Monday, August 14, 2017

A FADED RAINBOW


I recently spent four days in San Francisco. It’s changed since I first visited twenty-five years ago when sourdough bread was the must-eat loaf, gays flocked to the bars and the homeless seemed totally at home. On this trip, I opted for spelt scones and currant-laden Irish soda bread and the gay contingent seemed no greater than in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle or Vancouver. As for the homeless, well, they continue to be strong presence.

It’s the gay thing—actually, the lack of it—that I wish to lament. Even when I was a kid in Hamilton, Ontario and, later, East Texas, I knew that The City by the Bay was a gay haven. (As someone who spent too much time in front of the TV, I also knew it was the place for Rice-A-Roni, “the San Francisco treat”, and a city where Michael Douglas solved crimes with the guy with that distracting, bulbous nose (Karl Malden). The gay notoriety generally drew snickers amongst my peers, scorn from holier-than-thou public figures and a guarded curiosity from me. Is this really a place for the freaks and am I one of them? Is San Francisco my destiny?

I’d heard of a gay politician being murdered there. Was it really all that safe? After university, I managed to buy a copy of Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street from a second-hand bookstore in Dallas—no doubt, red-faced with perspiration dotting my shirt as I exited—and I was only more enlightened/confused. I could no longer deny being a depraved member of society for I was indeed a reviled homosexual. (Texas in the ‘80s could really do a number on you.) Perhaps I’d find some semblance of acceptance among the perverts of San Francisco. I left Texas and headed to California, opting for Los Angeles as an extended pit stop on the yellow brick road to Oz.

As luck would have it, L.A. proved to be gay enough. It took a couple of months, but I found my way to West Hollywood and, as much as I begrudged it as a ghetto with too much attitude, I drove in from Malibu as often as I could. After three years, I made my first visit to San Francisco. It proved to be disappointing. The homelessness made a greater impression than anything else and I kept trying to pull my boyfriend away from the bars around the Castro. Maybe I had jealousy issues, but I told myself his drinking problem was the bigger issue.

While gay bars helped me see I wasn’t alone in L.A., I had higher expectations for a city as renowned as San Francisco. I didn’t want to feel confined to bar stools and sweaty dancefloors, no matter how hot the clientele. Hotness never mattered. I had my gay card but studs in clubs viewed me with indifference at best. What I wanted from the city was sidewalk comfort. I wanted to window-shop while walking hand-in-hand with my boyfriend. I wanted to see regular gay folk, not writhing shirtless to Madonna, but scrambling to catch the bus to work or gnawing on a supersized loaf of that sourdough. Always one with faulty gaydar, I noticed only a slightly higher gay quotient. All this time, I’d hoped that this was the place that campy Weather Girls song would prove true.

I’ve probably been back to San Francisco a half dozen more times. They were far from gaycations. I have a college friend who lives in the burbs and she suggested we go to a pumpkin festival while I was there for a weekend. Uh,…okay. Should’ve splurged on a rental car. On another visit, I stayed with a former roommate who was a too-chill California surfer dude. I don’t remember us doing anything. In hindsight, I suspect he was doing acid in his bathroom. No need to leave the apartment for a good trip.

My solo visits weren’t any gayer. I’d hit the Castro during the day, expecting to experience gay immersion in a Starbucks or to exchange knowing glances on the street. I did spot some gays but they seemed to have their own kind of attitude. No nose ring, no nod of recognition. Where, oh where, did the everyday gay geeks go?

Three years ago, I was back for an exciting weekend. I’d flown in to swim from Alcatraz. I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge. I jogged through The Presidio. I was on an exercise kick to fend off a nasty bout of depression and had no time or desire for seeking out the elusive Gay Wonders. It was just a city, albeit a damn pretty one.

There was nothing strikingly gay on this latest occasion. Maybe San Francisco never was all that. Maybe I just have an innate sense of dodging the vibes. I bet I could have walked Haight and Ashbury during the Summer of Love and left frustrated, wondering where I could buy a gallon of skim milk. Maybe it’s my destiny to be forever clueless.

