Monday, January 21, 2013

IT'S A GUY THING TOO

There is truth at the base of every overused expression. Take misery loves company. I don’t want other people to suffer whatever pains me; still, there is something perversely comforting in knowing I am not alone.

Last summer, I posted a blog entry about my struggles with body image and bouts of anorexia. So often I have felt there is no one to talk to about the life-long struggle. Media reports largely portray eating disorders as a girl thing. So what the hell is wrong with me? Suck it up, be a man and eat a steak. (As an aside, I hear some gimmicky Caveman Diet is all the rage now. Me disgusted.)

It felt affirming to spot this headline in the Vancouver Sun today: “Eating disorders in men more common than many believe.” For a gay guy long regarded as effeminate and having a girly disorder, I felt a little less freakish. The article would have done wonders had it been published thirty years ago. Another overused expression comes to mind: better late than never.

It’s a lean, low-calorie article, “lite” on analysis, but the main facts are potent. “[S]urprisingly large numbers of men” experience eating disorders. (Yes, we’re still surprised men battle bulimia and anorexia.) One-third of anorexia nervosa and one-fourth of bulimia cases involve males. Those stats are significantly higher than the five percent I’d previously read. Unfortunately, due to the continuing view that eating disorders are a female concern, men are less inclined to seek treatment or to talk about their experiences. The media needs to step up, helping males understand that eating disorders are a guy thing, too. Physicians need to increase their own awareness the incidence of eating disorders among boys and men. Seventeen years ago when I went to my family doctor to get help during a recurrence of anorexia, he didn’t know where to refer me; in fact, he did nothing but tell me to eat. I left his office feeling shocked and even more alone.

The article confirmed things I’d suspected about my own issues with an eating disorder. First, it stated that an eating disorder “can be triggered by a stressful life event, such as undiagnosed other psychiatric conditions, sexual or physical abuse, trouble in school [or] job loss.” Indeed, my two lowest points in battling anorexia came first when I took on too big a load in university and second when I quit my law career and moved to British Columbia, taking on part-time work that did not pay the bills.

While the article acknowledged that some males develop eating disorders after experiencing bullying or teasing, it also affirmed my own reasoning. “An eating disorder can become a coping mechanism, a desperate grasp for control at a time when it feels as if their lives are unravelling.” Anorexia has been a way of asserting control internally at times when I felt I had no control over external situations.

By understanding the triggers that aggravate anorexia, I’ve been able to avoid another downward spiral. Once I recognize pressures that make me particularly vulnerable, I open up to friends, stripping away the secretive nature of anorexia. When eyes are watching, it becomes harder to starve myself.

It is my hope that this is the first of many articles to take away the stigma associated with male eating disorders. It is enough of a burden to battle anorexia or bulimia. Guys shouldn’t have to feel they are alone.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

CHECK THE LABEL

During my final years in Texas, I may have technically come out.  A conversation, a few gay friends (even though we never acknowledged anything gay), even an unsolicited male-on-male kiss that landed squarely on my nose.  I wasn’t really out of the closet, but the door was ajar.

After I moved to Malibu, it still took me two months to inquire where the boys are.  It wasn’t something you could Google back then and I had to resort to a gay helpline listed in the old L.A. phone book. Yes, I officially came out the same year Harry met Sally.

Early on a Saturday night after I was sure my roommates had left, I dialed the number and a friendly male voice answered. I got right to the point, worried that someone in a real crisis might be hearing a busy signal. “I’ve been here for two months and I haven’t met any gay people.”

Friendly Guy’s response: “How is that even possible?”

I mentioned I was attending law school in Malibu.

“Haven’t you gone to the beach?”

Many times. I told him about this stunning beach north of Malibu where nobody went. Even then, I made bad decisions, expecting to meet people where there were none.

“You need to go to a bar,” he explained. “What do you like?”

I was utterly naive. Texans did not talk about anything gay aside from news stories about AIDS deaths and a Texas Monthly article I’d read about vigilantes killing local faggots.  What did I like? There was only one clear answer. “I don’t know.”

