Love has never come easy to me. Living with chronic illness and the aftermath of three surgeries, I struggle to let people in – to be intimate during sex.
It all started when I was 11. Sitting in a hard-backed, plastic chair, the doctor told me I had familial adenomatous polyposis (or FAP for short). They explained to me that tiny wart-like lumps called polyps (or adenomas) were growing inside my bowel and rectum and if untreated, they would turn cancerous. Fast forward seven years – and the removal of my bowel and the lining of my rectum – I came out to friends and family as gay.
It took me years to figure out what it meant to be gay and to understand how I fit into the world. Burdened by family and medical trauma, I found it difficult to process it.
I’ll never forget the moment I told my mam. She locked herself in her bedroom for two days and when we finally did speak, she told me she was worried about me, that being gay would involve complications she wasn’t sure I was ready for. She booked me an appointment with the stoma care nurse who confirmed my worst fears. Anal sex would cause medical complications including haemorrhaging.
I’d never gotten the chance to be intimate with a guy and already, I was sitting in an office discussing my sexuality and – more embarrassing still – my sex life.
In the world of gay sex, you can be a “top” (the guy who penetrates), a “bottom” (the guy who is penetrated) or versatile (a guy that engages in either role or both). I hadn’t kissed a guy and already, it felt like a part of my life was shattering before my eyes. With gay dating, there’s always that initial question about roles. It’s assumed that more feminine guys are “bottoms” and more masculine guys are “tops” but this is a falsehood.
Dating for me has meant that if I start to fall for someone early on and they turn out to be a “top”, any future with that guy is dead in the water. Imagine dating someone you find attractive: you admire their attributes, you have common interests and values, but because your role is rigid, there is no future with him.
This has happened to me so many times and the worst part is the aftermath, the moments where you re-live those kisses, reminisce about the dates and that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling. Never knowing if the relationship would go anywhere.
The surgeries left me with a nasty scar too, one that deeply affected my mental state. When I did find someone I was sexually compatible with, it was a struggle. I would lie in bed, a dozen questions resonating in my head. What would he do when he ran his fingers across my tummy and felt the scar? How many times would I have to sneak to the toilet when he slept? Would he hear me when I went to the toilet? Would he smell it? Would I have a leakage?
Leakages are one of the biggest challenges I face. My most embarrassing sexual moment occurred when I found myself dating a cute nurse. He was kind, compassionate, handsome and he understood my condition. One late night of clubbing with friends, he was all I could think about. He asked me to come back to his place. And I did. We kissed. We cuddled. Legs intertwined. I felt him cuddle into me. Was this it? Everything I wanted was finally being realised?
I woke in the middle of the night, groggy. My boxers were heavy. I knew.
There are times when I cannot control my bowels – particularly during sleep. This was one of them, but this was ten times worse than any I’d had before. I sat up slowly and it was everywhere. I tried to wake him up. It took several times and when he finally woke, it took a minute for him to take in the sight of his stained, white bed covers.
I walked to the bathroom, feeling my heart beat triple time, shame permeating out of every pore. What could I do to make this better? What could I say? I ordered an Uber. I couldn’t look him in the eye, could barely voice my apology as I left his house and got into the waiting car.
Shaking in the backseat of the car, I prayed that the driver didn’t smell it – or if he did, that he wouldn’t say anything. I got home and binned the clothes. The scalding water burned my skin, washing the stains from my body.
I wanted to be clean.
I wanted to be pure.
I wanted to be free.
Years passed before I could understand and accept myself. It took me a long time to understand my body but luckily, I’m at a cathartic point in my life. I’ve been able to write my story – share it with the world and increase visibility of chronic illness.
My sexuality will forever complicate my sex life – will always make me cautious when it comes to love – but I know my own mind and body now and I know I will find someone that loves me for who I am.
Chris’ novel, Gut Feelings, explores the effects of living with his own chronic illness. Shining a light on familial adenomatous polyposis (or FAP), Gut Feelings is a life-affirming and powerful coming of age verse novel that shines a light on chronic illness, who we are and how we live. Gut Feelings is available now. Get your copy online here.
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