Friday, May 31, 2013

Thought for the Day, #61

It took for me to become very good friends with a gay man, to nurse him through AIDS and his death, to open up to…oh, everyone wants love, everyone wants a partner, everyone wants a family and a good life.  And, after he died, and I had been educated through love, now, when I read The New York Times and I see the pictures of gay marriages, I cry.  I cry thinking of my friend, Peter, and how happy he would be.  But it took me knowing him, which it always takes.  You have to know someone who you think is "other," [in order to open your heart].

                                              - Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open

I've never had a couple come to me and say "My marriage is in trouble because of a gay couple living next door."  To the contrary, I've had people come to me and say, "Because of the love between Bob and Joe, I have learned how better to love my wife or husband.  

                                             - Reverend Ed Bacon, pastor, All Saints Episcopal Church

The more I have been through [including cancer], the more I am open to finding love wherever I can….

                                              - Mark Nepo, author of Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

(All quotes are from an episode of "Super Soul Sunday" on OWN)     

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gay People Have Hearts Too

Yesterday morning, while I was surfing Facebook, I found a short video by the Cleveland Clinic titled "If We Could See Inside People's Hearts."  Curious, I clicked on it and watched.

The four-minute video takes place in a hospital and depicts a variety of people in different roles, such as medical staff, patients, and family members.  Throughout, people go about their daily business, and we are made aware of what's going on inside their hearts via captions that appear near them.  For example:
  • An older African-American man, sitting in a wheelchair, is pushed into the entrance of the hospital, with the caption, "Has been dreading this appointment.  Fears he's waited too long."   
  • A young, bald, Asian fellow walks down the hallway, with the caption, "Wife's surgery went well.  Going home to rest."
  • A sickly woman, sits in an upholstered chair, tubes running into her body, with the caption, "Day 29.  Waiting for a new heart."
  • A middle-aged man brings his wife a cup of coffee, with the caption, "19-year-old son on life support."
  • A woman and a girl walk down the hallway and stop to pet a seeing-eye dog, with the caption, "Husband is terminally ill.  Visiting Dad…for the last time." 
No question, the video is beautiful and poignant and deeply moving, sending the clear message that, when we see someone–anyone, anywhere–we have no idea what's happening to her, what she's dealing with at that moment, what she feels in her heart.

The point is captured at the beginning of the video in a quote from Henry David Thoreau:

Could a greater miracle take place
than for us to look through each other's eyes
for an instant. 

As I sat watching, I looked for the presence of gay people, wondering if scenarios affecting them directly would be included.  Sure, any of the scenarios I saw could happen to a gay person as much as to a straight one.  But I wondered if, along with acknowledging other minorities, the Cleveland Clinic would acknowledge gay and lesbian people as well, and the life-altering situations specific to them?  

No, it did not.  I did not see, for example:
  • A father sitting by a hospital bed, holding his son's hand, with the caption, "Dying from AIDS."
  • A man walking down the corridor, his head down, with the caption, "Husband killed in a car accident."
  • An older man, talking to a doctor, with the caption, "Male life partner of over fifty years just had a heart attack."
I realize the world isn't just about gay people or being gay.  I get that.  And no one is saying that we, as gay people, should get special treatment, in any way, shape, or form, just because of our sexual orientation.  

But how progressive, and respectful, it would have been if the Cleveland Clinic had acknowledged the existence of gay and lesbian people, and had shown they have hearts to see inside too.  If it had used this opportunity to prove that, in matters of the heart, gay people are no different from anyone else?

If you wish to see the video in its entirely, please click here.    

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thought for the Day, #60

Will Rogers
At this time, when there is so much talk that gay rights are human rights, I thought it was timely to mention Will Rogers, an early-twenthieth century "American cowboy [who, ironically, was a Cherokee Indian], vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor," and this quote attributed to him, which remains true, among others, for gay and lesbian people today:  

We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.

Friday, May 10, 2013

My "HuffPost Live" Experience

Yesterday, I received an invitation from Allison, an associate producer at "HuffPost Live," to participate in an online conversation about being gay and an overachiever.  In her Google search, she must have found this post, which I wrote on that very subject over two years ago.  I was nervous about participating in a live discussion, but I was excited too.  And thrilled to be asked.

Following a few exchanges with Allison, the conversation took place earlier today, and there I was, along with the moderator and four other guests.  I'd like to say I was coherent in everything I said and came across as a seasoned pro, but I wasn't and I didn't. Although I knew the general direction of the discussion, I had no idea how and when I'd be brought into it, or what questions I'd be asked.

I've had a look at the video of the discussion, and my performance made me cringe. There's good reason why I'm behind a keyboard and not in front of a camera.  But it was an eye-opening experience, I learned a hell of a lot, and, if I'm ever fortunate enough to be invited again (I doubt that will happen any time soon), I hope I'll perform better when I'm lobbed unexpected questions and all eyes are on me.

