Thursday, October 22, 2009


I'm fascinated by the concept of the bromance, a term that has its origins by combining the words "bro," short for brother, with "romance."

To understand the term better, I looked it up on Here's what I found out.

A bromance is:
* a close male friendship, to the point where the men come across as a couple;
* complicated love and affection shared between two straight men;
* intense love shared between two heterosexual men;
* two men showing affection toward each other;
* two straight guys who are close friends to the point of wanting to have sex with each other;
* a highly formed friendship between male friends; and
* a totally heterosexual loving relationship between two or more men, based on respect for the other's manliness.

If you've never heard the term before, you should get the idea by now.

Like I said, the whole concept of the bromance fascinates me on so many levels.

For one, even though we have a word in the twenty-first century to describe this kind of close connection between two straight men, there can be no doubt that bromances, in one form or another, existed between men since the beginning of man's presence on earth. Even as Cro-Magnon man clubbed wildlife so the woman and children he was with could eat, assuming he had male company, he must have felt close to some of his buddies–that is, if his brain was capable of feeling an emotional connection like that way back then.

What about men who fought wars together throughout history, sharing trenches and bunkers and unusual sleeping arrangements for days and weeks and months at a time, talking about intimate details of their lives during slow times, protecting each other from injury and death, becoming closer to one another, both physically and emotionally, than perhaps at any other time during their lives? You can't tell me they didn't experience intense male bonding that today would be defined as bromances.

Other male couples in recent memory come to mind: from actors, writers, and directors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, to Batman and Robin; and from actors George Clooney and Brad Pitt, Sesame Street friends Ernie and Bert, and, more recently and especially pronounced, The Voice mentors Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.  I'm not a big history buff, but I'm certain there are all sorts of examples of close male couples whose relationships would today fall under the heading of bromances.

The whole bromance thing doesn't surprise me. Sometimes, I've seen groups of straight men at a bar; or at a baseball, hockey, or football game; or at a firehouse; or walking down the street; wherever--and I've often wondered if these men experience the same kind of closeness that women in close friendships feel toward each other.

Unless someone can convince me that men are utterly incapable of feeling emotionally connected to human beings, including other men, I don't believe for a minute that they can't experience love toward each other. If the basis of their friendships is mutual admiration and respect, how can they not feel an emotion akin to love for other men? It would be impossible for them to turn this off, even though, in our culture, it might feel unusual, uncomfortable, or inappropriate. But it's there, make no mistake. It has to be.

If I were to take this one step further, I have to believe that, in the right situations, straight men, who are emotionally close, might take the chance to be physical with each other.

At first, being physical might be nothing more than hugging. Having tested that ground, and, assuming one wasn't rejected by the other for crossing an invisible line of appropriateness, feeling validated, the men involved might progress to cuddling, perhaps even a little innocent kissing, on the cheek, maybe even on the mouth.

If the closeness and the affection are there, and if the situation presents itself--where the men feel the same way toward each other, and their physical environment is safe, and only the two of them would know what's gone on between them, and no one else would ever find out--I imagine that they might even engage in sex too. I'll let you decide how far you think it might go. I'm just saying it's not impossible and has probably happened more than we know.

Bearing in mind that we're still talking about two straight men in this situation, if a bromance occurs, and it becomes sexual, I have to ask the question, where is the dividing line between being straight and being gay? Can it be said that a straight man becomes gay the second he engages in any form of intimacy with another man? Or would he have to engage in either oral or anal sex to slip past that line? Or could he still be straight, even though he had sex with another man?

But here's the thing: In my scenario above, the two men are straight, they are happily married, and they are good fathers. For all intents and purposes, they fit the heterosexual stereotype of the masculine, manly male: They like sports, they like drinking, they like women.

Are you saying that this type of man would never, in a million years, ever consider being intimate with another man? Do you really believe that? Because you might be surprised. I know for a fact that there are lots of straight men out there who are curious about having sex with another man. Doesn't mean they're gay, it only means they're curious about what man-on-man sex would be like. And they are open to trying it, if the situation presents itself.

So, that said, if they had that curiosity, and they felt emotionally close to another man, and they trusted each other, and the situation presented itself, are you telling me they wouldn't take the chance and be intimate with each other? Like Joan Rivers used to say, "Oh, grow up."

Sex is sex. If you love someone else, and you are compelled to take your emotional closeness to a physical level, and the situation arises, you bet you'd have sex, no matter if you are a man and a woman, or two women, or two men.

And, in the case of two men, I don't believe having sex with each other means they're gay. I really don't. I believe they could still be straight, but they made the choice to experience sex at the other end of the spectrum. After all, physical intimacy is the closest way for two human beings who love each other to experience each other. And the sex drive, being what it is, would not step in to prevent them from doing what they most want.

Just something to think about.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why I Feel Uncomfortable Being Gay

A loyal reader recently contacted me by email to ask about something I'd written in my post entitled "I'm Back," published on October 5. The question was around my comment that I'm still not comfortable being gay. The reader wanted to know what that meant, exactly.

It's a fair question. When I take a close look at my life right now, being gay shouldn't be much of an issue for me. Unlike some gay people, I'm completely out to my family and friends and have been for twenty-five years. That considerable hurdle is long past, and I'm grateful for that.

