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.


  1. I have had a number of Barrys in my life. One became my first gay friend in Los Angeles. Because he was unattractive and effeminate, people either viewed him with disdain or as a harmless gnat. I thought he was sweet and fun. His in-your-face attitude helped chip away at my reserved nature. As I came to know other people, some tried to discourage me from hanging out with my first friend. We did lose touch, but only because he moved from L.A. I still miss him.

    When I moved to Vancouver, two of my closest friends were a flamboyant Japanese man and a guy on a temporary visa from Taiwan. Their behaviours, combined with their looks and racism, made one of my friends say that I was turning off other men because of my associates. I was floored. Who would want to attract such shallow men in the first place?

    Another friend who lacked in looks was the sweetest, most selfless person I've ever known. I know he didn't feel good about himself but he never said so outright. He always deflected and turned the focus on the other person. He only opened up whenever just the two of us would meet for coffee. Another friend of mine had a sort of intervention with me, imploring me to stop hanging out with someone so unattractive. It was bad for my reputation. Floored again. My relationship with this intervenor never recovered.

    Sadly, image and reputation matter much too much to some folks...even years after high school.

  2. Rural Gay, I'm so pleased you took the time to read this post and to add your voice to the conversation. What you wrote is not only important but also proof the gay male community isn't all pretty boys and men most of us fall all over ourselves to spend time with.

    I'm sure it wasn't your intention to highlight how strong your character is through your associations with men like Barry. That said, let me put my hand firmly on your back and thank you on behalf of the Barrys, and men like him (I include myself in that), who appreciate your kindness and your warmth. The bottom line is, no matter how we look, we are all human beings, and we all deserve respect and dignity.

    In addition to my call for a revolution around improving our collective self-esteem (yes, ironically, even attractive gay men have self-esteem issues), I'm calling for a revolution to embrace the disenfranchised in our community, who find themselves in that state simply because they're...well, gay, like all the rest of us. It just so happens, as I've written before, some forms of gay are more acceptable and attractive than others.

    Only when we all make peace with being gay (that is, eliminate our homophobia and self-loathing) will we see the Barrys for what they really are--sweet, gentle, harmless, and fun-loving souls, deserving of attention and validation and love just like everyone.

    Thanks again for a wonderful comment. Some readers will see this and be more willing, as a result, to befriend people like Barry. That makes me very happy, indeed. It's the whole reason why I wrote this post in the first place.

  3. I think that all of this is the result of society breeding the mindset that we must have the perfect partner. We're drilled with images of what perfection is, and that our perfect partner must look great, not necessarily be great. We're forced to believe that our perfect partner must be lusted, desired and pursued by everyone else, cause after all, they're perfect.

    What we need to change right now, and for future gaybies and gaylders and all in between, is the concept that we need to find the perfect-for-us-partner. Someone who, despite a fantastically breath-taking appearance, or a rugged, hard-earned life exterior, they're perfect for us. They don't need to be desired by anyone, other than ourselves.

    Rick, you're the very first person to admit, in this post and a plethora of others that Chris is your perfect-for-me partner, and has not only brought incredible Joy, Love and Happiness into your life, he's allowed you to become more self-aware.

    We need to step up and help each other understand that on top of not "needing" to have a partner, when we choose that we'd like one, they need to be the perfect-for-me partner.

    Anything else is unrealistic and most definitely unfair.

  4. Heather, what a thrill to hear from you after all this time. I hope all is well.

    Where does the pressure to be with someone who is physically perfect come from? I'm not sure it's society. I certainly don't think it's straight society.

    Rather, I think it's gay culture--the same culture that uses appearance to mask all kinds of things, but especially low self-esteem. If we're seen with someone who's pretty, well, then we can't be all bad, or worthless, right? And it's easier to feel better about ourselves if someone attractive wants to hang out with us. Other gay men will find us more attractive, and we'll find ourselves more attractive, too. I think it's a case of attractiveness and desirability by association. I guess many of us don't think we can go it alone, without someone pretty beside us. Kind of sad, huh?

