Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow (Updated)

Snow fell last night, which is rare for the Lower Mainland.  So far this winter, snow fell over a day or so in November, January, and February, but it was soon gone, leaving us with dull, grey wetness the rest of the time.  Last night's snow will soon disappear too, but not before I snapped a few pictures of my sweetheart shovelling and salting the sidewalks.

By the time I got up this morning, Chris was already outside, toque on head, shovel in hands, glowing smile on his face.  I'm telling you, he's like a ten year old when snow falls--animated and giddy.  Seeing him in his state fills me with such joy.  I love when he's happy, usually because of the smallest things.  I love when the kid comes out in him.  I don't see that often, but, when I do, it's one of those special moments I add to all the other special moments we've been fortunate enough to experience over the years.

We've been together a long time now, but when mornings like today's come along, I feel as though I discover Chris, and the magic he brings to my life, all over again.  I imagine myself one day sitting in an old folks home, looking through all the pictures I took of the life we shared, and feeling not so much a sense of sadness for what was and will never be again, but an overflow of fulfillment and happiness and gratitude for the time we had together.

I am blessed beyond belief.  I love this man so, so much.      

I hope you enjoy these pictures.

Update:  It's 12:31 p.m., and Chris and I just returned home from an hour and a half walk in the snow. What a blast--shuffling our feet in the white stuff, and stopping to throw snowballs at each other.  What great exercise, too.  This is what life is made of, not going to the stores and buying something all the time.

Happy winter, everyone.







Saturday, February 26, 2011

Now

So I spoke with a straight male friend yesterday, someone I've known since the early 1990s, and he told me his marriage of twenty-four years ended last November.  This came as news to me.  I was surprised, and yet I wasn't surprised.  I'd seen this one coming for a while.  It's clear to me why my friend's marriage ended.  
  
So, to the list of the thirteen reasons why I believe Chris's and my relationship lasted as long as it has (click here to read about them in detail), I need to add an additional item:  Never take each other for granted.  Never take your relationship for granted.  Never assume tomorrow will always look like today, because, believe me, it won't.    

I can't be more truthful or heartfelt about this:  Every single day Chris returns home safely from work, I'm grateful.  Every single day Chris and I enjoy dinner and the evening together, I'm grateful.  Every single weekend Chris and I spend together and create new memories, even of the simplest, smallest kind, I'm grateful.  For every single laugh I share with that man, every single embrace, every kiss, every glance of compassion, caring, and love, I am grateful.

Every single night, I include in my prayers words of gratitude for my relationship with Chris.  Because you know what?  One day, that relationship will no longer be.  I know it.  It makes me crazy to know it.   Whenever two people are involved, it's inevitable something will happen to one or the other of them, sooner or later (secretly, I hope we both go together, but who can guarantee that?).  More likely, one day, one of us will be without the other, whether one leaves or dies.  It's a fact of life.  All good things must come to an end, even a committed, loving, enduring relationship.

And the scary thing is, it can happen at any time.  Any time at all.  As Donald Trump said recently, "Life is fragile, so fragile," and no truer words were spoken.  Here today, gone tomorrow.

Tomorrow is not the time to think about what you could have done differently--if the choice was even up to you--to keep your relationship going.  All you have--all any of us has--is today.  In fact, all any of us has is this moment, the very moment we find ourselves in right now.  Now is when we must say what must be said; do what must be done; feel what must be felt.

Because, if we wait until tomorrow...well, you know tomorrow may never come, right?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Only Love

'...It is the affirming love of another man that is the most effective antidote to the "battered self-esteem" of most gay men in our society.  And it is the love of another over time that provides the greatest certainty and clarity about one's personal identity as a gay man.'

                   --from Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance, by Richard A. Isay, M. D., p. 9

I've just had an epiphany.  Reading and rereading the above quote, it occurs to me what I've referred to in previous posts as promiscuity in gay men may in fact be nothing more than an act of reaching out, not only for love but also to repair what Dr. Isay refers to as "battered self-esteem."  This is a breakthrough for me, because, admittedly, I've had a narrow view of promiscuity as it relates to gay men, bringing to it considerable moral judgement.    

That said, I think a distinction must be made between sex and love, which are not one and the same. Sex can certainly take place without love (and often does), but love doesn't necessarily lead to sex or rely on sex for its existence.  Sex is physical, while love is emotional--although I suppose both can contain a component of the other.  I think many people, gay and straight, often confuse sex for love and consider them interchangeably.  But those who've experienced true, meaningful, and enduring love know they are very different, very different indeed.

The fact remains that a good many gay men have sex with a good many other gay men.  But, in light of Isay's quote, I think the reason for that has to be expanded beyond what I've suggested before--namely, low self-esteem in gay men leads to bad choices, which often includes indulging in a lot of anonymous sex.

Could it be that in the absence of love, which is often frustratingly elusive and which, when found, takes time to develop and nurture, many gay men settle for the next best thing--the easiest thing, perhaps--which is sex?  Could it be that many gay men seek in sex what only love can really provide--namely, positive attention from other men, validation, and, as Dr. Isay suggests, an antidote to battered self-esteem?    

From my own perspective, I did not seek sex when I first met my partner, Chris.  In fact, on the night we met at a club, I went out of my way to ensure sex didn't happen between us.  I was determined Chris not get the wrong idea about me.  Instead, I took the chance that, if he was really interested in me, we'd be sure to get back together sooner or later.  So all we exchanged were our phone numbers and promises to give each other a call.  Then, at the bottom of Davie Street, he went his way and I went mine.

(As an aside, I arrived home safely a few minutes later, while Chris ended up getting mugged by a bunch of thugs trolling the West End in the wee hours--shoving him to the ground, kicking him in the face, and stealing his wallet.  The following day, Chris had a swollen lip and a few loose front teeth.  He was also in some pain.  I still kick myself for not inviting him over for the night, which he said he would have liked, even before the mugging, even if I'd wanted him to spend it on the sofa.)

Here's my point:  By the time I met Chris when I was in my early thirties, I'd already figured out my low self-esteem wasn't working for me.  I'd been unhappy for far too long not to know that.  As I've written in other posts, I'd taken several steps to regain my self-worth, including getting my jaw and teeth straightened (an act of true self-love considering, up to that point, I hadn't thought I was worth spending the money on).

But--and here's where Dr. Isay's point comes in--meeting Chris, having his consistent and devoted attention from day one, and starting to build something long-term with him all played a critical role in helping me to improve my self-esteem.  For the first time in my life, another man was genuinely interested in me, in a caring, compassionate, and loving way (beyond mere friendship, of course).  My father had never shown me that, another male relative had never shown me that, and anyone I'd been with previously, who I thought might be a potential life partner, had never shown me that.

Chris's presence in my life, where he was actively engaged in us over an increasingly long period of time, played a key role in helping me to see, for perhaps the first time, that I had more going for me than what I owned or how I performed at work--neither having anything to do with me as a human being. Chris opened my eyes to the fact I had enough going on as a person to keep him interested, and nothing made me happier when he confirmed, especially early on, that he "wasn't going anywhere." That is, that he planned to stick around.

I guess what I'm saying is, meeting Chris and falling in love with him accelerated the course I was already on to improve my self-esteem.  I remember during those early days, I still had the tendency to put myself down, to be hard on myself, particularly when I had done something I thought was stupid. Sometimes, Chris would stop me and ask,"Why do you say that about yourself?"  "Because I am stupid," I'd answer.  And Chris's response?  "No you're not.  It happened.  It has nothing to do with you."  And, of course, he was right.

When I was especially hard on myself, Chris would say, "If you were really that bad, do you think I'd still be with you?"  This forced me to see myself from his perspective, and I realized that not only had I insulted myself, but also I'd insulted him, for being with someone I thought wasn't worthy of him.  This happened only a few times before I realized I'd better get my act together, or I might risk losing the best thing that had ever happened to me.                