While I spent all of my twenties and early thirties alone, lonely, and looking for the right person to share my life with, I've spent since I was 32 onward in a loving, committed, and monogamous relationship with one of the most wonderful human spirits on earth. No lie, every day I count my blessings that I met this young man, and that he shares my life with me. I couldn't be more fortunate.

Despite my concern that when we moved at the end of April of this year to a largely blue-collar neighborhood in __________, comprised mostly of straight couples and children, Chris and I wouldn't be accepted because of our sexual orientation, I'm happy to report that those living closest to us have been nothing but warm and friendly. And we haven't once felt like we aren't welcome here or that we don't belong.

And, finally, as a gay man, living in Canada in 2009, I live in a progressive society. Chris's workplace recognizes same-sex couples, extending to me the same benefits that he's entitled to; gay marriage is legal, granting Chris and me the same rights and privileges that straight people enjoy; and being gay at this point in time is pretty comfortable. I've experienced no overt discrimination, bigotry, or intolerance, and life's as good as it's ever been for gay people in general and me in particular.

So what's up with feeling uncomfortable being gay? What would make me feel that way?

I've done a lot of thinking about this, even journaling about it to try to understand what's holding me back from fully embracing my sexual orientation, and here's what I've come up with, so far:

1). I admit that so much of my discomfort associated with being gay has to do with the past. While being gay now is much easier than it was many years ago, I grew up in the 1970s and came of age in the 1980s, when homosexuality was still largely misunderstood and ridiculed. I think the bad experiences of the past will always be with me to some degree, no matter how much better things get. Perhaps, then, one of the biggest challenges I have around being gay is overcoming the hurt from the past. Just when I think I've put it behind me, something else comes up, and I'm reminded all over again of how I felt during those years when I was insecure and vulnerable. Anyone still living with issues from his own past--and which one of us isn't?-- can relate to how tough it is to let it all go and move on with being the fully realized person he's meant to be. But I know it's something all of us must continue to work on if we are to make the most of our limited time on this earth.

2). Being gay is about being different in a way that isn't widely understood or always accepted. Think about it. Not only do I connect emotionally more with men (the basis of being gay) than women, but also I have sex with one too, my partner Chris. The physical act of sex between men is difficult for many people to accept, and, in our Judeo-Christian society, man-to-man sex is judged according to passages in the Bible that have been used to prove it's unacceptable and an abomination in the eyes of God. Do I think I'm going to hell because I lie with another man? No, I hope not. After all, who wants to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity because a). he was the person he was born to be, and b). he had sex with other men? But if I had my choice of how to be different from everyone else around me, I wouldn't choose to be gay. I'd choose to be something seemingly easier, where no moral judgement is applied and where the act of having sex isn't involved.

3). I just want to fit in with everyone else. Despite the differences between human beings, there are still only two sexes, men and women (although intersex individuals would beg to differ with me). I'm not intersex--that is, I don't have the sexual organs of both men and women--but I've always felt not quite masculine and not quite feminine. I've joked that I'm somewhere in the middle, which makes people laugh at the absurdity of my comment, but there's more truth to it than they realize. So I'm uncomfortable being gay because of my effeminate tendencies, and because of my ability to understand women better than men, to identify with women more than men, to possess some of the emotional characteristics of women over men, and because of the alienation and isolation I feel from men, especially those who are straight.

4). Related to the point above is that, as long as I'm alive and gay, I expect I'll have issues with my masculinity. I've written numerous blog posts about this in the recent past, approaching it from different angles in an attempt to understand it better, but, from what I can tell, it goes something like this: I was born biologically male. For all intents and purposes, I appear male to the world. But I'm not as male as I want to be. Perhaps, for once in my life, I want to be nothing more than a stereotypical male, both physically and emotionally. That is, I want to look more physically male than I do, including a heavier beard and a hairier chest, and I want to act more male, including tinkering with cars, playing sports, and coming on to women. Emotionally, I want to think more like a man. I want to be more cool about everything instead of being so uptight. I don't want to care about the little things that drive me nuts. In short, I want being masculine, or manly, to come to me naturally and easily. I don't want to have to work at it. I want it to be what I am, not who I aspire to be.

5). I want to try the normal life for a change, the heterosexual life. The world has made being male and straight easy. It's the natural order. It's the most common route for men, the one they are expected to follow: Meet a girl or a woman, get married, have children, grow old together. It's been said that we always want what we don't have, so perhaps that's the case with me not wanting to be gay. I want to be straight and married and a father because that's what other men are. That's the traditional role of most men. It's worked for them; it's supposedly the greatest role they play and their greatest contribution to the earth; and it doesn't draw negative attention from other people. It's the line of least resistance. It's what real men were put on earth to do. It's who men are. I want some of that. I simply want to know what being a real man, in every sense, is all about.