In the meantime, everything I wrote in the post I referred to above still rings true for me, and if you too are gay and an overachiever, I hope seeing yourself in my words will help you be more aware of what this habit is doing to you.  And how unnecessary it is. Because you're important and worthwhile and special just by being you, and not for doing a damn thing more.  How I wish I'd gotten that years ago.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thought for the Day, #59

The following appeared in today's edition of The Globe & Mail newspaper, in an article titled "Let's Be Clear–the World's Not Split Over Gay Rights," written by Doug Saunders.

I hadn't thought about this, but it's worth consideration.

The condemnation of homosexuals is not part of the cultural traditions of Russia, Uganda or most of the countries that have taken an anti-gay turn in recent years.  Russia has had fairly robust gay-rights laws on its books in recent decades.  The new anti-gay cultural movements haven't emerged from widespread public belief–rather, they've largely been imported by mainly U.S.-based Western conservative and Christian groups that have made it a mission to prevent same-sex equality in the developing world now that their efforts to do so in their own countries have failed.  [p. F2]

I wasn't going to share this quote from the same article, but I will, because it leaves this post on a more uplifting note.  

...[In the West, specifically North America and Europe] there's been a startlingly swift and uncontroversial shift of mainstream public opinion recognizing gays as being simply another legitimate category of being human (rather than an illness, an abomination or a "lifestyle choice?).  [p. F2]

And so we are–simply another category of being human.  Nothing more and nothing less. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gay and Over 50 (For Me)

Consistently, among the most common search words used to find my blog are variations on being gay and 50 years old.

* gay men over 50
* gay mature men over 50 years
* gay men's sexuality over 50 years
* gay man in his 50s
* gay lovers over 50

This list goes on.

I can only assume this curiosity is somehow related to the baby boom, many of whom are now reaching that milestone age.  But, because the search words are so general, I don't know what these readers are looking for.  So I thought I'd use my own experience as a gay man over 50–53 to be exact–to see what I come up with.  Let me know if I'm on the right track, or if you have something specific you'd like me to address.  I'll do what I can to help you.

At the outset, let me say my experience of being gay and over 50 will be very different from a good many gay men, because I'm in a relationship.  If you're new to my blog, I've been in a monogamous relationship with my partner, Chris, for twenty-one years this June–and, by the way, the best twenty-one years of my life.  I can't imagine facing any of them on my own, and I'm glad I didn't have to.  But I know many gay men, either by choice or not, are single for much of their lives.  And I can only assume the longer they're single, the harder it is for them to find someone to love and share their lives with.

That's why it was a priority for me to be in a monogamous relationship pretty much from the time I came out, in my mid-20s.  Back then, in the mid-1980s, it was widely understood that, if you didn't want to be alone for the rest of your life, you'd better not wait until it was too late before you found someone.  I believe the magic age was 30.  By the time you reached that milestone age, if you were still alone, chances are you'd have difficulty finding someone.  Or that's what I was led to believe.

Unfortunately, at least then, gay culture was very oriented toward youth.  If you were young and cute, you got a lot of attention from other gay men.  But, if you were 30 and beyond, you probably didn't.  I'm lucky.  Back then, I still looked youthful.  People were surprised when I told them my age; they said I looked much younger.  I think this may have helped me in my search to find someone.  Chris and I met when I was 32.  But Chris told me he'd always thought he'd end up with an older man (he was ten years younger than me when we met).  He said he found young, gay men too flighty, unsettled, and immature.  I couldn't have agreed more.

That's one for older gay men.

I'm nothing if not settled.  I've always placed high value on security.  I know for some that might translate to dull and boring, but not me.  I don't handle upheaval well.  From one day to the next, I want to know where I'll be, and what I'll be doing.  Whenever I met a flighty, gay man–and there were plenty of those–I ran in the opposite direction.  They may have been fun to spend time with, at least for a short time, but a life partner?  Not for me.

I had no interest in the drama.  When I was much younger, I thought the drama was fun, even exhilarating.  I constantly shook my head at some of the situations my gay male friends found themselves in.  How could they live like that? I wondered.  What did they get from being all over the map?  How did being flighty improve the experience of their lives?  I didn't get it.  I put up with it when I was younger, but in my thirties?  No thank you.

So, here I am, in my 50s, partnered, living in the suburbs (which is, I understand, where the majority of gay men now live around North America), and life's pretty good.  Chris and I have clear title on our single-family house.  We've been debt-free for over five years–no mortgage, no car payment, no credit card debt.  Our house is about seven or eight years old, we've decorated it in a way that suits us, and it's filled with everything that has meaning to us (most importantly, each other).

