Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Everyone!



Chris and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2012.  


And may I extend my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for your interest and participation in my blog this year.  2011 has been the best year ever at "This Gay Relationship," and I couldn't have done it without you.  

You mean more to me than you know.    

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sanctioned Bullying

The issue of bullying in British Columbia schools was again raised in December 16 issue of The Vancouver Sun, this time, thankfully, before yet another gay youth took his life.  But alarming to me in the article titled "B.C. plans tougher anti-bullying policies to protect students," written by Janet Steffenhagen, was not so much what was said as what was implied.  

At issue is the likely reaction of some religious groups should Premier Christy Clark, who's gone on record to say her government will do more to ensure all students are protected from bullying in B.C. schools, propose "...an anti-bullying policy that pays special attention to LGBT students or requires gay-straight alliances in faith-based schools [p. A7]."

On one side of the argument is Doug Lauson, president of the Federation of Independent School Associations of B.C., who's quoted as saying, '"We would be 100-per-cent behind a policy or legislation that was against all forms of bullying....  But to emphasize one form of bullying [such as that against LGBT students] would be problematic."

On the other side is the B.C. Teachers' Federation, which has demanded "...better protection for LGBT students for years."  Vice-president Glen Hansman said, '"While it is more comfortable for many [people] to stay within the comfort of generic bullying, the effects of racist and homophobic harassment are very real for the people who are the targets...and racism and homophobia don't get addressed if we only speak of bullying [in general]."'

According to the article, several recommendations have been made on policies or programs that should be in place to protect LGBT students and the type of bullying they're subjected to, but some religious organizations and parent groups consistently raise objections, claiming LGBT students would receive preferential treatment, and classroom lessons could conflict with "...their traditional family and religious values."

I came away from reading this article with several impressions.  One is that these religious organizations and parent groups don't understand the severity of the bullying LGBT students endure (something I know a thing or two about, having attended several B.C. public schools in the late 60s and '70s).  And what the potential outcome of that bullying is (from overwhelming feelings of worthlessness to suicide, which we've heard a lot about in the media over the past year or so).

One other impression I was left with was that, because these religious organizations and parent groups don't distinguish between different types of bullying, or support the necessity to target each area with policies and programs intended to educate and create greater awareness and acceptance, they can turn their backs on the problem and hope the entire matter of sexual orientation goes away.  

To me, that amounts to nothing less than sanctioned discrimination and bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths, because these religious organizations and parent groups believe the youths deserve it.  After all, everyone knows being lesbian or gay is wrong; everyone who's gay or lesbian should know better.  So, if you don't want to be bullied, stop being gay or lesbian.  

News Flash!!!  After all the unrelenting bullying I endured over most of my grade schools years, with absolutely no support whatsoever, surprise, surprise, I still ended up being gay.  You'd think with everything I'd gone through, I would have gotten the message loud and clear, and I would have changed my evil ways.  But, no, that didn't happen.  And I'll give you one guess as to why it didn't happen.   

Let's agree that denying the existence of gays and lesbians, and preventing gay and lesbian youth from getting the targeted protection they need in schools, isn't going to stop young people from being gay and lesbian.  And let's also agree that what goes around, comes around.  It isn't some other unfortunate schlub whose children or grandchildren are gay.  Chances are you have gay and lesbian people in your family right now.     

The best thing you can do for those youths who have no choice but to be gay or lesbian is to prevent them from being bullied, thereby ensuring their academic experience is more rewarding, their self-esteem isn't decimated, they're less likely to kill themselves, and they go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.  After all, what's the worst thing that could happen to you personally if your child is gay or lesbian?  (Hint:  It's not about you.)  

What Do I Tell The Children?

Last evening, after watching "X Factor" (yeah, Melanie, you so deserved to win), I happened to play channel roulette and caught a piece of an Oprah's "Lifeclass" episode on OWN.  The subject was "The Truth Will Set You Free," and the first guest was Ellen Degeneres, following the now-famous cover of Time magazine when she declared "Yep, I'm Gay."  How many of us as gay men or lesbian women will forget that?  What a victory for all of us.  How brave was Ellen at the time?  

1997 doesn't sound like all that long ago, but I was reminded of just how long ago it was, at least in terms of public attitudes toward gay people, when "Lifeclass" featured reactions Ellen received from some audience members, who were not at all impressed to know she was a lesbian.  Of course, there were the usual intolerant Christians, sputtering off the usual religious judgements, making the normally cool Ellen look genuinely uncomfortable under the vitriol of their words.

But there was also a woman in the front row who took issue with the bold and unapologetic announcement of Ellen's sexual orientation--on the cover of Time magazine, no less, in unmistakable, large red letters. She was upset because she was challenged to address the questions her children asked when they saw the word gay and wondered what it meant.  "What am I supposed to tell them?" she asked, or something to that effect.  

I was stunned by this woman's lack of imagination (but, of course, this was 1997), in part because I couldn't believe she was as clueless as she made herself out to be.  Did she really have no idea what to tell her children, or would she rather have not been put in the position of telling them anything at all about gay people?  Did it never occur to her she could have said Ellen was a happy, lighthearted, and carefree person?  Even better, couldn't she have said that Ellen loves women, and left it at that?

To Ellen's credit, she said to the woman she should have told her children what being gay is, implying to keep it age appropriate, of course.  After all, what an opportunity the woman had to present gay people in a positive light and to leave her children with a positive attitude toward them.  But, frankly, I can't help but think all the woman had on her mind was what happens between two gay people in the bedroom, when those of us in the know realize how much more there is to it than that.

Happy Homecoming!

How beautiful is this?

Brian J. Clark, The Virginian-Pilot, The Associated Press

As reported in a number of newspapers yesterday, this photograph, taken Wednesday of this week, shows U.S. navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta kissing Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, her partner of two years.  Gaeta's ship had returned from eighty days at sea.

As MetroNews reports, "It is a time-honoured tradition at U.S. navy homecomings [that] one lucky sailor is chosen to be first off the ship for the long-awaited kiss with a loved one. Yesterday [Wednesday] in Virginia Beach, Va., for what is believed to be the first time, the happily reunited couple was gay [p. 08]."

This past September 20, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the U.S. military came to an end. It's no accident the first "lucky sailor" chosen was a lesbian woman.  

I'm thrilled to add this to my Positive Images series.  How more positive an image can you get?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Why Am I Here?" (Donna Smaldone)

Without question, Donna Smaldone, of The You Evolution, and I are on the same wavelength, when it comes to how we look at life in general and some of the subjects we write about on our respective blogs.

But, last week, I was impressed with a post Donna wrote that, in so few words, said so much. Not only that, but, as I read it, I knew I had to share her thoughts with you, because I think you'll appreciate them as I did.  

In her post titled "The Question that Does Not Discriminate," Donna doesn't shy away from writing about the key question at the core of all our lives:  Why am I here?  But, at the same time as she offers an answer (the answer?), she also goes deeper, providing insight and perspective, and touching on one of my favorite subjects (and one I write about from time to time myself)--that of self-worth.  