6). If I were more of what men are expected to be in our culture, then I wouldn't be isolated from them. That is, if I were a straight man--I looked more like a straight man, I conducted myself more like one, I lived the full and complete life of one--other straight men wouldn't disconnect themselves from me. I cannot honestly say I've had close relationships with any straight men--not my father, a brother (which I didn't have), a male relative, a male friend, or a male colleague. If a straight man has the least suspicion that you're gay, he has nothing to do with you. Plus, I have nothing in common with straight men, so when would we ever have the opportunity to become close friends? Since I'm not close to any straight men, I feel removed from my own gender, like I don't belong. I exist out there somewhere, not completely male and not completely female, belonging to neither one. Over the years, I've had plenty of female friends, and I'm most grateful for what we've shared. But I crave what I don't have, and that's straight men in my life, feeling validated by them, like I belong to them, like I'm one of them. All of us need to feel that we belong somewhere.

7). One of the things that I think is more natural for straight men than it is for gay men is growing older. And, now that I'm growing older, I feel how important this point is in my life. In the past, I've seen plenty of older gay men, trying desperately to hang on to their youth in a youth obsessed culture like the gay culture is. I've seen them go to extraordinary lengths to maintain a youthful appearance--dyeing their hair, having the skin on their faces tightened, pumping iron and trying to achieve a youthful, muscular appearance. In the end, they come off looking ridiculous. I've seen them trolling the gay clubs, looking for someone young and cute to go home with because they're old and lonely. I've been the victim of their come-ons, when they were old enough to be my father and they were interested in getting it on with me. Today, I'm fortunate enough to be coupled, but I don't know the future. What if something happened to Chris, and I found myself alone? Older gay men don't want older gay men; they want young gay men to pay attention to them, to fill their lives with. I worry that I'd end up spending the rest of my life alone and lonely because gay culture doesn't value aging. Worse than straight culture, gay culture turns its back on those among them who are considered older and not as appealing. Being gay might well be fun and exciting when you're young and pretty, but it's nothing like that when you're old and not so physically attractive anymore. That's just the way it is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I just had a washing machine repair person over to the house.

Since Chris and I moved into our new house, our washing machine has given us a number of problems. Only five years old, it produces a noticeable grinding sound when it goes into the spin cycle, and, recently, the grinding is accompanied by an annoying knocking, especially when it first begins to pick up speed. In addition, our white loads often come out dirtier than they went in because of dark brown streaking, which, lately, resulted in repeated washing and wasted detergent, fabric softener, and water. Chris and I are so fed up with these challenges that we've sworn to replace it, but we wanted to get a professional opinion first, to determine if we could save money by repairing the problems, or if we had to buy a mew machine after all.

Strike one against the repair person was that he asked whether he should remove his shoes before I led him to the location of the washing machine upstairs. I don't care who you are, your shoes should always come off in someone else's house, clean or not. Don't ask if you should keep them on. Automatically take them off. I would never think to walk around someone else's house with outdoor shoes on my feet. There must be an etiquette rule about that somewhere, perhaps unspoken but unmistakable nonetheless. I don't appreciate being put in the position of saying, "Oh, yeah, go ahead, keep your shoes on. I'm sure they're clean." It's my house. Show some respect and take your shoes off.

Strike two against the repair person was that he was one of those annoying people who anticipate what someone else is going to tell them. He listened to the first few words I said, then he went on to finish what he thought I was about to say while I was still talking, failing to give me the chance to explain the exact nature of the problem. And, when I corrected what he'd said, he kept repeating, "Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh" over and over, to the extent that I doubt he heard a single detail. Sometimes, people, especially service people, need to shut up and listen to what the customer tells them. Don't anticipate, don't talk over, and don't acknowledge something when you've been given nothing yet to acknowledge.

Once the repair person fully heard what I said, he crouched in front of the washing machine, opened the door, and manually spun the drum around. Right away he heard the grinding sound, which he told me had to do with the bearing in the machine, and which he went on to explain would cost almost as much to repair as buying a new machine. He also confirmed that, because the bearing is broken, the grease from inside it is leaking into the drum and flying onto our clothes during the spin cycle, soiling them. In other words, Chris and I need to buy another washing machine, which we pretty much knew was the case anyway. Good to have that confirmed, even though it cost us $94.45 for the assessment.

At the point when I began to ask questions about whether a top loading washing machine was preferable to a front loading, from the perspective of better washing capacity, fewer problems, and longevity, the repair person asked me what I wanted to replace it with. I said we'd talked about finding a machine by the same manufacturer, that roughly matched our existing dryer, which we've had no problems with, and was top loading, since we've never had bad experiences with top loading machines. Strike three was when he made an unfortunate assumption. He asked if my wife and I were set on buying the same brand, because, he advised, there are more durable brands on the market.

It's a small thing, I understand, making the assumption that I'm straight and that I have a wife. In fact, I recognize a compliment in there, in the sense that I'm so sure I look gay that everyone can tell I am, which I've written about ad nauseum in my blog, and which I've made very clear I don't want to appear to be. I should rejoice that a straight man thought I was straight too, proving that I make incorrect assumptions myself when it comes to what people think about me.

But, from my perspective, there's something else at work here. I don't want people to make incorrect assumptions about my sexual orientation. I don't want them to fail to acknowledge that there are alternate couples and living arrangements out there. And I don't want them to take away from what I've shared with the most special person in my life for the past seventeen years by making the assumption that he's a she.

