Sunday, February 3, 2019

LABEL LIAR

I’m going to stick with the LGBTQ label for another post. I get where people are coming from when they say they don’t need or want the label. Let people be people. Let each person—straight, gay, transgendered, Maple Leafs fan—find his, her or their own path, labels be damned.

Maybe one day.

But I still recognize the utility of “LGBTQ” when pressing for human rights and legal protections. Sometimes a collective voice is greater than a lone flag bearer. When someone speaks or writes about LGBTQ, I perk up. Someone’s referring to me.

The problem, however, is that I often feel like a fake. After all, I’m a “G”, only one-fifth of what the tag says. And, really, I don’t know how much I can represent the typical gay man, if there even is such a thing. Truth is, I’m not always comfortable with behaviour and beliefs ascribed in one fell swoop to all gays. In many respects, I’m not a group-think sort of person.

But even putting aside the potential quasi-ness of my “G”, my place in the larger LBGTQ community is all the more tenuous.

If “LGBTQ” were some designer clothing label, mine would come from a t-shirt stand on the Venice Beach boardwalk, where you can also buy a fancy “Fendi” bag or a cool pair of “Ray-Bans” sunglasses. Knockoffs, every one.

I’m embarrassed to elaborate.

I can start with the “L”. There was a time when my best friend and roommate was a lesbian. Oh, she’s still a lesbian, but we’re not best friends. No rifts; it’s just that, for the past twenty-five years, she’s been in New Mexico while I’m 1,500 miles away in British Columbia. A long overdue visit still drifts in front of us, the word someday floating in wistful thought bubbles. I have other lesbian friends closer to home but we’ve only communicated through Twitter and Facebook the past few years. Alas, my lesbian ties are there in spirit, strength signal fading.

That’s more than I can say about the “B” contingent. I can’t name a friend, acquaintance or colleague who has ever identified as bisexual. It’s not that I go out of my way dodging bisexuals. They just haven’t identified themselves in my circles. Conceptually, I think being bisexual is ideal. Love who you love, gender be damned. How lovely! (Apparently, being pansexual is slightly broader, at least semantically, but my understanding of newer labels is always fuzzy.) There are some wonderful women I wish I could have loved in every way, but I wasn’t wired that way and a romantic relationship would have been dishonest and damaging. For those who are truly bisexual, all I can do is rah-rah from afar. Wish I knew you.

I’m sad to say the same goes for the “T”. Long ago, I met a few transgendered persons but this occurred at gay events—gay in the broadest meaning of the term. Introductions were made, hands were shaken and our paths never seemed to cross again. What I know about transgender struggles comes from the news, from documentaries and from the few celebrities who identify as transgender. (I’m so foggy on my awareness that I get confused over when to use transgender versus transgendererd. It’s that sad.)

I suppose my lack of connection is in some part related to how I’ve become more introverted in recent years. I don’t attend Pride or any other LGBTQ events. I don’t hang at gay bars. I don’t belong to any gay or LGBTQ groups. It’s hard to grow when I’ve got wall around me.

So, as much as I can embrace the LGBTQ label in theory and from a point of advocacy, it doesn’t fit in terms of day-wear. I believe, I support, I rally...but only from my couch at home. When I shed the LGBTQ label and let me be me, it’s more of a sad thing than a good thing. It’s about being isolated rather than evolved. In truth, I could stand to have the label be more meaningful in my life.

For starters, I’m thinking about a road trip to New Mexico...


Friday, February 1, 2019

THE FIGURE THAT EATS AWAY AT ME

It's Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I gave this speech last night at an Open Mic Night event last night in Vancouver. If you know someone you think may have an eating disorder, read up on the facts, have a heart-to-heart conversation and let them know you care.