Donna's post had me wishing she'd written it for my blog;  I would have been only too happy to feature it alongside a guest post she wrote for me in late September called "You Were Born to Love."  But I'm just grateful she wrote it at all, because it confirms what I also know to be true, and what I believe all of us know in our hearts is true.    

I sincerely hope you'll take a look at "The Question that Does Not Discriminate" by clicking here.

(To read Donna's guest post for "This Gay Relationship," please click here.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thought for the Day, #44

Writer and activist, Ivan Coyote speaks in schools about bullying as it relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students (I wish I had that job).  

On December 9, the Vancouver School Board's second leadership conference for LGBT youth and their allies was held at Eric Hamber Secondary.  At that conference, Coyote is quoted as saying:

I am sick of moving people to tears with stories of casualties from the warfare we let our children wage on each other [at school]....  I'm sick of young dead boys becoming icons of public compassion.  I'm sick of Rick Mercer rants we share on Facebook with each other; meanwhile, we continue to allow our principals and school administrators to cater to the conservative and the religious right, and pretend our kids don't all pay the price for their apathy and cowardice.   

Amen, Ivan Coyote.  Amen!

(Quote is from "Dare to Stand Out draws more than 200," by Nathaniel Christopher, published in Xtra!, #478, dated December 15, 2011, p. 10)

The Power of Writing

Funny thing about writing a blog.  Days go by, sometimes weeks, and you have little to say. Then, all at once, things come up, and you have lots of things to write about.  This is my third post today, and it's an important one.

In my "It Gets Better" video, one of the ways I recommended that young people deal with the bullying they're subjected to in school is to keep a journal.  I suspect anyone who's never kept a journal, or written anything before, wouldn't understand why writing about how you feel is important.

Then I came upon this today, which illustrates, better than I could ever explain, the power of writing.  The quote is from "Butches of Belfast, and then some," written by Ivan Coyote, and published in issue #479 of Xtra!, dated December 15, 2011.     

Coyote writes:

Last month in Belfast.  Writing workshop in a quiet old pub and theatre on a brick-lined lane in the downtown core.  She walked in way early, wearing a flannel shirt, sensible pants and work boots. Didn't say much, but what she did say was that she came from a big family of storytellers, always with the stories them, but that she had never ever written anything down, on account of her terrible spelling and grammar.  And I do mean terrible, she said.

About an hour later, after we all talked some about the importance of everyone's individual story, I told them all to just write for 15 minutes.  Then I watched her, her shoulders set so fierce and arms determined, scribbling mercilessly onto page after page of a small lined journal, tears streaming unstopping and silent out of her eyes and down her open Irish face so hard.  I don't know anything about what she wrote, and didn't ask, but holy, was it ever a thing to watch.  To watch her write and cry like that.  I could feel her relief in my own bones.

In writing, there's always the risk you'll feel the pain, go places you never wanted to--release the terror and the torment.  Write it down.  Honor your story.  Honor yourself.  Whether you're a bullied teen or an isolated, lonely senior, your story has value.  Your words have value.  You have value.  Discover that today.

Write it down.  

(To read the full piece from Ivan Coyote, one of my favorite columnists in Xtra!, please click here.)  

Annoying Telephone Solicitor, 1; Annoyed Gay Man, 0?

On average, Chris and I receive two to three telephone solicitation calls PER DAY.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I know, because I'm home most days working on my writing.  I hear the phone ring, I stop what I'm doing to go downstairs and look at the call display, and either I answer the call, if it's someone I know or want to hear from, or I hit Cancel.

It's 12:31 pm, and I've already received two calls today.  The first was from 866-397-8093 (which called at least once a day, every day, for the past couples of weeks), and the second was from Unknown Name Unknown Number.  Those are my favorite; I cancel them automatically.    

I tell you this so you know I have sound justification for being fed with the number of calls interrupting my work, trying to sell me something I don't need or want.

Here's how the conversation with today's first caller went:

Me:  "Hello!"  (The tone in my voice is, I've already lost patience with you, and you haven't opened your mouth yet.)

Caller:  "Hello.  This is Patricia calling.  How are you today?"  (I hate when they start like that, trying to be personable, trying to sound like they care about how I am.)

Me:  "I'm fine.  What is this call about?"  (I've always preferred the direct approach.)

Patricia:  "Is Mr. this-is-where-they-mangle-the-pronunciation-of-Chris's-last-name there?"    

Me:  "No.  He's at work.  How can I help you?"

Patricia:  "I'm calling from BMO insurance.  May I speak with the wife of the house?"  (Oh, this is too easy.)

Me:  "I'm Chris's partner."  (Making my voice sound as deep as possible.)

Patricia:  "Pardon me?"

Me:  "I said, I'm Chris's partner."  (I speak louder, like Patricia is hard of hearing.)

Patricia:  "Oh.  Sorry."  (Laughs nervously.)

Me:  "What is this about?"  (I'm truly annoyed now.)

Patricia:  "I'm calling you today to talk about different types of insurance for women."  (What?)

Me:  "There are no women in this household."

Patricia:  (Thinks for a minute.)  "Oh."  (Pause.)  "Thank you for your time."  (Hangs up.)

In the past, I've written posts about how, as gay people, we should go out of our way to help those who don't feel comfortable with us.  Something about trying to win them over with kindness, create a favorable impression, that sort of thing.

What do you think?  Did I create a favorable impression with Patricia today?  Probably not, right?

This is a picture of me sending apologetic vibes out into the universe for being so short-tempered with her.  After all, she's just trying to do her job.  Hopefully, I can undo whatever negative karma I created before something awful comes back to bite me in the ass.  

But, Patricia, here's what I hope you took from our exchange today:

1).  Don't assume every household you call is made up of a man and a woman.  There are different types people out there, in different living arrangements, and you should be able to think faster on your feet, so we don't get the impression we're being judged by what you say or, worse, what you don't say.      

2).  When you learn you've made a call to a gay male household, don't persist in trying to sell insurance for women.  This is where you turn off autopilot.  I assure you, most gay male households do not have women.  End your call gracefully and hang up.    

That's it.

Cut the Nasty

I know this has nothing to do with being gay, except it resonates with me, a gay man, who also happens to be a writer and a lover of anything creative.      

Yesterday on ew.com, I read a staff blogger's review of an episode of a TV show I happen to like (I've done this numerous times before, and the result is often the same).  The review was decent and respectful, but the reader comments ranged from appreciative of what they'd watched, to scathing cut downs.  One even wrote, "Worst.  Episode.  Ever."  At that point, I was pissed off and stopped reading.  I'd allowed other people's negativity to get to me, and I didn't need it.

See, the problem with so many of these websites is there's no accountability for comments. People select aliases, write whatever nasty comments come to them in the moment, and take no ownership for their words, ideas (if you could call them that), or energy.    

So, here's the best advice I've heard, which, as far as I'm concerned, applies to bloggers and commenters who write any damn thing they want to, sending their negative venom out into the world and thinking they're somehow benefiting the planet.

Steve Jobs, the late CEO and creative genius behind Apple, said it best:

"...What have you done that's so great?  Do you create anything, or just criticize others' work...?"

Being clever, insightful, and smart is one thing.  Being bitchy, nasty, and insulting is something else altogether.  There's a fine line.  Don't go over it.  No one wants your negative energy in his space.

