Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where Openness and Acceptance Come From (Guest Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Christmas Season Comes to "This Gay Relationship"

Something a little lighter today.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whatever Happened to Barry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris's Little Pile of Twigs

I wrote this post several weeks ago, and I continue to tinker with it.  How three simple paragraphs confound me, when much longer and more complex posts don't, is beyond my understanding.  Regardless, I hope you recognize the feeling I was trying to get across, and that you feel this way about someone you love.  

*  

Several weeks ago, I watched from the kitchen window as Chris pruned the branches of the small barberry bush next to the shed near the back fence.  I saw him take a few moments to stand several feet from the plant, assess its size and shape, and consult the pages of an old copy of the Sunset Pruning Handbook his mother had given him.  Grey autumn skies overhead, Chris studied the book in his left hand, then approached the plant, placing the clipper along branches where he thought it should go and squeezing the handle. Whenever I looked up from what I was doing, there was Chris in front of the barberry, taking great care to make the right decisions about where to prune.  I smiled.  His patience and diligence touched me.  That's the Chris I know and love.  That's the man I cherish.

Until recently, the small pile of cut twigs from the barberry sat on the grassy boulevard in front of our house.  Chris cuts branches from any other plant into small pieces and reserves them for use in our compost bin over the fall and winter, but not the barberry, because of its thorns. Instead, he placed them on the boulevard in preparation for someone from the district to drive by, as they do twice a year, to process yard debris through a chipper.  In comparison to the larger, more obvious, pile of debris at our neighbor's house, Chris's pile was scarcely visible, and became less so as the large, fiery red leaves from the maple trees above fell down, covering it over.  I was concerned it would be buried by the time the chipper arrived and remain there until the following spring.  

Every time I went out for a run over the subsequent weeks, I saw the little pile, and thoughts of Chris came readily to mind--calculating, that Sunday afternoon, the location of each clip, taking great care not to remove too much and adversely change the shape of the plant.  What I saw in front of me, sitting on the boulevard, was, to most people, a small pile of yard debris, nothing to pay any mind to.  But, as the days passed, it came to represent so much more.  Just last weekend, only a few days before the chipper arrived, I became aware of tears in my eyes as I walked past it.  Almost hidden then by brilliant red leaves, there it was, Chris's little pile of twigs--inexplicably symbolic of the character, integrity, and beauty of the most amazing human being I know.                             

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Open Heart

This was a difficult piece to write.  I did not enjoy visiting this dark place, one I had to admit I have.  If you too are gay, perhaps you can relate to my words.             

*  

On one of the first episodes of the new daytime talk show "Anderson," the host, Anderson Cooper, interviewed his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.  During the course of the episode, viewers learned that, at just ten years old, Vanderbilt was the pawn in an ugly and highly-publicized custody battle between her mother and her aunt; her husband, Wyatt Cooper, died on the operating table during open heart surgery in 1978, at the age of just 50; and, ten years later, she watched as her son, Carter, jumped to his death from their fourteenth-floor New York City apartment, while she did everything to stop him.

I don't presume to suggest I've lived a life filled with the number and severity of tragedies and losses that Vanderbilt has in her eighty-seven years.  And yet, you might want to ask my parents if they didn't feel a sense of loss when I came out to them; if they didn't consider it tragic when the illusion of who they hoped I was, was replaced by a stranger in some respects--someone they'd have to come to terms with and learn to love again, someone who would force them to relinquish the dream of their little boy growing up to have a normal courtship and marriage, resulting in grandchildren.

And, if you could, you might want to ask that twenty-year-old young man I once was, who, in ways he wouldn't fully understand until decades later, lost his childhood and teenage years to the fear of being something he knew he could not be; who, when he should have been playing with other children his own age, was rejected by them, making him feel isolated and alone; and whose grade school experience was a living hell, defined by unrelenting verbal and physical abuse, for no other reason than he was who and what he was, which happened to be different from everyone else.

None of us sail through life free from tragedy and loss, darkness and adversity, and all of us are affected by it in one way or another.  The choice is always ours as to how we let it affect us. During the opening introduction of the episode on Vanderbilt, Cooper remarked that, despite what his mother had gone through, not only had she survived and thrived, but also she had avoided becoming hardened and tough.  Instead of growing a thick skin, Vanderbilt has always remained open to people and open-hearted.  While watching the program, I had to ask myself the question, could I say the same about me?

