Tuesday, December 28, 2010

IT’S STILL COMPLICATED

Just read a blog entry from Small Town Queer, entitled "Reasons to come out in a small town." The points are well made and I agree that a life out of the closet is ultimately so much better. That said, coming out is, for many of us, a long process. There is no right way, despite the directions provided at sites like wikiHow.com and eHow.com. That is why each of us who has ventured beyond the precisely folded Armani sweater collection has a different story. Stories, actually. Some are comical (if only in retrospect), some affirming, still others are disappointing, even tragic.

I first came out twenty-five years ago, choosing my best friend as a potential supporter who deserved to know the truth. We sat in my darkened living room, each of us in a separate beanbag...more comfy than the card table chairs. She said she'd wondered. She said she accepted it. She said she supported me.

And then she didn't contact me for several weeks. (When we chatted last year about it, she denied this account, but I had stumbled upon my old journal entries. Reading my anguish from the time brought a fresh flood of tears.) The reason why coming out is such a big deal is because you can never predict the response.

Relationships are on the line.

When the reaction is less than positive, it is easy to assert that the person is not a good friend/relative. I've heard it many times: love should be unconditional.

Even as we tap on the shoulder of 2011, coming out can be complicated. I know it took me years to come to terms with my homosexuality before I ever talked openly about it. How is it that we grant ourselves a prolonged period before self-acceptance but expect instant acceptance from others? It is a process for both people in the conversation. While initial rejection stings, whether or not things can grow from there depends on how people act on both sides of the coming out drama.

I have had many positive experiences in coming out, but I've also had my share of rocky episodes. For me, silence has always been the most difficult. Without conversation, how can there ever be enlightenment? Questions are good, even if the first ones are offensive. When I came out to my parents, my mother immediately blurted, "Can't you abstain?" Over time, her questions became more thoughtful. My sister, by contrast, still refuses to talk about it, with me or with my mother. I like to think that my sister is the one who is now barricaded in the closet.

I learned a long time ago never to judge how one person interacts with his or her family. There's too much personal history, much that the person may not even be able to articulate. We can't all be Brady Bunches, Cleavers or Waltons. Each family dynamic is unique. The same goes for coming out. Who and when depends on the individuals involved. All the rest of us can do is share our stories, offer our congratulations when the experience is positive and provide support (through more listening than advising) when coming out feels more like coming undone.

Come out, come out wherever you are...but only when it truly feels right to you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

OOPS...

You know how some people get into a new relationship and forget everyone and everything else for three months? Okay, I wish that was my excuse for abandoning the blog since late September. How thrilling to be swept up in a romance with a guy who can communicate beyond the not-so-witty "How U Doing? U R sexy" online message and whose posted photo isn't ten years old.

Oh, sorry. Bitterness leaking through. Obviously no passionate relationship here. Not much of anything, really. I have been overtaken by work: a new setting filled with chaos that I have yet to get a handle on. (My current coping skill is a new laugh, a non-vocalized heaving sound. Don't like it, don't know where it came from, don't know how to stop. At least it's a laugh, not a scream.)

Three months ago, I was trying to build a relationship with a guy in Toronto whom I'd been emailing since February and seen for a few days in August in Ottawa. That's kaput. His decision in mid-November to trying dating guys who actually lived in the same province made sense to me. Neither of us was piling up the frequent flyer points on Air Canada and absence did not make the heart grow fonder. I just think a phone call would have been more respectful than an email announcement. Call me old-fashioned...

I have been juggling two abodes: my house in the boonies and a condo in Vancouver's West End. It is wonderful feeling like an urban dweller, taking SkyTrain to work, walking to the grocery store, hiking over the Burrard Street Bridge for Sunday dinners in Kitsilano. And, yes, I do appreciate retreating to my house on occasion to enjoy a siren- and motorcycle-free existence. (It hasn't exactly been blissful this weekend with the incessant whirring of chainsaws, but I'm hoping my neighbors' firewood stocks have been replenished. Is there a competition I don't know about? Is there such a thing as too much kindling?)

Juggling two homes and failing to have my lottery numbers come through (yet), I cannot continue my urban-rural existence indefinitely. It would be nice to save up for something like, oh, new socks, but it is what it is. I'll list my house again in the spring and hope that, with the NEW IMPROVED view of the ocean and mountains, a bidding war will ensue. (Yes, I am the hapless lottery player, too.)

So 2010 ends much as it began: single, struggling financially, but still hopeful.

Monday, September 27, 2010

IT GETS BETTER

I'm feeling blown away, thinking about what could have been had the Internet existed when I was a teenager struggling with my sexuality. I received an email today that provided a link to the It Gets Better project, a series of YouTube videos by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, giving youth the message that suicide is not the answer while acknowledging that high school may be the most brutal time for LGBT youth.

If only I'd known another gay person. If not in person, then through television or other media. I struggled in dealing with the slurs spit upon me when I was confused as to my identity. How could they be so sure when I hadn't figured things out myself? And how could they be so hateful, these Southern Baptists who beliefs represented the only road to salvation and, ultimately, heaven? Two peers in high school committed suicide and it saddens me that I can't even recall the name of one of them. Were they struggling with their sexuality? At the time, that possibility never occurred to me. I was the only possibly gay person in the county. According to the peers and adults around me, if I lived a gay life, I'd be a sinner, a pedophile, a pariah. There would be nothing redeeming in me.

As I watched the testimonies from Dan Savage and his partner, from Perez Hilton, from the transgendered man from Hawaii, from the friend of the transgendered teen who killed himself before the project ever launched, tears streamed down my cheeks. If only someone had told me I was worthwhile. If only someone had let me know that he'd felt despair every day of his high school existence. If only I'd known I was not alone.

Thank you, Dan Savage, for launching this project after hearing about the suicide of 15-year-old Billy Lucas earlier this month. There are youth in rural and urban areas who need to know that there is hope, that The Now will not be The Always. Adolescence is inherently awkward, dramatic and, oftentimes, painful. When you are coming to terms with your sexual identity, it can seem utterly unbearable. But it does get better. Not in a day, in a week or a month,...but over time and once freed from the social caste system of high school. It's unfortunate that Better is still something so many have to wait for, but it's affirming to hear that it will indeed come.

Check out the YouTube It Gets Better channel and Dan Savage's video. Pass on the links. People need to know these videos exist.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

CAN THIS FRIENDSHIP BE REVIVED?

I think there's a line in "About Last Night" when Jim Belushi tells Rob Lowe or Elizabeth Perkins tells Demi Moore that you're allowed to go gaga over a new flame for three weeks. Then the friends have every right to reel you back in. (Side note: It's a decent movie, based on a screenplay by David Mamet. But then I'm a sucker for Sheena Easton songs so DVD renters be warned.)


Trouble is three weeks can become three months, then three years, then seven. I swore I wouldn't be one of those people, but I didn't relate to my ex's friends and he didn't relate to mine. And neither set of friends related to or endorsed the fact we'd left the single life. I'd suggest brunch, they'd suggest bars. I'd plan a dinner party; they'd want to go to the Sunday night drag show. The friendships faded. After my breakup and my move to the boonies, the friendships flat-out died.

In most cases, I realize there is no point in exhuming the dearly departed. However, there are a few that I would like to think can be miraculously revived. Last night, I went for coffee with Danny, someone whom I've run into a few times over the years but haven't seen regularly for more than a decade. We met at Delany's on Denman, our usual haunt—at least "usual" back in 1999 when Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera released debut albums, when a child actor was telling Bruce Willis he saw dead people and when we were saying what should have been our final goodbyes to "Melrose Place".

I used to take the seabus over to Danny's place in North Van every Monday night to catch Doug Savant and Marcia Cross as "the gay one with no storyline" and "the wacko doctor" on Melrose Mondays. (Who knew they'd go on to be "the husband with no storyline" and "the wacko housewife" on "Desperate Housewives!) Danny was the ultimate extrovert, the host who would stop at nothing to make sure everyone was wholly entertained, even if that meant taking out his "tickle trunk" and donning a drag getup to perform the most polished "adlibbed" numbers choreographed to ABBA (years before the band's resurgence on Broadway and in the movies).