He chuckled, not to be mean. I sensed my call amused him. “Do you like leather?” he continued.

“No,” I said. “I’m a vegetarian.”

He laughed harder. I didn’t realize I was being funny. And that’s when I also realized that coming out would only leave me more confused. I had thought the entire inner fight to accept my sexuality would be the final hurdle. Now I could celebrate my individuality. Yes, mom, I am special. Like you always said. (But probably not like you meant.)

That night I learned that just being gay is not clear enough. You have to find your niche. During my years in L.A. and Vancouver, I heard many labels such as leather guys, twinks, daddy chasers, bears, femmes, fatties, sex dwarves, circuit boys, gym rats, rice queens and drag queens. Vancouver further segregated itself based on gay sports leagues—the softball guys rarely mixed with the volleyball guys. I always seemed on the fringes. Not buff enough to be a gym rat, not quite swishy enough to be a femme, past my prime as a twink and too square for the circuit. While I played in a gay tennis league, my skills weren’t competitive enough to be welcomed into the tennis social clique.

The labeling has always reminded me of high school, a time of conflict, angst and bullying for many a gay teen. Why did adult gays need to recreate this system of separation? It has never made sense.

That is why watching “Happy Endings” on ABC last night amused me. Max, one of the six central characters in this sitcom, is the gay one. But he is the antithesis of the gay TV character stereotype. No repressed/fastidious Will, no effeminate, shallow Jack, Max is an overweight lout, straighter than the two straight male characters on the show. Max’s problem of the night: he didn’t have a gay bar where his type could hang. So Jane and a Jack-type sidekick joined Max on a tour of Chicago’s gay club scene on a quest to find Max’s place. The gay categories came on screen in rapid succession, all spoofs of real categories. Ginger snaps, chameleons, Broadway queens. My favorite?  Sitcom gays.

In the end, Max created his own niche: optimistic red-velvet walruses. Inspired. If I decide to conform, here’s hoping the walruses will have me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

THIS ISN'T 40

I recently watched Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40” during its one-week run at the movie theater in town. At the end, I left feeling relieved to be on my own.

When you have been single for a prolonged period of time as I have, it is easy to romanticize coupledom.  “This Is 40” does the opposite. SPOILER ALERT. Sure Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters stay together in the end, but I cannot figure out why. I realize there are good times and bad times in a relationship, but it seems to me that the distinction of a lasting relationship is the ability to treat each other with dignity even during the lows. Not so in this movie.

In not one but TWO scenes, Rudd’s character fantasizes about his wife dying. Indeed, the husband and wife exchange their murder fantasies for one another. Yuk yuk,...yuck yuck.

Some may say I lack a sense of humor. Some may wish to remind me that a movie, particularly a Judd Apatow comedy, is not reality. But I’d say Apatow is skilled at making things real—squeamishly so. I did laugh in some places: Paul Rudd’s hemorrhoid check, Leslie Mann’s trip to the dentist, the teenage daughter’s search for something to wear in her closet. Cookie sex also proved adorable. Rudd and Mann played their parts well. But the arguing was excruciating. Hateful putdowns and unlikable fathers did not help matters.

“This Is 40” followed a typical story arc where things have to get really bad two-thirds the way through before they get good again, but the negative interplay went on and on. People around me squirmed and sighed. The gentleman behind me whispered, “When will it stop?” Had 8-10 minutes been slashed from the 133-minute running time (long for a comedy), it would have been a tolerable, perhaps even recommended flick.

By contrast, the following day I watched a favorite movie of mine, one that no one seems to have heard of, “Last Chance Harvey”, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Call it “This Is 70/50” if you will. The acting is, of course, magnificent. The script doesn’t try too hard. Things just happen. Both characters are single and struggling. There is an early scene with Hoffman that I find emotionally brutal while Thompson’s character experiences more subtle disappointments. These are sadder characters than in “This Is 40” but “Last Chance Harvey” remains more hopeful. That is why “Last Chance” is an annual viewing treat and “40” stands zero chance of a repeat watch.