The thought that ran through my head the minute I heard the "wife" word was, Do I correct him and tell him that I don't have a wife, I have a husband? Do I put the energy into telling him that I'm gay? Do I risk embarrassing him for making a mistake, and, perhaps more to the point, do I risk embarrassing myself by making too fine a point of his mistake, or, worse, by provoking a possible reaction that tells me he doesn't accept gay relationships and two men living together? Did I really want to potentially bring that down on myself, just because I wanted to correct him, because I wanted him to know gay relationships are everywhere, and he can't go through life failing to acknowledge people's various living arrangements.

Perhaps I'm as angry at myself for letting this bother me as much as it has, as I am at him for making the wrong assumption. The words he used in his question were innocent enough, and I shouldn't be upset that a straight man pigeon-holed me in the same slot as most other males in our culture. After all, in some of my posts, I've squawked about not wanting to look gay, and not wanting people to make the assumption that I'm gay. And I'm even working on another post where I complain about wanting to fit in with everyone else, and not wanting to attract attention to myself just because I might look different, and wanting to be like every straight man. So why get upset at the poor washing machine repair person because he's made the mistake of thinking I'm straight?

If I take a close look at my reaction, I see what really irks me about today's encounter. Yes, I'd love to be straight as long as we continue to live in a straight world, but I'm not. I will never be straight. So, that being the case, I want the respectful acknowledgement that I'm gay, that I have a gay relationship with another man, and that that gay relationship is as legitimate as straight relationships are between men and women.

And all of that won't happen unless people's eyes are opened, and they are forced to see what two women or two men share. If eyes don't get opened, gay relationships continue to exist in shadow, unacknowledged, and our society goes on thinking they are an anomaly, unimportant, and not worth recognizing.

Oh, by the way, I chose not to say anything to the repair person about being gay. I'm sure I'll never see him again anyway (although a part of me is upset with myself for not using the opportunity presented to me to do a little teaching about the realities of the world we live in today).

And what would I have preferred the repair person to say rather than "wife?" "Partner" works just fine, thank-you. I find that partner can be used in both opposite and same sex relationships, and there's nothing wrong with the term. In fact, since I've had to work with a number of service providers over the past several months, many of them routinely used the word partner to refer to a person's significant other. I always appreciated the implied acknowledgement that I may not have a wife, but that I may still have someone significant in my life whom I love very much.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What If, Again (Revised)

I'm not happy with this post as I originally wrote it yesterday. Tuesday wasn't a particularly good writing day for me, not nearly as good as today is, and I took a huge shortcut in writing this post just so I would have something to publish.

What I really wanted to write was this:

Recently, I read an article in the September 28, 2009 issue of "Time" about Neil Patrick Harris entitled "Host with the Most: Neil Patrick Harris stars as himself." You might recall that Harris was Dougie Howser, a genius kid doctor, and, most recently, he's played the role of a womanizer on TV's "How I Met Your Mother."

Several years ago, Harris came out as a gay man after an Internet blogger insisted that he out himself to the media. I'm always thrilled when someone in the spotlight comes out--like Ellen Degeneres, for example--because they add another identity to the largely faceless crowd of gay people, thereby giving the collective whole of us more credibility and legitimacy in a straight world.

In the article on Harris, the following was said about him: "He's extremely comfortable with who he is.... He's not somebody who seems to have a lot of demons and is torn up inside about his place in the world [p. 64]."

I recognized myself in this statement, although not in a good way. Judging from numerous posts on my blog, I think it can be said that I'm not so comfortable with who I am, I have demons I'm dealing with (many of them completely out in the open for everyone to read about), and I am somewhat torn up inside about what my place in the world is.

But I began to think about what it would be like to be Neil Patrick Harris, who, at the age of 36, seems to have his life together, both professionally and personally. What would life be like if I were comfortable with myself, referring mostly to my sexual orientation; if I had no demons from the past to deal with; if I knew my place in the world and was comfortable with it?

From this, I began to think about how my life would be affected if I simply decided to embrace my sexual orientation. What if I stopped wanting to be straight? What if I stopped feeling negative about being gay? What if I saw being gay as beneficial, even advantageous? What if I truly loved myself as a gay person? What if, indeed.

As I think about it, I have two choices: Be miserable about who I am because I'm gay (which I can't do anything about), or embrace being gay fully because it's who I am. In other words, continue to fight against what I am, because I'm so sure the rest of the world doesn't want me to be it, or stop fighting, accept it, and see what life holds for me.

One thing I know for sure: If I were to become straight suddenly, I would no longer be myself. I would no longer have my sensibility. I would no longer have what is mine to share with the world, what I've been put here to contribute. I am unique among everyone else on earth, just as we all are, and, really, we should never want to be someone other than who we are. We are exactly who we were meant to be, and if that's good enough for our Creator, then it should certainly be good enough for us right?


OLD TEXT (if you care to take a look at what this post looked like originally)

Let's play "What If" again.

What if being gay was valued as much as being straight in our culture? What if it were an advantage to be gay? What if it were preferable to be gay?

What if gay people brought to our culture things that are uniquely theirs, things that our culture couldn't get in any other way, things that are valued and meaningful and necessary?