We don’t need a gay mecca now, at least not in the Blue States. Most of us no longer flock to bars that greet us with rainbow flags. We feel safer (and more consumer-savvy) looking at housing beyond the gay ghettos of old. We can go on Twitter and amass a throng of LGBT followers to lessen that sense of isolation that may come from living in a small town or rural area far from any known gay marker. We can bring the gay to us. We don’t need to go to Oz.

But I want to know there still is one. Not out of necessity, but out of a desire to be together or, at the very least, to remember when gay culture thrived and grew in certain centers. It brings comfort knowing there is actually a place at the end of the rainbow. In North America, that place has always been San Francisco. Maybe I’m overreacting but it feels the colors are fading.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

THE PRIDE INSIDE


Yesterday was Vancouver Pride. Apparently it’s a whole week. I’ve written about Pride before. How I feel depends on the year. This time around, I was indifferent. Sure, it may have to do with the fact that I would have had to go to the parade on my own. The few gay friends I still have in Vancouver are currently visiting family in Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. (Seems no one was born and raised here.)

I’ve gone alone before, in L.A. and in Vancouver. It’s easy to overcome the self-consciousness. People aren’t thinking, Look at that sad-sack. They’re too busy waiting for the next contingent of The Ab Squad to show off their gym-enhanced genetic gifts. No harm there. The young exhibitionists get the attention they crave and the voyeurs wonder why they never had a body like that…before grabbing a couple of beers after the show is over. I just don’t get my pride from that kind of spectacle. It does nothing in affirming my gayness.

In truth, my struggle with Pride celebrations—the parade, the overhyped club parties, the street party—has nothing to do with being gay. I used to think that was the case and I’d get critical of what people took away from the one-dimensional news coverage—drag queens galore, topless dykes on bikes, go-go boys as some form of Twink Chippendales act. I no longer have to be defensive about the LGBT image. Society is evolving. A lot more regular Joes, JoAnns and Jo-Joes are out in normal settings like work, family and mixed social circles. Any festival atmosphere is an over-the-top representation of its people. Our “traditional garb” just happens to be Lycra briefs, feather boas and pasties.

The real problem is I’m an introvert. It can be as uncomfortable for me standing in the crowd as it would be for me to take off my shirt and dance on a float, repulsing the gawkers with my jiggly belly. (No beers needed!) I did try to push myself by checking out the Pride calendar online. Bingo? Um,…maybe in twenty years. Gay choir? Been there, done that. Not my thing. The search was an exercise in excuse-making and negativity. I just wasn’t up for anything social, especially as a Party for One. Not a party at all.

And so I let the parade day pass quietly. I ventured out to get the New York Times. (Always a Sunday highlight.) I picked up fresh tomatoes and zucchini at the farmers’ market. I bought a sourdough loaf at my favorite spot in Gastown. On my walk, I fretted about the hubbub of dark, depressing activity I observed as the downtrodden injected themselves with who-knows-what, a security guard closely followed a homeless person in the grocery store and a filthy shirtless man in stained jeans revealed a series of scars and bad tattoos on his skeletal frame. Definitely not Go-Go Land.

Still, a few images altered my routine. Three women in tie-dye rainbow gear laughed loudly as they ignored me while getting on the elevator in my building. A look-alike gay muscle couple in tight, matching black tees with some sort of rainbow-colored messaging popped into the bakery…for coffee; definitely not for bread. At bus stops, small groups in colorful gear waited for their ride to Parade Central. (Fashionably late, of course.) And, two cyclists pedaled in that direction, their wigs, leis and strung together bandanas flowing beautifully in the breeze. If I’m honest with myself, I suppose I was envious with how robustly they all prepped for Pride.

In my own way, I had prepped, too. A month ago, I bought a pair of rainbow Chuck Taylors to add to my collection of nearly three dozen pairs of Converse. There were two versions to choose from and I went against my first choice, a more subtle option of rainbow star outlines on a white canvas, and bought the full-on rainbow stripes that even extended to the bottom treads. Loud and proud! Alas, I’ve yet to take them out of the box. It could be years before they come out. No showy display from me. Rainbow is not really my color. Too yellow. Too orange. Great shades to see in the sky, just not against the pasty skin of a redhead.

