Monday, August 27, 2012

THE DRY SEASON


In this area of British Columbia, we learn to live with rain.  Sometimes it seems that it never stops between November and March.  I expect one day to see someone building an ark.  Just in case.

Sunshine flirts with us from April to June, but rain still seems to have the upper hand.  All the wetness can dampen people with the sunniest of dispositions.  I must admit that the weather wore me down over the past year, particularly since one hour of my daily commute involves walking with my dog while toting all the extras I need to bring to and from home.  The Bag Lady look is neither fashionable nor comfortable.

All is forgiven when summer finally arrives, usually later than the date written on the calendar.  Heat waves are infrequent, but warmth and sun help the fair-weather set (myself included) enjoy the outdoors:  kayaking, cycling, jogging, mud-free hiking,...or just drinking margaritas on the back deck.

To be sure, I have made the most of the good weather.  I stayed home for most of the summer and enjoyed the natural beauty of my coastal surroundings.  But staying put also isolates me from all things gay.  Despite all the talk of my area being an artsy hub, the gays stay away.  I welcomed the separation.  I knew there would be no dating, no chance encounter with Mr. Right as we reached for the same bunch of bananas at the local grocery store, no need to fret over a bad hair day.

The only time I hopped on the ferry to head into Vancouver was during Gay Pride weekend.  But I was drawn to tie-dye instead of rainbows.  Rather than having lewdly gyrating wannabe go-go boys make me question my sexuality—this is gay?!—I proudly meandered around a single block on downtown’s Granville Street to experience Vegan Fest.  (Thankfully, it wasn’t a bunch of nose-pierced disciples in Birkenstocks singing “Kumbaya”.  I ate a vegan donut, ordered a vegan bacon cheeseburger from a food cart and that was the extent of it.  Not a single gay sighting.)

I drank plenty of coffee in local cafés, but I didn’t have to invest in meaningless banter; instead, I got busy on several writing projects.  The time proved productive and immensely satisfying.

I needed the break.  My last internet-generated date back in June was a snoozer that, looking back, I only half-heartedly showed up for.  I initiated the online communication, I clung to faint hope, but I quickly tossed it aside within the first few minutes of meeting face-to-face.

For the past two months, I have not messaged anyone.  In early July, I received a few messages from some persistent men in their sixties and I wondered if forty-seven-year-olds qualified for sugar daddies.  What was it about me that appealed to an older demographic?  The pendulum shifted In recent weeks as a twenty-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old have sought replies.  One put a lot of thought into his message.  “Hey.”  That’s all.  Is this what the texting generation considers communication?  The other guy sent two messages, two minutes apart.  The first message was fine, but the follow-up fretted, “I do hope you won’t ignore me.”  Oh, I might have shown my own neurotic stalker persona at that age.  Mercifully, communication wasn’t so instantaneous!

I started commuting back to work midway through last week and things have returned to full-time this week.  However, I do not plan to initiate any dating feelers until I get a solid bite on my house.  I have lowered the price three times this summer and I am determined to do what it takes to be gone by December 1.  I want to regain a semblance of balance during the months when I work long hours.  I want to avoid the return of raccoon eyes. 

I do have a date set for tomorrow with a guy that messaged me who is only eight years younger.  I trust that he will not refer to a Jonas brother or The Andrews Sisters during coffee so that’s a solid start.  He lives in Langley—another place out of the gay way—so I decided to meet him at a charming bookstore in historic Fort Langley.  If nothing else, it will be a lovely destination.  Am I ready to chitchat with a stranger again?  Not sure, but this is a chance to get my feet wet again before the rains return me to a soggy state once more.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

THE RATIONALE FOR RURAL LIFE: PART TWO


There is a folksy charm in the coastal area where I’ve spent the past seven years.  I appreciate it most in summer when I have time to linger.  While there are almost no homes on the scenic bike or jog toward themill, I go through town whenever I choose to go in the other direction.  One of the routes takes me takes me past small, family-owned farms that sell their crops at roadside stands where there is an honor system to paying for what you take.  I love that sense of trust. 

As I venture into a rural area on the other side of town, remnants of a hippie lifestyle remain even as people from Vancouver and Alberta move in and build luxurious waterfront homes.  A few flower stands keep the quaintness intact.

