Friday, July 31, 2009

Thanks for the Message, E. Lynn Harris

By way of explaining why my blog posts have been so negative recently, especially on the subject of being gay, I want to relate something that happened today. Nothing happens by accident.

When I was at the public library writing the previous post from today ("Who Wants to be Gay?), I saw a book by E. Lynn Harris on a display rack that said "Try Something Different." I recognized the name right away. E. Lynn Harris is a middle-aged, black, gay writer. I've read one of his books--I don't remember the title--and I didn't particularly like it. It was about gay characters, as all of his books are, but his style grates on my nerves. It seems too informal, to slapdash, even though I'm sure it's not. Let's just say none of Harris's books will ever be considered great literature.

That said, I picked up the book, leafed through it, and decided to take it out. Who knows? I might gain something, some knowledge about gay writing that will help me with my own writing in the future. It can't hurt, right?

Several hours later, I was at Chapters in Coquitlam, waiting for Chris to arrive on the West Coast Express so we could have dinner together. As usual, I found the latest issue of "Entertainment Weekly," and I scanned through the pages for stories or pieces of interest. I noticed on the pages detailing the people in the entertainment industry who passed away recently that E. Lynn Harris's picture was there. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Harris had passed away on Thursday, July 23, from heart failure. I was stunned.

I read the piece on Harris's death, and learned that he had spent much of his life despondent over being gay. That in the early 90s, he was suicidal. Only one thing pulled him out: he discovered writing.

In the final line of the piece, Harris was quoted as saying that before his writing, he was filled with self-hatred and doubt, but, after writing, he moved to a place of self-esteem and self-love.

I found this information tremendously helpful, especially after writing the piece on "Who Wants to be Gay?" I concluded that piece feeling negative, like I shouldn't think about being gay the way I do; like I'd put out information that I shouldn't have shared with anyone else; but also knowing that I was being completely true to what I thought at the time.

I see from what Harris said that he, in large part, felt as I do about being gay, and that the effect of being gay was difficult for him, leading him to self-loathing and self-doubt. I understand that completely. It turns out, I'm not alone. There are other gay people who have a tough time with who they are, even to the point of suicide.

I needed Harris's message today. I needed to see how difficult being gay was for him. I needed to read that his writing helped him through the darkest part of his life. I needed to know that writing could have that positive effect on someone else.

That's why I write too. That's why I'm as honest as I can be with what I write. That's why I may not always write things that other people want to know about me, or that they are comfortable reading. More than ever, my writing is about coming to terms with so many things in my life that I've felt over the years but never examined as fully as I should have. I see my writing as having the same potential for me as Harris's writing had for him--a lifeline to the other side of a better understanding of myself. And from a better understanding, I've seen through Harris's example comes acceptance and the possibility of loving oneself.

This is why I write. The things I write about are what I know I must explore now. I've taken nearly fifty years to deal with some of this stuff. Don't you think the time to do this is long overdue?

Who Wants to be Gay?

I don't believe gay men when they say they are proud to be gay and they wouldn't want to be straight. I suppose it's easy to make that claim when you're young, and having fun, and not inclined to give your life a second thought.

But when you grow older, and you start to look beyond the surface of your life, you realize what being gay really means to you, how deeply it's has affected your life, in ways you couldn't have imagined, and you can't help but be filled with an overwhelming sense of regret for what is and what will never be.

Not one part of a gay man's life isn't influenced in some way by his sexual orientation:

There's a good chance you're not close to your father because you're gay.
There's a good chance you have no close friendships with straight men because you're gay.
There's a good chance you have little aptitude for playing sports because you're gay.
There's a good chance you'll be alone for the rest of your life because you're gay.
There's a good chance you'll never truly love yourself because you're gay.
There's a good chance you'll never feel like a man because you're gay.
There's a good chance you'll never feel like you belong to your gender because you're gay.

Many years ago, I had a sense of some of these things, because I was unhappy and unsatisfied, and I didn't know why. They hovered in the back of my head, and they were always there, a pall on my life.

Now, because I'm older, and feel the relentless passing of time, and I'm inclined to think about things like this, and want to get a better understanding of them, and need to use them in my writing, I'm all too aware of how different my life is because I'm gay.

If I were straight, I'm sure all of the above things would be very different:

I'm sure I would be close to my father, much closer than I am now.
I'm sure I'd have lots of friendships with straight men.
I'm sure I'd be great at playing some types of sports.
I'm sure I'd be married and have children and live happily ever after.
I'm sure I'd love myself, as least as much as most straight men do.
I'm sure I'd feel like a man; in fact, I'm sure I wouldn't give it a second thought.
I'm sure I'd feel that I belonged to my gender, because where else would I belong?

It's depressing to think that all of this confusion and lack of self-acceptance and of belonging comes from being gay. What a number our society does on young boys who are suspected of being gay. How it turns their heads and messes up their lives in ways that are so deep-seated, there's likely no way they'll ever recover from it.

That's just the way it is, at least for me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


This upcoming long weekend will see the Pride parade in downtown Vancouver. Over the past nine years, while Chris and I lived in Victoria, we didn't come over here for Pride. Too much of a hassle and not worth the effort, even to show our support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community. They got along fine without us.

Instead, we participated in the more modest Pride festivities in Victoria, usually held on the weekend following Canada Day. As the last float passed by us, we joined the vast crowd of people walking past The Empress Hotel and through James Bay to Fisherman's Wharf Park. It was the one opportunity we had during the year to hold each other's hand in public, and to show our solidarity with the community as a whole and with our numerous straight supporters.

For me, this was the highlight of the occasion--not the parade, the naked boys and drag queens, and not the crowds of people milling aimlessly about the park, preyed upon for their money at a number of booths selling a myriad of products and services. By far, the best part of the whole day was standing among people who would not judge me for being gay; laugh at me because I held the hand of the man I've loved and been partnered with for the past seventeen years; or taunt me because I gave him a kiss on the lips.

When Chris and I lived in Vancouver, prior to August 2000, we attended every Pride parade. They were a blast. We looked forward to it all year--it was a time of celebration, after all--and we wouldn't have missed one for anything. We couldn't wait to be in the large crowds of people, to see the cute, naked boys on the floats, to witness how outrageous some people could be.

