Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gay-zing in Seattle

Vacations! My chance to see the city! On my first day off, I headed with a friend to Seattle for some shopping. It was a few days before Christmas and, while snow set the festive mood on the streets, the crowds of men looking for gay apparel created a glorious atmosphere inside. Crowds--normally I hate them. In the Men's Department at Nordstrom and Macy's, I say the more the merrier.

In my little community in British Columbia, there are two men's stores. And they are both the same! A discount store called Mark's Warehouse (or is it Men's Warehouse?). I am sure they stock an ample assortment of basic tees, flannel shirts and work boots. (Thankfully, the work boot look for gays passed fifteen years ago.) No fuss shopping. "I need a shirt. Yeah, that'll do." Here in downtown Seattle, good looking men were casually browsing through a collection of insanely soft scarves and matching designer ties with dress shirts. No sales assistance required!
I think I have a clearer picture of what it's like to be ADD. My neck risked whiplash, gay-zing this way and that. Overwhelmed, I couldn't pick a single item to purchase. Too much eye candy.
Thankfully, we still had two days of shopping in Portland.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

True Pride Is but a Ferry Away

It's Gay Pride Weekend in Vancouver. I stopped going for many years. I did not feel a renewed sense of pride and affirmation from watching twenty-year-old go-go boys toss chains of colored plastic beads. Women in pasties on motorcycles did not do it either. With Amy Winehouse prominent in the press these days, I do not think drag queens with four foot high beehives will do it either. (Really...never did. At least they would make me crack a smile.)

Last year I took the ferry over and attended with a friend. We did not watch with the masses on a street curb. In the wisdom that comes with maturity--and, you might say, sucks the fun out of everything--we made brunch reservations at a trendy restaurant on the parade route. As I took dainty bites of multigrain French toast with blueberry coulis, shirtless boys (some scrawny, some enviously buff) and men (some sporting middle-aged muffin tops in the midriff, all lacking a sense of acting with proper restraint) waved and danced from floats. I smiled with satisfaction, knowing that I could watch without inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke and without having to hear a stranger named Bertha loudly give a parade play-by-play. ("Oh, look. I think that's Meg's float coming next. No, it's another group of men with leis and hula skirts.")

When we had finished our meal, the parade was still in full procession. We decided to brave the elements and mix with the street folk. Being tall, I had the advantage of looking over walls of people and having a full view of the parade from any spot on the route. My friend is shorter so we walked along until finding a slight opening for full viewing.

It was there that I recalled the power of a Gay Pride Parade. As young boys whooped it up on floats, I looked at their faces instead of their bodies. Grins. Eyes dancing. They looked truly proud. The obscure act of standing in a flatbed and chucking beads or condoms or promotional fliers for a bar was an act of freedom. Look at me. Look at me. Yes, I'm gay. In your face! After the struggles with identity during adolescence and the harshness of gay taunts before these boys had fully understood or accepted their gayness, this was a time for holding nothing back. The crowd was friendly and the cheers a resounding sign that, in this place and in this moment, any lingering self-doubt or angst had no place. Even an uncomfortable gawker in the crowd could not and would not rain on the parade. This is my moment.

I flashed back to Los Angeles, September 1990, my first Gay Pride Parade. I watched alone. As one in the crowd, I felt an affinity with the Berthas, Bettys and Howards near me. I eavesdropped and lapped up their comments as the parade passed by.  My eyes must have bulged in awe at the daringness of the (lack of) costumes sported by gays and lesbians in convertibles, on floats, in marching groups. I breathed in the air of acceptance, knowing I was witnessing a gay event with tens of thousands of supporters. Gay was okay. No, gay was It. That night, I watched the local news to catch its coverage which was mainly limited to shots of flamboyant drag queens. At that time, I had no objections. I did not worry that the viewing public would generalize based on a limited representation. Basically, I did not think. I felt.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

In the Name of Pride

The second annual Pride Dance in my local community occurred last night. Last year I went alone and remained proud for twenty minutes before making a beeline to the car and heading home. This year I brought a friend from Vancouver and we stayed for an hour. I was the one insisting we leave. He found the event to be what he thought it would be and seemed positive. I, on the other hand, felt it was what I expected, yet felt disappointment.