My own Pride Ride. I came across this painted
walkway in New Westminster, far from the
big celebration.
Later in the day, I went on a three-hour bike ride. Alone, of course. It invigorated me and brought me joy as I cycled along urban streams and the Fraser River, raced a couple of trains (I won!) and worked the gears through hilly Burnaby. I went in the opposite direction from the Pride events and quietly reflected on these gay times. I remembered friends and acquaintances who died at a time when AIDS both ravaged and empowered the “community”. I felt happy for younger gays who may have more support as they come to terms with their identity. I expressed gratitude for living in a city and a country where being LGBT is no more remarkable than being Chinese or agnostic or, well, male.

How far we’ve come. I am proud. Just in the quietest, most unobtrusive way.     

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

THE DATING FAT


Not my actual belly. Yet.
You may dismiss it as grasping at straws to find a downside of a good relationship but I’m getting fat. Not obese. Maybe not even fat fat. I’ve always freaked out over weight gain and I’m highly uncomfortable with the extra five—or ten—pounds I’ve packed on. Oh gawd, what if it is ten?!



I don’t think I’ve become complacent. I’ve got a guy. Now I can skip the gym and stuff myself with Twinkies. (Incidentally, Hostess trades on NASDAQ as TWNK. Gay-friendly investing.) I never liked Twinkies. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had one. I don’t like the idea of baked goods lasting for weeks or months in a shroud of cellophane.



But that argument doesn’t apply to the crusty, burnt-on-the-edges sourdough loaf I devoured yesterday from the too-close Nelson & Seagull. 



And it doesn’t apply to the to-go orders of fries I keep getting from the also-too-close Meet vegan restaurant in Gastown. Full confession: The menu calls them the “Little Mountain of Fries!” Yes, the exclamation mark is part of the name and, yes again, it’s warranted. But, still, I wish they’d play down size a tad and call ‘em a hill. Or a knoll. Little Knoll of Fries! Maybe not as boastful, but a respectable nod to the diet-conscious. And what do you mean the diet-conscious don’t order fries? These sliced up taters are tasty!



Okay, you know you have a problem when you write an entire paragraph on fries.



Really tasty, I swear.



It’s my boyfriend’s fault. Yes, I can make this point. You see, my few friends here in Vancouver refuse to go to vegan restaurants and I don’t go alone. I used to stay home and eat nonfat cottage cheese. Day in, day out. But my wonderful boyfriend more than tolerates vegan fare. He actually likes it. Not only did he acquiesce to my suggestion to try Meet, but he assented to going again. And by then my habit formed. Fries! (This time the exclamation mark’s all mine.) I got it bad.



Of course, a few orders of fries can’t account for five—or ten—extra pounds. My boyfriend is to blame for other reasons. He lives in Portland so Friday workouts aren’t as common anymore as we spend a lot of them in transit, flying or driving or riding the train or picking up each other. And Saturday workouts—and sometimes Sunday workouts—aren’t as likely because, well, our time together is limited and bench presses and ab crunches aren’t what either of us regard as quality time.



So, yeah, fewer workouts adds to the problem. Body fat seeks out opportunities.



But then there’s also the fact that I find going out for ice cream to be a romantic date. I even let him taste my scoop—okay, scoops. Is that love or what?! And it’s not my fault that he chose to live in Portland of all places. They’ve got multiple locations of Salt & Straw, which I’ve concluded has the best ice cream in the whole wide world. (But, being a true skeptic, I keep trying other shops in other cities. Refute my claim, San Francisco!)



And Portland also has Blue Star Donuts. Not romantic but undeniably yummy. And the city even has a Blue Star at its airport which seems like a much better way to pass the time before my flights home than getting a shoe shine (I wear Converse) or repeatedly going through the body scanning ride. (What? It’s not a ride? Then why do they keep asking for my ticket?)