And the answer was, no, I can't.  As much as it shames me to admit it, the biggest challenge I have is with people.  Those who know me might be surprised to learn that.  When I first meet people, I seem open and accepting enough of them.  Because I know firsthand how it feels to be shunned and rejected, I go out of my way to be pleasant and personable.  I'm so certain they're able to tell I'm gay that I try to disarm them, to win them over, prove with a smile, a firm handshake, or a few appropriate pleasantries that, despite what they might suspect about me, I'm still all right.  I'm still worth knowing.  

Foremost in my mind, of course, is always the question, what if they didn't just suspect but knew for sure I'm gay?  How would they react?  I look for the little signs in their demeanors and mannerisms--the hand they hesitate extending to me; the embarrassed, uncomfortable flush that crosses their faces; the stepping away from me as though I could infect them.  In the event a mutual acquaintance introduces us, I wonder if he or she has said something in advance, as though my sexual orientation is the only noteworthy thing about me, as though they need to be prepared so as not to let on they know.

How much of this is paranoia on my part, and how much is out-and-out reality, I don't know for sure.  But what I do know is it's my reality as a gay man, and it's colored every interaction I have with people.  How can it not?  It's all I've known since I was a child.  My guard is always up.  I'm always on the defensive.  I'm always watchful and suspicious and untrusting.  On the surface, I appear like everyone else--willing to embrace people, to give them a chance, even to invest in friendship.  But in the back of my mind are the questions, why are you being nice to me? And, what do you want?  

A process goes on inside my head.  The questions run as though on a continuous reel: Would you have anything to do with me if you knew I'm gay?  Are you civil to me only because you think that's what's socially expected of you?  Are you going to try to get from me whatever you want, then reject me as was likely your first impulse?  Do you just tolerate being around me for the good of someone else, to keep the peace, to give the illusion of being open-minded and accepting?  Or do you wish you could be as far away from me as possible; wish I, and those like me, would just go away?      

And even when I think I have a genuine friendship going--the other person showing me in one way or another that he or she accepts me and has no problem with my sexual orientation--I still wait for cracks to appear.  I know they're there; it's a question of how close they are to the surface, the degree to which they're uncomfortable being around someone who's gay.  I wonder, do they talk about me behind my back?  If they do, surely, it can't be anything good.  After all, I'm gay, and everyone knows gay is wrong and immoral, so why should I expect anything different. The sad fact is, I don't.    

Every time we get together, they have another chance to screw up, to prove what they really think of me as a gay man.  Many people say they don't have a problem with gay people, but I'm not so sure.  As long as you don't get into anything too deep with them, they may not have a problem, but take the conversation to the level of those between heterosexuals and watch them squirm.  Few, for example, want to know about the difficulties inherent in finding a suitable partner.  Few want to hear about dating problems.  And, believe me, no one wants to hear about intimate issues, physical or otherwise.        

Yes, I'm an adult now, still falling back on old patterns of behavior I learned when I was in school--treating people I meet as though they're the children who bullied me, who destroyed my innocence, crushed my spirit, and forced me to be fearful of everything.  But where did the children I went to school with get the idea that being gay is bad, evil, and unacceptable?  From their parents, of course, from adults.  Kids don't come to this realization on their own--adults lead them there, usually through teaching them religious dogma, hatred, and intolerance.

I wonder if some, many, or most other gay and lesbian people have the same challenges I do being around straight people.  If they, too, would have to admit they don't have open hearts.  That they've been hurt too often, at the hands of too many, for too long, to remain vulnerable and gracious and beneficent.  If they've been burned so many times that they had no choice but to learn the hard lessons of what people can really be like.  And, as a result, they've shut themselves off, building a wall around them and trying, usually in vain, to reduce the possibility of being hurt again.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thought for the Day, #42

How you feel about yourself cannot help but impact the quality of your relationships with others. Your sense of self-worth, how safe you feel with others, how much independence you need, whether or not you feel you deserve love, and how you expect to be treated by others are all determined to some extent by your core beliefs.  Low self-esteem can make you feel powerless to avoid manipulation or outright abuse by others.  You may feel as though you don't measure up in relationships or as if you don't deserve to be in a relationship with someone who is self-confident and healthy.

