Thursday, June 30, 2011

Responses to a Comment about Self-Acceptance

(This one is for you, Aries Boy.)

This post is structured in the following way:  Each section begins with a direct quote in italics from a recent comment I received and is followed with a response.

AB:  ...I'm still trying to do what you persistently tell me to do: to accept me just the way I am. It's not an easy road and I think you know that too.  Then, at the end of the comment:  There is no instant way to get to the finish line.  It's just tricky and tiresome.

I know firsthand, Aries Boy, how difficult accepting yourself just the way you are is.  Oh, how I know.  But, as an older gay man with some perspective on self-acceptance, coming out, and so on, I know of no greater journey you'll take as a gay person.  Everything you do now to accept and love yourself will have a direct, positive effect on your future.  You are in a dark and difficult place right now, but don't despair.  It won't last forever.  Like Dan Savage says, it will get better. It will get so much better.

In the meantime, my message remains consistent:  accept yourself just the way you are.

Keep reading.  I'll provide details on how you can do that as we move on.  

AB:  Months ago, when I was on my temporary leave from my job, I went back to my hometown. I called it my reconciliation days.  In my deepest heart, at that time, I was hoping that I could just go back to the time where I didn't have to cry in the early morning nor in the late night because of my sexual orientation.  I wished that I could go back to that happy me.  But it's never going to happen.  I am fully aware of that.

A couple of comments here:  First, dry your tears.  There is no reason to cry because you're gay. Already, far too many men, young and old, have cried for the same reason.  At the risk of marginalizing what you're going through, there are much worse things in life.  You don't see that now, but you will.  I understand your tears, but they are not necessary.  Nor do they change anything.  No matter how much you cry, you will remain gay.  Part of accepting yourself is accepting the fact you are what you are, and that will never change.  It's all right to be gay.  It really is.  You'll see.

Second, to go back to that time when you were "that happy you" means you would not be as far along on your journey to self-acceptance as you are now.  I don't see how you could think going backward and denying the truth of who you are would make you happier.  It wouldn't change anything.  At the end of the day, you'd still be gay.  So, while you may have been happy in the past, it was a false happy, wasn't it?  Because you had to hide or deny or ignore a critical part of yourself to feel that way.  That's not happiness.  That's living with your head in the sand.  It's also not taking responsibility for yourself as an adult.  

Finally, you believe the happiness you experienced in the past will be better than any happiness you experience in the future.  But I can tell you there is no comparison.  You don't see it now, but the elation you'll feel when you finally accept yourself as the wonderful gay man you are will be one hundred times better than any happiness you've experienced before.  Because it will be based on being authentically you.  It won't be false in any way.  And it will come after you've dealt successfully with everything you're going through right now.  When that weight is off of you...well, now that's happiness (and relief, I might add).

AB:  So, I went to my dad's grave.  We never had a long conversation before....  I just sat there and cried.  Then I told him everything that I never had the chance to tell when he was still alive. I thought it was supposed to at least relieve some burden that I was carrying on my back.  But in the end, I felt like a failure.  To him, to everyone.  I spent hours there just by sitting and crying like a desperate boy.

I bet if you really thought about it, you'd realize you felt some relief, after all.  The crying helped, I'm sure, because crying is about release, letting things go, but putting words to how you felt and saying them out loud for perhaps the first time should have helped, too, even if who you were talking to couldn't respond back, couldn't comfort you.  Every step you take toward self-acceptance--and, make no mistake, this was one of them--will help you in the long run.  You were meant to go through this experience because it happened.  You were meant to learn from this experience, too.  What did you learn?  What can you take with you into the future?

Now, let's talk about feeling like a failure.  A failure because you're gay?  How do you figure that? You're gay.  So what?  Self-acceptance is about letting go of the shame.  Do you seriously think you have nothing else going for you?  Are you the sum total of being gay and that's it? Not likely. My guess is you are a decent and good and kind human being, with lots of talents and abilities, and a future that shines brightly.  You just have to get past all of this.  Which you will. So, as a start, focus on the positive and not on the negative.  You're here.  You're alive.  And your whole life awaits you.  That's a lot worth celebrating.

One of the ways I moved toward self-acceptance was when I realized I couldn't reconcile the huge discrepancy between what I knew to be true about me as a gay person, and what I believed people thought about those who are gay.  I wasn't bad or evil or immoral.  I didn't deserve to be treated badly just because of my sexual orientation.  And I sure as hell didn't deserve to feel badly about myself over something I couldn't control.  So feel like a failure?  No, I don't feel like a failure because I'm gay.  And you shouldn't, either.

AB:  Back home, I saw my beloved Mom and my beloved siblings.  Just like what happened between me and my Dad, I couldn't look at their eyes.  I couldn't hurt them anymore.  So, I just told them that I love them no matter what.

There's that shame again.  According to the Oxford American Dictionary, shame is "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior." Knowing that you have no control over being gay--that, in all likelihood, you were probably born that way--do you believe that any gay impulses you've had or behavior you've engaged in is wrong or foolish?  How so?  Did you willingly hurt anyone?  If you loved another human being, are you telling me that love was wrong?  Of course not.      

Do you think you're somehow less than your mother and your siblings simply because you're gay?  Really?  Is that all it takes, to be less than, or less worthy than, anyone else?  

And what do you mean when you write, "I couldn't hurt them anymore"?  Have you hurt them so many times in the past that you simply can't do anything more to them that would cause additional suffering?  What did you do that was so awful?  

What about your own suffering?  Is your own suffering any less painful than anything your family members have gone through?  Are your mother and siblings suffering more than you?  I doubt it, not given the anguish I know you're going through, day-in and day-out.  

AB:  Finally, I told my stories to God.  Like on last Sunday service.  I prayed for His guidance.  I prayed for the strength.  And I prayed for everyone that I love.  I prayed that they would still [have] the same exact amount of love for me when they, somehow in the future, find out who I really am.

Along with everything else you prayed for, I sincerely hope you prayed for self-acceptance, too.

Turning to God at this difficult time is a good idea.  I turn to God constantly, because I need guidance and strength for all sorts of reason.

But I hope the God you worship is the same one I worship, the one who loves you just as you are.  I hope He's not the judgmental God of so many people who believe they know better when they don't.  I hope He's the God who wants you to love yourself as much as He loves you.  Who cries inside when He knows how much anguish you're in.  Who wants you to end that anguish by accepting and loving yourself.    

Like all of us, you have a lot at stake if your family rejects you upon finding out you're gay.  I understand how important maintaining that connection is, because I felt the exact same way.  But you know what?  At some point, you will accept yourself--hopefully sooner rather than later--not because your family did first, but because you'll realize there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't.  You'll realize that being gay is just a part of you, not all of you, and everything about you, including being gay, is worthy and loveable and beautiful.

And, when you get to that point, you'll expect your family to accept you, too.  Because you'll see there's no way on earth they should change their opinion of you, when they love you as much as they do now and know how wonderful and special and amazing you are.  If they could possibility change their opinion of you just because you're gay, then perhaps they didn't love you as much as you thought they did in the first place.  And perhaps, as sad as it would be, you need to let them go, to put them behind you, and move on to meet new people and form a new family of those who will accept you just as you are, and never judge you just because you're gay.

