Monday, December 30, 2013

Dear Matthew



Below is my response to a question I received recently in an email from Matthew.  He asked:

What was it that turned the tides for you, and allowed you to let go of your self-hatred [as a gay man]?

Dear Matthew,

Your question is an intriguing one.  I've given it some thought over the past several days, and I'm going to begin by answering the second part first.        

You make the assumption that I've let go of my self-hatred, and that it no longer affects me.  But that assumption is incorrect.  Yes, I'm more aware today than I was in the past that I have a streak of self-hatred in me.  And, yes, being more aware allows me to live more consciously and take better control of those times when I still feel it.

But the truth is, I don't know if it's possible for any of us to overcome our self-hatred altogether.  To arrive at that happy day and time when we can say, I used to hate myself, but, now, I no longer do.  To say I've totally made peace with my sexual orientation, and, from this day forward, I will never feel negative about it or be affected by it.  I don't think we ever get to that place, and, if someone tells you he has, be suspect of it.  

I believe the most we can do is manage it.  We can't get rid of it altogether, because we are not in control of everything that happens around us.  We never know, for example, if someone will yell "faggot" at us from a moving car (which happened to Chris and me only a few years ago).  Or if someone we pass in a grocery store will give us that look, the same one we've received countless times and recognize as disgust (which I wrote about in a recent post). 

For me, even at my age, and even after I've worked for some time at overcoming my self-loathing, instances such as these continue to take me back to when I was that kid, or that younger man, all those years ago, and encountered people who had already made up their minds about who I was on the basis of my sexual orientation alone.  And who made it very clear how they felt about me.

I've come to the conclusion that, unless you are one strong individual, and in complete control of your feelings at all times, you will likely always be affected by the insensitive things that some people say or do.  All any of us really wants is to be loved, or, at the very least, liked and accepted.  When we receive the opposite of that, well, it's a tough thing to process, and it can't help but influence how we feel about ourselves.

But–and I want to be really clear on this point–the work involved in overcoming self-hatred is still worth it.  Had I not discovered that I hated myself some time ago, and started to take the steps to turn that around, I wouldn't be where I am today.  And where I am today is a far cry better than where I was before, when I bought into all the bullshit about what other people thought about me, and when I allowed what other people thought about me to affect how I felt about myself.

All I'm saying is this:  I'm not sure the work to overcome self-hatred ever ends.  You will need to be  continuously vigilant to fight against what other people think of you, and, sadly, what you end up thinking about yourself as a result.  It's a constant struggle, but it's definitely worth your time and effort.  Doing the work will change the course of your life for the better.  You have to believe me when I say that.  And I know for a fact most other gay people would say the same thing. 

Okay, so let's take a look at the first part of your question.

What turned the tides for me (as you put it), in terms of starting to let go of my self-hatred, was so simple when it happened that it scared me.  It prompted me to think, if it really is this simple, why did it take me so long to get it?  And, almost immediately, it began to lift the heavy weight I'd been carrying around for the better part of my life.   

While I've written a dedicated blog post on this very subject, I'll try to summarize it here: 

I remember it was the early 1990s, and I was walking home one day.  Out of nowhere came an epiphany, and the epiphany was this:  Almost all of us, gay or straight, feel some form of self-hatred.  Usually, the self-hatred we feel is the result of the way we're different from other people, and how some people judge us because of how we're different. 

It doesn't matter how you're different.  Whether you're Asian, or female, or black, or overweight, or Jewish, or gay, or what have you, someone out there doesn't like you for some stereotypical reason associated with what you are and not who you are (because they don't know you as a human being; they haven't given themselves the chance to find out about you in your amazing and wonderful complexity). 

What struck me when I realized this was, I didn't look at these people who were judged in the same way at all.  In most cases, I thought they were beautiful and incredible human beings, and I didn't believe for a moment they should hate themselves for any reason whatsoever.  In other words, perhaps because I knew I'd been judged unfairly in the past, I didn't see them in the same way as those who judged them did, and I didn't treat them like some stereotype.  

And here's the key piece that helped start my recovery, that opened a crack and helped me see myself in an entirely different way:  If it was possible that other people were judged unfairly because of how they were different, was it also possible that I was judged unfairly because of the way I was different? 

Those around me, who knew I was gay and liked me anyway (I thought this was a contradiction at the time), didn't understand why my self-esteem was so low.  Why I was so down on myself.  Why I was consumed with self-loathing.  To them, there was nothing wrong with me, no reason whatsoever why I shouldn't see myself the same way they saw me.  And it occurred to me that they felt about me in the same way I felt about those people who I knew were judged because of their differences, but didn't deserve to be. 

For the first time, I really saw myself through the eyes of those who knew about me and accepted me anyway, or maybe even accepted me because of it.  I realized I was no different from anyone else.  That is, I was no better or no worse.  I was just the same. 

That realization opened up my world.  Because I had always thought, as a result of what I'd heard about gay people over the years, that I was inferior and unworthy.  That I was less than scum.  In extreme cases, that I was actually worse than rapists and murderers.  All at once, I knew this was not the case.  I was different from other people, yes, but the way I was different was no better or worse than the way anyone else was different.  That made me equal to everyone around me, no matter who they were, or the way they were different.   

And since I knew I couldn't do anything to change how I was different–that it was just the way I was, that it was the way I was made, even–I knew I had no choice:  I was compelled to accept my homosexuality in a way I never had before–even when I'd come out many years previously–and I had to believe, finally, that I no longer deserved to hate myself because of it.

Matthew, I'm afraid I may have confused you with all this, and made something very simple more complex than it need be.  On a personal level, all you really need to understand is that, as a gay young man, you are like everyone else, no better and no worse.  And, as such, you are just as worthy, and valuable, and amazing.

Every human life has value, and it isn't because one is gay that one's life is worth any less.

Being gay is nothing more than another way of being in the world, that's just as acceptable as any other way.  And, when we get that, we discover there's no reason whatsoever to hate ourselves.

That's when we reach a turning point, when we realize we can't live for anyone else anymore.  Or, rather, we can't allow ourselves to be influenced by what some people have said about us for far too long.  Realizing this gives us the right to take back control of our lives, to believe in our intrinsic value as human beings, and to fulfill our unique and meaningful purpose for being here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from "This Gay Relationship"




This is the photograph Chris and I used on our customized Christmas card this year.  It's of the two of us at the summit of Whistler Mountain, when we were there on the final great week of summer weather in September of this year.  As you can see, it was a glorious day.  (For those of you who don't know, I'm on the right.)

From Chris and me to all of you, may you have the merriest of Christmases ever.  And all the very best in 2014.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How Sweet It Is (To Wait Sometimes)


I can’t believe I’m about to say this–the guy who hates waiting for anything, who wants everything yesterday–but, sometimes, things are so much sweeter the longer we wait for them. 

Take, for example, two weeks ago.  I was in our master bedroom closet, moving around some clothes, when I saw a large cardboard tube in the corner, with the word Regis repeatedly printed in swirls around it.  I hadn’t come across this tube in nearly five years, not since our last move.       

For those of you who don’t live in the area, Regis used to be/still is a local picture place, where you could/can buy various posters, from those of teen crushes to art prints, as well as get them framed (I don’t know if any Regis outlets are still open; I haven’t seen one in a long time).  Without looking inside the tube, I knew what was it contained.   

Many years ago, shortly after Chris and I moved in together (if I remember correctly), he special-ordered a print, either for my birthday or Christmas, when we still bought gifts (now, if we buy anything for each other, it’s usually of nominal value). 

At the time, our apartment was decorated with a assortment of Disney-themed prints–from art posters of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, to commemorative prints of the theme parks (for example, the fifteenth anniversary of Walt Disney World in Florida).  What can I say?  I was a huge Disney fan at the time.  Still am, especially of the one-and-only, original Disney theme park, Disneyland, in Anaheim, California.  But my feelings about The Walt Disney Company in general are more measured now. 

At any rate, Chris special-ordered this print for me.  I remember thinking at the time it was one of the nicest, if not the nicest, print in my collection.  In the style of an American folk art wood painting, with a little aging thrown in, it featured a full-on portrait of Mickey Mouse from his heyday back in the early to mid-twentieth century, with a red, white, and blue banner surrounding it.  Very American for a Canadian, to be sure, but entirely appealing to a Disney fanatic like me. 

I don’t know why, but, for some reason, I didn’t get the print framed right away.  Perhaps I didn’t have the money at the time.  Perhaps I thought our walls already had enough Disney art on them.  Perhaps, since we’d just moved in together and decorated our apartment with everything I owned, I believed it was time we bought something together, a non-Disney piece, so Chris felt like he hadn’t moved into my place.      

