Sunday, December 27, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year



From our house to yours, 

we wish you a very Merry Christmas 

and a happy, healthy, and 

prosperous 2016.

May your lives be filled

with abundance, and 

your hearts with gratitude.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Letter to my Gay Teenage Self

If you could write a letter to your gay teenage self, what would it say?

(From out.com.)

This is the genesis of this post.  But I feel I need to explain what I hope you'll take the time to read below, especially if you're young and wondering how you'll ever get through the probability you're gay.

Nearly two years ago, I read The Letter Q, and it moved me deeply.  The honesty with which well-known gay writers wrote to, in some cases, their much younger selves floored me.  The promise they gave their younger selves, that they'd grow out of the misery they were going through–and, most importantly, wouldn't take their own lives, and stick around, and see what the future held for them–made me think about my own situation.  I found myself back in the same mindset I was back in the 1970s, when life couldn't have looked any worse.  And yet, somehow, I made it through, and I felt, like the writers in The Letter Q did, that I owed that young man I was a glimpse of what his future would look like.

Just hang in there, was the message.  It really does get better.

And so, as I sat on the bus in February 2014, on my way to the Interior of B. C., to attend the memorial of my beloved maternal grandmother, I took out my iPad, and, in one hell of a blizzard through the mountains–when I didn't know if we'd survive the trip–I wrote a letter to my younger self.  This is that letter.

Why did I take so long to share it with you?  Because I'd forgotten about it.  Until I bought a new iPad, and the one I used then went to my partner.  Today, as I deleted all the documents I'd written on it, I found the letter below.  And I thought there was something in it that just might help someone today, facing some of the same things I did decades ago.

You're not as old as I am now; you don't have the perspective on your life that I do on mine. That's why I hope you'll read this, and see for yourself how much I would have missed if I'd taken my life, if I hadn't somehow found the courage to stick around.  

***

Dear Ricky,

I know at your age how much you hate that name, the one your parents didn't think far enough ahead when they gave it to you to know how it would embarrass you.  Even to the point of using it as a subject in one of twelve writing assignments Mrs. Cassidy gave you in her grade twelve creative writing class.  I still remember the title of the essay:  "Why I Hate My First Name," or something like that.  Poor Mrs. Cassidy.  Not only did she have to waste her precious time reading your tirade, but also she had to sit down with you, one-on-one, and review what you wrote in detail, prose and content.  She must have thought you were a real tool.  What the hell?  Why does this guy hate his first name?  Who hates his first name?

Eventually, when you get much older, you'll tell people your parents must have named you after the famous '50s singer Ricky Nelson, who was one cute guy and made a whole successful career, in part, calling himself that.  But, to this day, you don't know if that's really true.  It just sounds good.  Still, there must be something to it, considering how many Rickys you grew up with.  Did they all hate their names as much as you did?  Probably not.  To my knowledge, none of them was gay, which was the real reason why you hated your name so much–because you thought it pointed yet another finger at you being gay.  

Although there was Ricky Jackson at Dr. Knox Junior Senior Secondary.  Remember the day you walked home in the freshly fallen snow after school, and you realized someone was throwing snowballs at you from behind?  When you turned around, you saw it was Ricky Jackson, who, as it turned out, was as inept as you in PE class, but who was also kind of cute, in his own sort of geeky way.  And, admit it, you were interested in him, at least as a friend. But you didn't dare let him know, and you certainly didn't throw snowballs back at him.  To this day, you think he was just trying to get your attention, because he knew you were a lot alike, and he wanted to get to know you.  But you didn't know that for sure.  If you had chucked a snowball at him, who knows where you'd be today.  He might have even turned out to be your life partner.  But that wasn't meant to be.    

So back to your name.  

It really symbolized everything you thought was wrong with you, didn't it?  Or, I should say, everything you thought other people thought was wrong with you.  It sounded so effeminate, which was one of the points you made in Mrs. Cassidy's writing assignment.  Your argument was that, no matter how the name Ricky was spoken, it would never sound masculine, which is exactly what you wanted your name to be, as though a more masculine sounding name might wipe out everything about you that you knew was anything but masculine.  Slim chance of that, huh?  Many decades later, when you're me at my age, you'll realize what a silly notion that was.  How you were just grasping for salvation.  Even if your parents, who had no foresight, had called you Butch, or Bruno, or Bruce, you still wouldn't have been any less effeminate.  You might have stood out even more than you already did–an effeminate boy with a masculine name.  The laughing might have been even louder.