When it is my own community and a rare opportunity to meet as a group of gays and lesbians, a sense of hope builds. Logically, I know that the gay people in my area are already coupled up. They smartly got there lives in order before moving to a quiet rural or small town setting. Romantically, however, I wonder if a handsome stud with whom I have perfect chemistry will appear and sweep me off the dance floor. I know it won’t happen, but I hope it will.

The dance is done. I am still single. When will the next opportunity arise? Do I need to move back to the city? Can I afford to move back? Can I afford not to?

I realize the dance was more than a chance to meet Mr. Right. It was also a time to chat with other gays and lesbians and build connections, possibly friendships. The venue with loud music—Did they really think Wake Up, Little Susie was a great song for a gay dance?—made conversations difficult to sustain. I felt I keep thrusting my left ear in people’s faces as I strained to make sense of why their lips were moving. I am not a natural when it comes to random chitchat so there were times I did not even bother to figure out what was being said. I could feel myself giving up.

Over dinner before the dance, I asked my city friend why so many gay social events are at bars or dances. Is that all we are—martini (and water bottle) loving club kids? In Vancouver, there are also many gay sports groups. In the past, I joined a gay volleyball night and a gay tennis league. Here, there aren’t the numbers for that kind of thing. What else is there? How can truer connections be established? I realize I am sounding passive in that I am not organizing anything. That is a valid criticism. I am painfully shy and self conscious until I get to know people. That’s a hard thing to shake.

Ideas? Am I whining too much? Do I need Cher to show up, slap my face and say, “Snap out of it!”

Oh, if only she would. And if only I could.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

When in Rome

I go to a gym in the small town closest to my house. It’s a decent facility, equipped with the standard free weights, machines, treadmills and bikes.

The atmosphere is, however, far different from where I worked out in Los Angeles or the clubs in Vancouver. In L.A., I belonged to Sports Connection, the West Hollywood club commonly referred to as Sports Erection. In Vancouver, I joined Denman Fitness and then Fitness World, both in the West End gay ghetto/mecca. The previous gyms were cruisy…or so I’m told—I certainly have no personal experiences. I grew accustomed to enjoying the scenery between sets: smooth, tanned, glistening male bodies with muscles bursting from skimpy, yet trendy lycra outfits. A look was a form of flattery to feed their already sizable egos. The music was the latest in dance or pop. Madonna was always in the mix. Step and aerobic classes were subscribed to based on the popularity (er, hotness) of the instructor. Basically, a trip to the gym was an experience much greater than that exercise in futility whereby I longed for any sign of growth in my own muscle mass.

In my small town, I go solely to workout. There are no fitness classes. You got yer weights, you got yer machines…go to it. There are a surprising number of muscular men, but they have more machismo in their hangnails than I have in my entire being. I catch them eyeing themselves in the mirror, rather than the physiques of others. There is no lycra or spandex. Cargo pants rule. Still. As for music, if it’s not the classic rock station from Vancouver Island, it’s AC/DC’s greatest hits. I actually get excited when they mellow things out with a ZZ Top tune. Oh, yeah, she’s got legs, she knows how to use ’em…

I do my best to fit in. I have corrected that old habit of kicking out my pinky finger when I sip from my water bottle. My shorts go below the knee. I watch the score ticker on the constant feed of the sports channel. It’s much safer than peeking at a guy’s biceps while he’s mid-curl.

I am also overly self-conscious. The biggest employer in town is a pulp and paper mill. This is True Blue blue collar. (Madonna references still slip in.) On the treadmill yesterday, the television monitor closest to me aired golf—not my thing, but I didn’t notice it was on until I was at a full running pace. Ten minutes into my run, the golf suddenly ended and a show about scrapbooking took over. Oh, my! Who was responsible for that one-two punch of programming?