Practice gratitude.

Focus on doing something creative.  Learn just how tough it is.  

And in case my advice and Jobs's questions don't hit the mark, remember what I hope your parents taught you:

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

I'm done.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Make Some "Noise" (Gavin Creel and Robbie Roth)

Last evening, I received the following email from Toronto songwriter Robbie Roth:

I wanted to bring to your attention a song that I wrote with Gavin Creel, a Tony-nominated performer from America. 

The song is called "Noise," and we wrote it in support of gay rights and the fight for marriage equality in the [United] States.

We have just posted the song and an accompanying video online, and we are giving 100% of the proceeds from the single to an organization called Broadway Impact, which is advocating for this cause on a grassroots level.

I'm sending this to you in the hopes that bloggers of influence might embrace the song and continue to spread the message.  The song is available for download on iTunes.

Hope you get a moment to check it out.

Here was my response to Robbie today:

Thanks so much for your interest in my blog and for thinking I could play a role in making the "Noise" level even higher.

As you can imagine, I'm approached by any number of people asking me to endorse their products and services.  In every case, I've told them I'm not interested, because what they sell is usually inconsistent with the spirit or intent of my words (and because I'm not trying to sell anything but ideas, anyway).

That, however, is not the case with the outstanding song you and Gavin wrote.  I'm all about human rights for gay and lesbian people, and speaking up for what we deserve as citizens of this earth.

It would be a pleasure for me to feature your song in a dedicated blog post, and to play my part in helping to spread your powerful message.

On behalf of all gay and lesbian people, thanks to you both for writing this amazing song, and for encouraging us to make some "Noise."  I appreciate the opportunity to spread the message, and I wish you every success with your efforts.

I heartily encourage you all to view the video below, and, if you enjoy the song (which I'm confident you will), to go to iTunes and purchase it.  The song is great, and so is the cause you'll support.  



Gavin Creel had the following to say about "Noise":

"Noise" is about "...fighting silence and complacency, and being heard; a song that will hopefully fire people up to speak out for gay rights and make a loud noise so that all those treated unjustly, simply for being who they are and loving who they love, can hear and feel hope.  I dream of making a musical statement with this song in a way that I don't see enough in the music industry--a balls out, no hiding its intention, anthem for our movement."

(The above quote is from perezhilton.com.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Response to the Letter From Will Travis

In seeking an online reference to the letter Will Travis recently wrote to Xtra!, expressing his opinion (and mine) that inspired my post titled "On the Tenth Anniversary of Aaron Webster's Murder," published last Friday, I found the following comment from Thomas, who lives in Vancouver.

I share this with you because of its honesty, and because it says a great deal about the place some gay men find themselves.  On the one hand, I deplore cruising in public places for sex--I've never done it, no matter how desperate I was to feel the warmth of another human being near me, and I would never consider doing it, because I believe I have more respect for myself than that. On the other hand, who knows what one could find oneself doing under specific circumstances? Never say never...

From the point of view of these men, I see the function cruising fulfills, even understanding its necessity, and how they are driven to do it.  Thus, it's difficult for me to pass judgement on them, when I recognize they not only feel disenfranchised from society in general (as many gay men do), but also from the gay male community.  Feeling largely disenfranchised from the gay male community over the years, I get cruising and anonymous sex with men in parks, or at least a part of me does.  But, in my heart, I know it's not the route to go, and I hope for so much better for us.

If I sound conflicted about cruising, it's because I am.  I can't presume to understand all the many reasons why one gay man cruises public parks for sex while another doesn't.  But I believe Thomas's letter is telling and insightful, giving us a better understanding of a segment of our community, and challenging us to be more inclusive of our own--no matter where they fall on the scale of being cute or pretty or handsome or youthful or muscular or hairy or well-endowed or whatever the case may be.

As I write this, it occurs to me that, as gay men, we want to be accepted by society.  But so much a part of that is first accepting ourselves and each other.  It's easy to criticize many straight people for their judgements and bigotry and discrimination against us, but comments like Thomas's must force us to take a hard look at ourselves, ask whether or not we're doing the very same thing to our brothers, and, if we are, what we're prepared to do about it.    

For the purpose of clarity, I've edited the comment in question.  If you wish to read it in its original form, please click here.


Will Travis's judgements pertaining to park cruisers omits compassion and understanding.  

What we're really dealing with in Stanley Park's cruising area are an assortment of lonely, depressed, damaged, abused, and forgotten souls who are desperate for human touch.  ...There are souls in this world who have suffered unimaginable pain, abuse, and experiences that have impaired their ability to socialize, respond to, and perceive people and the world around them in a healthy, logical way.  There is a need for these men to connect.  In many cases, it's all that keeps them alive.  

For these men, the local gay scene is an abusive, judging, socially bankrupt wreck beyond anything words can describe.  The gay community has a way of rolling out cruelty and bigotry surpassing anything that straights could ever deliver.  

Men have been cruising parks in cities around the world for thousands of years, and nothing is ever going to change that. Even in the Middle East, where they face a death sentence for seeking each other, they still take that risk.  

An evolved city accepts the reality of human nature and sexuality, and takes a discrete approach. What two people do in a place where there's a reasonable expectation of privacy is their own business.  Sending police to harass and call cruisers 'sex predators' is pitiful.  A predator is someone who victimizes, plunders, and destroys for their own personal gain.  

In my ten years of cruising, I've met some very tortured souls, that I was only too happy to hold...

Friday, December 9, 2011

On the Tenth Anniversary of Aaron Webster's Murder

(Note:  Some material in this post may not appeal to all readers.  Please use your discretion.)

Thank God for Will Travis of Surrey, B. C.  He had the balls to write a letter to Xtra! recently and say what not only he thought for the past ten years, but what I, and many other gay men like us, also thought about the Aaron Webster murder.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the details of this case, here's the story as it appears on Wikipedia:

"Aaron Webster was a gay man living in Vancouver, British Columbia...who was beaten by a group of men close to a gay cruising area in a woody part of Stanley Park...on November 17, 2001.  According to reports, the youths came across a nearly naked Webster and chased him to a parking area where they beat him with baseball bats.  After the beating, Webster was found beside a path in the park by his close friend..." and died in his friend's arms.

Rightfully, the gay community in Vancouver was outraged by Webster's death, organizing a vigil and march held the day following the murder.  Hundreds participated, walking "...through the streets of downtown Vancouver toward the site of Webster's death.  Another rally, including [the then] B. C. Human Rights Commissioner..., was held several weeks later.  Vigils were also held in several other Canadian cities."

I'd be the first to admit nothing should take away from the tragic death of a human being; we cannot lose sight of what happened to this man.  Aaron Webster didn't deserve to die.  End of story.  He was not a threat to anyone.  He was nothing more than a harmless, forty-two-year-old gay man...in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

And that's exactly the problem.  In all the reporting around Webster's death over the past ten years--everything from it being the first gay-related murder to gain widespread media attention in Canada, to "...whether the attack constituted a hate-crime"--no one asked the obvious question: What was Aaron Webster doing, almost naked, in a public park, in the middle of the night, looking for sex?