1 in 10.
That’s the number equation I grew up with.
I out of 10 people was purported to be gay or lesbian. (We didn’t have the term LGBTQ or any of its incarnations back then.)
I’d sit in my high school government class and look around. So who are the other two?
Sadly, I couldn’t even count on another one, much less two.
I was alone. 1 in 10 be damned.
And this is how I grew up. Alone. Lonely. A lost lamb in search of his flock.
That was back in East Texas. I had to move to Malibu to finally feel some camaraderie. Two hundred fifty in my year at law school. Twenty-four others then? No. Two. But two more than what I was used to.
Now I deal with another fraction: 1 in 4.
Not my math. It comes from Miami, Florida, from an organization with the acronym, NAMED: National Association for Males with Eating Disorders.
1 in 4 persons with an ED is male.
I cited my source because I figured people would doubt the prevalence. Back when I first struggled with obsessive dieting and it evolved into an eating disorder, back in the time when Karen Carpenter was the only person I’d heard of having an eating disorder, the figure I read—somewhere--was 5%. 1 in 20 people with an eating disorder was male.
Even that seemed like a stretch. Back then, I didn’t know of any places where I’d find a room full of persons with eating disorders so I couldn’t check if 1 in 20 had any basis in reality. It seemed high. After all, as I began to read articles about eating disorders—the topic has long been of personal interest for obvious reasons—every “client”, “patient” or person with an eating disorder was given a pseudonym like Amy or Mary. Never Bob.
Really, how could it be 1 in 20?
But let me repeat the current figure: 1 in 4.
In fact, on the home page of the NAMED website, a study is cited and a range is given—25-40% of people with Eating Disorders are male.
Still, now that I am involved in eating disorder groups with Vancouver Coastal Health and with St. Paul’s Hospital, I look around and the figures don’t mesh with what I see.
I take tonight’s theme, I Wish You Knew, and rework it to what suits me and my journey: “I Wish I’d Known”. If it’s really 40%, or even 1 in 4, I wish I’d known someone else, another male with struggling an eating disorder.
The first case study involving eating disorders was in 1690 when Robert Morton considered one man and one woman with symptomatic behavior. 50/50. A nice start.
But over time, eating disorders became known as something women struggled with. It became gender stigmatized. Even as recently as a year ago, when I went through a Coastal Health orientation regarding the eating disorder program, I fought back tears—and some anger—when a PowerPoint slide showed the physical harm to the body that can occur due to an eating disorder. I couldn’t even take my usual stance of denying the facts. The body on the screen was that of a woman. Much of the harm mentioned was female-specific. My first exposure to eating disorders in a room of newbies—myself the only male—was a sense once again of being alone. Something was wrong with me for having an eating disorder. But something even greater was wrong with me for being the only guy. Last month, I completed a questionnaire for a University of British Columbia study about eating disorders. There were questions about how much I worried about my thighs. Nothing about any obsession with muscle mass. When the questionnaires and presentations slant toward one gender, it’s no wonder male cases are under reported.
I speak tonight to provide a male voice. I’m on a bit of a mission, you see. It’s often said that men are taught that they are supposed to handle things themselves. Be tough. Deal with it. It’s why many men resist going to the doctor for a physical ailment. The resistance—and denial—is even greater for mental health issues. Admitting that one needs help and actually seeking it out is even more challenging for a man when it involves a struggle associated with women or, when there’s also the perception that, if it’s a man, it’s a gay man (yes, like myself). (I can only debunk so much as I speak.)
I don’t think I’m saying anything earth-shattering. And I know there are many more poignant, more emotional speeches, recitations and performances tonight. But I ask you, if anyone should wonder how tonight went, that you include mention that there was a guy with an eating disorder who got up and spoke. It’s not about anything I said. It’s just getting the word out there. A guy with an eating disorder. Other guys need to know it’s not some freak occurrence. Because, if it really is 1 in 4—or, just imagine,...40%--then it should be clear to everyone here that there are a lot of guys out there who aren’t getting the help they need. And just knowing that is what got this extreme introvert of a guy itching to speak tonight. 1 in 4.
Where are they?

Friday, January 25, 2019

GIMME A "G"

One of the unexpected benefits of writing a blog has been connecting with other bloggers and regular commenters, both on the blog itself and on Twitter. One blog that I came to regularly follow was “This Gay Relationship” by writer Rick Modien. Nowadays, he uses Facebook as his main platform and one recent post was based on an article I would have missed in the January/February 2019 issue of The Atlantic. The online version of the article, written by Jonathan Rauch is called “It’s Time to Drop the ‘LGBT’ from ‘LGBTQ’”.

