Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Up in Smoke

While I have no statistical evidence, it seems that cigarette smoking is less common as one heads west across North America and as one ventures into more urban areas. I can't get much farther west where I live unless I go to Vancouver Island. I only know one person in my broad social circle who smokes. I suppose I take it for granted that people I'm in contact with in Vancouver will be nonsmokers.

Maybe that explains my failure to read the not-so-fine print in the online profile of someone who sent me a message of interest. We exchanged several messages and had two positive dates. It wasn't until I picked up Hal at the ferry terminal that I smelled smoke. Even before the hug, the scent hit me from his shirt. Turns out Hal is a smoker. It was stated in his profile--I later went back and read that he had indicated "Occasionally" beside the "Smoker?" line. How stupid that I missed that!

Should smoking be a big deal?

Fifteen years ago, I tried being flexible and I dated a smoker for a year and a half. I resented the fact that a cigarette was the first and last thing to touch his lips each day. I hated the interruptions during arguments when, due to the stress, my ex had to take a smoke break on the balcony. A warm embrace never felt so good with my head buried in his smoke-scented jacket or shirt. I never got used to riding in his car, trying to draw my breath from the air coming in through the rolled down window.
Compromise is necessary in any relationship, but being with a smoker simply made me feel badly about myself. I have honed a healthy lifestyle focused on regular, intense fitness and a vegetarian diet. I have heeded every directive ever given by a doctor. Being with a smoker didn't--and doesn't--jive with how I want to live.

With the third date altered at the moment of greeting, I found myself struggling to get through the long visit. There were many positive things about Hal and yet I started picking out the negatives--the louder than normal speaking voice, the style of his clothing, the nose from side profile--as if to give me more reason to end things beyond the fact that he smoked. I was also hard on myself. Had I read closely, a first date wouldn't have even occurred. I am certain of this because I reviewed this dilemma with another online messenger who contacted me at the same time as Hal. (When it rains, it pours. I know to expect an online drought next.) As much as I appreciated Chris' wit, his love for animals and his positive attitude about life, the smoking shut down any chance for a first date.

After Hal caught a later ferry home, I continued to question myself. Am I being too picky? The last four guys I've dated have all been interested in me and I've said no to each on the third or fourth date. Am I like the characters on Seinfeld, grasping for any reason to dismiss a budding relationship? When I'm single and seventy, will I look back and still think I made the right move in dumping a funny, attractive, caring man--who happened to be a smoker--when he clearly wanted a longterm relationship? I'm telling myself I'd have no regrets, but hindsight doesn't come after a day.

Coincidentally, when I reread Hal's profile to confirm that he had indeed stated he was a smoker, I clicked on one new profile. The guy included the following as part of his statement: Not particular on ethnicity although smokers (and yes even those "quitting") must EXIT here. The guy was far younger than I, yet much clearer on what he didn't want. I don't like sounding negative, mentioning what I don't want, but I see that being direct might make things much easier in the long run.

[Incidentally, the model in the first ad, Alan Landers, died of cancer at 68.]

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Am I Proud?

It’s Gay Pride Week in Vancouver. I won’t be attending any of the festivities this year. I seem to keep the parade on my own Olympic schedule. I don’t need an annual parade booster shot to be proud. The drag queens, the dykes on bikes, the club boys who dance on floats in their underwear, the PFLAG contingent, the multicultural organization participants, the handshake happy politicians,…I hope they have a great day. And put on sunscreen so as not to ruin the fake bake tans. Gotta protect the investment!

I got to thinking, am I proud? And, if so, is that pride at least connected to being gay? Proud is defined in my trusty Random House College Dictionary as “1. thinking well of oneself because of one’s accomplishments, possessions, etc. 2. feeling honored, as by a distinction conferred on one. 3. governed in one’s words or actions by self-respect.” Other definitions are provided. Blah, blah, blah. Top three is good enough.

One of the great things of accepting oneself is being able to look at the self as a whole. Back in my awkward coming out years (and painful NOT coming out years), the gay thing consumed me. It labeled me—er, branded me—, particularly during my years living in Texas where so many people lovingly said, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Ick. The sentiment still smacks of self-righteous ignorance. As a nascent drama queen, I’d written a couple of suicide notes and sat in the darkness of my room, bottle of Tylenol at my side. (Not even sure you can OD on headache medicine, but it was all about making a personal statement: I hate myself because I’m gay.

I’m definitely NOT proud of that period in the late Seventies and early Eighties. That dark period reminds me of why it is so important to have official Pride events: to break that feeling of isolation, to laugh amidst the frivolity, to find strength in marchers pushing for equality.

Thankfully, I moved to Los Angeles and had an opportunity to start over. Away from a smothering Baptist, conservative culture, I could go to a gay club without fear that I might be bashed in the walk to or from the car. (I remember the shocked reaction when I called a gay helpline in L.A. “You’ve been here two months and haven’t met a single gay?!” He regained his composure and pondered which club to recommend. Naively, or perhaps to amuse himself, he asked, “Well, what’s your scene? Do you like leather?” Ultimately, he directed me to something basic. Making that phone call was huge for me and it changed everything.)

I had my years where I oozed gay pride. I was gay, first and foremost. I clubbed regularly, volunteered with AIDS Project Los Angeles, joined a gay gym and took to the streets for several days in a row when Governor Pete Wilson vetoed Bill 101 which would have banned workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. Aside from school and work, my life was all gay all the time.

Naturally, when I moved to Vancouver, I settled in the gay ghetto, the fabulous West End. But I got tired of ironing my shorts before going to the gym and primping my hair before dashing out to the grocery store to buy another tub of frozen yogurt. Moving out of the West End helped me balance my life. I could be gay. And I could be more than that.

The pendulum is always swinging. Now living in a rural area, you might need an X-ray or blood test to detect the gay gene in me. The too-short shorts and tattered t-shirt I’m wearing at the moment don’t help matters. I haven’t even showered yet today. Gasp!

But am I proud? Do I feel a sense of self-respect? Do I feel a sense of accomplishment—without complacency—over accepting and embracing my gayness. Absolutely!

Happy Pride, Vancouver!