Everybody was from big to small and they didn’t really care. On my Caucasian, French Canadian side, body image was more of an issue. Very thin family, small frame. I was much bustier than the rest of the family, so it definitely had an impact because I didn't feel as confident, I compared myself to all the people around me. But as I’ve gotten older, I’m more confident. You know, you go up, you go down, things don’t come off as quickly as you’d, but I feel good about myself. I feel comfortable in all of my identities.

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Leon Silvers

I love my body. All my rolls and everything. I’ve always loved it. I’ve never been a person to know skinny. I was a kid in high school who used to weigh 320 pounds. And being a gay kid in high school was never easy either. I grew up in New York City, right in Chelsea, but it was still that whole feeling like something didn’t fit right. But, I grew to love and accept who I was because of my family.

Ive seen a lot of discrimination. I’ve been called a spi*k. I got told to go back to a country that I’ve never even visited. And it hurts, because if this is happening to me, as a normal American who just happens to be Hispanic, it’s scary what it must be like to be in the immigrant community. People I work with and see in their face that it’s hard for them to walk down the street and worry if someone’s gonna say go back to your country. 

I’m upset, I'm hurt. I don’t like this. I don’t like the fact that we’re living in a world right now where people fear being attacked for being a different person- gay, straight, colored, minority, Spanish, black, white, whatever. We’re being attacked from all ends. And it’s very, very scary. It’s a lot. But we prevail. We grow stronger from it. And we don’t let nobody stop us from that.

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Leon Silvers

It’s been a process to accept my body. There’s been ups and downs as far as weight and getting to know myself as a gay man in New York City. It’s even harder in the gay world because the body is everything. It makes a difference what you look like in this community. It’s unfortunate and it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. There are certain areas in New York City where things will be easier for you and not. I’ve definitely been in some bars where no heads were turned. And I’ve been in some bars where all the heads were turned. It just matters where you’re at, but New York has all of that. 

I just realized how fantastic I am no matter what size I am. Whether I’m the skinniest of the skinny or the largest of large, there’s so much more to me than meets the eye. I’m great with my body.

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Leon Silvers

Being a dark skinned black person, especially in the LGBT community, you grow up thinking people don’t really want you. So I developed this idea that my body is what’s going to make up for that. I developed a few eating disorders. I would often throw up after meals and I would go at max three days without eating and then have a little something afterwards. 

I feel like a lot of insecurities developed my eating disorder. When you see a ton of white studs representing the LGBTQ community, it’s kind of hard to see where you fit in there. I was around thirteen when it started. It’s hard to see yourself in a positive light when you’re not being represented in a way that you feel proud of. It wrecks your confidence completely, so you try to find other ways to feel confident. They might not be the best ways, but it’s something that helps you feel like maybe one day you can reach that goal of attractiveness or desire in a community that you want to be accepted in. 

I’ve always valued a more feminine body. The ones that you see in the magazines, the models, in their bikinis, looking absolutely gorgeous. I’ve always gone after that. And that definitely contributed to an eating disorder, considering that I am a male bodied individual, so I was not born with the curves and the physique of a woman. It was difficult to come to terms with how my body won’t look like that. I can still love how my body is, but it’s difficult. It really is. Recently I’ve gotten better. I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve seen doctors, and now I have a more healthy eating habit, which is very awesome and I’m very grateful for it.

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Leon Silvers

I grew up being the chubby kid all my life. As I was growing up, I really spent a lot of time in the shadow of a very sports-oriented community. And I did not fit into that community. I’m one of thirteen cousins, and there’s a lot of the thinner side in my family, and then there’s me. I never felt like I fit in and it really took a lot of soul searching to come to the conclusion that this is who I am and it’s fine. I know that there are people in the world that would be ecstatic to be standing next to me and there’s people in the world who would not be ecstatic, and that’s okay. It’s not about making other people happy, it’s about making myself happy.

Being in the gay community, you always see on TV, the movies, everywhere, that it’s the chiseled body, and that’s the best. But it’s really not. It took me until recently to realize that it’s not the model that you pursue. It’s the reality you pursue. And being a real person is much more important than being a 'perfect' person. And just accepting yourself and moving through life confident and comfortable in who you are, as opposed to being or trying to emulate or be someone else. I finally realized that it’s not really about what other people’s perceptions are, it’s what I think about myself.

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Leon Silvers

"The gay community, when I was younger, was very much about being muscle-y, thin, thin waist, that type of thing. You just kind of get snubbed. You get that Chelsea hello that people will give you cause you’re not what they’re looking for. But you have to realize that just because that’s not what they’re looking for doesn’t mean anything specifically for you. I’ve gone to the gym, I’ve done diets, I’ve done things to try to ‘comply.’ And it just never worked for me. It was never me. So eventually, I learned that’s just who I am. And once you settle in with accepting who you are, other people are much more accepting as well. People can tell if you’re struggling. If you can’t be happy with yourself, other people aren’t going to be happy with you.

Gracie is seventeen years old. She’ll live to be fifty or sixty. I’ve had her since she was a baby. And we just have a very strong trust relationship. I can put my fingers right in her jaws and she won’t hurt me. And I know that. And she knows if I hold her tight like this, I’m not going to hurt her. It’s a mutual trust. Regardless of what kind of day you’ve had, that’s not their issue. Their issue is about seeing you, which is really important and people need to learn how to do that too. It’s not about what happened during the day, it’s what’s happening right now and who you’re with. People, pets, whatever."