What if we turned around this whole negative thing about being gay and said that it's now a positive thing? What if no more negative energy was wasted on feeling badly about being gay? What if we refused to think negatively about being gay and saw it as only a positive?

What if, as a gay man, I decided to embrace my gayness? What if I no longer wasted even one more second feeling negative about being gay and believed with all my heart that being gay was the best thing I could be? What if I believed that taking away my gayness would take away the best part of me, that I would no longer be myself, that I would no longer have what is uniquely mine to contribute to the world? What if I loved myself one hundred percent because I'm gay, not in spite of it?

What if, indeed.


Just prior to moving to __________ last spring, I attended a memoir writing class at the University of Victoria. For the last session, those students prepared to take the risk or wanting feedback were asked to bring along pieces of memoir writing, either something they were working on or something they wrote specifically for the class.

I was ambivalent about sharing anything with fellow writers I didn't really know or trust because I'd had a bad experience in a writing group in the past. A piece I'd worked on for some time had been torn to shreds by writers I'd come to trust but who didn't write themselves and who never brought anything to the class that any of the rest of us could critique. I'd been deeply hurt by that experience, and, shortly thereafter, frustrated, even angry, I withdrew from the group, even though I'd found some of our meetings constructive and helpful.

So I thought for a number of days about whether or not I wanted to share anything with my memoir writing class. I'd told the ten or so class members that I'd written the first draft of a memoir, which had impressed them, and several asked me to bring along some of my writing so they could see it. But I wasn't sure I was ready to share some of my deeply personal ramblings.

Around that time, I'd gone through an experience that I knew I had to write about in some capacity. A circumstance had been given to me, and I knew there was something in it to capture on paper and to share with other people. So, while I didn't feel up to showing anyone my memoir writing, I thought if I wrote about this experience, it would be easy to write because it had just happened; it would give me the opportunity to write about something other than my memoir; and it would give the fellow classmates a sample of my writing to critique.

Writing this piece came easy, and, before I knew it, I'd completed a first draft. That's all we were asked to bring to the class. I was so pleased I'd have something to share.

Then I started to feel insecure. As I read the piece over and over, editing it to the point where I thought it was something worth showing other people, I realized how truly personal it was, and, remembering my past writing group experience, I chose not to face any criticism about the subject matter or how I wrote it. The piece, or maybe I, wasn't quite ready for the world yet.

In the end, I spent some time working on an excerpt from my memoir--"Father F," which I "published" here on August 27--and I brought that to our final class, fully expecting to include it amongst those pieces other writers had brought. But, again, after working on it for several hours, I thought the subject matter might insult Catholics, which I didn't want to do, and I knew the writing wasn't where I wanted it to be. So, much to the disappointment of a few, no one from the class got to see a sample of my writing that day. I just wasn't ready.

What I've included below is the first draft of the piece I originally wrote for the memoir writing class and decided I couldn't share. It's still in rough shape, and I publish it here not because the writing is particularly good but because I believe it provides an important insight into what it means to be gay, at least for me. I'd be willing to bet other gay men would relate to what I've written too. I call the personal essay "Gift."

Glen wasn't at Fitness World today. I looked forward to seeing him, as I always do. I missed him.

Since Chris and I are moving to Vancouver in less than a month, Glen and I have only a few more occasions to see each other. Every one counts.

Last Wednesday, Susan asked me what I wanted to talk about. It was my final session. We’d covered a lot over the past five weeks.

I thought for a moment. “Being gay,” I began, “I've always felt disconnected from straight men. My father was physically absent when I grew up, and, when he was home, he was emotionally absent. I never had a relationship with him.” No reaction from Susan. I went on.

“I had a brother,” I continued, “but only for five weeks, when I was three. He died of crib death. Sometimes, I’ve imagined what our relationship would be like today, if he were alive. I’m sure he would be straight, but I don’t know if he and I would be close. I doubt it. Our family’s never been close. And straight men seem to fear having anything to do with gay men. Maybe brothers are different.” I shrugged. I watched Susan write on her lined, yellow pad.

“I had other straight male relatives, but I wasn’t close to any of them either. They had their lives, I had mine. And you already know how the boys at school felt about me. Either they ignored me, or they teased me, called me a fairy or faggot. Most of my friends in school were girls.”

“What about teachers?” Susan asked. “Were you close to any of your male teachers.”

I thought back thirty-five or more years. “I had a few male teachers,” I answered, “but I don't remember being close to any of them. Most of my teachers were female. I had close relationships with some of them. Just like I had with some of the women in my family. I remember being in the kitchen, with my mother and my aunt, while they prepared meals, listening to them talk and laugh, while the men and boys were in the living room, watching sports or something on TV.”

“How did this make you feel” Susan asked, scribbling on her pad, “not being close to any men in your life?”

“Disconnected,” I answered. “Honestly, I’ve never felt like I belonged to my gender. I know gay men are still men, biologically, but I’ve always thought they were different, not like straight men.” I wondered if I’d confused Susan, if this made sense. “Don’t get me wrong--some gay men are more masculine than others. But all of them are into men. It’s not the same thing. For me, connecting with gay men is not the same as connecting with straight men. I feel like something is missing from me because I’ve never mattered to straight men.”

“Do you think you’d feel differently if you and your father had been close?”