Rauch argues that as an identifier of a collective, ‘LGBTQ’ will continue to evolve into a longer mumbo-jumbo acronym as it strives to remain current in its inclusiveness. Already, we’re seeing people begrudge both LGBT and LGBTQ, adopting labels such as LGBTQIAA+ and LGBTTIQQ2SA instead. Don’t ask me what all the extra letters represent. And if I, a (sometimes) flag-waving gay man can’t explain all the letters, you can be sure some frustrated, dismissive straight people will argue for an alphabet soup configuration like, oh, say, ASDKJ4IMA6%ATUIncOGHGN. Their version will be synonymous with, WHATEVER. Is it someone’s banking password or a term for all the non-heterosexuals?

To be sure, no one who aims to be inclusive and understanding wants to be told they’re disregarding someone by leaving out a letter. Still, it’s easy to see how the grow Scrabble tile add-ons become impractical. If I have to refer to myself as LGBTTIQQ2SA, I might just become selectively mute. Like Twitter, there should be some character limit when it comes to mnemonic labels. Five letters seems reasonable, especially when vowels are either absent or not in helpful places.

It’s interesting that I’m getting a lot of red squiggly lines underneath these letter clusters as I type them. LGBT is the only one that gets a pass from my version of Windows. Sorry Q at the end, sorry IAA+. My word processor, much like many average citizens, has dug in. LGBT is enough of a mouthful.

Johnathan Rauch begins his article by mentioning Frank Kameny, a key gay rights advocate who refused to embrace ‘LGBT’, instead sticking with calling himself “gay” in the broad sense of the word, including all non-heterosexual people of any gender. It’s the term Kameny knew for most of his life. Presumably it took a lot of work to accept himself as gay, the nicest term available back in the day, so once he’d reached self-acceptance, the term logically stuck for him.

During my coming out years, I remember the chatter of identity politics. It could get nasty. At first the ‘L’ was questioned. Why do the women need to separate themselves? (Notably, this talk never happened in mixed company.) Eventually, it became common—and reasonable—to talk about “gays and lesbians”. I recall many gay men being vehemently opposed to acknowledging bisexuals. They were dismissed as being gay-deniers, not fully out of the closet, wanting to hold onto some false safety net while continuing to like the opposite sex. (Most) people got past that. The ‘T’ also had a rocky period in being welcomed into the LGB collective. Many feared that transgender rights, farther behind in many respects, would blur or even strip away gay and lesbian progress. After all, it was easy for conservatives to make their adherents get squirrelly over bathroom talk.

My own sense of where things are at in terms of a non-hetero label is that, like my word processor, the general public has accepted LGBT. I see it in articles, I hear it regularly used by speakers. Tagging on the Q gets close to being too cumbersome or, to some, too politically correct. I’d incorrectly thought the Q stood for “questioning”, a term that particularly welcomed younger people who hadn’t figured things out quite yet. Rauch—and probably everyone else—uses Q for “queer”.

Like activist Frank Kameny, I’m at a point where I draw the line. LGBT or LGBTQ will work for me. I don’t mean to exclude anyone, even if an extra letter or a dozen extra letters are needed to technically welcome all. There’s a spirit in a term, even if it’s inaccurate.
Rauch proposes all letter configurations be whittled down to the letter Q. Not for “questioning”, not for “queer”. Just Q. I can see the logic, but I can’t embrace it. Maybe I’m too much of an old fart. I grew up battling myself and others in coming to love and accept myself as a gay man. My letter G just went away. Q, if it means anything, represents “queer”, a term I never liked. I always felt that more abrasive, in-your-face gays and lesbians called themselves queer. It linked with its lay definition, “odd”, while “gay” more appealing, connected with “happy”, an elusive mood that was at least positive.

Don’t take away my “happy”.

If Q isn’t supposed to mean queer, then does it become meaningless? I could counter Rauch and offer some other letter, one that hasn’t been used yet. Not C (cisgender), not D (demisexual), not P (pansexual). I do have a nine-page alphabetized glossary of terms and it looks like E, J, K and N are available. I’m partial to E because there was a time when E rides were the best rides at Disney World. It also marks the beginning of Exceptional, Extraordinary and Excellent. But, really, if we funnel the LGBTTIQQ2 spectrum down to an untaken letter, do we have anything at all? While LGBTTIQQ2 may mystify, the equation LGBTTIQQ2 = E invites mathematical nightmares.