It's not easy to think you could lose your family over being gay--and, in all likelihood, you won't--but, in the end, you have no control over that.  Just as you have no control over how the rest of the world will look at you as a fully-realized gay man.

The only control you have is over you.  Over how you accept and love yourself.  Over how authentically you live your life.  Over what nonjudgmental and loving people you surround yourself with.  Over what you'll make of your one and only opportunity to be everything you were born to be.      

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thought for the Day, #22

"Coming out is just the first step, the outer coming out.  Then we have to start the inner coming out, looking to nourish our own battered self-esteem.  And to really be a gay or lesbian citizen, you must also give back to your community.  You have to reach out and help it."

                 -- Paul Monette, "The Politics of Science," The New York Times, March 7, 1993

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thought for the Day, #21

"Substance abuse, hyper-sexuality, short-lived relationships, depression, sexually transmitted diseases, the insatiable hunger for more and better, and the need to decorate our worlds to cover up seamy truths--[as gay men] these are our torments."

         --Alan Downs, Ph.D., The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in
                a Straight Man's World, p. 3.

I share this because I want you to know if you experience, or suffer from, any of these, you are not alone.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Love Is Why We're Here

Sometimes, a comment I receive is so poignant, heartfelt, and powerful, it must not get lost amongst everything on my blog.  Sometimes, it must be featured in a post itself, so everyone has the chance to see it.  Sometimes, it speaks about not just the writer's pain but about pain common to many.  One such comment arrived early this morning, attached to a post I published on Friday titled "Rick's Ten Observations About Love," from a young man in Indonesia, who goes by the name Aries Boy.

He started the comment by saying that what I'd written had made him cry, "...maybe because somehow what u're saying was right."  Aries Boy said he'd fallen in love with another fellow who was two years younger than him but more mature.  In his own words, he wrote:

I loved him very much, but...I broke his heart.  I pushed him away.  I told myself that I didn't need love, from him or from anyone.  So, I just ended our relationship over the phone, without even letting him...ask why.  I was such an asshole.  I know it.  I was too selfish and I was too proud of myself.  Days later, I realized that I did need him.  I did need his care, his smile, his hug, and so on.

But again, I'm living in such a hypocrite country.  I'm in the middle of the society who teach us, generation by generation, that being gay is a big sin.  It's forbidden.  It's doomed.  I don't wanna make some excuses here, but believe me somehow those skeptical things could lead a gay guy, just like me, to hate himself.  And in the end, it could lead someone to hate everyone else.

Almost every morning, I started my day by crying.  The triggers were usually random.  But, yeah, I cried for my "gayness."  And in the middle of the night, I cried again.  For the same exact reason.  I'm just hoping that it'll be easier for me to accept the fact I was born this way.  So from that point, I can move on with my life.  And I don't have to blame anyone or anything else for it.

What I see here is a young man doing nothing more than what young men do--falling in love.  A natural enough impulse.  Except for a young man who is gay.  And I don't need to tell you, in our world, that presents Aries Boy, and millions of other men just like him, with a series of challenges, virtually all of them rooted in self-hatred stemming from the message that homosexuality is, as Aries Boy puts it, a sin, forbidden, and doomed.

Little about love for gay men is free, or natural, or easy.  So much of the world conspires to make it as difficult for us as possible, using religion and an inaccurate interpretation of God's word, hoping we'll come to our senses, expecting we'll see the evil of our ways, trying to turn us into something we're not and never will be.

And, from my perspective, the worst part is, on some level, we accept what's said about us, about who and what we are.  We internalize it, and the feelings of self-loathing it generates within us come back time and again to sabotage and cripple and destroy us.  The result is, our lives become so messed up, we do everything we can to hurt ourselves, including abusing substances, indulging in promiscuity, engaging in risky sexual behavior, and, yes, pushing people away who want to love us, because we don't believe we're worthy of it.  (Recently, I read that many gay men continue to engage in risky sexual practices because they believe they deserve to contract HIV/AIDS and die.  If that isn't the ultimate in self-loathing, I don't know what is.)

And, so, to Aries Boy, and to countless gay men like him, young and old alike, I pray you heed my message, the one I've written about here since the beginning of this year and reinforced over and over;  the one that gives me a reason to get up every morning because I know how much work remains to be done; the one the reaction to which tells me what I'm doing here is helpful and necessary.

Learn to shut off the negative messages of the world related to your sexual orientation.  Learn to reject that which does not originate from a place of love (as opposed to judgement).  And, above all else, please, PLEASE, make learning to accept and to respect and to love yourself your goal, your reason for being each and every day.

You will do nothing more important in your life, I promise you, than learn to love yourself. Because everything you are and do will be affected by that.  Without love for yourself, everything will be empty and meaningless.  Without love for yourself, everything will be half-assed.  Without love for yourself, you will never be the whole, loving human being you were born to be.  And, as Aries Boy writes so beautifully, without loving yourself, you will tell yourself you don't need love, from anyone and, regrettably, will push it away when it presents itself to you.

Today, resolve to make this madness stop.  You MUST learn to love yourself.  You MUST allow other people to love you.  We are here for no other reason.


For those of you with no idea what specific steps you can take to learn how to love yourself, please look at these posts I wrote earlier this year, describing some of the work I did to accept and love myself.

I offer these suggestions with the utmost sincerity and hope, because I care deeply about what happens to you and how fulfilling your life is.  You deserve so much better than you have now, but you must understand how what you do has a direct impact on what you get.  Remember, every action has an opposite and equal reaction.  What you put out into the world will come back to you, good or bad.  That is why you must turn your self-loathing into self-love.  

Please open your heart to yourself and to those who want to love you.  Love is out there waiting for you, but the first step is yours.  Don't fail yourself.  Don't let yourself down.  

This is my "How to Love Yourself When You're Gay" series.*  I hope you find something in it that will be helpful.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rick's Ten Observations About Love

As a result of a comment I received from elevencats in Estonia regarding love, I thought I'd write this letter directly to him.  But I hope you find it helpful, too.
Dear Elevencats,

In a recent comment you left on the post titled "Just Because One is Gay," you wrote the following:

1.  "...In the middle of the night when I cannot sleep...[I] start to search YouTube for clips about love just to get hope for myself."


2.  "I am a selfish person because I need to be...[alone] and I push people I love further away to have these [quiet] moments.  Knowing me, I simply cannot picture myself in a relationship with another human being...."

I hope you see the contradiction in these two statements.  On one hand, when you're unable to sleep (possibly because you have love on your mind?), you seek examples of gay love to give you hope you'll experience it someday in your own life.  But, on the other, you say you need to be alone, push people away, and can't see yourself in a relationship.

So allow me to make a few observations about love, in no particular order, which I hope will help you sort out all of this:

1.  It is human nature to seek love.  When we don't have love from a significant other in our own lives, we celebrate it in the lives of those who do.  That's why we enjoy movies where characters fall in love.  That's why we're tuned in to music about love.  That's why we read stories about people who are in love.  We hold up lovers as an example of what we want in our own lives. And, because they have it, we believe we can have it, too.  Nothing wrong with that.  Love is a basic human need.  We should have it.  