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Leon Silvers

"I struggled with body image issues basically all my life. I was always being told I had to hide my body in large clothing because either my body is shameful and I have to hide it or it’s too promiscuous and I have to hide it. I love food but I also have a love hate relationship with food. Especially with being in a Spanish household, it’s like, eat, eat, eat! But not too much. If you’re looking too skinny, you have to eat more, if you’re too fat, you have to cut back. I just get these passive aggressive comments all the time about my body and I’m constantly being policed for eating something, even if we’re at a family outing eating together. They’ll be like, why did you order that? And I’m like, because I wanted to, that’s really it."

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Leon Silvers

"I think it is hard to be a gay male. I think it’s hard being black. Even living in the cultures that we live in, I think there’s a lot of what I call body capitalism. I feel like I’m seen more for my body and my body means certain things in our society and culture. When I look into the mirror, I have to give myself a little pep talk most days.

Being a black gay man usually there’s an expectation. I’m fetishized before I’m sought out for a relationship, usually. Most times, it feels like I’m not fitting that image if I’m not dating a certain way or presenting a certain way. I have to work twice as good to do just as good. So there’s all this expectation that I have to be the perfect black gay man. I have to articulate myself well. I have to understand systemic issues. I have to be happy. I can’t be too angry. I have to represent homosexuality to a straight world and blackness to a white world.

By speaking out about being black, I’ve felt like I’ve put my gay relationships at risk particularly with white men. If you’re honest with them about their own blind spots about race, then you’ll undermine the relationship, which is already fragile because it’s a marginalized relationship anyway. You don’t want to put those relationships at risk. We need one another in many other ways. You don’t want the race to get in the way even though it can’t not be in the way."

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Leon Silvers

"I go to a bar and I’m sitting there and I see someone I really like a lot and suddenly this guy will come over and say, ugh she’s an old queen. What are you doing here? He’s trying to be something he’s not. It’s very very prejudiced. It’s horrible. Like we don’t even exist anymore. Just an old piece of trash. It’s horrible.

The day they invaded Stonewall, I was there the night that it happened. I just saw people getting beat up and a lot of people got hurt, a lot of people got beat up. We were very scared, we didn’t realize we weren’t gonna be killed. We thought they were going to be really violent. I went there quite a lot. Stonewall to me was home. This is my home now (the LGBT center). We didn’t have this. It was different. There was no hero in my life. My only hero in 1969 is Judy Garland, who died, and the man who got us to the moon. That was our hero. And when the man went to the moon, I said, “Maybe I should go up to the moon. There’s nobody up there who will be prejudiced against me.”

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Leon Silvers

"My body image issues probably started in middle school and it just became a slow escalation. Eventually I reached out to my mom and told her that I probably needed to see someone and I got diagnosed with EDNOS, which is an eating disorder not otherwise specified. I think a lot of it was mental. I didn’t have significant body weight fluctuation, but just a lot of stress, a lot of feelings of comparing myself to other people. I feel okay now. I think it’s definitely a work in progress. But I think it’s something I’m really getting to know and I’m starting to get more comfortable in my body."

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Leon Silvers

"In my 20s I was anorexic. Growing up as a chubby child put me in the space of being aware of how I looked. So I was trying to be the opposite. I was measuring everything I was eating. And they had to be the right portions. I was obsessed with what I was eating. I couldn’t go past a line because I was afraid I was going to get fat again.

In my 30s, I moved here from Venezuela and everything changed. I started going to the gym. I was a slave to what I was eating, working out 7 days a week. The gay culture is about appearances. If you don’t look good, you disappear or don’t belong in the crowd. That’s why I was always so worried about my appearance or the way that I look.

Today, I eat a lot! My friends say, you are constantly eating. Because now I enjoy food! Food and a good meal is a good thing. I was trying make people happy. But I wasn’t happy, What I realized is that you will never make everyone happy. I realized, I need to make myself happy."

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Leon Silvers

"As a teenager, as a twenty-something year old, I always wanted to be thinner. I still struggle with that some. But I try to stay focused on not thinking about thin and think about fit and think about strong and healthy, rather than size so much. I think I’m better looking with a little more curve.

Coming out as lesbian allowed me to play around with gender and the ways that I did femininity in some different ways. So, especially during my twenties and thirties, I dressed more androgynous and wore less-revealing clothing in terms of the curviness of my body. I got to move back and forth along a gender presentation spectrum in a way that now allows me to feel more comfortable in this more feminine presentation where I’ve landed at this moment."

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Leon Silvers

"I think that when I was younger, it was very hard growing up cause I didn’t see myself as a beautiful person. But, I think that as you grow up, you change and start seeing other things about you that you like and are more important than just your body. I think that sometimes the LGBT community can be very superficial about our bodies. It’s been difficult to accept myself through the years. But I feel like in this moment of my life, I feel like I love myself how I am. I’ve been feeling like I can just be myself and that’s who I am and I don’t need to change anything and I’m perfect, just as I am."

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Leon Silvers

"I was in an environment before where my family was telling me the way that I looked wasn’t okay. People at school were telling me the way that I looked wasn’t okay. I really just hid a lot. I’d wear long T-shirts, hoodies, boots. It wasn’t until I got to college that I met more people like me that kinda shifted my focus a little bit. My mom still makes comments sometimes that I eat too much, or how am I gonna find someone to marry me if I look the way I do, I need to get in shape. They’re kind of backing off because I have a voice and I’m saying something now.

It’s been scary [being a queer woman]. I’m actually more recently telling people, so that’s been an experience, I’m kind of still in the middle of it. I just went to pride for the first time and wore a bikini, which is something I never do even if I’m going to the beach. On my way there, on the trains, I was being stared at and people made little comments, pointing, laughing, snickering. And when I got there, everyone’s telling me I look great, and just meeting so many great people, I felt welcomed, I felt at home."

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Leon Silvers