Here's what Will Travis had to say in his letter to Xtra!, appearing in issue #477, dated December 1, 2011:

In our Western society, we have a sanction against public nudity and especially against public sex.  That's not to deny that in certain singular centres...licensed whorehouses do legally display their lascivious flesh in public spaces.  Stanley Park is not one of those places.

Stanley Park is a dedicated green space meant for the enjoyment [and] leisure...of citizens.  As much as some gay men wish the park were an approved sex arena, it's not!  The odorous, sticky little paths some gay men haunt in the depths of the park are not their private property.  The entire park is public property.  Men who wish to romp around waving their erections, looking to fuck and get fucked need to do that on their own private property.  They need to get a room!

The community at large knows full well that public nudity and public sex are illegal and, in the eyes of most citizens, immoral.

Any sentient gay man knows that violent homophobes exist, that they are real people with a real hate-on, and that they patrol the same dark, self-licensed "play spaces" as the treacherous spot where Aaron Webster was assaulted.

You have to ask: What rational person would do what Aaron did?  What rational, socialized man would deliberately enter a park after dark, strip down to his buck nakedness, and expose himself in pursuit of thrill and debauchery?  Was Aaron surprised when they came to get him?  Only a fool would take the kind of risk Aaron took [p. 4].    

Like Travis, "I'm not a heartless bastard.  I hate that this happened to Aaron Webster, too. Tragedy and treachery in the city.  What I find...tragic and...treacherous is that the community has elevated Webster to sainthood.

"I'm a gay guy.  But if I were ever to be confronted in the park by a naked, boner-raging man I would take real offence [p. 4]."          

Amen!  I was so relieved to read Travis's letter.  It speaks for those of us in the gay community who would never do what Aaron Webster did, but what many men like him continue to do, even today.

So many thoughts run through my mind regarding this matter.  Among them:

What kind of human being is compelled to go to a public park, putting his life at potential risk, for the sake of engaging in anonymous sex?  Someone who doesn't feel he'd get sex any other way?  Someone who has so little respect for himself that he doesn't believe another man could be attracted to, or interested in, him for anything other than sex?  Is this yet another example of just how low self-esteem is in some segments of the gay male community?

Did those who marched in downtown Vancouver following Webster's murder do so to memorialize him, to pay homage to the tragic loss of a human life?  Or did they do it to stand up for what they believed was their right: to cruise for sex in a public park?  I'm concerned too many of the marchers saw themselves in Webster, imagining, because of their own park-going habits, the very same thing happening to them.    

In my estimation, Aaron Webster is not a saint or a martyr.  He's a gay man who made a bad mistake, paying for it with his life.  By definition, a saint is "a person who is admired or venerated because of his virtue," and a martyr is "a person who is killed because of his religious or other beliefs."  Webster was not virtuous in his actions, and he did not have any religious or other beliefs to exalt his death.      

What has to happen for gay men who seek sex in public parks to stop that activity altogether, to see how much more they are worth than that, and to find other ways to fulfill the common need we all have for connection and validation?  How do we ensure another example is not made of a gay man looking for sex in a public place? 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thought for the Day, #43

Having healthy self-esteem will not make you selfish or demanding.  It will not make you narcissistic, taking advantage of others for your own gain.  Selfish behavior and attention seeking are in fact outward manifestations of inner insecurity and low self-esteem.  It will help you experience life more authentically and use your natural intuition as a guide to healthier living. Good self-esteem involves developing a whole new perspective about yourself from one of feeling flawed, anxious, and undeserving to one of feeling okay with your human imperfections, feeling more peaceful and worthy of respect and affection.

(From Loving Ourselves: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem, by Kimeron N. Hardin, Ph.D., p. 282.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pedophilia is Not Homosexuality

Occasionally, something comes along that riles, disturbs, or just plain ticks me off, as it did when, a few weeks ago, I read an article in the November 17, 2011, issue of Xtra!.  I acknowledge writing about this will draw more attention to it, but it should have attention drawn to it.  Someone needs to stand up and say, "This is not right," and, today, that someone is me.  

Here are the facts, as reported in the article:
  • Between August 2009 and April 2010, a 56-year-old Metro Vancouver man is said to have had consensual sex at least three times with a 15-year-old youth.  
  • They met through Grindr, an Internet hook-up site.  
  • In order to register at Grindr, the youth lied about his age and said he was 17, the minimum required.    
  • The age of consent in Canada is 16. 
  • This case came to light when the youth took the 56-year-old man to his parents's house, "...where they had sex before his mother came home and found [the latter] naked in her son's bathroom."  
  • On that occasion, the youth admitted to his mother that he's gay.  
  • The 56-year-old "...was charged with sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and sexual assault."    
  • It was decided "...jail time would serve no purpose"; however, the 56-year-old is currently serving 18 months's probation.  
  • His name was added to the Canadian sexual offender registry for a period of twenty years.     
We have to call this what it is: pedophilia, pure and simple.  This is not two gay men having consensual sex.  It's a 56-year-old predator having sex with a 15-year-old boy.  End of story. There's no way to pretty this up or make it more palatable.      

Look.  I'm not against men who are gay, and I'm not against sex.  I'm gay, and I have sex.  My position would be exactly the same if:
  • a 56-year-old man had had sex with a 15-year-old girl; or
  • a 56-year-old woman had had sex with a 15-year-old boy, or
  • a 56-year-old woman had had sex with a 15-year-old girl.  
To me, the sexual orientation of those involved isn't the issue at all.    

The issue, as I see it, is the inappropriateness of two people having sex, where, according to the law, one is a minor.  The law is the law, whether you agree with the age of consent or not.  (And, for the record, I don't agree with Canada's age of consent.  I think it should be older, a minimum of 18.  How can the legal drinking age in Canada be 19, but the age of consent only 16?  This is a disconnect if ever I've seen one, but maybe there's a good reason for it I'm not aware of.)

And, of course, I have a problem with the age difference.  If the youth had been 18 or 20, I'd still have a problem with the age difference.  What business does he have engaging in sex with someone who could be his father?  And, conversely, what business does a 56-year-old have engaging in sex with someone who could be his son, or even his grandson?  I don't get it.            

Apparently, the 15-year-old youth is said to have consented to engaging in sex with the 56-year-old.  What?  How is that even relevant when we're talking about someone so young (contrary to what a doctor is quoted as saying in the article--that, in his estimation, some 12-year-olds are in a better position to consent to having sex than some 20 or 30-year-olds)?          

We have a 15-year-old male in our extended family.  Yes, he has a stocky build and facial hair. Yes, on the surface, he physically appears like a young man--mature and in control of himself. But just below the surface, he's still very much a boy, a kid, as I suspect most youth his age are.

How can someone, anyone, who's just 15 be emotionally ready to make the decision to have consensual sex with a man who is forty-one years his senior?  Does he have any idea how personal and intimate and special sex is--with the right person?  Does he have any idea what he's giving away to someone, who doesn't mean anything to him?      

When Chris and I talked about this case recently, he asked, "To what extent is the youth responsible for leading on the 56-year-old?"  Good point.  The youth did lie, since he hooked up under false pretences, claiming to be 17.  I don't necessarily think because he's a minor, he's blameless.  He has to take some responsibility.  But, in the end, he's only a kid.  And, thankfully, most of us as kids are given leeway for some pretty stupid decisions we make because of our stupidity and immaturity.