“Absolutely.” I’d thought about this before. “But that wasn’t an option. We had nothing in common. I think he might have been scared of me. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, he’s not my father. He’s still alive, but, to me, he’s been dead for years.”

Susan kept writing. She stopped and looked at me. She kept silent.

“Life’s funny, isn’t it?” I said. “I mean, you ask for something, and it comes to you in the strangest way.”

“How so?”

“There’s this fellow at Fitness World,” I began. “It’s strange how we met. Had my workout schedule not changed when I left my job, I would never have encountered him.”

“He’s very attractive,” I continued. “I mean, I find him physically attractive. His body is muscular, his hair is short and greying, and his eyes are light. He has this shit-disturber grin. He knows a lot of people at the gym, and he talks and jokes around with them.

“I admit, he turned me on from the moment I saw him, and I tried to sneak looks at him and not get caught. I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea about me. For months, we kind of acknowledged each other in passing, but we never said much.

“Then, he started to say a few words to me, mostly upstairs in the change room. He commented on the weather, asked me how my workout was going. I said as little as possible. He made me nervous. Straight men have always had that effect on me. I didn’t want him to find out I was gay because I thought it would put him off. I kept my distance.

“But he didn’t give up. Once, I was in the change room talking to Mario, who’s another gay fellow there, when Glen came in from the hot tub. He asked us what we were talking about. I told him I’d just said to Mario that I’d left my job over a year ago, and my partner was supporting both of us so I could write. He told Mario and me that he runs a local music store, and he writes music on the side. He said he’s published two books of music. We talked for awhile. I was happy that I finally had the chance to tell him something about myself. As I left the locker room to go back downstairs, he extended his hand to me. ‘My name’s Glen,’ he said.

"For weeks, I’d wondered what his name was. I even considered asking one of the girls at the front counter. I introduced myself, stumbling on my first name, which I’ve never liked. I was thrilled he told me his name and shook my hand. I loved looking into his eyes when he spoke to me, seeing him smile, but I was nervous, tongue-tied. Sooner or later, I knew I’d make a fool of myself. I always do.

“I don’t know what I’d call Glen,” I continued. “He isn’t really a friend--maybe an acquaintance, a casual buddy, sort of. We haven’t spent any time together outside of Fitness World, gone out for coffee or anything like that. It wouldn't be appropriate to do that. But I know he’s thirty-nine, straight, or at least I think he is--I’m sure he is--and he’s married and has three kids. His oldest is sixteen, a son.

“Over the past months, Glen and I have talked about things I haven’t discussed with anyone else. One time, we talked about how tough workouts are, three, four times a week, keeping up the routine, and I told him I wrote an article for a newspaper at work once, about how you need to feel good about yourself to work out because, if you don’t believe you’re worth it, you’ll never make it happen. And another time we talked about getting older, how we both feel different from when we were younger, how some people don’t age well, get sick, die young.”

“How does being around Glen make you feel?” Susan interrupted me.

“Honestly,” I said, smiling, “I feel great.” I shook my head, thinking about being near him. “I look forward to seeing him. I try to time my workouts when I know he’ll be there.

“Sometimes, I wonder if he might be gay, or have gay tendencies,” I continued. “The other day, we were running on treadmills beside each other. He increased his speed to 8.0 and was running so fast, I thought he might hurt himself. I told him if he wasn’t careful, he’d have a heart attack. ‘You’d save me, wouldn’t you?’ he asked. I thought about what he’d said, felt a chill run through me. It seemed like a strange thing for him to say. ‘Of course,’ I told him, ‘I’d save you.’ But I tried to sound sarcastic, so he wouldn’t get the idea that I wanted to be near him, to touch him.

“A while later, I was talking with one of the girls at the front counter about canceling our memberships when Chris and I move, and, without seeing him, Glen bumped into me on purpose, and headed for the stairs to the change room. He turned around and looked at me, smiling. I laughed and told the girl at the counter that they had some obnoxious members. I said it loud enough so Glen could hear. But I felt great. I knew I couldn’t do what Glen had just done unless I was comfortable touching him. Otherwise, he’d keep his distance.

“I mean, Glen knows I’m gay, even though I went out of my way not to tell him. He’s referred to my partner as “he,” and he doesn’t seem at all uncomfortable or threatened around me. He’s just very natural, and sweet, and nonjudgemental. My sexual orientation makes no difference to him.”

I saw the wide smile on Susan’s face, how she kept nodding as I spoke.

“I’ve thought about having sex with Glen,” I said. Did I say that to shock her? “I mean, I’d never have sex with him, because I love Chris, and I’d never betray him. But I’ve wondered what it would be like to hold Glen and to have him hold me, to feel physically safe in his arms--even to go all the way.”

“I don’t think you really want to do that,” Susan said.

I thought for a moment. “Because Glen would no longer be the symbolic straight man I’ve always wanted in my life?”

Susan smiled and nodded.

“You’re right,” I said. “But I’d sure like more from him. I’ve gotten a lot from him already, but I’d sure like a lot more.”