(From Loving Ourselves: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem, Kimeron N. Hardin, Ph.D., p. 116)

How Would My Life Be Different Without Homophobia?

Last week, Advocate.com asked the question, "How would your life be different if homophobia did not exist?"

I gave some thought to that and captured a number of points, in no particular order:
  1. I wouldn't have been bullied in school. 
  2. I wouldn't have been embarrassed to attend classes like chorus, drama, and typing. 
  3. I assume I would have been better liked and had more friends.    
  4. I wouldn't have felt so different, alone, and isolated.
  5. I wouldn't have been embarrassed to be so athletically inept in physical education class.
  6. I wouldn't have had such a problem with my masculine identity.
  7. I wouldn't be estranged from organized religion and the Catholic church.    
  8. My father might have loved me instead of keeping me at arm's length.    
  9. I wouldn't have held myself back from choosing a career typical of gay men. 
  10. I wouldn't have been consumed with self-loathing through a large part of my life.    
  11. I wouldn't be suspicious sometimes of why people are nice to me.   
  12. I probably would have found a partner earlier than the age of 32.  
  13. My writing wouldn't be primarily about issues facing gay people.
  14. I wouldn't be fearful when I cross paths with a group of male youths.
  15. I wouldn't be constantly looking over my shoulder.
  16. I wouldn't have to be self-conscious about my effeminate mannerisms and characteristics.
  17. I wouldn't have to downplay who I am whenever I'm in public.
  18. I wouldn't have to be so conscious of wearing clothing more typical of men.  
  19. I wouldn't be embarrassed about my ability to interior decorate.      
  20. I wouldn't have to feel embarrassed to look at and admire attractive men.
  21. I wouldn't have to be worried about being gay bashed even in the gay ghetto of Vancouver.
  22. I wouldn't have had to worry about being held back in anything I wanted to do.
  23. I would have been able to be me without giving myself permission to do that.  
  24. I wouldn't have been subjected to people calling me a faggot in public.      
  25. Organized religion wouldn't have told me I'm evil, immoral, and destined to hell. 
  26. I wouldn't have had to risk coming out and potentially lose those who are important to me.   
  27. I would not have been so aware of being different from other boys.
  28. I would not feel invisible in the community where I live (which has few obvious gay people).
  29. I would be perfectly happy with who I am and never wish that I was straight.
  30. I wouldn't blame myself or being gay when things change or go wrong.  
For better or worse, I am who I am today because I'm gay and because of homophobia.  I will never know who I would have been otherwise.  I guess I've always assumed life would be easier if I were straight, but do I know that for sure?  I only assume that's the case because we live in a world that takes the automatic position everyone is heterosexual, and because being oneself as a heterosexual appears to be so much easier and accepted.  

The other thought that comes readily to mind is, what would occupy much of my thinking today, and what would I write about, if I'd never been subjected to homophobia?  There again, I have to assume I would have encountered other life challenges, in the way most heterosexual people do, and I'd be thinking, and perhaps writing, about them, in the same way many heterosexual writers take on issues close to them and create entire bodies of work around them.    

But one thing is for sure:  This blog would not exist if there were no homophobia.  My time and effort would not go toward elevating the experience of being gay by sharing my life experience and knowledge, in the hope of helping others understand, accept, and love themselves.  Would that be good or bad?  Of course, in many ways, it would be good.  But, in others, it would mean I wouldn't connect with so many amazing people from around the world through their thoughtful and heartfelt comments.

*

Share with me how you think your life would be different without homophobia.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My "It Gets Better" Video Now Live on You Tube

In case you're interested, my "It Gets Better" video is now live on You Tube.  You can access it by clicking here.

My thanks to all of you who provided such positive comments about my video.  I sincerely appreciate your kindness and support.

Never Give Up Hope

Last Friday, I received the following comment on a post titled The Gay Lifestyle, which I wrote in March of this year:

Rick,

What you stated is true if you are one of the minority of gay men who wanted a relationship and has found that. Otherwise, the choices are simply to either find some other purpose in life (in other words, be a busy bee) or to seek someone out, which means being subjected to what you described as the typical gay lifestyle (you've hit the nail on the head except that you neglected to mention the high degree of mental disorders and the callous nature of adult gay men toward other gay men). 


