Building Your Emotional Muscle

Former Bravo reality show star, Jesse Jordan, from Workout, has a message for those who choose to do steroids: “Understand the Risk.”

In 2014, Jesse and 19 other men were selected to model for Matinee-Spain. It’s the largest dance party in Europe, attracting 70,000 visitors to Barcelona each August. In his excitement to be a part of this group, he felt pressure to look his best and decided to do a few cycles of steroids.

“I’ve never looked better physically,” said Jesse upon his arrival. Then something went terribly wrong; he started experiencing crippling chest pain. Laying in a fetal position, he was rushed to the hospital convinced he was dying. Terrified, he told his boyfriend he loved him and prepared for the worst. Luckily, it was not a heart attack, but cardiomegaly: an enlarged heart. He had damaged his heart and it was not pumping blood effectively. He never told the doctors that he had been using steroids, but the doctor looked at Jesse and said, “STOP using steroids!”

What had brought Jesse to this moment? He moved to West Hollywood at age 22 and observed the obsession gay men had with both muscle size. Jesse had a very lean body, but didn’t feel it was enough. Over the next four years he changed his diet and workout routine and gained 20lbs of muscle. Jesse realized that once you put on muscle you suddenly become attractive to a much wider variety of men.

In 2008, at age of 27, while out at a West Hollywood bar, a casting agent approached Jesse. Conversation ensued and he was asked to audition for Bravo’s reality show, ‘Workout.’ Although not a trainer, he had years of experience in the gym and training with a professional boxer. Jesse auditioned and secured a spot on the show.

During filming, Jesse was offered steroids by one of the trainers. Until that point, using steroids never entered his mind because he was, “naïve and wasn’t aware they were so readily available.” But now, starting on a Bravo show, the peer pressure to look a certain way was so strong, he decided to try them. With no prior experience, he didn’t understand how to use them properly.

In two short months Jesse had gained 22lbs. Not once did he go to the doctor to check his heart or liver enzymes. His testosterone levels were 3 to 4 times higher than normal, his back broke out in acne, and he felt depressed and angry. For several years thereafter, Jesse avoided steroids and got bigger naturally.

Now, two years post Jesse’s hospitalization, he recovered fully. The experience was life changing, yet understands his story will not likely motivate others to stop using steroids. Jesse believes those using steroids “need to educate themselves, find a doctor you can be honest with, and a trainer to provide additional information.” He adds, “One cycle may help you surpass a plateau, but many people don’t have the self-control nor discipline just to do one cycle. They see the immediate results and want to get even bigger.”

Jesse Jordan
Jesse Jordan

Jesse is not an anomaly: 29% of gay men have admitted using steroids. 

I too have felt pressure to look more muscular. I recall anxiously walking into my first gay club with my fake ID and couldn’t believe this many gay men existed, yet alone were in one club! Immediately, I felt self-conscious, as I was not nearly as muscular as the shirtless men dancing. Sure, I had a little muscle on my swimmers body, but I felt skinny compared to all the other men around me. I left the club and thought I needed to get bigger.

I started to lift harder and increased my protein intake. I got bigger and men who didn’t look at me before started to notice me. My self-esteem also got a boost, which is not surprising considering being called a ‘faggot’ in 6th grade. That early rejection drove a need to feel accepted. This newfound validation from my gay peers was a key motivator to continue building my body.

Once I turned 40, I noticed I plateaued. I was working out harder with the same results. I thought, why not try steroids? I knew the health risks, but did not think a cycle or two would be detrimental. I was wrong: My liver enzymes shot through the roof.

This scared me and I thought: When is enough, enough? Upon reflection, my motivation behind developing the muscular armor helped protect the boy that deep down, still hurt from anti-gay comments. Early rejection and not being able to be my true self created this need for acceptance. I finally attained that validation, while at the same time showed everyone that little boy no longer existed.

After years working on my physical body, why not devote as much time to developing my other muscle: the one that will increase my mental and emotional intelligence?

I am very self critical; therefore, I embarked on a journey to cultivate more self-compassion. I have focused on being more open, authentic, vulnerable, and learned to nurture my inner soul. Sharing my story here is a part of that. This is hard work, but ultimately, very rewarding.

I still struggle as I see photos of men with flawless bodies posted across social media. These are the often unspoken high standards we as a community create for ourselves. But I realize it’s about balance. I must look inward and love myself for who I am.

Jesse Jordan also came to the same conclusion; he needed to work on self-compassion. He realized he was irresponsible, uneducated and afraid to ask for help. This was about his ego and comparing himself to others.

With one in three men gay men use steroids, our community needs to look past our physical bodies and work on self-compassion. The more compassion and love we have with ourselves, the more love we will be able to harness within our community.