Beneath Danny's boisterous personality, I knew there was a reflective, generous soul. As we reunited over coffee, that's the part that shone through. The Frida/Agnetha doppelganger was now exiled to a remote Swedish island. "I'm a homebody," he said. "I am perfectly content being alone. I'll go for a beer or a coffee, but then I'm happy to head back to my quiet apartment."

I wasn't the only friend from ancient times who'd abandoned Danny. He was no longer in touch with any of the gang. When he gave up being the entertainer, everyone moved on.

I felt the guilt and the regret. I'd let a relationship get in the way. (Would I even be having coffee again with Danny if the relationship still existed?) Yet as we talked, all was forgiven. We laughed as we always had and he continued with the more serious conversations that we'd had when it was just the two of us meeting for coffee, when I used to probe persistently so Danny couldn't deflect and try to put the conversational focus on me. Yes, I always knew there was more to Danny than others cared to see.

The get together was indeed pleasant. Still, I am aware that Danny has new friends, new routines. Do I fit in? I'm not sure. Can the friendship be as strong as it was? I doubt it. But I still care. He's one of the truly good people I've met. If they can attempt to revive Melrose, maybe there's a chance to renew my friendship with Danny. And maybe the second coming will be more notable than that of the TV show.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

BEST OF BOTH?




I'm back in the city. Well, on weekdays.



For now, I'm staying in a condo in Vancouver's West End, the area where I first lived after moving from L.A. in 1994. I love it as much now as I did then. (Though I do recall that, after two years, I felt boxed in and fled for Kitsilano. I'm a fickle lover.)



During my first week, I dabbled in the things I so enjoyed back then. I took the dogs to Spanish Banks where they could run, sniff and tumble off-leash along the shore. I perused my favourite bookstore in Kits. I jogged along the seawall past Science World and over to Granville Island. Much of the development is new, but the story on the water is still what catches my eye. I walked the dogs down to Sunset Beach and sat on a bench, taking in the sunset as kayaks shared the sea with freighters and yachts. I drove to a neighborhood on 10th near UBC and walked with a friend while enjoying an ice cream. So good to be back!



Of course, I am still adjusting. I'm still thrown by people seeming to be everywhere as I walk the dogs in the West End. My schnauzers are not fond of leashes and even less fond of my reining them in as we dodge cyclists (on the sidewalks!), swarms of joggers, a woman on a mission with her yoga mat in tow and an impromptu boot camp session under a bridge. Vancouverites are fitness crazed. My poor aging, deaf schnauzer struggles to stay on his shaky legs as we navigate the pedestrian traffic.



Due to the warm weather, I have to keep the windows open day and night. The noise at the foot of the Burrard Street Bridge runs 24/7. Somehow sound amplifies as it is trapped between the high-rises. I don't miss a thing: sirens coming and going from nearby St. Paul's, busses, car alarms, skateboarders, motorcycles revving, even drumming that recalls the Hare Krishnas I used to encounter on weekends while biking by the beach in Santa Monica. I run a fan through the night, my feeble attempt to drown out some of the noise. Alas, most of the din shouts over the gadget.



When I returned to my place in Nowhereland Friday afternoon, I went straight to bed. The mattress, so much firmer, felt wonderful, the silence sounded even more inviting. Both my dogs seemed relieved, even thrilled, to be in a familiar environment. The elder flopped onto his cozy chair while the younger raced in and out of the house, searching for snakes in the back yard and rearranging pillows on the chairs and sofa that he seems to think exist solely for his comfort.



I need the city. The insanity brings sanity. It also causes (temporary?) insomnia. Methinks I need to invest in a pair of ear plugs.




Saturday, August 14, 2010

UP IN THE AIR



Yes, now what?



I'm in the air once more, somewhere north of Sault Ste. Marie, wondering if it might have been better if I'd discovered one of those Seinfeldian insurmountable flaws in Michel. Over the course of five days of rushed meals bookended by a couple of more leisurely dates, I only grew more attracted to the man and, from what I can tell, it was one of those rare occasions when the feeling was mutual.



I'm tempted to search out that old Alan Alda-Ellen Burstyn movie, "Same Time Next Year" for some fictional guidance and an affirmation that I've uncorked a possible date with Destiny rather than Desperation. It had better be more than an annual fling. Already my head is trying to figure out if once a month might be possible. Highly unlikely as I begin a new, (almost) all-consuming job in a week's time.



This wasn't supposed to happen. When I left L.A., I did so after falling in love twice. On each occasion, I gently persisted—is that even possible?—with pitching a move to anywhere in Canada. (Surely, now that he'd fallen under my spell, he'd follow me anywhere, right?) After these relationships fell apart (for reasons other than my Canadian leanings), I decided I needed to move to the place I loved before finding the man I loved.



How was I to know I'd strike out in Vancouver? (There was, ahem, that seven-year disaster of a relationship, but I try to block that as much as possible.) I still love the natural beauty of the city and its diversity, but it's been the most challenging place I've ever lived when looking at the social front. I'm fortunate that Michel is Canadian, but I thought my "anywhere in Canada" plea had expired.



We met up in Ottawa, but he's from Toronto. Can I live there? I grew up in Hamilton until I was thirteen, but I've never explored T.O. as an adult. I know it as the home of the CNE, the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays and the Ontario Science Centre. I've long outgrown these attractions. How can I ever abandon the Canucks? How will I follow them in the land of Leafs-Senators-Canadiens fans?



Yes, I know. Breathe. I really shouldn't be thinking about who's moving where at this point. But there is also that haunting notion that we might meet halfway and settle down in...Saskatoon? Winterpeg?! Brandon?!! I am breathing, but now it's that choppy hyperventilating kind. I've set the Air Canada barf bag on my lap just in case. Does breathing into a paper bag really help? What will the beer-swilling, shoulder punching, armpit sniffing frat boys beside me think? (Frat boys. Really?! I'm starting to think that, when making seat selections online, there should be Twitter profiles for each of the "Occupied" seats. We have the technology. Wouldn't that make traveling more pleasant? Gosh, I might have a better chance of a row of seats to myself. My bio would read: Depressed, mid-forties Wal-mart stockboy; Rubik's Cube fanatic; just divorced and BITTER; lacking in flatulence control.)



When you live in the same city as a new beau, slow but steady is possible. But how do you put the kibosh on "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!" when each date requires a security check, a photo ID and one checked item of luggage? (Sorry, I'll never fit everything in a carry-on. So many possible weather changes across three time zones, you know. Forecasts can be wrong.)



Michel tells me he's due for a trip to Vancouver. One of his best friends lives in New West. What's the "due" date? September? October? I didn't press.



Maybe that major flaw will surface in a Welcome Home email. Oui, Michel, we'll always have Ottawa. Of course, neither of us played things out as a carefree tryst. Unless I woefully misread the situation, both of us are seeking something deeper, something longer lasting. Being single is so much simpler. But here's hoping I'm done with The Simple Life.




Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WE MEET AT LAST


"I look forward to meeting you." The statement took me aback. We'd been in contact for six months. And yet, what he said was accurate. We'd exchanged a flurry of emails and talked on the phone once, but there had not been a face-to-face meeting.




I blocked all thought about introductions and potential topics of conversation while on my five-hour flight. I reminded myself, however, about how crazy the situation was. In our daily lives we were separated by 300 minutes of air time. Tick tock. Break them down and minutes aren't that long. Comprised of finger snapping seconds. No,...crazy. There was no way to rationalize things through silly mindplay that downsizes five hours.




He first messaged me on the social dating site Plenty of Fish back in February. I'd like to think that my photos and my carefully worded profile might have been the impetus, but he had a schnauzer and I had two. Who was I kidding? Dogs are a bigger draw, paws down.




Once I had my rental car and drove toward downtown Ottawa, thought repression became more difficult. In twenty minutes, I would finally meet Michel. I should have glanced at his online photo again. What if I didn't recognize him and he didn't recognize me? What if we each sat alone at different tables, sipping coffee, trying to look perfectly content while suppressing that shattering feeling of being stood up? What if he wandered in, spotted me, disguised a look of repulsion and made a quick getaway?