Fast forward some nineteen or so years, there I was in my closet, picture tube in hand.  And reminiscing about how many places Chris and I had moved together over the years, each time packing up the tube in a wardrobe box and bringing it with us–our condo in Fairview Slopes in Vancouver, a rental on Songhees in Victoria, our townhouse up from Mayfair Mall in Victoria, and, finally, our single-family home in the Lower Mainland, where we live now.  That tube and print have seen a lot of miles and years, yet it’s still around.  Thankfully, it didn’t get lost in the shuffle somewhere.   

I brought the tube downstairs where Chris sat at the island in the kitchen, reading the newspaper.  “Remember this?” I asked, pulling the large plastic plug out of the end of it, rolling the print inside tighter with my fingers, and removing it carefully.  After I laid it on the island and opened it, I secured the corners with whatever heavy items were available.  Then we looked at it.  To me, it was even more beautiful than I remembered.   

I suspect Chris knew from my comments that I was disappointed I’d never had it framed over the years.  It occurred to me that he must have thought the reason why I hadn’t, when I’d earned my own income and could have afforded it, was because it wasn’t worth it, didn’t measure up to all the other Disney pictures I already had.  Of course, he would have been wrong.  (By the way, the other framed Disney prints are long gone.  I donated all of them to a garage sale the staff at the centre I worked at in Victoria at the time held in support of a local hospital, selling all six or seven for $150, a fraction of what they cost me.  As I recall, they were bought by a fellow who planned to hang them in a place for children.  That was a good enough reason for me to let them go for such a small amount.)

I was so glad when Chris spoke up and suggested the time had come to get the print framed.  I couldn’t have agreed more. 

Several hours later, we stood in our local Michael's outlet, playing around with an assortment of different colored matte samples and wooden frames, eventually agreeing on a combination that not only complemented the print but also retained the spirit of it.  We paid our money–a hell of a lot more than I would have thought, even at a supposed 60% discount–and were told it would be ready within two weeks.

This last Friday, after dinner at home, Chris and I drove to Michael's to pick up the framed print.  The young lady there set it on the counter, lifted the masking tape, and carefully opened the craft paper wrapped around it.     

I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the result, but not for the most obvious reasons. 

Sure, it’s a classy, tasteful Disney print, representing both the better parts of the Disney I still cherish, as well as a whole other era of my life.  Sure, it’s professionally matted and framed.  And, sure, I'll be able to see it every time I look up from the table in my writing room.   

But it’s also about Chris, the man I’ve loved with all my heart for many years, whose thoughtfulness, at a time when he was about half his age, overwhelmed me then and still overwhelms me now.   

And it’s about us. 

We were going through a rough time back then.  Something happened between us that shook my foundation and made me doubt we’d last as a couple for another month, let alone for another twenty years.    

That framed picture is a symbol, really–of what we’ve been through together, of our commitment to each other, and of our enduring love.  Every time I look at it, I will smile and think about how remarkable life is sometimes, how fortunate I am, and how things couldn’t have turned out better for us. 

It would have been simple to have that print framed when I first received it.  But I can't tell you how waiting, and framing it now, means so much more.    

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Keep 'Em to Yourself

In surfing the Web the other day, I found an article by a somewhat well-known gay man, who wrote about how important it is that we, as gay people, understand, accept, and love ourselves–a subject near and dear to my heart.

Below the article were reader’s comments.  One was no more than a single line, but it caught my attention for the wrong reason.  The reader said something to the effect of, when did the writer of the article not love himself?

It struck me that the tone and the intent of the comment was inappropriate (in gay male parlance:  bitchy).  And I found myself asking the question, instead of perpetuating the putdowns that have been directed at all of us at one time or another, why can’t we say something nice?  Or, if we don’t have anything nice to say, why can’t we keep it to ourselves?     

I liken this to a parent who's always ready with a disparaging comment for his child, because it's an automatic reflex, and because the parent wouldn't want the child to get the idea he's more important than he really is.  I hope this feels as wrong to you as it does to me. 

My point is, haven’t we been through enough?  Can’t one gay person support another gay person, without thinking that doing so makes the other person look better?  Can’t we put our petty jealousies aside?  Can't we build each other up, rather than cut each other down?  Can't we recognize the struggle we've all been through to accept and love ourselves, and support each other in that regard?  Can’t we be there for each other, in a way that society in general often isn’t?

If you’re a gay man, and your schtick is to cut someone down with petty, snappy comments, think before you open your mouth.  Or before you leave a comment on a website.  Nobody needs, or deserves, your negative energy.     

If we can’t love and support each other, who will?     

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thought for the Day, #70

 
Would you like your own sexuality mocked and derided?  No?  Then don't do it to other people.

*
 
There's the world in the state it's in, and here are the religions talking about homosexuality and doctrines.  This is what they should be talking about: the ethos of compassion, which is the task of our time.

Both quotes are from Karen Armstrong, TED prizewinner, author, and expert on world religions.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

On Fire

I can't tell you how many times I have to stop myself.  How many times I'm so angry about something that has to do with my being gay, that I want to get on this blog and let someone have it, because he needs the shit kicked out of him, or he needs to be shaken violently, until his brain cells fall into place so he can think clearly, like a rational human being.  Or I just need, for my own mental well-being, to relieve the pressure inside, because I'll go insane if I don't.

The recent crackdown on gay people in Russia (imagine what it's like to be gay there now); the way too many countries on the African continent treat their gay and lesbian citizens, even executing them because of who they love; the young people all over North America who are bullied into committing suicide; even the gay bashings you hear about from time to time in our largest cities, where, supposedly, people are more accepting of each other's differences.  Every one of these–and so many more–enrage me, set me on fire.  And I want more than anything to get on my blog, to use my voice, to rave about them, to go on and on if I have to, until the poison leaves my body, and I can put one foot in front of the other and function again.     

But I made the decision a couple of years ago to change the tone of what I write here, to take the high road, to be positive and uplifting, to write about things that build-up rather than tear-down.  I no longer wanted to be like some other bloggers, angry all the time, using their platforms to sound off, to figuratively kick people in the head.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I just wanted to be different.  I wanted to create a safe place for gay and lesbian people, particularly young people, as luck would have it, to turn to.  To know that, when they came here, they'd hopefully leave feeling better about themselves and their lives and the world they live in.  They'd find the strength to get through whatever's going on in their lives.   

To repeat, this doesn't mean that I never feel like those who use their blogs to express their anger.  In fact, I feel like them all the time, especially when I see or read about some of the fucked up stuff going on in the world.  Here's the most recent example. 

Yesterday, I watched a video by a young Canadian named Michael Gorlick.  Briefly, after Michael lived in Vancouver for a year or so, he got to the point where, at the age of twenty-two, he couldn't take it anymore.  His life was consumed by depression.  He'd accepted that he was gay, but, because he was so scared, he hadn't been able to come out to any of his family and friends.  Throughout his depression, he'd called his mother in Ontario, and she'd been a godsend in helping him get through it.  But he hadn't been able to share the reason why he was in despair in the first place.     

Finally, he decided the time was now.  He packed up his car and drove through the northern United States to get back home to Toronto.  His plan was to sit down with every family member, starting with his mom, and friend to tell them about himself, an act I don't need to tell you takes an enormous amount of courage, more than most straight people will ever know.  And that's what he did, taping each one, which he shares in his video.  Watching each coming out moment, I couldn't help but be nervous for him, as I waited for someone to turn on him, reject him outright, because all he did was say he's gay. 

It never happened.  Every person Mike spoke to, each one individually (the courage!), accepted him, embraced him, told him that they loved him, knew all along he was gay, and were so proud of him for taking this critical step toward being who he was always meant to be, toward getting on with the rest of his life.

The love extended to Mike was extraordinary.  I felt it through the video.  And I gave it back.  I loved Mike for what he was doing, for how brave he was, and for sharing his coming out experience in such detail, so it could benefit other people, those who are also gay and have yet to come out, and those who could one day find themselves sitting across from someone like Mike and hear the words, "I'm gay"–filled with all the desperation and the hope and the love one can muster.  What an amazing young man Mike was.  What an amazing man or woman any of us is when we have to go through this.

Which is what got me so angry.  Here we are, in 2013, nearly thirty years after I came out.  And still, STILL, people have to come out.  People have to go through what I did all those years ago, what Mike had to go through recently, what people have had to go through for decades, if not longer.  Can a straight person, who has never had to come out to anyone about his sexuality, ever know what it's like to face one of the most important people in his life and say, "I'm gay"?