In many ways, Chris compensated for what I had never gotten elsewhere.  Increasingly, as trust and love built between us, his masculine presence substituted for the father who showed up in my life when I was a boy, but who never connected with me in a meaningful way.  That is, in his own way, Chris reparented me, through his love, giving me the attention and the validation I'd never gotten elsewhere. I've often thought that's, in part, what being homosexual is--seeking in one of the same sex that which one did not receive from anyone else of the same sex.    

So, when working on improving your self-esteem, don't discount the effect of love from another human being.  Don't settle for mere sex.  In the short term, you might think it will fix what ails you, but, in the long term, when the sex is over, you feel as empty as you did before, and the urge for yet another sexual fix overcomes you, you'll still have to face yourself in the mirror and realize sex will never provide you with what you really need.  Only love can do that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Valentine to Davie

So picture this:  On Monday, February 14, Chris and I stand in line outside Stepho's on Davie Street, in the heart of Vancouver's gay village.  It's only five o'clock, but, already, the queue to eat at this nondescript Greek restaurant, with incredible food, quality, and prices, extends to the end of the front window.  Of course.  How could we forget?  Valentine's Day.  And everyone must have had the same idea.

There we waited for about twenty-five minutes or so, under the turquoise awning, the heaters keeping us warm, the driving rain from earlier in the day on pause, the brisk wind reduced to a light breeze, watching people walk by on the sidewalk, hand-held devices, grocery bags, and bouquets of cellophane-wrapped flowers in hand.

And, suddenly, I was filled with what I can only describe as an inexplicable longing.

As I looked up and down the street--towards the intersection of Davie and Thurlow, to the long, red awning of the Shopper's Drug Mart directly across, to the row of single-storey shops and restaurants just beyond--everything looked familiar, just as I remember it when I lived in the West End, when I waited in the very same line over the past twenty-plus years.  It felt like home, really, and yet, curiously, it didn't.  And I couldn't make sense of the jumbled emotions I felt.  

Like so many other places in the city, Davie's changed a lot over the years.  Businesses, especially eateries, have come and gone, in some cases many times over.  Buildings have either received facelifts or been replaced altogether.  And, of course, the trees on the boulevards have grown taller and fuller.  I still feel comfortable, like I belong on the Davie Street of today, but maybe not as comfortable as I did in the late 1980s, after I moved to Vancouver from the Interior of BC.

Then, Davie was a magical place, with it's collection of shops and restaurants frequented mostly by gays and lesbians.  At one end was English Bay and Stanley Park beyond, while at the other was Pacific Boulevard and the abandoned Expo '86 grounds.  Admittedly, Davie has never been a pretty street; gritty is more how I'd describe it, with its derelict buildings, ramshackle apartments, and uneven, littered sidewalks.  But for a young, gay kid newly landed at the coast, it felt like a safe haven, a place where I could be myself in a way I'd never been before, and where there were other people just like me.

Speaking of magical, the Gandy Dancer, located on Hamilton Street just off Davie, in what is now tony Yaletown--but what was then an unused warehouse district--was by far the best place to dance the night away.  I can't tell you how many Saturday evenings I boarded the Skytrain at Patterson, near my Burnaby apartment, and rode it to Granville, anticipation--and a good case of nerves--building in me at the thought of walking through the door and being transported to a world of flashing lights, throbbing music, and beautiful, young men.

The Gandy was the place where I heard some of my favorite dance tunes of the time:  Pet Shop Boys's "What Have I Done to Deserve This," Hazell Dean's "No Fool (For Love)," and Natalie Cole's remake of "Pink Cadillac."  It was where I fed an insatiable need to dance until I couldn't stand up anymore, dragged myself to a seat, and drank a tall glass of Coke in several gulps.  Only to start all over again in a few minutes.  It was where I saw my first male stripper.  And it was where I met Olaf, Todd, Ron, and Mike--young men I'd hoped at the time I might spend the rest of my life with.    

Alas, the Gandy went through extensive renovations in the early '90s, and, upon reopening, failed to regain its once enthusiastic popularity.  Regrettably, it closed soon thereafter, and I felt homeless for a time.  Today, it's the location of a straight establishment called Bar None, which I've never visited.  Not even a curiosity about how closely Bar None physically resembles the Gandy has moved me to enter it.   All I need are my memories of once sharing enchanted evenings there with great friends like Dale and Paul.

On Davie itself, between Thurlow and Bute, just up from Stepho's and across the street, was Doll & Pennys, a restaurant Dale introduced me to.  From the sidewalk in front, I remember looking through the greasy, plate-glass window, seeing the dark, dingy walls, the shabby decor, the scary, older patrons who frequented the place, and announcing to Dale that not only did I have no intention of walking in there, but also I had no intention of eating anything prepared in its kitchen.  But enter I did. And eat, too.

What I remember most about Doll & Pennys is the first drag show I ever saw there.  Never had I been drawn into anything so flamboyant, so over-the-top, so giddy and gaudy and garish.  As the familiar gay anthems blasted over the sound system, the drag queens took to center stage in the middle of the restaurant, putting on an extravaganza like nothing I'd ever experienced--wigs like top hats, make-up like extreme Kabuki masks, exaggerated and radiant costumes--and breasts out to there.  What a blast.

Alas, Doll & Pennys is now gone, too, along with its greasy food, glitzy drag shows, and classic red Pontiac with male mannequins dressed in drag above the front entrance, replaced in 1999 by the Pumpjack, a bar with considerably less allure, spirit, and character.

Sometimes, I look back on the shows I saw at Doll & Pennys and think, until then, I didn't know how exciting and joyful the gay experience could be.  My reality had been verbal and physical abuse, hiding in shame, and isolation and loneliness.  But drag took me to a different world, as did the many evenings I spent at the Gandy, allowing me to escape the daily realities of being gay, and filling me with the hope my future would be a better place.  Who knew drag shows and night clubs could make me feel that way?

The longing I felt standing in line outside Stepho's on Valentine's Day was, no doubt, partly nostalgia, for the way Davie used to be, for the way I felt all the many times I walked along it, and for the places I knew and loved half a lifetime ago.  In that sense, I wish some things never changed.  I wish young gay people arriving in Vancouver today had the same safe places to go, to meet people just like themselves, to take their first tentative steps toward who they were meant to be.

But, to be sure, the longing wasn't just about the unfortunate changes along Davie.  It was also about the changes in me and my own life since then, nearly a quarter of a century later.  No longer am I that naive, wide-eyed kid who left his small town home for the dazzle and the promise of the big city. Today, when I look back on who I was, I remember being so obsessed to love and to be loved that I didn't realize how cool my life was, even how cool being gay was--at a time when there was less acceptance and more risk.  

Now, I have all that I ever wanted.  I have a relationship that's endured for nearly nineteen years, and I have the love of an amazing man I could never have imagined myself being with.  I am truly blessed, even though, at times, I feel I may have paid for everything I have by failing to live as much in the moment as I should have back then; and by focusing too much on what I didn't have as opposed to what I did.

Looking down Davie Street, as we were about to walk into Stepho's to have dinner, I was sad.  Sad I hadn't realized all those years ago how happy I really was.  Sad the experience of being a young gay man, exploring what that meant and what the city had to offer, was long over.  And sad that, like me, Davie Street had moved on to a new reality and would never go back to that time and place when anything could happen--and I lived in fear it would.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Come On, Gay Men

The two issues that concern me most about the gay male community are substance abuse and promiscuity, both of which I've written about in other posts and attribute to low self-esteem, self-loathing, and internal homophobia.

My concerns are two-fold:

1).  We deserve better.  So why do we care so little about ourselves that we engage in conduct which is harmful--physically, not to mention psychologically and spiritually.

2).  Perception.  I worry about how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us when we have a reputation for drugging and whoring, yet some of us continue to perpetuate that through their actions.  

