Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Boxing Day

This past December 26th, Chris and I drove into downtown Vancouver to take advantage of the Boxing Day sales at some of the local stores.  We parked our car in the EasyPark facility on the edge of Yaletown and walked up a short driveway to Homer Street, the sky bright with early winter sunshine, and the temperatures cold and crisp.  At Homer, we turned right and headed toward Robson.

Half a block up, our attention was directed to a female voice yelling out.  I turned to my left to see a car race past us, windows open, laughing young women sitting in the front and back seats.  For a second, the young woman sitting on the right rear passenger side caught my eye.  Then the car was gone.        

"What did she say?" Chris asked me.

"She said, 'fuckin' homos,'" I answered.

I felt numb at first, certain I'd misunderstood what I'd heard.  I must have been mistaken, surely.  Do people still do that?  Open car windows and yell out insulting words?  I was incredulous, dumbfounded.  But I couldn't imagine what she might have said otherwise.  As much as I wanted to give her the benefit of a doubt, I was sure I'd heard her correctly.  How could I possibly misunderstand the words "fuckin'" and "homos" yelled out in our direction?

When the reality hit me that I'd really heard what I had, I'd like to say I wasn't affected by it.  That I'd grown beyond being upset by the labels and the epithets and the name-calling that characterized my teen years, when I was in grade school, and, to a lesser degree, my life since then.  I'd like to say that, but I can't.

The adult that I am now told me to ignore what had just happened as though it hadn't happened at all.  It told me, you don't know the young woman, and she doesn't know you, so this isn't about you.  Don't let it be about you.  She and her friends were just having a little harmless fun.  Maybe...maybe the words she yelled out hadn't even been directed at you. Maybe they were meant for someone else and not you at all.      

But the little boy that I once was didn't register the logic of this.  The little boy was struck as directly as he'd been years before, feeling himself stumble and fall down that familiar, deep, dark hole all over again.  And all the adult he'd become could do was prevent him from falling as hard and as far as he had in the past, and help him find his way back up to the present.    

Within a few minutes of the incident, I was angry, very angry.  I thought, how dare she get to me like this and make me feel like I did thirty-five years ago.  How dare she make me, a fifty-year-old man, who's dealt with enough shit from the past to fill a lifetime, and who's more settled within himself now and happier than he's ever been, in no small measure because of the long-term relationship he's shared with one of the most wonderful human spirits ever--how dare she bring me down, marginalize who I am, and what I've become, and what I have, and make me feel badly about myself, eliciting those same feelings of insecurity and self-loathing all over again.  Who the hell does she think she is?

Monday afternoon, Chris and I had a couple of friends over, and we related the details of this experience to them.  Each of them took opposite sides on the issue based on their own experiences.  One, a sixty-year-old, who has lived his entire life closeted, dismissed what had happened and told me to let it go, to get over it, because it didn't have anything to do with my life now.  But the other one, himself teased mercilessly in school for another reason altogether, understood how I felt, and how I could be affected all over again by what had happened.

The fact is that, as much as we'd like to think we've dealt with the hurt and the pain and the injustice of the past, and moved beyond it; as much as we'd like to think that our life circumstances are improved, and that we'll never be affected by people's insensitivity and cruelty the way we were once, we don't know that for sure, until we find ourselves in that position.  It would seem that little child we once were lives on, just below the surface of our adult facades, as insecure and as vulnerable and as much in need of love and acceptance and belonging as ever before.

If only I could sit that young woman down, tell her what I've been through, and how she made me feel.  If only she could know how hurtful she was and how ignorant, perhaps without really intending to be, she'd think twice about ever yelling out something equally inappropriate again.  On the other hand, I don't have a lot of faith in young people these days.  Appealing to their better judgment doesn't seem to get to them.  They just look at you with glazed over eyes, as if you've landed on earth from outer space, or, worse, they laugh in your face.  I imagine the young woman telling me to get off it, old man, it was only a joke.  What's wrong with you?  Can't you take a joke?

I'm struck by the fact that these words were uttered by a female.  I've never heard a young woman direct a gay epithet at me before.  Ever.  Not that I remember.  Young men have always been the ones to lash out, probably to cover up their own insecurities about who they are, about what gender they are most attracted to.  Putting someone else down for the same thing they are but can't admit makes them feel better about themselves, stronger, more in control.  What motivated a young woman to yell out an insult at gay men, I can't imagine.  What did she have to gain?  Did she have a boyfriend in the past who left and hurt her because he was gay?  Who knows?  Enough rationalizing about what happened.  Enough trying to find an excuse for what she did.

In just a few days, it will be 2010, not 1962, or 1975, or 1988, when it was no less offensive to call gay men names, but when, culturally, society didn't accept homosexuality as much as it does now.  There have been many improvements over the decades, including a greater awareness of differences in people in general, and gays and lesbians in particular, and even the legalization of gay marriage in Canada.  More than ever, gay people are being validated in our society, and we are able to live our lives more and more just like every other Canadian does.

So where does the young woman get off yelling "Fuckin' homos" at Chris and me?  She needs to get with the program.  What's unacceptable now is not sexual orientation but people's intolerance toward it.  It's time to get caught up, or be left behind.


This is the age of the memoir.  Books about real people's lives are more popular than ever.  Just in the past few months, I've read books about Charles Schulz (creator of Peanuts); Anne Murray (legendary Canadian singer); and Ted Kennedy (long-time U.S. senator).  Currently, I'm reading Andre Agassi's Open, an extraordinarily well-written memoir about his life as one of the most celebrated tennis players of all time (and one of People's and Entertainment Weekly's top ten books of 2009).

Over a year ago, I finished writing the first draft of my own memoir, covering the period from when I was a little boy to when I met Chris, my partner for the past seventeen years.  What I was left with was an unruly 820 pages that had no focus and no rhyme or reason--but I got it all down.  As much as I could remember, anyway.  Since then, I cut my memoir in half, recognizing that I had two distinct sections to my life--before I came out as a man who is gay, and after.  Each section is about 400 pages, making them seem more manageable.  

Lately, I haven't spent much time editing either volume of my memoir.  I know I can whenever I want to, because it's always available for me to access on my hard-drive, but I haven't gotten there yet.  Instead, I've worked almost exclusively on this blog, because, as it turns out, I have much to understand about myself, and what it means to me to be gay.  I think from the insights and the perspective I've gained through writing this blog, if and when I decide to return to my memoirs, I'll have a deeper understanding of who I am and how I became who I am, which will inform any future work on my life story.

So, in the absence of a completed memoir, I've prepared this relatively brief synopsis of my life story.  While what I've written here could be seen as self-indulgent--as all memoirs ultimately are--I believe it will provide my readers with details about my background that will help them understand me a little better, and it will help them see the various stages involved in coming to terms with who I am and with being gay, which are not mutually exclusive by any means.      


My life falls into several distinctive sections.  The first I call BC, or Before Chris, which takes place between when I was a boy to when I met Chris in 1992.  The second I call AC, or After Chris, which is everything that follows June 1992.

The BC period can be further broken down into two subsections:  boyhood to when I came out as a gay man on January 1, 1986, and from January 1, 1986 to June 13, 1992, the day I met Chris.

BC:  October 3, 1959 to January 1, 1986

Until October 1974, when my family moved to Kelowna, we lived in Dawson Creek, with short stints in Grimshaw, Alberta, and Trail, BC, when I was a very little boy.  I have almost no recollections of either or those places.

Dawson Creek, located in the northeast corner of BC, close to the Alberta border, is a small farming community that, at the time, had about 12,000 inhabitants.  I recall summers were usually short and could be blazing hot, with lots of nasty, large mosquitoes, and winters were long, very cold, and tough.  I remember temperatures often plummeted to -35 or -40 degrees F.  One school day, the principal came on the P.A. system to say that all of the kids who had bused in from the surrounding farmlands earlier that morning were being sent home.  Temperatures had fallen to below -50 degrees F.