2.  I suspect the people you push away now, to make room for alone time, are parents, siblings, and friends.  All of us need and treasure alone time, even within the context of long-term relationships.  Alone time is important for contemplation and reflection.  Alone time helps us to get back in touch with ourselves.  Alone time gives us something different and new to discuss with our partners when we come back together.  Alone time enriches relationships.  Alone time is necessary, even in relationships.

3.  If you were within a relationship, you wouldn't push your partner away for alone time in the same way you push away someone else who loves you.  Before Chris and I moved in together about eighteen years ago, we negotiated how we'd both get alone time when we needed it.  But we never had to follow through on our plans.  The truth is, when you're with the right person, you want to be together, as much as possible.  But, sometimes, you find yourself alone, and you value that, too.    

4.  Some people will tell you they prefer to be alone, they never want to be in a relationship.  But I think they're full of it.  The fact is, they've never had the right partner, and they've never been in the right relationship.  Sure, compromises are common when you're with the one you love. You become more like him, and he becomes more like you.  You do things he loves to do, and he does things you love to do.  That's all part of the give and take of being in love, and the price you pay is so worth it.

5.  Take some time to be single and alone.  You're still very young, and there's no reason why you should be in a relationship before you're ready.  Enjoy your life as a single, young man to the absolute fullest.  Get everything from it that you can. Do all the things you love to do.  Be as self-indulgent as you need to be.  Above all, learn who you are.  At this time, you are accountable to no one but yourself. And when you grow weary of all that--as you will--you'll be ready for a serious relationship.

6.  When I was single and alone, I knew what I wanted my life to look like, and it wasn't at all what it was then.  I imagined myself with the perfect man for me, in the perfect life together. Ironically, the man I envisioned myself with was exactly like me and nothing at all like Chris. Someone knew better who I'd be best suited to.  So go ahead and imagine the kind of man you think you should be with. Then, be open to the likelihood of someone who's not at all like him.

7.  There is no substitute for love.  Looking back on the past nineteen years, I know without a doubt this has been the best time of my life.  Being alone and single doesn't compare in any way, shape, or form to being in love with another human being--someone who comes home to you every day, someone who chooses to be with you, someone who is your advocate, your champion, your soulmate.  I cannot fathom what these past nineteen years would have been like without Chris.  I'm so grateful I don't have to.

8.  You've no doubt read here countless times over the past six months that you must love yourself or no one will love you.  I'll take that one step further:  the greatest love of your you.  And so it should be.  At the end of the day, there is only you--a little bit of God on earth. Thus, you deserve to love yourself. Who is more worth loving than you?  But loving you doesn't mean being stuck on you.  It doesn't mean being arrogant or thinking you're better than anyone else.  It simply means being self-ful.

9.  Always be open to love.  Sure, you have your own ideas about what you want and don't want in your life, and those are all well and good.  But always, ALWAYS, be open to the possibility of love finding you.  Because, honestly, you are not everything you can be by yourself.  You will be so much more when you turn your life over to the magic and wonder of love.  You can't see that now, so you have to trust me.  But I am so much more today with Chris than I ever would have been on my own.

10.  So when will love come to you?  I can't predict that, and neither can you.  No one can.  I didn't meet and fall in love with Chris until I was thirty-two.  My sister didn't meet and fall in love with her partner until she was well into her forties. Some people are fortunate enough to meet the love of their lives in school or university.  All I know is, don't go looking for it because it will find you.  In the meantime, live fully, be the best you can be, and get ready for love to arrive and to transform your life, as it surely will.
At the end of your comment, you wrote, "Spread the love!"  I assume you referred to me spreading it through the words of my blog, which I will continue to do every chance I get.  

But you must see the application of that statement to you, as well.  Because you are filled with love.  All of us are.  All of us have an infinite capacity to love--ourselves and others.  And we have a duty to spread it.  

Living without love is not living at all.                         

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just Because One is Gay

One of the fun things we bloggers can do is view the stats of our blogs.  Among those is a stat that tells me how many pageviews my blog receives per day (an average of one hundred to one hundred fifty, over a twenty-four hour period). They also tell me in what countries those page views took place (from all over the world, some you would not expect, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China). And they tell me which posts receive the most attention (varies from one day to the next).

An additional stat I receive under Traffic Sources is what search keywords people from around the world use to land them at my blog, on a post that may be useful to them.  Some of the search keywords I found recently were:  "vintage pictures of gay relationships," "strong gay men," and "become a gay person is good or bad?" Obviously, in the case of the last one, I see what's on people's minds, what they're interested in learning about during the quiet hours of their days.

Then I read the following search keywords:  "Is there anyone out there who would like to meet a nice gay man?"

Wow!  My heart broke when I saw that.  I read it several more times to digest everything in it. Then I decided to put those same search keywords into Google to see where my blog came up in the list of selections, and at what post.  It didn't work for me.  After pages and pages of options, I didn't see the name of my blog, so I couldn't be sure if the post that came up was helpful or not.

The reason why my heart broke is because I imagined someone, somewhere in the world, acknowledging he's a nice, or good, or decent gay person (and there's no reason why he shouldn't), feeling isolated and alone (emotions common to the gay and lesbian experience), and seeking help to remedy that situation (how many of us don't want to be with someone else?). And it was too easy for me to put myself back in his place, starting to build a sense of my own self-worth, after years of being derided, and needing to meet the right person for me.

What a shot in the dark.  "Is there anyone out there...?"  Anyone in the whole wide world, anyone at all, in any country?  Those search keywords could just as easily have originated from a young man--or, for that matter, an older man--in a major city, like London, or Sydney, or New York--where, presumably gay people are more accepted and better able to find each other--as a small town in the middle of the Canadian prairies, where homosexuality is not spoken about, except in negative terms, and where one believes one is the only gay person around for possibly hundreds of miles.

Whatever the case may be, gay men and women want the same thing non-gay men and women want.  They want to be seen.  They want to be heard.  And they want to know that what they say, and how they feel, and what they do, matter to someone.  In other words, they want to feel validated.  They want to know in their hearts that they mean something to someone, that their being here makes a difference.  And, of course, they want to be loved, which encompasses everything all together.    

It's not because people are gay that they want anything less than everyone else. Just because one is gay doesn't mean he doesn't have feelings or needs or desires.  Just because one is gay doesn't mean he doesn't want dignity and respect.  Just because one is gay doesn't mean he can't be hurt by the hurtful things said to and about him.  Just because one is gay doesn't mean he doesn't want to settle down with the person he loves, build a life, grow old together, and, yes, even get married.  Just because one is gay doesn't mean he doesn't want to worship a loving and compassionate and accepting God, not the God of many people who judge us.  

And it's not because people are gay that they should expect or settle for anything less.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thought for the Day, #20

You've read here in previous posts that you can't love someone unless you love yourself, but consider this:  If you don't love yourself, why should anyone else?

Friday, June 17, 2011


Definition:  "physical expressions of fondness or liking."

The photograph below, taken by Ronda Payne, appeared on yesterday, a local online newspaper, and, the moment I saw it, I was drawn to it.