So fries, no workouts, ice cream and donuts. It all adds up. Ten pounds. Okay, maybe fifteen.



Being in love has its perks, for sure, but also its drawbacks. Side effects in the form of side growths along the midriff. Love handles, aptly named.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A PROLONGED ABSENCE


I know what you’re thinking. He gets a boyfriend (poor dude) and then abandons us. Typical gay flake.

But, no, it’s not what you think. Sure, I’m still navigating a new relationship (yep, poor dude), but I just haven’t had anything to write about.

Okay, it may have something to do with the boyfriend. So many of my blog posts over the years have been about dates, most of them bad ones. Now I don’t have to navigate online sites filled with supposedly single guys who supposedly want to be in a relationship or, at least, meet for a coffee. And I don’t have to use my blog as an outlet to process the endless stream of those WTF coffee get-togethers.

Married guys.

Closeted guys.

Hung over guys.

Men who show up still sweating profusely from the gym.

Guys that talk in uninterrupted monologues.

Guys that decide to sit and give me the silent treatment.

Guys that don’t show up at all.

It was great fodder for writing but utterly ego-crushing. And I didn’t have much of an ego to begin with!

I know I could have continued to communicate with you, dear reader, even without the bad dates. Maybe I could have written about the early stages of my relationship, but I haven’t talked with my partner about that and I don’t want him reading about our tiffs on a public website that two or three people glance at every so often. I made a conscious choice to preserve and protect our beginnings. A relationship needs to find its legs on its own without the meddling and the (dis)approval of family, friends and blog readers.

I may still go virtual with The State of Us. That’s one of the drawbacks of dating a writer. You become a character, fictionalized or not. If David Sedaris can do it with Hugh Hamrick, why can’t I with my man, aka, The Poor Dude? But that’s still a discussion that’s yet to come.

Here's an idea: Maybe we can wear shirts and
still be proud. Aren't we supposed to have a
keen sense of fashion?
I could have written about other things. Pride parades and the press’ constant need to post the related pics of guys with abs in teeny tiny Lycra bottoms. Why do these attendees have a constant need to bare themselves and why do they hang in packs of two or three? Six packs stick together while Other-Bellied Gays come and go in various configurations—even, perhaps not so shockingly, alone. I could have gone political with a few posts, too. How can there NOT be a daily blog about Trump and his henchmen?! (Just this morning, I heard one of his supporters call all this bothersome inquiry into Russia “the big nothing burger.” So eloquent, so profound.) There’s also been troubling news from Chechnya and a discouraging personal “No” vote from Angela Merkel on gay marriage. Clearly, the blog could have continued.

Okay, I will admit that my boyfriend has been a most pleasant distraction. As it’s a long-distance relationship, there are a lot of late night conversations on FaceTime. Consequently, I’m not as inclined to hit the cafĂ© in the morning to carve out some writing time before work. So he is a factor but not the main one. The simple truth is that my energy to write fizzled. My thoughts dried up. I lost my voice. The pressures of a new work environment consumed me more that I wanted to admit. In the past, writing served as my escape, my source of joy, my outlet for creativity. (Okay, I can see it myself…Enter: boyfriend.) The harsh reality is that I’ve struggled to find any satisfaction with the drivel I’ve typed on those occasions when I have tried to commit to my craft. I never fully told myself to go on hiatus—which would have been a healthier way to rid myself of writer’s guilt—but that’s what, in effect, happened.

So now I have summer and some time off from work. It means more time with my partner—yay! (once more, the poor dude)—but it also offers a chance to find my writing voice once more.

I appreciate your patience, dear reader, and the fact that you’ve bothered to check in again. I can’t promise regular posts, but I’ll make a better effort. Don’t blame the boyfriend. The flakiness is all me.



  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A NECESSARY DATE NIGHT


My boyfriend and I hung out at a free clinic Tuesday. It’s my version of a romantic night out. Yeah, I know nothing about romance. We’d decided to get HIV tests together. My idea, my tradition.