Huh?

My blog pal, Rick Modien, suggests doing away with any letters, other than perhaps the all-inclusive HB (human being). To me, that’s Utopian. We’re not there yet. Based on our history (and some continuing challenges), we still need to stand out. We need to proudly identify ourselves.

I do agree that some labels seem ridiculous and utterly unnecessary. I won’t be starting a movement to identify GEs in the population. That’s because I’ve never been discriminated against as a person with green eyes. Technically, I could advocate for Rs or RHs, people with red hair. Growing up I was often considered somewhat freakish as the only red-head in my class. Carrot Top, Leprechaun. But then again, some of my childhood friends could make an argument for PWGs, persons with glasses, since they got lots of ribbing as “nerds” and “four-eyes”. And then there are the people who had braces...It could go on and on.

In Canada, the LGBT label and all its incarnations may not seem so necessary. Our rights feel secure but some hate still exists. I think “LGBT” was hard-earned, a much more civil term than words like fag, fairy, cocksucker and homo which I heard from children and adults not so long ago. I still embrace my gayness. LGBT can be used proudly. It shows a society has evolved but it hangs around because my gayness is both personally and historically a vulnerable attribute, not like the color of my eyes.

Tellingly, in the United States which often considers itself a melting pot, hyphenated labels are much more common. African-American, Muslim-American. The hyphens fade—people are more inclined to identify as Italian than as Italian-American as their rights of citizenship and their assimilation seem to be more assured. People who have no recollection of their own identity being subject to hate and discrimination fail to see the need for hyphens and letters. The people without a true sense of empathy, at least. (Yes, Ma, that includes you.) I didn’t live in fear of discrimination or hate as an English-American, a Scottish-American or a Christian-American any more than I did as a Green-Eyed-American. Thus, no hyphens necessary.

The LGBTQ community is not there yet. For now the label—with its character limit—should live on.