I'm good at preparing for the worst. What I wasn't ready for was the flip side. As I approached the entrance, there was a handsome man sitting close to the door. Was that Michel? He smiled and stood up. Signs pointed to yes.




How many times have I met someone for coffee, sat there and wondered how long was long enough so as not to appear rude? How many times have I sipped a latté and gotten the impression the guy across the table wanted me to Bogart the thing? I have this romanticized remembrance of the past when connecting was, if not easy, easier. And with years going by, I am cognizant of the possibility that history is not always cyclical. Sometimes the past is the past. When an immediate connection occurs, who cares that it required a long flight with the final hour being so turbulent that I hunched over and sprawled across the empty seat beside me, too frazzled to sit upright?




There was that awkward hello. Handshake? Coy wave? I surprised myself by hugging him. He didn't seem to pull away. Good start. As the café was set to close—Ottawa is a sleepy town on Sunday nights—he asked if I felt like grabbing a bite to eat. Just what I needed after surviving the day on plain bagels. (Airport cuisine is a challenge for vegetarians.)




We ambled by the Parliament Buildings, having the grounds to ourselves. It reminded me of one of those "Bachelor" dates where the producers pay for exclusive access to a prime location. Sparks Street Mall was just as deserted. After nearly four hours of walking and talking, we headed back to my car. A block away, I stopped and pulled him to a side street. "Can we sit for a moment?" The bench was wet so I spread out my coat as a covering.




Normally, I'm thrilled if a first date ends with an awkward hug, but that's how the night began. Besides, I was only in town a few days and he had fourteen-hour work days ahead of him. I quoted The Beatles. "I want to hold your hand."




How long had it been? Years. I embarrassed to get more specific. I impersonated one of the Seven Dwarfs. Not Sneezy, not Grumpy. Bashful. Is it pathetic to be a forty-something Shy Guy? We cycled through few rounds of hand holding, kissing and hugging, interspersed with my nervous chatter—the same kind of banter that spills from me right before the doctor gives me a needle. How is it that the same odd mannerisms arise in moments of dread and moments of eager, heart-skipping anticipation?




A splendid first date. A disaster or even a shoulder shrug of a date would have been easier. I could have boarded the plane, congratulated myself for taking a chance and started emailing gay men in…I don't know,…Ireland? Nepal? Sometimes you have to expand your search.




Five hours away by plane. And I'm afraid of flying. So now what?



Thursday, August 5, 2010

ALPHABET SOUFFLÉ: LGBTQs @ SCBWI IN LA

I just returned from a week in Los Angeles where I visited friends from my five-year stint there sixteen years ago. But the main purpose of the trip was to attend the annual summer conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).


One of the highlights for me was a workshop entitled A Look at the LGBTQ Marketplace. With over 1,110 conference attendees, it was comforting to step into a room of forty gays, lesbians and queer-friendly people. More than comforting. Reaffirming. It's the largest group of gay people I've come across in the past two years. (Sad, eh?!) I could have just sat there for the hour and observed these confident, inquisitive people freely interacting without any self-censorship over topics or mannerisms.


Three people were listed as speakers in the program, yet the panel doubled that. (How wonderful that MORE people wanted to take part!) The speakers included an SCBWI exec, an activist, a publisher, an editor, a blogger and an illustrator. The message from all: bring authentic LGBTQ characters to middle grade and young adult readers. To paraphrase the editor: It's not a crowded field. The submission would stand out.


One of the handouts was a listing of Lambda Literary Award winners and nominees in the Children's/YA category, dating back to 1989. While MTV and "Glee" provide gay and lesbian content for adolescents, the publishing industry must continue to grow in introducing younger readers to relatable queer characters. (I did not stumble upon a book with a gay protagonist until I picked up E.M. Forster's Maurice when I was twenty-two...and that only occurred after I saw the Merchant-Ivory movie.


Today's teens have the Internet available to help them find gay and lesbian reading material. Moreover, they don't have to shiver with fear as I did in approaching the gay and lesbian section of a library or bookstore. They don't have to hide the cover of their book under an issue of Sports Illustrated. They have Kindle and other eBook devices, allowing them to access content without fear of being prematurely outed. This is especially important for teens in small towns and rural communities. I spent my adolescence in Southern Baptist-infested East Texas where the kindest thing I heard about gays was "love the sinner, hate the sin." Checking out or buying a novel with a major gay character was inconceivable (assuming the library/bookstore even carried a title or two).


The message from the panel and from keynotes by talented, successful YA authors Rachel Vail (Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters) and Carol Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things; Vegan Virgin Valentine): create authentic, fully realized characters whose thoughts and actions are not filtered. In my first middle grade novel, Fouling Out (Orca Book Publishers, 2008), I touched on incessant gay putdowns in schools and had one of the main characters beat a friend he perceived to be gay. It was a start. But what I take away from the SCBWI conference gives me the confidence to proceed with a YA novel I'm developing with a gay teen as a strong, fully developed major character. Young LGBTQ readers have always sought relatable fiction. Now they have a better chance than ever in finding it.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

THE BROCCOLI FACTOR





I wasn't alarmed when, as president, George H.W. Bush publicly disclosed his dislike for broccoli. In fact, the news—it was a slow day, I suppose—came as a relief. After all, this was the world leader who selected Dan Quayle as his VP. Passing on the broccoli was just another poor choice that spoke to his character. (I lived in Texas for eleven years. I was SUPPOSED to be a Bush-man. There was no point arguing about the economy with the neighbours; broccoli was so much easier.)




Do veggies have the power to separate and divide? I still have a profile on a gay dating site, one of the blander ones, with penis and butt shots prohibited. This week I received a message from a newbie who actually lives reasonably close: in Vancouver, instead of Halifax and Toronto like other recent messengers. We've only exchanged a couple of brief emails so far, but he did pose an interesting question. My profile states that I am a vegetarian; his indicates he's a vegan. He asked if my being a vegetarian created problems in dating and if I thought people passed over profiles that dared include a V word.




And all this time I thought people were clicking past me because of the purple shirt. (My Barry Manilow reference in the title of my profile also seemed more problematic. But I felt "Ready to Take a Chance Again" summed up my stance far better than "I Want Your Sex".)




Does my choice to be a vegetarian deter people? (When I lived in Texas, the answer would have been obvious. I can still hear the waitress saying, "So what are you...a veg?!" In her regional dictionary, veg was synonymous with freak. This is the place where cattle ranchers sued our beloved Oprah, people.) In a way, it would be easy to conclude that the entire reason I'm single has to do with my diet. ("You're a really swell guy. It seems like you've got it all. But that tofu thing..." Come on! I buy tofu three times a year and usually end up throwing it out a month after the expiration date. Maybe I'll get to that stir-fry or that approximation of cheesecake next year.)




In my profile, I'm clear. Being a vegetarian is my choice. It's not a deal breaker. The only things I can't handle are watching people gnaw on ribs, tear apart a lobster or feast on a fish with the eyes intact. Even then, I cope. I keep the menus at the table and set up a little fort around me, blocking my downward vision. Or I find a spot on the wall just to the right of my eating companion's ear (which, I'd never noticed before, is sprouting an untamed thicket of hair).




So it's not a deal breaker for me, but is it for the carnivores/omnivores out there? In the real world, I don't think so. My best friend and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum with food choices. He refuses to step foot in a vegetarian restaurant. Indian restaurants, where I also have many choices, are not an option. There have been times when we've traveled together when we get tables for one at different restaurants. (This is especially true in Calgary where I've found many places without a single food option for me on the menu.) When we get together in Vancouver, it's for coffee or tennis. Once the percussive tummy symphony begins in either of us, we wave goodbye until next time.




