Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Proposed Column for "XTRA! West," Vancouver's Gay & Lesbian Biweekly

About fifteen months ago, "XTRA! West," the local gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper, advertised for new columnists.  The editor was looking for fresh voices, what I assumed to mean writers who, through their work, would present to readers different facets of the gay experience, those who hadn't been heard from before.

I knew I had a fresh voice, or, at least, a voice that hadn't been heard before within the pages of "XTRA! West."  My voice was that of a middle-aged, gay man in a long-term, committed, and monogamous relationship.

Around the time of the advertisement for new columnists, Chris and I found ourselves traveling increasingly in the company of other gay male couples--Steve and Mike, Chris and Justin, Bill and Lloyd--and, with the opportunity, we often asked questions of each other, because we were curious about how other gay couples handled issues within the context of their relationships.

Chris asked me about how my Chris and I handled money issues.  I asked Bill and Lloyd what accounted for the success of their forty-two year commitment to each other.  Steve and Mike talked about the latter applying for and securing a position in a new job, necessitating a move from Victoria to Saskatchewan, and how their relationship was both challenged and strengthened by that.

With the exchange of information between us when we got together, I realized how beneficial talking to other gay couples was, both as confirmation that what Chris and I did seemed to work for other couples too, and as a way to learn about what might work for us if we found ourselves in the same situations.

But, in addition, I believed that my fresh voice in "XTRA! West" could shine a light on gay relationships for single gays.  When Chris and I came together as a couple, and it looked like our relationship might last longer than any other I'd ever had, we slowly lost contact with the single gay men we knew.  Increasingly, we found we didn't want the same things anymore--they were motivated to keep mingling with other singles in the never-ending search to find the right men to share their lives with, while Chris and I had thankfully done that and had moved on to a new phase of our life together.

I believed that what Chris and I learned about each other and about being a couple might show single gays that it is possible to meet the person of your dreams, and here's how to overcome some of the obstacles of bringing together two different people, with two different lives, and make it all work.

With these thoughts in mind, I turned to a list of forty-plus gay relationship essays I'd written about Chris and me over the previous months.  I selected three and spent several weeks reworking them into 1,000 word articles to submit to "XTRA! West."  I prepared a covering letter to the managing editor, pitching my idea for a fresh, new column, and I attached the three essays.  Then I crossed my fingers and waited.

Several days later, I received an email from the managing editor, stating that, while she thought my pieces were well written, they were not a match for one of the columns she was looking for.  She invited me to submit guest pieces to the newspaper in the future, which I haven't done yet, because I remain committed to my original idea (hence the reason why I started writing this blog last February).

Several weeks ago, I reread the three articles I submitted to "XTRA! West" back in August 2008.  From reading the work of columnists in the newspaper over the years, I admit my voice is different from the young gay or lesbian, finding his or her way personally and professionally.  We live different lives:  They go out to the clubs, while I can't tell you the last time I was in a gay club; they're socially motivated and travel in circles comprised of other up-and-coming gays and lesbians, while I'm mostly a homebody who has a few close friends, both gay and straight; and they're smart and hip and clever, their lives and writing reflecting that, while I'm perhaps more thoughtful, honest, and insightful, my writing reflecting that.  As I see it, there's room for all of our different perspectives.  

Below, you'll find one of the articles I sent to "XTRA! West."  I wanted it to be the first in the series, using it to explain my motivation for wanting to write the column in the first place.  While some might think the article lacks professional sheen, I believe what I wrote stands up to any published in "XTRA! West," and I would have been happy to work with "XTRA! West" to bring it up to their standard while still maintaining my voice and content.  With any luck at all, perhaps one day I'll get the chance to do that.

Nothing would make me happier than to help gay people love themselves and see the possibilities for their own lives.  This is what continues to motivate me to write, whatever form it might take today and in the future.  


Last summer, an interview with Nate Berkus appeared in Out magazine.  Nate is a Chicago interior designer, well known for his numerous appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”  His good taste and style principles have transformed many environments, from three-hundred square foot bachelor suites to much larger projects, including houses, restaurants, and retail outlets.  

Nate's name could be familiar for another reason.  On December 26, 2005, he was among the first to report on the devastating tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, calling the “The Larry King Show” on a borrowed cell phone.  Together, with his longtime partner, Fernando Bengoechea, Nate was on vacation in the area.  They were in their small cabin on the beach when the surging water struck that Monday.