There is no equivalent for straight people.  Straight people haven't got a clue.  They don't have to offer themselves up like that, make themselves so vulnerable to the possible prejudices and bigotry of people who have no idea what it's like to be gay.  For straight people–the majority of our population–it's just assumed they're straight, and they get to go on with their lives.  No soul searching.  No anguish for years and years.  No having to accept a part of themselves that so many still find loathsome.  No depression.  No despair.  No thoughts of suicide.  No possibility of rejection.  No having to come out, time and after time after time, throughout their entire lives, to new people they meet–friends, co-workers, long lost Aunt Mabel.  No fuss, no muss.  Ain't life easy.

It should be that easy for all of us.

Why does even one gay human being have to go through this torturous process?  Why, considering how things have improved so much for gay people, particularly in North America, is coming out still necessary?  Why don't we just accept people as they are, gay, straight, whatever?  Why do we even care what one's sexual orientation is?  Why do we make the assumption people are straight, until we put them in the regrettable position of having to tell us otherwise?  

When is this fucking nonsense going to end?  When?  WHEN?             

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thought for the Day, #69

The connection between acceptance of who and what we are, loving ourselves, and the ability to accept and give love continues to surface in my reading.  Here are a few more thoughts on the subject:

If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?  (RuPaul)

The path to self-acceptance is merely a path to finding love within you.  No matter who you are, everyone has something that they struggle with.  Learning to allow yourself to be human and love yourself regardless is true self-acceptance.  It is only through accepting yourself for all the things you are and anything you aren't that you can allow others to embrace you.  (Tyler Curry)

Many times for me, it has been through someone else['s] love and acceptance of who I am, that I have learned to love myself.  (Justin Harmeson)

All quotes are from "Op-ed:  Love Starts with Acceptance," Tyler Curry, advocate.com 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pansy


  
Pansy:  (informal offensive)  an effeminate or homosexual man
– from The Oxford American Dictionary


My father called me a pansy.  Once.  That's all that was needed.

We lived in Dawson Creek at the time.  My father was home from the store for lunch.  It must have been a Saturday, because I was home from school too.

I remember I was moping around the house, complaining I was bored.  Not the most patient man, particularly with his two children, my father wanted me out of his way.  He told me to go outside, ride my bicycle.   

I stood in front of the dining room window, just outside the kitchen where my father sat, looking at the grey, bleak neighborhood.  I thought there must be something wrong with him.  It was early spring, and there were still large patches of snow on the grass in the backyard.  

I told my father it was too cold to go outside and ride my bike.  His response was terse.  And he called me a pansy. 

It wasn't his voice I heard then.  It was the voice of any one of the bullies at the elementary school I went to, whose name-calling had cut over and over again.  I learned my father was no different from them.

I bet it felt good to say that.  I bet he'd been looking for the chance to tell me how he really felt about me.

Perhaps he thought calling me that would toughen me up, change me into the little boy he really wanted, make me less shameful to him in front of our neighbors, whose sons were real little boys.  Not like me.     

I'm 54 now.  My father has been dead for nearly a year.  Every time I see a pansy, I think of him.  You never forget. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thought for the Day, #68

I'm not the only one to make the connection between how gay men were forced to be, AIDS, and society's disapproval of homosexuality.  Here's what Douglas Todd, The Vancouver Sun's columnist on all matters related to spirituality, had to say on the subject in a recent article:

Gary was one of the early ones to die as a result of unprotected sex that many closeted gays of his era [the 1970s and '80s] had in bathhouses and steambaths.  Socially approved homosexual relationships were then not an option.

(From "AIDS progress came only through suffering," Douglas Todd, The Vancouver Sun, Monday, November 25, 2013, p. A4.)

You can decide for yourself how much society then was to blame for the tragic and useless deaths of tens of thousands of young, talented gay men, who died from AIDS.  Who knows how much better off we might be today if they'd lived?

 

Thought for the Day, #67



 
Next to accepting themselves and overcoming self-loathing, the single greatest challenge most gay men experience is finding a partner.

In my reading, I read these quotes from Andrew Holleran, well-known writer of the seminal Dancer of the Dance, published in 1978:

A friend of mine told me that a psychiatrist in New York once told him that whenever anybody walked into his office and said, "Oh, I want a lover and I can't find a lover," he'd say, "Oh, stop it.  If you wanted a lover, you'd have a lover."

And: 

In the end, the people who don't have lovers fundamentally at some level don't want one.  And so don't bitch about it.

Quotes taken from "Andrew Holleran," Something Inside: Conversations with Gay Fiction Writers, Philip Gambone, p. 179.

What do you think?  Is there some truth to Holleran's assertions?

Thought for the Day, #66


 

To all those people who say that gay people are unable to love, I ask every single husband and wife, who are in love, to just feel what I'm feeling.  Even for just ten minutes.  I don't wish this on anybody.

From the Linda Bloodworth Thomason documentary Bridegroom, following Thomas Bridegroom's tragic accident in May 2011.  This quote is from a video taken by Shane Bitney Crone, Thomas's partner of six years, as he deals with his loss.  



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Response to Recent Comments, Part Two

Comment #2, received November 26, 2013  (My response is in italics.)

Thanks, Rick, for replying. I just wanted to expand a little bit. I think it's an unarguable truth that we all want love and someone to love. On that basis, I think there's only so much a familial love can fulfill us, and that's why we seek a partner to fall in love, and start our own family.

I could not agree more.  I completely believe we are here to love.  In fact, that is the only reason we’re here, a truth which eludes some.  And, no, familial love isn’t enough.  If we’re lucky, we experience familial love, in a form we recognize as such (some of us don’t, like me), and that allows us to move into our adult lives, ready and able to share our love with that special someone.   

Being single is okay, but you cannot experience the full spectrum of what life has to offer by being single. It's just okay.

From time to time, I receive a comment or email from someone who doesn’t get the whole relationship thing, who claims he’s happy as a single person and couldn’t imagine it any other way.  Like I said in Part One, different strokes.  But, deep inside that person, I believe there is a big hole, waiting to be filled with the experience of love from someone else.  He just hasn’t realized it yet. 

To go through this entire life without experiencing love from someone other than family would seem to me akin to being only partly alive.  I feel sorry for anyone like that.  Even loving fully and completely, and losing, is still better than never loving at all.  Until you’ve been in love–real and true and deep love–don’t tell me you’d rather be single, because I won’t believe you.


I know this because I had several partners who thought the world of me, but to whom I could never fully reciprocate. To them it was pain, because they cannot get what they crave - my heart. Again, the issue is not with me, because it is not difficult for me to fall in love - with a straight guy.

Oh, dude.  Read that again, will you?  Don’t you get it?  The issue is not with you?  Then who is the issue with?  Every partner you’ve ever been with?  So all of them were wrong, and you were right?  Who is the common denominator here?  You!  That’s right.

And I know exactly the problem.  You have no trouble falling in love with a straight guy, but you can’t give your heart to a gay guy?  If that isn’t homophobia, I don’t know what is.  And you know why I can say that?  Because I felt the exact same way. 

For years, I found straight guys more attractive than gay guys. I won’t get into the whole thing with gay guys being attracted to straight guys (in fact, I wrote a post about it previously, even calling it a fetish I had), but you need to open your eyes. 

What is it about straight guys that appeals to you that you don’t find in gay guys?  Straight guys are more masculine?  The idea of being with a straight guy not only turns you on sexually (converting a straight guy is a big gay guy fantasy, if you didn’t already know), but I’d be willing to bet you crave the validation from a straight guy too.  Here’s how it goes:  If I can get a straight guy to love me, then he’ll show me that being gay isn’t so bad after all.  In other words, his attention and love will show me I’m a valued human being. 

But it’s a big illusion, because if you got a straight guy, technically, he wouldn’t be straight, would he?  Then what?  When he gave you his heart, you’d withdraw yours, because he’s no longer truly straight?

Not to mention that if you’re self-accepting, then you shouldn’t need validation from a straight guy to make you feel good about yourself.  You should already feel good about yourself.  Do you see that?


One of them was so depressed to the point, he was suicidal. I had to take him to the hospital to an emergency room. I didn't leave him abruptly, nor was I cold towards him, because I totally understood how he felt. I wanted the same - I mean, not necessarily the same, but to be in a mutual satisfying relationship with someone. Regardless of straight or gay, we all want that - because it IS our heart's desire. Even the Bible says so.

