Writer and Director: Connor O’Donoghue
Growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian community is never easy, no matter how many tales we’ve heard. For writer-performer Connor O’Donoghue, the struggles of growing up within a strict Catholic family in Cork were compounded by his weight. If there’s one thing straights and gays have in common, it’s a tendency to fat shame.
As a result, O’Donoghue tells us in this hour of personal reflection, he struggled with his self-image for many years. Thankfully, O’Donoghue has learned to be brutally frank and open now, so his recounting of what he went through is as honest as it is revealing (and, often, highly sexually graphic).
O’Donoghue structures his memoir into separate chapters, alternating stories from various periods of his life told from atop a stool to, standing, more poetic constructions or other forms of storytelling. If this structure does sometimes hamper the sense of the flow of O’Donoghue’s changing relationship with his body, it does at least ensure a variety of pace which maintains the interest.
From telling how, as a PhD student in Dublin, he ended up sharing a flat with thirteen 18-year-old undergraduate boys and was surprised by their immediate and unflinching acceptance, to exploring his experiences with “chubby chasers” (men who get a particular sexual thrill from relationships with larger men), O’Donoghue is unflinching about how his mental health was affected by attitudes toward him and his weight. His story about his arrival in London and frequent sexual encounters shows a man finally accepting that he can be attractive to others, if only by choosing to overlook that he was being objectified and dehumanised.
A segment about the stomach reduction surgery he had – which took him from 28 stone to 14 stone – is presented as a Q&A with O’Donoghue both as interrogator and subject. If the presentational style doesn’t quite work, the topic is enough to maintain interest. In particular, the contrast between his previous resentment about being told to lose weight and his realisation that his health did, in fact, improve, as he had been told it would, is nicely played.
Throughout, there is a constant presence of unhealthy relationships with food, and eating disorders. But stronger than that is a portrait of a man who is finally happy in his own skin. Also, there is the unspoken sense that the thin people – the ones whose unconscious (more often, conscious) bias against fat people has plagued him all his life – have a much more unhealthy attitude toward body shape than he does.
And that is a message that the gay male community, in particular, could do with hearing a lot more often.
Continues until 14 January 2023