The article that accompanied it, titled "Animal interaction at Holyrood," written by Payne as well, detailed how people from local farms recently brought animals, such as rabbits, lambs, goats, and chicks, to an old people's home to help those with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Payne writes, "...the afternoon was designed to bring happiness and connection to some 124 residents of Holyrood [p. A3]." Further, she writes, in a 2010 study, '...the University of Adelaide School of Psychology found increased joy, pleasure, and relaxation, among other benefits, when dementia patients experience an "animal invention."'

The first thing I thought of when I saw this picture of Mary Mae Grinham nuzzling a lamb was my mother.  My mother is in her early seventies, not as old as Grinham appears and not suffering from dementia, but I bet both have at least one thing in common--a lack of physical connection.

Since my parents divorced nearly thirty years ago, my father went on to meet another woman to love and marry, while my mother stayed on her own, seeing a few men early on but never settling into anything and since eschewing men altogether.  This is not unlike Chris's mom and his sister, both of whom are also divorced and without meaningful, male companionship, and, consequently, physical affection from another human being in their lives.  And, if you want to know, I think this is a damn shame.

As human beings, we're hardwired to need physical affection.  Physical affection is about connection to another living thing, to the greater world of living things around us.  When we connect to another living thing, whether it be a human being, or a pet, or, in the case of Mary Mae Grinham, an animal, we feel connected to everything else that's alive.  Connection is the remedy for loneliness and isolation.  It's also a critical way to feel validated, providing proof you matter to something else that lives and breathes.

I have no doubt millions upon millions of people around the world are not touched in a caring or affectionate way nearly enough--from Mary Mae Grinham, to my mother, to gay people who are not in relationships (and probably even some who are).

I'm not talking about sex.  Sex is something else altogether (and, as many of us know, may not include tenderness or affection at all).  Rather, I'm talking about simple touching and affection and connection and validation.

For every promiscuous gay man, who confuses sex for affection and maybe even love, I imagine one hundred, or even one thousand, gay men, who don't have anyone to touch them and show they matter.

I imagine young teenagers, still living at home, wondering--because they suspect they're gay and were raised to believe gay is bad--if they'll ever meet someone, who will want to touch them and show they matter.

I imagine thousands of gay men, young and old, living in apartments or townhomes or houses by themselves, wondering where that special man is in their lives--if he'll ever show up--and if they'll ever meet someone who will want to touch them and show they matter.

So, if you're one of those people, today, I'm extending a big hug to you.  If I could be there in person to embrace you, to share my warmth with you, to prove you are worthy of affection, to show how terrific and wonderful and amazing you are, to help validate you in any way, I would be.  I promise you that.

I don't care where you are, how old you are, or whatever your individual circumstances are, I have a hug for you.  I care.  I really do.  And I want you to care about yourself, too.  Because no one deserves to care for you more than you do.  Please remember that.  Please.

And never give up on finding someone to show you the affection and love you need.  Never give up.  He's out there.  There are so many lonely people out there, needing the same things you do.  You just have to be fully present in your lives and find each other.  It will happen.

(This one's for the old fellow who used to live down the street from us in Victoria. Who lived in a small, old house, the yard overgrown with long grass and weeds. Who I knew from the way he looked at me was gay. Who lived alone.  Who I saw come and go from his house alone.  Who made me cry inside, when he walked by slowly and smiled as though regretting something, when I sensed he wanted to share a word or two, and when I failed to give him that opportunity. A special hug goes out to you.  My thoughts are with you.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to be Heard?

To all my avid followers and readers, what if I told you I’m not a fifty-one-year-old, gay male, who’s been with his same-sex partner for nineteen years?  What if I told you I’m really a thirty-two-year-old, straight woman, who’s single and looking?  Imagine how betrayed you might feel when you’ve bought into what I’ve written here over the past twenty-six months, when you’ve become invested in me, my story, and my message.
That’s what readers around the world are feeling since finding out Amina Arraf, the popular lesbian, Syrian blogger of A Gay Girl in Damascus, is actually Tom MacMaster, a straight, white, American male, currently living in Scotland.  It’s also what readers are feeling after discovering Paula Brooks, the deaf, lesbian, mother-of-two, and editor of Lez Get Real, is actually Bill Graber, a straight man from Ohio.  
As a blogger, I was understandably fascinated with a story titled “Followers upset by fake bloggers’ tall tales,” written by Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, which appeared in today’s Vancouver Sun.  I shook my head as I read this opinion piece, unable to imagine the enormous imagination, moxie, and work that must go into creating full-blown personalities and lives--so different from the writers themselves--convincing enough for readers to invest themselves and their emotions into.        
But that’s hardly my point.  Hesse explains what puts all of this into perspective.  She writes:
The fake existence of Amina Arraf was offensive to bloggers--and to Syrians, and to women,
and to lesbians and gays, and to anyone else who has ever been truly marginalized.  How
irritating that so much attention was given to something ultimately written by a straight
American man.
And how poignant that a member of one of the most privileged classes in the world felt that
the only way he could have a voice was to pretend to be a member of a class that has been
disenfranchised in every possible way [p. B4].
Ironic, too, I might add.  
As Hesse suggests, traditionally, straight, white men, collectively, have been the dominant voice heard over the centuries around the world, telling us what’s right, what’s wrong, what to do, what not to do, how to live our lives, and how not to live our lives.  And, whenever their voices were diminished, their insecurity came out full-force and they made their voices even louder, until we couldn’t ignore them any longer.  Until we had no choice but to pay attention to what they said.    
Yet here we have MacMaster and Graber, two everyday schlubs--neither one I wish to criticize with this post because, after all, they managed to garner a lot of empathy and support for our lesbian sisters, although fraudulently--who, for some reason, opted to impersonate someone of the opposite gender, and the opposite sexual orientation, landing on voices that were finally heard above the din of everyday craziness.

You have to give them a lot of credit.  I do.  For most of us, the struggle to find our voices, and to know what to say once we've found them, is constant and daunting.  Is it any wonder many of us never find them?       
Which begs the question, Is it better to have the balls to use voices that are not ours and be heard, than to use our own voices and never be heard?  I guess that all depends on the message.  Or does it?  Perhaps MacMaster and Graber's perspectives on that would be worth listening to.         
At any rate, in case there's any doubt, I really am a fifty-one-year-old gay male, who’s been with his partner, Chris, for nearly two decades.  And I really am committed to help gay and lesbian people to build their self-esteem, so they can be all they were meant to be.

But do you think what these two white, straight, American men did might work in the reverse?  Do you think my blog, and its message of hope for gay and lesbian people, could get more followers, readers, and attention--for all the right reasons, of course--if I revealed myself to be a straight, married, twenty-something woman from Boise, Idaho?  

Imagine the fiction skills I'd need to make that happen.  What a test of my writing ability. Perhaps I should give it a try.          

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My First Gay Crush recently ran a fun and intriguing series called "Who Was Your First Gay Crush?", which prompted readers to submit the names of people who did it for them when they were much younger.

As you might expect, responses were typically celebrities in one field or another, and depended on the gender and age of those writing them.  Some lesbian women readers, for example, identified actresses Bonnie Franklin, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Christie McNichol, while some gay male readers selected actors such as James Dean, Johnny Weissmuller, and Richard Gere; Olympians Mitch Gaylord and Greg Louganis; and singers Sean Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, and Andy Gibb.

