“I was a depressed and obese teen,” confesses Mr Gay World 2013, Chris Olwage of New Zealand.
Olwage spoke with Xtra just moments after winning the coveted cup at the competition in Antwerp, Belgium, on Aug 4.
Olwage’s soft-spoken demeanour contrasts with his hard-bodied exterior, which was enticingly on display in the national costume round. He wore (barely) an outfit that screamed Maui-birdman-meets-warrior-god. “I’m known for doing Black Swan back home,” he says.
But he wasn’t always so confident, or so built. “In my early teens, I would comfort eat . . . It was a cycle. I didn’t have the most pleasant childhood. I come from a very zealous evangelical Christian upbringing.”
In his darkest moment in his teens, Olwage says, he “swallowed some hard medication and walked away from school camp, with the full intention of not waking up.” But it came to him that “people have stories way worse than my own, and I made a decision to not be a victim and to be my own protagonist, and I brought up those pills.”
He says he pretended to be what he needed to pretend to be, until he got older and didn’t have to pretend anymore.
Now, as Mr Gay World, the 27-year-old fitness trainer hopes to support gay youth by collaborating with a youth helpline in his home of Auckland. “It does get better,” he says.
And although Mr Gay Canada did not make it into the top 10, the feel-good title of Mr Congeniality went to Canadian Danny Papadatos, of Saskatoon.
“If Sandra Bullock can do Miss Congeniality twice, I”m happy to do it once,” he says, laughing, while holding up a colourful bouquet. “I earned these flowers!”
Although disappointed not to take the grand sash, in the moments immediately after the contest, he confesses that, mostly, “I’m thinking about the amount of carbs I’m going to take in.”
So what earned him the winning votes from his fellow contestants?
“I was the mom. I made sure everyone was on time and knew their dance steps, and I think that’s truly Canadian, and I got to bring that spirit of Canada to the group.”
As for where he goes from here, it’s not over: “I still represent Canada until January.” He’ll also be starting a new local radio show in Saskatoon and hopes to inspire a younger generation of gays.
“I was a chubby Greek kid growing up in Saskatoon, and now I’m in Antwerp representing Canada for LGBT rights. That’s scrapbooking material!”