    When I think back to my own dating days (this was a long time ago), I found myself attracted to many different types of men. I'd like to think I gave them all a chance--even though I knew some early on were not right for me (for example, they drank too much, smoked, or slept around). Invariably, they broke up with me, without really giving me a chance, probably because I didn't meet their expectations of physical attractiveness (as well as other factors, I'm sure). But, in the end, I'm glad they did, because that freed me up to be with my sweetheart today, who is so right for me.

    I love what you said in paragraph three, and I couldn't have worded it better myself. But--and I stress this one more time--Chris was NOT my physical ideal. He was not who I always thought I'd end up with. He was not who I believed I needed to be with to have a successful relationship. These are key points I want single and lonely gay men to read, over and over again, to register what I'm saying. We need to give each other a break. Sure, some people are definitely not our type, and we know it would be a continuous uphill battle to make it work (why bother?).

    But, in every other case, we need to give each other more of a chance. Date for several weeks, a month. Get to know each other in different situations. See if you like how he behaves. How he treats you. If you feel the same way about the important things (world view, morality, ethics, etc.). These are what will keep a relationship going over the long haul. And, if all or most of those are in place and work, you'd be surprised how truly attractive that person can be, physically and otherwise.

    Your point about the perfect-for-me partner is right on the mark. Someone else's ideal of the perfect partner, including physical attractiveness, may not work for you at all. Only you can decide who is right for you. But, for goodness sake, don't base it all on appearance. Appearance is important, but it's only a small part in relation to everything.

    Your comment helped me to think all of this through more deeply. I appreciate the opportunity to delve into it more. Thanks so much for your interest in what I have to say and for taking the time to leave a comment.

  5. I had a thought. How do we know how good we look. Even more harder is to know how compatible we are to another person in an emotional level. People themselves are not good at assessing their looks and emotional characteristics. Some people are, but it has taken them a lot of learning to become in a peace with themselves. So dating around is kind of indicating their ”value” on the market.

    PS! I am so stressed out at school. The few moments I get for myself, I use for sleeping. So what's happened in my life: it has become clearer what is my main hypothesis, that I will be investigating for my master's thesis; still in the closet (emotionally I feel like I am not gay or straight or bi, but I feel like a human being who is capable of loving another human being; this is something new!); being a good friend to a lot of people. University is so darn hard but also so fun due to the interesting characters around me. There isn't a single day I don't learn something new from them.

  6. I like how you look at the issues of appearance and character, elevencats. No doubt, how any one of us appears to others is strictly subjective--for example, I may find you attractive, but someone else might not.

    That said, we have to admit there are some people--I'm thinking of a few well-known movie stars--who most people would agree are attractive, or embody a physical ideal. For the rest of us, it depends on many different factors.

    But I've also seen instances where someone is not what I call conventionally attractive, yet, because of how he treats other people (for example, with honor or compassion), he looks very attractive to me. So who knows?

    Being as busy as you are, I can't believe you'd take the time to read my blog, let alone to write a comment. You are very kind to do that. I remember how busy I was in college many years ago, and, most of the time, I didn't even know where to put my head, I was so overwhelmed by the intense demands. So thanks for your loyalty.

    Otherwise, you seem to be more settled than you have been--clarifying the subject of your thesis, being open and friendly to others, and seeing yourself as a human being who needs to love and to be loved, regardless of your sexual orientation. I'm just glad being gay is not making you uptight now. You have enough on your mind without worrying about that.

    Yes, I found college an extremely stimulating place, too. I loved being around so much learning, so many ideas, so many smart people. While it was a ridiculous amount of work, it was also one of the best times of my life, and I look back on it with fondness (though I didn't at the time).

    Take it all in, elevencats. Live in the moment. Revel in the fullness and diversity of the experience. You will remember it for the rest of your life.

    Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate it.