To me, the one who should have the brains to know better is the 56-year-old, the clear adult in this case.  Don't you think he needed to be more clued in to all the signs the 15-year-old wasn't the age he claimed to be?  That if he had the slightest doubt about the age of the youth, he should have asked to see his ID?  But, even before that, he shouldn't have tried to hook up with someone only seventeen years of age in the first place.  Where was his head?

Oh, I have other issues with this, too.  

Among them is the fact that, when news of this case hit the media, I'm certain those who already hold gay men in contempt decided we're all the same--that every one of us routinely enjoys having sex with underaged youth.  Never mind that countless gay men wouldn't consider having sex with kids, let alone anyone they have no business having sex with.

I also have an issue with some of the readers who wrote in to Xtra! to support...the 56-year old, no less.  Yes, one wrote, his name on the offender registry "cheapened" it.  And another took the responsibility off the 56-year-old and wrote the youth knew how old the man he was intending to have sex with was and went ahead and had it anyway.  Further, he wrote, some male youths have a thing for daddy figures, and "since when should other people decide what turns ANOTHER person on?"

And where were the 15-year-old's parents in all this?  Okay, I'm not a parent, so maybe it's not my place to criticize their parenting skills.  But, really, they had no clue what their 15-year-old son was doing--trying to pick up an older man using an application on his smartphone (which, according to the article, he'd succeeded in doing before)?

I'm all for respecting the privacy of children, but that doesn't mean absolving yourself from the responsibilities of a parent and being aware of what they're up to.  He's just 15, for crying out loud.  He's still lives under your roof.  He still needs parental leadership and guidance.  Wake up!

I hate to admit it, but this is not an isolated incident.  Older gay men, who should know better, have sex with boys--or, at the very least, young men, who are much too young for them and with whom they have no business having sex--all the time.  The only difference between them and our 56-year-old in this story is they haven't been caught yet.  

The idea of me, in four years, when I'm fifty-six, having sex with a young kid the age of Chris's nephew now, stuns and outrages me.  If we think this is okay, we need to give our heads a shake.  I can't even fathom the absurdity of it.  How is it possible anyone could?


(To read the complete story in Xtra!, please click here.)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

How Do You Do That?


The tears surprised me.  They shouldn't have.  I'm naturally emotional, over-sensitive. That's what made my boyhood so difficult.  I felt everything acutely.  The cruel words at school, my father's emotional abandonment, my mother's resentment.  I held it all in back then, wondering what was going on, thinking every family was the same.  Now, it surfaces easily.  Must be my age.

I'm at the point in the book about Steve Jobs where he learns he has a sister, born of the same two parents he grew up not knowing.  Her name is Mona Simpson.  She's a published writer, like I hope to be someday.  I wanted to learn more about her, so, on my MacBook, I googled her name.

I learned she wrote a eulogy for her brother, who died early this past October, which was published in The New York Times.  I imagined her standing in front of the congregation, delivering the words I read.  I imagined myself, delivering my mother's eulogy when she eventually passes, wondering if I'd be able to get through the experience, if everyone would forgive me for falling apart in front of them.

Everything is seen through the filter of age now.  We're all so much older than I ever expected we'd be, even twenty years ago.  Things happen.  That's life.  We don't know how long we have. We don't know when those we take for granted will be gone.  Everything has a beginning and an ending.  Nothing lasts forever.  Nothing.  Except, I have to believe, love.  I count on love to last forever.          

In this context, I read Simpson's words, the scattered memories she had of her brother, whom she didn't meet for the first time until she was an adult.  Early on, she writes, "Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love.  For decades, I'd thought that man would be my father [who had abandoned her when she was five].  When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother."

When I was thirty-two, I met that man, and he was my partner, Chris.

Jobs's illness takes up much of Simpson's eulogy.  She writes, "...Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle.  Once he'd loved walking through Paris.  He'd discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto.  He downhill skied gracefully.  He cross-country skied clumsily.  No more."

Chris loved walking through Paris, too, when we were there three years ago.  Even now, when I ask him what he enjoyed most about our trip, of all the things he could say, he says walking everywhere.  Chris isn't a man of superlatives, like I am.  But I know, from walking side-by-side with him the two weeks we were in France, and from talking to him about it since, he was deeply moved by that experience.  I'd bet we walked some of the very same streets and bridges and alleyways Steve Jobs did.  My heart knows why he loved it there so much.

Simpson describes her brother learning to walk again in a Memphis hospital after his liver transplant.  He used a chair to support himself, pushing it slowly down the hallway, stopping to rest in it when he reached the nurses's station.  Then, getting himself up, he turned "...around and walked back again."  Laurene, Jobs's wife of twenty-plus years, '...got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.  "You can do this, Steve," she said.  His eyes widened.  His lips pressed into each other.'

I don't know which of us will need a chair in a hospital to learn how to walk again, but I imagined it was Chris, and there I was, down on my knees and looking into his blue eyes, the very ones that warm me when I look into them now, that reach the essence of who I am like no others do, that tell me I'm home, exactly where I'm meant to be.  I can't imagine looking into them at some time in the future, and seeing fear, and infirmity, and mortality.  It would rip me apart.  I know I couldn't do it.

That's when I couldn't see the computer monitor, when I had to wipe the tears away.  I never want to see Chris like that.  How could I look at him and see anything less than he is during our best years together?  When a small pile of twigs he placed for pick-up on the grassy boulevard in front of our house, representing him and everything I love so much about him, brought me to tears, how could I ever face him struggling with a life or death illness, knowing he could be taken away from me at any moment?  How could I be strong for him when I couldn't be strong for me? How does any human being get through something like that?  

Hours before Jobs died, Laurene lying "...next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths."  I imagined that was me on a bed, my arms wrapped around Chris, inhaling his sweet, familiar scent, monitoring his breathing, knowing the end was near, the pillow beneath my head wet.  

How do you let go of the one true love of your life, knowing he will never return, knowing you will never again prepare and eat a meal together, spend weekends working around the house, sit on the front porch on a balmy summer evening, hold each other in bed, go for a run Sunday mornings, watch TV in front of the fireplace on a winter's night, decorate the house at Christmastime, share a good laugh, walk the winding streets of Paris, dream about the future? How do you do that?

Where do you find what it takes to do that?  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where Openness and Acceptance Come From (Guest Post)

On the final day of November, it gives me great pleasure to share with you a second guest post from S. B. Graves.  

Some of you will recall S. B.'s first post, titled "Hate Is Not A Family Value," appeared on October 8th.  If you haven't yet had the opportunity to read it, I encourage you to click here.

In subsequent email exchanges with S. B., I asked if she would consider answering the following question in her next guest post:  As a straight, happily married, parent of three, how can she account for being so open and accepting of gay and lesbian people, when she herself is not gay, her children and husband aren't, and, to her knowledge, no one in her immediate family is?  In other words, how can she account for taking up our cause as though it were her own?  This intrigued me--that is, I was curious what her answer would be--and I hope you're intrigued by it, too.

