Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Barbra Streisand

File this under the heading of "Things I Never Thought I'd Experience in My Lifetime."

On Monday, Chris and I went to the Barbra Streisand "Back to Brooklyn" concert.

For those of you who are HUGE Barbra fans, as Chris and I are, I'll let that resonate for a moment…

Think about it–a live Barbra Streisand concert.  The one-and-only, having never performed in Vancouver before, standing on that stage a few short feet from us, her beautiful vocal instrument filling the air.  As I type the words, I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.  

To put this into perspective, Barbra's performed LIVE on eighty-eight occasions–not in the past year… but since 1964, when she performed live for the first time.  She told the sold-out crowd at Rogers Arena on Monday evening that, as she performed in New York's Central Park on June 17, 1967 (later referred to as "A Happening in Central Park"), to a crowd of 135,000, in torrential rain, she forgot a few lyrics.

Ever the perfectionist (boy, do I understand that impulse), Barbra freaked out and didn't sing live again for twenty-seven years.  (In other places, it's been reported there had been threats on her life prior to that concert, as well.)  It wasn't until the early 1990s that she triumphantly returned to the concert stage.  

I remember reading about that eighteen-city, 1994 concert tour in North America and Europe, which sold out in one hour.  Chris and I were on a bus (this was long before we owned a car) on our way to Victoria, BC's provincial capital, for several days.  We had only been together for about a year.  

The Vanity Fair article went into detail about why Barbra hadn't performed in so long, and the preparations taking place for that first tour.  At one point, I remember turning to Chris and saying, "She doesn't have a right to do that–to prevent people from experiencing her live.  When you have a talent–a gift–like she does, you have an obligation to use it, to share it with the world, and nothing should stop you from doing that."

Of course, I've since moderated my opinion somewhat, having gone through anxiety and panic attacks, as well as agoraphobia, over the past two decades.  On a personal level, I understand now more than ever how Barbra could have freaked because of everything that happened (or could have happened) during that live performance in Central Park, how fear overcame her life, and how it could overcome any of ours, at any time (even if we think it couldn't).

I wonder how many of our lives are run by fear now, how many of our gifts have been silenced because of it.  Many gay and lesbian people, not yet out of the closet, live in fear constantly, of being found out, of loved ones discovering their secret, because they're just too damn frightened (notice the timely reference to Halloween) to be themselves in a world that's still not totally accepting of us.  It scares me to think about it.

I know for a fact I held myself back many years ago from choosing the career I really wanted to pursue, because I was filled with fear, because I felt the necessity to downplay my sexual orientation.  Through much of my young adult life, I attracted attention to myself for being gay, to the extent that I couldn't take it anymore, and I made the conscious choice not to be me.  Who knows where I'd be today if I'd had the courage to embrace my gayness back then, how the decisions I made would have been different.  

Don't let your voice be silenced.  To use gay vernacular, don't allow your flame to burn lower than it's intended to, or, God forbid, to burn out altogether.  Stop pretending to be something you're not.  Stop holding yourself back from being everything you were meant to be.

Perhaps that's why Barbra Streisand is such an icon to the gay community–because she's an inspiration; because she's a survivor, having overcome fear, proving we can all do the same; because her star has shone brightly for over fifty years, and her gifts continue to spread joy and magic.

The world needs your gifts too.  Don't be held back from offering them because you're too scared to be yourself.    


  1. I came across your blog some months ago, Rick. I come back to it from time to time and find that I go away somehow feeling disturbed and enthused all at once!

    This time, today, I visited it again and was struck by your consistency in voicing so positively what it means to be gay. Some years ago, I copied down the following:

    "It is often a case of being neither glad nor proud to be gay, but finding the honesty and courage to bear its disadvantages." (Janet Watts, "Domestic Allsorts", The Tablet, 21st Nov 1998)

    Those words rang true for me. I suppose that I couldn't embrace the reality of being gay as something that was cause for rejoicing. I thought, though, that I could maybe move to accept the fact that this is who I am and get on with it. Even to do that would be a way forward from where I was (a place of having to cover up who I am).

    When I came back to your blog today, my first thought, besides your consistency, was "how hard to have to go on fighting this battle for acceptance and validation." Yet you take it beyond just the acceptance which I spoke of above and move it to a place of celebration and thanksgiving and even of giftedness and that seems worth hoping for.

    I'm not really given to commenting on anything I read but I want to say Thanks.



  2. John, I've read your comment numerous times now, and it continues to bring tears to my eyes, not because I'm particularly weepy, but for the following reasons:

    First, because I'm thrilled that you're interested enough in what I have to say to return again and again; that you would take the time to leave a comment when, as you say, you typically don't (I know what you mean; I rarely comment on anything I read on the Internet either); and that you've dignified "This Gay Relationship" with what I consider to be a beautiful, thoughtful, and measured piece of writing (if you're not already a writer, you should be).

    Second, because I feel pain in your words–like being gay is a heavy weight for you, and your life is less than what it could be because of it.

    I know you've taken from what I write that I don't look at it that way, and I can't imagine my life, or anyone else's, limited because of something out of our control. As I've written here recently (which, admittedly, took me some time to get to), being gay just is. It's neither good nor bad. It's a part of us like any other part. And there's no reason why it should add to the burden of what we already carry around on a daily basis.

    I saw a ray of hopefulness in what you wrote, and that makes me smile. While I'm not saying you should necessarily rejoice or celebrate being gay–I'm not sure I do that–what I am saying is that it's time to change the mindset that it's a cross to bear. We are all different in one way or another, and those differences are the source of our unique gifts to the world around us.

    Invariably, self-acceptance is nothing more than making the shift in how we choose to look at ourselves (believe it or not, it has, or should have, little to do with the perceptions others have of us). At any time, we have the ability to turn a negative today into a positive tomorrow (or, at the very least, a neutral). And, where being gay is concerned, that's what I sincerely hope you'll have the courage and the grace to do.

    Again, my sincere thanks for your comment. I am blessed to have received it.

    1. I've just come back to your blog, tonight, Ray, and read your words in response to what I wrote.

      You hope for me both courage and grace. Yes, both seem to be pertinent here.

      Courage: I know I have grown in this respect (maybe it comes with age, too; life is too short for remaining trapped in fear of others' perceptions and those I've made my own...).

      Grace: well, grace is grace and can't be forced or manufactured. I can only hope to be open to being surprised by it and hope to be receptive. It's not exaggerating to say that what I've read in your blog speaks to me of grace.

      Again, thanks.


    2. Thank you for your follow-up comment, John. It's good to hear from you again.

      I received an email from another reader several months ago, who said something that coincided with what you wrote. As a result, I found myself inspired to write a dedicated post tentatively titled "Lifting the Weight of Being Gay," which I expect to publish within the next few days. I hope you'll check it out.

      In the meantime, I appreciate your interest in my blog and your kind words. I hope "This Gay Relationship" continues to be a place where you and other readers find solace and encouragement on your journeys to understand and accept yourselves.

      All the very best.