Dietary differences are navigable. I've even managed to peacefully coexist on a week's vacation with a guy on the Atkins Diet. I once flirted for six months with a guy at the gym before we finally went on a date. His severe food allergies restricted him from garlic, onions and anything with gluten. He ordered a steak and asked to forgo the vegetables (cooked in garlic). Hey, I thought. Opposites attract. Even Paula Abdul and the dancing cat say so. Food didn't get in our way. No, I'm told it was that darned circuit party and some guy from Chicago with a dainty water bottle and tight undies who killed what would have blossomed into something blissful.




Ah, who am I kidding? What's love without a little gluten?




Internet dating sites aren't like the real world. They are speed dating mechanisms with two dozen "matches" coming at you twice a week. I always feel like I'm part of the cast of "Seinfeld" when I search online. (Remember? No reason was too petty for Jerry or George or Elaine to dismiss someone.) Vegetarian? VEGETARIAN?! Alien! Wacko!




Freak!




I suppose I could delete the vegetarian tidbit. Save it for that first dinner, assuming we even clear the coffee date screen. But I figure if it's that big of an issue for someone else, why go through a couple of weeks of emails and a promising conversation over biscotti? The reason I mention it in the profile is in the off-chance that there actually is a single gay vegetarian out there in BC. Wouldn't that be a bonus?! Shared meals! A barbecue grill without fleshy remnants!




I just hope he doesn't love tofu. Or like AC/DC. Or have a thing for "Garfield" comics. Some differences really are insurmountable.




Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GAYDAR SAYS...

I attended an art exhibit on the weekend at a painter’s idyllic estate in town last weekend. It’s the kind of place featured in home and garden magazines. No surprise, it has been in a national publication though I never saw the issue. I imagine there was a picture of the easy-on-the-eyes artist sitting barefoot on the porch of character home along with his stylish wife, each of them holding a cup of coffee while their cat, named after Rembrandt or Beethoven or Socrates, nudges up against his leg. (These aren’t Whiskers or Felix people.)

The gala was scheduled to run from 5-8 p.m. and I worried about looking like I didn’t have a life, arriving at 5:10. Turns out there were a lot of other life-less folks. Cars lined the rustic lane and at least fifty people were already milling about in the pristine gardens, chatting amiably, gazing at the emu and alpaca and, yes, studying the pieces in the industrial studio with the open glass garage doors letting a gentle breeze stream through both levels.

The exhibition is held each year in July and I’m usually out of town at the time. This is an abstract artist whose work I have admired since I first moved to the area five years ago. If and when I finally get back to civilization, I would like to take one of his larger works with me to adorn a wall in my cramped city condo. Unfortunately, the selection seemed smaller than when I’d last attended an exhibit four years ago. Moreover, the colour and composition failed to dazzle me. I had my chequebook ready, but I had no inkling to sign my name and reduce my bank account by another couple of thousand dollars in support of the arts. My art collector days must wait at least another year.

On my last visit, I hadn’t been able to make the opening and instead showed up during an afternoon showing later in the week. At that time, red dots indicated that almost every painting had been purchased. Still, the artist was charming—and attractive—and he offered me a tour of the inside of his home and the meandering gardens. But for the dots, I would have gladly bought one of his works, not sure if due to genuine art appreciation or pure lust.

Given the crowd, there were no personal tours this time. It’s just as well since I would have only felt more frustrated and confused. This man appears to be living an existence that I can only fantasize about. Gorgeous home, gorgeous studio, gorgeous grounds and, well, gorgeous artist. The whole package! The assortment of animals only adds to the ambience. I drove away thinking If only...

How is it this man has a wife? I know my gaydar gets little use here in the boonies, but this man isn’t on the Is He/Isn’t He fringe of the monitor. He’s comes up smack in the middle of the gaydar screen right where you’d find Chris Colfer, Adam Lambert and, yes, Anderson Cooper. (Don’t worry, Andy...no one reads my little blog. Especially not the Baptists in the Bible Belt.) With so few gay men in the area, his lovely wife has taken one of the good ones—okay, maybe the only one—in my age bracket. Doesn’t she know? Doesn’t HE know?! Here we are forty-one years after Stonewall, twelve years after George Michael’s public toilet bust, and months after Justin’s coming out on “Ugly Betty” and being gay still isn’t an option in some rural areas of the least religious province in relatively tolerant Canada. That successful, sexy artist could be mine. What competition is there in these parts?! Alas, he’s crossed over to the hetero life.

In his dreamlike setting, I wonder if he is indeed happy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Just One Look

I've forgotten what it's like. Oh, I have an image, but it's from all those romantic comedies that I'm a sucker for watching on The Women's Network. What's it like to have someone look at you, as if you matter, as if in that moment, you're everything?

I saw it today. But I was a mere observer. There, in line to get coffee, a woman pointed to a particular muffin behind the glass and touched the man's arm. He gave her that look of longing. The look that says How did I get so lucky? and What would I do if you ever left me? And then she left. For the bathroom. The man stood dazed for a moment, part of his identity snapped out from under him. He seemed to give himself an invisible shake, like a dog coming out of the lake, and then smiled while gazing at the menu board. She'll be back.

Of course, there's a good chance I could have gotten the scene all wrong. I'm rusty. Like a 1988 Buick that's gone through too many winters in Kapuskasing. What do I know anymore? The woman may have pointed to the muffin, insistent that he order the one with the biggest chocolate chunks and DEFINITELY not another low-fat pastry as he'd foolishly done last time. You do remember what happened, don't you? And just to make sure he did, when she touched him, she pulled a few arm hairs. He looked into her eyes, thinking When will you ever let it go? and Why don't you just leave me...again? This time I won't beg you to take me back.

And she was gone. A short bathroom break. A reprieve. He stood in a stupor for a few seconds, as if adjusting to the light peeking through a sky of ominous dark clouds. He smiled as he took in the other patrons, the activity behind the counter. She's gone...at least for now.

But having watched all those Meg Ryan movies and having shaken that nagging inner voice that told me I wasn't supposed to watch The Women's Network, I always see the former scenario. True love...meant to be...perfect match...our Kraft Dinner looks so good on the wedding china...blah, blah, blah. (Only not so blah at all.)

Even in my days frequenting coffeehouses and bars in West Hollywood, that kind of look directed at me was a rarity. In the movies—heck, even on TV commercials—, it's so easy. Grab a grocery cart, linger in the frozen pizza aisle and he sees you. There's that melting moment. Eyes lock. We can't see it, but two hearts simultaneously experience a stronger thump-thump. Goosebumps spread across at least one person's arms—and it's not on account of opening the freezer window to grab a pint of Häagen-Dazs. And then it's over. As he rolls his cart by, the oversized package of Pampers says it all. But that moment—oh, what a moment! I know it's not real, but maybe that's the reason I have to dash to the store every day. Needing more soy milk or a bunch of bananas is a façade for what I really need.

It doesn't even have to be a romantic, eyes-sparkling exchange. I'd take a look of lust, even an unwanted ogle at this point. Something to affirm that I exist, not as a dog owner or a customer with a wallet, but as a gay man. Coming out took years—in many respects, it continues to be a work in progress. And now I'm not sure what it was all for. I no longer exist as a sexual being. Aside from a couple of twenty-year-old baristas, I haven't noticed a gay man in my community in months. My gaydar isn't broken; it's just in storage along with my peach band-collar Girbaud shirt and my baggy jeans, waiting to come back in style. Single gay men in rural areas should get some sort of protected status. It feels like I'm that last Dodo—clumsy, flightless, stunned to find myself alone.

In order to survive, species must gauge their habitat and move on if survival in one environment comes into doubt. Yet I'm still here. House unsold despite radical slashes to the asking price. I've given up on the online dating sites. No point really. You're from where?! So many gay men in Vancouver won't leave their own neighbourhood, be it the West End or Commercial, to venture across town. To think of a potential life partner being a ferry ride away is too great a stretch of the word potential. Not gonna happen.

And so I trim the hedges and get new windows installed. The ocean view is that much greater with the broken seal removed. I had dreamed of someone standing beside me, taking in the natural beauty, someone laughing at me after I step onto the deck and jerk to the left to avoid the kamikaze hummingbird intent on taking my eyes out. (Yes, that happened last night. But the sole witness can only bark.)