One year, we saw a fellow wearing a kilt and inline skates. As he swung around and around on the skates, his kilt lifted, and he confirmed that at least some gay men wearing kilts wore nothing underneath. All good, not-so-clean fun, right? Certainly enough to get us out of the house, on a usually sunny, hot Sunday in early August, to be among people just like us.

But, this year, the first occasion for us to be able to take in Vancouver Pride in a decade, I have no desire to go. In fact, the parade couldn't interest me less.

For one, over time, the parade has become more commercial and political than ever. Increasingly, it's an opportunity for corporate sponsors to reach out their greedy hands for the gay dollar, all while supposedly showing support for the GLBT community. And for political representatives to secure votes for the next municipal, provincial, or federal election. In that sense, I think Pride has lost its soul. It should be about GLBT people coming together, to support one another and to demonstrate pride for who they are, not about dollars and votes.

I think the gay community has sabotaged itself too. If I remember correctly, there was more diversity in parades past, where the GLBT community seemed better represented according to its actual make-up as a whole. Over time, the parade became flashier, placing the drag queens (and kings), public nudity, and young, pretty boys front and center, thereby attracting more spectators to the event and helping to contribute to Vancouver's reputation as a fun and happening city.

Not only do Pride parades not appeal to me any longer, but also they don't represent me as a member of the community, to other gay people and especially to straight people. What does the parade offer to the gay man, who isn't so young anymore, who isn't as pretty as he once was, who is happily settled in the suburbs in a long-term relationship, and who increasingly feels alienated from what's happening downtown--the bars, the clubs, the bathhouses, the cruises, the beaches, the trails, and whatever else.

And what do straight people think about us when they see the parade? When they get beyond the spectacle of it, the novelty, the obscenity? Do they think that all gay people are alike--that we all dress in women's clothing; that we're all bigger than life; that we only care about our appearance; that we're all about sex, sex, and more sex? I resent straight people potentially thinking that about me, just because I'm gay, and just because they saw so much of that at a Pride parade.

Hopefully, young, pretty gay men, through the natural process of maturation--or is it aging?-- move beyond their hedonistic lives, presumably to become the full and purposeful human beings they were intended to be. And, when that happens, what's left as far as the current incarnation of Pride is concerned--other than to grow quiet, and isolated, and invisible?

No, whether the Pride Society intended it or not, the Pride parade has lost me. I don't need to attend, only to be reminded of how superficial many fags are; how focused on youth and beauty, muscles and tans they are; and how sex seems to be the only thing that motivates them. I was never like that, and I certainly have no interest in being that now, not when there are so many more important things in life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I've just had an epiphany.

Related to what I wrote about today, I wonder if being gay is, in the end, about feeling disconnected from being male, however that manifests itself--in my case, not believing I'm masculine enough in a physical sense--and seeking that which we don't have ourselves in our relationships with other men, both those who are just friends and those who are more intimate.

There is absolutely something to this. I've had no positive relationships with straight men in my life--not my father, or a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, or even a friend. As a result, I've felt as though I don't belong to my gender. At the core of human existence is the need to belong, somewhere, presumably to that which is most important to you, or which you hold most dear. When that doesn't happen for whatever reason, you spend the rest of your life seeking it because the need is so great and all-consuming.

I would be the first to tell you that I strongly believe being gay is biology. I was born this way, I have no doubt about that. So if you're born gay, do you think that the world in general, which culturally isn't supportive of people who are gay, reads it in you and, as a result, begins the long road to shunning you in a million different ways: The young father, who knows in his heart that his son is gay and, realizing it or not, turns his back on him in all the ways that would validate him and allow him know that he's loved and valued; peers at school, who sense a little boy is gay, and who, consciously or unconsciously, decide not to have anything to do with him, or to tease and taunt him, thereby starving him of what he wants and needs most--warmth, support, connection.

Given these scenarios, isn't it possible that what the little boy, who is gay, was deprived of he spends his entire adult life trying to obtain from his relationships with other men? I know for a fact this is true. I know my relationship with Chris has been, in part, about getting from him what I never got from any other male in my life.

Something to think about.


Let's see if this makes sense.

Over the course of numerous posts on this blog, I've shared with my readers more about my insecurities than most people do with their closest family members and friends. I wrote about struggling with the way my body looks, to the extent that it's difficult for me to go shirtless in public, even when I'm exercising and overheated during this hot summer weather. I wrote about struggling with how my face looks, especially in pictures, when the image captured of me isn't representative of how I want to appear to the world around me. And I wrote about struggling with the creative process, the constant doubt I have about having anything worthwhile to say, or, if I do, not having the talent or ability to express myself in the best way possible. Let's just say that I'm a human being, with the need to understand myself better, and with the goal of speaking for other people who possess the same insecurities. There is power in knowing you're not alone.

Here's another insecurity that I've been working on recently to understand fully.

In the same way that straight men are attracted to women, I, as a gay man, am attracted to men. But, if I were really honest with myself, I'd have to admit that I'm most often attracted to straight men, not in a sexual sort of way--that is, I don't usually fantasize about having sex with them--but rather in a covetous sort of way.

I was very aware of this envy many years ago, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, witnessing the emergence of physical masculinity in many of my straight peers at grade school and in college, as compared to the lack of physical development in me. While many of the boys I went to school with physically turned into young men before my eyes--developing beards, growing hair on their chests, etc.--I remained a boy, my face and body mostly hairless until well into my twenties.

I don't know what it is about hair on a man's body, but I, along with many other people as evidenced from various websites, have always equated it with physical masculinity. Hence, in my mind, the hairier the man, the more physically masculine he is. At a rational level, I realize that the concept of masculinity is so much more than how a man physically develops. But, if you stay with me for a few minutes, you'll understand where I'm going with this.

It won't come as a surprise to most people who know me that I was (still am?) effeminate when I was growing up. I wasn't a flamer in the most extreme definition of the word. I didn't prance around school hallways, lisping every second word, and wearing flamboyant clothing that screamed "faggot" to everyone who saw me. But I had a softness to me. I spoke with certain inflections in my voice. I was affected in my mannerisms. I wasn't adept at sports. I never wanted to get physically hurt. And, in my later teens, I tried to dress fashionably, which, to many of my peers, was what gay boys did. Let's just say, you would have been able to pick out me as the gay one in a crowd of people.

