Saturday, November 18, 2017

THE ETERNAL HEAD SCRATCHER

There’s so much about the world we live in that I don’t get.
·      The Kardashians (At least my old version of Word underlines the word with a red squiggly line.)
·      Matt Lauer
·      Golf (Unless it includes little windmills.)
·      Tom Cruise (Not once. Not even when he danced around to a Seger song I sorta liked.)
·      The American president
·      Playoff beards (If you grow it, groom it.)
·      The Second Amendment (Right to bear arms? Really? Who talks like that? Isn’t that evidence enough that it doesn’t fit our times? If we keep the phrase, it should be jiggered to the “right to bare arms” because that is something I think is worthy of debate. I wore a tank to the gym last week and I’m pretty sure it was very, very wrong.)
·      Any incarnation of “Law and Order”
·      Treating travel like a selfie scavenger hunt (See Eiffel Tower. Get your selfie. Dash to the Champs-Élysées. Get your selfie. Repeat, post, repeat.)
·      All things Pokemon
·      The “Full House” revival (Yeah, I watched it way back when, but it’s no “Brady Bunch”.)
·      Britney (Sorry. She doesn’t sing!)
·      Auto-tune (See above.)
·      Zombies and shows with zombies (Makeup could be put to better use.)
·      New Year’s Eve (Getting drunk to watch a clock tick and mumble-sing the lyrics to a song less than 1% of the population knows? I’d campaign to make Groundhog Day a bigger deal.)
·      All these cooking shows where contestants compete (More clock watching and we never get to taste any of it.)
·      The endless making of superhero movies (I like my Ryan Reynolds out of costume.)
·      The urgency people feel in acquiring the latest iPhone (and why that “i” is lower case)
·      Dr. Who and why they keep changing the lead actor (Sorry.)
           
I could go on.

If I were living in an age of the guillotine, a mob of angry villagers would track me down, chant, “Off with his head!” and that would be that. (I am very grateful guillotines are a thing of the past. Let’s not make them retro, okay?) Of course, there’s still that pesky Second Amendment…

For the longest time, I didn’t get Twitter either. But a colleague of mine—rather, a retired colleague (albeit from Tech Services)—told me it was all the rage and I absolutely had to get on it. So I did. My Twitter page informs me that I’ve been tweeting since July 2009. Eight years of hooey. I’ve got time for it, I suppose. It’s not like I’m the American president.

I’m not as clueless about Twitter as I used to be. It served its purpose on lonely Saturday nights when I lived in a rural nowhere-land and someone would “Like” my tweet linking to an Olivia Newton-John song. (No auto-tuning.) I was glued to Twitter as news came out about the horrid happenings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And I’ve been heartened to see regular pics of seemingly happy gay couples of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Over the course of my Twitter existence, I’ve noticed changes in how gay men identify themselves. Early on, there were a lot of eggs and vague monikers like “PeoriaGayGuy” and “TheGayGardener”. Heck, that’s how I opened my account: “RuralGay”. I didn’t go with the conventional egg. (It made me look fat in the middle.) I don’t even remember, but I must have gone with a rural picture or some badly cropped headshot.

I haven’t seen an egg on Twitter in ages. A good thing.

For a while though, I was concerned that some of the younger tweeps seemed to reject gay. A lot of “bromos” opened accounts. Never really got it. I’m gay, but not like that? Through my old eyes, the term seemed to separate rather than unite. The bromo fad appears to have waned.

All this brings me to the latest thing I don’t get on Twitter. Rather than hiding behind an egg or adopting a new term, I’ve noticed a lot of Twitter bio blurbs where the men identify themselves as “gay AF”. In the ‘90s, that would be daring. Screw you, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I’m a proud gay member of the Air Force.

Okay, even I knew that couldn’t be it. But I knew we’re in that sort of “screw you” world these days. (We have world leaders exchanging barbs about being “old” and “fat”, after all.) So this new trend is to self-identify as “gay as fuck”, aka gay AF.

Hmm. Suddenly Dana Carvey’s Church Lady is in my head: “Well, isn’t that special?!” It is great that these guys aren’t hiding in a closet or behind vague names and blurry pics. Kudos. How far we have come, indeed. I guess I just don’t know why we need to make the “AF” a thing. Be loud. Be proud! More than that, be involved. Be open to accepting the wide range of people for whom the rainbow flag flies.