I've written before that we, as gay and lesbian people, will not get what we want--in terms of legitimacy and respect in a predominantly straight world, as well as the human rights we're entitled to just by being on the planet--without the support of our straight allies.  S. B. Graves is more than just an ally, she's an enthusiastic and tireless champion of us, and she's a remarkable example of what we would all hope the straight people in our lives would be.

I hope you enjoy reading S. B.'s guest post as much as I enjoy presenting it to you.

Thanks, S. B., for your contribution to my blog, and, on behalf of all gay and lesbian people, for your compassion, understanding, and willingness to fight the fight along side us.  We sincerely appreciate it.

***

My thanks again, Rick, for giving me this opportunity to guest blog.


When I first came across Rick’s blog and commented on the post of the day, Rick responded by saying he was happily surprised that a straight, married mother of three was so open-minded about gays and lesbians. This was a little puzzling, because I didn’t think my views were all that unique, and I felt I didn’t deserve any shout-outs.  To me, it felt like giving someone a pat on the back for not being a racist.

This led to a further discussion about why I’m open-minded on the subject when many others aren’t. Although I have to admit it makes me laugh, just a bit--“My dear, tell us how you got to be so completely fabulous!”--I’ll try to explain (keeping in mind the many faults I have, which balance out my lack of homophobia).

My husband likes to say I think the place where I grew up (a very liberal city on the East Coast of the US) does not represent the rest of the States, even though I frequently claim it does. I used to begin statements with, “Well, in the US…,” to which he’d respond, “you mean, ‘Cambridge,’ not ‘the US,’ a complete anomaly that doesn’t represent the rest of the States at all.” So, I guess I grew up in an anomaly.

Cambridge, like Berkley on the opposite coast, is incredibly liberal and so blue (as compared to the more conservative “red” states) that the shade is closer to indigo. I lived with my mom and brother (my parents divorced when I was five), about a mile from Harvard Square, and had what would now be described as a free-range childhood: My friends and I walked and played everywhere. There were no organized sports, and we were more likely to tag along with our parents to protest marches (back in the day when Nixon’s Watergate scandal was underway) or investigate all the cool things one could do around New England.

When I was twelve, we moved back to the small university town where my dad lived, so we could spend more time with him. He had a small office back then, with about 15 employees, two of whom were gay. I don’t remember attaching any special significance to this; it was just the way they were. I remember driving somewhere with my dad along with one of these men, and they were looking out the car window at someone they knew (and obviously didn’t like for some reason).  This guy said to my dad, “Well, I’m glad he’s on your team and not mine,” and they both laughed (yes, I got my snarky gene from my father).

Homosexuality was open and unremarkable, just business as usual. My parents were open about it and didn’t attach any judgment to it.  It wasn’t secretive or shameful; it was just part of a person’s personality, mentioned without fanfare. While I think it’s obvious some kids learn bigotry or homophobia at home, I think it’s also true some kids see being gay as “scary” or “different,” simply through the absence of gays or lesbians in their lives. This is why, as a number of advocates have stressed (Rick Mercer most recently), being openly gay is important not only to gay kids growing up but also to straight kids, as things cease to be “scary” when they’re commonplace.

Interestingly, while Rick thinks I’m so open-minded, I felt I had to tell him a story from when I was about 17, as it hasn’t been a seamless journey (all open-minded, all the time), and I think this is a good illustration of the way people may react to that which is unfamiliar.

In my last few months of high school, I did an internship with a non-profit anti-nuclear organization. I arrived for my initial interview and was told to go to a room down the hall. As I walked in, I interrupted two women who were making out. I must’ve looked a little shocked, because they were laughing a bit as they moved away from each other. I distinctly remember feeling uncomfortable and being angry with myself about it:  What was my problem? Why did this bother me? Two women making out--get over it.  I know I strongly felt the problem was mine and not theirs--I had an unacceptable reaction, and they had done nothing wrong.   

So, if I’m playing armchair psychologist, I’d say my upbringing was definitely non-homophobic--which meant I didn’t see any difference between gays or straights--but I also had a very human reaction feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.  I think it’s okay to acknowledge things foreign and unfamiliar often take us aback, and we have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones in order to grow and learn.

In the office that day, I gave myself a little pep talk--“Okay, chill out, they’re just lesbians, and they totally didn’t notice your wide open eyes and little gasp.  Show them you’re cool with it.”  Yeah, right, they saw through me, no doubt--but the important thing was, I knew I was the one who had to adjust.

I believe we need to teach our kids and students this: Occasionally, when they’re confronted with things that are unfamiliar, they should acknowledge their reaction is the thing that needs to change, not the person who is different or unfamiliar. I’d say that’s one problem with many conservative families, in that parents teach only the typical is acceptable, and those who are different, or do not represent the norm, should be condemned and made to change.

I also wonder if my differing reactions--not taking notice of the gay guys in my dad’s office versus being a little freaked out by two women kissing--were simply a function of my age: Introduce a kid to something at a young age and it’s easily accepted; wait a bit longer, when we’ve become less flexible, and there’s more resistance.  If my story is an average example of this, imagine those people who have never spent time with someone they know is gay.  What kind of prejudices would they have built up over decades?

To me it’s pretty clear that if you want your kids to grow up to be open-minded about anything, you need to be careful not to lump others into “us and them” categories.  And even if you don’t know anyone who’s openly gay--I say “openly,” because everyone knows someone who’s gay, but not everyone is comfortable about being out in some communities, schools, or offices--you’re careful about the things you say, and you immediately address homophobic remarks your kids or their friends might make.   

In the bigger picture, the more gays and lesbians who are out, the better.  In large cities as well as small towns, if everyone knew someone who was openly gay, homosexuality would cease to be remarkable, and we could comment on the things about them that really matter--like their shoes or hairstyle.  Just kidding.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Christmas Season Comes to "This Gay Relationship"

Something a little lighter today.  

This past Tuesday, I finished decorating the main level of our house for the upcoming Christmas holidays.  For the most part, I'm happy with how everything turned out--unlike most years--and don't anticipate making any changes prior to the big day.  That said, Chris knows me better; he thinks, as usual, I'll keep tinkering with everything right up to December 25th.     

Those of you who read "How I Got Christmas Spirit (No More Bah-Humbug)" know I really enjoy the holidays now, and, as a result, I put a lot of thought and effort into decorating.  Not only do I want our home to look good for Chris and me to enjoy, but also I want to add a little seasonal magic to the lives of those who visit us, either for dinner, an afternoon or evening dessert, or whatever the case may be.  

We always begin with a color scheme.  Sometimes, we look at the decorations we already have--as we did last year, when we had renovations done on the house prior to Christmas and couldn't afford much new--and match them in a complementary combination.  We had lots of red, silver, and white ornaments, so we decided to go with that.  I think our total decorating expenses were just over $100.

This year, we went all out.  In early November, Chris and I paid attention to the flyers we received in local newspapers (showing the different color combinations of ornaments), visited several stores to see what was available, and chose gold and blue.  It was not a difficult choice to make: we found the most beautiful and ornate set of glass ornaments in those colors and couldn't resist them.