But, at the time, I was just me. I looked and behaved as I did because that's what I instinctively knew. I may have been gay, but I didn't know anything about that. I grew up in the 1970s, a more innocent time, in a small, tough, northern BC town, where being different made you a target. And, in 1974, when my family moved to Kelowna, I remained a target because, while my place of residence may have changed, I hadn't. I was still the person I'd always been. I didn't know any other way.

I was picked on at school for so many years that I didn't know what I could do to get the bull's eye off of me. I learned to downplay the fashionable clothing; fashion may have worked for young men in bigger cities, but it didn't for me in a smaller community. By necessity, I learned to keep to myself, all the while trying to stifle the inflections in my voice and the affected mannerisms that made me stand out. The less attention I attracted to myself, the better. But, of course, by then, my reputation was set. Everyone knew I was a fag.

In the meantime, I became aware of some of my male classmates growing into young men. As early as grade ten, several of them were already able to shave and grow sideburns. As soon as hair began to grow in the center of their chests, they left their shirts open, ensuring everyone knew they were turning into men--at least in the physical sense. I still remember these fellows today and can name them--Don U., Rick B., Chad B., Terry M., Todd C., Cliff R.--because they made a huge impression on me. Because I was so envious of their maturing bodies. Because I wanted to be them.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I must have thought then that if I matured into a physical specimen of masculinity, people might leave me alone and the teasing might stop. If my peers witnessed me turn into a hairy, masculine dude, they might be less inclined to taunt me about being gay. I'd be easier able to hide my still unconfirmed sexual orientation behind my masculine appearance, and, not only would my peers leave me alone, but also I might begin to like myself more.

As I've written before, I believe scores of gay men hide behind their physical masculinity. Behind large, thick mustaches and muscular, hairy chests and arms, they are able to disguise the fact that they are sexually attracted to men. They can come and go in life without attracting attention to themselves for being gay, at least not when it comes to initial impressions (which is all many of us get). And everyone knows it's easier to be gay if you don't look like it or act like it. (Although, over the years, I've seen numerous examples of muscular and hirsute men who, once they opened their mouths or moved a muscle, the deal was over--the whole world knew they were unmistakably gay.)

As I've grown older, I've often fantasized about what it would be like to gay but not look it or act it, to the extent that no one could tell. Straight-looking and straight acting gay men are to the gay male population what brown African Americans are to black African Americans--more desirable because, in our society, straight is valued over gay, and brown is valued over black. That's just the way it is. So why wouldn't a gay man not want to be discernibly gay by appearing ultra masculine because of his muscular and hairy body? I've wanted that for years.

Alas, I never grew the amount of body hair I always wanted. I can't grow a great pair of sideburns or a full and handsome beard. I don't have the luxuriously hairy chest that so many young men today get rid of anyway, because it seems to be culturally preferable to do that in the early twenty-first century. So, in that sense, I never became the physical specimen of masculinity I always wanted to be, able to attract positive attention for being manly and not negative attention for being effeminate.

For that reason, and despite being a fully out gay individual, I still find myself making an effort to downplay whatever physical characteristics and mannerisms I have that cause people to label me "gay." Which is interesting when you think about it because...I am gay. There's no getting away from that. So why haven't I accepted it by now, in all the ways it needs to be accepted, and moved on? Am I capable of doing that, or has the past moulded me in such a way that getting beyond it is impossible?

Do I resent the ultra masculine men who are often better able to disguise their sexual orientation behind their facial and body hair than I am? You bet. I will always wish I was them and didn't come across as being gay in how I look or how I conduct myself. I suspect this will always be the case until being gay is no longer an issue in any way for our society. Then, and only then, I believe, will it be easier to be gay, and will the class system within the gay community break down to the point when it no longer matters whether you look or act gay. Maybe then, just being yourself will be enough.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Slanted Eyes and Crooked Smile (Gay and Old)

I have never liked to have my picture taken. Whenever it's been taken, I've always harshly judged it according to specific criteria.

For example, when I was much younger, I'd always look at a picture of me and decide if it was any good based on whether my eyes were open or my mouth was straight. That's because I had a habit of blinking my eyes at the exact time the person taking the picture pressed the shutter. I can't tell you how many pictures I ruined because I had slanted eyes--ones that made me look like I was drunk, even though I didn't drink alcohol.

And about my mouth being straight? This consistently happened, picture after picture, because, before I had my teeth and jawline straightened when I was in my early thirties, my smile always looked crooked due to crooked teeth and a severe overbite. The harder I tried to smile naturally, the worse pictures I took, until I learned I couldn't take good pictures at all, resulting in me running away from cameras as soon as they came out. That's why there are so few pictures of me when I was growing up and well into my twenties and thirties.

I've always dreamed of having a perfect, beautiful smile. Some people can't take bad pictures. Cameras physically love them, they are that attractive, and their smiles are easy and natural. Their jawlines are straight, their teeth are a dentist's dream, and they look great in pictures no matter what. A celebrity example that comes readily to mind is Farrah Fawcett, who, before she got sick with anal cancer and passed away, always looked spectacular in photographs. In part, that's because she was at ease in front of photographers, and she was stunningly beautiful.

Some people are naturals in the presence of cameras. They love cameras, they love having their pictures taken, and it shows in their gorgeous pictures. They've had lots of reinforcement over the years. When, at an early age, you see yourself in pictures, and you like what you see, you develop a comfort level in front or cameras. You learn to move or pose in such a way that you know will come across great in pictures. Or, better yet, you learn not to pose at all. You just be yourself, engaging in whatever activities you do, and, if someone happens to snap your pictures, you look great. You can't help it. That's just the way it is.

But not in my case. So, in an effort to improve my smile, I decided to undergo nearly three years of orthodontics and jaw surgery in my early to mid thirties. After spending a lot of time and money, and enduring a lot of inconvenience, discomfort, and pain, I was so excited that I'd finally have the smile of my dreams. That I'd finally be able to stand in front of a camera and be as natural and as at ease as the next guy and, as a consequence, take one great picture after another. From that point forward, I was confident there wouldn't be another bad picture of me.