I reach a small jetty where I take in the sea air and sometimes spot a seal before turning around and heading for home.  On my bike, it’s a restorative 30-40 kilometer excursion without interruption from a single stoplight.  I can think about everything that’s been on my mind, but more often, I clear my mind and enjoy the sights and sounds.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

THE WHISTLER SOLOIST

Okay, so I had a good time in Whistler last week.  I want to make that clear.  I also want to make clear that I like traveling alone.  Sure, a trip with a boyfriend would be nice, but that’s not an option.  And, it’s not always, in fact, nice. 

I have a few wonderful destinations in mind that I cannot imagine going to without a partner.  A romantic holiday for one is just pathetic.

I’ve never felt I needed a companion to go to Whistler.  But I kept getting surprised looks when people realized I’d shown up solo.  Oh, there are plenty of singles in the village.  They’re all twentysomethings and they travel in packs, talking about how drunk they got last night and how drunk they’re going to get tonight.  I know,..it’s a phase.  Have fun, kiddos.

Single gay man in his mid (er, late) forties?  A true novelty.  Uh, excuse me, sir.  Gay Ski Week was, like, so six months ago.  And the bird watching tour biz went bust.  Seems the old, single gay man contingent never materialized.  Have you tried Palm Springs?     

Now I will admit that I may be a wee bit touchy on this issue.  Let’s do a quick math review.  I have been single for all of my forties.  Yep.  I broke up with my last partner in March, 2004.  Since then, I have had plenty of coffee with gay single men, but there hasn’t been a Love Connection, not even a Strongly Like Connection.  (Point of clarification:  a “connection” means the feeling must be mutual.)  Sigh.  I would like to believe it is perfectly fine to be on my own.  In fact, most of the time, I feel that way.  I don’t blog about it.  “Perfectly fine” makes for a boring read.

“Traveling on your own, sir?” the hotel clerk asked as he confirmed my reservation.  Yes.  I only asked for one room key card.  (It’s a weird prudish quirk of mine.  If I say I need two, I get the idea that they think I am a slut or an unrealistic optimist, expecting to pick up some single wanderer.)  The clerk gave me two cards anyway.  Seems he couldn’t figure out what to do with the spare.  Whatever. 

One of my vacation indulgences is ice cream.  Not frozen yogurt.  Not sorbet.  Not low fat.  Definitely not ice milk.  It was a hot evening so the line at Cows meandered out of the store.  I tuned out the kids running wild, begging for cow magnets, cow shirts and cow stuffies.  I squinted and focused on the flavor board.  Must choose the perfect two-scoop combo.  At last, I reached the counter where I could gaze at all the tubs of frozen wonder.  The moment neared.  When it was my turn to order, the girl behind the counter didn’t know what to do with me.  Motioning to the family ahead of me, she asked, “Are you with them?”  No.  Naturally, she concluded I was with the woman behind me.  I had to spell it out for her:  “No, it’s just me.” 

That’s right.  I am a big boy now.  I can go to the ice cream store all by myself.

The next night I went to the movie theater.  This is another treat for me.  The single-screen theater in the town near me typically shows only action movies and family movies.  Not my fare.  I chose a mature movie with no special effects, “Hope Springs” starring acting marvel Meryl and the equally able Tommy Lee Jones (and featuring a too brief scene with the lovely Elisabeth Shue—Please, get this woman a starring role again).  Three older people lined up ahead of me to pay.  The cashier mistakenly charged them for four people.  “No,” the gentleman explained.  “He’s not with us.”  My face reddened and I confirmed:  “Just one.”  The movie didn’t exactly boost my spirits.  A long-married couple that hasn’t had sex in years.  All too relatable.  ‘Nuf said. 

I was most aware of my Lonesome Traveler designation on the last evening when I showed up for ziplining.  There were two tour guides and nine participants.  Odd number.  Figure it out.  One guide tried to lump me with others as he geared us up.  “No.  It’s just me,” I said.  Maybe I should have a t-shirt made.  Still, he inquired further.  “Someone else chicken out?”  No.  He sort of backpedaled, saying, “I traveled on my own here from England.  But I’ve got a girlfriend now.” 