It will take you a lot of years to overcome the hatred of your name.  At first, hatred will turn to denial.  You'll insist on calling yourself Rick, one of those butch names that still doesn't make you butch, and everyone will come to know you as that.  But it still won't make things any easier.  You'll still wish you had another name altogether.  (Christopher was always one of your favorites.  You could see yourself being called that.  But not Chris, because Chris has a female equivalent–Christine.  And if people caught on to that, you'd still be in the same place.). 

The problem is, when you had to show someone your driver's license or birth certificate, there it was, big and bold as ever:  Ricky.  A constant reminder.  There was really no way to get around it.  (And you'll find this again, in your mid-50s–yes, you’ll be that old one day, and you'll wonder how that was even possible–when your financial advisor tells you that all your bank records, in the name of Rick for decades, while you worked for a bank (yes, you thought you'd be an English teacher or a writer, but that didn't happen...well, we'll get to that) have to be re-registered in your birth name for security reasons.  By then, you'll balk, and you'll ask your advisor about it–you’ll even blame her for it, thinking she has something against you (there goes that paranoia again)–but, mostly, you'll just forget about it, because what can you do?  And who really cares?  Everyone still knows you as Rick, a name you're still ill at ease with, and that will be good enough.  Yes, believe it or not, it really will be.  By your mid-50s, you'll give up the conflict around your name, because who the fuck really cares what you're called?  You'll have separated your name from what you are, which brings us to our next subject.)

Did you know your hatred of your name was really your hatred of yourself?  Yup.  You had a lot of hate in you, for things that were way beyond your control.  Like all the kids at school who teased you.  Like your PE teachers for embarrassing you by assuming you were good at sports, let alone liked them (and for telling the class they were playing murder ball, then leaving for the staff room to smoke–Julian Neal, I'm talking to you–giving all the boys the chance to murder who they really wanted to die: David, the fat, awkward boy, and you, the faggot).  

For years after graduating from high school, you hated yourself, because you weren't what other people expected (like your parents), and you weren't what you expected of yourself.  But you had no idea it was self-loathing.  And you had no idea what the source of it was.  You'd been filled with self-loathing for so long, you didn't know anything else.  It's just the way you were.  And you went on your way loathing yourself, until probably sometime in your early- to mid-thirties, when you got just the faintest inkling of what you were doing.  That's when the real work started.  That's when, day by day, you learned there was a whole other way of being you in the world, and it had nothing to do with apologizing for what you are, for being attracted to other men, for even wanting to love another man and be his partner.  Yup.  Your thirties and early forties were an amazing time, and a pivotal one too.  You won't believe how far you'll come.   

Today, at fifty-four, you are finally a writer, and you're not ashamed to say that to people, because you're putting in the work (and it's enormously hard, but satisfying, work).  You know how you were able to get there?  Because a miracle happened.  You met an incredible man when you were thirty two, and he was twenty-three–a boy in some respects, but very much a man in others.  And you went through a very rough first ten years or so, when he wouldn't tell you that he loved you–words you were desperate to hear because no one else had ever said them to you–but who showed you he did in every single thing he did.  You just didn't recognize it as love.  And in 2007–yes, you and this fellow were together then, as you remain today–you were able to leave your job of nearly thirty years with a bank, because of some great real estate decisions you made (and the crazy real estate market in the Lower Mainland and Victoria–yes, you live in Victoria, one of your favorite cities in the world, for nearly a decade) and focus on your writing career.  Your partner said it was your turn to pursue your dream of being a writer, and he supports the two of you so you can do that.  Now, if that isn't love, I don't know what is.

You write three things:  a daily journal, which you'll read countless times over the years is a necessity for anyone who wants to be a writer.  You've kept your journal, at an average of just one 8.5 x 11 piece of paper per day, since late 1993, filling over fifty volumes (where in the hell are you going to put them all?), and you eagerly tell anyone who listens that it's one of the best things you've ever done.  It is.  You and your journal have made you a stronger, more disciplined writer, and have gotten you through some tough stuff, like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.  You might not still be here if you hadn't kept a journal.  Never stop writing it, okay?  

You also write a blog–something the world knows nothing about at your age (hell, the world knows nothing about computers at your age, either, or the Internet, but both will revolutionize life on earth, trust me).  A blog is like an online journal, and you won't believe what the subject of your blog is: building self-esteem in gay and lesbian people.  Who'd have thought a young, gay kid, consumed with self-loathing, would learn to love himself enough that he could write about it and help, as it turns out, young gay and lesbian people from around the world.  This will be one of the most fulfilling things you'll ever do.  And, every time you hear from someone in Estonia, Indonesia, Brazil, Iran, England, Canada, and the United States, to name a few, you will love that you went through all the pain over the years, so you could help other human beings in one of the most fulfilling ways possible–to love themselves, and to get on with the business of living their best lives.  It's a privilege to do this, not one you take for granted.