I wait. Life is on hold.

It's a bad TV night. Must stop watching "The Bachelorette". Must stop thinking how sweet (and perfectly natural) it is that five guys say they're falling for Ali. Must stop admiring a woman who gave up her job and her apartment to find love—she reminds of this every week, no? Must realize that kissing five different guys and carrying on speed dating conversations is not the path to love at all. Just a chance for eye candy in swimsuits.

I'll probably pop in my copy of "When Harry Met Sally", feel Meg's pain when she realizes Joe was never going to be the one, feel her joy when Sally and Harry find each other again on New Year's Eve and then experience my own hangover while walking the dogs, keeping an eye out for coyotes...and rogue birds. What's it like to be wanted, to be desired…even if for a moment?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

SO FAR OFF THE MARC

And now for a session of blogging as therapy…I think my five-month email relationship with Marc in Toronto just ended. Not that I had high hopes, but at least there was a shred of hope. Now? I guess it’s back to my rural bliss, saying hello to the slugs. And I’m talking about REAL slugs, the ones that dot my lawn, the ones that I avoid with the mower resulting in scruffy patches of the wild grass.

Gosh, I miss the city. And concrete.

All right, so back to Toronto. When I got the first message from him on Plenty of Fish in early February, I remember wondering what the heck an Ontario boy was doing looking so far West. I mean, he was in Canada’s most populated city. If the fishing had dried up there,… (Can’t they just build an artificial lake?)

Who was I to judge? There had been times when I lived in L.A. and in Vancouver when it seemed there was nothing bust rusted, algae-laden pop cans to reel in. (And here’s where I shall drop the fishing metaphors. It’s icking me out. I’m a vegetarian, after all.) If, for whatever reason, you enter your forties as a single gay man, finding a partner can be a challenge in any environment. I wasn’t getting a barrage of messages from B.C. buds so why not Toronto? It was closer than Chernobyl. And, in a best-case scenario, there’d be no immigration hassle.

Marc and I communicated daily for the first couple of months. We exchanged real email addresses and I looked forward to checking my email. It was nice to have something more than an onslaught of spam about erectile dysfunction. Premature, guys! Why are you targeting me anyways? Things evolved to the point that, when something exciting/aggravating/humiliating happened in the day, it was Marc whom I looked forward to telling. It felt like a real relationship.

And, of course, at the same time, it didn’t. What did he look like again? Once a month, I’d go back to glance at his photo on a website. What did he sound like? No idea. We’d thought about Skype, but my ancient laptop was incompatible. Regular phone calls never came up as an option.

It looked like he’d be visiting some friends in Vancouver in April or May. But then that didn’t happen. I looked into cheap flights to Toronto. Not cheap enough, considering I’m not making any money during my leave of absence this year. Three nights in Vegas just seemed too cheap.

I’d be in Ottawa in August and he was going to be there for work. We’d meet. Better late than never, right?

But then I read his email on Sunday. Not a “Dear John”; more like a Dear J-. His sister-in-law had arranged a blind date for Tuesday. How did I feel about that?

Well, what was I supposed to say? Blind date guy presumably lived in the same freakin’ province. They could actually sit down in the same place and have a regular conversation to get to know each other. They’d get a sense of whether there was any chemistry. So conventional. So real.

I’d wished him luck. If coffee went well, I noted I’d be happy for him, sad for me. Still, on Tuesday, I hoped for a late evening email. I’d had so many bad or bland coffee dates, maybe his would turn out to be decaffeinated too. But, alas, no new messages. (Even the friendly folks at Viagra had wisely moved on.)

It’s a gut feeling—felt it on Sunday—but I think coffee went well. Once again, my mother’s voice is menacingly settling into my head for a surprise visit. You shouldn’t procrastinate! You snooze, you lose. What’s with you anyway? Are you SURE you don’t like girls? Okay, I’ll stop there. As therapeutic as blogging might be, there are limits.

I am truly happy for Marc. He deserves to experience a spark in his life. And, for me, what’s the harm? Five months of contact, but we never met. Moving on should be a snap. Right?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

TAKING ISSUE

I first learned of the area where I live after reading a newspaper article many years ago. As prices for a home rose, the writer explored places outside of Vancouver to see if she could find other “livable” communities in British Columbia. She had a checklist to ensure she wouldn’t give up some of the simple pleasures she found in the city. Things like finding Thai food and being able to pick up the latest issue of a particular magazine—The Atlantic or The New Yorker, I don’t exactly remember.

I should have paid more attention. I should have made my own checklist.

Facing (another) Saturday night with nothing to do—alas, the hockey playoffs are down to two teams I don’t care about—I drove into town to rent a flick. Almost buried in New Releases amongst the multiple copies of Saw VI and Transformers was a single copy of The September Issue. (Tangent: Ever notice how the New Releases section stretches the meaning of “new”?) I wiped off the thin film of dust on the top edge of the clear plastic cover and checked out the documentary on Prada “devil” Anna Wintour and the process of making Vogue’s most anticipated issue of the year.

Earlier in the day, I’d envied a friend in Toronto who was off to see the new Sex in the City movie on its opening weekend. Alas, that blasted green ogre continues to take up the only two movie screens that I can drive to. But now I had my own fashion film. Thirty minutes in, I could hardly contain myself. I pressed pause and headed back into town. This would be Fashion Night! Despite living where it doesn’t matter, I had the urge to peruse the latest summer and fall collections for men. I scanned the shelves of London Drugs. Alas. Men’s magazines have taken a downward turn. Three publications were shrouded in black plastic wrapping. Esquire had a voluptuous woman yanking down the top of her black dress dangerously close to the nipple zone and the other men’s magazines dealt with cars and stocks and hockey. Nothing even hinted at fashion. (This time of year, hockey is more fashion challenged than ever as scraggly beards complement those damn mullets.)

Where was my GQ? I searched the display racks three times and surveyed the tabloid section by the checkout. Wait…Dennis Hopper did drugs?!

Gee, no GQ. What’s with this town’s aversion to the letter Q? No GQ, no DQ. (Tangent: I struggle with an addiction to Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzards. And the Oreo Mint ones. And…)

I felt another tirade coming whereby I rant against this deceptively pretty Hell Hole and John Mellencamp, he of that taunting “Small Town” song, the only line I ever remember being, “I’ll probably die in the same small town.” Fortunately, a Starbucks decaf—God knows I didn’t need caffeine in my state!—calmed me. I must have looked particularly pathetic as the barista said it was on the house.

I found the apparently elusive magazine at the gas station. I’ll admit I was embarrassed to take it to the counter. More scandalous than Esquire! Some Aussie “supermodel” stared seductively on the cover, anxious to peel off her teeny white bra. What would the clerk think?

No, I am NOT a perverted old man who hasn’t figured out where to find internet porn! I’m just a gay man, desperate to see if suspenders are coming back. And those silky disco shirts!

Turned out to be complete waste of money. GQ was that magazine I subscribed to in high school with a new impossibly chiseled model’s face gracing the cover each month and tips about the correct way to apply cologne and fold a pocket square. Sadly, the current issue has busy, garish ads with race car drivers, a floozy pushing Curve Fragrances and a Gillette one-pager without the customary male model posing shirtless at the sink. There was a shot of an overweight shirtless man barfing in a garbage can, photos of lions and moose having sex and some Playboy-inspired comics of politicians like Alexander Hamilton having sex.

It was yet another near bust of a Saturday night. Thank God I had another hour of The September Issue to browse. And, yes, Madonna—on cassette!—to pay tribute to a fashion magazine with the wisdom to stick to the runway.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

ONE IS (SOMETIMES) THE LONELIEST NUMBER

Took the ferry in to do some writing at the downtown public library in Vancouver yesterday. It wasn't as productive as usual. Got stuck sitting beside an acquaintance on the bus ride from the terminal to downtown. He was running on about his business pitch. My eyes glazed over and I never fully recovered. My brain lacks the capacity for power tools, technology and business. Makes me not a very practical guy. Should have been a trust fund baby but, alas, that didn't work out. Now all hopes are on the lottery.