Monday, January 21, 2019

DOLLAR DAYS

For the past six weeks, I’ve sat on the news that Canada will debut a gay dollar coin this year. To blog or not to blog. My first reaction: “Hmm,...the coin seems a bit much. Is it really necessary?” And so I kept the article as an open tab on my laptop and mostly ignored it.
But as time has passed, I’m seeing greater significance in this coin and I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like, to holding it, to stashing one or two in my odds-and-ends drawer, in time sinking to the bottom below dog-bone-shaped paper clips, an old photo of an ex and an incriminating pack of matches from Chaps Lounge.
My humble, don’t-cause-a-ruckus present-day self saw the new coin as governmental silliness, like when the United States Post Office held a vote for the Elvis stamp—fatter, older Elvis versus suave, hip-shaking younger Elvis. (I voted for the pelvic thrust.) But being blase started to feel being ungrateful.
The coin marks a fifty-year anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada in 1969 and, considering how relatively short that span is, the changes have been absolutely astounding. Born in 1964, I’ve lived through the entire process. And, because my life has been irrevocably shaped by prohibitions and seeming impossibilities during that time, I’ve come to regard a simple coin as the least that can be done to commemorate darker times and the gains the LBGTQ community has realized.
There was a time at the peak of the AIDS crisis when my friends and I made our own gay money. Once a month, I’d meet with a small group of volunteers who buddied up with persons with AIDS in Los Angeles, sharing struggles and the emotional toll. During a break, we’d take all our bills out of our wallets and one of the guys would stamp them with a pink triangle and the words “Gay Dollar”. This was before debit cards and credit cards were so ubiquitous and there were times I was too embarrassed to pay with my stamped money so I’d write a check.
Over time, I felt more empowered and grew to be as “in your face” as my meek self could ever be. I got my ear pierced, slapped a pink triangle sticker on the bumper of my Honda Accord and occasionally donned one of a couple of gay t-shirts.
I’m sort of here,
I’m queer,
Get used to it (please, if that’s all right with you).
Like many who grew up during the time AIDS was a death sentence, my awakening arose from anger at the sense gays were dispensable. By this time. I was living in the U.S. and had endured a stint of time in Texas, deep in the Bible Belt, before fleeing to California. I’d already thrown up my arms over the oft-stated notion that gays were perverts and degenerates. How do you argue with people who so freely fuel hate with ignorance? What truly maddened me was seeing a creative, vibrant loving group in society getting decimated while officials fretted over toilet seats, plastic gloves and “family values”. As incensed as I got thirty years ago—even participating in protests—the “faggot” taunts and that condescending “Love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra still fester deep inside me. I grew up feeling defective and less than. Sadly, that doesn’t change with enlightened legislation.
I never envisioned marrying a man. I never heard any discussion on the topic during my formative gay years. AIDS overshadowed all else. Even now, gay marriage feels like a right for others, not me. While I see elderly men publishing wedding announcements in the “Vows” section of The New York Times and silently cheer their special day, gay marriage seems like something that’s more for a younger generation, people who are growing up with it as a right.
I spent almost all of my career in the closet, even if it seemed the door was wide open most of the time. It felt like an open secret but having my homosexuality as any kind of secret still proved damaging. As a teacher, I feared I would lose my job. I began work in a Catholic school in Texas, with nuns by my side. I felt certain I’d be fired if they ever found out. During this same time my sister asked for me to be her daughter’s godfather but then rescinded the offer when I told her I was gay and her Catholic priest told her the Church would not recognize me as a godfather.
I grew up hearing that gays were pedophiles. I feared false accusations if I were out and a student didn’t like a low grade on a major project. I envisioned parents protesting me as their child’s teacher. (It happened once, at the only school where I was out to staff at least. One parent had her daughter transferred to another classroom, the principal opting for appeasement rather than standing up to prejudice.) When I became a principal, I didn’t care much anymore, but I didn’t want my gay identity to be a distraction. (Yes, I hear the internalized homophobia in that statement.) Growing up in a society where gays were hated, shunned, even condemned has done long-term damage.
I also never adopted a child despite a yearning to do so, beginning with my early work with persons with developmental disabilities. Several children I worked with were wards of the State of Texas, their parents having relinquished all rights either due to egregious acts of abuse or a lack of desire to raise someone with so many needs. The inkling began when I was eighteen and I supported persons with special needs at both a parks program and in two group homes. Sammy, a sixteen-year-old Mexican American with burns over much of his body due to abuse from his father, communicated in simple sentences, albeit with significant speech difficulties. He could print his name and a few basic words. He was gifted, relatively speaking, in terms of athletics, especially swimming and running, and his initial withdrawn nature gave way to an exuberant personality with a robust laugh. Sammy deserved a better life yet I presumed courts wouldn’t approving placing him in an eighteen-year-old’s care.
My most intense work with persons with special needs occurred after finishing university, when I was between twenty and twenty-four years old. Like many in the field, there were days when I felt, If I could just take you home and raise you... Yes, many deserved better lives. I knew there was a need for adopting persons with special needs but my own internalized homophobia got in the way yet again. Despite what is probably my own gift in working with children, I never felt worthy enough to be a parent. I always felt that if I were a gay dad it would create more of a liability for the child.
To be sure, not having children is my greatest regret. I acknowledge that some of it was my own doing but society’s view of homosexuals and its opinions regarding gay adoptions also played a major part.
I’ve grown up surrounded by homophobia. While I found circles of people who embraced and accepted me, reports of hate crimes and discrimination took their toll on me in subtle ways. There are times when I still feel ashamed—even a pariah—as a gay man. The past fifty years has been a period of remarkable, “swift” change in terms of LGBT acceptance but it represents my entire existence—a life lived against a backdrop of hate and resistance. Despite the gains, I continue to see the hate in the comments section below articles like the one announcing the gay Canadian dollar. The objections are couched in tired old phrases like “special rights” and “political correctness”.
I’ve now come to the point where I believe a limited edition gay Canadian coin has great meaning symbolically. The changes over the past fifty years mean that today’s LGBTQ youth have a better chance at a healthier self-identification. They have an opportunity for more social acceptance and for people around them to help stand up to the haters. Moreover, they have more legal rights in terms of marriage, parenting, housing and employment. They are in a position to expect these things rather than hope for a few rights and never even dream of others.
I look forward to holding my first government-approved gay money. No doubt, I will shed some tears—part hope, part regret. I don’t care if the indulged majority who never had to question marriage, raising children or being secure in a job may feel the coin is frivolous. The coin isn’t for them in the first place. It’s an acknowledgement for those of us who repressed our true selves and felt oppressed. It is for gays who never lived to see rights and protections enshrined in law. It is for younger LGBT people to learn more about of how far we’ve come and to gain a deeper sense of gay pride. For these reasons, the coin has value so much greater than any monetary designation. The coin represents both empowerment and normalization.
Come on, Canada. Show me the money!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