My mother was just nineteen years old when I was born (my father was in his early twenties).  As far as I can tell, I was conceived in the back of an old Studebaker, in Pouce Coupe, a village ten kilometers southeast of Dawson Creek, and I entered the world in October 1959.  My parents were married in April of the same year.  You do the math.  At least my mother wasn't sequestered at some distant relative's until I was born and forced to give me up for adoption, as was common back in the day for unwed, pregnant, Catholic girls.

My mom and dad were not ready to be parents.  They had no idea how bringing a small baby into the world would affect their lives.  They were mere children themselves, and I think they resented being strapped down with me and, two years later, with my sister.

Dad was the sole provider, who, beyond that, didn't have a clue what being a good parent was (through the years, I've gotten hints that his parents didn't set a great example for him either).  We always had a place to stay, clothes on our backs, and food in our bellies--I'll give that to my father. But, through most of my life, Dad was physically absent.  When he wasn't at work--first, as a manager of the now defunct McLeods store; then, as owner of a Texaco service station; and, finally, as a real estate agent--he was at home in his leather recliner, in front of the TV, newspaper in hand, drawing on his pipe or the occasional cigar. I think for him, my sister and I were minor annoyances on the periphery of his consciousness. I remember when he was home, he interacted little with us, almost as though pretending we weren't there.

I remember no tenderness from my father, no sensitivity toward us, unless he'd had plenty to drink.  That's when he softened up, allowed himself to feel emotions and to be closer to us physically.  Unfortunately, I hated the smell of alcohol on his breath, and I resented that the only time he wanted to have anything to do with me was when he was liquored up.  During most of my years as a child, I feared my father.  I didn't want to be around him.  I felt no love from him whatsoever.  I only knew him as distant, as a cold man, and as a disciplinarian, quick to use his hand but not his heart.  My dad is still alive and lives in Dawson Creek, but I've had no communication with him over the past thirteen years.  Thus far, it's been better that way.    

My mom's life as a free and independent young woman ended when she had me.  Despite women of the '60s increasingly making their mark in the workplace, my dad wouldn't permit my mother to work outside the home, so she had to quit her job as a secretary at Fort St. John Lumber.  I remember my mother spent much of her life when I was a little boy in a state of bitterness.  I believe she resented my sister and me for ruining her life.  At least, that's what I've always felt.  She resented other women who worked outside the home for living the life she wanted.  She resented my father for isolating her with two little kids and for rarely sharing the day-to-day responsibilities that go along with having children.  She took out her bitterness on us.  She was usually impatient, aloof, and sometimes mean.

I don't remember a lot of happiness or levity or joy in our house.  Those words do not define my early home life.  I don't remember much tenderness between Mom and Dad.  I remember Mom's smart, persistent mouth, I remember the words that my parents often hurdled at each other, and I even remember Dad hitting Mom, just once, after we'd left in the car to go somewhere.  Mom was so upset that Dad turned the car around and brought her back home.  That's the one and only time I know of that Dad physically abused my mother.

School life was mostly miserable and hopeless.  In early grades, I kept to myself, and the other children left me alone.  My teachers wrote in my report cards that I didn't mix well with the other students, that I preferred to work by myself than in groups.  They encouraged me to open up a bit more, to realize the benefits in sharing the workload with others.

Kids, perhaps especially in a northern, farming community, where daily survival is tough, catch on to those who are different, particularly if they're boys.  The children who lived in our neighborhood, and who I attended school with, saw me play with dolls out on the street, something little boys didn't do then, and they teased me and called me a girl.  They threatened to hurt me physically, to beat me up in the field across from Canalta Elementary School after classes were done for the day.  Who knows how many times I hid out at the school helping a teacher (risking being called a teacher's pet), or in the library, long after the day's classes were over, until I was as certain as I could be that no one was waiting outside to beat me up.  

Everything I did seemed to prove that my classmates's assessment of me was right.  I looked and acted like a girl; I was hopelessly inept in Physical Education class; and I took subjects like art, drama, and typing.  Before long, the taunting progressed from calling me a girl to calling me a fem, then a fairy, and, finally, a fag or faggot, always said with venom, always sending the message that I was pathetic and contemptible.  By grade ten, I was terrified to go to school every day, fearful that I'd be cornered and assaulted.

In October 1974, my family moved seven hundred miles south to Kelowna.  Perhaps more than anything else, I needed a fresh start in school, so I had a fighting chance to get through it alive.  But some of the kids at Dr. Knox Junior Senior Secondary, where I finished grade ten, caught on to me quickly enough, and the teasing started all over again.  They pulled my books out of my hands and kicked them down the hallway, sending me after them while everyone stood around and laughed.  They threw the street clothes I'd changed out of in P.E. class into the shower so they were soaked when the class ended, forcing me to call Mom and to ask her to bring me a set of dry clothes.  And they tried to trip me when I walked by, or punched me hard in the arm, or called me insulting and unflattering names, laughing in my face.  I may have changed cities and schools, but I was still the same person, and, if anything, the teasing intensified and became more physical.

For my final two years of school, I transferred to Kelowna Senior Secondary, but, by then, my reputation preceded me.  The population of KSS was huge, and I encountered many other students with interests similar to mine, but word spread that I was gay, and a freak.  The verbal and physical abuse continued.  I never knew when I'd run into someone who hated me in the hallway, when I'd be embarrassed in front of everyone who was around me, when I'd be brought to tears but would never cry them because I couldn't let them see they'd gotten to me.

At my graduation ceremony in June 1977, as I walked down a long elevated ramp from having picked up my diploma, my peers attired in their grad gowns and suits seated on both sides of me, some male threw his voice at me and yelled out, "Faggot."  What should have been a moment of triumph and relief for me shrank into the same deep darkness I'd experienced most of my school life.  I couldn't escape the epithets, even at my graduation.

Just a few months later, I attended Okanagan College in a general arts program.  Along with how seriously students took their studies there, I appreciated many of the male students, who seemed to have transformed from gawky teenagers into handsome, masculine, young men, igniting in me intense feelings of attraction.  Fortunately, I didn't face any overt teasing and taunting on the campus, but I still recall times when I walked through Orchard Park, Kelowna's largest and best shopping centre, and heard some male voice coming at me from some unknown direction calling me a faggot.  This would continue for years to come.

The period from mid 1979 to January 1, 1986 was one of isolation and loneliness and feeling lost.  As I began my twenty-eight-year career working for CIBC, I went into denial about my sexual orientation.  By then, I knew that I was probably gay--in my heart, I'd first faced the possibility of being gay in high school, which is the reason why I never dated any young ladies, so I wouldn't bugger up their lives like mine was--but, as it was for society in general, being gay was utterly unacceptable to me.  For years, the message that being gay was vile and disgusting and repugnant had been reinforced over and over and over again, in so many ways.  I internalized it and turned it off, preferring to become asexual and to deny that I needed companionship and love, even sex, from anyone.

It didn't help that any interactions I had with gay men in the community were deplorable too.  From an older man wanting to "show me a few things" when I was just fourteen years old; to being leered at from across the street; to hearing rude and suggestive comments from the owner of a photo development shop; to older and unattractive men coming on to me repeatedly when I was in denial of who I was--all of these reinforced the message that being gay, and everything associated with it, was vulgar and repulsive, and I could no more be gay than I could be a murderer.

Then, I had my first experience at a gay dance, on New Years Eve 1986, which I wrote about in detail in the post entitled "Coming Out," dated July 17, 2009.  While this experience didn't undo everything that had happened to me under the heading of being gay since back in grade school--I would have self-esteem issues to deal with for many, many years to come--I felt better about myself and about being gay than I ever had, enough to prompt me to come out to my first family member.  Needless to say, my mother was very upset when I told her that her only son was gay (but she was going through some rough things in her own life at the time, with the dissolution of her marriage to my father, and she eventually came around and became one of my biggest supporters).                      