But gay AF? I shrug at best. I don’t get it. Add it to my list.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

SWISH MANAGEMENT

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We’re our own worst enemies. That can be true when referring to ourselves or to the communities in which we belong.

Let’s set aside the self-hate and consider gay community’s enduring target within: the effeminate gay man. An October 2017 “Masculinity Survey” of 5,000 gay men by the British magazine, Attitude, revealed that 71% are turned off by effeminate mannerisms in other gay men. As well, 41% felt that effeminate gay men give the “community” a bad image or a bad reputation.

Sigh.

Longer sigh.

When does it end? I remember long, long ago—that is, before online dating and hooking up—when men who wanted to broaden their search beyond the bar scene took out personal ads in freebie news-ish publications. You could scan the page until you got to MEN SEEKING MEN. That’s when lonely hearts (or two-timers) stopped talking about pina coladas and getting caught in the rain and became more direct. “No femmes”. (These same great catches often said “No” to fats and Asians.) The defense was always, “Nothing personal.” (How is that not personal?!) “I’m just being honest.” God knows what other endearingly open comments might come out over dinner or that foreplay-inducing bottle of Bud.

We’ve evolved only slightly since then. Rather than being directly offensive, the single suitor (or two-timer/member of open relationship) states online that he’s a “masculine”, fit, white guy, seeking the same. It remains clear who should not apply for an amazing opportunity.

We spent decades in hiding, sticking to closets and darkened bars. In more public places, we walked alongside boyfriends with ample space between us, often saving our open hugs for the fun girl who was always happy (and available) to join us.

We spent the more recent decades demanding to be heard, first for advances in the fight over AIDS and then, when that fight miraculously ebbed, pushing for anti-discrimination legislation and marriage equality. The AIDS crisis weakened us while making us braver and bolder at the same time. Desperation, heightened each time another lover, friend or acquaintance died, made our closets seem silly. Silence and fears about being shamed, ostracized, fired and disowned gave way over time.

Oh, what progress we have made! So now that we’ve achieved such gains in public acceptance, 41% of us wish the more effeminate among us would toe the line. There are some behaviors that still need to be controlled, honed in…closeted. Your high-pitched voices and limp wrists are ruining our reputations! (And to think I posted three selfies of my abs after my gym workout today. Sure I got a lot of “Likes” but that hip swish of yours is killing me.) So bad for the reputation. And, to that 71% among us, such a turn off.

We pushed hard for acceptance. It came faster than many of us older gays (i.e., over 35) could have imagined. But apparently the acceptance is not for all of us, at least when we look within our community. It’s maddening but it’s not surprising. Many gays continue to struggle with low self-esteem, even self-hate. How fragile is acceptance? Are straight people only sounding evolved to be politically correct? What about all those red states? What about when I wander from the city? Self-hate and fear often manifest outwardly and, by golly, the femmes are just embarrassing. I’m not like them. Really, I swear.

Back in my ancient coming out days of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I monitored my voice and mannerisms. There was that pesky pinky that liked to stick out as I gently sipped a lite beer. (More limes, please.) My wrists, if not limp, were as thin as the daintiest of women no matter how many sets of dumbbells I curled. My primary object was to “pass”. It’s ironic that so much of coming to terms with being gay was preoccupied with acting straight. Please, let us have made real progress since then. Please let us be who we are. We’ve extended our community from “gay and lesbian” to a growing alphabet of terms and identities. So why haven’t we grown in our understanding and acceptance of the “G” itself?

If anything, there should be greater respect and gratitude to the more effeminate among us. “Passing” was never an option for them. While the rest of us hid, they bore the brunt of slurs and hate crimes when prejudice went largely unchecked. They heard the snickers behind their backs and felt the shunning in their earliest years. How shameful that they might continue to be outcasts in our own community.

We have co-opted positive terms like gay and pride and we’ve flown rainbow flags to represent our diversity. Let us check our own prejudices and endeavor to truly welcome and accept all the colors and incarnations our flag is meant to represent.

Friday, November 3, 2017

HAS THE LINE MOVED?


Never thought Kevin Spacey coming out would have people talking. But, from what I’m seeing online, there is some division on sideline sentencing and whether there is any guilt at all.