I admit, reading through the pages of comments from readers took me way back to a time when I didn't understand why I was so turned on to some well-known actors and singers myself.  But, given what I was going through at the time--at home, at school, and within myself--seeing them was exciting and magical, and always provided welcome comfort.

Some names from those mentioned that surely stick out for me are Burt Reynolds, Sam Elliott, Lee Majors, Robert Conrad, Clint Walker, Sean Connery, and Ricky Nelson.  (And, on a purely physical level, if you think about what's common among all of these handsome, masculine men, you'll probably realize why I found them so alluring.  Ten points to anyone who guesses correctly.)

But long before any of these men caught my fancy--and, keeping in mind, a first crush occurs when one is very young--the man I was probably most turned on to wasn't a well-known celebrity at all.  He was a resident from the same neighborhood where my parents, sister, and I lived in northern British Columbia at the time.  His name was Spike J..  He was married to Sylvia, and, together, they had three blonde, teenaged daughters, their first names all beginning with the letter "L."

My experience with Spike, which took place entirely in the fantasy world of my mind, figures briefly in the novel I'm working on now, which I've enhanced somewhat to fictionalize and dramatize.  But, no doubt, I've revealed something of myself and my homosexuality in the few paragraphs, which I share with you below:

When I was a boy, this fellow used to live across the back alley from us.  All these years later, I still remember his name.  Butch.  How can you not remember a name like that?  And he was a Butch, believe me.  

Sometimes, during the few hot days we’d get every summer up in northern BC, my father invited Butch over for a beer in the backyard.  There he sat in a lawn chair, Butch, that is, shirtless, his tangle of thick, curly blond chest hair catching the rays of the late afternoon sun.  To my young eyes, he defined masculinity.  He knew it; I'm sure my father knew it.  How could he not, his own bare chest pasty and nearly hairless?   

I had no idea then why watching Butch made me feel the way I did, my eyes riveted to his unmistakable manliness.  I can’t imagine Butch didn’t think something was wrong with Jim’s kid.  Probably thought I was a pervert, even at ten years old.  

As I stared at him helplessly, I wished with all my heart Butch was my father.  How I fantasized about being picked up in his muscular, hairy forearms, held securely against the warm pelt on his chest.      

Funny story.

My family left this northern town in October 1974 and moved to Kelowna some eight hundred miles south.  I had just turned fifteen.

Six years later, I worked in the kiosk of a self-serve gas station located at Harvey Avenue and Gordon Drive, one of the major intersections in town.  My hours were 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., Sunday to Thursday.  I did that for a year and a half.

One evening, a woman walked into the customer area of the kiosk and handed me a credit card to pay for the gas she'd put in her car.  As I processed the payment, I looked at the name on the card and saw the name Spike J.. Obviously, that name stood out, and I wondered if it was even possible the card belonged to the very same Spike J. I'd fantasized about when I was just a kid, and if, in fact, his wife, Sylvia, was standing in front of me.

So, shaking, I finally got up the nerve to ask her if she used to live in the same northern town. She looked at me funny and answered yes.  Then I asked if she was married to Spike.  She hesitated and again answered yes.  I told her who I was.  She didn't remember me, but, when she returned to her car and pulled out, passing by the kiosk, I saw a middle-aged man sitting in the passenger seat. I didn't recognize him but he looked at me, and I looked at him.  He waved.

Despite what I wrote in the passage from my novel, I'm sure Spike J. had no idea how much of a crush I'd had on him all those years earlier, when I couldn't help but stare at him, representing as he did what I hoped I'd look like when I became a man, and symbolizing, if ideally, the kind and gentle father I never had.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Happy Nineteenth, Sweetheart!

Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart!

Nineteen years ago today, we met at the Odyssey.  You were a twenty-three-year-old boy who grew into the forty-two-year-old man you are today.  You are the love of my life, my soulmate, and my one and only.  I love you dearly.  

Thank you for the best nineteen years of my life.  
Thank you for being my partner. 
Thank you for putting up with me for so long.  
Thank you for coming home to me every day.  
Thank you for being the sweetest, most generous and patient human being I know. 
Thank you for the blessing that you are.  

Thank you for being you and for choosing to be with me.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Change or Stay the Same

And so, here I am, nearly six months after I repurposed my blog from "Yes, Gay Relationships Really Do Exist," to "Together, Taking Being Gay to the Next Level," to "Together, Lifting the Experience of Being Gay."

I fear I've gotten off track lately.  Sure, it's fun to write posts about books I've read, the positive influence Oprah's had on me, and what the gay agenda is, and I will continue to do that, because they are all a part of me as a gay man.  But these posts don't address the task at hand, which is to help you, a gay or lesbian person, to recognize how your feelings of self-loathing prevent you from achieving everything you most want--from finding that elusive relationship, to feeling fulfilled in your job, to making peace with yourself.

Antonio Augusto, a reader from Brazil, recently made me aware of a video by Robert Happe.  Happe is a student of religions and philosophies, the founder of the Spiritual Education Centre in Aracoiaba da Serra in Sao Paulo, and, according to his website, devoted to discovering the meaning of life.  No small aspiration, that.

The titles of one of the articles on his website, "Time to Decide: Change or Stay the Same," is about how the earth is changing, evolving, including climate change and natural disasters--all, to some degree, the result of man's impact--and whether or not we too will change or perish.  In other words, the choice is ours to continue our materialistic road to annihilation or to become more spiritual beings, in tune with the earth and its needs.

But, as I see it, "Time to Decide: Change or Stay the Same" relates to us as gay and lesbian people as well.  How so, you ask?

In the video AA sent me to watch, Happe talks repeatedly about awakening. Awakening is the first critical step in fixing any problem or challenge.  Without awakening, we continue to do things as we always have, whether they're the best way or not.  That's because most of us live unconsciously.  We get caught up in our lives and our daily routines, and we don't sit up and take note of what's going on around us until we have to, until we're forced to.  Hopefully, it's not too late by then.

So it is with gay and lesbian people.  Until we awaken--that is, until we become aware of what we're doing to ourselves--we'll continue to do it.  We'll go along our merry way, keep doing what we've always done, and hit a brick wall at some point, wondering why life's turned out the way it has.  Why we're still single.  Why we're not fully engaged in our lives.  Why we're not happy in our jobs or careers.   Why we're still friends with people who aren't good for us.  Why we put up with so much negativity and drama around us.  Why we're not getting what we really want.  Why we feel empty inside.  Why we continue to make the same choices, the same mistakes.  The list is endless.      

And the answer?  Because we don't believe we deserve better.

Why don't we believe we deserve better?  Because we don't think we're worthy, that's why.  Because we don't like ourselves.  Because, as gay and lesbian people, we're filled with self-loathing.  Because we've bought into all the negativity directed at us since we were children--by what our parents may have said about gay people, what our church said, our peers at school, our teachers, our colleagues at work, our elected officials, our society in general, the media--wherever the message came from that we're less than everyone else because of our sexual orientation.

So we have a choice:  Change or Stay the Same.  That's the message for today. And I'm here to help, because I've been there (I'm still there sometimes, depending on what happens to me, and how quickly I awaken), and I've written extensively on this subject since January of this year.