But that's one goal I never achieved. Yes, my jaw and teeth were straight, looking one hundred percent better than they had before all the work. But I've learned that they do not a great smile make. A great smile is a function of good bone structure in the face, particularly in the mouth area, that allows one to leave one's lower and upper teeth together while opening the lips and forming a smile. Ideally, the open mouth has a nice shape and is filled with teeth that are in alinement, filling the open lips from one end of the mouth to the other, while not showing too much gum line.

This is not me, and I knew it wasn't when one of the dentists who worked on correcting my smile asked me to keep my teeth together, then open my mouth in the formation of a smile. By his reaction, I knew right away that he didn't like what he saw, so, after work that day, I went home and, looking in the mirror, I followed his instructions from earlier that day. I completely understood why he reacted the way he did, because I hated what I saw too.

From that point forward, I knew that my straight jawline and teeth wouldn't guarantee an easy, natural smile. That I'd have to practice smiling in the mirror so that, when I was faced with the inevitable camera, I'd know how to form my mouth so that my smile would be, at the very least, decent.

Alas, taking good pictures is still hit and miss for me. Sometimes, I've taken pictures that stun me because I believe they are as good representations of how I think I project myself to the world as I've ever seen. But, most of the time, I'm still disappointed by how I appear in them, and I still do everything I can to avoid cameras, even though sometimes that can't be done.

I hasten to add here, too, that I know taking good pictures has everything to do with being relaxed in front of the camera. If you act naturally when a camera comes out, not going into great conniptions to avoid having your picture taken, you're more likely to look good in pictures. That's why, for many people, candid pictures are best--ones that are taken when their subjects have no idea the camera is there. In general, candid pictures are flattering and good representations of who the people in them are.


Last Friday, in preparation for meeting Chris for dinner after he returned home from work, I showered and shaved. My hair cut earlier in the week, I used a little moulding wax to style it up in front and close to the head on the sides (instead of wearing it down in front and putting no product in it at all, which is what I usually do now). Looking in the bathroom mirror after getting dressed, I thought I looked better than I usually do when I bum around the house all day, completing tasks and working on my writing. No, what I said to Chris when I saw him was that I thought I looked cute, if I'm even capable of that, and I told him that I wanted him to take pictures of me so I'd have something more current to use on my Facebook profile.

What? I wanted someone to take pictures of me? Was I ill? I think Chris thought I was, but he was game for it. After all, I've ruined many a picture in the past when he's wanted to take some of me, and I've refused to have that device in my face on many occasions. Chris pretty much knows that getting a good picture of me at that point is hopeless. Isn't going to happen.

When we returned home after being out for dinner early Friday evening, the sun was low in the sky, shining directly in our back yard. Chris got the idea to take my picture sitting there, sun illuminating everything in the area of our deck. He asked me to sit in a lawn chair on the deck and be natural while he snapped my pic. Be natural. Yeah, okay. I can do that.

But Chris and I have a very different idea of when I look good in pictures. He looks at me all the time, so, when he takes a picture of me that he knows represents what I look like according to what he sees, he thinks it's a good one, and he's pleased with himself for having taken it.

On the other hand, I guess I want to look like something I'm not, because, when I see the pictures he's taken of me on the camera display, I become progressively disappointed in how I look. Most of the time, my eyes are open now, and I don't have to worry so much about appearing with them slanted.

My mouth is still problematic for me. As I said before, despite having a straight jawline and teeth, I don't have a strong, handsome smile, one that looks natural and easy. I still have to work at it, and, sometimes, my smile looks good (usually when I don't try so hard and I'm not smiling full out), and sometimes it doesn't look so good (when I'm intent on taking a good picture, or when Chris wants me to smile and tries to make me laugh before the picture is taken).

I hate when Chris tries to make me laugh before snapped my picture. I think he realizes, as I do, that smiles are better when they're natural, not when they're produced through enthusiastic laughter, but, in an effort to help me relax, he works on helping me feel more at ease in front of the camera by saying something funny, which often has the opposite effect. I sometimes yell at him for making me laugh--for insisting that I have a full out smile every time he pushes the shutter--but he thinks that's how I look best in pictures. I couldn't disagree more.

The bottom line is, I think all of us have a certain vision of ourselves, how we think we look, and we want pictures taken of us to reflect that vision. That is, we want to appear in pictures the way we imagine we appear to people in real life, but that vision and reality are two different things altogether.

And what I learned, after downloading the pictures Chris took of me last Friday, is that I have even more to worry about now, in terms of how I appear in pictures, than I did in the past, when I paid most attention to whether my eyes were slanted or my smile was crooked. I discovered two other issues are far worse than those.

The first is if I look gay. What? I'm worried about whether or not I look gay in pictures. Hello? I am gay, so how can I think I won't look gay?

Oh, this is a sneaky little one. As I've alluded before, homophobia manifests itself in so many different ways, not just in straight people towards gay people, but in gay people toward other gay people, and, even worse, in a gay person toward himself. And, clearly, one of the ways, for me, is how I appear in pictures.

I'm gay, and I know that. I've been gay my entire life, even though I resisted it for many years. That part of me won't change any time soon. I've been openly out, more or less, since I was in my mid-twenties, which is roughly half my life, and I've been fortunate enough to be in a thoroughly satisfying, monogamous relationship for over seventeen years. So you'd think that I'd be completely comfortable with being gay.

But, obviously, I'm not. When I had a look at some of the pictures Chris took of me last Friday, there were some in which I thought I looked gay. And I hated them. On top of everything else that can go wrong with pictures of me, I don't want to look gay. I don't want people to see pictures of me and to think "gay" automatically, even though that's exactly what I am. It's just like gay men emphasizing they are straight looking and straight acting. For them, as well as for me, straight is still preferable to being gay in our world, and we need to change that. I wonder what it will take before we drop the charade and accept ourselves unconditionally once and for all.