Of course, having a partner might offset my deficiencies. He could install the new light fixture that’s been sitting in my closet for two years and I could…well, I could thank him. And maybe that glaring imbalance helps explain my recent stretch at being single. What’s it been now? Six years and counting, I think.

Since February I’ve been emailing a fellow from Toronto. There seems to be some potential, but that may be because we haven’t met. He had a birthday recently and I didn’t hear from him for the next ten days. Seems being single and fortysomething put him into a funk. (I’m not a fan of birthdays. Too many of us mark it as an artificial point in time—like New Year’s—in which we reflect on growing older and what we have (not) accomplished. Reflection can be constructive, but when it hits at a time we’re supposed to feel celebratory, it can be destructive.)

When he finally resurfaced, he started opening up about feeling alone. He talked about what having a partner would mean. I especially liked his comment about two people being at a function and mixing with other people at opposite ends of the room and yet still being "together". Lovely thought. I'm a sucker for romantic comedies, even the terminally bad ones, and I even found myself watching "The Bachelorette" Monday night. (Shame.) I take comfort in knowing that others are out there (supposedly) looking for love.

When I can avoid wallowing in my single status, I am able to remind myself that there have been times when I was with a boyfriend in a crowded room and the space wasn't big enough, he couldn't be far enough away. I can remember pulling up to our house and breathing a sigh of relief when his vehicle wasn't parked out front. I recall hanging out at the UBC library until 11 p.m. closing time because the character house that I'd dreamed of no longer felt like home.

I know some couples that should no longer be together. I've sat through many a meal as the third wheel with my head down, staring intently at my mashed potatoes as they tensely discussed a trivial matter, behaving as best they could with a (reluctant) witness present.

I still long for a partner to share my life, to respect and support, to laugh with me when I bang into the cabinets (again), to console me after a bird hits the guest bedroom window—as happened this morning—and maybe even to figure out how to program my DVD—not show me, just do it for crying out loud!

At 45, there are many days when an irritating voice in my head tells me I may have missed out. Sometimes that voice from when I was 15, the one that said I nothing but a repulsive misfit, joins in and says, "I told you so." There are days when, even eating alone, it's best to just stare at my mashed potatoes. Or take the dogs for a longer walk in the trails. Or listen to En Vogue and Alanis tell off the guys that never looked my way in the first place.

Sometimes coping isn't pretty.

Fortunately, that 15-year-old voice doesn't come around much. It's probably off tormenting confused teens in a nearby high school. I no longer ask, "What's wrong with me?" Part of my being single is my own doing—my career, my isolated home environment, my inability to make eye contact with anyone I find remotely attractive. But then part of it is about things just not lining up right. I may think many of the good ones are taken, but they may be bores or brutes in their seemingly blissful longterm relationships.

I can obsess over being single. Heck, when I was 6, I thought I'd be settled down at 20. Didn't happen the way I'd planned/dreamed. My life is different. But it is what it is. I make the most of it. I can get exceedingly frustrated, but most of the time I can find something to laugh or at least smile about.

As I write this sentence, I turn and see one of my dogs, looking up and wagging his tail. It’s a reminder that to him, at least, I’m special.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NEWSWEEK CAN'T SEE STRAIGHT

Here we go again. I checked my calendar and, yes, it’s 2010. Yet Newsweek publishes a piece by a purportedly gay writer who asserts that Straight for Pay does not work in the acting world. Tony-nominated Sean Hayes can’t play a straight man with a female love interest in Broadway’s “Promises, Promises”. Jonathan Groff can’t play one of Rachel’s love interests on “Glee”. And knowing Rock Hudson was gay reduces his credibility in playing a male romantic lead in his classic movies. (The author cites a single scene: Hudson taking a bubble bath by himself in “Pillow Talk”. Gee, do you think the writer had an agenda?)

Now I have not seen “Promises, Promises”. My rural abode is far from the lights of Broadway. But I would posit that, if there is any difficulty in seeing Hayes act the part of a straight character, it is because of his iconic role as the flamboyantly gay Jack on “Will & Grace”, not because Hayes is a gay man. Many actors struggle to be recognized in other roles when audiences continue to see them as a particular character viewed on their TV screens from week to week over a period of years. This is especially true with over the top, comic roles. For many, Michael Richards will always be Kramer. (In his case, that may be a good thing. Best to block out his infamous standup comic tirade.) Jason Alexander has also struggled with the supposed Seinfeld Curse. What can top the role of a lifetime as George Costanza? Candice Bergen has always remained Murphy Brown in my mind. Shelley Long, Delta Burke, Jackée, Julia Duffy,…their careers stalled after achieving notoriety as memorable TV characters.

Yes, there are many exceptions. That’s not the point. I am merely trying to get in the mind of a Newsweek writer who may be lacking analytical and self-reflective skills. I don’t mean to bash; all I’m saying is it seems too convenient to completely omit the Jack factor. For some, Sean Hayes will always be “just Jack”. (Add your own jazz hands.)

As for Jonathan Groff on “Glee”, what is there not to buy about him as Rachel’s love interest? I did not know the actor is gay, but I don’t dismiss him now that I know. I am a Gleek and I would suggest that any problem with Groff’s role comes from the fact it is underdeveloped. So far I’ve gleaned that he has a wonderful singing voice, but he hasn’t had much to do in wooing Rachel. He came on strong (and convincingly), but the Rachel-Jessie storyline has been diluted as other characters have been featured more prominently and as the show’s writers have continued to pit Rachel with both Finn and Puck.

I’m not sure that anything more needs to be said about the Rock Hudson point. Pillow Talk”, for crying out loud! I watched it years ago and the whole thing seemed like an innocuous piece of fluff. If John Wayne were in that bubble bath, it would still seem hokey and, in the Newsweek writer’s view, not very macho. Many young (or newly out) gay men like to see the entire world with rainbow-coloured glasses. I dissected George Michael’s songs and easily found all the gay references I wanted before he ever got sloppy with his bathroom habits. When I watched Barbra Streisand in “Yentl”, she was a gay man, not a woman disguised as a man. The gay factor sometimes is more overpowering from a gay person’s point of view than it is for the typical heterosexual male who is too busy ogling over Kristin Chenoweth or Julia Roberts anyway.

The writer also expressed doubt that an out gay actor could have convincingly played George Clooney’s role in “Up in the Air”. That is not the issue. What other actor, gay or straight, could have played that part? I loved that movie, but it was clear to me as I watched that it was the perfect George Clooney part. Once you make the A-list in Hollywood, certain parts are tailor made for you.

I’m done with nitpicking over the flaws in the article’s logic. The bigger concern is the underlying message, especially from my vantage point, living in a rural area where I do not know any other gay men. (Yes, my house is still for sale!) If you can’t be accepted and embraced as a gay man on Broadway, what does that say for rest of us? If your options are limited there, what does that mean for gays struggling to be seen beyond stereotype as sons, friends, teachers, athletes and car salesmen in Peoria, in Moose Jaw and in places rarely designated on provincial or state maps? And if gay men can’t see gay actors as being anything other than gay, how evolved have we become in openly accepting others and in seeing ourselves as human beings with so many other aspects to our identity?

I have to wonder what the editors at a reputable magazine like Newsweek were thinking when they decided to run the article. This will be controversial! This will steal some of Perez Hilton’s buzz!

This. Will. Sell. Copies.

Good for business. Sad for gays.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

ICON GENDER CONFUSION

The death of Dixie Carter and the series end of “Ugly Betty” got me thinking about what pop culture phenomena helped shape me in the early years of becoming a gay man. I read an essay on www.ew.com where Tanner Stransky wrote eloquently about how the characters of Marc and Justin on “Ugly Betty” contributed to his feeling safe in coming out. While Marc is not a character to emulate—same for Jack on “Will & Grace”—I can see how the character would inspire. If someone so stereotypically gay could find acceptance in the (fictional) world and by the viewing public, what do I have to be so worried about?