I know the posts not connected to raising self-esteem and learning to love oneself are more fun to read.  I realize they're less taxing because you don't have to do much thinking, and because they don't ask you to take a hard look at yourself.

But when are we going to awaken?  When are we going to invest in our internal wellbeing, to the extent that we do in many things, from getting fit, to pursuing our careers, to whatever the case may be?  When are we going to realize our spiritual wellbeing (I'm not talking religion here) is more important than all the rest, because, without it, nothing else matters, and nothing else comes together?    

Some of you may see yourself in what I write and wonder, what can I do?  How do I learn to improve the feelings I have for myself?  More to the point, how do I learn to love myself?

I have that covered.  I invite you to take a look at the posts I've included under the theme of "self-esteem."  You'll find the list on the left side of my blog, under the title "Themes," below "being gay" and "gay relationship."  So far, there are fifty-five posts, which some readers have been kind enough to tell me belong in a book, to support gay and lesbian people on their roads to recovery.

Specifically, I draw your attention to the five posts titled "How to Love Yourself When You're Gay", Step One to Step Five.  (And even if you're not gay and have problems with your self-esteem, you'll find the advice helpful, because you don't have to be gay to be filled with self-loathing, believe me.)  Plus, I'm sure you'll find any number of the other posts to be helpful as well.

It's your choice.  If your life is working for you right now, you're happy with everything that's going on, and you don't need to change to get what you want, great.  I'm happy for you.  I really am.  But if you have the least inkling something isn't right, and, when you give it some thought, you realize it might just be rooted in negative feelings you have toward yourself, please make a commitment to investigate it further.  You owe yourself that much, don't you?

Just because we're gay and lesbian doesn't mean we shouldn't love ourselves; doesn't mean we shouldn't expect the best for us and our lives.  Don't use your sexual orientation as an excuse any longer.  You deserve the very best, make no mistake about that.  And I'm sure I've written something on my blog that will help you to become more the person you want to be and to have more of what you want out of your life.

If we do this work together, I'm confident that, collectively, we can be so much more than we are right now.  We can make so much more of a positive impact in our lives and in the world.  That is my vision for us, and I sincerely hope you share that vision.  We may be a minority, but we've only begun to show everyone what we're capable of doing.  Imagine how much more we could be, how much more we could accomplish in our lives and in the world, if we no longer hated ourselves because we're gay, if we loved ourselves because we're gay.    

Send me a comment about what's not working for you, what you'd like to change, and what vision you have for yourself, your life, and gay people in general.  Or just send me a comment.  I'd appreciate hearing from you.  I really would.      

(Link to Robert Happe's video.)

(Link to Robert Happe's website.)

(Many thanks to AA in Brazil for sharing Robert Happe's video with me, and, through it, for helping to inspire me to write this post.  I appreciate your interest in what I'm trying to do here.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Heterosexism:  '"...the mistaken assumption that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior and the norm by which all other sexual orientations and gender identities are measured.  Heterosexism perpetrates negative stereotypes and is dangerous to individuals and communities."'

(From "Burnaby board revises policy on harassment of gay students," by Janet Steffenhagen, The Vancouver Sun, Thursday, June 9, 2011, p. A15)

No More and No Less

As gay and lesbian people, this should be our mantra:  no more and no less.

I can't take credit for it--I recently watched a video and read a comment on that used the five little words--but these words immediately resonated with me.  They may be little (the largest no more than four letters), but they are powerful, and they mean the world to us.    

They were used in conjunction with what gay and lesbian people expect from our societies, our cultures, and our world.  Whenever someone puts down our expectations and says we want special rights and privileges, over and above other people and other minorities, our response should be, all we want is no more and no less than what everyone else has.

It's not about special rights and privileges.  It's about equal rights and privileges. It's about human rights, our human rights.  That's all.  Nothing more.

It's not to much to expect.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"The Final Testament of the Holy Bible"

For some of you, James Frey, infamous for his highly-publicized run-in with Oprah Winfrey several years ago, is scum.  Some people have a real problem getting beyond the items he made up and put forth as fact in his "memoir" A Million Little Pieces.  

Well, time to get over it, people.  He was a scapegoat. The truth is, plenty of writers, before and after Frey, did exactly the same thing.  A few were found out; most, I suspect, weren't, and contend to this day everything in their memoirs really happened.

If you haven't figured this out yet, I'm a BIG fan of Frey.  BIG.  In Oprah's last full week of shows in late May, Frey appeared on two of them.  The most controversial interviewee ever to appear on "Oprah" confessed he got caught up in the excitement of his first book getting published, and he admits to making grave mistakes in presenting pieces of it as fact when they were fiction.  Case closed.  From the beginning, I thought there was nothing to forgive.  A Million Little Pieces is an exceptional book, and Frey is an exceptional writer.  Let's move on.  

Frey's latest novel, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, was released recently, and it's a doozie.  Many will stand up and take note of it--if not become immediately offended--from its title alone.  I just finished reading it this morning, and I was impressed.  Very impressed.  VERY IMPRESSED.

The style of Frey's writing is different from his other books, although he's still done away with most conventions, like quotation marks, dashes, etc.  I like that about Frey.  He makes language work for him.  He controls language; language doesn't control him.  I know his style angers purists, who find his use of English arrogant.  But the whole point of language is to communicate, and, believe me, quotation marks or not, Frey communicates.  His writing is pared down and eminently understandable.  I suspect a fifth or sixth grader would understand Testament.

Why do I want you to read this book?  Well, first, because my blog is about working to lift the experience of being gay, and you will be lifted when you read Frey describe throughout the novel how badly gay and lesbian people are treated in our modern society at the hands of Christian conservatives, and how they should be treated instead.  Frey gets it in ways few others do.  We get it.  Frey gets it.  He's a supporter, believe me.  You will respect him for his views on gay people.

Second, because I wanted to write a post about how Testament made me feel, but I'd rather you read the book and decide for yourself how you feel afterward.

In closing, I say this.  Be prepared.  Frey turns the concept of organized religion on its head.  Not God, organized religion.  And I believe organized religion needs to be turned on its head, because of how many of us were raised to accept it from day one, without the chance to ask our own questions and make up our own minds about what we believe and what we don't believe.  And because of what's been done in the name of God for centuries.

Be warned, this book will be blasphemous for many readers.  It could make you very uncomfortable.  It could make you nod in acknowledgement.  It could upset the apple cart of what you've believed to be true for perhaps your entire life.  It will force you to think about your own relationship to religion and to God.  And, I believe, it will teach you something.

I challenge you to read James Frey's The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.  I ask that you be open to what he has to say.  I promise, you will come away changed, one way or the other.


(By the way, the hardcover edition of Frey's self-published, limited edition book is expensive--$50 U.S. or Canadian.  Perhaps that's because only 10,000 copies were made.  I bought the ebook version for a fifth of that price.  Worth every penny.)

The Gay Agenda

In my blog reading last evening, I discovered a number of gay and lesbian people who didn't know we apparently have an agenda, and who, obviously, don't have their own copy.  I didn't have my own copy either.