The gym was fairly empty for a Saturday afternoon: just a hulking guy with a Regina Fire Department t-shirt, a guy with biceps bigger than my butt, and a shady, baseball-capped dude with tattoos running up his solid calf muscles, down his triceps and covering his neck and, I presume, his entire back. And me in my matching black Nike outfit with the CK athletic socks. What would they think if they passed by? It was golf, I swear! The scrapbooking popped up out of nowhere, guys. A quick glance at me and there was no way they’d buy my story.

After a couple of minutes of glancing in disbelief as the screen ran flashing messages like “At Last! No More Die Cutting!” I paused the treadmill and changed the channel to an all-news network. Whew!

Just in time as a new person—a still fit guy in his fifties—arrived, glanced at the screen and then asked for permission to change the channel.

The sports channel with the ticker scoreboard once again. In a small town, change is a slow process.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Coffee "Date"

While in Vancouver, I met a guy I'd contacted through an online dating site. (More about these sites another time.) This is the third person I've met face-to-face and--SPOILER ALERT!--the results have all been disappointing. Is it me? Is it the coffee? Let's just say it's him. Why not? He can't defend himself here. He can create his own blog if he so chooses.

There should not be any great expectations for such meetings. He--let's give him an exotic name: Bob--even minimized any possible hype online by calling the first in-person chat an "introduction", not a date. That didn't help me suppress my unruly nerves and sweat glands. For a guy who lives a ferry ride away from anything gay, these intros are high stakes. Plus I'm 43. A nursing home is just around the corner.

Bob had three pictures of himself online. One was hot; the other two, not so hot. Deep down I suspected the hottie shot was a fluke, a credit to good lighting, a perfect angle and that one day each decade when everything comes together just right. Still, it was his photo. There was a chance that the other two shots were simple statements that Bob may not be photogenic. We all know people who look wonderful in person but are cursed by camera gremlins.

It was a fluke all right. And I know I am sounding superficial. I sat at an outdoor table while he ordered his coffee and hoped that chemistry would draw me in. Within the first minute of conversation, I knew there would be no such thing. It start with the laugh. I'll readily admit that I have a laugh that can be polarizing, but his was an expression of elfin glee that made his eyes bulge and his upper body shake. I did not bolt. I stayed for ninety more minutes, just so I wouldn't come across as rude. Or shallow (even though that's how I felt). Remember watching Seinfeld and being amused, yet repulsed at how quickly the characters could dismiss an otherwise date-able person? I'm sure The Laugh was featured. Maybe I am doomed to a life like George.

Maybe I am just doomed to sitting through miserable "conversations" (er, diatribes) about Russia, China and India resolving to rock American power. (I lived in the U.S. for sixteen years and my whole family still lives there. I think during an introduction one should temper any urge to bash a country by listening to any lead from the person with stronger connections to that country. Just a thought.) He shifted to talking about his photographic memory. Hello, arrogance! He then rambled about his work in a business setting mentioning all his training, his five-year plan and...I don't know what else. My eyes glaze over when people talk business. Is that a flaw?

I felt myself shutting down. I regularly stared off and he turned a few times to see what I found more interesting. A banner. Bricks on a building. A cigarette butt. Oh, if he only had a blog!

I used to approach first dates with the idea that each one is a story. Good or bad, the date is an experience and the joy or pain can make entertaining conversation with friends. Somehow the stories are getting duller. They don't seem worth reading.

It's okay. There are other books. (Aren't there?) I don't think the online sites lead to much, but I don't seem to have other options at the moment. Still, I may wait at least a day before logging on again.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Dangers of the Big City

I'm in Vancouver for four days attending a conference at the airport. It's peculiar living at an airport, but that's another story.

