My AA: Approval Anonymous

In my entire 40 years, I’ve never once been high or intoxicated. Still, an AA program would serve me well. Approval Anonymous. A support group that could help eliminate my need to be accepted by other people and direct me toward the sense of self that I am just beginning to claim after decades of living inauthentically.

Faggot. Fruit. Fairy. Homo. From the time I was 6 years old, the epithets were pitched with perfect aim, piercing a genuine heart that yearned to beat true. Sure, other kids were tormented too, but they seemed more easily able to identify the differences that made them targets: They were overweight, redheads or handicapped. Somehow the bullies knew that I wasn’t “normal,” but I had no idea that their disdain was borne out of how I felt inside.

I was uneasy about being around other children, because I didn’t feel like I fit in. It wasn’t about my appearance or a lack of confidence in my ability to communicate with them. And it wasn’t as though I knew yet that my precocious interest in the arts set me apart. At that age, it was simply a fiber of awareness that ran through my body. My skin was a costume that I was wearing to a party that didn’t call for dress-up. My exterior told the story of a typical little boy who was cute, clean-cut and running toward tomorrow; my gut — and the “mean kids” — knew better.

The messaging from my peers was reiterated through high school, giving way to an eating problem; I ate so my soul could survive. Food had no obligation to me, yet it was unconditional in making me feel whole and satisfied, even if only for the fleeting moments that it lingered on my tongue. And it let me have control: I could decide how much of it I wanted and when. I had the power, and I made the rules; the food was happy to oblige. Unlike my classmates, who relentlessly teased me about my homosexuality, pecan pie was accepting. It comforted me after a verbal battering, filling me up and hugging me with its buttery crust.

The only thing worse than being a “fag” was being a “fat fag,” or so I was told repeatedly, and I took drastic action to improve my appearance. An addiction to plastic surgery led to a nose job, multiple liposuction procedures and injectables that were certain to generate attention — and they did. I elected to cut into my body to get positive feedback from friends, acquaintances and co-workers. When that wasn’t enough, I had to up the stakes.

I forged a Hollywood career that provided me with more money and status than most people my age enjoyed, but I still felt like a half-baked person who was an undesirable outsider. The perception of success gave me a misguided sense of acceptance. The pariah, the kid whom everyone mocked for being different, now enjoyed access to — and attention from — the rich and famous, which made him uniquely alluring to those who envied his glittery lifestyle. My pain wasn’t recognizable to others; my bleeding was internal.

Finally, in my late 30s, I decided to take a look in the mirror. Losing 15 pounds wouldn’t be so bad for my health. I wasn’t terribly concerned, though, about how the weight affected my appearance anymore. The idea of finding a local gym and perhaps a part-time trainer — and maybe even buying pants with a larger waist size — crossed my mind. A surgical remedy was no longer my go-to solution; I wasn’t willing to take the risk or suffer any more pain by choice.

A professional reinvention was also on the horizon — one that didn’t include the dangerously alluring glamour of the entertainment industry. The guy looking back at me from the mirror was OK with that. Maybe it was time to pursue old passions, to become a writer or go back to school for an M.B.A., two possibilities that now got me more excited than a red carpet. I realized that my identity wasn’t wrapped up in a job or high-level title. And it certainly wasn’t defined by the celebrity affiliations that came as a “gift with purchase.”

I am a work in progress; I haven’t quite figured out all 12 steps of the Approval Anonymous program. But I am well on my way.