In truth, I was not the only soloist.  The other guide noted to the photographer.  “We have three going alone.”  She said it like it was a rarity.  Like a sasquatch sighting.  Turns out one woman’s husband had a fear of heights.  And then there was the other veritable single person.  I’d noticed her strolling the village half an hour before the start of our tour.  She stood out.  About my age, she appeared twenty years older, looking totally out of place amongst the grungy mountain bikers with her wide-brimmed sun hat, frumpy blouse with its lace collar, khaki shorts and sensible shoes.

Sun Hat Lady—she kept the hat on under her helmet—made her presence known.  As we waited for the group ahead of us at the first zipline, she asked about the contents of the guide’s first aid kit.  “Is there bug spray in there.  I just got bit.”  She offered an audible “tsk” when the kit didn’t measure up.  What’s more, she tried to instruct the guides:  “It looks like that group is done.  Shouldn’t we get going?”  She continued to correct and direct the guides during the entire adventure.

 Yes, this is the type of person who vacations alone.

 Is this how I come across?!  Suddenly, “Hope Springs” seemed cheery by comparison.

Aware that I am not the most social individual, I decided I had nothing to lose on vacation.  What happens in Whistler... I chatted with everyone in our group during the first half hour.  They guardedly replied.  No one attempted to extend the conversation.  The couples (boyfriend/girlfriend, father/daughter and mother/son) stuck closely to one another, speaking in whispers.  I didn’t take the social shutdown personally.  I don’t think anyone could have broken through with these people.

During our five zipline runs, the couples remained inseparable.  Even though only one person can go at a time, the couples had to follow one another every single time.  God forbid that they should be more than five minutes apart.  I assumed my place as the last person for each run since it didn’t matter to me.  We all went up the mountain.  We were all going down the mountain.  Let the others jockey for whatever sense of order they needed.  I pulled back and enjoyed the silence, peacefully feeling the breeze and gazing up and down at the massive firs.

My trip wound down the next morning with a solo lengths swim in the pool, coffee for one in the village and a scrumptious bakery haul that didn’t need to be shared.  Just me.  And, really, just fine.

Monday, August 20, 2012

STELLA? STEL-LLLAAA!

If my name were Stella, I’d have jetted to Jamaica.  But that might have been an expensive disaster, considering I don’t have a friend named Whoopi and I can’t be in the sun.  Still, I needed to find a place to get away for a few days in an attempt to get my groove back.

It wasn’t even that lofty a goal.  In truth, I just needed to go somewhere so I’d have an answer when I return to work and people ask, “Did you go anywhere?”  People look at me funny when I say, “Safeway.” 

I am one of the lucky ones with an extended summer vacation—about six weeks in total.  With my five-hour-a-day ferry commute, I had no desire to travel this summer.  I was gleeful every time I looked out my kitchen window and saw another ferry coming or going without me.  Besides, summer is the best time to be in my quiet community.  The jogs, the bike rides, the beach walks, the forest hikes...all with no mud!  (Oh, the rains will return soon enough.)

With work starting up again this week, I began surfing travel destinations when July had the nerve to make what felt like an early exit.  I considered many places.  Los Angeles.  San Francisco.  George Clooney’s Italian villa (Where did I put that invite?).  Portland.  Chicago.  Curacao.  Alas, I do not have the budget for excursions farther afield so I found a deal for three nights in Whistler and booked it.

I am not a fan of travel itineraries.  Instead, I believe vacations should pass without plans.  Wander and stumble into things.  It’s a lovely thought and wonderful things happen in movie versions.  Sing ABBA songs, meet someone on a train, decide to stay in a foreign land indefinitely...visa rules be damned. 

This is my roundabout way of saying I planned a few things.  I booked a tour and did some online research about library hours, rec center times and movie showings.  I also pulled out the current issue of Vancouver magazine which included recommended stops along Highway 99 from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton (a stretch of road that includes Whistler).

First stop:  Galileo CoffeeCompany, a roadside establishment at blink-and-you-miss-it Britannia Beach.  They roast their own coffee and my latte was decent enough.  Truth:  my taste buds don’t pick up hints of rosemary, pine bark and Corn Flakes like some coffee connoisseurs.  I just like mine strong, not watery and mine was strong enough.  I glimpsed the lovely view of water and mountains, not unlike that which I see from home, and then hit the road again.