I don’t think anyone can convince me that he didn’t cross the line in making the moves on a fourteen-year-old actor. Some people offer the vague defense that many minors go to bars and lie about their age. Not the case here. Spacey knew Anthony Rapp and he knew the guy was a boy. It wasn’t at a bar; it was at Spacey’s space. Could alcohol have played a role? Sure. I just don’t know how drunk you have to be to think it’s okay to come on to someone who is fourteen.

The bigger debate centers around those gay bars between men, not minors. One man says he was groped by Spacey at a bar and suffered Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result. That’s where many seem to side with #TeamSpacey. Some say the other guy must have been homophobic to have such a strong, lingering reaction. Others say groping is a normal act in gay bars. There is no history of gays asserting power over gays, like the advantage men have had over women. Men can be cavemen and, without a woman in the mix, one can expect caveman actions. There’s never been a social check to tell gay men that groping is not okay in a gay environment like gay bars.

I was offended the first times I was groped. What just happened?! Often, the contact came on a crowded dance floor or as a friend and I circulated through the swarms of men packed into a West Hollywood club at midnight on a Saturday night. It was like that grade school “prank” where someone taps you on the shoulder, you turn around and no one claims responsibility. It would happen over and over as classmates laughed. Annoying until you figured out who did it. Then you laughed along with the group, relieved to finally be in on the joke.

In the crowded gay bar, anonymous groping happened. One friend or another would say, “I just got my ass grabbed.” Depending on the groper and or the gropee, the reaction was “Ewwww” or “Congratulations!”

I was always incensed. To be sure, I wanted to be noticed. I wanted a boyfriend and, in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, the gay bar seemed like the best option. (Seems sad when I type that.) An ex of mine in L.A. said I had a perpetual deer-in-the-headlights look to everything. And he meant everything, gay or otherwise. Like I was some country bumpkin when I was actually a nice, naïve Canadian boy who happened upon Los Angeles by way of Texas. (It stunned me that everything about that self-description was considered a turnoff to most guys I met.)

For the record, I never took my shirt off in a gay bar either.
Part shyness, part body image issue, part common sense.
As long as I didn’t share anything about myself, I remained grope-worthy, at least to a few. Some weren’t even all that drunk. I never suffered PTSD. Groping was part of the gay bar ambience, along with all that smoke that seeped into my clothes, skin and lungs. The fact I found groping offensive made me feel like a bad gay. If it was someone I wasn’t into which was almost always the case—friends said I was too picky (Uh,…thanks?)—the grope was too forward, too creepy. On the rare occasion, I thought the guy was hot, the act left me confused. Is that like a bad pickup line? What am I supposed to do now? Grope back? Why couldn’t he have just said hi?

“You just need to get laid,” a peripheral friend would say. But then he’d disappear for the rest of the night to,…you know.

To be sure, I wanted to be noticed. I wanted a boyfriend and, in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, the gay bar seemed like the best option. (Seems sad when I type it.)

“You can’t be so sensitive,” a closer friend said. “And don’t you think he’s kinda cute?”

Miss you, Mary.

The answer was usually “No” and occasionally “Not anymore.” And then ten or fifteen minutes later, I’d say goodbye to whoever was still present in my little group of barflies, walk back alone to my parking spot, closer to The Beverly Center than the bars, and drive home, wondering, What’s wrong with me? Is this what gay is all about? Wasn’t the theme from the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” supposed to be my song? What if I don’t make it after all? (Maybe I should’ve been more literal with my inspiration and followed Mary Richards to Minneapolis.)

My indignation made me a fuddy-duddy. I was out but still an outsider. Frequently I’d ask, “Is this all there is?” although I learned to keep the question in my head after the fuddy-duddy label. (I gave it to myself. People would just hear me rant, put their drink down and say, “Yeah, I think I’m going to check out the scene at Micky’s.”)

Basically, the feedback I got—expressly or otherwise—was that groping was just part of the gay bar scene. It’s what gays do along with drinking too much, taking Ecstasy and staring at the crotches of go-go boys. Too much real conversation was overrated, a buzz killer.