Whatever you might think of Michael Lucas, described by Advocate.com as a porn entrepreneur, you'd be hard-pressed to argue with his words in an opinion piece dated February 17, 2011.  Titled "Gays Need a Drug Intervention, Lucas's comment comes after the recent, highly-publicized drug bust on Atlantis's "largest gay cruise ever."

Lucas writes in part:

What makes this episode particularly unfortunate was the fact that the mainstream press caught wind of it, and the likes of CNN and the Associated Press aired our dirty linens at full mast. This endearing display of what it means when gays “party and play” comes at the same time we’re trying to convince straight society of how deserving we are of marriage and the right to adopt children. These drug-bust episodes only give comfort to our enemies, who seek to portray gay people as irresponsible, self-indulgent, and drug-crazed party boys.

And:

Yes, these people are self-medicating away the pain from childhood scars left by bullying, abuse, and homophobia. Clearly, the only time they feel free is when they’re high on drugs. But enough is enough. We should tell our friends who do drugs that either they have to quit or we’ll have nothing to do with them anymore. We should tell them to get therapy, get sober, and get a life.

Some of the comments following the opinion piece give me pause--for example, Lucas is hardly one to talk about how the image of gay men is besmirched by drug busts on cruise ships, when he personally perpetuates the image of gay men as sex-crazed whores via the porn movies he produces and performs in.

Whatever you may think of Lucas, however, the fact remains drug abuse is a problem in the gay male community, and his going on record to say he's concerned and something must be done is, in my opinion, better than keeping quiet and turning a blind eye.  In other words, his comments are valid and need to be addressed.  

For some time, I've wanted to write on this subject and related ones, but I couldn't find the right context. That Michael Lucas publicly blew the lid off the prevalence drug addiction in the gay male community finally presented me with the opportunity I needed.  

In 2007, well-known comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician, and activist Bill Cosby and psychistrist Alvin F. Poussaint wrote a controversial book titled Come On, People: On the Path From Victims to Victors.  In it, Cosby and Poussaint called upon African Americans to lose the victim mentality and to take responsibility for themselves.

Specifically, they asserted that if African Americans want to see a reduction in poverty, the incidence of broken families, crime, and a lack of education, among others, they must stop feeling sorry for themselves, stop thinking someone else is responsible for the situation they're in, and start making the changes they want to see in their own lives.  No longer should they rely on the good will of those sympathetic to their cause, Affirmative Action, or anything that gives them an advantage over anyone else.  They must do for themselves what they want and expect.

When I heard about the subject of Come On, People, the thought that first came to mind was, this applies to gay men, too.  Of course, the issues we face are not the same as those of African Americans, but, without question, we have our own issues, resulting in a similar victim mentality that has negatively impacted our life experience for decades.  

It's not difficult to understand why we have a victim mentality, given what Michael Lucas aptly describes as "...the pain from childhood scars left by bullying, abuse, and homophobia."  I went through it too, which I've written about in other posts here, so I understand how easy it is to get caught up in feeling society doesn't value you because of your sexual orientation; how, as a result, you've lost all sense of your own self-worth; and how you feel that if nobody cares, why should you, thereby opening a door to making choices clearly not in your best interest.  

But, I'm telling you, this isn't good enough.  It's not good enough for me, it's not good enough for you, and it's not good enough for our community.  And I want you to open your eyes and see that.  

At this point in your life, you may think you don't deserve any better than what you have. You may think you need to keep taking drugs to medicate away the pain.  You may think you need to keep sleeping around with multiple partners because no one will ever love you the way you want to be loved.  And you may think it's all right to have anal sex without taking the necessary precautions.

But you are wrong.  You are dead wrong.  And the time is right now for you to give your head a shake and realize that.  The time is right now to acknowledge you have a victim mentality, and that victim mentality has screwed around with your head and your life long enough.  

In my research on the Internet about what to do when you have a victim mentality, I found this article. I've read through it in detail and believe it could be helpful to anyone looking to get out of the rut of feeling powerless in his own life, feeling like the victim of everyone else's judgements, but, worst of all, the victim of your own judgements.  Check it out.

In the meantime, I'm compelled to say this as a much-needed slap upside the head:  Come on, gay men.  Come on.

Now is the time to do something constructive about the situation so many of us find ourselves in.  Now is the time to clean up our collective act.  Now is the time to respect and to love ourselves.  Now is the time to take responsibility for own lives.  Now is the time to take those first steps toward what we want most--whether it's to be clean and sober, to respect ourselves, to go back to school, to change jobs, to find someone to love us--whatever the case may be.

Now is the time to take gay to the next level:  to be everything we were meant to be, to never allow our sexual orientation, how others feel about us, or, worse, how we feel about ourselves, to stand in the way.  We need to get up on our feet, brush ourselves off, put the victim mentality behind us, and start living the way we were meant to live.  

Now is the time.  Now is way past the time.  


(To read all of Michael Lucas's opinion piece, click here.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Happy Couple of "This Gay Relationship"

So I know I've presented positive images of gay couples in print advertisements for TD Canada Trust, but we realize the folks in those pictures are models and not in real relationships, right?

That being the case, I thought I'd share several pictures of Chris and me together over the years.  I know finding photos of real gay couples is difficult, and, since this blog is about a real gay relationship, and many of my readers are gay men who want to be in relationships of their own, I thought you might find these inspirational.  At least I hope you do.

Twenty years ago, I would never have believed I'd have pictures of me and my life partner to share with anyone.  The fact that I do speaks to the possibility of the same thing happening in your life, if that's what you want.  As they say, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.  

I hope you like these.

December 2006:  Chris and me on Waikiki Beach, with Diamond Head in the background.  We stopped an Asian woman walking along the beach and asked her to take our picture on our last full day there, just before we watched the sunset.  We're grateful she obliged.  
What a magical place Hawaii is.  Prior to going there, I would never have believed it.  We've gone back once more since.
June 2008:  Chris and me on a winery tour in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, near Naramata.  Chris is the wine connoisseur and, since I don't drink, I'm the designated driver.  Many wineries have amazing restaurants with great views of the valley.  This is one of them.  
September 2008:  Chris and me in Paris, with Notre Dame de Paris in the background.  A very sweet American couple happened to walk by, saw we were challenged to get a picture together, and volunteered to help us out.  This was only day two of our trip.  We still had nearly two full weeks left. What a great time.  
Christmas Day 2009:  Chris and I went for a walk in a local park.  He found a post with a flat top and programmed the timer on the camera to snap this picture.  It's the same picture as the one on my profile here.  I love the browns and greys.  Very rustic looking, even though Chris and I are anything but rustic.
Can you tell the sun was shining but it was freezing cold?  My hands were like ice.  I had gloves; who knows why I didn't have them on.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Adam Lambert's Advice

On Advocate.com, Adam Lambert, alumnus of "American Idol," and now gay role model, had this to say in an interview with "ET Canada":


Adam Lambert says his stardom is "an amazing opportunity to be able to help people...." 
Asked for his advice to people struggling with their identity, the pop star says, "close your eyes and focus on who you are and what you want." Later in the interview Lambert says, "You have to love yourself in order to love someone else" and reveals that he is currently dating someone.

The comment about loving yourself is nothing new in relation to what I've written here recently.  But it is confirmation, from another source--whatever you think of him and his flamboyance--of what's necessary, especially when it comes to connecting with another human being and finding that relationship so many of us want.

Let learning to love yourself be your goal, today and always.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Superstars

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars

"There's nothin wrong with lovin who you are"
She said, "Cause He made you perfect, Babe"

I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way

Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way

Don't be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you're broke or evergreen
You're black, white, beige, chola descent
You're Lebanese, you're Orient
Whether life's disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
'Cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I'm on the right track baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or Orient made
I'm on the right track baby
I was born to be brave

I was born this way hey!
I was born this way hey!
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way hey!

