Sunday, January 23, 2011


How much do we actually change as we grow old(er)? As much as I'd like to think I'm more composed, more comfortable in my own skin, there are humbling moments to remind me that that might not be the case.

Yesterday afternoon, I had another coffee date with a fellow who contacted me online. Pleasant enough experience, but I left knowing I had no desire to continue the conversation. Walking back to the car, I fought off Booted Contestant Syndrome, a combination of tears, despair and a Why-am-I-not-good-enough meltdown you can see every week in the final minutes of ABC's "The Bachelor". Instead, I admired the lovely tree-lined street and asked myself the same question I had twenty years ago: "Where does a single gay man look if he hopes to find a decent lifelong partner?"

Back in 1989, I first stepped into the unknown in an attempt to find love. I'd heard about Oak Lawn neighborhood in Dallas and driven down the main street on a few occasions, not daring to stop, illogically fearing that parking or getting out of the car would result in my being spotted and fired from my job with a religious institution. If not unemployed, weren't there homophobic gangs lurking around corners? (As a kid, I had a paralyzing fear of the bogeyman. And cracks in the sidewalk.)

When I finally dared to walk into a Dallas gay bar, it was a brief, jittery visit. It was a weeknight and too early for bar hoppers. I ordered a drink, found a stool and kept my eyes on a TV screen. Yep, don't mind me. I just stopped in 'cuz the ol' Zenith was on the fritz. To my surprise, I had an intruder by my side in minutes. Darrell was his name. I remember him spelling it for me. (Was he wanting me to send him a card?) I nervously answered his questions with disinterest. Clearly, I wasn't ready for love or whatever it was Darrell had in mind. And then he swooped in. What was going on? I bowed my head at the last moment and his kiss landed on my nose. I panicked and hurried for the exit, managing a slight smile as Taylor Dayne's "Don't Rush Me" played on the sound system.

Driving home, hands shaking, I already sensed that the bar was not going to be my haven. Love would have to come from somewhere else. But where?

Okay, still no answer. So last night, after months of contemplation, I went where I was almost certain Mr. Right would not be. I headed to Numbers, one of the few remaining gay bars in Vancouver.

It was a struggle from the outset. I walked the dogs and decided to stay home. Then I told myself to just walk by the club. No need to go in; another walk would burn off the Häagen-Dazs (a spoonful or two anyway).

As I walked, my inner voice taunted me. "This is a mistake. Are you really looking for an aging boozer? You're old now...middle-aged for Pete's sake! (Proof of your ancientness: You use phrases like 'for Pete's sake', for Pete's sake!) You'll be the creepy old guy everyone thinks is leering at them. Yep, a mistake."

Methinks my inner voice watched too many seasons of the Simon Cowell era of "American Idol".

In addition to the nagging negativity, I was overcome my nervousness. Remember Tom Hanks asking someone out for a date in "Sleepless in Seattle" as "Back in the Saddle Again" played on the soundtrack? I hadn't been in a gay bar in Vancouver in a dozen years. What had changed? Wasn't there a bathhouse next door? What if I accidentally walked in the wrong place? What was the crowd like now? Was there still a coat check or would I have to lug my bulky winter coat around the place? Did people still dance? Was the dancing different,...more complicated now that there are all those dance shows on TV?

Deep breath. Maybe it's easier to be Tom Hanks in "Cast Away", talking to Wilson the volleyball.

I managed to walk up the steps to the club. The right club. Step one, check. The guy inside the door told me to spread my arms out and ran something like a curling iron up and down my body. Security measure or was this an odd way to warm up the crowd for a drag show? I then had another guy take my driver's license and scan it. After forking over six bucks (for Numbers?!), I was granted admittance.

Apart from the security screening the other immediate difference was the lack of a heavy smoke cloud filling the bar. I easily spotted the signage for the coat check, shed twenty pounds and tried to march confidently to the bar to order a drink. Cash only. A smiling bartender directed me to convenient ATM on the lower level. At last, I had my Corona in hand. Beer goes straight to the gut with middle-agers, doesn't it? At least the lime wedge could count toward my daily fruit and veggie intake. Yes, beer can be good for you.

The bar looked the same as it did in the '90s, only darker. Maybe it was my vision that was failing me. Don't squint. Doesn't look attractive. Adds wrinkles. Ooh, was that what all those "leering" guys were doing way back when?