I revisited L.A. a few months before I turned fifty (I’m still pretending that was just yesterday) and some of the same friends and I found ourselves back in the same West Hollywood Clubs. There was a déjà-vu as the peripheral friend dumped us within the first forty-five minutes, leaving with a muscled twenty-something as though nothing had changed. At Rage, we danced and I got groped by a sexy man two decades younger than me. Instead of outrage, I was flattered, a sad reaction to what I’d always shunned. I knew all too well that I’d reached pasture-grazing status in the gay world. I didn’t have a beach home in Huntington Beach or drive a Mercedes or have personal trainer sessions three times a week like my ageless, never-worked-a-day-in-his-life peripheral friend. This ass grab made me feel noticed and younger. The guy didn’t even flee the bar when I turned and he saw my face in the admittedly dim lighting. Later, my group drifted to Revolver and yet again I got groped by another attractive younger guy. Still no indignation. Still flattered. I was a hypocrite. I was that desperate to feel young again, to feel looked at—even with a leer—instead of being looked past.

Maybe it is time for a new etiquette in what few gay bars remain. Before my time, I’d heard about sex in dark corners and backrooms but, at least to my knowledge, those things were the lore of an earlier generation. And, thankfully, I never had to figure out the colored hanky codes. We’ve done away with smoking in clubs. Perhaps it’s time for kamikaze groping to be retired, too. Should be easy to do away with. Anyone who wants random contact can hookup online or at some outdoor site that’s widely talked about on other internet sites. Maybe the clubs can turn up the lights a notch and people can actually get to know one another through sustained conversation. If we go retro, let us “Vogue” without that extra hand movement. Can we stop the anonymous groping in bars or is this still the wishful thinking of a (hypocritical) old fogy?

Monday, October 30, 2017

SPACEY-ING OUT


Sometimes the indignation comes easily. Poor Kevin. And by that, I don’t mean to show empathy. Mr. Spacey has long had us wondering when. We’d all heard it. The man is gay. He’ll come out once he feels safe, once his career is solidly on the down slide or maybe once he’s madly in love and about to marry a scholarly British gentleman. Isn’t that why he dashed off to London?

A long time ago, in the ‘90s, many of us wanted him to come out. He could make a difference. As an articulate, Oscar-winning, A-list actor, Kevin Spacey could add an esteemed face to the LGBT movement (back then, mostly L and G). This was when we were dealing with AIDS and hate crimes and hoping people could serve in the military as long as they weren’t blabbermouths about their personal lives. Anti-discrimination and marriage seemed too lofty cherry pies in the sky.

Kevin kept quiet. I don’t recall him trying to pass as straight off-screen. His right. But he was on the wish list. One day, we thought, Spacey, Travolta and Cruise would be grand marshals in Pride parades and continue to receive GLAAD awards even if their big screen roles dried up. How much money did they really need?

We listened to Kevin’s acceptance speeches. Surely, he’d pull a Jodie one day and toss in a cryptic thank you to a lover/partner. Something beyond “good, good friend”, something clearly different than the Damon/Affleck bromance.

I thought the coming out would occur during press interviews for his gay role in 1997’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. Why take the role and then continue to cling to the confines of the closet? Maybe the fact it flopped affirmed Spacey’s fears that being “too gay”—in other words, publicly gay—was career suicide.

So we all continued to wait. Spacey would dodge questions about his sexuality, at one point in a 2007 interview stating, “I’ve never believed in pimping my personal life out for publicity.” Too defensive. It’s not like he was staging a wedding to Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes. We all trusted that Spacey would balk at any such suggestions from agents, studios and established religious cults. We felt that this many was of good character. That’s why we all wanted him to come out. But then, somewhere along the way, with the passage of time and the Supreme Court recognizing gay marriage, we stopped caring about Spacey’s private life. He and Travolta and Cruise could go on keeping their “secret”. We had Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Sir Ian McKellen. And Ellen and Rosie, too. Good enough.

If you had told me that Kevin Spacey came out today, I’d have shrugged along with everyone else. Okay. Good for him. That’s a weight off, even if no one else viewed it as a weight anymore.

But that, of course, is not how it went down. He didn’t just casually address it—finally!—in an interview. He tweeted it and he did so, at best, as a distraction and, at worst, in self-defense. We’re still in the thick of the Hollywood cause of the moment, its uncovering decades of sexual harassment and assaults. And, as part of that tide, actor Anthony Rapp disclosed that it was a twenty-six-year-old Kevin Spacey who made unwanted sexual advances to fourteen-year-old Rapp. Spacey launched a multi-tiered response: (1) I don’t remember; (2) I must have been drunk; and (3) Hey, by the way, I’m gay. The implication intertwined with his coming out is that he was conflicted over his sexual orientation, driven to drink and did dastardly deeds such as trying to sexually assault a boy. It was the behavior of a self-hating, self-censoring, horribly confused man.