I am your age. Although I was certainly an intelligent, masculine, reasonably attractive guy, 30-plus years of searching netted nothing. Love has to happen [for a relationship], and part of that is having access to a number of [potential] partners who would be relationship-oriented and to whom I would be attracted. I have found that I can be more alone when I am with someone than when I am actually alone, so no sense putting a round peg in a square hole if the relationship doesn't work.


In addition, I have been jolted severely probably 20 or more times. I watch women who have fatal attractions to men, and I honestly cannot find the commonality that is evident in such fatal attractions. At any rate, the resultant depression from all of this has led me to job loss and financial ruin, and certainly an inability to retire. I have been in psychiatric institutions 3 times with severe depression, suffered as a result of having been emotionally jolted. 

Like you, I ignore my orientation at this point although I find myself no longer wanting to associate with straight people, including family, who typically have partners and children. 


This is not a good life. The structure of the male gay community is merely focused on commerce, sex and vanity. It is too late for me, but I would hope that things could be better for future generations. 



I know this reader speaks for many gay men in the same situation, so I decided to feature his comment, and my response, in a dedicated post.  I hope something I've written will be helpful to him and to others.

Here is my response:

Wow!  Your comment is powerful in its detail and honesty.  I'm taken aback because, even though I've received many comments from readers over the years--some clearly reflecting the pain they're in--I haven't gotten one quite like yours:  a middle-aged gay man who's waited most of his adult life to be in a relationship, did what he could over no fewer than three decades to find one, and whose health and wellbeing suffered because of his lack of success.  You are not alone; there are many just like you.          

I feel your pain, I genuinely do.  Even though I'm in a long-term relationship, if you’ve read some of the posts I've written here, you'll know Chris and I didn't meet until I was 32.  That may sound young to you now, but I really believed at the time that was it for me--if I hadn't found someone by 30, ancient in gay years, it wouldn't happen--in the same way you believe it's now too late for you.  And, believe it or not, I'd made my peace with being single and over 30.  No sense being miserable; what would I gain by that?  

So let me say I have no intention of writing that the man of your dreams is right around the corner (although he may well be), and, when you meet him, all the problems in your life will go away.  I'm familiar with other gay men who've had the same challenges you have in finding the right person, falling in love, and building a life together.  And, as much as I don't want to admit it's possible, I've had to accept not everyone finds a relationship--regardless of whether they're gay or straight.  Loneliness is an epidemic.  

I want you to know if I could change that reality--if I could play a hand in ensuring every single person who wants to be in a relationship is in one, fulfilling all the many reasons why they value a relationship in the first place--I would.  Because I know as human beings, we're meant to love and to be loved. That's why we're here.  And if we don't encounter the opportunity to share our love with, and to receive love from, a significant other, the toll can be enormous on us, physically and emotionally.

I want to respond to some of the comments you made about the gay male community in general. While it may be your experience that only a minority of gay men want relationships, I don't agree with that assessment at all.  When I was in my late twenties (shortly after I came out), I knew a lot of gay men, who like me, were desperate to be in relationships.  And desperate is the word.  We lived for the day when it happened, and we did everything we could--within reason, of course--to make it happen.

But, for a number of reasons, I don't think finding relationships is easy for many gay men.  One of biggest reasons is the contradiction between the need to love and to be loved--in our case, involving someone of the same gender--and the message we've received countless times, and internalized, that homosexuality is evil and immoral.  The need to love and to be loved doesn't go away just because we're gay and supposedly evil and immoral, so many gay men redirect that need into the only option they see open to them--sex.             

Another reason why I think finding relationships is difficult for many gay men is because we think we need to be blown away when we meet someone, before we consider being friends let alone partners. When I was single, I knew just the man I wanted to meet, and he was the only one I saw myself with. Then Chris came along.  He was nothing like my ideal.  Did I settle?  Not a chance.  Someone knew better than me who I needed to be with, and Chris turned out to be so much more than I ever could have imagined.  