BC:  January 1, 1986 to June 13, 1992

For six months after attending my first gay dance, I was busy every Saturday evening, attending the club, meeting new and interesting people, learning there were different shades to being gay (that is, it wasn't all bad), and coming to terms with who I was.  Then, for the following year and a half, I volunteered at the gay club to provide the dance music every second Saturday night.  I met my first partner there (Adrian), as well as a few subsequent ones; I encountered numerous terrific people just like me who reinforced that I wasn't such a bad person after all, just because I was gay; and I finally had a network of friends that ended my isolation in the community and the long and painful loneliness I'd felt since grade school.

Then, in early 1988, I moved to Vancouver.  I knew my career with CIBC wouldn't go anywhere in Kelowna, since most of the supervisory positions were filled by people who would be in them either until they asked for a transfer (which was unlikely), until they retired, or until they died.  So I decided to move to the big city where I assumed opportunity awaited, both professionally and personally.

To say that I was scared of the gay community in Vancouver is an understatement.  There were things about the gay community in Kelowna I didn't like--for example, how incestuous it was, with everyone seemingly having sex with everyone else--and I could only imagine, incorporated into a much larger and more diverse gay community, how living in Vancouver would present a whole list of other challenges, not the least of which was a more difficult time connecting with people and eventually finding the person I'd spend the rest of my life with.  The threat of HIV and AIDS also played a role in my trepidation, since a large number of gay men around the world were infected and dying, and there were still some myths circulating about how one contracted what was thought to be "the gay plague."

The period from 1988 to 1992 was one of making my way for the first time on my own (even though I'd moved out of my parents's house when I was twenty-three), and of searching for who I was in a completely different environment.  Along the way, I met some wonderful people, including Dale, who became my best friend and who, with great wit and humor, invited me into his lusty and uninhibited celebration of life in Vancouver. Had Dale not come into my life at the time he did, I have to believe someone of a similar caliber would have, but his decency, sensibility, and joie de vive will forever define a difficult yet exhilarating period, during which I came into my own as a gay man and sought my place in the world.

Then, on June 13, 1992, about a month after I'd had jaw surgery to correct a severe overbite, full braces on my teeth, I met the most wonderful young man who would become the love of my life.  By then, I'd faced enough disappointment trying to find the right person to share my life with. I'd submitted and responded to personal ads in "The WestEnder," and I'd frequented my favorite gay bars downtown virtually every Friday and Saturday night for years, meeting several young men with whom I'd have brief affairs, believing that enduring connection with a soulmate would elude me forever.

Certain, at the age of thirty-two, I would be alone for the rest of my life, and, feeling satisfied for the first time if that were indeed my fate, I went to the Odyssey for the music and the atmosphere, but ended up watching a cute, young man lean against a column much of the night, bottle of beer in hand, eventually getting up the nerve to ask him to dance, after he saw me accept an offer to dance from a total stranger, which seemed to piss him off.  From that point on, we've danced together ever since.

AC:  June 13, 1992 to the Present

My relationship with Chris hasn't been perfect.  We met when he was just twenty-three years old, nearly ten years my junior.  When Chris had walked into the Odyssey that night, after having several beer in a nearby straight bar and walking around the block numerous times to get up the nerve, all he'd been looking for was a coffee buddy, someone to spend time with on a social basis.  He never counted on finding a life partner.

I was ready for a life partner.  I'd been alone long enough, and I wasn't getting any younger (which is not a good thing in the gay community). Chris and I hit it off immediately.  I knew from the beginning that he was a special individual, that his parents had raised him well, and that his heart was as big as the Canadian prairies.  Outside of work, we spent almost every waking moment together.  Eventually, when I was certain I could trust him, I gave him a key to my Beach Avenue apartment, liking nothing more than the belief that I'd started down the road to housekeeping with a sweet, wonderful, young man.  

Everything went so well between us, that, just ten months after we met, we moved in together.  Rental suites in a brand new high-rise apartment building in Yaletown had come available.  We made enquiries, found out we could afford the monthly rent payment together, and consolidated our two lives into one.

But all was not perfect in Wonderland.  Less than a year after we moved in together, I surprised Chris with the intensity of my feelings for him by telling him over and over that I loved him (which I still wasn't 100% sure about, because I'd never experienced that kind of love before), and by asking him if he saw us staying together forever and ever, amen.  Spooked, Chris panicked, got upset, and, for the next months and even years, despite his assurances that everything was fine between us, and that, as a couple, we were back on track, I worried incessantly that my one chance at love could fall apart at any time.  I pulled back, kept my feelings for Chris more to myself, and gave him the room and the time to come to the realization on his own terms that we were meant to be together.

About three years later, we bought our first condo.  Our relationship had become more secure, the Vancouver real estate market was red hot (as it was for many subsequent years), and we rightly believed we should buy a home of our own.  We bought a top-floor suite in a four-storey structure on W. 7th Avenue, just off Cambie, and we lived there for nearly four years until a big opportunity came up for me at work.

The manager's position had become available at our Victoria office, and I was keenly interested in it.  I'd developed in the team leader roles I'd held in our Vancouver office, and, professionally, I was ready for a change and for the challenge of more responsibility.  Plus, Chris and I had talked numerous times about moving to Victoria, a city I've always loved for its size, its beautiful geographic location, and its old world charm.

But Chris wasn't as enamored about moving to our provincial capital city as I'd hoped he might be.  Around the time I had to apply for the job or let the opportunity pass by, Chris and I looked as if we might not agree on the course of our future together.  In fact, at that point, had we both been stubborn enough over what we wanted, we could have gone our separate ways (which many other gay couples have done under similar circumstances).  I wanted to move to Victoria, but Chris didn't.  I understood his position.  His mother lived in the Lower Mainland, as did his sister, and his niece and two nephews, who had only just arrived back in Canada after living in New Zealand for several years.  Chris had a lot to lose if he went with me to Victoria, but a decision had to be made.

In the end, I told Chris that if he didn't move with me, we'd both remain in Vancouver, and everything would stay as it was.  Worse things could have happened.  While the job opportunity in Victoria was outstanding, and the money I'd earn would be appreciably more, I knew there was no point embarking on a new life without Chris.  I'd waited too long to share my life with someone as special as him, and I wasn't prepared to lose him over a job.  The thought of being without him was utterly unacceptable, even if I had a prestigious new job in a wonderful city that I loved.

Fortunately, I didn't need to worry about that.  Chris recognized what a great job opportunity awaited me in Victoria, and we made the decision to move there together.  Chris transferred with his job, and, ultimately, I was the successful candidate for the manager's position at our Victoria office.  We lived on the Island from August 2000 until April 2009.

In July 2007, I retired from my job of twenty-eight years with the CIBC Group of Companies.  Among my initial tasks after leaving was to renovate the condo we'd bought together in Vancouver so we could sell it (it had been a rental property for about seven years while we lived in Victoria). Chris and I sold the condo at the peak of the real estate market and made a nice chunk of cash.  This allowed us to pay off all of our debit, including the mortgage on a townhouse we'd bought in Victoria six or so years earlier.  Debt-free, we were able to live on Chris's income alone, while I took care of our household and pursued my childhood dream of being a writer.

In late 2008, Chris applied for a management position at his old Vancouver office and was selected.  Once, he had moved to Victoria for me, so I knew it was my turn to reciprocate and allow him to develop and progress in his career.  But I was not happy about the move because I didn't want to leave Victoria; I loved our lifestyle there.  And I was even less happy about moving to __________, which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, in a sea of young families with children.

In late April 2009, Chris and I moved to __________.  It's where we could afford to buy a house with a yard and remain debt-free, which was important to both of us so my quality of life didn't change, allowing me to continue working on my writing career.  

And that brings us to the present.  Over the past seven months, Chris and I have put a lot of work into making the house we bought our own, and, more than ever, it feels like home.  We've settled into our lifestyle here, appreciating the peace and quiet in our new residential area while knowing we are not far by car to anywhere in the Lower Mainland that we want to be. Our plan is to stay here for a number of years, making continuous improvements to the house and to the yard, and growing old together.  Upon Chris's retirement, probably when he reaches the age of fifty-six, fifteen years from now, we hope to settle into our final home together in Kelowna (although, if our financial situation improves substantially, we could end up somewhere else, like Whistler, Hawaii, or Paris, places we've visited and dreamed about moving to).