And, finally, you're going to write a novel, something you've wanted to do for perhaps your entire life.  It will be one of the most difficult things you've ever done.  And, just when you think you might have an inkling of what you're doing, you'll discover you don't.  Writing a novel will help to teach you what you most need to learn–patience–something your partner has an abundance of and who inspires you with it every single day.    

And what is your novel about?  It's about a period of your life, just after you moved to Vancouver, and met, through an ad in the newspaper, one of the most colorful, amazing, funny, trustworthy, and tragic people you'll ever know.  You will essentially write about yourself, as the protagonist, through the filter of your good friend.  And, in the process, you'll hope to pick up the theme of your blog and help gay and lesbian people, who need help learning to understand, accept, and love themselves.

And, finally, you'll never guess what your partner’s name is.  I'll tell you.  It's Christopher.  Chris for short.  He will be the love of your life.  Your one and only.  And, in typical fashion, you'll think nearly every day about what would happen if you ever lost him–a possibility you can't even fathom.  It would be the greatest loss of your life, from which you might never recover.

But let's not think about that, okay?  Right now, everything is as good as it's ever been.  You have so much ahead of you, so many amazing and incredible things.  

You're suffering big time now, and you wonder if you'll ever get through it. But I promise, you will.  

And one final message.  You are special.  You are special beyond words.  You can't imagine that now, but you will, eventually.  Believe me when I tell you.  Believe it for me, okay?  

In the end, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.  In fact, in 2005, Canada will make gay marriage legal.  Incredible, huh?  Who would have thought?  It's pretty special to be a gay man now.  You have a lot of crap to go through between then and now, but all of it will lead to something  It really will.  You will not be who you are in 2014–doesn’t that sound futuristic?–if you don’t go through what you are now.  Everything happens for a reason. Something else to believe.   

I love you, Ricky.  I really do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review: "All Out: A Father and Son Confront the Hard Truths That Made Them Better Men"

Lately, any books I've read with a gay theme, that I want to make you aware of, I've written about on the "This Gay Relationship" Facebook page.  But this book is so noteworthy, that I want to tell you about it right here.

All Out is by Kevin Newman and Alex Newman, father and son.  Canadians will know Kevin from the work he's done on various TV programs, such as "Global National" and "W5."  Americans will know him as the one-time host of "Good Morning America."  Kevin's been both a news journalist, travelling to some of the riskiest, war-torn areas of the world, and a TV anchor and interviewer.  In other words, he's credible and respectable.  (And, if this matters, he's also very attractive and well-built.)

When I first heard about All Out, I knew I had to read it.  I knew I had to read it for several reasons:

1).  Because it had a gay man in it, Kevin's son, Alex;
2).  Because it was a memoir of sorts for Kevin, whose career had fascinated me, and who I'd hoped would come clean, so to speak, about what had happened to him in his various roles, particularly on "Good Morning America"; and
3).  Because it was about a father and son relationship.

I'm going to back up here and say that, for those readers who know nothing about the relationship I had with my father–I've written about it here in detail, but not in some time–well, I didn't really have a relationship with my father.  He earned the income that kept our household running.  He drank a lot.  He spent a lot of time away from home, partly because of work and partly because he drank a lot.  He and my mother never seemed particularly close.  When he was home, my younger sister and I were more or less a nuisance to him.  He paid little attention to us, and, when he did, it was usually to yell, because we were doing something that prevented him from hearing the TV.  Or, worse, to hit.  He never showed me that he loved me, in a way that I recognized as love.  In fact, I went through my entire life believing he didn't love me at all, that he'd wished I wasn't born.

My father passed away in January 2013.  For about two years prior, I'd carried on a sometime email relationship with him, after not talking to or seeing him for well over a decade.  I'd hoped rekindling our relationship, such as it was, would give him the opportunity, as he grew older and more infirm, to connect with me in a way he never had.  But that didn't happen. He remained indifferent toward me to the very end.  I didn't mourn his death, and I don't miss him.  The way I look at it, you can't miss what you never had.

Back to All Out.

What I wanted from this book was to be taken into Kevin and Alex's father/son relationship–to see how it worked, what they'd had before Alex came out in 2004, at the age of seventeen, and what they had afterward.  Perhaps, on some level, I hoped to feel re-parented by Kevin, accepted by him, even though I'm gay, and even though Kevin and I are the same age.  I hoped to see what a strong relationship between a father and son looked like, because I'd never had one, and because, I guess, I still need one.