HART-LESS AND PERFECTLY FINE WITH THAT

I don’t know who Kevin Hart is.
Sure, I know he’s made a bunch of movies, none of which I’ve ever seen. I know his movies make big bucks. I know he’s supposed to be funny. I’ll take other people’s word for it.
Obviously, I’m not bummed if he doesn’t host the Oscars. Even without his old homophobic tweets, I’d much rather someone else take that role.
Tina Fey.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Tina Fey and a holographic stickman.
Ellen Degeneres.
Steve Martin and Martin Short. (Their Netflix special was packed with all the silliness you’d expect.)
Billy Crystal. (He’s got to be free.)
Eddie Murphy. (Also free.)
Jon Stewart.
Hell, even Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Call it the fake Oscars.
Surely no one’s world is shattered—other than Kevin Hart’s—if Kevin Hart isn’t the Oscar host.
So can we please stop bringing up Kevin Hart’s name, as if the ceremony cannot go on without him? (This whole damn controversy has lingered because a new host hasn’t been named. Does everyone in Hollywood have incriminating tweets?)
Kevin Hart has apparently apologized for his dated homophobic comments. Not in the clearest way and not without seeming to play the victim but he’s not the first person who finds it difficult to say he’s sorry. (A certain world “leader” comes to mind.) Ellen’s forgiven him it seems. Don Lemon has at least acknowledged the apology. I don’t think we can expect much more of this guy.
Don Lemon, however, beseeched him to be an LGBT ally. Thankfully, Mr. Hart said no thank you. We don’t need guys like Kevin Hart to be our ally. We certainly don’t need to be giving the guy a microphone. It’s enough for me if he totally mutes his thoughts that may have anything to do with gay people.
There are many worthier allies. But Don Lemon asking Kevin Hart to be an ally got me wondering about why we’re still seeking allies in the first place. Why are we needing straight people to advocate and speak on our behalf? Are we not strong enough? Haven’t we gained more acceptance? Do we not have articulate spokespeople who are actually gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered? Yes, the aforementioned Ellen Degeneres and Don Lemon come to mind, just for starters. We don’t need to go around begging straight people—former(?) homophobes, in particular—to carry the rainbow flag.
Mr. Lemon’s thinking is old school, much like my own when I don’t check myself. He grew up during a time when we desperately needed the acceptance of celebrities because our voices did not seem to be enough. During the AIDS crisis, I remember watching Oscar telecasts and other award shows and applauding along with my friends every time a presenter wore a red ribbon. Wow! Just wow. Similarly, I remember when the same red ribbon became a watered down symbol, something celebrities wore perhaps more out of protocol and obligation than due to any sort of real conviction. Shoes? Check. Tux or dress? Check. Ribbon? Check.
We’ve come a long way since 1990. I realize that many LGBT people in America are worried about setbacks in the Trump era and that there are injustices that continue in other parts of the world. Still, I’d rather hand the microphone to Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Jane Lynch, Laverne Cox, RuPaul, Ryan Murphy, Elton John, Ellen Page or Jim Parsons to offer personal perspectives about issues that matter to us. To be clear, any positive, accepting comments from straight people are appreciated, but we have to start realizing our own power. LBGT people are stronger than ever before and have ready access to mainstream media. Allies may be nice, but we don’t need to go around tapping the shoulders of the least worthy. We don’t need Kevin Hart to host the Oscars and, more importantly, we don’t need him as our ally. 
Let’s move on, shall we?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

THE YEAR OF "NO"