On my way into Whistler, I turned off at Function Junction on the outskirts of town for what became a trip highlight.  In a bland commercial business area, I stopped at Purebread, a bakery recommended by Vancouver magazine.  It is rare that I rave about food, but I knew upon stepping in the doorway that the place would be outstanding.  I ordered a fruit scone and a ciabatta loaf and moaned with pleasure as I devoured the scone on the final leg to the hotel. 

After checking in, I did what so many vacationers do:  I hit the library.  Yeah, I know how to have a good time.  I’d set a writing goal for the trip.  I tend to be a writer with ADHD, jumping back and forth from one thing to another.  Ooh, another book idea!  Hey!  That would make a great character!  I told myself no blogging, no internet distractions, no screenplay ideas.  I plopped myself in the library for a chunk of each day and fully outlined a novel idea that I’ve sat on for the past three years.  Mission accomplished!  I now have a clear vision of how I’ll be spending my looming ferry rides.  That alone made it a successful trip.

Of course, I am not at ease if I eat extra food AND forego workouts so fitness was another big part of the trip.  Whistler is better known for its physical activities than for its library.  I thought of canoeing or white water rafting, but opted instead for a tried and true workout.  Being in a place where I knew no one, I risked going to Meadow Park Sports Centre to swim laps at 6 a.m. two mornings.  Yes, I donned my Speedo—a boxer, not briefs style.  The lifeguard didn’t snicker or turn away to keep down her early breakfast croissant.  Despite eight months away from swimming, I managed to complete my basic three-kilometer workout both days.  On my other day in town, I went for an evening jog, zigzagging on a series of trails and somehow managing to find my way back without making the news as the focus of a Search and Rescue mission.  (Considering I have absolutely no sense of direction, my five minutes of unwanted fame will wait another day.)

My one tour was a 2 ½ -hour zipline adventure on my final evening.  There were two options:  the Bear course for beginners and the Eagle route, described as “[p]erfect if you’ve ziplined before or crave an adrenaline rush!”  In truth, I had no business flying with Eagles, but that’s what I signed up for.  A natural worrier, I fretted that I would fail an oral interview prior to the tour and be summarily dismissed from the pack of daredevils.  No middle-aged library goers allowed!  To my relief (?), they took my money, accepted my signed waiver and I was cleared for takeoff.  Having arrived early, I paced outside nearby shops, wondering what I’d gotten myself into and hoping that my four hours of fasting prior to departure would prevent an embarrassing hurl or underwear mishap.  Yeah, a little planning is sometimes essential.

Of course, I felt foolish when we officially convened and the group included a sixty-year-old woman with a bum knew and a woman my age who dressed for a safari and placed her helmet over the wide-brimmed hat that she refused to remove.  If we were eagles, we were the tame sort, raised in captivity, the kind that feasted on hand-fed kibble.  No danger that I’d start thinking about traversing Niagara Falls next summer.

I should tell you the course was insanely treacherous, I lost my voice for two days from screaming and I hurled three times (one less time than everyone else).  Adrenaline rush, indeed!  In truth, while fun and scenic, the adventure was only moderately scarier than my teacup ride at Disneyland.  But I did not know that when I signed up and showed up.  I am keeping those Adventurer bonus points. 

Still, the guides encouraged us to be “a little daring” on the final run.  In my head, I envisioned going upside down and letting go of the cord and dangling my arms over my head.  Usually, there is a huge discrepancy between what I imagine and what I actually do.  On this occasion, however, I followed my vision!  I have no one to back me up—we didn’t exchange email contacts at the end—but I have a clear memory of an exhilarating moment.  I celebrated by stocking up at Purebread—cranberry ginger raisin loaf, flourless chocolate gâteau, buckwheat sour cherry scone—on my way home.    

I didn’t go to Jamaica, I didn’t meet a hunky gay-in-disguise Taye Diggs, but I left Whistler having found a mini groove.  Good enough when you travel on a budget!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

GODS AND (MY) MONSTERS


Divers.  Gymnasts.  Swimmers.  Many of us have to wear a bib when watching the Summer Olympics.  These athletes are drool-worthy.  I know I am not alone.  I see the tweets.  Entertainment Weekly’s coverage includes a Stud of the Day.  These men are Greek gods.