Wow!  I feel sorry for this fellow (the one who was suicidal).  Just on the basis of what you wrote here, I’d say he was definitely suffering from low self-esteem, and he saw your leaving as figuratively ending his life, which he literally wanted to carry through on.  This is a manifestation of how desperate some gay men are when it comes to accepting themselves for who and what they are, and finding the love for themselves that is key to their/our mental health in general.    

That being said, I think being gay is a big challenge, almost a curse,

A disability in one comment and a curse in the other.  Please reread my comment in Part One about this.  Being gay is neither.  It just is.  What makes all the difference in the world, in every aspect of your life, is how you look at it.  You create your own reality by how you look at something like your sexual orientation.   

…that cannot be changed to become a blessing by our own will/strength,

I don’t know if I’d call being gay a blessing.  That said, because I’m gay, I have this blog, and I’ve met some incredible people, like you, as a result.  I consider that a blessing.

And, because I’m gay, I met my partner, Chris–the most extraordinary human being I know–and have experienced the best twenty-one years of my life with him.  I consider that a blessing.

I can’t know what my life would be like if I were straight–although, in my less happier days, I gave some thought to what that might look like–but I can tell you I’m one blessed man.  Whether that’s because I’m gay or not, you decide for yourself.

…but it is somewhat dependent upon external factors such as finding the right one for you.

Gay or straight, external factors will always affect our lives, including finding the right person.  But let me tell you this.  Just because you’re straight, and find who you believe to be the right person, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happy, or you’ve got it made.  Just ask all those straight people out there who got married, thinking they had it made, and are now divorced.

In other words, gay and straight people have an equal chance of being blessed by external factors (which are largely out of our control), including finding the right person.  There are no guarantees.  All you can do is the best you can do in all areas of your life. But a positive attitude almost always means you’ll find yourself in a better place than if you have a negative attitude.

It is just okay with being by yourself. We can be somewhat happy by being single, but never be fully fulfilled until we meet our heart's desire and are in a fulfilling relationship.

Agreed.  I've already commented on this.  

So I think it is wrong for you to say I am wrong.

I haven’t said you’re wrong.  As far as not being fulfilled until we meet our heart’s desire and are in a fulfilling relationship, I couldn’t agree more.  I’m an example of that in my relationship with Chris.

Because essentially, what I am saying is very basic and fundamental, that it is irrefutable. Anyhow, thank you for your response, and I look forward to your new post you promised on this topic.

Thank you for your comment.  I sincerely hope I've written something here that got you thinking, and maybe helped you to look at yourself and your life a little differently.  Sometimes, that's all we need–a little push in another direction.     

Response to Recent Comments, Part One

The following is a comment I received from a reader to a post I published here in July 2011.  My comments are captured in italics.  

The second comment I received from the same reader follows in a separate post titled "Response to Recent Comments, Part Two."


Comment #1, received November 25, 2013 

Hi Rick. I doubt you will answer…

As I wrote to this reader, in a separate and briefer response, I answer every comment and email I receive from readers–with only a few exceptions.  If you are not respectful of me and my other readers, or if you write a complimentary comment, but, when I click on your name, I’m taken to a website where you’re trying to sell something, like a hook up service, or sex toys, or what-have-you, then, no, I will not respond.  And I won't publish your comment on my blog either.  Be warned.  Don't waste your time.  

…but I actually think different. I mean I agree with you about the self-acceptance part and all, but what about those who never had problem with himself? For example, I never had issue with my own sexuality or self-identity…

If you are totally self-accepting, and you truly don’t have a problem with your sexual orientation, then I’d say you are the exception to the rule.  Because, in general, most gay people, who’ve received the message their entire lives that there’s something wrong with them, just because they’re attracted to, and seek love from, someone of their own gender, are not so self-accepting.  But I will take your word for it that you don’t have a problem with yourself.  I would only ask that you be conscious of your internal dialogue and any instance, large or small, where you put yourself down, especially because of your sexual orientation.  If you feel at all inferior to straight people because you’re gay, then you have some work to do.  

...it's just that I can't seem to find a partner. I'm sure you are well aware by now, but it is actually way harder for gay men to find the right one for him - I mean WAY HARDER.

Yes, I’d agree that it may be more difficult for gay people to find the right one.  I think there are several reasons for that:  1).  self-acceptance issues (which I covered above); 2).  a lack of safe, social places in many towns and cities, where gay people can meet each other; and 3).  any other obstacle you end up putting in your way (and there are many, which I touch on below).

Some lucky ones may have a partner for many years, but I hear more than 90% of the couples who've been together for more than 5 years are in an open relationship.

I can neither dispute nor agree with your figure of 90%, although it seems a little high.  I will say I’ve known some couples who are in open relationships, but I’ve also known others who are not.
  
Monogamous and open relationships exist for both straight and gay couples.  It’s just that you may be more aware of open gay relationships because you’re gay yourself, and because of the circles you travel in.  

I don’t agree with open relationships in general, for either straight or gay people, which I’ve made clear in some of my earlier posts.  But to each his own.  If it’s not something you want for yourself, hold to your guns and don’t cave in, should you ever find yourself at that crossroad.  Better yet, before you get involved with anyone, be sure neither of you wants an open relationship, and make that a condition of your being together.  Chris and I both agreed at the outset we would never accept open relationships, and we continue to be monogamous to this day, after over twenty-one years together.        

I'm not going to judge that, but I just want to find someone just for me and be happy. It seems like it's impossible for me - and I've realized it's not just me, but actually most gay men are single, lonely, and not really happy.

You’ve just stated what your goal is–“to find someone just for me and be happy”–so that is what you must achieve.  Anything less is not good enough.  

It was my goal long before I met Chris, and it continues to be my goal.  I believe that it helped me find Chris back in June 1992, and it’s helped me stay with him, in a loving, committed relationship, for all these years.

Don’t let go of your goal.  It’s tough to achieve it, yes.  But it’s possible.  If I can do it, and other gay couples I’ve met can do it, so can you.  Believe.

I think being gay is like a disability - it's a big challenge given us, mostly by birth. It's a challenge we can't really overcome while being on this earth.

I’m hearing homophobia here.  I don’t think being gay is any more of a disability than being African-American is, or being a woman, or being Asian, for example.  In other words, I don't consider it a disability at all.

When you attach that label to it–disability–you stigmatize not only the sexual orientation itself, but also anyone who has that sexual orientation, including yourself.  Did you get that?  You stigmatize yourself too.  Isn’t that a form of non-self-acceptance?  I think it is. 

Yeah, being gay has it’s challenges, but so does everything else.  As I’ve written before, being gay is being gay.  At the end of the day, it’s neither good nor bad–it just is.  It’s how you choose to look at it, either as a straight or gay person, that turns it into something else.  You can see it negatively or positively.  Whatever you choose will affect how it manifests in your life.  Do you see that? 
  

You know, accepting yourself is a basic, elementary step - at least it was for me.

Now that I’ve had my say on this subject for a bit, do you still agree with your statement above?

It was always extremely difficult, near impossible to find the right match for me. My standard is not the problem…

Are you sure about that?  You would not be the first person to put all kinds of obstacles in your way when it comes to meeting other gay men and deciding if they are right for you.  I did the very same thing before I met Chris, and look where it got me.  I entered my thirties still very much alone and lonely, and I seriously thought I didn’t have a chance of ever meeting the right guy.

Now, I’m not saying to throw all your standards out the window and accept the next guy who walks into your life.  Standards are a good thing.  Standards allow you to identify what you will live with and what you won’t live with.  For example, I wouldn’t be with an alcoholic, someone who takes drugs of any kind, or a smoker.  These are non-negotiable, deal-breakers.  If you're involved in any of these things, you're not the one for me.  Moving on.  But when you have some gay men saying they must be with someone who has blond hair, a buff body, or a large you-know-what, well, then they’ve taken standards too far and deserve to be alone until they figure themselves out (not to mention, get their priorities straight).    


…but I seem to find a lot of straight men attractive.  Also, I believe there is no issue with me, because actually many gay guys seem to fall head over heels for me. I was just never able to reciprocate to those gay guys. Yes, I believe being straight has its perks, which most gay guys don't have. We coined the term and call "gaydar" for a reason, right? I would like to think I could tell most of the time who is gay or not. Anyhow, I derailed.

I’ll comment about this in Part Two.

I think being gay is a challenge we can't overcome by ourselves.