“Glen has been a gift in your life,” Susan said. “Imagine a father figure, with qualities like Glen, making you feel like how being around Glen makes you feel. Now, give that gift to yourself.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sam and Dan

Two Sundays ago, I tuned into the season premiere of "The Amazing Race 15," arguably the best reality show on TV. If you don't believe me, consider that "The Amazing Race" recently won its seventh Emmy Award for Best Reality Series. That says something about the consistently high quality of this program.

Two of the contestants on the current season are Sam McMillen, 23, and Dan McMillen, 21, brothers from Liberty, Missouri. But, of course, there's a little more to their story than is immediately apparent: Sam and Dan are both gay. That's right--two gay brothers in the same family (that's not the first time I've heard of this; I've even heard about twin brothers being gay too). Apparently, they came out to each other a year or so ago, and they say that they were close before, but, after sharing this most personal aspect of themselves with each other, they are closer now than ever.

You know, of course, who I'm most interested in watching on "The Amazing Race" now, as they travel around the world, complete various tasks, and try to arrive first at the finish line. True, in the end, some of the other teams might perform better than Sam and Dan, and another team might well win the grand prize over them, but I feel to some degree that these two brothers represent all gay men. By putting themselves out there, they set an example of what gay men are like and help to engender a better understanding of gay people in general. As far as I'm concerned, any positive example, in whatever form it takes, is a good thing.

As I sat on the sofa watching the premiere episode of "The Amazing Race," I found myself riveted to the comings and goings of Sam and Dan. And then I was overcome by a shot of envy that made me feel very uncomfortable. Yes, as Wendy, one of my loyal readers, pointed out to me in the past, envy of other people is a great example of Satan at work, which came to mind when I felt it (I'm learning, Wendy). But, for a moment anyway, I was surprised by the intensity of the emotion, and I decided to work through it in my journal a day later, so I understood it better. Here's what I came up with.

I felt an intense sense of envy of Sam and Dan because:

1). They are both in their early twenties--less than half my own age. I never used to be envious of people younger than me, but, as I grow older, it seems that more and more people are increasingly younger than me, and, whether I ever could or not, I can't compete with them anymore, in terms of looks and opportunity and whatever else. The bottom line is today's youth has left me behind, and I'm struggling as fast as I can to keep up.

2). And, speaking of looks, Sam and Dan are both physically beautiful, at least in the way I appreciate male beauty. Their faces are handsome, their bodies are hunky, and they have natural, easy smiles. You can't help but keep your eyes on them, especially if you're a gay man, because, perhaps more than any of the men on the other teams (except for Canaan Smith), they are appealing and easy to look at. And, yeah, okay, I'm attracted to them too, especially Dan, the taller and the bigger of the two. He's just plain cute.

3). Along the line of physical appearance, Sam and Dan are both masculine looking, obviously able, even at their young ages, to grow full beards. Anyone who's kept up with my blog to this point knows I have a thing for physical masculinity as it relates to hairy forearms, sideburns, goatees, beards, and hairy chests. I once read somewhere that men are hairy and women are not. That's stuck in my mind, perhaps contributing to the feeling I have that physical masculinity is all about body hair, or perhaps confirming what I've always known to be true.

4). Because Sam and Dan are physically masculine looking, they're not obviously gay. (It also helps that they don't seem to be at all effeminate either, which may also be a function of the additional testosterone coursing through their bodies that manifested itself in their hairiness.) In fact, had I not been told they were gay, my gaydar may never have gone off. Again, this is a theme I've written about before--being gay but not looking or acting like it. Being gay is one thing I would have dearly liked to hide about myself through most of my life, and more power to the men who are fortunate enough to be able to do that.

5). Since Sam and Dan are both gay and brothers, they are able to understand and support each other in ways that a brother who is not gay couldn't. One of the biggest things I had to deal with as I was growing up was being alone and feeling intense loneliness. I was different, and, to some degree, I don't think those who loved me knew how to deal with that. And those who didn't love me picked up on it and rejected me through their teasing and ridiculing. How comforting it would be to have a gay brother, to be there for each other, and to be the closest of friends when there's no one else in your life.

6). Finally, Sam and Dan came of age being gay at a very different time than I did. In general, the world is far more accepting of gay men now. I know for a fact that a program like "The Amazing Race" would never have featured gay brothers as contestants twenty or even ten years ago. Some viewers would have been up in arms about the immorality of the contestants and the show for portraying them in a legitimate manner. As a result, CBS might have avoided including gay contestants to ensure ratings were not adversely affected. Fortunately, that's no longer the case.

I can't know what it's like to be 21 or 23 years old, physically attractive, masculine, and gay today, but, judging from Sam and Dan, and especially since they don't look gay, I suspect their experience has been far different from mine.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm Back

Before I started writing my blog, at the beginning of this year, I read sections of a book on blogging. In part, the book stated that the person wishing to start a blog should get writing. No need to give a lot of thought to what the blog should be about. In all likelihood, it would begin on a specific subject, but, as time went on, the subject would change, perhaps repeatedly. That's the nature of blogging.

Thus, I don't think I spent a long time pondering what I wanted this blog to be about. I knew early on that its subject should be the relationship I share with Chris. As I've stated before, I hoped that by writing about Chris and me, I'd reach two audiences: 1). Gay male couples who are in long-term relationships, and who want an open window on the workings of another gay couple's relationship, and 2). Single gay men in despair of ever finding the right man to settle down and build a life with. In particular, I wanted the latter to see that long-term, gay relationships really do exist, and I wanted them to be inspired by what Chris and I share.