Year round, I keep my thinking cap on in terms of coming up with new and creative ways to decorate the house for the holidays (for example, the idea of what to do with the insert above the fireplace, which you'll see below, came to me in August).  When I was growing up, our family used the same decorations, in the same places, every year.  To me, that's not decorating.  Why bother?

Because Chris and I have had the same decorating routine for years, I have a pretty good sense of how much we'll need of any one item for the displays I have in mind, to ensure the color scheme is continuous throughout the main floor of the house.  Generally, I use everything we buy; otherwise, I return it for a refund.  Christmas is expensive enough without holding on to something you don't need.

Every display throughout the house must have examples of all the colors selected.  So if, for example,  red and gold are the colors, every arrangement, including the tree, a wreath, a large bowl, a clear glass vase, or what have you, must have something that is red and gold.  That way, the theme remains consistent.  It's a challenge to come up with ideas sometimes, but what else is the imagination for?

Below, I've included a few pictures showing how we decorated the house this year.  I've also provided a brief explanation of what we did in each of five instances.  If you have a question about anything you see, or would like clarification, please leave a comment or send me an email.  I'd be happy to help in any way I can.  (FYI, I really think I should have been a designer.)


The tree is decorated with forty-eight ornate gold and blue ornaments of different sizes and shapes (from Home Outfitters).  Wrapped around the tree are nearly three rolls of glittery gold and see-thru ribbon (Michaels).  The tree is six feet tall, we used two sets of one hundred clear light blubs, and it's topped by a gold metal star we bought at a small gift shop in Sidney, BC., when we lived in Victoria.    

For the fireplace insert, I wrapped twelve boxes of different sizes and shapes (obtained free of charge from the dairy department at Save-On Foods, when we did our weekly shopping) in blue foil, gold foil, and flat gold (the same shades as the decorations, Michaels).  I then set a faux evergreen spray atop most of the boxes (bought at Chintz & Co. years ago), and placed a glass ball (again from Home Outfitters), the opposite color of the paper behind it, in each spray. A small gold bead was added beside each larger glass ball.  Finally, in front is a long faux evergreen garland (matches the sprays and the tree, Chintz & Co.), with gold and blue balls, as well as gold beads, laid inside.  (FYI, to save on wrapping paper expenses, I covered only the areas of the boxes that were visible.)   


In the dining room, I stood a small tree in a plastic (looks like stone) pot Chris and I use on the back deck during the summer to house annuals.  The tree is a matching, smaller version of the bigger tree beside the fireplace (Chintz & Co.).  The ornaments consist of eight, small, blue balls from a set we bought years ago (Chintz & Co.) that, coincidentally, matched the shade of blue this year (use everything you have in storage that works).  Along with those are small gold glass beads (Home Outfitters), which came without loops to fasten them to the branches.  To hang them, I pulled off the loops (in matching gold) from comparably sized red beads we already had and inserted them.  A string of 50 clear lights was used, and, to set it all off, a thin, sparkly blue ribbon (same shade of blue) was looped loosely around the tree.

At the far end of the bookcase is a simple, tall, clear glass cylinder (Liberty) filled to the brim with more of the simple blue and gold glass balls used in the fireplace display.  The ornaments from this set were used around the house to extend the holiday colors throughout.    


Above the cupboards in the kitchen, I kept the usual items displayed throughout the year (a clear glass hurricane with a lid, a framed picture, an urn, a vase, a garden lantern, and a large old-fashioned clock, with a string of glass lights draped over them), and I added five more faux presents (like those above the fireplace), wrapped in the same blue and gold paper.  In front of each present, I placed a faux evergreen spray (like those on the fireplace), with a glass ornament the opposite color of the paper, along with gold beads.      


For the powder room, I bought a plain, eighteen-inch wreath (Michaels) and decorated it with the following:  five small blue ornaments that look like jewels, in the same shade of blue (bought years ago when our color scheme was blue and brown) and the same small gold beads used throughout the house, loops inserted and fastened tightly to the branches with green twist ties (from the produce department at Save-On Foods); several pine cones I found in a park years ago, simply inserted into the greenery; two tiny square "presents" covered in gold foil (which adorned the Norfolk Island pine I wrote about in "How I Got Christmas Spirit"); and a gold-covered wire with small gold stars sticking out of it (don't remember where I got it), which I looped loosely in and out of the greenery several times around.  The wreath is hung in front of the window with a short piece of the same ribbon in the large tree in the living room, fed around the metal frame of the wreath, flattened, and affixed to the top of the window frame with two thumb tacks no one can see.


The centrepiece on the dining table consists of a clear glass cake tray (Pier 1); three candles of varying heights (Ikea) set in the middle; an ornate gold garland with blue, green, gold, and clear beads and baubles (Pier 1), bent into a circle and rested on the perimeter of the cake tray; gold and blue balls, and gold beads, placed around the candles to fill out the display; and gold and blue balls set on the table against the tray stand.  The twisted garland was fluffed up a bit and makes the centrepiece look like a swirl of colorful spray.

If you celebrate Christmas, may your home be a magical place this holiday season.

(Single click on the pictures to see them up close.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How I Got Christmas Spirit (No More Bah-Humbug)

Frequent readers should not be surprised to learn Christmas was a less than magical time around our house when I was growing up (I won't go into details I'm sure you're already familiar with through my writing).  So when I moved out on my own at the late age of twenty-three (hey, I didn't make a lot of money as a bank teller in the mid-1980s), I would have been happy to skip the Christmas season altogether.  I owned not one Christmas decoration, I never set up a tree, and, with the exception of an invitation to attend dinner at a family member's house, the occasion came and went without marking it in any particular way (although, at the time, I attended midnight mass at St. Pius X, which I looked forward to--this before having to reconcile the homosexuality/organized religion thing).

Over a decade later, after Chris and I had moved into our first place together, he knew I had no interest in Christmas.  For the first few years, we didn't decorate at all.  I didn't want one sparkly bauble to detract from the everyday decor of our apartment.  Plus, I didn't understand the point of spending all that money and time buying decorations and setting them up, only to take them all down again in a few short weeks and find somewhere to store them in a small apartment.  (Not to mention, I came from a family that hauled out the same tacky, garish decorations year after year that my sister and I were expected to hang about the house and on the tree.  I couldn't wait until the large, ratty box filled with ugly ornaments, garlands, and tinsel was empty so we could stop the nonsense and move on with life.)

One Christmas season in the mid-1990s, Chris was out with his mother.  He came home with a small Norfolk Island pine tree in a pot he'd bought at Save-On Foods, a local grocery store. Twist-tied to several branches were green pipe cleaners at the end of which were an assortment of tiny decorations--a bugle, a French horn, several faux presents wrapped in different colors of foil, a white styrofoam bell, a silver bell, and, at the very top, a star.  Chris passed the tree to me, a little kid smile on his face.  I jokingly gave him hell for bringing a bit of Christmas into our apartment, but how could I begrudge him something so cute and unobtrusive to mark the season?  We placed the tree on our coffee table, removing the decorations in early January and adding it to our overall household inventory.    