The other characteristic of the pictures that concerned me, in a way that I haven't been concerned before, is that I look older than I thought I did. Yes, I see myself in the bathroom mirror in the morning, so I know about the lines around my eyes, across my forehead, and around my mouth. But do I really look that old to people who see me in real life--many have said that I don't look my age at all, that I look up to ten years younger--or are pictures more stark and harsh when it comes to details around age, weight, and the like?

It seems to me that the days during which I might have taken good pictures are gone forever, if they ever arrived. I've gone from being worried about my slanted eyes and crooked smile in the past, to looking gay and old now. And, I suspect it won't get any better in the near or distant future.

The point is that, I've found something wrong with me my entire life. All pictures do is freeze a moment in time of whatever insecurities we have, particularly where our physical appearance is concerned. If pictures don't lie, and I now have to live with increasingly looking gay and older, then it appears I have a choice: either I can continue to hate the way I look, which is the route I've taken in the past, or I can learn to accept my appearance and to embrace it.

As I near my fiftieth birthday, I think one of the best gifts I could ever give myself would be to accept unconditionally who I am and how I look. If I can't do that by now, when will I ever have the courage to do it?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Nightly Ritual

I love, love, love to put Chris to bed at night.

Since he has to get up much earlier than I do every workday morning--so he can catch the shuttle to the West Coast Express that gets him to downtown Vancouver in just fifty minutes--in order to get an adequate amount of sleep, he has to be in bed by about ten, as many as two hours earlier than I go to bed.

At the appointed time, I walk into his room, get his bed ready, and wait for him to crawl in. Sheet up to his neck, he's ready to go to sleep. I see the fatigue from a long day in his face, and I know I mustn't linger long, but I can't leave, not yet--not before I sit on the edge of the bed, lean over him, and dip both of my arms under his pillow. Leaning even lower, I scoop up his head, and I nuzzle the side of his face.

For a few moments, my cheek is against the left side of his head. I feel the softness of the skin on his temple and of his cheek that's freshly shaven. He lays there quietly, letting me embrace him fully; kiss the short, soft hairs at his hairline; take in the sweet scent that is unmistakably his. I continue to nuzzle him for several more seconds, trying to lengthen our time together, his entire being reduced to the head I have completely cradled in my arms, not unlike picking up a cherished pet and inflicting a loving gesture on, whether appreciated or not.

Then, I softly put his pillow and his head back down. He stirs, becoming even more a part of the bed, looking more tired than before. Has my embrace relaxed him, made him even more ready to go to sleep?

I tell him, softly, "Have a good night" and "Have a good day at work tomorrow," since I won't see him before he leaves. He wishes me the same. I reach for the switch on the night table lamp beside his bed, and I turn it--once, the light becoming dimmer, bathing the room and Chris's handsome face in a soft golden glow. Then, a second time, descending the room into darkness. I see nothing then. Everything in the room has disappeared, including Chris. For all I know, I'm alone.

Except...except I reach out for Chris in the dark. Our fingers touch, intermingle with each other, flutter together, a gesture he started many years ago that we continue to this day. It's one of the many small things that endears him to me. It's the last time we'll touch each other until past six o'clock the following evening, when, presumably, the train will return him home safely.

I wish him a good night one more time, and then I grope my way out of his room, being sure not to hit my leg against the end of his wooden bed. Then I walk to the door and close it quietly behind me.

It's a ritual that plays itself out every night, even on weekends, even when Chris is able to go to bed a little later than usual. And I never tire of it. In some ways, I feel closer to him then than at any other time. In that moment, there's just him and me in the bedroom. Nothing else of the world matters. The intimacy of the movements, gestures, and wishes stun me with clarity, with the beauty of what we share, with the love we feel for each other. At that moment, I couldn't be more filled with gratitude for the utter blessing of that human being in my life.

Good night, Sweetheart. I love you so much.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now THAT'S Big*

(*To borrow an expression one of my readers, Wendy, uses in her comments on my blog. Thanks , Wendy. I hope you don't mind.)

I went for another run/jog/brisk walk/huffing-puffing session today.

(Just a quick word about that. In my attempt to reintroduce some sort of exercise to my routine after moving to __________ in late April, I went for my first supposed run last Tuesday, one week ago today. Man, did I pay for not keeping up with some form of cardio after we moved. I was sorer than hell, and several days passed before I felt like myself again. Plus, I came down with some mysterious illness last Wednesday and Thursday, that kept me close to the sofa and the toilet. So today was a second session in my attempt to get fit again. Believe me, as you're about to find out, I need it.)

So there I am, on some of the more remote roads around where I live, all by myself, running on the perimeter of the pavement when there's no car, and moving to the gravel shoulder when there is. I'm wearing my usual workout gear--a pair of water-resistant, navy blue Nike shorts with a black stripe down the sides, and a water-resistant, black, sleeveless Nike top with navy blue stripes down the sides. In my ears I have my iPod earbuds firmly jammed as I listen to a disco playlist I used to complete my cardio when I lived in Victoria and worked out three times a week at Fitness World. It's just after 8:00 a.m., the air is already warm, but still comfortable, and the heavily-wooded areas around me, dotted with numerous housing developments and the odd large, older house on an acreage, are peaceful and beautiful in the brilliant morning sun. Although I'm struggling to keep up my pace--it will get better, I remind myself; this is only your second time out; be patient, you'll get back into it--I feel great. I can't think of a place I'd rather be at that time than out in nature on such a beautiful day, and I'm grateful I don't live in the city, restricted to run endless city blocks, one after the other (could this be one of the charms of Maple Ridge?).

For those of you who've already read a previous post here, entitled "Shirtless," you know that I have an issue with being shirtless in public. I had one when I was much younger, in my late teens and early twenties, because I was skinny, and pale, not at all athletic, and unhappy with the way my body looked. Not only that, but I had major self-esteem issues stemming from the way I was teased and taunted in school for being gay. As I wrote before, all I could think about then was covering up in the hopes that I'd be hidden and no one would pay attention to me.

Through most of my life, I've had an issue with going shirtless in public--even on a blisteringly hot day; even on a beach in Hawaii; even driving the car down the highway; even riding my bike in the park; even in my own back yard. I don't know if it's modesty that compels me to keep my shirt on, or the fact that I've always hated the way I look, and I know the only way you can get away with being shirtless in public is if you're confident in the way you look, or don't give a damn what other people think about your body.

