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, 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


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.