That's the plan, although we don't know where life will take us.  If the past is any indication, we should be in for quite an adventure.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Am Him

I've seen him many times before, walking past our house, at about ten o'clock in the morning, then, an hour or so later, walking back.  He's young, sixteen or seventeen, and probably attends Samuel Robertson Technical High School a short distance up 104 from where we live. He's attractive, about five ten, with brown, longish, wavy hair, and a cute, innocent-looking face, five o'clock shadow already visible.  He's attired in the style of clothes most young men wear these days, nothing different about him there, and he has a heavily weighted knapsack on his back, but he's so different from all the other young male students who walk past.

Most of them travel in packs, two or more, and they often talk loudly, their unreserved laughter filling the quiet street.  To look at them, they are confident, even cocky, emboldened perhaps by their numbers, coming across as though the world is theirs. Maybe it is.  As they stroll by, their self-assuredness evident in their gait, they remind me of the young men I went to high school with in the late '70s.  They're tall, athletic, and handsome.  A few haven't fully matured into their adult looks yet, but they soon will, and you know the opposite sex will surely take note.  They are the type I avoided when I attended school because I'd learned how cruel and insensitive they were, how they liked to bully the other boys who weren't like them.  Even now, I shudder when I see them, the impulse to cross to the other side of the street to avoid them running up my spine.  I have to remind myself I'm not their age anymore, they're not my classmates, and I don't have to be scared.    

I walked past him again today, the young man who's not like the others, as I returned from the mailboxes following my long, brisk walk. Even from a distance, as we approached each other, I knew it was him. His head was down--he never looks up--and he walked hurriedly, his steps short and quick, like he's trying to get away from something.  He has the appearance and the carriage of someone who's picked on at school, who's spirit has been beaten down, maybe even at home too, prompting me to wonder what his home life is like.  I wonder, if his parents show him respect, reinforce how important he is to them, tell him they love him, would he still walk hunched over, avoid looking into other people's faces, try to make himself invisible?

I recognize him.  I know who he is.  I understand him.  He's me, thirty-plus years ago, and, whenever I see him, I want to stop him.  I want to tell him to stop what he's doing to himself, to stop believing what other people say about him, because they don't know him at all.  Because all the repeated teasing, and taunting, and bullying chip away at the very essence of who he is.  And, if he buys into all that crap, he'll hate himself for years to come, and he'll spend the rest of his life trying to get out of that dark hole.

I see it in him.  I see how he knows what other people, the kids at school, maybe his parents, think of him, heard what they've said about him--how he's taken it in and accepted it, when there's no reason on earth why he should feel badly about himself, why he shouldn't hold his head up when he walks by, just like his male peers, why he shouldn't feel as confident as they do.  In other words, there's no reason why he shouldn't love himself.

What I see in him is so different from what he probably sees in himself. I see a sweet, vulnerable, sensitive young man, just growing into his good looks, trying to figure out what life is about and how he fits into it. I see a young man who's probably smart and clever and talented, all of the attributes marginalized in high school, wondering why he has so few friends, what he did to be so lonely, and why he can't be like everyone else. At his age, do any of us really get how valuable we are? Do we have any concept of the special life force within us  Do we understand how deserving we are of love, our own first, and other people's?  I just don't want him to waste as much time as I did, feeling isolated and worthless, hating myself.

Is the young man gay?  I don't know.  Maybe.  I can't tell for sure.  He's different in some way from his peers, that much I know, just like some of the kids I went to school with.  But he's not fat, he's not goofy looking, he doesn't dress funny; he doesn't appear poor, geeky, or studious.  In other words, he doesn't exhibit any of the obvious physical reasons why anyone would pick on him (not that any of these are acceptable excuses).  So maybe he is gay.  So what?  I've been told it's different in the public school system for young gay males now.  That students today are more tolerant of the ways in which young gay males are different--their lack of ability in sports, their interest in "girls" courses, their feminine habits and mannerisms.

It's probably too late.  Had someone stopped me when I was sixteen years old and told me I should love myself because I'm worth it, I'd have thought they were out of their flipping minds, and I wouldn't have believed a word they said.  Because, by then, I'd taken enough shit that I wasn't open to any conflicting information.  The fertile soil that had once been my brain, at one time ripe to accept new ideas and try them on, had been covered over with cement by then.  I was shut off to every bit of serious advice, every rare compliment, every kind word directed at me, because I didn't believe I deserved them, because I thought people had ulterior motives for saying them.  All I synthesized was how useless I was, how worthless, how unacceptable, as much as I tried to avoid these messages.  My guess is, the young man is there already.  And he lacks the maturity, the perspective, and the courage to see through the muck, to know his self-worth, and to reject what's been said to him time and again.

If only there was something I could do.  If only I could save him from all of the pain, and the wasted years, and the long, arduous journey ahead. If only.


In a "Vancouver Sun" article today, a story about the first openly gay female ever elected mayor in a major U.S. city (Houston, Texas), the word "lifestyle" was used to refer to what the woman lives.  The exact line was:  "Houston voters are concerned less with lifestyle issues and more with bread-and-butter issues such as the budget, public safety and city services...[Monday, December 14, 2009 issue, p. B5]."


This got me thinking about terms that irritate me when used in connection to gay people.  I know what the denotation of the word lifestyle is: According to The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, it's the "way of life of a person or group."

But I don't think that's how most people understand the word when they hear it, and, for that reason, I think it's misused where gay people are concerned, particularly as it relates to the lives gay and lesbian people live.  Not only is it misused, it makes it sound like being gay is a whim, an arbitrary choice.  

To me, lifestyle sounds like there are options available as far as how to live one's life, and one chooses a particular option that then becomes one's lifestyle.

For example, the term "healthy lifestyle" is often used to refer to people who choose to eat foods that are good for them and to be physically active. The alternative is an unhealthy lifestyle, which is characterized by consuming foods that are bad for you (high in fat and salt content, for instance) and living an inactive life.  So, by these definitions, one can actively choose to live either a healthy or an unhealthy lifestyle.  In this case, the word lifestyle fits the situation perfectly.

But, when it comes to being gay, there is no choice involved.  There's straight and there's gay, and most people are one or the other, not as a matter of choice but as a matter of genetics.  You're born straight, or you're born gay (or maybe even bisexual, but that's another story altogether).  For most people, it's straightforward.  End of story.  In the same way that you're born with brown or blue eyes, a big nose or a small one, five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand.  You are one or the other.  That's just the way you are.

Have you ever heard anyone refer to the straight lifestyle?  I haven't.  By using the same quote above, here's how it might sound if the woman elected mayor in Houston were straight:  "Houston voters are concerned less with straight lifestyle issues and more with bread-and-butter issues such as the budget, public safety and city services."

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  First, there is no such thing as the straight lifestyle, perhaps because the majority of people on earth are straight, and there's no need to refer to how they live in such an unusual fashion.  The assumption is almost always made that people are straight, so there's no need to refer to how they live their lives as a lifestyle.  In our society, living your life as a straight human being is preferred and a given, so sexual orientation becomes a non-issue in areas such as being elected to public office.

Second, no one has ever suggested in his or her writing that the issues surrounding being straight might be a concern for people voting someone into elected office.  So why would that be a consideration in the case of gay individuals up for election?  Why does it matter if a man sleeps with a man or with a woman when it comes to being elected to a civic, provincial, or federal post?  He should be elected because of his integrity as a human being, what he stands for, and because of his ability to perform the job effectively and to represent in an upstanding manner the people who elected him.

We need to get to the point when being gay is just the same as being straight, or being bisexual.  Not an issue.  Not a lifestyle.  Doesn't concern anyone.  Isn't considered when being elected to public office. End of story.

Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert.  Is there anyone in North America, or the world, for that matter, who doesn't know what he did during his performance at the "American Music Awards" on Sunday, November 22?

For those of you who don't know, Lambert closed out the show with a rendition of "For Your Entertainment," the first single from his new CD by the same name, by flipping off the audience, laying a wet one on the mouth of a male band member, and simulating fellatio, among other things. According to many, his performance was shocking, offensive, vulgar and lewd.