Actually, I have to go way back here to give this some perspective.

Those who really know me, know I'm a perfectionist. I can't remember a time when I didn't want--no, need--to be perfect, in every way that I could. I needed perfect marks in school (even though I didn't always achieve them); I needed to be perfect in my job (even though results didn't always meet expectations, mine, my manager's, or the company's); and, now, I need to be perfect in my writing (which I seldom am, and which threatens, almost every day, to stop me from writing altogether).

I know where this comes from. It's taken me many, many years to realize that, because I continue to suffer from low self-esteem--much of it centered around being gay and the message society sends about that--I don't see my self-worth simply as a human being. I've long believed that my self-worth is a function of what I do, not who I am. The challenge I face trying to overcome this is one that I'll probably deal with for the rest of my life, even though I had this revelation many years ago, and you'd think I could have let it go by now.

I'm not sure when I first became aware that I have a cafe au lait birthmark in the centre of my back, to the left of my spine, slightly larger than a loonie, but the realization of this, probably in my teens, was devastating to me. It was devastating because I saw the birthmark as an imperfection on the skin of my back. As much as I told myself it wasn't huge, and it wasn't covered in hair--as many people's large birthmarks are--I kept it covered at all times, and my need to keep it covered often restricted the activities I engaged in. I had no intention of letting anyone else see it.

I remember one fellow I went to elementary school with in Dawson Creek many years ago, who had a large, dark brown, almost reddy birthmark in the middle of his right cheek that was covered in a thick layer of black hair. I admit I was freaked out by this imperfection in such a visible place, always keeping my distance from him, and that may have had something to do with why I detested my own birthmark so much, and why I went to my doctor on more than one occasion for advice on what options I had to get rid of it. My doctor didn't recommend permanently removing it, but he did suggest that, if it bothered me that much, I could purchase a cosmetic coverup and try to erase it with that, at least temporarily.

So I did. I bought the coverup, trying to find one that roughly matched my skin tone, and, not being able to reach it myself with the small brush, I asked my sister to work on covering it for me. It was traumatic enough removing my shirt for my sister, allowing her to see my damn birthmark so she could help me try to cover it, but that was preferable to going without my shirt in public and everyone see my scourge instead.

Alas, no matter how many layers of coverup my sister applied to the offensive birthmark, nothing would conceal it completely. In fact, at a point, the repeated layers of coverup made more of an unsightly mark on my back than the birthmark did itself. Chalk one up to experience. Coverup doesn't work on large birthmarks.

So there I was, in my early twenties, riding my bike on Kelowna's city streets, the scorching summer sun beating down on me, causing my shirt to stick to my back. After much consideration, I stopped riding my bike pulled off my shirt. I decided being physically comfortable was more important than any shame I might feel if someone saw my back and was put off by it. Birthmark be damned. (I'm happy to report the world didn't come to an end that day, just because I removed my shirt and exposed my birthmark for all to see. In fact, I recall the experience, after years of never, ever taking off my shirt out in public, being tremendously liberating. But the birthmark battle was far from over altogether.)

These days, while I still think my birthmark is ugly and, if I had my choice, no one would ever see it, I think I have bigger problems preventing me from going shirtless in public--namely, my body is not as young as it used to be, and changes have taken place over time that are neither pretty nor reversible.

For example, no one told me when I was much younger that I'd sprout hair on places I couldn't have imagined. In addition to growing annoying hair in my nose and ears, I have thin patches of dark, curly hair on my shoulders, on either side of my spine, and on my lower back, to remind me I'm not getting better, I'm getting older. Chris has appeased me several times in the past by shaving the hair off my back with a straight razor, most notably, when we went to Hawaii, so I'd be more comfortable throwing my shirt off at Waikiki and jumping into the water before anyone saw me half naked. But, honestly, how many times can you ask a loved one, even your life partner, to help you indulge vanity? There are only so many hours in the day to use on the important things, right? (Yes, I've considered having my back waxed, but, as long as Chris doesn't throw up every time he sees the hair there, why bother. He's the one I really need to be worried about.)

And let's talk about the jelly that's formed in all those places where it shouldn't be. Yes, I'm still in relatively good shape from having worked out since my mid-thirties, but I have my problem areas just like most people do--namely, the saddle bags (a genetic gift from my father) and the belly. As hard as I've tried over the years, by watching everything I eat and pushing my cardio workouts even harder, the jelly gathered in these places just won't go away.

And, lately, not working out since the end of April, the jelly has accumulated a little more, as a result of eating comfort foods that have helped me feel better about our recent move, and a lack of cardio activity has done nothing to keep me trim. So, I'm not in the best shape of my life. Hence, the reason for taking a run today, and another reason for keeping on my shirt, despite the sun, the heat, and the sweat.

For some distance, I thought about how good it would feel to take my shirt off, to run bare-chested along the deserted roads of rural __________, to feel the soft air currents blow against my skin and provide relief. I thought about that twenty-something me, nearly thirty years ago, riding his bike on a hot day in Kelowna, screwing up the courage to remove his shirt, and how freeing it felt, whether or not someone saw the birthmark on my back and was repulsed by it. And I thought about all the additional strikes against me now--not just the birthmark, that will always be a part of me, but also the patches of back hair, the saddle bags, and the jelly belly.

When I was sure no one was around to see, I lifted up my shirt and watched my belly jiggle as I continued running down the side of the road. I hated what I saw. It's not how I ever envisioned myself, running into the reality of my aging body, and I was disappointed in myself for never achieving the body type I always wanted, despite years of cardio workouts and weight training. I never made it to that next level, lacking the stamina, the passion, the drive it takes to be a physical specimen, and a part of me will always regret that.

Then I thought about some of the other men I've seen run past our house recently, their shirts off in the hot weather, their bodies far from perfect, their jiggle out there for everyone to see. And a part of me switched at that point, from a place of thinking men with bodies like that should keep them covered, even when it's hot and they're working out hard, to a place of acceptance, of recognizing the beauty of a natural, aging body, of admiring their courage--no, their confidence--in being able to remove their shirts as they go about their business of running, not giving a crap what other people see as they pass by.

