I’ve known Zander, a 26-year-old software designer in San Francisco, for more than three years. He and I would exchange messages on Twitter and Gchat about steroids, a subject I’ve covered extensively for MEL and many other publications. Like mine, Zander’s interest in the subject was partly academic, since he was fascinated by how steroids could help users express the strength and masculinity of their inner selves.
Of course, Zander was also interested in using steroids himself, researching a proper dosing schedule that would give him rapid but sustainable results. He’d already invested in high-level powerlifting coaching and developed good form on his lifts, but wanted to take the next step. And that next step amounted to a considerable leap: In a single year, he managed to far surpass my all-time best competitive showing on the back squat and equal my competitive deadlift. (This year, he’ll likely pass me in all the “big three” categories, including the bench press.) He truly became larger than life, packing on the sort of mass most hardgainers only dream of.
There’s more, however, to Zander’s story than weight gained and weights lifted. Zander, who is open with friends and acquaintances about using steroids, is also openly gay. More than that, he is open about his erotic interest in large, powerful bodies, even as he understands the contested theoretical space occupied by such bodies. He assures me his journey, which he documents below, will continue until he reaches his destination.
But where, pray tell, is that? My father, himself an enormous man, used to tell me that the goal of training was to grow so large that others would “hear you coming long before they see you.” Perhaps Zander will stop gaining when he arrives at such a point, but even that seems unlikely.
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I was really bad at sports as a child. It might have been a cultural thing in the U.K., or I got unlucky with my schools — but I basically just wasn’t exposed to any form of resistance training. The divorce of my parents at age 11 also precipitated a rapid fat gain for me — by 15 years old I was clocking in at over 280 pounds. Since the only sports on my school’s curriculum were long-distance running and soccer, I assumed I’d never be able to call myself an “athlete.” I was resigned to inhabiting a body I felt ashamed to call my own. Being the only gay kid in my school, growing up in a house with three women and having an absentee father, my grasp on masculinity was tenuous at best.
I moved to London at 17 years old, becoming an adult in the eyes of the law just as Grindr was hitting its stride as a global phenomenon. I’d led an asexual, aromantic adolescence up until this point, and I was suddenly thrust into the meat market of a cosmopolitan city as a young gay man. It’s impossible to escape the normative social influence of “what your body should look like” in such conditions, and the body I possessed wasn’t faring well. Thus began a long relationship with diet and exercise, between hiring personal trainers at $100 an hour, doing intermittent fasting, going keto, going paleo and whatever else promised me fat loss and muscle gain.
Over the following few years, into my early 20s, I hit a stride at the gym and started packing on some actual muscle under the loose skin and fat I still carried. I could throw up a double bicep pose, take a selfie and that selfie could score me some dick. That’s basically what building muscle was about for me. I learned I didn’t really care about being “ripped” — even if I carried some fat, as long as I had enough muscle under it, I could attract the kind of men I wanted. Nevertheless, the beauty standards of the wider gay male community still permeated, and I never felt entirely secure in the body I was in. The “former fat kid” syndrome is strong, and it takes more than a little benching and squatting to cure it.
My research into steroids predated my first cycle by about six months. I’d been with a guy for a few years, and we’d both been lifting for as long as we were together, albeit with different programs. A critical mass of our gay friends used steroids, and my penchant for biochemistry led me to delve into it. Manuals like Duchaine’s Underground Steroid Handbook and William Llewellyn’s Anabolics, Chris Bell’s documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster* and the wiki of Reddit’s steroids subcommunity all served as scientific, anecdotal and sociological reference points for me. I was intent on doing it right: There were too many cautionary tales of guys fucking up one key aspect and ruining their natural testosterone production, getting bacne, crashing their libido or getting infections from toxic gear.
I approached my partner with a full proposal for a first cycle: 500 milligrams testosterone cypionate per week, lasting 12 weeks, with 250 milligrams injected on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, using 1-inch 18-gauge needles to draw and 1-inch 25-gauge needles to inject. Aromasin would keep our estrogen in check, and we’d get blood tests before, during and after to verify that the AI (aromatase inhibitor) dose was “dialed in” correctly. We’d run HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) for the last four weeks of the cycle, and then transition to a four-week course of tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug, to restart our natural testosterone production. The gear itself was diverted pharmaceutical grade, sourced from a domestic website, and paid for with cryptocurrency. Needles and injection supplies came from an online medical supply store, and AI and other post-cycle therapy drugs were ordered from a mail-order Indian pharmacy, of the kind that people who don’t know how to talk to their doctors get discount Cialis from.
I thought I was going to get a libido boost and a little edge in the gym. What I got was a gender-affirming experience. The masculinity that had always seemed out of reach — the kind that I didn’t even recognize as a child, that was demanded of me as a gay adult — was now literally oozing out of my pores. Adding 150 pounds to my squat in eight weeks was a side-effect; the real drug was walking down the street and turning the heads of gay men, straight men and straight women alike. My boyfriend and I were having better and more frequent sex than at the beginning of our relationship.
Aside from those benefits, many things stayed the same. I stuck to the same powerlifting-based program, albeit I was able to add more weight to the bar between sessions. My hunger was through the roof, but so was my metabolism (which I’d measured). I had DEXA scans before and after, as the informed millennial steroid user does, and found I kept my body fat percentage constant and just added 30 pounds of pure muscle.