Here's what's commonly known about Adam Lambert:  He was second runner-up during the most recent season of "American Idol" (many believe he should have won); he is arguably one of the most talented and original singers and performers ever featured on the popular talent show; and he's gay, having publicly come out in a "Rolling Stone" interview shortly after the winner of "American Idol" was announced (although he admitted during a recent, year-end Barbara Walters interview that he's been out since he was an adult).

I have mixed feelings about Lambert.

On the one hand, I support him completely.  I'm one of many who thought he should have won the whole she-bang on "American Idol," although I understand why he didn't want to.  I'm proud of him, as I'm sure many gay men are:  He's out; he's attracted a lot of positive attention for his talent and showmanship; and he's very much his own person.  Despite his unmistakable flamboyance, including wild hairstyles, make-up, and attire, I think, as an individual, he's a good representative of gay men in general.  He's brash, outspoken, and clever, yet he's also gracious, polite, and respectful.  And, as if that isn't enough, his spot-on voice and ease on stage make him someone to watch in the months and years ahead.

But, having said that, I don't see how I can ignore his over-the-top performance at the "AMA," leaving him tainted, in my eyes and in the eyes of many.  In interviews subsequent to that performance, he admitted he got carried away in the moment while on stage, and that he pushed the envelope by conducting himself in a manner that some could find offensive, but he stopped short of apologizing.  I applaud him for that.  I don't think he needs to go so far as to apologize for what he did, but I certainly think he needs to be more aware of his audience the next time he performs on national TV.

I think he also needs to be aware of the example he sets of gay men in particular.  As one of the most visible gay men in the world, garnering plenty of attention, good and bad, Lambert needs to be concerned not only about his career, and anything he might do to damage it just as it's taking off, but also about how he makes the rest of us look vis-a-vis his impulsive antics on the stage.

Where I'm conflicted about Adam Lambert is wanting to support his right to be himself and to perform however the hell he wants to, using his voice and talent fully and how he sees fit--because, after all, he is an artist--but wondering what effect his "AMA" performance will have on the reputation of gay men overall.  In the perfect world, perhaps Lambert will hurt no one but himself, but, I think more likely, he helped to perpetuate some of the negative feelings and attitudes many people have toward gay men already.

I think Lambert's sexually charged performance played into what many people already believe to be true about gay men--that we're all about sex, that we have only have one thing on our minds, and that, for that reason, we can't be taken seriously.  And that's where it hits me as a gay man because one of the most important points I've tried to get across in my writing is that I'm not just about sex.  That, in fact, I'm a full and complete, well-rounded human being, who also happens to be gay, and, as such, there are certain things I want (which I wrote about in the post "Why We Must Be About More Than Just Sex to Get What We Want"), which we won't achieve if people think we're all like Adam Lambert.

I think Adam Lambert had such a great opportunity, as an out gay man with so much talent and ability, to show the world, in so many ways that most of us can't, that gay men are not what people think they are.  I don't mean to put this burden on him, because I understand he still needs to be true to himself and perform in a way that is authentic for him.

But I think there's so much more going on here.  That gay men need every positive role model to help change people's minds about us, to put the stereotypes to bed once and for all, and to help earn some of the respect we all want.  For me, the ultimate goal is to make being gay less and less of an issue, and to make being a human being more and more of the issue.

As one of the most visible members of our community, I hope Lambert thinks seriously about the example he sets for all gay men on a national and international stage.  And I hope that, while he fulfills what will likely be a long and rewarding singing career, staying true to himself, that he sees himself in the greater context of the gay male community, and plays his part in helping us to gain the respect that we so rightly deserve.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Preference Versus Orientation

The definition of "preference" is:  "A greater liking for one alternative over another or others."

When it comes to being gay, using the term "sexual preference" suggests to me that I've been with both men and women, and I prefer to be with men.  In actual fact, I've never been with women because I have no interest in them in that way.  Thus, no choice was ever made; I had no basis of comparison to make the choice.  

I'm surprised when the term sexual preference is still used today.  We know now that people are born gay; they aren't born straight and decide, based on their sexual experiences with both genders, to be gay.

So let's get the terminology right.  Let's use "sexual orientation."  Then I won't get my back up when it's implied that I chose to be with men, and that I'm less deserving of my rights as a human being because of it.

A Busy News Day

The Monday "Vancouver Sun" is probably the least interesting edition of the entire week.  For one, it's short, each section usually no more than a few pages, and the entire paper itself is skinny, not nearly the great behemoth that shows up on our doorstep early every Saturday morning. Still, as I've learned over the years, don't be deceived about the contents just because it doesn't look like there's much there.  You might be very surprised.

As I was yesterday, Monday, December 21, 2009, when I started to turn the pages of the newspaper.  In two separate sections, there were not one, not two, but three pieces on some aspect of being gay, all of which I found engaging--and disturbing.  What I found interesting was that each piece said something about the current state of what it means to be gay today.  Unfortunately, in virtually all three cases, I discovered there is still much to do to further the cause of being gay.

Here's a brief synopsis on the three articles that appeared on the same day:

1).  In the "Sports" section, former NBA player John Amaechi, himself an out gay man, had advice for Gareth Thomas, the ex-Wales rugby captain, after he disclosed that he's gay.  Amaechi had the following to say:  '"When people learn you are gay, often that can squash your definition so all the good stuff goes and you just become 'some gay rugby player,' which is quite difficult for many athletes to deal with." And, 'homophobia still exists in sport.  "Sport still needs to grow up in certain areas," said the Briton.  "As much as society has moved on, sport is still dragging behind [p. C4]."'

I would add to this that homophobia is still largely prevalent in the military too, particularly in the U.S. military, where the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is still in place, which is the source of much grief for dedicated men and women of the armed forces.

I couldn't agree more with Amaechi.  But, in general, society still needs to grow up about homosexuality.    It's all well and good to state that society has moved on where homosexuality is concerned--I assume he suggests that it's no longer an issue--but, in many cases, that isn't the case at all.  I think the overall attitude of many people is that there's nothing wrong with gay people--as long as they're not in their own families. That's another thing altogether.

Plus, "XTRA! West," the local gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper, still reports on a regular basis that someone in the gay community has been yet another victim of gay bashing, and that local law enforcement was hesitant in calling assaults against gays and lesbians hate crimes. There's still a lot of work to be done to help gay men and lesbian women feel safe, even on some of the streets in our biggest cities in Canada.

And one final thought on this article:  Who can believe that the status and reputation of an up-and-coming sports figure is changed just because he comes out of the closet, and that he's reduced to "some gay whatever?"  Did something suddenly happen to his ability to play the sport he's engaged in just because he came out?  Incredible.  

2).  In the "Canada and World" section was an article about Scott Brison, "an openly gay Nova Scotia MP," who "ignited controversy" when he mailed out Christmas cards with an innocuous picture of him, his male partner, Maxime St. Pierre, and their dog, Simba, affixed.  The picture was taken this fall in a field near the home that all three share. Brison and St. Pierre stand several feet away from each other, both wearing appropriate autumn attire, while Simba sits between them. Brison was surprised when a news story appeared on a national newspaper website, believing that politicians have sent out cards with family pictures on them for many years, and none has ever made the news.  Brison also added that, through emails and phone calls, he's received plenty of support from people across his riding, from Canada, and around the world.

I applaud Scott Bison for what he did.  I think he's being disingenuous if he thought sending out a Christmas card of this nature wouldn't get the attention of the media.  Frankly, it's not every day that people see two men declare their relationship in a picture, whether its on a Christmas card or elsewhere (although the two of them almost look as if they could be brothers, which would have generated no media stir at all).