What I got was so much more.

All Out would not have succeeded if Kevin and Alex hadn't come completely clean about the nature of their relationship.  It would have been nothing more than another memoir, albeit it one about a father and son, with no teeth and nothing much to offer.  In other words, a waste of the reader's time.

But it's nothing like that.  Come clean Kevin and Alex did.  And I commend them for that, for the depth of their openness and honesty.  To use an expression common today, they "went all the way there," revealing deeply personal aspects of their individual lives, and their lives together as father and son.

I related to so many aspects of Alex's life–the fear he felt knowing he was different, facing that, wondering how he would come out to this family, and how they'd feel about him afterward.  The details of Alex's life were different from mine, but, in many respects, he wrote my story, and he did a beautiful job of it.  If you're a young person, and you need your feelings about being gay validated, Alex's story will do that for you.  

And Kevin…well, Kevin literally blew me away.  His chapters, taking him all the way from thinking he was perfectly fine having a gay son (when he wasn't), to dancing at Vancouver Pride, shirtless (because it was a hot day), with other gay men, even though his son wasn't there, are eyeopening, and revelatory, and satisfying in a way few books are.

In short, I came away from All Out with profound respect for Kevin and Alex Newman, what they did with this important and worthwhile book, and with the resolve to bring it to your attention, and to recommend it as heartily as possible.  

Please read All Out.  It's worth your time.  I guarantee it.

*

This is Kevin's interview with Scott Heggart*.

          

*Scott is right.  The reason why he wasn't bullied, in comparison to the other Canadian young man, who ended up taking his life, was because Scott was respected for his sporting ability, and because Scott didn't come across as gay in an obvious way.

We have to change this.  As a society, we need to recognize there are many different ways of being gay, none better or worse than any other.  We have to let people be who they are, and accept them for who they are.  Until we get there…                      

My Best Life Advice

As I wrote in a post earlier today, most of the emails I receive are from young people.

Recently, I heard from a couple young people who asked for what I would call “life advice”–that is, advice not necessarily related to being gay, at least not directly.      

After giving their requests some thought, I realized I’m now old enough to be, in most cases, a parent to these young people. And maybe they don’t have the type of relationships with their parents where they feel comfortable asking them what they asked me.  Or maybe they don’t even have parents to ask.    

So, it's in the spirit of being helpful that I offer my best life advice–twelve points that have taken me fifty-six years to learn.  I only wish I’d learned them much sooner.  For the most part, I ignored them, because I didn't think they applied to me, or I'd have time later on to pay attention to them.  Later on is right now.          

Here are the goods, then.  If you’re serious about learning these, and making them a part of your life, I guarantee they’ll make a difference.  On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’ll wait until you’re much older.  Then you’ll realize that Rick, from “This Gay Relationship,” may have known what he was talking about, after all.  

Take them or leave them.  The choice is yours.  

1).  Recognize your self-worth.  It all starts with this one.  If you don’t get it, then you probably won’t get any of the others, either.  And, if you don’t value yourself the way you should, there's no time like right now to start working on that.  Do whatever is necessary to know and accept how valuable you are, just by being here.  After all, there is no one like you on earth, and you are here to do something no one else can.  Recognize your self-worth, and finally get on with the business of being you.  

2).  Eat properly.  I look at it this way.  Your body is a bank account.  Everything you put into it, or do to it, that’s good and healthy is a deposit (deposits are good); everything you put into it, or do to it, that isn't good and healthy is a withdrawal (think of withdrawals as bad).  If you eat nothing but greasy fast food, never exercise, smoke, drink excessively, take drugs, etc., you’re constantly withdrawing from your account.  Eventually, there won’t be anything to withdraw from.  Then what'll happen?  You better believe everything you do to yourself, good or bad, makes a difference.  When you get older, the reality of that really hits you in the head.  Why wait until you’re older to figure it out?

3).  Exercise regularly.  See #2). above.  Ideally, you should try to do some form of exercise (that is, get your heart rate up for an extended period) every day.  If everyday is too often, then three or four times a week, minimum.  Remember, exercise is a deposit, and deposits are good for you.  Put the phone down, get off the couch, and move.  The more you move, the better.

4).  Get adequate sleep.  I can’t stress how critical this is to good health.  There is no substitute for getting between seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.  Without it, your body cannot heal itself properly, and you won’t be able to function at your optimal level. I know what I’m talking about.  I suffered a period of insomnia a number of years ago and became a total mess. I never want to go through that again.  