And, yes, there is a sharp contrast between those deserving of a place on Mount Olympus and the rest of us.  This is a good time for a reality check.  Doing ten cannonballs in the local pool isn’t going to make you look like Matthew Mitcham.  Five minutes—heck, five hours—on the monkey bars at a school playground won’t get you the biceps of Arthur Zanetti.  And signing up for Aquafit classes at the Y won’t lead to folks mistaking you for Nathan Adrian.  Harsh as it may seem, we are mere mortals with bodies that can only reach modest gains (or losses) on account of food and exercise regimens. 

It’s a reality I wish I grasped when I was a twelve-year-old.  Or twenty-two.  Or thirty-two.  But even in non-Olympic years, there was always something in the media to tell us we can look better.  Oh, how I wished one of the gimmicks would do the trick!  Doing the ab crunch exercises in a men’s magazine might get me the physique of the male model demonstrating the routine.  If I bought a Boflex machine, I’d have one of those bodies in the infomercial.  

The trigger that I recall for becoming overly body conscious was back-to-school shopping when I was ten or eleven.  My mother and the saleslady decided I needed Lee “husky” jeans, instead of the regular fit.  Husky.   The dictionary definition includes the phrase “big and strong”, but also “burly”.  Yep, I needed fat jeans.  My mother mentioned this episode while my grandmother or a neighbor who visited later that day.  That part is foggy.  What I do recall is being mortified.  It was as though someone had grabbed a megaphone and toured North America, telling everyone I was a fatty, fatty, two by four. 

I don’t think I had ever thought about my body before that day.  I had other concerns—worst player on the team (any team), strong suspicions that I had to be an adopted child, an Eeyore complex (magnified by the fact that my mother nicknamed me after the mopey A.A. Milne character).  I don’t know why but all my angst channeled into my body image.

I only had one pair of husky jeans.  Sometime over the next year, I had a growth sport and that jelly belly went away.  But I always saw it.  I’ve seen it every day of my life since then.

The majority of people, especially guys, will be able to shrug off a fat reference.  They can ogle the Olympic gods, chug a beer and chow down on a bag of Cheetos at the same time.  In a sense, I envy them more than the jocks with the buff bods.  What is it like to eat guilt-free?  How does a guy grocery shop without looking at the fat content for every item? 

I think about fat and calories before, during and after every meal, every snack.  Essentially, I have been watching my weight for thirty-five years.  Not some high profile diet like The Atkins or The Grapefruit or The South Beach or Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.  That gives the control to someone else.  I monitor my intake and, whenever I feel I’ve committed an eating infraction, I pay for it.  More exercise, no cheese, whatever it takes.

Since I have an aversion to seeing doctors, the closest anyone ever came to a diagnosis was “borderline anorexic.”  But that was after I’d put back on twenty pounds of the fifty I’d shed during my most critical point in university. 

My obsession with body weight evolved when I came out of the closet after graduating from university.  Being fat wasn’t the only thing to avoid.  Being thin wasn’t acceptable either.  Muscles mattered.  I continued to monitor my food while getting fanatical about exercise, but my body would not cooperate.  In the mirror, I always saw those little love handles, chicken legs, dainty wrists and arms devoid of definition. 

I do not take my shirt off in the locker room at the gym.  I always change at home.  I am an avid swimmer so that means I do have to expose some skin.  I even wear a Speedo.  But I only swim when I feel my fittest.  When winter comes and I gain five pounds, laps would be the easiest way to battle the bulge, but I cannot be seen in the swimsuit.  Even when I decide I can go to a pool, I select a more distant venue where I will not run into anyone I know.

I only go to the doctor when I feel I am trim enough.  Otherwise, there is too much shame—I haven’t taken care of myself.  I like to buy baggy clothes, but then I feel the baggy parts look like fat, too.  Boyfriends have encouraged me to purchase form fitting clothing but I feel my fleshy parts are bubbling over.

In darker times, I have limited my eating to once a day, I have fought off hunger by going to bed ridiculously early—before the pangs surface.  Other times, sleep has been difficult.  I prefer sleeping on my stomach, but that has been uncomfortable when my ribs have been too exposed.    Just as others eat through stress, I tend to starve myself when I feel the rest of life is out of whack.  My body is the one thing I can control.