Leaving my peaceful rural setting and returning to the big city can be dangerous. Yes, I am well aware of the reports of crime, pollution and nasty catfights between mayoral candidates. I still have a subscription to the Vancouver Sun (although it's been a major adjustment trying to save at least a cup of coffee in the pot until the morning paper arrives just before noon). The dangers for me are more personal. On the ferry ride over, I started planning my shopping stops. What did I need? What did I want? What might I buy for no justifiable reason whatsoever? I was getting very excited.

In four hours in the city, I dropped $700. I felt I'd been robbed, but there was also a sense of pure elation. Did I really need new, hotel quality sheets for my bed? For the two dogs and me? It wasn't like there was anyone I had a shot of impressing. Didn't matter. Swipe that credit card! And why four Nike t-shirts, same style, different colors? My part of the world doesn't carry Nike (or Calving Klein or Ralph Lauren or Hilfiger or any label other than what is sold in not one but TWO Mark's Warehouse stores--yech!). Don't think; just buy! Socks, undies, shorts, more shirts.

The temptations in the big city are great. I succumbed.

And I can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Hike in the Boonies

Last weekend, two of my gay fortysomething friends schlepped over from Vancouver for their annual visit. Yep, once a year they leave their urban comforts and connect to small town/rural life. Fortunately, as with every visit they've made, the weather was perfect. We decided to go for a hike a five-minute drive from my place. (So close and yet I'd never made the trek myself. Sad. I could attribute it to a fear of encountering a bear, but still sad.) My tour book described the walk as an "unrelenting" forty-minute uphill climb. Armed with water bottles and smeared in sunscreen, we gamely (gaily?) set forth.

The walk began on a heavily forested path, ferns lushly serving as ground cover and mature pines towering above. As it was the hottest day of the year, the shade was greatly appreciated. After about ten minutes we came to the stairs, built into the slope. A sign screamed "Danger" in block read letters, but we weren't to be turned back. For the next twenty minutes, we struggled to breathe evenly as we battled the equivalent to an outdoor Stairmaster. Who needs a gym, city boys? Natural beauty AND a calf muscle workout!

We reached a few clearing areas with peak-a-boo views of the water and wondered if that was as good as it gets. (Truthfully, I think we all just needed an excuse to catch our breath and stretch our leg muscles before continuing.) Eventually, we reached a clearing, a large rocky summit that provided the view we'd hoped for. Breathtaking! The small harbor town closest to my home looked like a Mediterranean resort. The arbutus trees that twisted and arced upward from the rocks fascinated. The islands and boats below added to the beauty of the vibrant scene.

We sat and looked in silence for many minutes. It was a moment to enjoy the tranquility. No horns, no sirens, no schnauzers barking. It took me three years to take in this particular view, but all along the coast there are postcard moments. This is why I moved to the boonies.

Monday, June 30, 2008

No Luck at Potluck

I went with no expectations, but left a tad disappointed. How is that?

I suppose I did entertain a few "possibilities" in my head before heading to the only gay event in my area of the past year. When gatherings are so rare, there is pressure to make the most of a rare opportunity.

I had known about the potluck for weeks--discovered an announcement online--, but waffled about attending. Five hours beforehand, I rang the hosts and apologized for such a tardy RSVP. No worries, the guy on the other end assured me. I was the fifth to call in the morning and sixty-five people were expected. Sixty-five? Here in a remote area where I can't identify any gays? Of course, the event was open to lesbians and gays and lesbian women are well settled in these parts, but there was a chance of a decent showing of gay men. Surely some would be single and, hopefully--okay, that's getting close to an expectation--there'd be a spark.

I pulled up to a charming home in the marina and felt it was a good sign that parking was a bit of a problem. You don't want to go to a party and find curbside parking in front of the host's abode. Being the hottest day of the year to date, I was faced with the embarrassing problem of a steady padding of perspiration on my forehead as I tried to act cool during initial introductions. Turns out I'd met the host once when we both lived in Vancouver. (A bit awkward since he'd put a bid on a design job on the house that I'd bought with my ex. We went with another person.) In the backyard, a garden party was in bloom. The crowd of about thirty was fairly evenly divided along gender lines.