For various reasons, the test isn’t as ominous as it once was. A positive result doesn’t bring on immediate notions of a death sentence. HIV is treatable. Thank god. The testing isn’t even as invasive. It’s a prick test to round up a few drops rather than a blood-sucking needle. I’m afraid of needles. Really, all things medical. Generally speaking, I don’t view a clinic visit as a good time. I try deep breathing before going, but it always lapses into hyperventilating.

But when I’m in a relationship, it’s one of our early dates. I’m good at discussing HIV status with a potential partner. When I was coming out, that was part of foreplay. I’ve always felt the discussion brings me closer to the other guy. Look how we can put aside carnal desire—for ten minutes, at least—and have The Talk! It’s part of an adult relationship. It builds trust. It opens the door for ongoing communication about sex. Yeah, I probably talk too much.

Trust is one thing. It’s wonderful, in fact. But there are other “facts” that can best be answered by a medical professional. While I got tested a year ago and have no reason to believe I’ve put myself at risk, there’s always that What if? I suppose it’s a whole set of questions.


   What if the test was a false-negative?

   What if they mixed up my test result?

   What if I’m that 0.03% guy who becomes positive from a not-quite medically disproven cause?

   WHAT IF I UNKNOWINGLY EXPOSE MY BOYFRIEND?


It’s the last question that would haunt me. I don’t know how the relationship would survive and I don’t know how I’d live with myself. Knowledge is indeed power. The HIV test remains the medically responsible course of action.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I got tested annually at least. I’m sure there were times when in was once every six months. Back then, HIV was a fast track to AIDS and to dillydally was considered flirting with death. The first time I ever went with someone to get test was with John, my first love. We went to a clinic in L.A. where they gave anonymous tests and, being as I was in a panicked state about the needle, I went first. John often later delighted in retelling how I reminded him of the Wicked Witch of the West as he was ushered to another testing room. Sticking out in the hall were my two feet, sporting Stan Smith sneakers instead of ruby slippers. I hadn’t fainted; they just insisted that I lie on the floor after they stabbed me with the medical implement “until you get your color back.” Or at least until I stopped whimpering. (I don’t actually have color.)

I got tested again a short time later, not because of any concern, but as a support for my friend Jay who had never been tested, was far more sexually active and whose best friend had recently been diagnosed with AIDS. Jay wasn’t terrified of the needle, just the result. So I succumbed to another stabbing—different clinic so as not to risk being turned away (“You again?!). We went back a week later with our anonymous numbers and I sat with a quiet, shaking Jay as they told him he was negative. He cried and thanked me profusely. I think this is when I began my tradition of going for ice cream after anything medical.

I’m in love for the fourth time in my life and this is the fourth partner I’ve gone together with for testing. At first, the receptionist told us that they don’t allow people to get tested together. “We can fill out a card with your result.” Date night suddenly sounded even less fun.

I went into the conference room first. It’s best that I don’t have extra time to think/snivel/beg for a teddy bear. Once inside, I cautioned the nurse as I do every medical professional. “I have a tendency to faint.” Often. “And, even when I don’t faint, I blather like an idiot. I’m a total wuss.”

“It’s okay,” said the nurse.

They always say that. They never mean it.

At least, not by the time they’re done with me.

“I was hoping my boyfriend could be with me to give me support.”

And, just like that, they made an exception and let him join me. Got what I wanted. Being a wuss has its benefits. The romance was back on!

To be sure, there was great risk in the testing experience. Not about the results. A year ago, I’d had my first chance to consider dating someone who is HIV+…undetectable. While things never became sexual—again, I bring up the conversation early—I had come to terms with figuring out how to make things work. The real risk was letting my boyfriend see just how wimpy I am when it comes to needles, talk of blood, anything graver than a hangnail.