That said, what he did was not only not wrong, it was time someone pushed the envelope and made the statement that lots of gay men are in long-term, monogamous, and loving relationships, and that no special attention should be paid to them.  All gays and lesbians want are the same rights straight people have to love who they choose and to go about their lives together.  If the picture of Brison and St. Pierre, likely carried now in major newspapers across the country, help Canadians become adjusted to the idea of gay men being in relationships together, then I have to extend a big thank-you to whoever came up with this idea.  Chris and I really admire what Brison did, and we plan to send out Christmas cards with our picture as a couple on them next year. (Plus, I intend to send an email to Brison to thank him for the example he set.  See separate post in this blog.)

3).  And, finally, also in the "Canada and World" section was an article by Craig and Marc Keilburger, co-founders of the organization Free the Children, who write articles that appear in "The Vancouver Sun" weekly, and who try to bring injustices around the globe to the attention of people in first world countries.  Monday's article was entitled "Uganda's anti-gay law will closet homosexuals, lead to more high-risk behaviour, increase HIV/AIDS infections."

Here are some of the telling quotes from the article:

"...The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 is currently being debated before Ugandan parliament.  Criticized worldwide, it threatens gay, lesbian and transgender individuals with life imprisonment and, until recent amendments, the death penalty."

Further:  "Those who don't report homosexuals to the authorities would face a fine and up to three years in prison.  That includes people working in public health agencies trying to counsel homosexual men on HIV prevention."  It could also include family and friends of gay and lesbian men in Uganda.

Finally:  '"If you are going to be given life in prison when your sexuality becomes a matter of public record, how likely are you to seek treatment [for HIV and AIDS]?...This not only sentences the gay and bisexual male population to jail time, it sentences them to death because there can be no discussion about HIV/AIDS [all quotes are from p. B7]."

I think the gist of the article is evident in the quotes above.  Here we have an African country that blames  homosexuals for the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and it believes that by wielding severe penalties for being gay, it can fix and eradicate the illness and suffering of its people.  But what it's really doing is making matters infinitely worse by sending gay people underground, by denying them the medical attention and counseling they need and deserve, and by forcing gay men to marry women, while, in many cases, still engaging in sex with men.  All of this can only spell disaster.

That we're hearing about an Anti-Homosexual Bill being debated in the parliament of any country in 2009 send shivers up my spine.  And enforcing the reporting of gays to authorities amounts to nothing less than a witch hunt.  I'm appalled that gay men and lesbian women would be thought of in this way, and that friends and relatives could face such severe penalties for failing to turn in loved ones who are gay.

It's a wild and wacky world we live in, and we have a long way to go to ensure gays and lesbians are treated the same as straight people in countries at all four corners of the earth.

Unlikely Packages

In a recent "Vancouver Sun" article about the top movies of the past decade (2000-2009), the following comment was made about "Brokeback Mountain," the #4 selection, initially seen as a "gay cowboy movie:"  "Brokeback earns a place on the list for a few reasons, not the least of which is Heath Ledger's heartbreaking performance as a young man who discovers love in an unlikely place [December 18, 2009, p. D4]."  Of course, that unlikely place was in the form of another man, Jack Twist, played compellingly by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Do any of us know for sure where we'll find love?  If we're men, can we say for sure we'll never find love with another man?  If we're women, can we say for sure we'll never find love with another woman?
Can we say for sure that the greatest love we'll ever find will be with someone of the opposite sex?

How many people have found love with someone of the same sex, only to deny it because it didn't fit our culture's mould of what's right? Wouldn't it be ironic if we were straight, found love with someone of the same sex, denied it because it was unacceptable to us, yet never found the same love with someone of the opposite sex?  Ironic is one word; tragic is another.  If that happened, could we say that that was right, that we followed the right path, that we did the right thing, and that we're happy with our choice?

I know someone who, for many years, thought that he was straight, expected to marry a woman, have children, do the straight thing, just like most other men do.  Today, well into mid-life, he's with another man.  Over the past number of years, they've built a life together.  They share a mortgage, a home, and everything else.  He would be the first to tell you that he never expected this to happen to him.  Their relationship isn't perfect--whose is?  But there is something between them that he couldn't get from his past relationships with women, something that holds them together.

I believe it's love.

Email to Mr. Scott Brison, Liberal MP for Nova Scotia

Dear Mr. Brison:

When I saw an article in "The Vancouver Sun" yesterday, about the Christmas card you sent out this year, with a picture of you, your partner, Mr. St. Pierre, and your dog, Simba, on it, I knew I had to send you a brief email to add my voice to those who support what you've done.  My partner, Christopher, and I have been together for over seventeen years, and I would never have thought about including our picture on a card that we send to our family and friends at Christmas, but we've made the decision to do that next year.  Thanks for the idea and the inspiration.

Chris and I are both proud of what you've done, as innocent as it may have seemed at the time.  True, politicians have sent out Christmas cards with family pictures on them for many years, but you had to know that you doing the same thing would get attention.  And I'm grateful that it did. You and Mr. St Pierre have made more people in Canada aware that there are respectable gay people in our country, in loving, long-term, and committed relationships, and in positions of authority in our government, and you've set an example for other gay people to follow.

Many thanks for making the path a little easier for the rest of us, and all the very best to you and Mr. St. Pierre this Christmas and in 2010.

Rick  Modien


Somewhere in Metro Vancouver is a young man whom I've never met.  I'm told he's nineteen years old, attractive, and a good dresser.  He works in a retail outlet, a restaurant, a call center—I don’t know.  For this story, it doesn't matter where. Like many nineteen-year-olds, he's insecure about himself and searching for answers.  We'll call him Dan.

What is notable about where Dan works is that he has a male colleague who's older than he is.  This colleague may be in his 30s or even 40s, I'm not sure which, but he's an adult, and, between Dan and him, he's the more mature, more settled, more secure.  Or at least I think he is.  I don't know how long Dan's worked with this fellow, but it's been long enough to know each other on a personal basis.  We'll call him John.  

Here's the situation:  John is gay.  John's noticed how cute and well-dressed Dan is.  He's also recognized Dan's insecurity and vulnerability.  John's pointed out Dan's attributes to him, and how other gay men would find him attractive.  John thinks that, in all of Dan's confusion about himself, he doesn't know if he's straight or gay.  John thinks he's gay.  He's trying to convince Dan that he should explore the gay lifestyle, that that would help him make his decision.

To some degree, Dan's accepted what John's said.  Dan's parents know about the situation at their son's workplace, and they are understandably upset by the influence John's had on Dan, and what's he's suggested about him by thinking he's gay.  (I don't know if Dan's parents are more upset over John's influence on their son, or on the possibility that their son could be gay.)  Dan's parents are sure their son is straight, or, at least, they hope he is. They're good Christian people, and, of course, they don't want their son to be gay.  

I'm familiar with a situation somewhat similar to this one.  In the mid 1980s, when I lived in Kelowna and frequented Club Amicus, an informal night spot and gathering place for gays and lesbians, I knew about a gay male couple there.  One of the fellows was an older man, probably in his early forties--overweight, unattractive, and controlling.  The other fellow was much younger, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties--tall, blond, well-built, and cute.

I'd heard from some of the younger fellow's friends at Amicus that his parents had kicked him out.  I'm not sure why.  On the street, and, with nowhere to go, the young fellow met the older fellow somewhere, probably at a bar.  The older fellow was employed and had money, I don't know how much.  He befriended the younger fellow and eventually invited him to move in with him.  With nowhere else to go, the young fellow accepted the older fellow's offer.  The older fellow was gay, and, at some point, probably because of their arrangement, the two of them became a couple.

Shortly before I moved from Kelowna to Vancouver for work, I heard some of the young fellow's friends talk amongst themselves. They said what a shame it was, that the young fellow was confused about his life circumstances and about his sexuality; that the older fellow had taken him in, made him financially dependent, had assumed he was gay and entered into a relationship with him. With everything financially taken care of for the young man, he had found it increasingly difficult to get away from the influence of the older man.  While he was still in the gay relationship, how could he make his way in life, figure out who he was, or come to the realization whether he was straight or gay?  In fact, some of his friends thought he was straight and would be much happier in the company of a young lady.  