I’m no reptile. I don’t have skin any thicker than the average human. Rejection still stings.
And in 2019, I have to be ready for more rejection than ever. I face it on two fronts.
One is as a writer. I have at least four novel-length manuscripts ready to submit to agents and editors this year. For now, I’ve established a plan for sending out a young adult novel and a commercial fiction novel. I spend time each week researching agents and ranking them as to how closely I can speculate that their interests might match my work. (If only I wrote feminist fantasy with LGBT characters.) I send out a cover letter with the first chapters of my manuscript (always following specific submission guidelines) and wait for a response or, more likely, the response period to lapse.
No news is bad news. Form rejections are a rarity these days; instead, silence means an agent has passed on the work. The hard part is not knowing when exactly that decision was made. The sound of crickets can be disheartening, but I’m always ready, going down my list, sending out my work again and again. Yes, rejection is part of the writing process. It’s always going to be disappointing, but I tell myself I’m getting used to it.
On those rare occasions when I get a form rejection, I try to convince myself that a physical shrug is all it’s worth before moving on. Rarer still is a personalized rejection. While there’s some good that I can read into it—there are always some kind words and specific praise for the work—this type is harder to shake off. It means I was closer to acceptance...and yet still, to quote Carole King, so far away. How do you bandage a bruised ego?
I’m aggressively going to writing rejections this year after reading “I Got Rejected 101 Times in the New York Times last month. It reminds me of a writing quote I once read: “Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.” I shall submit. Again and again. I shall try to trick myself into thinking a shrug is all that’s needed to move on. And I shall continue writing, even when the roar of silence and the form rejections seem to indicate that this journey is a foolish dream.
The second area for rejection comes with still being single...and still looking. It can come in person, like when I order a coffee and try to glance at a nice looking man in line. If he looks my way, he invariably looks right through me. I’m so pale apparently I have become a ghost. On occasion, I may notice a guy at the gym. But he’s got his ear buds in and is staring down at his phone. He never notices me. It’s nothing personal. He just doesn’t ever look up. And, really, how am I supposed to compete with another YouTube cat video or that one with the moose in someone’s backyard? Phones have made actual eye contact between strangers only slightly less likely than a lightning strike.
So I’m stuck with online dating sites. Slim pickings after ten years. Same profiles, complete with stale profile pics showing off how aging gay men used to look. (I mention this regularly in blog posts, hoping someone will read it and actually update his images. How novel for a fifty-year-old man—who is truly that age—to have photos of his fifty-year-old self rather than a collage of his hairstyles through the ages.)
A few years ago, I’d read that the early January is when the largest wave of new profiles arrives each year. People set resolutions about putting themselves out there for dating possibilities. New hope comes with the dawning of the New Year. I’m not sure that I have any of that new hope; rather, I’m an opportunist. Let someone else’s hope make them more open to receiving a message from me.
With that mindset, I sent out a message on each of the two dating sites for which I have accounts. I may follow the same routine as my publishing journey. Send something out there, wait a reasonable period of time for the message to lapse and then send another...at least for as long as I can find possibly worthy profiles. It might take me into February at least.
I’ve broadened my search net to a hundred miles beyond Vancouver since the Vancouver pool appears pretty dry, even with the New Year. For this reason, I sent a message to an artist living on Whidbey Island in Washington. Nice looking, creative, a very positive profile. The reply came last night:
I would absolutely love to get to know you. In all transparency, I feel like there is more likely to be a friendship then a romantic relationship. So I would feel comfortable if we moved forward with that.”
Ouch. To be clear, it’s a dating site, not a “let’s be friends” site. If Jeff lived in Vancouver, I’d be happy to grab a coffee, chat and, yes, perhaps we’d connect enough to become hiking pals or brunch buds. But the hour and a half drive to see potential-chum Jeff feels a bit much. It’s not like I ever just happen to be in the Whidbey Island area. In fact, I’ve only been there once, in the northern end. (He lives on the southern tip.)
I thanked Jeff for his honesty and indicated that, yes, perhaps we could meet and have a nice chat. I pressed the send button and then tried my best to shrug off the slamming shut of the romance door.
I can’t say I was at all successful. It’s hard when “potential” is so clearly shut down. And I woke up today feeling down, thinking sending ANY messages out on a dating site is futile. I wallowed in the likely fact I didn’t come off as even remotely attractive in my carefully selected profile photos. Winning personality, just not a looker. Yep, the shrugging didn’t work so well.
Not attractive enough.
That insecure Ugly Duckling feeling that first formed when I was ten and became firmly entrenched in my teens and twenties moves in whenever it gets the chance. I may not have a reptile’s thick skin but somehow I’m about as physically appealing as an iguana. Maybe that’s why I liked the movie “The Shape of Water” so much.
It’s hard to be in my mid-fifties and still have to face this kind of rejection. If I were solidly in a relationship, maybe I could live with my flaws. If he accepts them, maybe I can, too. Maybe I could fully welcome my aging self and the corresponding attitude of not giving a fuck. Black socks with sandals, untamed eyebrows, belly serving as a place to rest my beer can.
But I’m still out there. Still subject to that “yea” or “nay” judgment, the results feeling overwhelmingly “nay”. Vulnerability sucks.
Ready or not, 2019 will be the Year of No. I trudge on, seeking my own holy grail, the elusive “yes”. One for writing, one for dating is all it takes to be a real game-changer.