Socially speaking, it’s something I disclose to all of my friends. Gay people are especially understanding, since so many of them do it. I’m generally just not friends with people who couldn’t handle that kind of information. My family is another question, since I know they’d judge me massively, but due to their judgment of so many of my life choices I’m moderately estranged from them anyway. I’m careful with what I say online on social media, just due to legality and my immigration status, but I think the world would be a better place if those of us who do juice could be forward about it — it would certainly save a lot of young people (like 20-year-old me) the body dysmorphia associated with thinking that certain physiques can be obtained naturally.
When a stranger at the gym asks me about drugs and exercise, I try to be as transparent and open as possible. I think about how 19-year-old me would look at people who look like I do now, or particular guys who are way more ripped than I am now, and think I just wasn’t trying hard enough.
The gay world has a long and storied history with steroids. But fundamentally, for men who are interested in men, a “masculine” look will always be attractive. The interesting dynamic here is that gay men have no drive to preserve fertility — something which is threatened by prolonged steroid use — or to temper their pursuit of an attractive body due to family life at a certain age. There are gay men in their 50s who look more muscular than the average straight male 25-year-old, because they have the time to work out several times per week, and the funds to supplement and eat to support that body. Furthermore, where being gay meant we missed out on a full adolescent experience the first time around, supplemental testosterone gives us the chance to relive the exciting, Dionysian years of puberty, except with disposable income and full legal independence.
In terms of my relation to the wider community, having a roided-out body has absolutely given me a level of attention, validation and permission to express my sexuality heretofore denied to me. Maybe it was all in my head, but until I did my first cycle I was totally uncomfortable posting a shirtless picture online, or even using one in an online dating profile. I still haven’t figured out if steroids just gave me the confidence to wear my body unapologetically, or if they genuinely changed it so much that I’m proud of it, where I wasn’t before. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. A lot of people who base their friendship on attractiveness have given me a second look since I started juicing, and I get invited to more social events. So far I’ve done a good job of not getting too close to the kind of people who only give me the time of day now that they think of me as sexually viable.
I don’t regret my use at all, and think waiting until I turned 25 was actually perfect. I waited until I had great form and a good base of strength on my “big three” lifts [the back squat, deadlift and bench press], and let my personal biochemistry settle down, as it does in one’s mid-20s, before proceeding to mess with it. I intend to continue using steroids for the rest of my life, pretty much. I’ve done the personal calculus, and decided I’d rather die before I can draw down on my 401(k) but have this intensified experience in the years I do have left, than live until 80 as a skinny-fat “natty DYEL.”
To talk on the programmatic use: I wouldn’t be using steroids if I didn’t have some form of body dysmorphia. But I’ve used them in conjunction with a powerlifting program, and have actually competed on cycle too. I’ve had fantastic visual gains from this, but what’s really fun is reframing my relationship with my body from one of “what does it look like?” to “what can it do?” We all have days when we wake up, look in the mirror, and think we look like shit. But knowing that there’s a much more consistent and objective metric, whereby I can stand above a bar loaded with 600-plus pound and deadlift it, acts as an insurance policy on my self-esteem. I’ve tried to get a lot of my gay friends into this sport too, for that reason.
In addition, the level of performance that steroids have unlocked has granted me access to a certain legitimacy amongst online powerlifters, mostly on Instagram. I’m still by no means “elite,” but being able to show off a squat over 550 pounds means I can DM some of them and they’ll actually respond. This is an odd sport, full of casual homophobia and misogyny, and it’s still relatively new to me as a community, but it’s fun to know that people in it see me as a real competitor.
We’re in an era now where trans-ness is celebrated. The terminology is that you were “assigned X at birth” but “identify as Y” — and it’s accepted that it’s your right to use medical science to bring your external and internal physiology in line with your true identity. I sometimes see the use of steroids by men as like, being assigned male at birth, but identifying as even more male than your natural physiology would allow. I feel the “enlightened” neoliberal world order we inhabit right now has accepted trans-ness insofar as someone is moving from one side of the rigid gender binary to the other. But intersex and non-binary people still face significant hurdles in recognition. And I see it as a similar problem, that it’s not considered “fair” to allow men to take their masculinity to the next level, using the exact same hormones (just in higher doses) that preserve masculinity in hypogonadal men, or allow biologically female people to masculinize. However, in drawing this comparison, I don’t wish to compare the oppression that trans/non-binary/intersex people go through to whatever roided-out men go through. In fact, such men probably get treated better, on balance, than anyone else.
Nevertheless, I spend a lot of time wondering what it is about these other places on the gender spectrum, both in between the male/female binary and to the far end of the “male” side, that society finds so threatening. In a world in which we were truly free to express our gender identity, would you be able to get prescribed supraphysiological doses of testosterone to fix the persistent feeling that you were not manly enough? Would you experience a social and physical “transition,” when your steroid-mediated transformation was no longer passable with an excuse like, “oh, I fixed up my diet and started working out?”
I myself have had to explain in hushed tones, or vaguely dismiss (depending on the asker), questions about the filling out of my facial hair, the suddenly-increased thickness of my shoulders, legs, chest and arms, and even a change in face shape — that I myself only noticed thanks to Facebook’s surfacing of a year-old selfie. In a life in which I don’t hesitate to reveal my sexual orientation, it feels that I must still consider how close I am to someone, and how likely I am to be judged, in revealing how I arrived at my current gender presentation.