Recent Comments

    MarcoMania: Turning Pounds into Hope

    Photo By Christopher Turner

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    One of my favorite songs is “I Come from Good People.” I do come from good people. I also come from fat people—hearty stock, as we call it. My entire family is big-boned. I remember all too well the blue jeans I had to wear throughout my school years were emblazoned with HUSKY on the tag on the back. My mother, a sturdy Texas woman, was one of the first members of Weight Watchers after it started in 1963. We were among the first to deliriously welcome each weight loss miracle: TAB (diet cola), Sego (diet shake), and Ayds (diet candy). Oh, yes. Ayds of the 60s was guaranteed to help with weight loss. Check out the YouTube ads. I wasn’t just fat. I was the perfect storm of chubby, glasses, braces and acne. Ok, a little nelly, too.

    My husband Dan and I still fight the weight demons daily. He does AIDS/Lifecycle (11th time this year). I go to the gym—once a month—to drop off my check. He’s in Weight Watchers. I’m in the Ladies Who Lunch. He has muscles. I have a sense of humor. Life is about balance, after all.

    This story is not about Ayds, but AIDS. It’s not about pounds, but purpose. It’s not about me, but an everyday hero. It is about a young man who changed his life completely and is turning pounds into hope for others.

    About two years ago, we met Marco. His smile lit the entire room. It was hiding years of insecurity brought on by his weight. Born in 1983, he grew up in the East Bay to parents from Peru. He and his brother were mostly raised by their mother and sister. They loved him unconditionally and showed that by cooking delicious Peruvian food—lots of corn, rice and beans—and not much green. He was a big boy from the get go.

    His personality was big too, with a flair for the dramatic. At three, he would stand on a stool and recite lines for the family. At four, he fell in love—with My Little Pony. His mom put him in acting at the local Community Center. His first role? Maleficent. His friends made fun of him for all of it. He already knew he was somehow different. In school, he countered that by becoming the class clown.

    Even though watching pro wrestling was forbidden by his Mom, the boys watched anyway. Marco was smitten with everything about it. It was theater. It was fit men dressing up (drag). What could go wrong? One day, his brother attempted a dramatic leap from the back of the sofa and broke Marco’s arm! His wrestling career was put on hold!

    Marco told me for the San Francisco Bay Times: “My brother and I got into a lot of fights. People called us spics or wetbacks. It did no good to yell, ‘But we’re Peruvian!’ I knew I was fat. I enjoyed food and eating it. I couldn’t talk to people about my feelings. I just used food as a drug to feel better. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, so I just bought bigger clothes. The worst was enrolling in Catholic School. None of the school uniforms fit. All I heard was, ‘You’re fat, you’re fat.'”

    Watching the movie Milk changed Marco and instilled a desire to immerse himself in the LGBT community. He had a long-held secret goal of working at a gay bar in the Castro. In 2015, that dream came true with a part-time job at Moby Dick. Since then, he has filled many roles from DJ to barback, but mostly as all around hostess with the mostest. Insert class clown.

    Moby Dick became his home away from home and his logical family. “I began to meet people who were HIV+ and people who have seroconverted since we’ve been friends,” Marco said. “I’ve heard about the horrors and the fear. I cannot imagine it. I always wondered: what I could do?” Moby Dick occupied all of Marco’s time outside his rising career in the mortgage industry.

    Being overweight and working in a gay bar was a mixed bag. Most everyone was friendly. But they were also cruel and judgmental. “I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices,” Marco explained. “More than once, I heard comments like, ‘You’re cute. If you lost weight, you’d be hot,” or, “Excuse me, I can’t squeeze past you.” He just stored these comments away, knowing one day he would somehow have the last laugh.

    On March 8, 2017, Marco walked into his first Weight Watchers meeting. He had not been on scales in a very long time. When he got up the courage to weigh himself, the scales screamed 323 lbs. He burst into tears. “I couldn’t tell anyone. I had no idea I weighed that much.” That very day, he set a goal of losing 100 lbs.

    It has taken a village. He had lots of help along the way from his family, his trainer Metal Bob, friends like Mark and Bill and Gerald, Grace Towers and a bevy of drag queens and, of course, the entire staff at Moby Dick. But as we all know, at the end of the day, there is only one person that can make this happen. Only one person shuts off the alarm at 5 am and actually gets up to train before work. Only one person makes good meal choices when the world around you is gorging itself. Only one person faces the daily days and the temptation to give up. That one person is Marco.

    As he started losing the weight, one of the 2017 Bare Chest Calendar models randomly quipped, “You should try out for the calendar. It benefits Positive Resource Center (PRC).” His response was, “No way. I won’t even look in the mirror and I’m certainly not comfortable being shirtless in public. That’s not going to happen.” But the seed was planted.

    The more he thought about it, all of his life experiences began to fall into place: passion about AIDS awareness, theater, the bar, countless friends, wrestling, drag. And now, his body was beginning to fall into place, too. That little boy standing on the stool at the age of three was perhaps ready for a wider audience. It all brought him to bravely accepting the challenge to join the contest to be on next year’s calendar. “Even now, if I have to be shirtless, I imagine I am a pro wrestler … . I trick myself. I just become the person behind the name my friends gave me: MarcoMania!”

    Where is he today? At the top of the leader board—in Weight Watchers and the Bare Chest Calendar. That insecure, shy young man, full of body shame, is now shirtless and adorning all manner of media in his quest to secure a spot on the 2019 calendar and raise as much money as he can to help PRC.

    It has been a remarkable journey. It is truly a profile in courage. Marco has turned those taunts and slurs into a life with purpose. Who is taunting now? No one!

    And now, the numbers. Drum roll, please!

    Marco has lost 110 lbs and, at publication date, raised over $7,000 for PRC. And it’s not over yet! Marco is still losing weight and raising money.

    According to Demetri Moshoyannis, Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships at PRC, “Marco’s story is a fairly familiar one to us at the Bare Chest Calendar. Over the years, we’ve seen many men who have engaged Bare Chest as a way to establish or re-establish a positive body image. This includes body transformations from weight loss to transmasculine top surgery. But, the best part of all is the brotherhood that develops among the men. It’s like a new family who will love and support you.”

    Those who know him are all inspired by Marco’s journey. There is a life lesson there for all of us. He took what had been a very difficult situation for 34 years and said, “No, I will not allow this to control me any longer.” The 110+ pounds he lost have been turned into hope. Hope for me and everyone continuing to live with HIV. Thank you, Marco. One of those pounds was for me!

    How to donate to PRC or to Marco:

    Donations to Bare Chest Calendar men’s fundraising efforts, including Marco, can be made online (classy.org/campaign/bare-chest-calendar-2019/c168291). Alternatively, donations for the calendar in general can be made at barechest.org/donate

    To show your support for the Bare Chest Calendar:

    Attend the Bare Chest Finals at DNA Lounge on Saturday, May 19, starting at 3 pm. You can follow the Bare Chest Men on Facebook, too (https://www.facebook.com/barechestcalendar/).

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.