Hearing about this unfortunate situation stuck with me, and I've thought about it from time to time over the years.  When I heard about Dan's situation, I was reminded of the gay couple in Kelowna, and, although some of the details are very different--for example, there is no financial dependency between John and Dan--what was common among them was the struggling, searching, vulnerable young man, and the mature, influential, and cunning older man.

From the perspective of John, I think I understand what he's trying to do.  Potentially, depending on how old he is, John would have come of age around the same time I did, in the late '70s or early '80s.  Being gay wasn't easy then.  Many of the posts on my blog have gone into how I was teased non-stop at school for being gay; how older men propositioned me when I was in my early and late teens, which freaked the hell out of me; how I could be walking in the local mall or on the street and have someone yell out "Faggot!" at me; and how I've taken all of the years since to come to terms not only with who I am as a gay man, but also with the messages I continuously received regarding how vulgar, disgusting, and unacceptable being gay was.  So I know what John went through, believe me.

It's possible that all John wants to do is create a safe place for Dan to come out and to be himself.  Those are two of the biggest challenges facing any gay young man, and each of us, in his own way, seeks the support we need to come out to family members and friends, and even colleagues at work, and to live comfortably in our own skin.  As I've learned all too well, it's one thing coming out to everyone who's important to you, potentially risking losing them in your life, and it's quite another to make your way in the real world as an out gay man.  It's better now than it was in '80s, but there are still some obstacles, and we never know where those obstacles will come from and how they will affect us.  (In other words, being gay still isn't an easy path in life.)

So, if this is the motivation for John to encourage Dan to come out and to be himself, I understand.  I understand how you might want to make the path Dan follows a little easier for him. Perhaps I could have used some of the same support myself, although, to be honest, I was so scared about being gay and what that would mean for me, that, even if John had appeared in my life back then, and promised to pave the road ahead of me with golden bricks to make what I had to do easier, I wouldn't have had anything to do with it.  I was determined not to be gay, no matter what, and any encouragement I may have received from an older man would have been rejected outright, especially since I would have been suspect of his motivation for being so nice to me.

And that's the point of what I need to say here.  In the end, Dan may be straight, as his parents hope, or he may be gay, as John hopes.  What's critical for all players to remember--whether they want to support Dan in his efforts to be straight or to be gay--is that Dan must come to this realization himself.  Sexual orientation is a highly personal thing; it influences ll aspects of your life. Dan can no more be straight because his parents want him to be than he can be gay because John wants him to be. Dan is what he is, and, if there's any confusion about that now, there won't be in the months and years to come.

What Dan needs more than anything else is space from both sides to let him figure out for himself what he is.  And from his parents, he needs to know that he has a safe place to be straight or gay, whichever one it ends up being.  The worst thing Dan's parents can do is expect or urge him to be straight, because, if he's not, then they send the crushing message that to be gay is not right, not acceptable, and that he could risk losing them. Whether they like it or not, the best thing Dan's parents can do is tell him that, straight or gay, they will love him and support him, no matter what.  They must realize that each of us is born with our sexual orientation already determined, just like everything else that's genetic, and that what Dan's going through right now with all the confusion about what he is and isn't, is natural.  The fact that Dan is the least bit open to what John has to say may in fact suggest that he could be gay.  Despite what his parents want, they must be prepared for that possibility.

And to John, I say the following:  Back off.  Leave Dan alone. I've given you the benefit of a doubt here by saying that perhaps all you want to do is show your support to Dan in case he is gay and needs someone to turn to.  But don't confuse your interest in Dan for your own self-interest.  That is, if you are the least bit interested in Dan as anything more than a co-worker and friend, you should be ashamed of yourself.  Presumably, you are the adult in this situation, and you should know better than to confuse Dan further about something that's already hard enough. He doesn't need your undue influence or pressure in his life, particularly at his age. He doesn't need you leering at him, pining for him, in the hopes that he's gay so you can get it on with him. Think about what's best for Dan here.  If you care for him at all, you'll step back, reexamine your motives for being so heavy-handed thus far, and get your focus back on your work, which is where it should be anyway.

I repeat, leave Dan alone.  His sexual orientation is his business and his business only.  You have no right to help him with this.  In his own time, Dan will be who he is, whether that's gay or straight.  And your influence will have nothing to do with that decision, because Dan already is what he is.     

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chris's Ring

I'm just sick.  I can't believe it.  

When Chris and I first met in June 1992, one of the many things we both agreed on was how much we wanted to wear each other's rings. At the time, gays couldn't be legally married in the province of B.C., but there was nothing to stop us from buying matching rings and wearing them as a symbol of our commitment to, and love for, each other.

After less than ten months of being together, Chris and I bought rings. I happened to be at Metrotown in Burnaby and noticed a big sale going on at Shamins Jewelers, then located in the mall down from The Bay.  I popped into the store, saw the exact type of ring Chris and I had said we liked, and discovered we could afford them.  A few days later, I convinced Chris to go to Shamins with me so I could show him what I'd found.

The ring buying experience could be a potentially difficult and embarrassing one, I thought.  How would it look when two young fellows showed up at the counter and asked to try on matching rings? Would we need to explain what was going on, or could we buy the rings and get the hell out of there without saying a word?  Would the sales attendant figure out we were a gay couple and show us through her attitude that she didn't approve of men being in a relationship together? I was thrilled to be with Chris, to finally have someone in my life at the age of thirty-three, but I couldn't face any more ridicule or scorn.

When we got to the store, I admit I was nervous and apprehensive, but I need not have been.  A short, young, East Indian boy, no older than sixteen or seventeen, eagerly offered to help us.  We proceeded to the location of the glass display case where the rings I'd seen previously were located.  I pointed out the rings we were interested in, and we asked to try them on.  Both were 10K yellow gold bands with a narrower white gold band around the center.  The one I tried on fit me perfectly, but Chris thought his was a little tight and should be loosened.  (Later, he regretted his decision to have it adjusted because the ring would feel loose thereafter.  But he told me he'd never sized a ring before, so he didn't know how tight it should feel around his finger.)

When it came time to pay for the rings, the young East Indian fellow was so cool.  He asked me if I was paying for Chris's, and if he was paying for mine.  No hesitation. No judgment.  No circus.  I was so grateful for his savvy.  I guessed that he'd probably helped out other gay couples before, and it didn't matter to him whatsoever that we were buying rings for each other.  In some curious way, his cool validated what we were doing, even sanctioned our union, and I appreciated his role in making this event as meaningful as it was for me.

Fast forward to just a few days ago.  Chris and I have worn each other's rings ever since.  We can marry legally in B.C. now, but our position is, why bother?  The exchange of rings between us years ago confirmed that we're a couple, that we're utterly committed to each other, and that we expect to live the rest of our lives together.

I've rarely removed Chris's ring over the years.  There are only specific times when I do, for example, when I prepare a meal in the kitchen and my hands get dirty or greasy; when I make my bed in the morning, so I don't scratch the stained wood; when I apply lotion to my hands to counter an ongoing dry skin problem; and when I sit at my writing table, so I don't mark up the slick white finish on the surface.  Apart from those occasions, I don't remove it at all.  There's no need to.

Except I must have removed it at some point over the past few days, perhaps not even for the usual reasons, perhaps without even realizing it, because I've been without it now for at least a day that I'm aware of.  I first noticed it was missing from my wedding finger early yesterday afternoon, after I'd sat down to write.  I didn't think anything about it. I'd probably placed it on the kitchen counter, to the left of the sink in front of the picture window, when I had breakfast earlier.  I'd check downstairs later when I went to make dinner.  

I was next reminded that I wasn't wearing it when Chris noticed it wasn't on my finger as we sat next to each other eating dinner.  I got up from my stool then and searched around the usual place on the kitchen counter where I always put it.  It wasn't there.  Then I expanded the places I looked to kitchen surfaces in general, places I wouldn't normally set it, but, who knows, maybe I did for some reason.