The first person to introduce himself was a retired gentleman. Very nice, but I got the feeling I just might wind up listening to talk about wintering in Fort Lauderdale for the whole party. Luckily, we drifted over toward another group of men about my age and I met several guys and their partners. Yep, everyone was with someone. I was the token singleton. Were they pitying me? I think, more likely, I was a curiosity. Why had I moved to such a remote area on my own? (If they only knew how many times I'd asked myself the same question.)

One guy talked about how he and his partner were moving back to Vancouver in five days after giving the area a three-year trial run. He was the same age as me and they were tired of the commute; moreover, they simply missed city life. He talked--er, whined--at length and I did my best to keep my mouth shut. You don't show up at a party and try to outdo someone who is knocking the place where all in attendance have chosen to live. Still, it was mighty tempting.

I managed to stay for an hour and a half. If things had been uncomfortable, I'd have vamoosed in less than twenty minutes. The people were very nice and the conversation was pleasant. I never fully relaxed and didn't joke or laugh, but I'm way out of practice.

As I drove home, I looked forward to the warm greeting from my two dogs. Yep, I have become the male version of the batty cat lady. So sad. At least when I go to town to buy a bag of dog food, there's now a chance I'll run into a gay couple and we can exchange casual waves as they pity me once I turn to the next aisle.

That's progress, isn't it?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why the Blog?

I have lived in large urban areas all my life: Dallas, Los Angeles, Vancouver. That changed three years ago when I decided to buy a house and I couldn't afford anything in the Vancouver market where prices were skyrocketing. I held a professional position that paid well enough, but my only options were apartment rentals or buying a box (condo) in the burbs.

As stubborn as I am, I decided that I needed a place to garden and a yard for my dogs to roam. I needed space so my boys could bark without disturbing neighbors above, below or beside me. My dogs are small, but they have booming barks that no condo wall can contain.

With the Mary Tyler Moore theme playing in my head--"You're gonna make it after all"--I packed and said goodbye to city life. Ah, the peacefulness. And what a lovely view of the water and mountains! I only hear sirens a few times a year. I can walk my dogs through wooded trails just up the hill from my house and there's always a chance we'll spot a couple of deer during our early morning strolls.

So how did heaven become hell? It didn't actually. Except I fear I'm losing my gayness, references to Mary Tyler Moore notwithstanding. When I moved here at 40, I'd already removed myself from most of the Vancouver gay scene for many years. Waiting to hit a club at 11 p.m. was a distant memory. Sleep triumphed over sleaze. I'd tired of the gay sports clubs where I never seemed to dazzle anyone with my volleyball spikes or tennis drop shots. My status as fresh cookie, a new kid in town, had long faded. Just a stale, hardened, burnt discard.

Still, being in the city and near the West End's gay ghetto meant opportunity could always be there if I ever made the effort. I could remain gay by association. I could have coffee with friends who were still somewhat connected. I could spot an attractive gay couple in the grocery store and know that I was not alone in the larger gay community sense of things.

Now I live out of town. It's not the suburbs so much as it's the hicks. (I mean that in a descriptive, rather than derogatory way.) The town itself has a population of about 3,500 and even has a Starbucks. The people are friendly enough and I run into acquaintances every time I pop in for any reason. There was a gay couple who ran a hair salon in town, but they moved a year ago to the gay mecca of Regina, Saskatchewan. I don't know any gay male in the area.

So am I making a problem out of nothing? I do love my home and, most of the time, I enjoy the solitude. Still, there are times when being gay in a rural area leaves me struggling with part of my identity. Whereas I'd successfully gone through the whole coming out drama in my twenties, it seems I'm back in the closet and I can't find much of a reason for stepping out.

Is there anyone who can relate? How have you made the adjustment? Other perspectives are most welcome.