I thought to myself that if I could arrive at a place where I was able not only to accept an imperfect, real, natural, half-naked male body running in front of me, but to celebrate it, other people might feel the same way about me too. After all, despite the constant images of handsome, muscular, young men we see in the media (especially the gay media), their torsos perfectly formed with bulging biceps and pecs, their abs rippling and well-defined, they represent about one percent of all the people on earth. Pretty to look at, but just not practical.

Most of us fall somewhere in the average category, whether that's above average, average, or below average--not the best, but not the worst. And, in the end, there's nothing wrong with being average and celebrating the body you have--the one that gets you up in the morning, the one that allows you to spend time with your loved ones, that one that gets you through challenging days of work, the one that allows you to engage in the activities you love; and the work that lets you enjoy pleasure while having sex. We need to love our bodies, not hate them, and, to this end, I pulled the earbuds out of my ears, put them in my shorts pocket, and pulled my workout shirt over my head.

Instantly, I felt free, not just because this was the first time I've allowed myself to be publicly shirtless, without a Hawaiian beach around, in possibly a decade or more, but because, at least for the moment, I'd changed my mind about my body, about how it's changed over the years, and about how other people perceive it.

Was I nervous when vehicles drove past me, or when I turned up streets that were busier than others? Absolutely, but I'd overcome the biggest obstacle, the one that prevented me from taking off my shirt in the first place. And, now that I was naked from the waist up, the heat from the sun warming my skin, validating my decision, I focused on the task at hand--running/jogging/brisk walking, hoping I wouldn't injure myself, get hit by a vehicle, or lose my way back home.

Oh, what a feeling.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Favorite Picture of Paris?

I thought I'd share this picture of Paris with you. It's one I took at the end of last September, when Chris and I travelled there for the first time.

Over the past months, I've had a lot of different pictures on my MacBook desktop, most from Paris. But this picture keeps returning to my desktop because I think it's an utterly beautiful portrayal of the city--sunlight beaming down, centuries old buildings in the foreground, modern day Paris in the back.

The memories that this picture evokes when I look at it are outstanding. I took it during our first full day in the French capital. Chris and I had walked from our apartment on rue de l'Arbre sec to the Louvre just a few blocks away, through the Jardin des Tuileries, down to the Champs Elysees, Paris's world famous shopping street. At the end of the Champs is the Arc de Triomphe, which Chris and I climbed all the way to the top via two hundred-plus stairs. It's at the top of the Arc that I snapped this picture and so many others, capturing the commanding view of a most extraordinary place.

I hope you enjoy this picture as much as I do.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Does that Make Chris My Boss?

The other day, I surprised myself. I asked Chris for permission to do something. Sort of. Let me explain.
There's no question the nature of the relationship I share with Chris changed when I left my job two years ago. All at once, I went from earning 60% of our household income to earning none of it at all.

Make no mistake, Chris and I knew going into this new arrangement what impact it would have on us financially. It was a calculated move on our part: We'd sell our condo in Vancouver for far more than we bought it for in 1994 (this was before the real estate bust), and we'd pay off all of our debt so we could not only live on one income but also keep our quality of life. Maintaining our quality of life was important feature of this. And, in the meantime, I'd focus my attention on getting a writing career started, and, if I earned nothing for the foreseeable future, that would be fine because we didn't need it to make ends meet or even to put money aside in savings. We had it all planned.

For the period of time we continued to live in Victoria, our arrangement worked. We lived on Chris's salary only, including the increases when he was promoted, and I wrote pretty much continuously, including an 800-plus page first draft of a book. To repeat, Chris earned all the money, and I earned none. As I wrote in a previous post, the money Chris brought in was now "our" income, even though it took me some time to refer to it that way. (I've always made my own way in life, so the adjustment period took a little longer for me.)

Fast forward to our new lives in __________, and, while Chris was promoted to a new position at the old office where he used to work in the Lower Mainland (which precipitated the move), and while his income increased to where mine used to be (minus the annual bonus), surprise of surprises, it costs more to live here--for food, for transit, for gasoline, for everything, really.

Over the past several months, I've tried to manage our bi-weekly income in the same way I did in Victoria (ensuring we put money aside in what I call True Savings), but something always seems to come up. Outright new home expenses have been paid for from the money we made on the condo, but living expenses come from "our" paycheque. And it's more challenging to save money now than it was before the move. So I'm not sure Chris feels the pressure, because he goes to work every day in the same way he's always done, earning the best income he's ever had, but I feel it, since I manage our finances and don't earn a penny.

As I alluded to before, the dynamic of our relationship has changed. When I earned my managerial income, I had more discretionary money than Chris did. Every two weeks, I always gave myself plenty of what I call "mad money": That is, after I socked away funds into my RRSP and savings, I allowed myself a generous amount to buy all sorts of things--from DVDs, CDs, and books, to things for the house that improved our living environment in some way, either practically or esthetically. I was always buying something for the house--a rug for the kitchen floor, an assortment of vases for above the kitchen cupboards, a new set of towels for the bathroom, ceramic pots for our outdoor garden. The list goes on and on.

I loved being able to do this. I knew that Chris couldn't afford to contribute to these items, and they weren't really necessary for living, but I could afford them, I wanted them for us, and they improved the quality of our lives in one way or another. I was never resentful that I was the only one paying for these items; rather, I was happy that I could improve our living environment in so many ways, and I wanted us to have a comfortable life, a house we felt good coming home to, and a place we could be proud of.

But our circumstances are very different now. On one income, there's much less discretionary money, we have to prioritize what we want to buy, and I feel in some ways that, even though I still provide value to our household by taking care of everything (from our finances, to housecleaning, to watering the garden, to painting and upgrading the house, to being available for various services providers), and even though I still try to find some time to write (for example, on this blog), I'm somehow not contributing enough. I'm not sure I could do anything more than I already do around the house, but I feel there's still one piece missing: Helping our household, and perhaps propping up my ego, by earning an income.