5).  Believe in a higher power.  I don’t care who or what that higher power is–God, the universe, whatever.  Believe something is in control of everything that’s happening right now.  Have faith there’s a master plan, that your life is unfolding exactly as it should be (because it is).  Belief in a higher power will get you through the stuff of life, will help you believe what you’re going through, good or bad, is for a reason.  Learn from it.  When it passes (as all things do), you’ll be stronger than you are now.  And you’ll be in a better place to help someone going through the same thing.

6).  Practice mindfulness.  Live in the moment.  The bottom line is, you and I have this one moment only, right now.  So use it.  Get everything out of it that you possibly can. Stop obsessing about or regretting the past, and stop worrying about the future.  Believe you have only this moment, live like you do, and you’ll be so far ahead of the game.

7).  Create something.  The soul’s food is creativity.  It doesn’t matter what that creativity looks like–from coloring in one of those new adult coloring books, to writing poetry, to cooking, to whatever.  Creating not only feeds the soul, it says you were here, and your being here mattered.  Don’t deny your soul what it most needs to make you feel fully alive.  You know in your heart what you've always wanted to create.  Now, go do it.

8).  Be grateful.  I can’t overemphasis this.  When you’re grateful, you focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have.  And, believe me, you have a lot.  If you have food in your mouth, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head, you have more than many millions of people around the world do.  Gratitude is free (it's also freedom).  Gratitude is a way of life.  Gratitude tells you that you have enough.  Because you do.  Don’t underestimate the power of gratitude.  It’ll transform your life.

9).  Focus on the positive.  This one goes hand-in-hand with being grateful.  How easy it is to get caught up in the trap of negativity, to be brought down by the many minor inconveniences known as everyday life.  Resist that temptation.  Don’t let the negative get to you.  Don’t let negative people to get to you.  Don’t let any of it control you or how you feel. You’re much stronger than that.  

10).  Breathe.  If you are drawing breath right now, you have so much to be grateful for.  Sometimes, when things are really bad, all you can do is breathe.  Stop yourself.  Quiet down your body and mind.  Focus on your breathing.  Take a deep breath in through the nose, and let it out slowly through the mouth.  Do that several times, or as many times as necessary.  Release the stress.  Take back control.  Put your life back into perspective.  

11).  Be kind.  It’s so easy not to be kind, particularly in the cyber world, where some people, their identities unknown, criticize other people all the time–what they say, what they do, their creative efforts.  Practice the tried and true maxim:  “If you don't have anything kind to say, then don't say anything at all."  Look for opportunities to build people up, not to tear them down.  Don’t forget karma.  What you put out comes back to you, ten-fold.  Wouldn’t you rather have kind things come back to you?

12).  Share what you know.  We’re all in this together.  What did Charles Dickens say–all of us are fellow passengers, on our way to the grave?  Then, that being the case, we all have the chance to make each other’s journey a little more pleasant and enlightening and worthwhile by teaching what we learn.  Don’t hold back; give it away, readily and happily.  Someday, someone will do the same for you.                                            

Forty-Four and Stuck

Most of the emails I receive are from young people, usually in their early teens to late twenties.  The advice they seek ranges from, how do I come out to my parents to, how do I deal with my specific relationship issue.

But, this October, I received a couple of emails from a forty-four-year-old man, who I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.  I’ll call him John.  

In his first email, John said the following (note, all comments have been edited):      

I came across your blog about learning to love and accept yourself as a gay man.  Your writing gave me some hope.  I’m 44 and have been “out” for over ten years.  But loving myself, and accepting being gay, have been difficult, as much as I try to.  An inner anxiety always says there’s something wrong and shameful about who I am.  I want nothing more than to be at peace with myself.

After I responded to John’s email, I heard from him again.  Here, in part, is what he said:

Last night, I read all of the steps to loving yourself on your blog.  It helps to have some practical things to do.  I have been seeing a therapist for a year, and we have talked about some of the things in your blog.  Particularly, being mindful of thoughts, or mindfulness.  Observing thoughts and learning to recognize when my inner critic starts to antagonize myself.  I do feel I’m aware and more conscious of the negative thoughts and inner critic.  I try to use loving kindness mantras, such as “May I be safe.  May I be peaceful.  May I be kind to myself.  May I accept myself as I am.  May I accept my life as it is.”  Some days, I do better than others.  