I take this to mean you think we can't overcome the “gay challenge,” as you put it, unless we're with someone else in a loving relationship.  One, I may have at one time thought being gay is a challenge, and, as a gay man, some days are certainly more interesting than others.  But, overall, I don’t think being gay is a challenge anymore.  And two, I don’t think we can be dependent on someone else to help us with what we perceive to be a challenge.  Not to mention, being with someone else in a relationship can’t change your mind about whether or not being gay is a challenge. 

What if I told you today, this very day, you can change how you look at being gay and no longer see it as a challenge?  And what if I told you that, if you did that, you’d begin to live a whole other experience of being gay?  Because that’s exactly what would happen.  I’m not saying you would never see gay as being a challenge again.  But what I am saying is, in general, your whole orientation in life would be different, because you don’t see being gay as a challenge, disability, or (as you put it in your second comment) curse.  Listen, the choice is always yours.  Continue to look at being gay this way, or change it.  Whatever you do will set the course of your life.   


Our hearts' desire will never be quenched - at least, not fully. Maybe some of us were able to, but most of us can't. Most of us just live an "okay" life - cause without that someone, how can we be truly happy??? It's just okay. No, I cannot be happy by self-exploration or whatever. I'm done with that. I don't see any other way for me to be fully content in life but to find that One.

Please see my comment in Part Two.

I am not hopeful about finding that person,

All we have is hope.  When you no longer have that, what do you have?  Think about it.

…and I have stopped looking - but if it is meant to be, I guess I will find that person...someday.

There’s resignation in your words, which concerns me.  But, overall, I think you’re on the right track.  When I really and truly stopped looking–really and truly stopping looking and saying you have are two different things–I met Chris.  I’m not saying the same thing will happen to you.  What I am saying is, live your life.  Live it to the best of your ability, whether you’re single or coupled.  Make the most of every day.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself because you’re not in a relationship.  Stop thinking your life is less than because you’re still single.  Make the most of being single, in the way I’d expect you’d make the most of being in a relationship. 

And, yes, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.  I believe with all my heart there is at least one person out there for all of us.  I strongly suggest you believe the same thing.  But don’t wait around for it to happen.  When, not if, it’s meant to happen, it will.  Until then, this is your time to become the best damn human being you can.  Use this opportunity to work on yourself.  Be the best person you can be, first and foremost, to yourself.  Because you’ll need all of that, and so much more, when the right man comes into your life. 

When you are ready, it will happen.  I worry it may have already happened, and you didn’t recognize it at the time.  So now's your chance to open your eyes.  Figure out some of the things I’ve commented on.  There is a reason why you’re still single, just as there was a reason I was still single before I met Chris.  Work on finding out that reason.  And don’t give up until you figure it out.  Otherwise, you may never get what you most want, and that would be a real shame.


Please be sure to check out Part Two in a separate post.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Do You Do?

Last evening, I attended a session of a local writing group, featuring a guest speaker talking about blogging.  It's the second such session I've attended.  The first was in October.

Since Chris and I moved here in early 2009, we haven't extended ourselves into the community.  Other than becoming acquainted with a handful of employees at stores we frequent, and a few neighbors, we've been isolated.  

I've thought about connecting with other writers in the area for years, even posting a notice in a nearby coffee shop, in the hope of starting my own writing group (which went nowhere).  Then I heard about this writing group and decided to check it out, recognizing the need to meet people who have the same interest I do.         

The sessions are informal.  They're held in a large lobby, where seating arrangements consist of what's available in the facility at the time–from bar tables and stools, to upholstered easy chairs and sofas, to large, round tables with four chairs around them.  Yesterday, I arrived early enough to take my place alone at a large, round table.  Who, I wondered, would I be seated with? 

Before long, two chairs were taken away, leaving only one to my left.  An older woman walked up and asked if anyone was using it.  I said no, and she sat down.

I'm not good at small talk, but, after the older woman had settled in, I introduced myself (I couldn't sit there and say nothing, could I?).  Once we learned each other's name, I went one step further and asked about–what else?–her writing: what type of writing she does, what she's working on now.  I listened to her for several minutes before she asked me about my own writing.

I told her I'm one third of the way through rewrites of a novel.  She seemed impressed.  Then she asked what genre it is.  An innocent, even appropriate, question, given our common interest.  But I hadn't prepared myself for it.   Of course, the genre is Gay and Lesbian.  But, instinctively, I thought I couldn't come right out and say that.  Or could I?

Never one to think fast on my feet, I spoke in vague terms, at first–well, it's a little bit of everything, I said.  (What?  Where the hell did that come from?  What did it mean?)  Thankfully, I got my wits about me and recovered myself,  adding I hoped it was mainstream.  Yes, that's it, literary mainstream.  (I wish.)

Apparently, my answer made her more curious, because she then asked what my novel is about.  Again, unprepared, I came up with the idea of taking the long-range view, from ten thousand feet above.  It's about love, I answered.  Which it is.  That wasn't a lie, at least.  It just wasn't the full story.  She smiled, as if she understood (she had no idea).  

When she continued to look at me, obviously expecting more, I told her it was mostly autobiographical, although it has some fictionalized elements.  And, I added, it's really about how critical love for oneself is to finding love from another person.  Again, she seemed impressed and agreed.  Then she offered, and to keeping love once you have it.  I told her, good point.   
         
Whew!  I'd managed to get myself out of that one.

For the next several minutes, while the organizers of the group and the speaker played around with electronic equipment, the older woman and I talked about general things.

Then she lobbed this one at me: What's your blog about?  I don't know what look I had on my face, but I turned away quickly, pretending to be distracted by something going on nearby.  I needed a few seconds to come up with a quick answer, but nothing was forthcoming.     

When I looked at her again, I said something, but it was essentially incoherent (and he's a writer? she must have thought).  By then, I was starting to sweat, and I found myself flubbing my way through a useless ramble of words.  How could I tell her my blog's about being gay, with the intention of helping gay and lesbian people build their self-esteem?  The opportunity to drop the gay bomb had long passed.    

The older woman seemed relieved to have my attention again, and commented that she thought she'd said something that had offended me.  I assured her that wasn't the case. 

A short time later, having put two and two together, the older woman asked me where I'd met my wife (there's that word again; people make assumptions–hasn't she noticed the PC term now is "partner"?).  I said at a club, which is true.  But I didn't meet a wife, I met my husband.  And it wasn't a club, as in an organization.  It was the Odyssey, a gay club in downtown Vancouver, now closed. 

Thankfully, the rest of the evening passed without further discomfort.   

But, afterward, I couldn't help but wonder what had happened in my exchanges with the older woman.  Why they felt like they'd gotten so out of control.

I had not one, not two, but three chances to be honest with her, to tell her I'm gay, not in a deliberately shocking way but in a matter-of-fact way (a teachable moment?).  But I didn't.  After the first circumlocution (what's your novel about?), I felt I had to keep the lie going.  Otherwise, I would have had to do some backtracking.  And it just snowballed from there.  

Why hadn't I told her the truth? 

Was it because there's a lot at stake for me attending those writing sessions (I haven't even decided whether I'll keep going), knowing I need to meet other people, other writers like me, and needing a place, finally, to belong?  Or was it because I didn't want to embarrass myself, or allow my sexual orientation to override anything else that I am–namely, someone who just wants to be another human being, and a writer?  

Or was it because, in that split second, I'd unconsciously decided to put the older woman first, not wanting to embarrass her, or put her in the position of having to react in a way she didn't feel comfortable with, or say something she didn't really believe?

Whatever the case, I came away from the session wondering, when you fail to tell someone the truth about yourself, if you're just being considerate of them.  Or if you're denying and betraying yourself, and everything you've been through to become who you are.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thought for the Day, #65

Writing this book has given me the opportunity to think about my own privileges, and that I was able to grow up relatively unscarred by my preference for my own sex.  While I take comfort in realizing that gays and lesbians are no longer persecuted the way they once were in Europe, I am also more aware of the torments that await gay men and women in the less enlightened countries of the world.  The fight for gays to live normal life persists.  I truly hope that it continues to get better for gay youth everywhere.

From Branded by the Pink Triangle, a short but effective book about the treatment of gay men in Nazi Germany, by Ken Setterington.  The quote above is from page 120.  

*

If you've ever wondered, as I had, about what happened to homosexual men at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, this is the book for you.  It's a little book–about one hundred and fifty pages, including photographs and diagrams (not to mention a large font)–but a powerful one, taking the reader from "Berlin – The Homosexual Capital of Europe," prior to Hitler's rise to power, to the imprisonment of homosexuals in extermination camps, and beyond.  And it does so without resorting to generalities.  Rather, it introduces the reader to specific gay men–one of them gay and Jewish–and follows them through their trials, sparing few detail in the process.  A definite, quick, and informative read.        