I can logically explain the bodies of Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt and Ashton Eaton.  They train for eight hours a day and have a team of advisors to monitor body fat and prescribe meals.  It’s an extreme life.  But I also see the guys with better bodies in the local gym and the guys who never make an appearance but walk through town on hot summer days, shirts off, abs defined, perfect torso “V”.  I see the Twitter avatars of guys with ripped bods.  Even if the pics aren’t of them, they are of someone.  Somebody has that body.  Genetics, I remind myself.  But logic doesn’t last.

Believe it or not, I am better than I have ever been, but I have never broken free from my eating disorder.  I simply cope.  I never step on a set of scales.  I work out intensely when I can—that is, when my day isn’t eaten up by work and my commute.  Currently, I am exercising six days a week (2 ½ hour gym routines, 15 km jogs, 25-45 km bike rides).  It is a tough battle.  My tummy still jiggles.  The middle-aged gut is not responding to what has worked in past summers.  I have also found the point where I ease up on the weight loss.  It’s pretty much the ribs-keeping-me-from-sleeping test.  (Don’t think I can achieve that point again.)  I could go on and on about all the ways my body image rules my life.

Almost every article I’ve read or feature I’ve seen on TV about eating disorders has focused on females.  I know, however, I cannot be the only one and I worry about an unexpected legacy from the Olympics.  According to the National Eating Disorders Association, one million males have an eating disorder.  My gut reaction:  so I am not the only freak. 

Just as it has always felt affirming when a celebrity or political figure acknowledges he is gay, I would love for men to publicly state that they struggle or have struggled with an eating disorder.  In the past thirty-five years, I have only met one other guy who talked of an eating disorder.  He had gone through bulimia, something that I could never do.  Too squeamish.  We went on a couple of dates, but it is probably a good thing we didn’t connect.  Who knows what we would have learned from each other!

If you are able to eat a slice of cheesecake, a muffin or half a bag of regular (not baked) chips, celebrate this simple pleasure.  If you can get out of the gym in less than an hour, hurrah!  You may not have the body of Bolt, but when will you need to run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds anyway?  You are indeed a lucky one.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

CHICKEN SQUAWK

I received considerable feedback on Twitter and on the blog after posting “A Game of Chicken” on Friday.  The comments are so greatly appreciated as I have had no one to talk with about this issue.  I invite you to read the post, but here it is in a nutshell: 

I learned from a Facebook entry that my brother’s family attended “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and I wondered what my response should be.  Ultimately, I decided to leave well enough alone.  I would not be able to enlighten them and my mother, caught in between, would be the one to internalize the family rift.  Not worth it.
I thought blogging about the matter would help me move on.  How naïve.  I let things fester.  Ignoring the issue was not the answer.

I logged back into Facebook.  Foolish move.  Like peeking under a Bandaid to be icked out all over again.  My chest tightened again.  My sister-in-law’s previous entry was a call out for chair donations for her church.  I thought of writing, “Ask Chick-fil-A.”  It made me smile, but I refrained.  I returned to the inciting entry:  only too happy to support them again today!” 

Enough! I thought.  I have put up with this for twenty-four years since my brother met this woman and he became an extreme Baptist.  My family has quietly tiptoed around my brother and sister-in-law all this time.  My mother gets mad when I count the “God” references in their annual Christmas newsletter.  (I am not exaggerating when I say God makes dozens of appearances.)  We all felt homeschooling their children would create a sense of isolation and deny the kids chances for social interaction, exposure to diversity and opportunities in sports.  (My niece knits.  My nephew plays piano.  They both participated in State Bible Drill competitions.) 

I once tried to bond with my sister-in-law, striking up a conversation after seeing her reading a book.  “Christian mysteries are my favorite,” she said.  Yes, apparently it is a genre.  I suppressed a wave of sarcastic thoughts and poured myself a rum and Coke as my mother frowned at me.  We’re not supposed to drink in front of them.  Don’t let them think of our Episcopalian family as heathens.

But, the thing is, we are heathens in their eyes.  I am, for sure.  Any recitation of my good deeds would be pointless.  Hell awaits.

Why is it that they can live so openly as they believe and I, to spare the family, must shield them from a basic part of who I am?  Family harmony is a complete sham.  I have avoided contact with my brother and his family.  Maybe I am being unfair.  I have made my own assumptions.  I have withheld the truth.