Indeed, “Last Chance” made me believe again when “40” gave relationships a brutal flogging.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

IN SICKNESS...

When I was a kid, my mom came to the rescue. I seemed to get a lot of fevers and suffered hallucinations about chairs turning into demented woodsmen.

During my last year of university, I flew with three friends to Puerto Vallarta for spring break. I got whacked out ill the second night and didn’t realize the hotel maid was coming in and sponging me down every couple of hours.

When I was in relationships, those moments of sickness brought out the best in the partner. True love may be spending five hours on a home-cooked meal, but truer love surfaces when you have to clean your partner’s vomit or they calmly tolerate the fact I’m being a wuss.  Classic sitcoms always had a tiny bell that the sick mate would jingle incessantly, asking for more honey in the tea, a fluffed up pillow or an adjustment to the TV volume (because reaching two feet was too arduous).

In truth, I don’t get sick much anymore.  Haven’t vomited in twenty years.  I tend to push right through colds. There is no one around letting me wallow a few days in bed. Unfortunately, two days ago, I got hit with a migraine, a potent cough, the shivers and the sweats.  The symptoms continue.  My head goes in and out of cloudy states and naps come every half hour.

This is when having a partner would be so appreciated. I needed to pick up soup and Tylenol in town yesterday and it took me six hours to get in the car and drive. At the checkout, I didn’t realize I was shaking as the elderly couple in front of me casually debated whether they wanted their goods in two bags or one.  It was the clerk who noticed my behavior.  “Are you all right?”  She startled me, but it was nice to hear a stranger express a concern. 

Sick and alone, there is no one but me to take the dog out.  He’s all for joining me for the extra naps on the pile of extra blankets, but those puppy dog eyes are relentless when he decides it is time to piddle.  The house has gone from reasonably tidy to an image from one of those hoarders TV shows. Who pulled all this stuff out?  Ice cream maker?!  Clearly an inexplicable action in a moment of acute cloudiness.

I’ll get through this minor illness.  (Naturally, it comes during my vacation.)  I’ll leave the scattered towels and magazines for next weekend when I’m fully recovered.  I’ll go back to appreciating my independence instead of seeing it as a handicap.  But oh how I’d fancy someone right now tossing the piles of Kleenexes in the trash, lying beside me, fearless over catching what I’ve got and fetching me that cup of tea.  Of course, I’m out of honey and I can’t muster another trip into town.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

NO GAYS AT THE GALLERY

Damn you, Nora Ephron. You and all the other romantic comedy writers have led me to believe you can stumble upon the love of your life in a bookstore, in a sleepy airport bar or at a busy intersection on a rainy day when you forgot the umbrella in the car. As maddening and improbable as the scenarios are, I keep renting the movies or catching them on TV. Most recently, I got to see Julia Roberts meet Javier Bardem when she rode her bike and he ran her off the road. No helmet protecting her beautiful mane. In the movies, the damsel lands in a soft bed of grass, her leg wounded, but the face unscathed.

Yesterday, I was headed to the Vancouver Art Gallery to activate some thinking for a new writing project. As I took the ferry in, I had enough time to think about maybe. Maybe my Ryan Reynolds would chat me up as we quizzically stared at old newspaper ads taped to a wall. Maybe my Ryan Gosling would look as embarrassed as I while attempting to be ponderous over the black-and-white nude female fondling her finger on a small-screen TV. Maybe my Seth Rogen and I would share a laugh, trying to get the docent/guard in the corner to crack a smile or even make eye contact. (Yeah, Seth Rogen. Even a fantasy should be tinged with a little reality.)

It turned out to be a slow day at the gallery. I don’t know how it is even possible, but I did not spot a single gay man. There was a German couple, a few moms with remarkably restrained children who didn’t try to change the TV channel (they probably don’t know how without the remote) and a hopeless middle-aged man looking to jump into a rom-com. Yeah, me.

No romance. No comedy.

I did get my work done. A lack of distractions can prove conducive to something at least.

So Mr. Right, next time I’m in the city, I’m sure the rain will be back. Look for me at that street corner. I never have an umbrella.