--Partial lyrics from "Born This Way," written by Lady Gaga

*****

Some years ago, when Chris and I lived on West 7th in Vancouver, I worked out at the Fitness World facility located at City Square, several blocks up Ash Street on West 12th.   

I remember on Sunday mornings, I used to see a young fellow working out with weights.  There we were, surrounded by men in their twenties, thirties, and older, many of their bodies already big, buff, and intimidating as hell.  But this young fellow, short and skinny, who couldn't have been more than fourteen or fifteen, worked out amongst them, not the least bit insecure or uncomfortable.  

In all the years I was a member at Fitness World facilities in Vancouver and Victoria, never once did I see another kid his age work out with weights.  Not one.  

At the time, I remember shaking my head.  While I struggled to get through my own routine, distracted by this young man, I found myself asking the question, what would it have taken for me to walk into a fitness facility at his age and to work out like he was?  And the only answer I could come up with was...a strong sense of self.

I guessed his parents had instilled in him from an early age the knowledge of his self-worth. As I saw it then, knowing his self-worth had given him the confidence not only to realize he deserved to work out--in order to improve his strength, health, and appearance--but also to have the courage to be in a place where no one else his age would be; where the rest of the club members were older, more physically fit, and potentially intimidating; and where he might be stared at and feel uncomfortable.

Superstars.  How many of us were told we were superstars growing up?  How many of us were told we were perfect just the way we were because God doesn't make mistakes?  How many of us were told to love ourselves just because we were born the way we were?

Seeing the young man at Fitness World, and comparing him to me at his age, showed me just how much bigger the world of possibilities is for anyone who's validated at a young age, who's given a sense of himself, of his individuality, and of his self-worth, by nurturing and loving parents.

If you're an adult now, can't recall your parents ever telling you they loved you, and feel you're unlovable (as I did), you have the power to turn that around today.  You can do it.  Only you can do it.          

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thought For The Day, #4

I'm busy working on a post I hope to publish within the next day or so, the result of Chris's and my trip into Vancouver yesterday.

Until then, I want to share another quote with you from Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, by Gloria Steinem, one of the best books I've read on the subject.

Steinem writes:

"Each of us has an inner child of the past living within us.  Those who needed to build no walls [around themselves while they were growing up] have access to that child's creativity and spontaneity.  Those who had to leave this crucial core behind [in order to survive] can tear down the walls, see what the child needed but didn't have, and begin to provide it now.  The more we do this, the more we know that we are worth it.  And that we always were [pp. 38-39]."
    

Saturday, February 12, 2011

One Half of "This Gay Relationship"

Over the years, despite Chris not liking his picture taken, I've insisted on shoving a camera in his face many times to ensure fun events we've shared together are captured and not lost forever to memory. And because I'm still trying to convince him just how photogenic he really is.  

I'd like to share a few of these with you.  I think you'll get a sense of the type of person Chris is from how he appears in these pictures, and why I love him so much.  Enjoy.

My absolute favorite picture of him.  He never smiles full-out, ever.  I got this one by skulking around the deck of a BC ferry when we were on our way from Victoria to Kelowna several years ago, waiting for the right moment to press the shutter.  Finally, I broke him down, and I snapped at just the right time.  I'm so glad the picture's in focus, we were goofing around so much.  I call this his young Dr. Phil look.
On Kailua Beach on O'ahu, Chris's favorite, three or four years ago.  Now, he doesn't like pictures where he's wearing a mustache, but I love them because he can grow one.  I'm so envious of him.      
Returning to Victoria on the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles, Washington, about two and a half years ago.  The sun hit his face just right.  I love how contented he looks.
On Humboldt Street in Victoria, BC, where we lived from August 2000 to April 2009.  I'd just bought that tam for him in Southern California.  He didn't think he had a hat face, but I proved him wrong.  He took to the tam, and now, he even wears a fedora.  All hats look great on him.
Around the small pool at the Jardin du Tuileries in Paris in late September 2008.  We had just returned from a relaxing stroll down the Champs Elysees, a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, and the afternoon was sunny, warm, and splendid.  What an experience.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Can You Love Yourself When You Hate Being Gay?



Several weeks ago, I awoke with a question on my mind:  Can someone who is gay learn to love himself even if he hates being gay?  Or do you need to make peace with being gay first before you have the ability to love yourself?    

As I see it, the answer to this question is key to what I'm trying to do with my blog of late, which is to help gay people raise their self-esteem and increase their ability to love themselves.  So I think it's seriously worth taking a look at to find out where it lands.  
As I've written before, how one feels about oneself--that is, whether or not one has a healthy sense of self-esteem--is always a matter of choice.  Thus, at any point in our lives, we can consciously decide to love or to loath ourselves, regardless.    

But, of course, that fails to take into consideration anything in the external world that could influence how we feel about ourselves.  It's shameful our self-esteem could ever be based upon what's going on around us or how others feel about us, but that's often the case (see the post titled "Other Esteem").  I would be naive to think it's not.    
So, as gay people, can we love ourselves if we hate being gay?  The simple answer is yes, and we should, no matter what, but I think the answer is necessarily more complex, especially for many, many people, who never have the opportunity to make peace with their sexual orientation.

I'm thinking of people right here in Canada, the same country where same-sex marriage has been legal for a number of years, whose religious beliefs, or those of family members, have led them to accept that being gay is wrong and deplorable.  And I'm thinking also of those in countries around the world not as progressive as Canada, where homosexuality is still very much culturally closeted.

Admittedly, in those cases, being gay is tough, tougher than it is for those living in large cities, with lots of daily challenges--from not being able to be yourself, to hiding what your life is about, to difficulties meeting someone like yourself, to shame, to not feeling like you're a valued member of society.

If feeling good about yourself (that is, loving yourself) is directly related to how you feel about your sexual orientation, then what?  
I wish I could make being gay a non-issue for every human being on earth, where those who aren't gay have no issue with those who are, and those who are gay have no issue with it because those who aren't don't care.  Unfortunately, I'm not God, and I can't do that.  All I can do is emphasize once again that, despite what's going on in the world around us, we can, and always should, make the choice to love ourselves and never allow that to waver, no matter what.
If I were honest with you, I'd have to admit coming out at the age of twenty-five was, for me, pivotal in helping to see myself differently from before.  This does not mean, however, the self-loathing I'd experienced for years suddenly disappeared overnight.  In fact, even though I started feeling more positive about gay people, and myself, prior to coming out, which were probably instrumental in prompting me to take that bold step, coming out and loving myself as a gay man had little to do with each other.
The reason for that is obvious.  Self-loathing was so ingrained in me for so long, I didn't know anything else.  My life was one continuous routine of finding something wrong with me and putting myself down as a result.  And, believe me, did I find things wrong with me--from my physical appearance and my mannerisms (too effeminate, not masculine enough); to being unable to stand up for myself (from years of taking, rather than resisting, the bullying at school and potentially making matters worse); to hating that my life would never be as simple as it apparently was for straight men, whose course of finding girlfriends, getting married, and having children was set, and symbolic of living a "normal" life in our culture.  
So if coming out didn't turn around my low self-esteem, what did?
By the time I turned thirty, I lived in Vancouver's West End (which I loved), I was still alone and lonely, I had progressed nicely in my career with one of Canada's major financial institutions--and, oh yeah, I was still gay.  No denying that.  I could no longer rely on being an adolescent, searching for who I was in all respects, including sexually, hoping like hell I'd grow out of my attraction to other men and start to see girls as they did.    

The age of thirty was a turning point for me.  I was under the impression older gay men--read, any gay man over the age of thirty--was washed up:  his looks were quickly diminishing (if he had them to begin with), and the hope of ever finding someone to share his life with was fast dwindling.  Yet, there I was, in the exact predicament I'd hoped I'd never find myself--gay, single, and thirty.  What was I supposed to do?
Around this time (the early '90s), people's consciousness was being raised around low self-esteem.  Self-help books were more popular than ever, on every conceivable subject--from feeling the fear and doing it anyway, to learning to re-parent yourself if your own parents hadn't done such a bang-up job. I admit, I've indulged in more than one self-help book over the years, I'm not the least bit ashamed of that.