Some specific thoughts that cause fear/anxiety/depression I feel are from my religious upbringing.  Such as, “Having sex with a man is a sin.  I am living outside God’s plan for my life.  I am abnormal.  I am not a real man if I am unable to love and cherish a woman.  I will never experience the love of a family and children.  My sexual desires and actions are a result of both psychological pathology and spiritual corruptness.”  There are more thoughts I fight, but those seem to be the biggest.

After leaving a Christian church about 10 years ago (because I was tired of fighting being gay and didn’t want to live a double life), I recently started going to an episcopal church.  The priest and I have met a few times for coffee, and he’s shown acceptance of me as being gay and doesn't feel it is wrong or sinful.  He said, ultimately, I have to find acceptance on my own, and believe that God loves and accepts me as a gay man.  I agree with him.  It is something that has to come from inside.  I just don’t know if I will ever be free from the anxiety and fear that is inside me.  It has affected my getting close to others, in relationships especially.  Because, if I cannot accept myself and love myself, how will I love another person the way they deserve to be loved?

I will read more of your posts on self-esteem tonight.  I don’t want to give up.

Whew!  That's a lot to take in.  

I didn’t say this to John, but his email got to me in a way most don’t.  It got to me because of how open and honest he was, laying out the details of his struggle, and, in the process, making me feel his pain.  The fact is, I could have been John, had I not made the decision, way back in January 1986, that I wasn’t going to live like John anymore.  

But I was twenty-six then, and John’s forty-four now.  FORTY-FOUR!  I couldn’t imagine sustaining the soul-crushing anxiety and fear and frustration I’d felt, trying to reconcile the sinful, repulsive person I was told I was, with the scared, innocent, and good person I knew I was, until I was forty-four.  I would have lost my mind, for sure.  

So I read John’s email many more times, and I gave it some thought over several days before I responded to him.  I want to share that with you now, in case, like John, you’re in the same place, and you don’t know how to get out of it.  

Here’s what I said:

You’re doing all the right things:
  1. You’ve seen a therapist to help you deal with some of the stuff in your life;
  2. You’re trying to be mindful, live more in the moment, be more conscious;
  3. You’re practicing “loving, kindness mantras.”  (Although may I suggest that rather than ask permission–“May I…”–that you tell yourself–“I am peaceful,” “I am kind to myself,” etc.  Feel the difference?)
  4. You’ve addressed the religion issue, as it relates to homosexuality, by leaving one church and joining another, where you feel more support; and
  5. You’ve spoken to your pastor, who’s given you meaningful and relevant advice.
In other words, you’re not sitting back, waiting for something magical to happen, so you can become the fully-realized gay man you know you could be.    

But something’s missing, isn’t it?  And while what’s missing maybe not be clear to you, it sure is to me.

You haven’t made the shift yet.  Let me rephrase that.  You haven’t given yourself permission to make the shift yet.  You’re so close–you can feel it–but you just can’t do it. 

The shift I’m talking about, of course, is the one in your head, where, finally, once and for all, you decide you are a wonderful human being, just as you are, and you don’t deserve to feel about yourself the way you do.  That you’re as entitled to love and to be loved, both by yourself and with someone else, as anyone who’s straight is.

John, it’s time.  Hell, it’s long past time.  You’re forty-four years old, for goodness sake.  How much longer do you want to go on like this?

Everything is helping you overcome your fear and anxiety about being gay, but you’re stuck.  Well, only you can unstick yourself.  ONLY YOU!  I can’t do it, although I’m giving it my best shot (in this email and in my blog).  At this point, the only way you’ll ever accept and love yourself is if you decide, from this moment onward, I will accept and love myself. Period.   

All that negativity I felt about myself in the past?  Gone.  I’m done with it.  It controlled my life, and my happiness, for far too long.  Now, today, this moment, I will believe not what people have told me about being gay–not what our culture or my religion has told me–but what I know to be true in my heart and soul:  I am a good person.  I deserve to accept and love myself.  I deserve so much more than what I am now.  

John, you have so much life left to live.  Live it as your authentic self, as the amazing, talented, wonderful man you are.  Live it from a place of inner peace, and acceptance, and love.        

I’m confident the five steps in my blog can at least start you on your journey.  The steps worked for me, and I know they will work for you.  But you need to commit to them, okay?  They are practical, simple, and do-able.  But they only work if you put them in place and keep doing them, day after day.

You owe this to yourself.  You owe this to the people in your life, who are waiting for you to be everything you were meant to be.  And you owe it to your future life partner, who’s waiting for you to embrace yourself fully, so you can embrace him fully too.