Several days ago, I went looking on the Internet to find out what I could about the so-called gay agenda, and what I found is located below.  The following is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

'In 2003 Alan Sears and Craig Osten, president and vice-president of the Alliance Defense Fund, an American anti-gay conservative Christian organization, offered...[this] characterization [of the gay agenda]:
It is an agenda that they basically set in the late 1980s, in a book called After the Ball, where they laid out a six-point plan for how they could transform the beliefs of ordinary Americans with regard to homosexual behavior—in a decade-long time frame.... They admit it privately, but they will not say that publicly. In their private publications, homosexual activists make it very clear that there is an agenda. The six-point agenda that they laid out in 1989 was explicit:
  1. Talk about gays and gayness as loudly and as often as possible(...)
  2. Portray gays as victims, not as aggressive challengers(...)
  3. Give homosexual protectors a just cause(...)
  4. Make gays look good(...)
  5. Make the victimizers look bad(...)
  6. Get funds from corporate America(...)
After the Ball is a book published in 1989 by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen. It argues that after the gay liberation phase of the 1970s and 1980s, gay rights groups should adopt more professional public relations techniques to convey their message. It was published by Doubleday and was generally available.'

'The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is an American non-profit organization "dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination"...[against] lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.  GLAAD describes the term as a "rhetorical invention of anti-gay extremists seeking to create a climate of fear by portraying the pursuit of civil rights for LGBT people as sinister," and commentators have remarked on a lack of realism and veracity to the idea of a gay agenda per se. Such campaigns based on a presumed "Gay Agenda" have been described as anti-gay propaganda by researchers and critics.'

Information is power.  Since we're supposed to have a gay agenda, don't you think, as gay and lesbian people, we should know what that agenda is?

(For the full article on Wikipedia, please click here.)

Gay and Lesbian Pride Month

I was not aware June is considered Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.  In the interest of keeping you informed, I share this with you.  The following is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

'Gay and Lesbian Pride Month is celebrated each year for the month of June. The last Sunday in June is celebrated as Gay Pride Day.  On June 2, 2000, [U.S.] President Bill Clinton declared June "Gay & Lesbian Pride Month."  In 2009, 2010, and 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, stating, "I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists."  The month was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that sparked the modern LGBT liberation movement in the United States.

'This month is meant to recognize the impact gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people have had on the world.  GLBT groups celebrate with pride parades, picnics, parties, memorials for those lost from hate crimes, and other group-gathering events that attract thousands upon thousands of individuals. Interpride, the International Association of Pride Organizers, was founded in 1982 and has grown to encompass pride events around the world throughout the year. Although June remains the primary months for pride events, the annual calendar shows events in most.'


(For the complete Wikipedia article, please click here.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This Gay Man's Fitting Tribute to Oprah

'"I won't say good-bye.  I'll just say...until we meet again."'

And then, her job done, she slowly walked stage left, touching hands with a few audience members, briefly hugging others.

When she got to Stedman Graham, her life partner since the same year her show went national, she embraced him the longest and the firmest. Then she touched, hugged, or kissed a few more people before she seemed to disappear for good.  A camera provided a bird's eye view of the studio, as the light followed her while everything else when black.

Finally, another camera showed her at the end of the ramp off stage, facing the audience, putting her hands together as though in prayer and bowing graciously. She opened her arms, symbolically embracing everyone at once and taking in all the love offered to her from the standing ovation.  Then, with dignity and grace, indicative of the way she conducted herself on her show, she smiled warmly, turned, and exited.

And that was it.

A full twenty-five years in front of our TV screens, watching arguably one of the best interviewers and most inspirational TV personalities and human beings of our time, had come and gone.  And the daily reality for millions of viewers around the world, including me, that was "The Oprah Winfrey Show," had ended.

I remember watching that first nationally-syndicated episode on September 8, 1986.  I was twenty-six and lived in Kelowna, a community of about 80,000 in the Interior of British Columbia.  I was a teller then, had been for five years, at a branch of the second largest financial institution in Canada.  I was single, lonely, and had been out of the closet less than a year.  Every second Saturday, I volunteered as a DJ at Club Amicus, the only local gay club in town.  In all the most important ways, I see now, my life had only just begun.

I didn't like that first episode, not because of anything Oprah did or didn't do--although I found her too excitable and I worried the topics she'd discuss would be trivial--but because, at the time, I was an avid viewer of "The Phil Donohue Show."  Had been for years.  I thought, when it came to talk show hosts, Donohue was the gold standard, and when it came to talk shows, none would ever handle more compelling subjects in a more compelling way.  In other words, I didn't like Oprah because she wasn't Donohue, and I was sure her show wouldn't last beyond a year.

Still, I kept watching.  My VCR set to record "Oprah" at 4:00 p.m. every afternoon, Monday to Friday, and no interest in deleting that command, I found myself tuning in nearly every evening, after dinner was over and the dishes were done, to see what Oprah had said that day.  Sometimes, I watched entire episodes; other times, after I found out what the topics were, I deleted episodes without watching them beyond a few minutes, deciding I had better things to do with the limited time I had outside of my demanding job.      

Sooner rather than later, I began to watch more episodes straight through than I deleted.  And, without realizing it at the time, I started a daily habit that would last twenty-five years--half my life.  If, for some reason, I couldn't watch "Oprah" on the days they recorded, I kept them for the weekend and watched one or more at a time.  Oprah fests.  At some point, my day didn't feel complete until I'd watched the current episode, and, like millions of other viewers, I began to lose interest in Donohue.

Even before Oprah officially changed the direction of her show in the mid-90s, there was still much to watch, much to ponder, and much to apply to my own life. I learned, for example, that issues experienced within your family would continue to repeat themselves in adult relationships as long as they remained unresolved. I learned the necessity of feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.  And I learned that, often, the only thing I needed to do to change my life was to change my mind about how I felt about something.

But when Oprah moved her show from a mostly-tabloid format--which hosts like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer would later take to a whole other regrettable level--to "Live Your Best Life" TV, then did she differentiate herself forever from all the many others who had entered the talk show ring.  No more, she told viewers, would she spend entire episodes on what I've come to call "ain't it awful" TV--people complaining about how badly their lives turned out and how everyone else is to blame.  Rather, Oprah said she'd focus on solutions, and teach people to take responsibility for themselves.

If ever someone needed to take responsibility for himself, it was me.  In my mid-twenties, I was miserable.  I lived alone, was lonely as hell, and doubted I'd ever find someone to love or to love me back  My job was just that--a job.  It wasn't a career, by any means, and I felt empty and lost.  One of the biggest questions on my mind was, what should I do with my life?  I didn't know.  Had no clue.  So I told myself I'd be a teller until I figured it out, or until something better came along. Briefly, I considered going back to school, but that wasn't really an option.  I had no interest and no money.    

But that was the least of it.  I was messed up inside, big time.  Raised by an embittered mother and an emotionally-absent, disciplinarian father, I was an over-sensitive kid, who felt disconnected from  everyone around him.  While I had the rare teacher who saw a spark in me, and encouraged me to excel in English, Drama, and Creative Writing, for example, I spent many years feeling alone and isolated.  Circumstances only got worse when some of my classmates suspected I was gay.  From that point on, despite living in two different communities, and attending several schools, the bullying never ended.