And, yes, he saw unfiltered wimpy. I couldn’t look toward the nurse or whatever the hell they prick you with. There was far too much medical paraphernalia in that direction. Don’t ask me what. I truly didn’t look. (I once fainted during a hearing exam after glancing at a standard diagram of an ear posted on the wall.) As I signed consent forms before the test, I got sweaty and had to remove a layer. I squirmed and spun in my chair. (Good thing it had wheels.) I talked rapidly. There were a couple of times I had to fold in my forearms and crouch over.

I got pricked. No yelling, no tears. And, miraculously, my boyfriend stayed. Every time I think he’s seen me at my worst, something else pops up. Two days later, he still hasn’t come up with an excuse to back away and run. This is one hell of a good man.

By the time we were done, I realized I loved him even more, if that’s possible. We’d done this as a couple. We’d been at each other’s side to be supportive, no matter the result. I’d even borrowed his zip code—Ooh! No letters!—so the nurse could record the area where I “lived”. (A certain border guard would be most displeased.) Call it a flash forward to what may come.

By the time it was all over, I didn’t even need to celebrate with ice cream. The reward of being with my boyfriend was enough.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ALL CRIED OUT?


I’m worried. I seem to be losing my woefulness. I don’t even know the last time I said or typed woefulness. I was once hardwired in the stuff.

Don’t you remember sharing coming out stories? Some weren’t as good as others. If Kevin said, “My parents told me they always knew. We had a group hug and then my dad took me to a Backstreet Boys concert,” I was happy for Kev. Happy but a bit nauseous. And not just because that “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” song is both lame and obnoxious. His story wasn’t a story at all. It was just another example of Kev always getting what he wanted: an associate position in a top L.A. law firm; his daily fill at Sweet Lady Jane without the telltale love handles; even hunky Adrian, the step instructor from the gym whose always-to-capacity classes were more about the visuals than the L-step/grapevine combo.

I may have wanted Kevin’s life, but his stories were always too much of a good thing. True coming out required drama. Jayson’s story was far more compelling. Shunned by family, he was basically run out of Riverside and struggled to pay his rent in L.A. through early work as a bad drag queen in dives I’d never heard of.

Benny’s mother scheduled an intervention with their priest.

Jose transferred high schools.

We grew up in the No Pain, No Gain era. We came out against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. If the 70s rhetoric about homosexuality being lumped with bestiality, pedophilia and sexual perversion served as my Introduction to Being Gay, the 80s added fear and societal redemption. My kind deserved to die. God’s wrath and all that.

When you’re shunned, reviled and repressed, you yearn to hear other stories of struggle. You commiserate, you empathize. Eventually, you muster up a few drabs of empowerment. More Twisted Sister declaring “We’re Not Gonna Take It” than BSB pleading to “Quit Playing Games”.

I felt the fear and angst of the gay teen in ABC’s “Consenting Adult”. I cried along to NBC’s “groundbreaking” AIDS movie, “An Early Frost”. (Both productions aired in 1985, the year my own coming out to my best friend was met with an abrupt distancing.) I cheered the gay kiss on “thirtysomething”, all the while getting worked up over the accompanying advertiser boycott. By the time I’d seen and videotaped an airing of “Parting Glances” on some nascent cable network, I’d developed a solid understanding that love and death went hand-in-hand. “Longtime Companion”, “Philadelphia” and “Angels in America” only confirmed this. I wept frequently for gay characters. I balled and fumed repeatedly as I read Randy Shilts’ sobering accounts of AIDS and assassination in “And the Band Played on” and “The Mayor of Castro Street.” I bought a copy of the AIDS quilt documentary “Common Threads” and it became my Lenten thorn stick which I pricked myself with whenever I felt complacent about the devastation of People Like Me. Though “The Wedding Banquet”, “The Birdcage” and “Will & Grace” brought comic reprieve, we gays were largely portrayed as a tragic lot when we weren’t otherwise case as filthy sinners.

Somehow I made it through. Well, not exactly “somehow”. I spent many a Thursday night-Friday night-Saturday night going ogle-free in West Hollywood bars. Maybe being undesirable saved my life. Still, I saw what was happening around me, if only a degree or two removed. Most of my friends were relatively ogle-free, too, but we had friends of friends who got the KS lesions and put their trust in devastating AZT treatments.