And I was maturing, too, leaving my frustrated and aimless twenties, and wondering what else was out there for me.  If my thirties, forties, and beyond were going to end up being more of the same, I wasn't sure I wanted any part of it.  What was the point?  I still wasn't sure I wanted to work for a financial institution (my passion to be creative virtually stifled), and my personal life was empty and presumably hopeless. What were my options?

I came to the realization if anything was going to change, I had to change it.  No one, least of all the man of my dreams, was going to sweep me up (pardon the romance novels reference) and take me away from everything I hated about myself and my life.  I had to do it myself, and I'd already wasted too much time. I had to get on with it and work my ass off, at least as hard as I'd ever worked on anything to be successful at it.    
Mentally, I began to realize for perhaps the first time, I didn't deserve the bad rap I'd gotten from all the kids at school who'd bullied me.  I began to see the discrepancy between what they said I was and what I knew of myself--in other words, I couldn't reconcile being a fucking faggot with the good and decent person I knew myself to be.  I had believed what I'd been told more than I believed in myself, and I suddenly had to ask myself how I'd allowed that to happen for so many years.    
The road to self-esteem is long--I suspect it’s as long as a lifetime, constantly demanding us to pay attention and to work hard--but, at that point, I started by taking small, definite steps toward manifesting the future I wanted, regardless of whether or not I was gay, regardless of whether or not I was single or partnered.  Diligence and baby steps started me off.  Not long after that, I met Chris, my partner, and, as far as my relationship is concerned, the rest is history.

I’ll conclude by repeating what I stated previously:  Without a doubt, I believe gay people can love themselves even if they hate being gay, because the choice is always ours to make.  But you can take steps today toward making peace with being gay (or accepting it, if you like), regardless of what those around you think of gay people, or what the religion you were raised in teaches about gay people, or how closed and unprogressive your culture is toward homosexuality.  Because you always have control over what goes on in your mind and how you choose to feel about everything, especially yourself.  Nothing else, no person, institution, culture, nothing, should have control over that.   
The way I look at it, what choice do we have, if we are gay, but to accept it, and, as chaotticGRRL (or Heather) says, to love ourselves because of it?  As I’ve gotten older, being miserable about my sexual orientation and hating myself as a result has become unacceptable.  I have only one life on earth, as you do, and I've wasted far too much of it already hating myself and the hand of cards I was given to play.    
My number one goal now is to get on with the work I’m meant to do--that is, loving myself, gay or not, and making a contribution to the lives of others.  And, dare I say, your goal should be the same.                     

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Can You Love that Child?

"I hate him," I told Susan.  I realized what I said.  I began to cry.

"Hate's a strong word," Susan responded, writing on her lined, yellow pad.

"I know it is.  It's how I feel."

"Why do you hate him?"

I thought for a moment, making sense of how I felt.  "I hate him because he's gay.  Because he put me through so much."  I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.  "He was gutless, that's what he was. He never stood up for himself.  He let the other kids call him names.  He let them punch and trip and hit him.  He was soft and sensitive, always scared of being hurt physically.  Why wasn't he tougher, like all the other little boys?  Why didn't he fight back?"

"Is that what you think he should have done--fought all the other children who called him names, who hurt him physically?"

"Yes."  I was emphatic.  "That would have been better than taking it all, wouldn't it?"  Susan scribbled on the pad.  I pulled a tissue from the box beside me.  "I wish he hadn't been born gay."

Susan sat quietly, the room silent.  I heard a car speed up the street out front.

"I take that back," I continued.  "I wish he'd been born in a world where it was all right to be gay."

"That's the point, isn't it," Susan said, smiling warmly.  "It's not about the little boy.  He was born that way.  He had no choice in the matter.  It was the world that didn't accept him."  She paused.  "Knowing this, can you now embrace that little boy, take him into your heart?"

"No, I can't."  My answer was quick.  "There's too much hurt.  I've been through too much because of him."

Susan sat motionless in her large upholstered chair.  "Do you think that little boy is at fault?" she asked. "Do you blame him?"

"I don't know."  I shook my head.  "All I know is what I've put up with all these years, how tough it's been."

Susan looked at her watch.  "I see our time is almost up for today."  Her voice was soft, soothing.  I wiped my eyes with the tissue.  "But I don't want that little boy to be left hanging until the next time. Since you can't accept him yet, I want you to leave him with someone or something that can. Who would you like to leave him with?"

I had no idea.  What the hell was she talking about--leave him with something?  He'd been left alone before.  He'd been alone most of his life.

Then I had the answer.

"I want to leave him with a dog," I said.

Susan seemed pleased.  "What kind of dog?"

I thought.  "A German Shepard."

"Good choice.  Now, I want you to imagine that little boy under the protection of a German Shepard. There he sits, his arms firmly wrapped around the dog's neck.  The dog accepts him, unconditionally, in a way you can't now."  I saw the little boy, hugging the large dog.  "The next time we meet," Susan continued.  "I want to work on uniting the little boy and you.  Give some thought to what we discussed today.  See if you can find space in your heart for him."

As I walked out of the large, old house that was now a professional building, I thought about that little boy and me, what it would take to bring us together.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why "This Gay Relationship" Works

(This post was inspired by comments Sarah in Calgary and Doug in Vancouver left on a previous post. My thanks to both of you.)

I've hesitated writing about why I think my relationship with Chris has endured over the past nineteen years because, honestly, I didn't think I had much to say about it.  As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to relationships, I know luck plays a big role--in terms of being at the right place, at the right time, to meet the right person, and to remain together over time--as do a degree of magic and serendipity.

But I also recognize that the two people involved have something to do with the longevity of their relationship, bringing with them certain attributes and characteristics to give what they share a fighting chance, and working hard every day to get along with the single most important person in their lives.

Chris and I have not been without our challenging times together; it's during these times when relationships are tested, and when what they're made of is revealed.  During the summer of 2000, after eight years together, we reached a crossroads.  I was about to accept a promotion as a manager, in Victoria, and I was thrilled since I'd always wanted to move to Victoria.  This was a big step for me, both personally and professionally.

But Chris was dead set against moving to Vancouver Island, and more than a few heated words were exchanged between us.

In the end, we moved, but there had been no contest.  I would have gladly remained in Vancouver if there had been any real threat of losing Chris.  As far as I was concerned, no job was worth losing him over, regardless of where it was located, or how much money I might earn. I would have chosen him over anything else, but I acknowledge many other couples have broken up over far less.  

Which takes me to the first of thirteen reasons why I believe we're still together today.

(Note:  This is a random list which is in no particular order.)

1.  Commitment:  Many unforeseen things come up in the course of a life together.  A relationship is always about two people, never just one.  Two people who may be quite similar, but who are also different in appreciable ways.  When a relationship becomes about just one, then that isn't much of a relationship, is it?  Whatever's happened to Chris and me over the years, we've always made the conscious choice to be together, to make our relationship the priority, to commit to us.  Thus, life-changing decisions are easy to make, although, sometimes, they can be difficult and painful.

2.  Trust:  From day one, both Chris and I were in agreement we must be able to trust each other. We also agreed that when trust is breached, the foundation of the relationship is gone, and it can't be restored.  Sure, that's a black and white way of looking at it; however, our relationship was built on the solid foundation of trust from the beginning.  Since then, it's never wavered, not for a moment.  I trust Chris with my life, as he trusts me with his.  I know for a fact I will always be able to trust him, and he knows he will always be able to trust me.  It's worked for us over the past nineteen years, and it will continue to work for us however long we're together.    