Of course, I began the coming out process in the mid-’80s and gay figures, real or imaginary, were not so easy to find. There were glimmers of inspiration. I was mesmerized by the television airing of “An Early Frost”, not just because it put a face to AIDS but because it portrayed an otherwise healthy, loving gay relationship. I recall feeling most empowered by an ordinary scene with Aidan Quinn’s character and his partner sharing the bathroom getting ready in the morning. Normal. Maybe I wasn’t a freak of society, doomed to Hell. (I was living in Texas at the time.)

A smattering of gay celebrities came out or were outed on account of AIDS: Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Anthony Perkins. However, the fact that they reluctantly or posthumously came out was not inspiring. The message: Take it to your grave. When Greg Louganis later came out, I was proud of his courage, but I found little that I could connect to—the stud diver versus mediocre me.

As far as regular TV characters representing what it was like to be a gay man, the only one I can recall was Jack Tripper pretending to be gay on “Three’s Company”. Over-the-top antics to make us laugh, to show how uncomfortable people like Mr. Roper were around presumed gays. Not inspiring.

Perhaps by default my icons were women. (Perhaps not. Maybe I just relate better to women.) It started long before I came out to anyone. I remember my first week in university as a sixteen year old and a larger than life history professor asking each of us to identify a heroic public figure. I’m sure I disappointed him by failing to name Martin Luther King, Jr. or JFK or Mother Teresa. I was young and, yes, shallow. My world was ruled by entertainment. I really wanted to write down Olivia Newton-John. She owned the part of Sandy! She encouraged me to find my Mellow side. She swam with dolphins. And she had that lovely voice, for speaking and singing.

I may have been young and shallow, but I was astute enough to know that ON-J would send my prof into early retirement. He was extremely charismatic and I didn’t want to send him off in (total) despair. Instead of Olivia, I wrote down Bob Hope. Mr. USO, Mr. Congeniality, Mr. Bridge the Generation Gap. Clearly I was in need of another role model.

Without knowing I was following the gaystream, I looked to disco diva Donna Summer, brassy Bette Midler, and Barbra in her gender concealing role in “Yentl”. It was the closest thing I could find to a gay movie. As a he, she pined for Mandy Patinkin but couldn’t dare reveal him/her-self. While gay characters took the big screen in AIDS-afflicted roles (“Parting Glances”, “Longtime Companion”, “Philadelphia”), there were a few golden nuggets like “Maurice” and “Torch Song Trilogy”. Still, for whatever reason, Bette seemed a less outrageous icon than Harvey Fierstein.

I think the first gay figure who gave me lasting inspiration was Pedro Zamora in 1994 on MTV’s “The Real World”. Yes, he had AIDS, but his bravery went beyond that. He demanded acceptance as a passionate, articulate gay man. He had more courage in one bushy eyebrow than I had in my entire body.

Fast forward to 2010. While it’s sad to see Marc and Justin leave the small screen, “Brothers & Sisters” continues to build somewhat realistic storylines for Kevin and the adorable Scotty. (Alas, I wish they’d do more with Saul’s character, coming out late in life.) A gay brother on the current season of “The Amazing Race” is fully accepted by the other teams. (Unfortunately, the same show features a young woman who repeatedly said “lesbians” with the same disdain I reserve for Pat Buchanan and The Olive Garden.)

Out (or outed) public figures are still hit or miss. Just because you’re gay and famous does not mean you’re a great role model. For every Scott Brisson, there are more than a few Ricky Martins and Perez Hiltons. But the public rainbow is getting larger and more colorful. And that bodes well for gays seeking to step OUT themselves.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

DIXIE CARTER: ICON


April truly is the time of showers. Last April it was Bea Arthur. And now it’s Dixie Carter. All my icons are dying. Donna Summer and Mary Tyler Moore, take care of yourselves, see your doctors just as a precaution.

Bea and Dixie both starred in sitcoms, portraying strong women who spoke their minds as Maude Findlay and Julia Sugarbaker respectively. I loved their characters for their candor, their sense of justice and a raw compassion that viewers could see through their tough exteriors. “Maude” was a show I had to catch in glimpses. When the show wandered into too controversial territory, my mother would send me to my room, the items (continually) spilling from my closet suddenly requiring urgent attention.

By the mid-’80s, I was on my own and no one could control my channel choices. Bea and I got reacquainted when “The Golden Girls” debuted in 1985. “Designing Women” came along a year later. Both shows were must-see programming for me. When I moved to L.A. and finally came out, I wouldn’t go to the clubs on Saturday nights until I’d had my single slice of cheesecake with Rose, Blanche, Sophia and Dorothy. In truth, Rose was my favorite simply because she was so batty (and, yes, it was a delight to see Betty White shed her Sue Ann Nivens). Still, Dorothy was the rock, the one making sense of the insanity. With all the chaos swirling around my life, Dorothy was the one with whom I most identified—right down to the frumpy dating pariah characterization “gently” perpetuated by Blanche.

I bounced around in trying to decide which of the four original “Designing Women” characters I loved the most. Suzanne Sugarbaker was a younger Blanche right down to the Southern accent, Charlene was Rose and Mary Jo and Dixie Carter’s Julia split the Dorothy duties, with a few traces of Sophia thrown in. (Later, Alice Ghostley’s Bernice added another beloved Rose-like voice.) Much of the credit to the strong characters has to be given to writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, but Dixie Carter brought Julia to life. Julia regularly got on her pulpit, spouting off lengthy rants about justice and decorum. Her character inspired and empowered me. I daresay Julia Sugarbaker even contributed to my going to law school. (Not that I shared that with any of my fellow students! No, I went with the standard answer, citing “L.A. Law”. Everything is a little different in Los Angeles—even law school.)

While in L.A., I was impressionable with my new gay freedom. I remember meeting a very attractive man at Rage in West Hollywood and thinking I’d found my life partner. During our alcohol-infused conversation, I mentioned that I loved “Designing Women”. He did too! I was shocked and devastated when he failed to return my calls after our one-night fling.

I wrote a spec script for “Designing Women”, but I never dared to show it to anyone other than a jealous partner of mine who had recently given up his dream of becoming a television writer. His feedback was muffled. He did redeem himself by calling David Steinberg (a frequent director on the show and for whom he’d previously worked as a personal assistant) and getting us tickets to a taping of the show. By then, Jan Hooks and Judith Ivey were part of the revolving cast, but Dixie Carter was still there. I sat in a prime seat in the studio audience right beside her husband, Hal Holbrook. I did not dare speak to him, but it was obvious he enjoyed watching her perform as much as I did.

In later years, I did check out “Family Law”, strictly because Dixie Carter was in the cast and I was thrilled to see her surface as the wicked Gloria Hodge on “Desperate Housewives”. But Dixie will always be a beloved icon to me for the life and depth she breathed into Julia Sugarbaker.

Gone too soon.




Thursday, March 25, 2010

THINKING OVER A DO-OVER

Walking the dogs this morning, I glimpsed the For Sale sign perched on the other side of my laurel hedging. It warrants a mention since I haven’t noticed it in weeks. Like the rhododendron that is suddenly blooming,…unremarkable, and then it pops out. That sign has been pitched in the lawn for three months now. I glanced to make sure it hadn’t been vandalized. Of course it hadn’t. I guess I never fully shook that urban mentality.

Although it’s still All Quiet on the Nest-Turn Front, my move back to the Vancouver area got a boost this week with a job offer for a position arising in the summer. I accepted. Rather than activate the panic button over what I’m going to do with the house, I turned my thoughts to reestablishing myself in the city.

There’s excitement, but I’m also concerned about settling back in a city that I’d essentially fled. Absence can make the heart grow delusional. What am I heading back to? I have no doubt I will love the amenities, having a choice in pools, in libraries and gyms. That delights the adult-onset ADD in me. There’s also the expanded food options to add variety to my vegetarian lifestyle: Choices, Whole Foods, Vij’s, Annapurna, The Naam. Shopping, parks, tennis courts, cafés,…it’s easy to glamorize the possibilities.