Lately, I've been absentminded beyond reason.  Anything is possible these days.  Several months ago, Chris and I went shopping in downtown Vancouver, and, at the large HMV store on the corner of Burrard and Robson, I bought the new Kenny Chesny Greatest Hits Volume 2 CD.  We listened to it in the car while driving home, and I remember bringing it in the house along with all our shopping bags, but, shortly thereafter, it disappeared.  I've searched the house thoroughly for it since, including going through all of our alphabetically arranged CD cases downstairs in the theatre room, but it's no where to be found.  Chris and I now think it got caught up in a bunch of newspapers that went into our recycle bin, but we have no idea if this is what really happened.  In the meantime, we hold out hope it will turn up, somewhere.  

More recently, Chris gave me a card for my fiftieth birthday when we were in Kelowna.  I read the card, thanked him for his thoughtfulness, popped it somewhere, then we packed the car and drove back home.   To this day, I haven't seen the card again.  I've checked virtually everywhere I could have put it in the luggage I used for our Kelowna trip, including zippered pockets that I never use, but to no avail.  I even asked my mother if she saw the card somewhere in her house after we left, just in case it fell out, but she didn't.

There's a running joke in our household now--that when we find the Kenny Chesny CD, we'll probably find the birthday card.  Add to that now the ring that Chris gave me all those years ago.

I've looked in all the usual places for it, all those where I'm likely to leave it for a short time until I finish what I'm doing and return it to my finger, moving every single item to make sure it hasn't fallen behind something or on the floor.  And, since I haven't found it in any of those, I've had to get creative.  

Last night, I tore my bed apart, pulling off all the bedding, to see if the ring had fallen off my finger during the night while I was asleep (it's never done that before).  I looked under the bed and the night tables in the master bedroom.  I looked through all of the drawers in the night tables, in the dresser, and in the vanity of the master bath.  I went through all of the garbage in the waste basket in the master bath, one piece at a time, and the same in the writing room.  I checked the pockets in all of the clothes I've worn in the past several days.  

Ever positive, Chris assured me last evening, after seeing me mope around, that it would turn up.  That when I stopped worrying about it, it would appear when I least expected it to.  He recalled when we'd been out on the weekend, eating a late lunch on Saturday at the Coquitlam Centre Food Court and on Sunday at the Meadowtown Tim Hortons. When I'd gone to wash my hands in the bathrooms, did I remove the ring, he asked.  I was sure I hadn't, because I never remove it and lay it on the counter in case I forget to return to it after I've dried my hands. No, I'm sure I had it right up until Sunday evening, when I went to bed.

This morning, I decided to retrace my steps.  I think I last removed the ring two nights ago, while I applied lotion to my hands (I don't like grease all over my ring).  I went into the bathroom and looked around there again, even though I'd already checked the bathroom thoroughly yesterday.

What did I do next?  I walked to the blinds in the master bedroom and opened them.  I did that again, paying attention to everything in the area, just in case I removed Chris's ring for some reason and set it down somewhere.  No luck.

Then, I put on a pair of walking shorts and went downstairs to the main living level to open the blinds in the front window, in the two dining room side windows, and, finally, the kitchen window.  Even though I checked all around the kitchen window numerous times the previous night, I checked it again this morning, just in case I missed something.  (Is it possible rings develop legs, walk away when we're not looking, then return later on, where we find them and wonder how we missed them in the first place?  I hope so.)

Next, I climbed the stairs and walked into the writing room to turn on the computer so I could check emails.  This morning, I removed everything from the top of the writing table, ridiculously leafed through the pages of books and note pads, magazines and newspaper clippings, and searched the bookcase across from the table, checking to see if, for some inexplicable reason, I'd removed the ring and set it on a shelf in front of some books.  Nothing.

The computer back in place, I turned it on, checked for emails, then went downstairs.

By this time, I was getting frantic.  I'd already checked all of the places I've left my ring in the past, numerous times, and found nothing, so I knew I had to get more creative.  Donning latex gloves, I went through every piece of garbage in the bin under the kitchen sink, piece by piece, and every banana peel, shriveled lettuce leaf, bell pepper top, celery shaving, and discarded green onion cutting in our compost box on the counter.  I'm determined that we'll remove nothing from the house until it's gone through thoroughly.  Again nothing.  

Then I grabbed the keys to the car and went outside.  I opened the passenger side door, sat on the seat, and checked everywhere a ring could have fallen (although I was sure it didn't).  I got out of the car, crouched down, and peered under the passenger seat to see if anything was there.  Only the floor mat from the seat behind, several pieces of dried grass, and a few shards of ice that had fallen into the car when I opened the door.  Still nothing.

I returned to the house then, quickly scanned the surfaces in the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen again, as I walked through, and I paused, taking a deep breath.  Having looked in most of the places the ring could be, and many it would never be in a million years, I felt a heaviness in my chest.  I felt tears form in my eyes, and I forced myself upstairs again, to the master bedroom, where I made the bed, still keeping my eyes open for any place I could have set the ring, and then I went in to the master bathroom to take my shower.  

Having eaten breakfast, I sit here now writing this, feeling utterly miserable, wearing Chris's slippers and his army-green fleece, the sleeves rolled up several times.  When Chris is away, either at work or visiting his dad in the interior, I feel so much closer to him wearing his clothes.  It's almost as if I feel his presence in the same room as me, just because I'm wearing something of his.  

Over the years, there have been a few occasions when I've misplaced the ring Chris gave me, but it always turned up after nothing more than a few minutes of looking for it.  It's never been missing this long, and the search for it has never been this extensive or felt this hopeless.

That ring is a piece of Chris.  Not only does it represent the life we've shared together for so many years, but also it puts me in close proximity to him, whether he's with me in the same room or miles away.  Chris gave it to me when he was just twenty-four years old, a mere boy, when our relationship was so new and exciting and scary, and it's come to symbolize everything we are together and to each other.  It's just a small, simple band of gold, covered in nicks and scratches, and it didn't even cost that much, but it's worth far more to me now than I could ever have imagined.

Occasionally, Chris and I talk about replacing the rings we initially bought for each other.  We laugh and say that when we have the money, we'll buy bigger rings, fancier ones, maybe with several diamonds, ones that closer represent the love we have for each other.

But I know now that I don't want a more expensive ring or a showier one.  More than anything, I just want the one Chris bought for me when we went to Shamins, when our relationship was first starting, when we had a whole lifetime ahead of us, when we didn't know for sure that what we shared would last but hoped it would.  It did last, and the ring, more than anything else, is a symbol of our enduring commitment and love for each other.

I look at that finger now, the one where the ring used to be, where's it's been since I was thirty-four years old, and I feel empty.  It's only a ring, an inanimate object, I realize that, but it means so much to me.  As silly as it sounds, having misplaced or lost the ring makes me feel like I've forsaken Chris, like I'm no longer connected to him in the most intimate and profound way that I have been for much of my adult life.  I feel incomplete without it, like a piece of me is missing, and all I want right now is to have it safely back on my finger.

I hope that, in my travels around the house, I'll turn a corner, and I'll see Chris's ring resting there, in the most obvious of places, where I should have known from the beginning it would be.  But I'm not hopeful that will happen.  I wish it would, but I'm worried it won't.

I just want Chris's ring back.  Where could it have gone?

P.S.:  After Chris returned home from work this evening, I had to tell him that my efforts today to find the ring he gave me yielded nothing. That's okay, he said.  It'll turn up.  And what if it doesn't, I asked him, fearful that will be the case.  It's only a ring, he answered.  You still have me.  Of course I do, I said, and I'm so grateful for that.  That's what really matters.  Besides, we can buy you another ring, he said.

There was a time when I would have been happy to hear those words, but not now, not after all these years of having the same ring on my finger, not because I lost it and had to replace it.  That ring is my connection to the history we've shared.  It's a little bit of him with me wherever I go.  It's the proof that I'm with the most wonderful man I could ever be with.

I have always been proud to wear Chris's ring.  For so many years, I wanted to be in a relationship, and, when that happened for me, I not only wanted to wear the ring as a sign of our love for each other, I wanted to wear it so the world would know I was no longer single, no longer lonely, deserving of sharing my life with another human being even though I'm gay.

I don't honestly know if I can ever replace that first ring.  It will always have such special meaning for me.