Is being gay a bitch sometimes?  Sure it is.  But I want you to remember we don't have to accept those parts of it that are not consistent with who we are as human beings and individuals.  I've written a number of posts here to say we must be gay on our own terms.  Don't buy into the commerce, sex, and vanity that you believe (as I do) are the unfortunate focus of the gay male community in general.  Don't allow yourself to be defined or victimized by it.  Be the gay man you were meant to be and define yourself in that way.

Even though you write that you think it's too late for you to have the relationship you've always wanted, I don't think you believe it for a minute; if you did, you wouldn't have taken the time to write or to send your comment.  As long as you're still alive, my maternal grandmother would scold you, and open to the possibility, it's never too late.  In her mid-eighties, she met a man her age, and they were together and happy for a number of years.  You never know when what you want most will finally be yours.  

In the meantime, remember you have no control over other people and what they do (including other gay men), but you have control over yourself.  As a single man, think of this time as an opportunity to work on you, to be the best person you can be--for yourself and for that future significant other.  And while you await the happy occasion of your paths crossing--if they do--you must find within yourself what you most want from another man.  In other words, you must be your own best friend and you must love yourself.    

While you work on that, take a look at your daily or weekly routine and make some small change to it. What you're doing right now hasn't yielded the results you're looking for in terms of meeting someone. To me, that means, if this is important enough to you, you must do something different.  Change your attitude.  Change how you look at yourself.  Get involved.  Become creative.  Take a risk.  Try something you've never done before.  Don't give up.  You're still far too young to throw in the towel.    

And, finally, love comes in different, but no less validating, ways.  With or without a life partner, you must always be open to those who love you, be they family or friends.  Don't give up on straight, married people with children just because they're not gay, single, and childless.  Give generously the love you have to share, and it will be returned to you tenfold.  All of us have an infinite capacity to love--ourselves, family and friends, and when the time's right, a partner--and we are called upon to give it freely.       

Believe.

Never give up.

The perfect man for you may enter your life today.  Are you ready?     

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My "It Gets Better" Video

After several readers encouraged me to make an "It Gets Better" video, I "fired up the Mac" (as Jeanette puts it) and came up with this.

Can I just say putting together one of these damn things by yourself--especially if it's a new experience and not just a thirty second bit--is bloody difficult.  As much as I would have liked to make it continuous, that was nearly impossible, given the number of times I lost my train of thought and ended up uttering gibberish.

So, instead, I put it together piecemeal, recording clips over three days.  Some segments took twenty or more takes until I got over my nerves, stopped stuttering, and figured out what to say.  But I think, for my first effort, it turned out all right.  I don't mind the roughness of it, and, most importantly, I managed to get across the message I wanted to.

I haven't uploaded it to YouTube yet.  


video

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pictures of "This Gay Relationship" in Whistler

In my ongoing effort to present positive images of gay men in relationships--and assuming Chris and I are looked at in that way--I want to share with you several pictures of us from our recent trip to Whistler.  One of these pictures (with whatever cropping is necessary) will likely be on the customized Christmas card we send to family and friends this year, but we haven't decided which one.  Do you have a preference?

One

Two

Three

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thought for the Day, #41

The following is a quote from a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Saturday, October 29, 2011 edition of The Globe and Mail, in response to Rick Mercer's Rant and a Globe Editorial titled "No, Rick Mercer, not all gay public figures need to step forward":

...We live in a country where there is still fear of marginalization based on one's sexuality should they be "out."  There are many levels to changing narrow-minded attitudes, but one of the most important is for gay people in positions of authority and public influence to stand up and proudly declare their sexuality so that one day, others won't have to.  Normalizing homosexuality in any society starts by proving that is it, indeed, normal [p. F8].

(Letter written by Katherine Skene from Toronto)

And here's an online response to the Globe Editorial:

Are not black, Asian and native leaders asked to stand up and become role models for their communities? Are women not asked to become role models for young girls?  What of victims of domestic abuse or violence?  What of survivors of drug abuse and alcohol addiction?  What Rick Mercer asks for is no different from what others have asked for in the past.  Young people need role models of all types.  The suggestion that asking gay men and women to come forward to act as role models would be a burden to those that do so is a step backwards in social acceptance; it is a poorly disguised suggestion that gay Canadians remain discreetly in the closet.  