Distraction or excuse, it comes off as sad at the very least. Yes, I have friends who were so conflicted about being gay that they became addicted to drugs or alcohol. It wasn’t good to be gay in the ‘80s. The alleged incident occurred in 1986 when the AIDS crisis went unchecked and the Reagan administration continued to shirk any sense of leadership in speaking with compassion and conviction to address it. Anti-gay sentiment magnified due to falsehoods and fears about AIDS. It would be exceptional for any gay man in the ‘80s not to be plagued with fits of self-hate, an internalized manifestation of society’s widespread revulsion.

But we didn’t go having sex with minors. I was warily aware of a dubious organization called NAMBLA which generated headlines due to its outrageous agenda. This was the North American Man/Boy Love Association, presumably no larger than a society advocating sex with UFOs, but every time I saw any press about this organization, I felt it represented a major setback to gay tolerance and that ultimate of wishful thinking, acceptance.

There were still large segments of society that lumped homosexuality in with criminals, perverts, practitioners of bestiality and pedophiles. I grew up frequently hearing this. How could that not have had a negative impact into a gay person’s identity? Even today, some extreme conservatives raise fear amongst themselves by claiming an LGBT agenda seeks to “recruit” their children.

Perhaps it’s with all this historical background that I cringe even more at Mr. Spacey’s deflection of responsibility. There was a time when, due to his celebrity, he could have helped advance LGBT causes. He passed on that, which is his right. (I presume he offered support in less public ways.) On a day when he is accused of sexually pressuring a minor, I don’t want him trying to climb on the gay bandwagon. It has the danger of perpetuating an old misperception. It smacks of excuse-making for that which is inexcusable.

If anything good can come from this, it’s a reminder that celebrities—whether movie stars or athletes—are not heroes. Their voices are heard more than the rest of us, but they can be as misguided, perhaps more so because of their protectors, their “yes” men, their perceived power and their desperation to retain fame and fortune.

I respected Kevin Spacey. He is indeed a fine actor. I hope something good will come of all that has aired today. Perhaps Spacey can receive counseling. Perhaps there will be a time when Spacey can truly express full remorse toward Anthony Rapp. For now, it’s an egregious mess, a woeful attempt at saving face and a blatant misfire in terms of garnering sympathy.

I wish he’d never come out at all.

Monday, October 16, 2017

WHAT TO SAY


It's the middle of the day on a weekday and I have a hair appointment. I feel myself becoming unsettled as I walk to the salon. My stylist and I live in different worlds due to age and interests so it's always a challenge to keep a conversation flowing during a cut, an ordeal prolonged by the fact I insist on getting my sideburns colored each time as I continue to battle the inevitable gray signs of aging.

I have far less than usual to discuss. I've been in hospital for close to three weeks and I'm not prepared to talk about that. I can't talk about my recent (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Again, in hospital. No pumpkin pie, no roasted veggies. And I didn't have plans for this past weekend. I wasn't sure when I'd be discharged. I'm out of practice in planning a day or any part of it. I've forgotten what it's like to have options. And, honestly, I don't have the energy.

I briefly debated telling my stylist I was hospitalized for depression. (Never mind the suicidal tidbit. No need to be a total downer.) But being out with one's depression still comes with a degree of discretion. To my knowledge, there isn't some well-worn chant like, "I'm down. Don't frown. Get used to it."

A disclosure to Melanie might be somewhat cathartic and might even have some educational value for her, but in my mind I went all Jack Nicholson--"You can't handle the truth!" 

Jack and I were proven right after only five minutes. She'd asked me if I was dressing up for Hallowe'en. She talked about Friday the 13th freaking her out. She bemoaned a broken fingernail and an unsatisfied craving for sour candy. "I was hospitalized for depression" just felt out of place. So I explained away my midday appointment by saying I'd taken a leave of absence.

"Good for you!" she said. "You work too hard." And then she segued into an anecdote about how menacing the mirror at her work station can be when she has a hangover.