3.  Respect:  Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust.  I have a deep and abiding respect for Chris, as he does for me.  I knew within a few weeks of meeting him that his parents had done an outstanding job of raising an honorable, generous, and responsible young man and human being.  From the outset, I saw he was decent and good.  He has a pure heart.  He inspires me.  I admire him.  I look up to him.  For me, he's an example of what a man of character should be. Being with him makes me a better person every single day.    

4.  Friendship:  I have no better friend on this earth than Chris, though we did not start off as good friends, then move into something more.  Rather, as we got to know each other, we worked on being friends and partners simultaneously.  But I instantly liked who he was, and I felt drawn to him.  I wanted more and more of him in my life.  I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.  We liked each other.  We really liked each other.  And, for me, like is a critical precursor to love.        
          
5.  Monogamy:  Monogamy was a deal-breaker for me, as it was for Chris.  If either one of us had wanted an open relationship, that would have ended whatever chance we had to be a couple then and there.  I would not have allowed myself to become emotionally attached to him knowing he wanted to be with other people in addition to me.  Both of us agreed that, along with trust, we had to be exclusive to each other.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  That has never changed and will never change.  I will not share Chris with anyone else in that way.  An open relationship may work for some gay people, but not these gay people.

6.  Patience:  I'm not the patient one, Chris is.  I want and need everything right now; Chris is happy to wait.  I admit his patience irritates me sometimes, especially when it seems he uses it as an excuse to procrastinate.  That said, through his example, Chris has mellowed me by showing how virtuous patience really is.  And, no question, he's been patient with me over the years. When I get uptight about something, I can be ugly, lashing out and saying whatever enters my mind.  When I get like that, Chris never takes it personally, instead always exhibiting flexibility, deference, and patience.  He knows once I've had my say, I'll get over it soon enough and return to normal.  Until then, he waits without antagonizing me further.  Chris is the model of patience. In that way, he's a pillar, an example, and a blessing.

7.  Change:  Each single person coming to a new relationship has what I call rough edges.  After all, for however long you've been on your own, you've developed tastes and habits and routines completely suited to you. Since you have only yourself to please, you become self-indulgent, and it's unreasonable to assume anyone will put up with that once you come together.  I like to think Chris helped to smooth over my rough edges, and I helped to smooth over his.  Rather than sit at polar opposites, over time, we've come closer together, meeting somewhere in the middle of our individual extremes.  But there are still things about ourselves and our personalities that will always be different.  That's when compromise comes into play.  When one person is big enough to let the other get his way, be right.    

8.  Compatibility:  Chris and I work well together because we are different enough, yet still similar.  For example, in most things, he's laid back (passive), while I'm high-strung (aggressive). If both of us were laid back, we'd never get anything done. If we were both aggressive, one of us wouldn't be alive today. In other words, Chris and I complement each other.  We're different, but not too different--just enough to make it interesting, most of the time.  Our strengths and weaknesses are often opposite and complement each other.  Where I'm not mechanically minded, Chris is.  Where Chris isn't always good in the kitchen, I am (although I've trained him to be a lot better than he was).   And, occasionally, we have to agree to disagree, and move on, knowing neither one of us will ever win.  We rarely argue.  I recall only one time in nineteen years when we became so angry with each other, we took our separate corners and didn't talk for hours.  That was in June 1996, only four years after we met, and it was one awful evening.  I swore to myself I'd never let that happen again.  As long as we kept talking, we might get somewhere.  We learned our lesson.  Since then, we've consistently kept the lines of communication open, even on those occasions when we didn't want to look at each other.    

9.  Space:  There are two kinds of space:  physical and mental.  Chris and I give each other both. Sure, at first, I was more physical with him than he was comfortable with.  In both of our families, we hadn't been raised to be touchers or huggers.  So, when I met Chris and was falling for him, I wanted to touch him.  All the time.  He hated it, but I was determined to help him get used to it.  I was starved for physical affection, and, if Chris wasn't going to give it to me willingly, I was prepared to take it.  And so I did.  Today, we are much more compatible physically and mentally.  We're not clingy.  We're secure in what we share.  We give each other the space and the freedom to be who we essentially are.  We don't try to change each other.  We let each other be.      

10.  Worldview:  I lump a lot of things in this category.  I also think it's one of the most important, because it could be the source of a lot of friction between two people.  By worldview, I include everything from something as simple as daily recycling, to morals and ethics, to political affiliation.  In most respects, Chris and I are almost identical.  We both believe strongly in recycling everything we can; we have a consistent, strong, and unbending sense of what's right and wrong; and, politically, we're both liberal.  In worldview, I also include religion and money.  While he was raised Seventh Day Adventist and I was raised Catholic, today, we have no use for formal religion, but we retain a sense of spirituality.  And we recognize the value of a dollar, manage our money effectively, and believe in putting away something for a stormy day.  

11.  Self-fulness:  Chris and I know who we are as people.  As we've grown older, we've become more of who we were meant to be.  We've come into ourselves.  That's one of the benefits of maturing. We're not young and insecure anymore.  We've learned to like and respect ourselves. Part of that is being comfortable with our sexual orientation.  Had one or the other of us not been able to make peace with his homosexuality, we'd be very different people from who we are now, and I have no doubt we wouldn't be together.  I think that's one of the elements that sabotages a good many gay relationships--one person is comfortable in his own skin, and the other isn't. Like I've written before, loving yourself as a gay person is a definite prerequisite for a successful gay relationship.  There's no way around it.

12.  Love:  I don't think love by itself is enough to keep a relationship going over the years. Surely, love is necessary, and love sets the tone of how two people interact with each other--their commitment to put the relationship first, their willingness to work together when times are tough, to compromise when two alternatives are equally viable, and to forgive each other when necessary.  Love is the emotion that has the potential to bond two people, no question, but, without many or all of the other points I've outlined here, love struggles to keep things together and lacks the strength for long-term endurance.

13.  Humor:  Chris and I laugh together.  A LOT.  From the beginning, he said one of the reasons he was attracted to me was because of my dry sense of humor.  I wish you could follow us around on most weekends.  You would think our life was a TV sit-com.  I have a kooky way of looking at things, usually turning my observations into barbs or cracks.  That gets us going. Then Chris says something, and I say something back, until we're both howling (well, Chris doesn't howl, but I know when he's laughing himself sick inside).  And we tease each other constantly.  We know each other's weak spots, and we zero in on those with a few funny remarks, which gets the ball rolling.  (But we are never cruel.) In short, Chris and I share a lot of levity and joy.  We try to look at the funnier side of life and make each other laugh.  Truly the sign of a great relationship.

It's fitting I came up with thirteen reasons why Chris's and my relationship works, because we met on the 13th day of June, and the first home we bought together was apartment #1303 at 1323 Homer Street in Vancouver's Yaletown.  We've always considered 13 to be our lucky number and have never understood why some people are so superstitious about it.

So there you have it.  Apparently, I have more to say about how to have a successful relationship than I thought I did.  Inasmuch as Chris and I can take responsibility for the longevity of our relationship, I'd say these are the top thirteen reasons why we're still together today.  But I bet you have some other reasons why you think relationships last.  Don't be afraid to share them with me and my readers.  We'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Home of "This Gay Relationship"

A little break from all the reading today.

While Chris and I decorated our home in earnest over the past nearly two years after we moved, I posted updated pictures here to share our progress with my readers.  I've since removed all those pictures, but I took current ones this morning, reflecting the most recent changes.  Now that the wallpapering is done in the powder room and upstairs hallway (early last December), our renovations are virtually completed.  We have only the second bathroom to paint, which we plan to do before this spring.

I hope you enjoy looking at these.  While we may not necessarily like the district where we live, we've come to love our house, in part, because it's very much become our home.  You should see what it looked like before the changes.

Have fun on the tour.