Rick Mercer did not ask gays and lesbians to come out of the closet to mentor young gay or lesbian teens; he suggested that only those who are living openly should do so.  

(From AntiSpin, October 27, 2011, 11:47 p.m.)      


To view Rick Mercer's Rant, please click here.
To read the Globe Editorial referred to above, please click here.

There's Still So Much Work to be Done

Sometimes, it all feels like too much.  This gay thing.

Decades ago, if I had an obsession--which I did--it was with not being gay.  I did everything I could to avoid it, to put it out of my mind, to ensure it didn't apply to me.  I wasn't gay.  I wasn't going to think about it in terms of me because everybody else thought I was gay, and I knew better.  I'd show them.  They thought they had me figured out, but they were dead wrong.

Was I in denial?  What do you think?  But I dealt with it the best way I could, including, in my early twenties, thinking of myself as asexual.  I decided I wouldn't be sexual at all.  I thought of myself as evolved:  everyone else needed someone, and everyone else needed to be sexual, but I didn't.  I was one step ahead of the masses.  Someday, if they were lucky, they'd catch up to me.

Fast forward to today, and all I do is think about being gay now.  I'm in my "all gay, all the time" phase because of what I do.  To write about all matters gay, I have to have it on my mind continuously--or, if not continuously, be ready, whenever necessary, to turn in that direction. When I'm not writing about being gay, I'm reading about it, in books and newspapers, on blogs and websites.

Not only am I a gay man, but my job is to be gay, fully and completely, and to keep informed about every aspect related to being gay in 2011, because my work is to write blog posts about being gay, and to help my readers deal with being gay themselves.  Don't get me wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time I love what I do, but, sometimes, for better or worse, being gay feels like it's taken over my life.

Sometimes, I think about letting it go--not writing this blog anymore because of all the focus on being gay; surely there are other things I could write about.  Sometimes, I just want to be me and get on with living my life.  If doing that means getting involved in some aspect of being gay, so be it.  But, if I can go for long periods where I have no awareness of being gay, that would be good, too.

I mean, think about it.  I'm 52, out, partnered, and life is good.  I've never been happier or more settled with myself.  In the normal course of events, being gay isn't an issue for me.  So why, in my writing, do I keep bringing it up, as though it is?  Is being gay an issue, or does it necessarily become one because it's the focus in my reading, writing, and consciousness?  If I stop writing about it, will it go away?

And this is the answer I consistently come up with.  Just because I stop writing about it doesn't mean it ceases to be an issue; it just means I've chosen to stop being part of the ongoing conversation.  Be assured, for someone, somewhere in this world, being gay is an issue.  In fact, whether we're talking about Canada, a more liberal country, or Uganda, one of the most oppressed, being gay is an issue for someone.

There's still so much work to be done, and we need everyone on our team, gay and straight, to keep digging deeper, to keep agitating, and to keep the conversation going.  That's how, when I get down about writing this blog and wonder if I'm making a difference, I renew my focus and know in my mind and my heart that what I do here helps, if not today, then maybe tomorrow.  As I see it, I have a responsibility to play my part in any way I can.

Yes, there's still so much work to be done...
  • When teens continue to kill themselves because they're gay and bullied, there's work to be done.
  • When people still can't get married because they're gay, there's work to be done.
  • When gay people continue to hide in closets and live in fear and shame, there's work to be done.
  • When politicians continue to spew their ignorance and hate, there's work to be done.
  • When religious zealots continue to say the fate of all gay people is hell, there's work to be done.
  • When countries around the world continue to deprive gay people of their human rights, there's work to be done.
  • When some countries imprison people because they're gay, and even put them to death, there's work to be done.
  • When even one gay person is told the love he has for someone of the same gender is wrong, there's work to be done.
  • When parents prevent gay and lesbian alliances from being implemented at their local schools, there's work to be done.
  • When gay and lesbian people still have to face the shame and humiliation of coming out, instead of just being themselves, there's work to be done.
With all this work, and so much more, still left to be done, how can I not continue to write this blog, to play my part, to try to make a difference in whatever small way I can?  How can you, within your own sphere of influence, either as a gay or lesbian person, or as a gay and lesbian ally, not play your part?

We are all called to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  Our challenge is to discover what that is, and to take it on with gusto and conviction.  What are you called to do?