In "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Finale, Oprah said, "The show has taught me there is a common thread that runs through all of our pain and all of our suffering, and that is unworthiness."  And so it was for me.  But it took many years of watching "Oprah" to peel away the layers, and to realize that was the case.  How did I know that the emptiness I felt, the aimlessness, and the detachment from everyone, had to do with feeling unworthy?  Oprah gave what I felt a name, and, over a long time, and with a lot of patience, she taught me, "Your being here, your being alive makes worthiness your birthright.  You alone are enough."  Talk about an a-ha moment that changed my life forever.  Forever.

Some might well ask, what do an overweight, black, American woman and a gay, white, Canadian man have in common, and I'd answer...plenty.  True, I wasn't raised in racially-segregated, rural Mississippi in the 1950s.  True, I wasn't shuffled from one home to the next when I was a child.  True, I wasn't sexually abused at the hands of family members.  But however I got to where I was, I landed, more or less, in the same place as Oprah, and millions of her viewers, did, each of us taking his own route, yet ending up feeling inadequate, unworthy, and unloved.  Oprah's story, then, is my story, and our story, regardless of who we are.

Of course, I applaud "The Oprah Winfrey Show" for being one of the first places where I saw gay and lesbian people in the mid-1980s, portrayed in a positive and sympathetic way.  While the subjects of the shows--HIV and AIDS, for example--may have been difficult and negative, often causing audience members to get up in arms and portray gay people as unnatural and evil, never once did Oprah show them disrespect.  In that sense, she taught me, through her interactions with them, that gay people are like everyone else, that we're deserving of dignity and reverence, and that it's all right to be exactly who and what I am.

Without a doubt in my mind, I would not be the same person I am today were it not for "The Oprah Winfrey Show."  Did I watch every single episode over the years?  Of course not.  Did I agree with every movie Oprah endorsed, every product she recommended, every book she selected for her book club?  Of course not.  Did I lose all capacity to think and do for myself, because I spent literally thousands of hours sitting in front of the TV, listening to everything Oprah and her guests said?  Of course not.

But I paid attention.  I paid attention to the messages that were reinforced, over and over again:  Don't make your self-worth dependent upon anything or anyone; realize the power you have to change your own life; be responsible for your own happiness; know the positive difference you can make in other people's lives; what you get back is proportionate to what you give out; we all have a calling, and your job is to find out what that is; follow your passion; don't blame everyone else for your bad choices; take responsibility for the energy you bring into a space; love yourself.  The list goes on and on.  I listened.  And I learned.  

As I watched Oprah take her final bow on Wednesday, May 25th, and cried at the realization my good friend wouldn't be a part of my daily life ever again--not even from the platform of her network, OWN--one word popped into my head.  Mother. I'm not the first to recognize the mother that is Oprah.  In Part II of "Oprah's Farewell Spectacular," broadcast from Chicago's United Centre on May 24th, in a heartfelt comment, Jada Pinkett Smith told Oprah, '"I know you don't have children of your own, but you have mothered millions."'  I applauded that, along with the 8,000 audience members on hand, because no truer words had ever been spoken.

My own parents gave me life, and, for better or worse, saw me through to the age of twenty-five.  But, from there, Oprah took over, mothering me for the next twenty-five years, and providing me with the common sense, advice, and wisdom no one else ever had--not my parents or relatives, not teachers, nor any of the few friends I had.  In the process, Oprah played an undeniable role in helping me to heal the wounds from my past, and she opened me up to the endless possibilities of my life right now and in the future.

I never met Oprah in person, nor did I have the good fortune to sit in one of her audiences, but I feel I know her.  Many millions of us do.  In some respects, I know her better than I know my own parents, because she was present for me--even for just an hour a day, which was usually more time than my parents spent with me when I was growing up.  Oprah understood my pain, the pain common to most of us, because of the dysfunctional way we were raised, or how people in our lives treated us, and she cared enough to take my hand and to help me on the journey to myself.

Last weekend, just a few days after her sign off, I said to Chris, "I already miss Oprah," even though I still have a few unviewed episodes recorded on the DVR; even though, if I really wanted to, I could still watch repeat episodes until the 4:00 p.m. weekday time slot is handed over to someone else this September, whoever that will be (although I can't imagine who could fill it the way Oprah did for all those years).  And Chris said, "It's time to leave the nest."

And so it is.  He's right.  I've attended all the classes, I've heard all the lessons, and, now, it's time to use what I've learned and fly on my own.      

So there's just one final thing to say, although it's scarcely enough:  Thank-you, Oprah.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Thank you for being the human being you are.  And thank you for being such a light and inspiration in my life.    

You can't begin to imagine, while you focused on empowering women, how you empowered this gay man, too.  How much of a positive impact you had on my life, and the lives of countless other gay men, who, like me, needed to hear your message at exactly the time you delivered it.  And how much I try today to share on this blog some of what I learned from you, with other gay men and lesbian women to help them on their own journeys.

I care so much about them and what happens to them, as you cared about me for twenty-five years.  And I pray I say something, anything, that will let them know how truly worthy they are, how much they are loved, and how much they deserve to love themselves.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"I Love You!"

When is the last time someone said to you, "I love you"?  Today?  A few days ago?  A week?  A month?  A year?  Never?

My guess is, most of us don't hear those three words nearly enough, if at all? And, let's face it, they may be the three most important words in any language.

So here's what I want you to do.  I want you to say to yourself, "I love you." Pretty simple, huh?  Who should love you more than you?  No one.  Right?

If it helps, go to the mirror in your bathroom.  Look at yourself directly in the eye and say, "I love you."  And when you say it, mean it.

Sounds hokey, doesn't it?  I know, I know.  You think I've really flipped.  You think I've taken this "love yourself thing" too far.  But I promise you, I'm serious.  If you can't go to the bathroom mirror right now and say "I love you" to yourself, and mean it, then you need to work on that.  You need to practice it.  Practice it a lot.

Practice makes perfect.  The first time you look yourself in the eye and say, "I love you," you'll probably burst out laughing.  You'll probably feel like an absolute idiot.  You'll probably wonder, who is this Rick fool telling me in his blog I should say "I love you" to myself?

I'm just someone who knows how hard-won learning to love yourself really is, that's all.  And I promise, if you can stop the clatter in your mind long enough each day--maybe first thing in the morning, when you step out of the shower, and start getting yourself ready for work--and really focus on how you feel about yourself, saying it will get easier.  A lot easier, if you make a point of doing it.

Right now, all you can think about is the next thing.  All the things you have to do. All the people you need to meet.  All the places you need to go.  But none of those is more important than being present for yourself, just a few moments each day, to tell yourself, "I love you."  I can't think of anything more important.

Here's what happens when you do it.  You refocus your energy on yourself and not on someone or something else.  You make a commitment to be your own priority.  You recognize the value you have in your own life.  Maybe not at first. But you will.  You really will.      

So, go.  Go do it.  Stand in front of a mirror and say to the person looking back at you, "I love you."  Then you can't feel badly because no one said it to you today. Then, when I ask you, who said "I love you" to you today, you can answer, "I did." Because you should.

So simple.  Doesn't cost a dime.  You can do it.  Take that leap into your new and better future.    

Do it.  Go ahead.  Do it now.