The book I read at the outset was right. While I've written numerous posts about Chris and me, and the dynamic between us, my blog turned into so much more over time. For example, I started writing it at a time when Chris and I knew we'd soon move from Victoria on Vancouver Island to somewhere on the Lower Mainland. That somewhere ended up being __________, some _____ kilometers outside of downtown Vancouver, where Chris works, and I wrote posts about the move and about our new home as we went through all of it. I had much to resolve in my mind about moving to a place I didn't want to go to, and my blog, as well as all the encouraging comments I received from my devoted and caring readers, played a large part in helping me to adjust to this significant change.

But, along the way--and much to my surprise--I discovered that my blog was a way for me to explore what it means to be gay, at least for me, based on my experience growing up gay and coming of age in the 1970s and '80s, and the resulting aftermath. Although I came out in the mid-1980s, and thought at the time that I'd overcome one of the greatest hurdles associated with being gay, I've found, through writing my blog, that, all these years later, I'm still not comfortable with being gay. I still have many issues related to being different as far as my sexual orientation is concerned and, specifically, to my masculine identity as it relates to falling into one of the big stereotypes of being gay--that of effeminacy.

Through my blog posts, I've taken me, and my readers, into corners of my mind I wasn't aware were there. I've tried to reconcile being somewhat effeminate and gay with being born a male and falling considerably short of the masculine ideal I've always aspired to, in part, so I wasn't so different from straight males and, in part, so I was able to safely hide behind the facade of my physical masculinity and be less easily identified as gay. I've discovered that, in our society, even in the twenty-first century, it's still, in some respects, easier to be gay as long as you don't look it or act it.

But I've learned also that times are apparently changing. Acceptance of some people's differences now, including being gay, is greater. Not only is Canada one of the most progressive nations in the world, legalizing gay marriage several years ago, but also, I'm told, there is a greater tolerance for gay youth in today's junior and senior high schools. As skeptical as I am that this is the case, I'm told that young gay males, even those with effeminate tendencies, are not teased and taunted to the degree I was well over a generation ago. So much the better if this is true. Then today's gay youth will grow up to be better adjusted gay men, more aware of their entitlement to all the things straight men and women avail themselves of and enjoy.

But what of the gay men well into middle age now, even if they've made peace with the parents who shunned them because they were different and misunderstood; even if they are no longer teased and taunted as they were in grade school; even if their workplaces recognize same sex couples and extend same sex benefits; even if they are happy and fulfilled in long-term, committed relationships? Despite all of these improvements in the professional, social, and personal living conditions of today's gay man, many of us of a certain age still deal with how we feel about ourselves after the damage was done, so to speak.

Even if we've gone through years and years of therapy and analysis, in an effort to move beyond many of our self-esteem issues once and for all, I've learned that the insecure, vulnerable, and emotionally injured little boy inside is never too far from the surface. From time to time, adult situations still elicit some of the feelings that were so prevalent while growing up different, in a world that didn't value different, and, in fact, in the case of being gay, deplored it.

Whether the adult situations I speak of were in intense team building games at work--where the submissive and the weak were left behind and made to feel useless--or were in adult friendships--where one adult teased the other in ways that were presumed to be funny but which came to feel belittling and cruel--the fact remains that being gay, and being teased, ridiculed, and taunted for it, stays with the adult gay man forever. And, no matter how well adjusted you think you are now, it's unlikely that you'll ever forget what you've been through or cease being affected by it in some way.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, now that I've returned to blog writing following two weeks of vacation, I believe there is still much ahead of me to write about regarding what it's like to be gay in 2009 and beyond. My dear readers may discover that I repeat some of the same themes over and over, and they may grow tired of what I have to say, but I know from what I've written so far that approaching an issue from different directions often provides additional clarity and understanding. If nothing else, the work that I do in my blog is an ongoing attempt to get to the bottom of who I am as a gay man, to understand why I can't seem to let go of all the hurt from the past, and to make sense of why I feel today the way I do about myself.

So I ask of my devoted and patient readers to allow me to indulge myself. I've never had such an incredible forum for exploring some of my deepest thoughts and feelings. I've never had such an incredible opportunity to come to terms with who I am as a gay man at fifty years of age. And I've never had such an incredible chance to accumulate so much material on the same subject that I may be able to pull together and present in another form that could help other people in the same or a similar situation.

Whether what we face on a daily basis is the reality of being gay, or being overweight, or being female, or being Islamic, or being Asian, or being whatever, I know for a fact that the source of discrimination may be different, but the resulting feelings are the same. My guess is that, no matter in what ways you, my dear readers, may be different--and we are all different in some way--you can relate to me as I can relate to you--if we remain open to understanding what each of us went through, how it made us feel, and what we did to work through it.

In other words, my journey to self knowledge and, ultimately, to self acceptance is not that different from yours. My hope is that you will stick with me through my journey, and that, in the process, you'll gain a better understanding of yourself through the ways in which I scrutinize my own life and try to make sense out of it.