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mom's Visit–A Personal Essay


I was going through personal papers recently and discovered something I'd long forgotten.   

Nearly twenty years ago, I wrote a personal essay, with the specific intention of submitting it to The Vancouver Sun for publication.  To my complete surprise, I received a phone call from the editor of "Mix," a then-weekend section of the paper, who told me I'd written a "nice piece," and he wanted to publish it.  Several weeks later, I received $175, the first payment ever for something I'd written.    

Today, I'm taking a break from all things gay and sharing my personal essay with you.  For the most part, I think it still holds up–with a few minor edits.  I hope you enjoy it.

*

"I sure missed you when you left," she said.  That was two months ago.  I stoop over Mom now, my arms around around.  She has amazing strength for a small woman in her 50s.  She feels good.  I missed her too.

The bus was a half hour late.  Long enough for the anticipation of her visit, and my hope for our time together, to build.

I recall the girl who sold me chicken pieces at the market that morning.  I told her Mom's coming to stay for a few days.  "It's always nice to see them," she said, "but it's sure nice when they go back home."

We both laughed.  Do all moms turns into people we don't know after a certain age?  I was confident things would be different this time.

Walking toward the depot, bus exhaust fumes rising in the heat, Mom tells me she had reserved seating on the way down.  She sat right behind the driver.  But I noticed she was the last to get off the bus. Why does she always do that?  Why doesn't she put herself first for a change?

On the Skytrain downtown, I tell Mom:  "We'll be getting off at the next station."

"It's not Granville, is it?" she asks.

How could I have forgotten?  She jokingly asks if I'm trying to trick her.  No, Mom, I'm not trying to trick you.  I really had forgotten the steep escalator makes you sick to your stomach and gives you funny sensations in your head.  But if I had remembered…

It's dinner time when we get to the apartment, and I begin to prepare Oprah's favorite un-fried chicken.  It's not every day Mom comes over for dinner.  I want everything to be special.

Following the usual small talk about family back home, conversation turns to Mom's latest money-making scheme.  It was home jewelry parties last autumn.  What is it this time?

"I have a real opportunity to make good money," Mom says, familiar defensiveness in her voice.  "There are lots of people willing to invest in gold coins.  Aren't they pretty?"  The brochure is open in front of my partner and me.  She tells us these days a lot of people are worried about losing their money, but gold doesn't depreciate.

"Aren't they pretty?" are her words; the rest are someone else's.  Her vulnerability has been preyed on again.  Someone knows she's having financial difficulties, and they've done a sell job on her.  Doesn't she see this?  Doesn't she realize that if it were that easy, millions of people would have gotten rich selling gold coins already?  Why must I always be put in the position of discouraging her?

"There are lots of people doing damn good in this business," she assures us.  All she has to do is make an initial investment of $350 and get two people selling under her.  Then she'll be on her way.  She looks at us.  I know she doesn't have $350, and it's obvious where this conversation is headed.

"This is not your dream," I say finally.  "This is someone else's dream.  You're too worried about money all the time.  Why don't you do something that's important to you?"

When she wanted to do something important to her, she says, Dad never wanted her to work.  Here comes the past again.  A child raising children.  Alcohol abuse.  An absent husband and father.  Still the victim she's always been, relating to us in the only way she knows how.

"You blame us, don't you?" I ask her, referring to my sister and me.  "We're the reason why you were stuck at home.  Is that why you treated us the way you did sometimes?"

The question is thoughtless, selfish.  Hasn't she been through enough?  Can't I give her credit for doing the best she could?  What else did a young mother in the '60s do?  Why do I feel like I'm always hurting her?

The next morning, I see her on the sofa where she insisted on sleeping.  She looks weak, vulnerable, reduced.  I still feel guilty for my question the night before and, now, for not convincing her to use my bed.

There's more small talk during breakfast.  Then, sitting in front of my computer, I read her some stories I've written.  About our family and our pain.  She knows how important writing is to me and offers words of encouragement.  I want to do the same for her, but I can't.  She doesn't dream anymore.

By mid-afternoon, we're looking for a place to eat in Yaletown.  In Subway, she tells me she can't swallow the buns.  They're not toasted; the doughy bread will get caught in her throat.

My patience is worn.  I feel like I've been through a lot already.  It's not about me or being inconvenienced.  It's about her always seeing life in terms of limitations.  It's about a life she hasn't yet begun to live.  She doesn't understand I want so much more for her.  All she knows are my rolling eyes and insensitive comments.

"You'll be happy when the old woman goes back home."

I hate when she says that.  She's absolutely right, and couldn't be more wrong.

My sister comes to get her that evening.  I'm off the hook.

The following day, I phone over there to confirm when they'll arrive for dinner.  

"Has she gotten on your nerves yet?" I ask.  I mean it as a joke.  It doesn't come out that way.   

Debbie tells me about looking at her blankly sometimes and saying nothing.  Debbie's always been able to control herself better around Mom.  Maybe she doesn't see anything wrong with the life our mother lives or the way she is.  Or maybe she accepts that the secret to patience is letting Mom take responsibility for her own life.

Sunday evening, Mom's back with us for her final night in Vancouver.  It's easier for me to take her to the bus in the morning.  

Already, I worry about saying good-bye to her, because I don't want to cry.  It's important not to cry.  If I start, I'm not convinced I'll stop.

Everything about her takes on different meaning.  Her open suitcase, spilling its contents in the living room, makes me ache inside.  I know she has so little, and now, it all seems to fit in a suitcase.  

Her toiletries, neatly spread on the counter in my bathroom and partly covered with a small towel she brought from home, make me envious.  They are a part of her life in a way I can't be.  Her jar of face cream, the same kind she used when I was growing up, touches me to the core.

The morning of the day she's to leave, we're different around each other.  Kinder.  Gentler.  We're not sure when we'll see each other again.  Or even if we will.  Things happen.

While I was busy trying to be heard more than I was prepared to listen, her three days with us passed in a blink.  I can't watch as her things are returned to the suitcase.  I am sorely aware of how I failed during her visit.  All the things that didn't need to be said or shouldn't have been; all those that should have been but weren't.  I didn't try.

We're back at the Greyhound station well in advance of her scheduled departure.  Plenty of time remaining to tell her what I need to say.

She needs to hear what the warm but searching expression on her face tells me.  Still, the unfamiliar emotions and words are lost somewhere in the past.  We embrace, as though an expressioin of regret over this visit and, perhaps, hope for the next.  Maybe then…

"You don't need to wait," she says.  "I know you have things to do."

None nearly as important as the one thing I can't, Mom.

Friday, October 11, 2013

(Inter)National Coming Out Day, October 11




My love and support to all those who come out today.  It may not be the easiest thing you'll do, but it'll be the best, in terms of being who you're meant to be and fulfilling the reason why you're here.   

If you need help coming out, please take a look at the resources I've provided at "This Gay Relationship."  You'll find them under "Themes," then "coming out," to the right.  You can also contact me directly.       

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Only Sometimes

I can't tell you the number of times, as a result of this blog, I've given a gay person the advice to accept his sexual orientation, because he is what he is.  And to hate what you are essentially amounts to hating yourself, or, at least, a critical aspect of yourself–one you can't turn your back on and still live a fulfilled life.  But I wonder if it's ever truly possible to make peace with being gay, to get over what you are completely.

Perhaps I'm only kidding myself, but I think I look gayer some days more than others.  That is, sometimes, I think I do a better job of hiding it.  Like when I'm unshaven for a week, wear clothing that would look appropriately masculine on any male, and put a cap on my head.  Then, maybe, I might just pass as straight.  Like I said, maybe. 

Sometimes, I just don't want to look gay.  I've attracted enough attention to myself over the years. Now that I'm in my mid-fifties, all I want to do is get from point A to point B without anyone noticing me.  All I want to do is go about my business, just like everyone else, not have to face the looks I get from some people, and be reminded of the way I'm different.

Take today for example.  I shaved this morning, and my hair turned out a little swoopier in front than I would have liked.

Before I left to go to Save-On Foods, to pick up a few groceries, I looked in the bathroom mirror. Gay.  I looked gay.  I saw it, and I knew some people who saw me would too. Should I hide under a cap, cover my swoopy bangs?  Or should I say, "Fuck it, they can think whatever they like; they're no better than me"?

I decided to go cap-less.  I also wore a pair of khaki walking shorts, a navy blue "Grouse Grind" T-shirt, and running shoes.  At least I thought my attire worked for me.