Do it, John.  DO IT!  Take the plunge.  It’ll be all right.  It really will.

*
If you're interested, the "Five Steps to Loving Yourself as a Gay Person" start here.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lonely Gay Couple

Three short blocks away from where Chris and I live lives another gay couple.  They've been there at least as long as we've been here (nearly six and a half years).  One is Filipino and I'm guessing in his early 40s; the other is Caucasian and I'm guessing in his late-40s or early 50s.

In six years, we've crossed paths with this couple and quickly said hellos.  They've always been cordial but aloof with us, and we've always been cordial but aloof with them.  We've never introduced ourselves–the opportunity's never come up, or we've never made the opportunity. 

And, honestly, I'd like nothing more than to meet them, or to have another gay couple as friends–to go out for dinner or see a movie with, or to go out to the local gelato shop for a treat on a hot summer evening.  It's just Chris and me now–mostly has been during the twenty-three years we've been together–and we could use some friends.  We really could.

The other night, I was reading through some of the search words readers have used to find my blog.  And no fewer than three out of ten were people who were older, in relationships, and wanting to meet other people like themselves.

Which made me realize Chris and I aren't alone (what a relief that was).  My experience has been that single gay men find it relatively easy to befriend each other, but gay couples don't find it easy to meet other gay couples, and I've wonder why that's the case.  I've wanted to write about this for years but didn't know what I'd say.  Perhaps, in the process of writing about it now, I'll figure it out. 

The truth is, if you're reading this, and you think I have answers as to how gay couples can meet each other for friendship, then I'm sorry to disappoint you.  If I had those answers, I'd have used them by now myself, and Chris and I would have a small but meaningful network of friends (because I don't believe in spreading myself too thin over lots and lots of friends, and I haven't had great experiences with friends in the past, which has made me leery about meeting new people).

As I write this, it occurs to me there are two types of loneliness.   

Of course, there's the loneliness you feel when you're single (which I'm still all too familiar with).  You may or may not have lots of friends, but, because you don't have that special someone in your life yet, you still feel lonely, like something's missing.  (Because I've been both single and coupled for long periods of time, I can tell you something is definitely missing when you're single–although many single people say they're happy to be single and wouldn't want it any other way.  I have my doubts.) 

And there's the loneliness you feel when you're coupled.  Just because you have that special someone in your life doesn't mean you don't feel the loneliness of not having friends outside of the relationship you can talk to and do things with, either singly or as a couple.

But therein lies the problem, at least for me.  Chris and I are secure in our relationship.  We've been together for a long time.  Perhaps one of the reasons why we've been so successful as a couple is because we haven't had the distractions of friends.  I suspect a good many relationships have failed because one or both people in the couple focused too much time and attention on their friends and not enough on each other.  I want to spend my time with Chris.  I want him to be my best friend, which he is.  It's just that I'd like our world to be a little broader than it is now, to include other people.

Why haven't either Chris or I introduced ourselves to the couple living a mere three blocks from us?  I can't answer for Chris, but I can for me.

Because I'm worried they already have full lives (as most people do), with a wide circle of friends, and don't have enough space to fit us in.

Because, even though they're another gay couple, Chris and I may have nothing in common with them (who wants our sexual orientation to be the only thing we have in common–that's not enough, at least for me, to sustain a friendship).

And because (I'm being honest here) I don't want, in any way, to jeopardize what I have with Chris.

I'm not saying the couple down the street have an open relationship–maybe they do, maybe they don't.  But, if they do, and one or the other takes a liking to either Chris or me–or by our interest in them as friends, they think we're open to playing around–things could get complicated.  And I don't want to shit in my own yard, so to speak.  Chris and I already had problems with a straight neighbor that caused a lot of grief, on both sides, and I don't want to go through that again.  I can't go through that again. 

So, for now, Chris and I remain a lonely gay couple, eager to meet other gay couples, but not sure how to go about it, and, if we're honest, not sure, in some respects, if we really want to. 

If we meet other gay couples, we want them to be the right ones.  By right ones, I mean people who like us, and who we like, as human beings (that is, have the same, or similar, values, etc.).  I mean people who support us and don't interfere, or try to tell us how to live our lives.  And I mean people who don't complicate what Chris and I have, because what we have is pretty terrific.

I guess that sums up where we're at now, and how I feel.  In writing this, I haven't come up with any answers to help us with our challenge.  If you've been in a similar situation, and you've figured out what to do, let me know.  I'm open to suggestions.          