I toured the various levels and rooms of the club. Total time warp. No changes, except the place had about a fifth of the people I recall it having on Saturday nights of yesteryear. The beer belly/too tight t-shirt look prevailed. One guy bucked the trend with an argyle sweater. (How is it that a conservative look comes across as loud?) The dance floor was empty. There was no crowd to blend into. I retreated to the main level and parked myself on a stool as speakers pounded out Kylie Minogue's latest. Yes, she's still making music...just less relevant.

I was that uncomfortable guy from Dallas all over again (only now I wore an aging face mask like the guy who slipped into Canada on a flight from Asia last year). What to do, what to do? I couldn't smile and amuse myself by the dancing fools. There were none. Couldn't try hopelessly making eye contact with a wardrobe-challenged handsome man or a Check Out My Biceps stud. None on both counts. I gazed around the sparsely populated room and took the cue from the other singletons. I pulled out my BlackBerry and read my emails from work. Bar goers are as closed off as ever, just supported by different crutches.

I much prefer wine to beer, but I downed my drink in fifteen minutes. I fought off the urge to flee, eying the door hoping to see a nice looking, possibly approachable man make his entrance.

Not him.

No way.


Am I too picky? Being in a bar brought back the judgmental, superficial me. Dismiss him before he dismisses you. I realized it was a protective stance but also a non-productive one.

I scurried to the coat check, retrieved my jacket and made for the fresh air outside...or at least the smoky clouds the wafted about until I'd passed the twentysomething throng that blocked off the sidewalk area at nearby Celebrities.

On the short walk home, I didn't have any tree clusters to distract me, just masses of concrete that blanketed the ground and towered on all sides. I knew the bar wasn't the place, but I'd gone in to rule it out based on experience rather than on speculation. The bar was a bust. Same for online dating.

I walked faster as Booted Contestant Syndrome fought for dominance. Not even a disastrous nose kiss to console myself. That's it. I'm done. Single for life. The dog guy. I could learn to knit little coats for them. How about online Scrabble? Maybe I should collect something from the Franklin Mint.

Everything's better, of course, in the light of day. I don't even like those stupid collectors' plates. Besides, I'm clumsy; they'll chip or break. I can cancel my order, right? No more thinking about dating. Just be.

I should go for a jog though. Work off that beer. You know,...just in case.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Back in 1985, I wanted my MTV. Madonna got me "Into the Groove", I pretended George Michael was singing directly to me with "I'm Your Man" and lead singer Pete Burns both intrigued and worried me in Dead or Alive's video for "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." MTV picked up the torch from Bob Geldof and "We Are the World", broadcasting Live Aid. MTV was good, all good.

But then there was that Dire Straits song. It was catchy and it glorified MTV, but it also spit out the "faggot" reference. I was twenty years old and scared to death to come out of the closet in Texas. I was sure I'd lose my job, my friends,...maybe even my life. It seems overly dramatic in 2011, but I had enough self-hatred that the last thing I needed was Mark Knopfler's hardhat character taunting me. Yes, I listened intently to hear his explanation of the song. The lyrics and the video clearly showed the context, but the fact the song shot to number one in the U.S. and became an international smash affirmed that the term "faggot", while offensive, was not off limits. Plus, I knew that many rock listeners weren't thinking of context as they sang along to the following verse:

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy that's his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he's a millionaire

I recalled people being more offended by Randy Newman's "Short People" (in 1977) than they were to "Money for Nothing". Nobody seemed all that concerned.

When I heard that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council banned the unedited version from Canadian radio, I thought I'd misread the headline. What was the point of banning a song twenty-six years after it was released? I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. Yet now, as people take to the message boards online to rally behind the right to free speech, to criticize political correctness and to point out the song's context, it's like the dated reference to "faggot" needs to be defended.

At the very least the CBSC's decision may right a wrong from the past. In 1985, a lot of people didn't get worked up over using "faggot" as a putdown. Only a few years earlier, I wouldn't have dreamed of reporting to anyone that the term had been repeatedly used to degrade me. I never heard an adult speak up against using the world as an insult. While I don't think its usage was widely condoned, nobody seemed to want to deal with the subject head on. The banning may irk the classic rock enthusiasts, bore today's youth and mystify heterosexuals who do not feel any tinge of homophobia. I doubt that there are many people today who are struggling with their sexual identity who are harmed by a song from before they were born.

Still, taking a stand now reflects a different context, today's standards. President Ronald Reagan did not even mention the word "AIDS" until 1985. In 2010, President Barack Obama, posted an "It Gets Better" video for The Trevor Project. Yes, we've come a long way (MTV and its "Jersey Shore" excluded). Why stop now?