And yet I only need to take a critical look back to the way things were when I left five years ago. I was nurturing a nascent hermit lifestyle. While I often tell myself that friends stopped calling once a ferry ride created a divide, most of my friendships had been downgraded to acquaintance status (if that) during the last five years of an unhealthy relationship and in the time that followed when I was so worn down by one person that I couldn’t pull myself up to deal with any person. The move to a rural area allowed me to heal, but by then time and space had comatized so many other relationships. Is resuscitation possible?

I’ve had countless episodes in life where I’ve cut off a friend or let a relationship decay only to revive it after a heartfelt mea culpa. If there was something strong enough in the beginning, it came back. In truth, any fractures rarely amounted to solely being my doing. By initiating a reconciliation, I allowed the friend to also have a moment of truth.

Why have I had so many of these experiences? Am I an ass who flits about, sucking what I can from a relationship and then moving on? Some days I can portray myself that way. But, no, I don’t think that is the case. Friendships bloom, evolve, fade, destruct as Life Happens. I happen to be an achingly nostalgic person who rarely settles for the dismissive observation that people move on.

I’ve been lucky. Reconnecting has always been positive. Things don’t go back to the way they were, but that person regains a present storyline in my life. It pales to what once was, but I am grateful there is still something.

I do wonder if my luck is about to run out.

My Vancouver friendships have whittled down to two. There are others I see on occasion, but they are no longer people I feel an urge to call when in crisis or when I’m excited about getting a new job. Returning to Vancouver is a chance for a do-over, but I am preparing for the fact that some doors won’t reopen. In some ways, it may not be radically different from if I’d chosen to relocate to Ottawa instead. I’m going to have to be pounding the pavement, making the phone calls, signing up again for gay tennis and gay volleyball, finding a volunteer organization, rebuilding.

Part do-over, part start over. So, yes, I am excited, but I am also scared. At forty-five, I wonder how much I can change in myself and how many second chances remain.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

HOMOPHOBIA ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE…NOT YET

Prejudice against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people continues in Canada. Last’s week’s overheard conversation at the gym only confirms this. “That’s so gay” is a common derogatory putdown still milling about with the equally offensive “Don’t be a retard” (an expression I recently heard my neighbor tell his seven-year-old son). Not enough thought is put into much of what we say. And then I worry that sometimes the thought was there all along.

For the most part, I think in Canada we’ve reached a point where people have learned to be discerning about when and where to honestly disclose lingering feelings of prejudice. I was pleased to see the headline “Underlying resentment of diversity poses challenges” in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun. Obviously not pleased with the continuing resentment, but glad that someone was calling our happy, largely tolerant nation on what lingers. (I wish the article had appeared on the front page rather than being buried on B7. Typically Canadian. Let’s make a point, but not make too big a deal of it.) The article addresses our country’s predicted increase of visible minorities and diverse cultural representations, not gays and lesbians, but the message applies to all who possess a minority status. When hatred and ignorance go underground, they go unchecked and can gain momentum in pockets of society.

Of course, we have it good in Canada, compared to in many other parts of the world. In much of Africa, GLBT people live in fear and continue to face oppression. As outsiders, we can attempt to bring issues to light and to create pressure to change laws and practices, but we can quickly be dismissed as foreign meddlers. That’s why Desmond Tutu’s op-ed piece, “In Africa a step backward on human rights”, in Friday’s Washington Post is so welcome. He outlines some of the hate policies against gays in parts of Africa and rejects the religious veil under which the haters justify themselves. “I would never worship a homophobic God,” he says. Simple. Powerful. Worth a read.

As an adolescent, I did not know anything other than a homophobic God existed. I grew up very connected to church. When my family moved to Texas, routines had to be reestablished and I was the one who insisted that we attend Sunday services each week. My mother and our minister were convinced I’d study theology and become a minister as well. As Episcopalians, we were in the tiny minority in our town, smothered by Southern Baptist dominance, their churches being the only public structures to outnumber Dairy Queens. In my teen years, I witnessed hypocrisy and life changing imperatives when it came to issues of sex— so many tales of sexual awakening stemming from church camps, so many risky abortions and doomed early marriages.

In university, my religious affiliation came unwound. Funny how being exposed to diverse thought put such clear beliefs into question. Morality without compassion felt hollow, self-righteous and, yes, hateful. I cannot count the number of times I heard people limit their own thought processes as they donned holier-than-thou expressions and stated that trite phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I knew that “love” could not truly exist in the same sentence with hate.

Nonetheless, my favorite course in university was a study of world religions. In a place where I got the impression that all non-Baptists were going to hell—more than once I was befriended by a seemingly nice person who suddenly turned and grilled me on being “Saved” and “Born Again”—I was fascinated with the different views of divinity and the purpose of life.

Gradually, I pulled away from religion, in part due to feeling unwelcome as a gay man, but also on account of the troubling concept of a “moral war” and the guilt-ridden preoccupation with sin. More than anything, I felt religion impeded independent thinking. I could share a belief, but I wanted to reach it through logic and through consideration of practical implications rather than by way of “Thou shalt”.

Many people find comfort in religion. Wonderful. But religion continues to divide, to foster hatred under the umbrella of “freedom” and to justify inhumane treatment of people who are different. I am thankful that leaders like Desmond Tutu examine their religious views to ensure they are governed by love, without any trace of hate.

Homophobia continues in various degrees in Canada and throughout the world. I have become too quiet, too complacent tucked away in the boonies. An alarming gym conversation, combined with the brave, powerful words of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, may provide a much needed wakeup call.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

HARMLESS BANTER AMONG FRIENDS?

My midday gym workout was more painful than usual. True, I was still sore from Saturday’s bicep sets, not to mention my 5K Sunday swim and yesterday’s chest routine. But it was the company that bothered me more than anything.

Due to my year of writing, I have the luxury of going to the gym at any point in the day that I like. (Mornings, however, are never an option. The body is simply not awake enough. Serious injury could occur.) The gym is usually close to empty midday and that’s perfect for me. I don’t go to socialize. Do the drills and get out.

As I pulled into the parking, I was dismayed to see so many pickup trucks. The gym was fairly crowded—packed, considering the time of day—and most of the people were congregated in the weights area, right where I intended to be. Four twentysomething guys talked loudly, liberally throwing in “fuck” and “fuckin’” to prove their masculinity (aka stupidity) to one another. I was not impressed, but I found a free bench, altered my routine based on the weights that were available and tried to tune them out.

That proved fruitless. They talked with an intention of being heard and, worse, they were not content to have a millisecond of dead air. Maybe it’s because I work in solitude at home, interrupted only by the occasional bark as a robin gets too close to the patio door, but the banter was grating.

And then it became more than that. While I did a set on the calf machine, I heard one of them mention AIDS and the guys started laughing so hard they had to stop the sets they were doing. I assumed I’d misheard since the subject seemed far removed from the previous conversation about diminished volleyball skills from drinking beer and a flatulence issue due to a pre-workout coffee stop. I moved to another machine and one of the guys, still laughing, said, “HIV isn’t funny, man.” Another replied, “Especially if you’ve got it.” More hooting.

I frowned but they were too busy enjoying the joke to notice. What decade was this? How had I ended up here?

I said nothing. The moment passed.

A few minutes later, one of the guys complained that the weight they were using was too heavy and his buddy said, “Don’t be a fuckin’ homo, man.”

Homo. The standard putdown. (Funny but I was using heavier weights than them.) This time I couldn’t frown. I turned away, utterly repulsed and opted to further switch up my workout order, doing my ab crunches in another area of the gym. I wasn’t far enough away to completely block out the noise, but I couldn’t make out the conversation.

Fifteen minutes later, the gym was quiet, the guys onto other endeavors. Perhaps a trip to the library. Maybe a quick tour of the latest exhibit at the town’s fledgling art gallery. Surely it was too early to hit one of the area’s half dozen pubs or the liquor store.

With the peace restored, I had plenty of time to think about my inaction. Should I have spoken up? Would it have changed anything? Would I have become the new object of their bond-strengthening homophobia?

I suppose I’ll never know. Cherishing my world of silence, I said nothing.