Town Square, Main Street, U.S.A., Disneyland, CA
The true magic of Christmas continued to elude me until early December 1997.  That's when I went to Disneyland in California for the first time during the holiday season.  I'd been there four times previously--once in April, twice in August, and once in June--and I'd fallen in love with it (actually, I'd fallen in love with the idea of it long before I ever went, as I'd watched scenes from the park on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, broadcast on Sundays at 6:00 p.m. throughout most of my childhood).  Initially, I thought if Disneyland was magical outside of Christmas, imagine what it might be like in December.  But, then, I began to regret my decision to go at that time.  What if everything I loved about the place was covered over with tasteless decorations?  How could I have made such an error in judgement?  

The only error I made was thinking the magic of Disneyland could be somehow diminished by the overlay of Christmas.  What I found instead--helped considerably by the warm and hospitable weather of Southern California--was nothing short of extraordinary.  Main Street, U.S.A. was by far my favorite place to linger, reminding me of a quaint and charming Victorian village on an old-fashioned Christmas card (minus the snow, of course), with elaborate swags and garlands hung on buildings and across the street itself; detailed seasonal displays in the shop windows; and a massive 50 foot-plus Christmas tree in Town Square, loaded with small ornaments at the top, graduating to enormous ones at the bottom.  (Not to mention carollers, red and white poinsettias everywhere, and plenty of holiday treats to savor.)

From that point forward, I was overcome with the magic of Christmas, and, thankfully, it's never left me (of course, another nine trips to Disneyland during subsequent holiday seasons didn't hurt either, just to reinforce everything I'd experienced the first time).  In fact, I was so filled with the enchantment of the park, I began to think of ways to extend it into my life back home.  A decade or more later, Chris and I now go all out decorating for Christmas (keeping it tasteful, of course). Over the years, we've selected a different color scheme each season, spent a small fortune on an assortment of decorations and decorating materials, and turned our home, wherever we might be, into a warm and inviting place, capturing, in our own small way, the magic I experienced at "the merriest place on earth."

This year, we saw sets of decorations in several flyers that arrived in newspapers, and we went to a few stores to take a look at what was available.  While our color scheme last Christmas was red, white, and silver, this season, we decided on blue and gold, based on a set of the most beautiful glass ornaments we'd ever seen (and the most ornate ones we've ever bought).  Our color choices in mind, I set about deciding how best to decorate our home, trying to refrain from repeating what I've done in the past (at least not for the large displays), thereby ensuring Christmas remains fresh and exciting, and putting me to the test in terms of looking at our house, and our existing furniture, differently, and figuring out the best way to create a wonderful experience for those who come over to share the holiday season with us.

I'd be the first to admit Christmas is much more than decorating a house, gift giving, and overindulging.  I never want to lose sight of the fact that it's all about the birth of Christ, celebrated on December 25th, and everything we do should in some way honor and respect that occasion. At the same time, what an opportunity, particularly in the northern hemisphere--where the days are shorter and darker, and where winter will soon be upon us--to generate human kindness and warmth by bringing together those who are most dear to us and creating wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. And what an opportunity to look at our homes and our lives in a new way, to see the magic that is always around us in the smallest of details, and to find that place within where the true spirit of Christmas resides year round.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whatever Happened to Barry?

Ever wonder what happened to someone you used to know, even an acquaintance?  Lately, I've been wondering what happened to Barry.  

Dale introduced me to Barry over two decades ago.  For those of you who don't know, I met Dale through a personal ad he placed in a local newspaper.  Neither of us was the other's man of his dreams, but we became great friends.  I'm not sure how Dale knew Barry, but, when Dale and I were walking on the Stanley Park seawall, we'd often encounter Barry out for a stroll, usually by himself.  If I remember correctly, Barry was interested in Dale.

But Dale couldn't have been less interested in Barry.  I recall Dale seeing Barry approach us on the seawall and muttering unflattering descriptions of him that only I could hear, giving me the unmistakable impression Barry was not his favorite person.  Still, we stopped to talk with him, as was the civil thing to do, with Dale, in his usual way, insulting Barry with offhand comments that could be taken as either funny or cruel.  Dale's cruelty seemed to escape Barry; maybe he chose to ignore it.  

I have to admit, Barry wasn't my type either.  Lanky and unfashionably dressed, at best, he could be described as plain or average and, at worst, unattractive.  His short dark hair was greasy and thinning, his teeth were discolored and crooked, and, in his late twenties or early thirties, he still had adolescent acne.  Barry was a talking and walking gay stereotype:  he lisped, everything he said sounded like he was shocked, and he minced.

In truth, Barry scared the hell out of me.  I saw parts of me in him, and that turned me off.  At the time, I remember thinking, if that's what gay looks like to the world, then please don't let me be gay.  I believe Dale felt the same, although we never discussed it (this was before I'd figured out how much self-loathing is a part of most gay men).  I accepted Dale's distaste for Barry and never questioned, or called him on, it.  But why else would he have felt such animosity toward someone so harmless?

It's a myth that every gay man is as pretty as Brad Pitt.  Sure, the gay media is filled with images of perfect gay men, their hair neatly styled, their complexions clear and natural, their bodies tanned and buff, their attire the latest from fashion runways.  And, admittedly, many gay men are beautiful, making the most of what they have.  But a good many aren't.  In fact, I'd say the majority of gay men are plain and average, not unlike Barry, prompting me to ask the question, whatever happens to them?

Take Dale, for example, who, as I look back on it twenty years later, was no physical specimen himself.  Meticulous in his personal hygiene and grooming, as well as playing up his good points and playing down his bad, Dale was an average looking gay man.  Simple as that.  Yet, he stood in judgment of Barry, in effect, making him no better than those who weren't gay and stood in judgment of Barry as well.  If Barry couldn't count on the support of his gay brothers, who could he count on?

Am I suggesting that Dale should have given Barry more of a chance, certainly as a friend and maybe even as a partner?  Perhaps.  If Dale had something other than his fear of seeing himself in Barry to justify his dislike of him--for example, the sure knowledge they were not the least compatible--then fair enough.  But, looking back on it, I don't know how Dale could have known he and Barry weren't suited for each other when he scarcely spoke to the guy, let alone got to know him better.

You know, I've learned one thing since Chris and I have been together, and it's this:  We think we know who's right for us.  But, really, we have no clue.  As I've written before, Chris was not my physical idea.  And, frankly, when it came to being attracted to someone, I, not unlike most gay men, placed the utmost importance on attractiveness, not character.  I'm so grateful I didn't hold out for my physical ideal, because I would have missed out on the best nineteen years of my life.

Right now, there are thousands of gay men just like Barry--single, lonely, and looking for their princes.  They're the ones who, if we haven't yet gotten over our own homophobia, we stare at in disbelief--either with pity or loathing.  Countless gay men hang on to the hope they'll find the perfect partners, those who meet the vision of who they think they should be with, those who compensate for their shortcomings, and those who give them the love they don't have for themselves.

As I think about Barry all these years later, I hope he found someone far better than Dale.  I hope he's sitting in front of a warm fireplace right now, wrapped in the arms of the man of his fondest dreams.  I hope some handsome, muscular dude looked beyond his physical being and saw all the spirit and character he could ever ask for.  In other words, I hope Barry is madly in love, and madly loved back, and I hope he's deliriously happy.  He, and every single gay man like him, deserves it.