It used to be that a gay- and/or AIDS-themed production would cost me half a box of Kleenex as I extended my mourning for real and fictional characters hours, even days, after a viewing. It was a sure thing. A good cry, like listening to an Adele album or Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” or recalling beloved moments with my dearly departed schnauzers. But lately the tear ducts aren’t as reliable. I’m barely even moved.

I watched ABC’s miniseries “When We Rise”. At least, I tried. For three out of four nights, I sat down, tuned in and found myself distracted. While I started by leaving laundry tasks to commercial breaks, I got to multi-tasking as the characters quibbled on the screen about protest plans. Each night, I prematurely clicked off the Power button, promising myself that I’d watch what I missed online, including all of the third instalment. But I haven’t felt the need. Further viewing feels like homework rather than something I genuinely want to do. The production bored me. I felt nothing. Had I not had a cold, the tissue box would have gotten no attention at all.

Last night, my boyfriend and I watched “Doing Time on Maple Drive” a 1992 TV movie he’d rented on DVD through Netflix. Only one passing reference to AIDS, but it was all about the angst of coming out in a family where appearing happy meant more than being happy. I’d lived and breathed this kind of dysfunction. I expected my own younger trauma to come flooding back. Yes! A good cry. I’ve still got it.

Except I didn’t. After a key scene of family coldness, I begged my boyfriend to press pause, not so I could regain composure, but so we could wander to the kitchen to mix his homemade marionberry jam with vanilla bean and chocolate brownie gelatos. And I was still plenty full from dinner! (As an aside, it proved to be a delectable distraction, especially the vanilla-berry creation.)

Egad. What has happened to me? How have I developed an immunity to anguished gay/AIDS-themed fare? If I, as a been-there, sorta done-that gay man am indifferent, how will straight people and younger gays be entertained? How will they be informed and enlightened? Will they tune out? (It seems, in the case of “When We Rise”, they did just that.) Will they view our past with a mere shrug? Have we achieved too much too soon? How will we rise again if an erratic new government compels us?

Maybe I’m just going through a phase. I’m in love. I’m happier than I’ve been in, well, ever. Maybe I’ve got the internal melancholy button on mute. For a while. Maybe I deserve a period of boundless joy. I lived much of my life with self-hate, fueled further by the scorn of others. I’ve feared living, thinking it would bring early death. I’ve been consumed by angst. I’ve kept filters on my identity for so long that I can’t seem to shake them. My boyfriend remains a secret to my coworkers and my family. The present joy, however guarded, is most welcome.

But let me not forget. Let us not forget.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

BORDERLINE BEHAVIOR


Many of us are uncomfortable with going through customs/border checks. We say too much. We try to be the funny guy. Yesterday, a colleague of mine mentioned how she inexplicably adopted an English accent when going through the border crossing to the U.S. I, of course, jinxed myself. “I don’t get nervous. I’ve been through it all. I don’t care.”

Okay, I haven’t been through it all. No strip searches. No guard dogs, barely restrained, eyeing me as dinner. But I’ve had my car thoroughly searched, vacation plans doubted (Boise? Really?!), suitcases ransacked—and I’d been so diligent about folding everything! In 2004, I had a U.S. border guard detain me, send me to some back room at Vancouver airport and treat me like I was a criminal for having previously been a permanent resident in the U.S. who’d had the gall to move back to Canada. It seemed to be a personal affront to his daily Pledges of Allegiance in what I’m imagining was a patriotic shrine in the living/dining room of his basement apartment.

But things had been hassle-free lately. I assumed I’d ride this good streak into my On Golden Pond years as skilled officers accurately assess me as the harmless, fifty-something do-gooder that I am. (They may also see me as a regular contributor to the U.S. economy, making impulse purchases and bingeing on $4 donuts, all the while pretending that my Canadian dollar has greater value than the American nickel. (Scrutinizing my credit card statements is an exercise in masochism I choose to avoid.))

Alas, the streak ended.

