Monday, July 26, 2010

Six and a Half Heady Years

I bet each of us has a time in his life that he looks back on with more nostalgia and fondness than at any other.  Mine is bookended by the day I came out (January 1, 1986) and the day I met Chris (June 13, 1992).

It's been said that when you come out as a gay person, you're born again, and that surely was the case for me.  Before then, I remember feeling I wasn't fully alive, like something inside me, perhaps my spirit, was dead.  I went through the motions of life, showing up at all the right places at the right times, but I wasn't fully present.  I was a shell, in denial of who I was because society told me I couldn't be gay.  I didn't know when, or if, I'd ever step out from behind the wall and present myself as a complete human being.

After I came out, I met lots of new and interesting people, most of them gay like me.  For the first time ever, I wasn't alone.  My associations with other gay people proved to me that it was possible to be gay and to be respectable at the same time.  Sure, there were some gay people who lived down to the stereotypes--who couldn't keep jobs, lived hand to mouth, smoked, drugged, drank too much, and who had indiscriminate sex.

But there were many others who were settled, too, who held down jobs for longer than a few weeks or months at a time, who were good at, and took pride in, what they did, and who were prepared to work for a better life.  In other words, they respected themselves, enough not to smoke, drug, or drink excessively, and to exhibit self-control when it came to sex. They reminded me of me.  They showed me another face of being gay, one that told me it was all right to be who I was, that I didn't have to be anyone else just because I was gay.

I can't overstate what it felt like not to be alone any longer.  For years, I'd moved through the small community where I lived at the time, wondering if I was the only gay person there (other than the creepy older men who'd leered at me from across the street or in the mall, something illicit on their filthy minds).  I'd had my suspicions about some of the other people I'd seen possibly being gay too, but I was purposely shut off from everyone.  I wasn't open to them being gay because I wasn't open to being gay myself.  The isolation was crippling and painful.  If the rest of my life was going to be the same, I didn't want to be a part of it. What would have been the point?  I lived in anticipation of a better time.

Six months or more after I came out, I had my first affair, with the sweetest young man I could have ever lost my virginity to.  He told me he was mostly a virgin, too (he'd only played around a bit, nothing serious).  I was paralyzed at the thought of letting anyone touch me.  I was scared to death.  I sat on the sofa, my arms wrapped around me, while he placed his hand on my knee.  I was completely freaked out.  I couldn't touch him back.  I laughed nervously.  I didn't trust him, at least not at first.  I'd felt so unloved over the years, even by my parents, and I'd been hurt by so many of the things some of the kids at school had said and done to me, that I'd built a wall around me.  I considered myself utterly unlovable.  I was a damaged, vulnerable child who most of all needed someone to care.  Adrian did.

When I went to the gay club in Kelowna, providing the dance music every other Saturday night, attending the occasional Monday coffee night and Wednesday discussion group, for the first time, I felt I had a home to go to.  The apartment I rented on Ufton Court was pleasant enough, and it contained everything I'd acquired over the years, but it was empty.  I was alone and lonely there.

That was no longer where real life happened.  That's where I went to hide out, to separate myself from the rest of the world, so I wouldn't be hurt.  That's where my old life resided, the one before I came out, the one where I was empty and miserable.  I didn't live life there.  It's where I ate and slept and got ready for work.  It's where I went to live life on autopilot, from one day to the next, where I told myself things would never change.  Why did I want to be there any more than I had to be?

Two years after I came out, I moved to Vancouver, ostensibly for my job, but I'd become disenchanted with what I knew of the gay life in Kelowna.  Along with wanting to pursue greater job opportunities, I wanted to meet new people, become a part of the gay scene in the big city, meet the man I was meant to spend the rest of my life with.

But life in the big city wasn't at all what I expected.  I hated my new job, at least for the first six months, until I was transferred to a position in West Vancouver, where I really loved my job.  And the gay community scared the hell out of me.  If Kelowna had been the elementary school of gay life, Vancouver had been the high school and college.  HIV/AIDS was still relatively new then, in the late 80s, with some mysteries still surrounding it, and, in addition to being frightened and conservative and discreet, I had yet another reason not to connect with other young men, particularly on a physical level.

I soon discovered the entire gay community in Vancouver hadn't been waiting for me to arrive from the Interior of BC.  And if I'd thought that, despite being a part of the gay scene in Kelowna, I was still alone and lonely in terms of not finding the man for me, I was worse off in the big city.  I went to the Gandy almost every Saturday night, at least until I had to leave around 12:30 a.m., while things were just getting started, so I could catch the last Skytrain back home to Burnaby.  If I didn't meet anyone before then, it wasn't going to happen.

Then I met Dale, through a personal ad he place in "The West Ender."  Despite wanting a relationship more than anything, which didn't happen until some time later, with someone else entirely, I found a best friend, someone who was gay, too, someone who knew the city better than I did, who wasn't scared to embrace it in a way I couldn't, and someone who took me under his wing, showed me places, and immersed me in the exciting and colorful gay life I might not have been a part of otherwise.

Dale took me to my first drag show at Doll & Penny's, a restaurant in the middle of what's now known as the Davie Village.  He introduced me to clubs other than the Gandy (which I frequented because it was closest to the Skytrain station and because I felt safe there), like the Odyssey and Celebrities.  (He even took me to Numbers and the Shaggy Horse, which were not to my liking.)

He took me to Hamburger Mary's (which he affectionately called Hamburger Fairy's), a greasy spoon with tunes, cute waiters, and a rousing gay clientele.  I felt like I was a part of the gay community because Dale was so in love with it himself and helped me to be a part of it (although, when I look back on it now, I was never part of the inner circle, part of the exciting "in" crowd, and I never would be).

And Dale introduced me to other people, ones that he thought I'd like, for example, Paul, a sweet and compassionate young man, who didn't become the person I'd share my life with either, but who became a wonderful friend I lost touch with when Chris and I lived in Victoria. In the absence of relationships, good, close friendships are the next best thing.

In the meantime, I continued to frequent the clubs, sometimes with Dale, sometimes with Paul, usually alone.  I grew more confident in myself as a young man and as a gay man. Not that I ever became comfortable approaching other men.  I still had a lot of self-esteem work to do, to take myself from feeling like I was a worthless piece of shit to feeling self-assured enough to be in the company of other people and to consider myself an equal.

I met a number of young men, all attractive to me in one way or another, none of whom became my life partner, but all of whom taught me things about myself, so I'd be ready when Chris came along.  To this day, I don't believe Chris and I would have gotten along as well as we have had I not had all my prior experiences with other men.  We meet everyone we do in our lives for good reasons, even though those reasons may not become evident for many years.    

Why was this period of angst and searching and insecurity so special to me?  Because it's when I came into my own.  It's when I came alive for the first time, starting at the age of twenty six.  It's when I finally became oriented in the direction my life should take, and started my journey down the long road toward seeing myself as a worthwhile human being. It's when I made the true separation from home and made my way in life, professionally and personally.

It's when I discovered myself, as I explored the gay community, to see if I belonged, and if so, where.  It's when I was single and alone, not to mention lonely and miserable, but also took the greatest leaps toward understanding, accepting, and loving myself.  It's when I learned many lessons about who I was so I'd be ready for the relationship I now share with Chris, who, with his companionship, patience, and love, transformed my life and made everything I'd gone through worthwhile.

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