So there I was, walking through Save-On Foods, toward the self-checkout, and I passed a man, obviously straight.  Taller than me and about as grey-haired, he looked grubby, like he'd just gotten off work.  I saw him take a glance at me.

And, in that instant, the look that crossed his face was the one I've seen countless times over the years–the very one I needed most to avoid today.  In that instant, I saw him judge me, make an assumption about me, right or wrong, saying what he thought of me without uttering a single word.

For all the advances gay people in general have made over the decades, there are still those who will always disapprove of us, no matter what.  They don't have to say what they think about me to my face.  I'm not stupid.  Their expressions say it for them.      

Most of the time, I can shrug it all off, tell myself that whatever he thinks about me is his problem, not mine.  Most of the time, I feel positive enough about myself to make that choice, to feel impermeable to the judgments of others.

But not today.  I was out of sorts.  Something was bugging me, and I didn't know what.  All I knew was, I didn't feel like myself.  So those looks I'm used to getting, that I've learned to shrug off…well, they're difficult to take sometimes.    

Honestly, I don't think I should have to take them–ever.  Because I don't think I should ever have to receive them.  I don't deserve them.  I don't think anyone has the right to look at me the way he–and it's always a he–did.

This is my appearance.  I have no choice about that.  Like it or not, it's how I present myself to the world.  And I'm sorry I can't look the way you'd like me to (although, admittedly, I sometimes try). I'm sorry the gay person I put out there offends your sensibilities.  I'm sorry you have to know I'm here when you look into my face, when you see what I wear, when you watch me walk, when you listen to me talk.

But, most of all, I'm sorry you have the opinion you do of gay people.  Because, if you got to know me, you'd find I'm not so bad, after all.  Actually, I'm a lot like you.  I'm in a long-term relationship, I love my partner very much, I live a settled life.  And I struggle with getting older, and fulfilling my purpose, and making a difference, just like you do.

So what do you gain by looking at me that way?  Does it somehow make you feel superior to me? Do you see yourself as being right, and me as being wrong?  Do you wonder why people like me can't just go away, so you don't have to look at us, so you don't have to deal with us, so you don't have to be reminded we're here?  And so your children don't have to look at us, they don't have to be exposed to us, and they don't learn people like us exist?  

I'm okay with being gay.  Or, at least, I've learned to be okay with it, because it's what I am, and what I will always be, and what choice do I have?  I just wish I didn't have to look like me…sometimes.

Okay, all the time.  Because I'm tried of being judged.  And because I never know when I'll be made to feel like I did all those years ago, when I hated myself, when I wished I was anywhere but here.    

Thank-you for Doing God's Work

Today, I wrote a thank-you note to Tad Milmine.

Mr. Milmine is a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Surrey, a neighboring community, who used to be bullied in school, not because he's gay (which he is) but because he was shy, and who, in 2012, started a website called bullyingendshere.ca.  Currently, he speaks to students in classrooms across Canada and shows his commitment to at-risk youth by promising to respond quickly to every message he receives.   

I was deeply moved when I read an article in The Vancouver Sun about Constable Milmine, to the extent that I had to thank him.  You'll find a copy of what I said below.

Another example of someone making a positive difference.  

*

Bless you!  Bless you for what you're doing. 

I read the article in The Vancouver Sun today, and how I wish you'd been around to talk to when I was a young kid growing up gay in the 1960s and '70s. 

I never considered suicide, always believing I was meant for so much more than being someone's victim.  But the bullying went on for many years, leaving me feeling worthless by the time I graduated from high school.  It took decades to overcome my low self-esteem, but I'm pleased to say I've been able to.   

For the past five years, I've written a blog called "This Gay Relationship."  Originally, I wanted it to be about my now twenty-one year relationship with my partner, letting other gay people know long-term, loving, and monogamous relationships are really possible for us.

But it turned into so much more–an opportunity not only to understand, accept, and love myself as a gay man, but also to help other gay people do the same.

Today, I hear from young people around the world, experiencing the same kind of pain I did.  I read their comments and emails, and I help them in any way I can–to see what truly amazing human beings they are, and to assure them they will overcome what they're going through right now.  It's the most important and gratifying thing I've ever done.

You don't need to email me back.  According to the newspaper article, you're already overwhelmed by the number of young people contacting you.  But I want you to know you're doing God's work.  You're an amazing man, and you are truly making a difference in the lives of many people.

On behalf of all of them, thank you.  And bless you once again.   

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Invitation to Blog for "The Huffington Post"

A week ago last Friday, I received an email from Joe Van Brussel, Writer/Assistant Editor–Social Impact, at The Huffington Post, inviting me to submit a post for "Huff Post TED Weekends."  Embedded in the email was a link to one of the best online videos I've seen, featuring a powerful talk from Esther Perel.  And I was encouraged to use the video as the inspiration for my own post, or, as Joe put it, as the spark for an entirely different idea I'd like to write about.

Initially, I thought, I have enough to do right now without adding something else; however, the invitation intrigued me and stayed in the back of my mind.  Plus, I didn't see how I could pass up the opportunity.  Before long, I had an idea–although I didn't fully understand where it might go–and I sat down to write.  I was happy enough with how the finished product turned out to submit it and was thrilled to learn it had been accepted, appearing this past Saturday on The Huffington Post.  

If you're interested in what I had to say, I've provided a link to the post below.  Let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear from you.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-modien/the-most-important-reason_1_b_4043853.html  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blue Denim Shirt

He goes to the clubs almost every weekend, desperate for someone to talk to him, but scared someone will.  He loves to listen to the music and dance–although no one asks him to.  But the real reason why he’s there is to meet someone: someone to talk to, to be friends with, to make him feel like he isn’t the only one like him–and maybe even someone to love.

All around him are beautiful young men, their smiles easy, their bodies hard, their lives perfect.  He looks at them one minute in admiration, the next in disgust.  He would give anything to be them, but he knows he never will be.  And they’ll never notice him.  They are a big part of the reason why he goes there too; they represent the world he wants to belong to, but never will.

He’s the young man standing against the wall or sitting on an out-of-the-way chair in the dark, and you’d never notice him unless you went looking for him.  He doesn’t drink alcohol, because his father was an alcoholic, and because he thinks staying in control is crucial.  So, instead, he drinks Coca-Cola or orange juice, often nursing a single drink the entire evening.

And he watches.  Over time, he sees what alcohol does to everyone, how it loosens them up, gives them the courage to do things they wouldn’t otherwise.  And he feels more unlike them, more alienated, than ever.  He goes to find friendship and love; he leaves with an ego more tender than before.  And with the hope the following weekend, at the same time and place, will be different.


One day, he comes up with a plan.      

His plan includes his favorite blue denim shirt.  His body is thin.  But, when he wears this bulky shirt, he appears to be more muscular, bigger, and he feels more substantial, more masculine. Not to mention, the buttons are small, and the holes they fit into are slightly too big.  As he moves, they pop open, revealing his chest, making him feel, for the first time perhaps, sexy, even hot.       

But it will take more than a shirt.  It will take attitude.  The right attitude.  He knows that if he presents himself as the same person he always does, open shirt or not, he’ll look like a fool.  No one will buy who he’s trying to be.  On the other hand, if he presents himself as someone who's confident and secure, someone who likes who he is (even if I has to fake it), someone who is the same as everyone else, he might just get away with it, and feel like one of them for once.   

He’s willing to give it a try.  He has no choice; he tells himself the alternative is no longer an option.    

That night, he’s nervous as hell.  He doesn’t think he can go through with it.  But what does he have to lose?  On any other night at the club, he’s invisible.  The only ones who notice him are the cute bar maids, but only to ask if he wants something to drink.  The results of his experiment can’t be worse than that, can they?  Is there anything worse than being invisible to those you want to see you?  

The music pounds, the lights flash, and the club is crowded with hot men.  When his favorite song comes on, he decides the time has come–he must get on the floor, by himself, and dance as though he believes he’s the most attractive, desirable young man there.  His heart hammers in his chest, but he feels his blue denim shirt against him.  And he knows he can do it.    

He could leave the dance floor at any time, especially considering how nervous he is.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he keeps dancing, regardless of whether or not he likes the song playing.  The music is not the point; neither is the dancing.  The point is not to wallflower in a dark corner and disappear, to put himself front and center, to be a part of the throbbing mass, to be seen.    