The whole idea behind our working toward being debt-free was so I could leave my job with a major financial institution, which I did back in July 2007.  I'd had the dream, since I was a little boy, to write.  Write what, I didn't know, but write something.  So that's what I've been doing for the past five years.  Currently, I work on this blog on a regular basis, but my main focus has been on writing a novel.  I have a full first draft completed, and I'm working on chapter-by-chapter rewrites now.  It's a slow, arduous process, but there's nothing else I'd rather do.  Some days, I want to pull all my hair out, but I know that, if I hold on, tomorrow will be a better writing day.  It almost always is.

And, when I'm not writing, I'm looking after all aspects of our household and taking care of Chris–everything from cleaning, cooking, planning meals, doing minor repair work around the house, calling in service providers when necessary, balancing all of our accounts every two weeks, making sure the bills are paid, setting aside funds for occasional expenses, watering the garden during the summer, and so on.  I even cut Chris's hair every six weeks or so (which is an intimate experience, believe it or not).  And, when we had minor flooding in our front yard earlier this year–ain't home ownership a blast–I was out there with a shovel, trying to figure out the problem.  When the problem became bigger than anticipated, I hired casual help to finish digging the hole in the ground, so we could get at the source of the water leak.        

Chris is the breadwinner in our family.  Every workday, he gets up at five in the morning and is out of the house by six-fifteen, to catch the shuttle and train into downtown Vancouver, where he works for the provincial government.  He returns home for dinner exactly twelve hours later.  I have dinner ready for him.  We wash and dry the dishes together.  Then the remainder of our evenings is free.  Chris goes for runs Tuesday and Thursday evenings (I'm a morning person, so my exercise takes place then).  Otherwise, we usually do something together, like watch some of our favorite TV programs recorded on the DVR.  Chris is in his bedroom usually around nine-thirty.  He reads for a bit, then his lights are out by ten.  The routine begins all over again the following morning.

Chris and I spend our weekends together.  Saturday morning begins with a pancake breakfast.  Then, if we have some errands to run, we do that.  If not, we usually think of some place we'd like to go (like into Vancouver, which we do every four to six weeks). By late Saturday afternoon, we're back home.  We have dinner and settle in for a little entertainment in our theatre room.

On Sunday morning, Chris and I go for a long bike ride together.  Since I started having problems with pain in my feet, I've had to find some other form of exercise besides running (which I miss a lot).  After our ride, we have breakfast, plan our meals for that week, then buy the groceries we'll need until the following weekend (this way, we always have on hand what we need, and we mostly keep to our budget).  Sunday afternoon, we usually work around the house or in the yard.  Sometimes, Chris spends time with his Mom, who lives a short distance away, and I work on my writing.  Later, we have dinner at home, settle in for the evening, and Chris is back in bed for ten.    

This is what gay being and over 50 looks like for me.  I imagine it's not a lot different from most heterosexual couples.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Perhaps some of you think that, as gay men, our lives should be a lot more interesting. We should be taking in concerts or the opera or the symphony; going to art gallery openings; socializing with our exciting gay male friends; going on weekend jaunts together; travelling.  Perhaps some of you think we should still be clubbing it, even though, as far as we're concerned, there are no reasons to go to the clubs–unless you're still single and searching for someone.

I don't know what you think being gay and over 50 should look like, but I know what it looks like.  The single most important part of my life is Chris.  My life really revolves around him, taking care of everything for him, so that the short time he has at home when he's not in bed sleeping will have as much value for him–and for us–as possible.  My quality of life improved substantially when I was able to leave my job, focus on Chris and the house, and work on my writing.  And I want to do everything I can to ensure Chris's quality of life is as high as possible, even though he has to go to work every day.      

When I was thirty-two, my priority was Chris.  Now that I'm fifty-three, my priority is still Chris.  He makes being gay and over 50 worthwhile.  He makes life worthwhile.  I can't imagine not being with him, seeing him walk in the door at six-fifteen, after a day at work, having time in the evening to spend with him, finding out how his day went, asking him if anything new is going on at work or in downtown Vancouver.  I can't imagine where I would be without him (nor do I want to find out).  I can't imagine being gay and single at my age.  I can't imagine how lonely it would be, how challenging to meet other gay men.

I am blessed, and I know it.  My ninety-four-year-old grandmother told me a few years ago that these are the best years of my life.  And she's right.  Sure, being 50 isn't the same as being thirty, or even forty, in terms of your looks and your body and your health. But I don't look at aging as diminishment.  I look at it as a privilege.  It's merely a part of the cycle of life.  And, at every age, we must make the most of what we have.  We must live fully, no matter what our situation.  And we must be grateful for everything around us.