I'm not ready for full re-entry into society, I thought. I wanted to flee. I even momentarily longed for the grim isolation of my old room on the psych ward. But then I looked in that menacing mirror and stared down big hair and old man sideburns. I steered the conversation to near silence. I inserted a fake smile in the right places and nodded at times when the scissors weren't too close to my ears. I made it through, departing with my secret still under wraps. Turns out the experience wasn't about bringing Melanie around to some point of understanding; rather, it was a chance for me to practice tolerance. And, these days, that’s something we can all work on, no matter what we’ve endured during the past month.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

THE BITCH IS BACK

This blog has evolved. Initially, it was about a single, middle-aged gay man’s struggles with living in a relatively isolated rural area. But, after a decade, I moved back to Vancouver, realizing too much nature and seclusion were detrimental to my well-being. It wasn’t as though rural existence triggered the onset of mental health issues; it just exacerbated them. Farewell, rural adjective. I was still a single, (older) middle-aged gay man. It should come as no shock that struggles remained. Not every problem is tightly linked to being gay either, but there usually is a tangential connection at the very least. And so, from time to time, I’ve stuck with my commitment to write honestly and without self-censorship to focus on dealing with depression. Maybe someone else will feel a connection. Maybe he or she won’t feel as alone in coming to terms with significant challenges.


Acknowledging my depression has been my second coming out. It has yielded remarkably similar experiences. In fact, the taboo over mental illness hasn’t been chipped away nearly to the degree that society has become more accepting of homosexuality. Nobody calls me a sinner for being depressed. Not even when suicidal ideation surfaces. No one has insinuated that I’m a danger to society. The shunning is subtler. For many, the gayness and the depression draw the same response: Can we just not talk about it?

I’ll be blunt. Depression’s a bitch. It’s a beast. It pulls you down. It goes away only to return as a most unwelcome surprise. Today I was discharged from hospital, eighteen days after being admitted. Unlike physical illness, they make a point of certifying you. I went in voluntarily, first consulting with my psychiatrist and then going home to carefully packing a few belongings before walking to Emergency. This was, after all, my second stint in a psych ward. (The first was three and a half years ago.) I knew I wanted my own bar of soap instead of having to squeeze gel out of teensy trial packages. A few books, too. (No thanks to six-year-old issues of Time and stacks of Reader’s Digest.) And extra underwear!

As much as I felt I desperately needed to be hospitalized, I wanted out fifteen minutes after going in. Maybe it had something to do with having to remove my clothes as two security guards watched and then surrendering all my belongings. This would be no spa vacation. A hospital is not a calm, welcoming setting for recovering from a breakdown. So much for my fanciful images of a pristine white mansion with green lawns where people spend their days playing croquet and trying to catch butterflies in large nets. This was much less a Merchant-Ivory film and much more Cuckoo’s Nest. I was immersed in rooms of chipped-paint beige and “soothed” by the sounds of doors that slammed shut every few minutes, a screaming patient pounding on the walls of his very own “quiet room”, and pages for housekeeping and Code Blues. The objective is to get better in spite of your surroundings.

Generations ago, they treated some forms of mental illness with shock therapy. I’m not sure how much matters have evolved. I certainly experienced significant shock every day of my stay. In the end, I felt more broken, more defeated. And I am left with a higher level and frequency of anxiety than I’ve ever had before. Even greater than the anxiety that arose from my previous hospitalization.

So now I’m free. The wounds are invisible but I can them. The real healing begins now. I don’t have a clear plan for recovery. I must continue to manage unpredictable tearful surges. I hope the chest pains subside. As I let go of the survival cloak I shrouded myself in while navigating the psych ward, I know the depression will rise to the surface anew. This time I won’t have to deal with surprise and disappointment. It’s an unwanted houseguest but I hope to meet it head-on, supported by my family doctor, my private psychiatrist and a new counsellor. Last time around, the sucker hung out for two years. Maybe this time I can limit its stay. Maybe I’ll develop better, stronger coping strategies. Maybe I’ll find the right people in society who will listen rather than donning ear plugs or offering naïve booster advice like, “Smile more” and “Can’t you just cheer up?”

My parting gift from hospital is a new set of prescription meds. The eighteen days in lock-up felt like an eternity. Still, the real journey begins now.



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.