He becomes all attitude.  He’ll have a good time, regardless of whether he has someone to dance with, and to hell with everyone around him.  As the buttons pop open on his shirt, one at a time, he begins to get the attention from one, then another, and yet another young man around him.  They turn toward him and dance, in tune with who he’s putting himself across to be, the new him.    

He says nothing.  Opening his mouth, letting his neediness come out, has ruined everything for him more than once.  This time, he doesn’t need to talk.  And he doesn't need them.  He’ll have a good time if they’re there or if they're not.  In fact, he scarcely looks at them (although he can’t believe they’re around him).  For a change, this is about him, about feeling good about himself, about being included among them, about being who he has always dreamed of being.  

At the end of the night, he could go home with any of the young men who were attracted to him, but he doesn't.  Instead, he goes home with the most important young man in his life: himself. He's proven that the only difference between him and everyone else, the ones he’s admired from the sidelines all his life, and wanted to count himself among, is how he feels about himself.  If he believes he’s one of them, then he is.  Simple as that.      

All he has to do is change the way he thinks.  And believe. 

What Do You Do After a Tragedy?


I've received some heart-wrenching emails in the past, but this one had me in tears.  I was easily able to put myself in this young man's place, and to feel what he was feeling.  Here's his email (with a few edits for clarity):

Hello Sir,

I have been following your blog for quite sometime now but never wrote any comment or emailed you.  I was always fascinated with the kind of relationship you have with your partner. I wanted to have the same kind with my partner, but unfortunately he died, this 20th August 2013, Tuesday. We knew each other since March 2011, wanted to live life together, make a home together, work together, but everything was snatched away from us in one dreadful moment. I always told him your stories, and he used to say that he wanted to be like you and wants me to be like your partner–he wanted to write and take care of our home.

He went to his place on 19th August in Rishikesh on Rakhi (a Hindu festival). The next day, with his friend, he went to river Ganga, saw an old lady crying for help, and went to rescue her.  In the process, his feet slipped and he drowned, never to return again. We have not been able to find his body yet, which I am sure we won't be able to, after more than 15 days.

I also saw dreams.  He loved me truly and I also loved him truly. I am numb and blank. I have no energy left in me. Wherever I see, I see his face only. Everything reminds me of him.

I am writing to you, because I am sure you would understand what I am going through.  It's like I lost my family, he was my family. In a country like India, where there is so much taboo about gay relationships, our relationship flourished.  Though we were not out to our families, we enjoyed little things together, as I am sure you and Chris do. 


Please advise me what should I do: is it easy to move on, is it easy to trust someone else, should I marry a girl–what should I do? Please help your younger brother.

Regards,
N.


Here was my response (again, with edits as appropriate):

Dear N.,

It’s difficult for me to write this because I have tears in my eyes after reading your email, and I can scarcely see my computer.  I am heartbroken that this happened to you, that you are going through this, that it’s all still so new and so difficult.  You are courageous to write me now, when you are in such pain.  I can’t tell you how honored I am that you shared your story with me and trusted me with it.  I pray I write something that, in some small way, will bring you comfort.

Of course, I'm so happy to know you’ve followed my blog for a while, and that you’ve opened yourself up to what I write.  Thank you for accepting me, and my work, into your life.  Whenever I write something, I don't know if it will mean anything to anyone other than me.  That’s why it makes a difference to hear from my readers, and to know you relate to what I say.  

I’ve just read your email again, and my eyes are still filled with tears.  I’ve written posts on my blog where I’ve speculated what it would be like for me to lose my beloved partner, Chris.  So, yes, you are right–I do understand what you’re going through.  More than you know.  Losing Chris would be the single most difficult thing to happen to me.  I can’t imagine it.  That’s why I’ve written that I hope I go before him.  I hate the idea of leaving him alone, giving him no choice but to make do on his own.  But, on a purely selfish level, I hate even more the idea of having to live my life without him.  I don’t know how I would do it, or even if I could.

Oh, my goodness.  Your comment about enjoying the little things together with your partner struck a chord with me.  Last evening was filled with little things, starting when Chris arrived home from work.  Even including when he walked in the door, after not seeing each other since the night before.  I’m always relieved when he arrives safely, when I know he hasn’t been in an accident on the shuttle or the train out of the city.  Then there was sitting down to dinner together, something we do every evening but that is so special when you think about it, because, one day, our evening meal together will truly be our very last.  Such a simple thing, sharing dinner, but so meaningful.

Afterward, we went for a walk.  The weather was warm and beautiful, and we were in each other’s company–talking, laughing, joking, planning for the future.  All the things it's so easy to take for granted, until we can no longer do them.

And, then, when I held him, felt the warmth of his body next to mine, and kissed him good night.  It’s something we’ve done for the past twenty-one years we’ve been a couple.  But, again, some day, one of us won’t be here to do it.  And it’s critical that we savor each and every moment we have together, because, as your story proves, we don’t know when it will all come to an end.

It’s difficult for me to offer you advice on what you should do, because, although I’ve lost people who were close to me, I’ve never lost someone I love as much as I love Chris.  But, N., I’ve given some thought to what you’ve written, and I think I can help.

First, you must allow yourself the time and the space to grieve.  You must allow yourself to feel what you do at any particular moment.  This is where you come to terms, in the best way you are able, with the fact that your partner is gone.  Give yourself as long as that takes.  I know it won't be easy, particularly since you aren’t out to your family, and you can’t discuss with them the pain you're in and why.  But I pray you have a friend you can share this with and can confide in.  And, if you don’t, you can always write to me.  I will try to help you through it the best I can.

You ask, is it easy to move on?  No, I'm sure it's not.  It would take me a very, very long time to move on if I lost Chris.  And here’s the thing.  I don’t think you should ever want to move on, not entirely anyway, from what you shared with your partner.  You will always carry a part of him in your heart, a part of what you shared, of what you were together, and you must always cherish that.  You must always honor what you had by remembering him, not focusing on his death and the fact that he’s gone, but on the wonderful human being and soul he was.

And on the wonderful time you spent together.  A little secret, N.  Some people, despite how old they become, never experience what you did.  Some people, for one reason or another, never find real and true love.  What a shame that is.  So you must celebrate that love.  You must let it burn within you.  You must allow it to comfort you when you are suffering, as you are now.  You loved another human being, and that’s no small thing. That’s why we are all here.  It’s what we must do.  And no one can take it away from you.

You ask, is it easy to trust someone else?  I don’t think that’s what you really mean, because, as far as I can tell, there was no betrayal of trust between you and your partner. You loved each other completely, and there should be no reason why you couldn’t trust someone else.

What I think you mean to ask is, is it easy to love someone else?  And, here, I must share with you what I learned from someone I once knew.  She had been married to a man, and they loved each other very much.  Then, he passed away after a long illness, and she was alone for some time.  Finally, she met another man, and she fell in love with him.

I asked her, can you love again?  And, what is love like the second time around?  And she said, yes, of course you can love again.  If you allow yourself to.  And then she said, love the second time around is still love.  It’s different, because the person you love is different from the one you loved before.  But it’s no less.  And it can be just as wonderful.  


I can only go by what she said, because, thankfully, I haven’t experienced this myself.  But I take heart from her words that I would be able to feel love again, if I lost Chris, and fell in love with someone else.  And I hope you do too.

You ask, should I marry a girl?  I find your question a curious one.  Why would you consider marrying a girl, if you are not heterosexual?  Because being gay in India is so difficult? Because you don’t believe you’ll ever find another young man to love?  Listen, if you’re gay, then you must be true to yourself, to the extent that you are able.  If you found love with a young man once, you must believe you will find love with another young man again.

Until then, I can’t let this opportunity go by without saying that, when you don’t have the love of someone else in your life, you must be able to count on the love you have from yourself.  This is a difficult thing for some people, especially gay men.  Many fall easily in love with someone else, and grasp on to it for all its worth, because, otherwise, they think no one will love them.  Because they feel empty and incomplete if they don't feel love from someone else.  


But the most important love you'll ever have in your life is that which you have for yourself. And if you need help with that, you’ll find many posts on my blog about that very subject. It is so important to me to show gay and lesbian people how important the love they have for themselves is, how not having it is detrimental to them in so many ways.  I sincerely hope you love yourself, first and foremost, especially during this very difficult time.    

I am so happy that you consider me like a younger brother.  Reading that brought a smile to my face.  I pray you’ve found comfort in my words, I’ve given you hope you’ll get through this tragic time, and you'll come out the other end of this feeling stronger and ready to experience the fullness and beauty of love again.

I send you my very best wishes and pray your life will be filled with the richness of love.

Your brother,


Rick