Over the past several months, I've brought this up with Chris. And, as I've written before, he's happy to keep being the sole wage-earner as long as I continue writing, which was the whole reason why we made our arrangement in the first place. In that sense, he's been completely consistent, whether we lived in Victoria, and still had discretionary money on his income alone, or in __________, where he continues to earn our only income, but where money is tighter and saving is more difficult.

Thus, it occurred to me the other day, as I was completing yet another task at home, that, in a sense, Chris pays me for what I do at home through the income he earns and shares with me as part of our relationship. So, if that's the case, he could be considered my boss, or sorts, right? I don't receive a specific paycheque from him--that is, he doesn't write out a cheque for me every couple of weeks--but I have access to what he earns and can buy things for myself or for the house from those funds. In an offhand way, as I see it, that's kind of like Chris being my boss and indirectly paying me for the work I perform around the house, including writing.

So I asked him permission the other day if I could do something.

My sister is off work this week, as is the fellow she's seeing, and they planned to take the Albion ferry one last time over the Fraser to spend the afternoon in Fort Langley, a place I enjoy visiting. I asked her if I could join them, and she said yes. I was all excited about having the opportunity to get out of the house for two or three hours and do something different for a change.

But I got to thinking. What I do in the house while Chris is at work--whether it's washing the dinner dishes from the night before (so we have more quality time to spend together in the evening), or prepping and painting a room over several days to a week, or having dinner ready for us once Chris arrives home from work, or even writing--is my "job." And if Chris is, either directly or indirectly, my boss, shouldn't I ask him if I can take some time off to join my sister and her boyfriend in Fort Langley?

So I did. Chris responded as I knew he would. He said something like, "Of course you can spend the afternoon with your sister. You do so much work around here, you need some time out of the house." Good point. I was glad that he recognized what I do and the value I contribute, and that he saw the benefit to me to be away from the house for several hours.

But, my, how our relationship has changed. Whether it was the right thing for me to do to ask him this because he's, as I suggested, my boss, or because it was the courteous thing to do, I know for a fact that, had I still been working for CIBC, and had I happened to be on vacation from work at the same time as my sister, and had she been going to Fort Langley with her boyfriend, and had I wanted to join them for the afternoon, I wouldn't have asked Chris for his "permission" to go, courtesy or no courtesy. There would have been no need to ask him. In the old world, I would have advised him of my plans, spent the time with my sister, and not given it a second thought.

Perhaps this is all about a certain guilt I feel that Chris is our sole breadwinner, and that all I do is draw from that, not add to it. This is such a different role for me that, even two years out, in ways I didn't expect, I continue to adjust to the new dynamic between us.

I wonder if Chris was surprised that I asked him if it was all right for me to go to Fort Langley with my sister. I wonder if he ever thought that I, ten years older than he is, would come to him with that question. Did he think it was appropriate under the circumstances, or did he think I shouldn't have given another thought to spending the afternoon away from my responsibilities at home? Was he surprised that I, the more dominant person in our relationship, would ask him for permission to do anything? Did it make him feel good? Did he appreciate my courtesy, or was he embarrassed by it?

Like I said before, circumstances have sure changed in our relationship over the years. Which I suppose happens in all relationships when the partners are together for a long time. Things change in the world, which forces things to change within the context of a relationship. You can either change and grow with it, or you can hit the road and call it a day on what you share together.

If what you share with the other person is the first priority in your life, as it is for Chris and me, then you adapt, and you don't concern yourself with your changing status within the relationship. Sometimes you'll be up, and sometimes you'll be down. In the end, one person is not better, or more powerful, or more important, than the other person. In one way or another, each person, if he is truly committed to the other and to the partnership, ensures he plays a valuable role in the couple, whether that person is the sole income earner or the person who supports the sole income earner.

And, in our case, I get to continue doing what's most important to me beyond our relationship: I get to continue writing and working on making my dream happen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Appearance and Function (or Gender Roles)

I think the relationship Chris and I share works on many levels. So if anyone were to ask me how we've been able to stay together for the past seventeen years, I'd have to say that, in addition to Chris having the patience of a saint when it comes to living with me, we are opposites in ways that matter.

For example, Chris is left brain, and I'm right brain. This means that he's logical and common sense, and I'm crazy and creative.

Another example. Some gay couples would hate to read this, but I think it's true where Chris and I are concerned: He's the male in the relationship, and I'm the female. There are times when the roles are reversed, depending on what we're talking about, but, by and large, Chris attends to most of the masculine aspects of our relationship, including yard work, anything mechanical, and everything to do with computers. And I, on the other hand, attend to the feminine aspects of our relationship, including planning meals, cooking, housecleaning, and the like.

This led me to a conclusion about our relationship which typifies what we share in many different respects: Chris is all about function, and I'm all about looks.

For instance, today, Chris and I worked in our recreation room to ready it for the delivery of a sectional sofa we ordered from Jordan's Casual Home in Langley several weeks ago. Part of this involved moving all of our audio and video equipment (that is, the flat screen TV, DVR, DVD player, amplifier, VCR, and CD player) to the wall beside the fireplace. Once the equipment was in place, Chris was on it in terms of reconnecting everything and making sure it worked. Although I can do it if I have to, this type of thing doesn't come easily to me, and I'd just as soon avoid it if I can. But Chris loves it and digs right in, making sure that we have the ability to turn on the TV later and have it work.

I, on the other hand, had the vacuum in my hand. As Chris worked on reconnecting the cables, I vacuumed the carpet all around the entertainment system, ensuring all of the lint, bits of styrofoam, and pieces of packing paper were cleaned up so we'd have a clean room in which to enjoy watching TV this evening.

Just like when we paint a room in the house. Chris is all about getting the job done, but I'm all about making sure the job not only gets done, but also that it's done right so that the result looks great, giving us something to be proud of in the end.

What can I say? This arrangement that we instinctually have between us has been in place for years and seems to work well for us. I care more about how we "look" than he does, which means that, when it comes time to decorating the rooms in our home, Chris stays out of the way and lets me do my thing. I think he's been very happy with the results so far, whether I've put together the first home we shared together in Vancouver's Yaletown, or the townhouse we bought together in Victoria, or the first detached house we bought together in __________.

It works. I can't argue with that.