Sitting Room














Dining Room














Kitchen














Master Bedroom














Writing Room














Powder Room














Theatre Room














Monday, February 7, 2011

A Sunday in the Life of "This Gay Relationship"

A detour now, from the self-esteem posts of the past month or so, and a piece I've wanted to write for a long time, in part, to show just how like everyone else Chris and I are, despite being a gay couple.  

Yesterday was a fairly typical Sunday for us.  Chris's alarm went off at 6:00 am.  He sets his alarm even on weekends because of his demanding workday commute schedule so he doesn't get off his routine.  I go to bed later and get up later, too--usually around 7:30 am. While Chris waited for me to get up, he worked on his computer to complete updating an online manual for this job.    

Our first task together on Sundays is to go for a run.  We have something light to eat, drink a little water, and get dressed in our rain gear (this being the Wet Coast).  We ran along a different route yesterday, covering a total of over 8 km.  Once back home, we showered together, then ate breakfast side-by-side at the island in our kitchen, while finishing the weekend "Vancouver Sun."  I had cereal, toast, and orange juice; Chris had oatmeal, toasted English muffins, and coffee.

Following breakfast, we prepared our menu for the week.  We plan out all our meals, from Sunday to the following Friday, making sure we use many of the items we already have and keep the food we eat relatively healthy.  I ensure I'll prepare several meals with left-overs so Chris has lunches to take to work.  Once our menu plan is made, we go through the fridge and cupboards to decide what we need to buy from the local Save-On Foods.  I budget $150 per week for everything from personal items, to household products, to food (sometimes we go a little over, but, on average, we stay within our budget). Planning our meals ensures we don't buy anything we don't need (although there's some leeway for treats, like potato chips (Chris), Lindt chocolates (me), etc.).  We got dressed, brushed our teeth, and left.

At the mall where Save-On is located, I picked up a half-dozen bagels for my lunches and one of Chris's Hush-Puppies I took in to be repaired.  Then it was off to Save-On, where we shopped for about three quarters of an hour.  (By the way, Maria, one of the cashiers at Save-On, loves us because we pack our own groceries in the reusable bags.  Hey, I would just end up standing there anyway, and at least I know they're packed right.  She wishes every customer would do the same.  I'm just saying. Maria paid me to write this.)

On the way home, we stopped at a local market and picked up fresh sockeye salmon and a package of day-old strawberries (why pay more than I have to? Chris and I are diligent around not spending any more money than necessary for day-to-day items).

Back home, Chris unpacked the groceries, and I organized everything in the fridge and cupboards. Then I made ranch dressing for our salads this week, ate a light snack (a Honey Crisp apple and a few spoons of French Vanilla yogurt) and got down to cleaning the main level of the house.

Chris puttered around, completing a few tasks I assigned him (taking the banana plant out of the shed, unwrapping the burlap from around it, and putting it in a place where the rain will get to it now that the temperatures are warmer than they were in December and January).  He also worked on cleaning his bathtub, and completed more of the project for work on his computer in between doing the laundry. Part way through cleaning, I had another snack of a few crackers and a bit of cream cheese--enough to get me through to dinnertime.  By about 5:15 pm, I was finished cleaning and ready to start dinner.

Chris and I have an arrangement.  He earns our household income (I've been retired since July 2007), and I look after almost everything to keep our household going, including cooking, cleaning, the finances (balancing all our accounts, paying the bills, ensuring funds are held in reserve for everything from Chris's diabetes supplies to annual property taxes to what I call True Savings), cutting Chris's hair, gardening (a shared task from spring to fall), decorating, taking the car in for its preventative maintenance, picking up and dropping off dry cleaning, shovelling snow from the sidewalks (when there is some)--in short, all those daily tasks that come up.  Beyond that, I work on my writing, including this blog, my novel, etc.

Chris insists on doing the laundry, because, otherwise, he doesn't think he'd do much around here (although I help from time to time), fixes things when they break, addresses all needs with our computer network and laptops, does the heavy labor outside and in the garden (I help, too), etc.  In other words, we are the stereotypical gay male couple--I do the wifely things and he does the husbandly things, or, as I put it, he makes us function, and I make us look good.  Works for us, like a well-oiled machine.

Generally, I make dinners for us by myself.  Even though our kitchen is large enough for two people, I like free run of all the space and usually yell at Chris if he's in the way.  Plus, I believe preparing meals is my responsibility.  Yesterday, however, dinner was a little more complex than usual, so I asked him to help.  He prepared small side salads, while I got my ingredients together.  He sliced the skin from fresh sockeye salmon, cut the meat into small pieces, and pan-fried it.  I prepared a lemon-dill sauce, cooked the spaghettini, and steamed a cup of frozen peas.  Once cooked, I tossed everything together and served it.  Dinner was delicious, and, afterward, we cleaned the dishes together.  

Around 7:15 pm, I trimmed the hair from Chris's ears and cleaned up his sideburns. Then he showered and shaved to get himself ready for work today.  I enjoyed a hot steaming bath in our guest bathroom downstairs, complete with bubbles, lighting candles and turning off the lights.  Then, taking a glass of pink grapefruit juice with me, I went back downstairs to our theatre room and sat down to watch the new episode of "Glee" following the Super Bowl (no, we did not watch the game; Chris and I have no interest in football).   Chris worked on his computer on the main level.

When the Glee cast performed the Michael Jackson classic "Thriller," I called Chris downstairs because he said he wanted to see that.  Following "Glee," we watched an old recorded program on our DVR.  Afterward, we went up to the main level, where Chris tested his blood sugar levels and took his long-acting insulin for the night.  I started to write my daily journal beside him.

Around 9:45 pm, Chris and I kissed each other goodnight.  I wished him a good sleep and a good day at work the following day.  He went upstairs, brushed his teeth, closed his bedroom door, and read for a few minutes until he clicked off his light around 10:00 pm and went to bed.  I finished my journal downstairs, then checked to ensure all the doors were locked, the alarm on, and all the lights off.  I went upstairs, checked email one last time, turned off my computer, went into my bedroom, and closed the door.  I flossed and brushed my teeth, read a little of the new book I just started--The Sentimentalist--and my lights were out by about 11:30 pm.

And that's what a typical Sunday looks like in "This Gay Relationship."  If you're still with me, thank you.  Otherwise, my apologies if I put you to sleep.                      

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Connection

To review, when I first introduced this blog two years ago this month, my intention was to reach out to single, gay men who were on the verge of giving up hope they'd ever be in relationships.  I wanted to show them if I could be in a relationship and sustain it for (at the time) nearly seventeen years, they could, too.  Also, my intention was to be a resource for other gay couples, who may not have known other gay couples they could run ideas past or ask questions of.

As I learned soon enough, a blog is a living, breathing thing.  In my case, I started out with one intention but ended up writing on other subjects.  Among other things, I wrote about Chris's and my move back to the Lower Mainland; the details of setting up our new home in the Fraser Valley; writing and creativity, as I turned attention to fulfilling my dream to be a writer; and, later, my mid-life crisis, since turning fifty was more difficult for me than I'd anticipated.    

Most of all, I used my blog as a counsellor, someone I talked to frankly about long-term and ongoing issues I had with being gay.  In particular, I wrote about insecurities with my masculinity, a common problem for gay men; daily challenges gay men face; changes I'd like to see in the gay community in general and in gay men in particular; the shame of yet more young people committing suicide for being gay and bullied at school; anything that came up in the media I was concerned about; and others.    

Now, if you read any of the posts I've written since the beginning of this year, you'll notice I've taken on the topic of low self-esteem in gay men, or, more precisely, gay men learning to recognize the lack of love they have for themselves, how that affects their lives in so many ways, and how to remedy it. Seems like a stretch, given the title of this blog and the fact that what I write about now seems to have little or nothing to do with gay relationships.  Or does it?