Monday, December 31, 2018

HOLOGRAMS, SNEERS & DEAD FISH


The city just ran out of men.
That’s right,...Vancouver.
The whole “raining men” thing was just a strange phenomenon from the ‘80s. The eighties, for god’s sake. And here I’d spent all but the last four months of that decade in the closet with my tossed-on-the-floor acid-washed jean shorts, collar-less Girbaud shirts and pleated baggy pants.

Doesn’t matter now. The men are gone. I’ve stepped into some Wonder Woman land. She may be fierce but frankly she doesn’t do a thing for me.

I should be like that guy who married a hologram

Of course, then I’d have to decide between Fred Jones from “Scooby Doo” and Hermey the Elf. Longstanding crushes. I used to be partial to blonds. I guess I’d pick Hermey. He’s got to be a dentist by now, right? My mom would be so happy. “Oh, son, you picked such a sweet, well-mannered hologram groom. And successful, too.”
Seriously, how did thirty-nine people show up to a hologram wedding? Did they miss Barbie and Ken’s big event? Did they actually buy gifts from the registry? Yeah, I should definitely marry Hermey the Elf. But first I’d have to propose and, well, he’d likely say no. He’s probably more the Big Daddy type, all that time spent around Yukon Cornelius.
Fred would turn me down, too. Nothing personal. I just don’t get the sense he’d want to share his cravat drawer.
Dammit. I can’t even get myself a decent hologram.
There’s some urban legend going around about some gay man meeting some other gay man by happenstance, out in public, in person, a random encounter in a rom-com come-to-life. I don’t see that happening for real. I sit and write in cafes and in libraries, looking up every now and then in case someone wants to make eye contact. Nothing. Just some guy one floor below me at the central library, constantly clipping his toenails. (Eye contact?! How could I compete with foot care? And I’m not the foot fetish type. Nothing romantic about what goes in a sweaty sock.)
I go to the grocery store. Not a look there. I have to decide if the avocados are ripe on my own. (By the way, here’s how.) Even when I try to cruise the Mr. Clean bottle. Worst kind of gay. He’d go home with anybody.
I go to the gym, too. There is ZERO eye contact there. Everyone wears earbuds and stares down at their phone screen during the long (LONG!) delay between sets. I’m not my best self at the gym. If anyone glanced my way, I’d make a bad impression. Part of it is the gym t-shirt and shorts which show off, well...nothing, but it’s mostly the cranky face that would put people off. I get impatient waiting to use the leg press machine. Not that it does anything for me. But it’s part of my routine and it stands between me and going home. Can’t you step aside while you scroll Facebook, check out a Kardashian Instagram account or text Aunt Rue?
So, yeah, that notion about meeting a real guy in a regular setting has been put to rest. Pure myth. That then leaves online dating options. I say that as if any are truly viable. Plenty of Fish is dead water. Same tiny pool, exact same profile photos I saw ten years ago. As if we’re all ageless wonders. OKCupid is an even smaller collection and Match.com isn’t even a blip in the Vancouver market. That leaves the penis and ass pic sites. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t feel comfortable messaging a penis. I can’t imagine a relationship growing from “Nice scrotum.”
So that brings me back to holograms, Wonder Woman and cruising that floozy stud, Mr. Clean. Please say yes, Hermey.