I typed a Facebook reply:  “This hurts so much.”  I stared at the screen, hands shaking.  Yes, I can be very melodramatic.  I erased the words.  Why make a public statement on my sister-in-law’s account?  Instead, I emailed my brother.  The text follows:

Hi Brother’s Name,

I read sister-inlaw's Facebook post about going to Chick-fil-A and I am shattered. To be fair, I have never officially come out to you, but it should come as no surprise. That your family should be against gay marriage is also no surprise.
 
Sometimes I think things were much better before the days of Facebook. I do not need to know certain things and I didn't feel you needed to either. After reading the comment, however, I cannot let you pretend that you do not have a gay brother. So sorry that I do not fit within your "family values", but I am who I am. I do not need your prayers or any talk of loving the sinner, hating the sin. I got enough of that living in Texas and that's a big reason why I left.

The rest of the family knows I am gay. You should, too. However you choose to regard that is your own decision.
 
The message was sent Friday afternoon.  More than forty-eight hours later, I have received no reply.  I don’t expect one.  Still, I am glad I spoke up.  I am tired of assumptions and censoring myself.

I did not attend Pride celebrations in Vancouver today.  I don’t need to.  A stronger sense of pride lives within me.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A GAME OF CHICKEN


I suppose I boycotted chicken establishments twenty-seven years ago.  KFC, Popeye’s, Chick-fil-A,...it doesn’t matter.  I have never wavered since deciding to become a vegetarian.

Chickens, however, have become political pawns.  The outcry isn’t over how they are raised.  Instead, a chicken chain is the latest battleground for gay marriage.  Who’da thunk? (And wouldn’t “Church’s Chicken” have seemed the more likely proselytizer?)

Corporations have been making increasing forays into social politics.  Indeed, many have come out as gay friendly.  Sometimes it is a basic employment decision.  If the company is big enough and extends benefits to same sex partners, it is a newsmaker.  Some go further, participating in Pride celebrations and sponsoring other GLBT endeavors.  I have always applauded when corporations take a political stand—a human rights stand, if you will.  When they take the right stand (er, LEFT stand), of course.

It should come as no surprise that a corporate head should have a different opinion than me.  Chick-fil-A is a Georgia-based company, founded by a devout Southern Baptist.  The business is not open for business on Sundays.  Its express corporate purpose is, in part, "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us."  (If chickens could talk.)

I am not shocked that company President and COO Dan Cathy recently publicly stated he supports “traditional family” and warned that “we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.  I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."

Ah, yes, let the chicken wars begin.  In the comfort of an enlightened Canada, however, I thought I would watch from the sidelines, shaking my head at the Biblical wrath and quietly lauding the mayors, activists and average LGBT members who speak out and change their chicken sandwich habits.

But then I logged into Facebook this morning and things changed.  It got personal.  One friend from Texas had posted something about long lines at Chick-fil-A and ultimately going to Wendy’s instead.  Long lines at Chick-fil-A?!  Well, maybe in Texas, I thought.  I’d read that the company’s consumer approval rating had dropped dramatically.  But why would my friend even go to that restaurant?!  Her sister is a lesbian.  Corporate values or chicken cravings trumped real family values.

A gay friend in Boise posted something about a Kiss-in to counter Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.  Both actions predictable.  I smiled as I envisioned same sex couples passionately French kissing.  I imagined the response:  loss of appetite, loud prayers, references to Hell and “hating the sin, loving the sinners.”

And then I saw my sister-in-law’s post.  Chick-fil-A for supper before church tonight. Only 25 minutes in line plus 30 minutes to get food, and such a spirit of joy and happiness with the beyond max occupancy crowd! Chick-fil-A has long been a favorite of mine, so only too happy to support them again today!”  She later added another comment:  Just saw our family on the news tonight--standing in line outside Chick-fil-A!!!  And then my 19-year-old niece:  “Whoa seriously? We were on the news?

My chest tightened, my hands shook.  The pride, the excitement,...I was repulsed.  Yep, this is personal.  In the pre-Facebook days, I would be blissfully ignorant.  I could say I long for the smiley face happiness of the ‘70s, but there were no gay rights then.