Monday, August 10, 2015

Contrast

Chris and I live at the far end of Metro Vancouver.  So, about every six weeks or so, we make a point of going into the city, visiting some of our favorites areas (South Granville, Kitsilano, downtown), favorite shops (Pottery Barn, Chapters, Chintz & Co.), and favorite restaurants (Stephos, Cactus Club Cafe, Milestones).

One of our other favorite shops is The Cross Decor & Design.  Located in Yaletown, on the corner of Homer and Davie, The Cross is unique among home decorating stores.  It's stylish, for sure, but also relaxed and cozy.  It's also playful and whimsical.  The Cross is a fun place to visit any time we're on an adventure in the city.     

A gay man works at The Cross.  He's short, a little overweight, and bald.  If I had to guess, I'd say he's in his mid- to late-30s.  His salt-and-pepper beard is attractive, as is his warm and easy smile. 

What really sets him apart from many places where gay men work is his friendliness.  Not fake friendliness.  Not the kind of friendly he has to be, because he's the employee, and we're the customers.  No, genuine friendliness.  He makes me feel like I'm a long, lost friend.  He makes me feel like he cares about us.  He makes me feel good being in The Cross. 

Some time ago, this man introduced himself to me.  Chris was off doing his thing elsewhere in the store, and this man and I came into contact with each other.  He told me his name, but I'm ashamed to admit I'm not good with names, and I've since forgotten it.  Let's call him Brian–as good a name as any.

I happened to be talking with Brian while Chris walked up.  I introduced Chris to him.  Brian was equally friendly with Chris.  He had to have known Chris and I were a couple; he's seen us in there together before.  The three of us talked for a few minutes, minor stuff, connecting.  None of our conversation felt forced.  Brian's warmth came through.  He's a nice man.

Weeks later, when Chris and I returned to The Cross, I saw Brian again.  He made a point of talking to me.  Again, conversation was easy.  He was warm and friendly, like he'd been before.  When I told him I had to go, he said it was good to see me again.  I believed him.  It was good to see him again too.

Whenever I go into The Cross, I hope Brian will be there.  I hope I'll have the chance to talk to him.  He's one of the reasons why I like to go in to The Cross.   

*
Lately, I've found different places to work on my novel.  There's the Silent Study room at the local public library (where an old Asian gentleman peers at his computer screen through a tiny magnifying glass and slurps on his own saliva, which is very distracting).  There's the lobby at The ACT (Arts Club Theatre).  Sometimes, there's a local coffee shop.  And, about once a week, where I indulge in a grande Mocha Frappuccino nonfat no-whip, there's the Starbucks location closest to where Chris and I live.

A gay young man works at Starbucks.  He's short, sports a thick head of neatly-styled hair, and a thin beard.  If I had to guess, I'd say he's in his early-twenties.  He dresses in the latest fashion, wears glasses, and smiles quickly.  Then it's gone.  I'll call him Paul. 

Everything Paul does is quick.  He's like a whirling top around that coffee shop.  He's here, he's there, looking after this, then that, and that.  He's not shy.  He knows a lot of people, and he interacts with them without holding back.  In years past, he'd have been called a "going concern."  He makes things happen.  People seem to like him.

The first time he saw me, I was sitting at the table closest to the door.  He was just coming on to his shift.  He gave me a lingering look, the one gay men know as an acknowledgement of each other's sexual orientation.  No smile, no nothing.  Then he was gone.  He's avoided looking at me since.

One day, after I'd ordered my mocha frap, I stood in the area where people wait for their drinks.  Paul happened to be making the drinks then.  

In the past, when my drink's been handed to me, I've always gotten a smile from the Starbucks employee, and they've always made sure I had a straw to enjoy my drink with.  In other words, they've been friendly.  They've made an effort to be pleasant.  They've made me feel appreciated, like they were happy I came in that day.  

When Paul realized he was making my drink, he seemed to move even faster than usual.  Mocha frap in hand, he whipped it across the counter at me and blurted what it was.  No smile, no straw–no appreciation for coming in that day.  He couldn't have turned away from me fast enough to return to whatever else he had to do.

These past two weeks, Paul hasn't been working in that Starbucks location when I've been there.  The other employees, mostly young women, have been so nice to talk to, so friendly.  Especially the one usually taking the orders.  She's opened up to me, and we've chatted a bit.   

For me, at least, the atmosphere without Paul has been easier, more relaxed.  I feel comfortable when he's not around.  Maybe he's moved on to something else.  I hope.

Update as of August 12, 2015:

Nope.  Paul hasn't moved on to something else.  He was at work today, just as indifferent to me as before.  Oh, well…