Several months later, a visibly-shaken Nate appeared again on “Oprah,” this time to provide more detail about that fateful day.  He and Fernando had tried to save themselves by grasping on to a pole on the top of a hill that the water had carried them to.   Nate had been able to maintain his grip despite the churning water, but Bengoechea hadn’t.  His body was never recovered.

In the Out interview, Nate talked about the numerous letters and emails he received from young gay people following that episode of “Oprah.”  What Berkus had said, and the obvious love he had shared with Fernando, had inspired them.  Some had been moved to come out to their families and friends, realizing they were eager to experience love with someone special in their own lives.

When I read this, the sentiments confirmed what I’d thought for some time.  I knew that magazines and newspapers, like XTRA! West, did a great job of representing many different facets of our community, but I couldn’t remember reading much about gay men and lesbian women in long-term, meaningful, and loving relationships.  As a result, I thought there was an opportunity for them to expand the balance in their reporting, not only by featuring long-term relationships but also by celebrating them in all of their everyday and extraordinary detail.

I started to think about how different my life might have been back in the mid-80s, when I finally came to terms with my sexual orientation and came out to my family and friends.  How differently would I have looked at myself, and at the possibilities for my future, had I had role models, had I seen examples of gay men and lesbian women in long-term relationships.  If I’d known that I could be who I really was, find the right person for me, and develop a life together with that special man.  This knowledge would have given me more hope than I remember having then.

Back in the early 80s, exposure to what being gay was all about wasn’t a lot different from what it is now.  I saw the more visible aspects of the gay community, but not the ones that I would have related to more.  Without that example, I admit that not only did I not like what being gay meant, but also I didn’t like myself because I was gay.  Right or wrong, I thought my future was doomed to endless one-night stands, unbearable loneliness, and growing old by myself.  I didn’t know that I could have what my partner and I have shared for the past seventeen years.

How I would have appreciated seeing someone like Nate Berkus on “Oprah” in 1985, showing me the other side of gay life -- the side where you could live your life as an openly gay man, where relationships with someone of the same sex did exist, and where experiencing real love was possible.  And where you could be an example to other gay people, young and old, scared to take the risk in opening themselves to love someone else, and allowing that to transform their lives.

I’ve enjoyed reading XTRA! West over these past many years just like everyone else.  I enjoy seeing how diverse our population is, now encompassing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.  Among other subjects, I’ve been informed by, and enjoyed reading about, drag queens, rent boys, nightclubbing, and the like.

But I’ve also thought it was time to give a voice to those who are typically quiet, to those who, whether they believed they had to or not, lived their lives within long-term relationships without drawing attention to themselves.  I believe we’ve arrived at a time when gay people in relationships can now set examples for single gays and lesbians, encouraging them to consider the possibility of relationships in their own lives.

Finally, I also believe that what I have to share about my relationship with my partner could help other gay men and lesbian women who are already in long-term relationships, by providing them with information on how another couple deals with the everyday issues of life, and by validating what they already do in various situations and circumstances.

My goal for this column is to present real aspects of the relationship I share with my partner Chris.  We’re no different from anyone else in a long-term relationship, except that we’ve been together for an appreciable length of time, and, over that time, we’ve dealt with a number of situations, from moving in together, to money, to relocating, to aging, to joint mortgages, to stressful jobs, to understanding the dynamics of a living, breathing relationship.  From the practical and the everyday, to the extraordinary and the rare, perhaps what Chris and I share will make someone else’s life easier or somehow better.

In the end, my greatest hope is that someone else, scared to open his or her life and heart to a potential lifelong partner, will see what the future could hold.  My relationship has transformed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and I hope that I will say something here, and over the following months, that will encourage you to give it a try.   


  1. Sounds to me like you're on to something, Rick! Do NOT give up!

  2. Thanks so much for your encouragement, Wendy.
    I really believe in this idea for a column, and I believe, given that I'm in a successful gay relationship and have been for almost twenty years, I have a lot to write about that could be helpful to coupled and single gay men and lesbian women alike. Perhaps the letter of mine that "XTRA! West" will publish in their upcoming issue will be the beginning of something good for me. I really want to be a part of turning that newsletter into so much more than it is now. I'm just not sure how to go about doing it. But the thought is out there, and, if it's meant to be, it will happen.
    Thanks again, Wendy, for your positive feedback. I really appreciate it.