Of course, I should not be surprised by the posting.  My brother and sister-in-law are evangelical Southern Baptists.  Their children have been home schooled.  My brother spends his vacations building Baptist churches in the South.  Because there aren’t enough.  My sister-in-law refused to let my niece and nephew read my children’s novel when it was published because I misused God’s name.  (Can’t recall specifically, but I think there is a spot in the book where one of the characters says, “Oh, my god.”)  This is the family that sent me the video “How to Be Saved” as a Christmas present one year.  (To be fair, my Catholic sister got the same “gift.”)  My niece’s Facebook entries are usually biblical quotes.  I could go on and on and on. 

My immediate thought was to “unfriend” my sister-in-law.  Ha!  Take that!  Then I thought of posting a comment.  “So disappointed.  Seems corporate allegiance trumps actual family.”  I passed on both options.  Next idea?  Send my brother an email.  Yes, he had been there, too, likely in the driver’s seat.  Gotta get me some holy chicken. 

And then I thought of my mother.  She’s the one who tries to keep the family together.  She’s the one with the chronic sleep problems, the constant worrier.  I will not have an impact on my brother or his family.  We never talk on the phone.  I sent him a three-sentence Happy Birthday email last month, with the last sentiment phrased as a question, inviting a reply.  Nothing.  If it so happens that we both plan to go to the family cottage in summer, I make sure my stay does not coincide with his.  Last time our vacations overlapped, I didn’t like waking to see an apparel line of Jesus t-shirts every morning.  (Seriously.)   I see him once a decade, at most.  When my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary two years ago, my sister-in-law noted it was the first time in twenty-one years we’d all been together.  And we’re a small family! 

Full disclosure here:  My brother and his family are the only relatives that do not officially know I am gay.  I haven’t told them and I am certain no one else has.  I wanted to maintain occasional contact with my niece and nephew, thinking they may become more enlightened later in life, if they ever stray from Baptist influence.  (It’s looking less likely as my niece just finished her first year at a Baptist university.)  Otherwise, I think the rest of the family thinks, “Why bother?”

And now a game of chicken leaves me questioning everything.  If I wanted to act solely for myself, I would comment on the Facebook entry, unfriend AND email my brother.  So satisfying.  My mother will be the one to suffer.  I have caused her much grief in life as the stubborn, wilful middle child, the one my father tiptoes around.  I have already written my brother off as much as possible without the family drama that comes from making it official.

The hurt I feel this morning surprises.  My gut says nothing good will come in passing on the hurt to someone else.  Maybe it is time for me to tune out the self-righteousness and take the higher ground.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"DEAL" WITH IT

Nothing like Karen Carpenter’s sweet, sad voice to simultaneously soothe and send me into a sense of melancholy.  She’s an icon.  Other than my dog, her death is the only one I know by heart:  February 4, 1983.  It was my second year of university and she died at the point when my own eating struggles peaked.  As a kid, I used to stare at the cover of my dad’s “Close to You” album, imagining the dress she’d wear when we married.  “We’ve Only Just Begun” was our song. 

For so many reasons, not meant to be.

The Carpenters’ song “Solitaire” hits me this morning as I write in my favorite café in town.  For the second time this week, a fortysomething woman appears, ordering a muffin and coffee and then sitting at a four-top by herself.  She wears a summer dress, fashionable earrings and necklace.  For a moment, I wonder who she’s meeting.  Obviously, the person is late.  But then she takes out a deck of cards and begins Round 1 of solitaire.  It’s both brazen and sad.  The rest of the coffee soloists are like me, busily surfing or writing on laptops.  I’ve seen newspaper readers and tourists studying maps.  It is true, I have also seen people contentedly working through crossword puzzles and Sudoku, equally individualized tasks, but in my experience, a solo game of cards is reserved for home or airport delays.

She doesn’t cower as I pass her, midgame.  There is a settled aura, if not a confident one.  My first reaction each time is shock, but pity is unwarranted.  In a sense, I admire her.  I’m going out for breakfast and I will not get crumbs in the car.  I am alone and that’s okay.  Now shuffle.  I could learn from her, but do I really want to?

She continues to sit and play.  No one else will join her.  I tune out this scene and let Karen sing me another song, one with a reserved sense of hope:  For All We Know”. 

I do have a deck of cards at home.  Somewhere.  I don’t want to find it.  Not now, at least.  Not ready for that game.