I’m on a two-week vacation and, as soon as I could leave work yesterday, I bolted for the U.S. border. Seems that, even though I had to formally relinquish any right to live in that country, I keep going back whenever I have the chance. Now more than ever. The estimated wait at the Peace Arch border crossing was twenty-five minutes so I nonchalantly read magazine articles, munched on a whole wheat sesame bagel and readied for an agent to glance at my Canadian passport and wish me a nice trip. Indeed, the line in which I queued seemed to move along smoothly with only one car inspection that I could see. Probably some guy with marijuana smoke wafting in the air when he rolled down the window. Or maybe someone blaring that song from “Frozen”. Maybe a combination of the two. The driver got directed to pull over and head inside for further inquiry. Been there. I feel your pain. But I remained cheery. If it was a random questioning, I was in luck. No way I’d be sent in, too. Border agents shouldn’t be overworked.

And, cut to the chase, I didn’t get pulled over. But I drove away feeling equally, perhaps more, violated. As I drove up to the booth, my passport dangled out the window, open to the page with my photo. Yes, officer, I’m going to help move this along as quickly as possible.

“Where are you going?” he asked, stone-faced. Last time I crossed, I’d gotten the guy to smile, even joke with me. This guy—I’ll call him Barney—was all business. He’d wear the premature wrinkles on his thirty-five-year-old forehead with pride.

“Portland.” Keep it simple, I coached myself. No need to mention an excursion to the Oregon Coast as well.

“Why?”

“I’m visiting a friend.” And that’s where I messed up. Maybe Barney wasn’t just dead serious. Maybe he was having friendship issues.

“Why?” Um,…isn’t that what friends do? Poor Barney.

“For a visit.” I’m a very private person. Neither my co-workers nor my family knew more. Why would I share more with randomly named Barney?

His next question startled me more. “Do you have a significant other in Canada?”

Significant other? I didn’t feel this was part of official border training. In what way had I revealed my gayness? (To be clear, I was not playing that song from “Frozen”. I don’t even know all the words.) My calmness cracked. I was at the mercy of an authority figure and, being a gay man of a certain age, I’d grown up wary of officers. I’d heard enough about Stonewall, about bashings, about how today’s “hate crimes” were once deemed just desserts. It’s taken a lot to be open about being gay, but I still don’t always feel safe talking about it. I remember “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and there was a time when I felt that was actually progress. As good as it’d ever get.

“No,” I confessed. No significant other in Canada.

“So who’s your friend?”

What did Barney want me to say? I coughed up a name. First and last. How would that advance anything? I’ve moved past imaginary friends. For the most part.

“How’d you two meet?”

“Online.” Here, I knew I’d entered another uncomfortable realm. I believe in telling the truth, but I sure wished I could have lied on the spot. Twenty-four hours later, I still don’t have a good alternate story.

“What site?”

Oh, god. Here, I hesitated. Deep breath. Welcome to Too Much Information land.

“OkCupid.” Do people actually meet on Twitter? Or LinkedIn? At least it wasn’t Grindr, but I was red-faced and resentful enough.

“How long have you known each other?”

“A year and a half.”

“Is it serious?”

Seriously?!

I finally lied. “No. We’re just friends.” I felt disgusted with myself. I hate being so guarded with the truth.

Then Barney rambled on about not caring about the details of who I am. “I just need to know you’re not crossing the border and moving here. That’s my job.” Hmm, did the two dozen shirts hanging from the pulldown grab handle on the passenger side lead him to think I was moving? If he was going to make snap judgments about who is gay, how could he really think I’d move with so little apparel? If anything, I’d under-packed. (More possible shopping in tax-free Oregon! Another 0.3% uptick to the U.S. economy, courtesy of a Canadian who can’t distinguish between want and need.)

I assured him I had a good job to return to in Vancouver and, to repeat, my Portland companion and I were just friends.

Liar, liar!

He waved me through. Mission accomplished. On with the drive to see MY BOYFRIEND. Maybe I should even call him my partner. Yes, we’re serious.

Not that some border agent needs to know.