If gay men now are anything like gay men twenty or so years ago (and I'm sure they are), around the time I met my partner, Chris, then one of the biggest goals in their lives is to find the right man and to settle into a long-term, committed relationship.  Sure, some gay men are confirmed singles and will never settle down--hooking up with different partners central to their existence--but I'm confident most would rather love and be loved as opposed to risk growing old alone.

The problem is many gay men can't find the relationships they want.  They go out to the bars, join groups, take courses, pursue hobbies, go on cruises, work-out--in short, they do a myriad of things to improve themselves and to ensure they're in the right places at the right times to increase their chances of meeting someone.  But, more likely than not, all their considerable efforts still don't yield what they most want.  So what are they doing wrong?

If someone had asked me years ago, when I was desperate to meet the right man, if I loved myself, if I saw the connection between loving myself and finding the love of my life, I would have stared at him with I'm sure a dumbfounded expression on my face, as if to ask, what the hell are you talking about? At the time, I thought nothing was wrong with me.  I believed I was fine just as I was.  The problem, as I saw it, was all the gay men I met.  They were the reason I hadn't been able to find someone.

What I failed to see was I was the problem, because I had no clue about loving myself.  Love myself? What's that?  Thus, I made bad decisions--decisions I see now showed me to be homophobic, weak, insecure--in other words, unattractive, all manifestations of low self-esteem.  I went out to the clubs on a regular basis, arguably the best place to meet a man, but do you think I had the balls to walk up to anyone and ask him to dance?  Thank God I finally grew a pair the night I approached Chris.

How many Saturday nights did I stay home, staring at the Vancouver skyline from my West End apartment, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting anxiously for someone to take me away from my miserable, unhappy life?  Who the hell was going to call me?  It's not like all these young, eligible men were lined up to take me out and show me a good time.  I was so filled with self-loathing, I repelled people instead of attracting them, as I so desperately wanted.  There's no excusing my shortcomings.

My point is this:  The connection the title of this post refers to is the one between loving yourself and finding a relationship.  And I want every gay man who wants to be in a committed, long-term relationship--who wants to know real and true love in his life--to find exactly that.  I want him to know what that is because it's truly life affirming and life transforming.  My hope is I'll write something here that will resonate with you, will get you thinking your own self-esteem might just be holding you back.    

First and foremost, you must understand the person in your life who most needs and deserves your love...is you.  Second, if finding a relationship is important to you, then it's important to me, too. Because I know from experience there is no substitute for living your life with that special someone, enveloped by the enduring love of the one person in the world who's there for you, who's on your side. There's nothing quite like knowing the love of your life is on his way home to you at this very minute.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Shame

Last weekend, Chris and I drove to my sister and her boyfriend's townhouse to help them paint their large living/dining room.  This is the sister who knows I write a blog, who read several posts in the past, and who posed the question, "why do you reveal so much of yourself," as though what she'd learned had been somehow disturbing.  I don't think she's returned to read anything since.    

"Because I don't have anything to hide," I answered then.  "I'm a human being like anyone else, with good and bad points.  I think of my life as a talk show--reveal whatever you need to in the chance it could be helpful to someone else."

Paint roller in hand this past Saturday, I said, "I've changed the direction of my blog.  I'm trying to help gay people to improve their self-esteem, to learn how to love themselves."

"Gay people aren't the only ones with self-esteem problems, you know," she said, as though accusing me of deliberately excluding heterosexual people from the discussion.  (For the record, I think much of what I've written thus far would serve non-gay people, too.)    

But, of course, I already had a response, since I'd given this some thought.

I told her I knew nearly everyone in the world has a self-esteem problem.  If I've learned anything from watching talk shows over the years, it's that most problems in people's lives seem to have their genesis in low self-esteem, regardless of whether the people in question are gay or straight.  That's the nature of being human on the planet at this time in history.

But, I told her, the self-esteem challenges gay people encounter are different from those faced by straight people.  Or, I should say, the worthlessness that characterizes the low self-esteem gay people suffer from comes from a different place, which adds a whole other dimension to what we have to overcome if we're to emerge on the other side of it.    

I don't intend for this to be a discussion about whether one form of worthlessness is worse than another.  The fact is, worthlessness is worthlessness, no matter the cause, and the pain a person feels because of it--because of how his entire life is affected by it in one way or another--is similarly crippling. Thus, I admit no one person's sense of worthlessness can be said to be markedly worse or better than anyone else's, because it's all subjective--and it's all worthy of acknowledgement.    

That said, I think recognition needs to be given to an additional element in the worthlessness that most gay people experience, which originates in the contempt many straight people feel toward them.  That contempt is largely the result of religious fanatics misusing passages in the Bible to level judgement on other human beings, which they fail to love, as God would have them do, rather than deride, which I've written about previously.

In short, many gay people, whose lives are invariably touched by some form of fundamental religion, are taught from an early age that homosexuality is bad, wrong, immoral, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.  And that message is reinforced over and over and over again in many ways.  While some Christians purport to love the sinner but not the sin, it's difficult where gay people are concerned to differentiate between them because they are one and the same.  What they are is who they are.

Thus, I find it curious that one who kills another human being could be more easily forgiven for committing the sin of murder, because he himself is not considered immoral, what he did is.  But a homosexual, in order not to be a sinner, must not only give up his homosexual behavior but must also deny his very being, who he intrinsically is.  From the perspective of a gay person, the sin of homosexuality seems worse even than that of murder.          

Because we live in a largely Judeo-Christian culture, the spectre of being held accountable on judgement day for our mortal sins, including, in the case of gay people, having sex with someone of the same gender, is a frightening one.  Who wants to burn in hell for all eternity because he followed through on what was his very nature to be, because he lived his life fully?  Whether you believe in God or not, you can't help but be feel judged and influenced by the beliefs of those around you.

In my reading this week, I found this passage in The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, edited by Louis-Georges Tin, a professor of literature at the University of Orleans in France.  When I consulted the book to research the issue of low self-esteem in gays and lesbians, I found "Self-Hatred," directing me to "Shame," which I think is telling in terms of the nature of low self-esteem gay people experience.

The passage states:  

"...Gays and lesbians are, in many respects, "children of shame."  Many of their personal stories are marked by periods of uneasiness and discomfort that show the difficulty of living in a heterosexual world consisting of repeated abasements, sometimes real, sometimes imagined; sometimes open, sometimes secret.  Whether before they come out or long after, gays and lesbians face a relentless and cruel treatment by society, and the growing knowledge of belonging to a class of "unsuitable" people whom society does not want, which they are reminded of on a daily basis.  Shame is a feeling of vulnerability that is universal, but not experienced equally across all categories of individuals.  In theory, we are all equal in [the] face of shame, but in the real social world, some are more "equal" than others.'

And, later, this passage appears:

'Shame is one of the most powerful mechanisms by which social order holds us in our presumed place in society, either by preventing "normal people" [read, heterosexuals] from straying from the "right path,' or by provoking "abnormal people" [read, homosexuals] to hide and remain out of sight by not publicly acknowledging their membership in a socially undesirable category.  Even amongst the most happy and proud of being out, homosexual shame can exist in those afflicted for a long time, resurfacing at the most unexpected moments when one thought it had been long overcome (and staying with them until their death).  As Didier Eribon writes:  "There is always, at the turn of every sentence, a wound that can reopen; a new shame that can submerge me, or the old shame coming back to the surface."  As the political result of the collective oppression, reproduced in a series of daily interactions, the shame suffered by gays and lesbians cannot be opposed except collectively in turn: it is a mechanism often too well anchored in our bodies, our subjectivities and in the objective structures of heterosexist society, to be simply revoked individually [both quotes from p. 414].'

Is it any wonder, then, why we, as gay men and lesbian women, have more work to do to restore our sense of worth, must live our lives more consciously, and are compelled to raise our self-esteem, to prepare ourselves for those times when, inevitably, we are made to feel shameful for doing nothing more than be ourselves?