Sunday, July 3, 2022

GAZING INTO MY FUTURE: A GAYBORHOOD WITH A PRUNCE JUICE BAR & ORIGAMI CLASSES


During my first years in Vancouver, I bonded with a straight woman and two gay men. She was a step instructor at the gym and we three gays attended her classes religiously. The four of us often grabbed coffee at the gay hub of the time, Delany’s on Denman Street, sometimes staying in to sip and chat, other times, heading to the seawall to sit on a log or walk along the water. The laughs were big, the talks often going from light to profound. 

 


As each of us was single, there was much talk about our futures and how those futures might play out should our single status hold. (None of us seemed to have many prospects to change that status.) We joked about growing old together, three bitter gays and our peppy fitness instructor, changing gears to lead us through wheelchair aerobics and cane jousts. We envisioned ourselves adding dazzle to our nursing home, downing our morning prune juice in the dining lounge while decked out in rainbow beads and high heels which would be much less hazardous to traipse about in given that our electric wheelchairs did all the movement.  

 


At some point, the jesting took on a more serious tone. What would eighty-something really be like if we were single and not as independent? What if we had to live out our golden years not as Golden Girls but back in the milieu of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others, our Pride flags burned by the resident arsonist with Alzheimer’s? What if we each had to sit down to three o’clock dinners—Yorkshire pudding, again—at a table for one, all the straight seniors shunning us?

 

I’ve never looked forward to growing old, but the prospect of being the lone gay in a nursing home only seemed to make that future worse. We began to talk more seriously about an LGBTQ seniors community, little cabins along a pristine lane, a larger assisted living chalet at the end. What a difference it would make to not have to go back into the closet, to not worry about intolerance from another resident or a caregiver. 

 

I’ve held onto that idea, even as our fabulous foursome is very much in the past—a falling out with one, losing touch with another and one I only see once or twice a year when he swings back into town from Prince Edward Island. We won’t be roomies or neighbors in our utopian queer community for the aged, but I’d love to have a place like that to live should I need eldercare or want ongoing social connections as old friends die off or move to Winnipeg or Saskatoon to live with a daughter or the nephew who drew the short straw. 

 


I was both heartened and surprised to stumble upon a CBC news article last week about Toronto’s “Rainbow Wing,” billed as North America’s first-ever dedicated queer living space in a long-term care facility for seniors. It’s not an entirely gay nursing home, but one section consisting of twenty-five beds is for LGBTQ residents. The facility is operated by Rekai Centres whose executive director, Barbara Michalik, stated, “We can’t just slap a sticker on a door. We can’t just do one education during the month of June for pride. It’s continuous. It’s a feeling of culture when you come into that home [and] safety. It’s really constant reinforcement of welcoming.”

 

A quick Google Map search shows that the home, Wellesley Central Place, is only a block and a half away from Church & Wellesley, the hub of The Gay Village in Toronto. This allows residents to easily venture out by foot, walker or cab in a familiar area they may have lived in or at least spent significant time visiting. It seems ideal to remain in a place one knows instead of being transplanted to a suburban neighborhood where residents have no ties. For seniors experiencing some form of senility, a better sense of place may help them remain grounded in reality, past associations and connections being regularly triggered. 

 


I’m not sure the claim that it’s the first-ever such nursing home space in North America holds true. Within the past year or two, I read about Stonewall House in Brooklyn, not a nursing home, but billed on its website as “LGBTQ+ elder housing.” The seventeen-story building has fifty-four studio and ninety-one one-bedroom apartments. Stonewall House appears to be a place for seniors who continue to live independently so, while it doesn’t offer care, it provides connection and safety for queers as they grow old. Sadly, the site states in bold, “Our building is fully occupied. We are not accepting applications at this time.”

 

Clearly, there is a need for more LGBTQ spaces offering independent, semi-independent and nursing home environments for seniors. Not every queer person would seek out such a living community, but the demand still far exceeds what is presently available. Indeed, the CBC article mentioned a small survey of LGBTQ people aged fifty and older in which 94% of respondents favored opening a space like the Rainbow Wing. 

 


More seniors identify as queer, having grown up as LGBTQ rights gained traction and acceptance increased. Let more safe spaces—day centers and residences—become established for older gays to consider spending time in their later years. Many, like me, won’t have family networks looking out for them. I hope I can consider accessing such options if and when it seems appropriate.    

  

Thursday, June 30, 2022

MY FIRST PRIDE IN SEATTLE


 At Pride, there's no such thing
as too much color. 

I survived Pride, Round One.

 

Okay, that sounds like there was suffering involved. I suppose that’s my default view of gay events with too much hoopla. It wasn’t that way this time. 

 

Did I thrive? Um, that’s overshooting a bit. 

 

I took it in and I got something good out of it. That sounds right. And, from my perspective, that means my Pride weekend in Seattle exceeded expectations. I wasn’t insufferable and neither was it. We coexisted gaily enough. 

 


Evan and I spent part of the hot Saturday afternoon on Capitol Hill, first meeting his friends for brunch and then walking along the closed off blocks on Broadway where temporary outdoor stages on each block featured drag queens lip synching with painted on smiles that belied the fact they must have been battling heat exhaustion under heavy wigs and layers of garments, outer leather jackets and faux furs shed not soon enough at the midway point of Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” and Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional.” Pride is prime time for any and all LGBTQ performers. Heck, even the local men’s underwear store had a go-go boy dancing on tiny platform. He went largely unnoticed, his belly larger than what would earn him a gig in a club that evening. I always feel badly when a performer can’t sustain attention, but he didn’t seem to be feeling anything at all. He didn’t need my pity.

 

I took in much of Saturday from my boyfriend’s point of view. Evan loved it, not showing a trace of my cynicism or reticence. After a couple of years without a robust celebration due to COVID, he relished the resurgence of a festival-like atmosphere. Several times, he told me the parade used to be on Capitol Hill, only being relocated to 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle as corporate sponsorship swept in. Capitol Hill meant something to him as a gay man; 4th Avenue did not.

 


We began Sunday as we often do, grabbing lattes at the café on the corner, biking around Lake Union and then going through the paces of an online workout led by Heather Robertson. I tried to bat away the feeling this was the calm before the storm. I’d survived Saturday’s big Pride event which was essentially a very slow walk winding through a crowd of people, rainbows everywhere. Sunday’s events would drag on longer, the sun even hotter. The only chance of cutting things short would be if I suffered heat exhaustion and wound up under a first aid canopy, as had been the case so long ago for eight-year-old me at the Toronto Zoo at the peak of a heat wave. My mother had stayed with me while the rest of the family trekked on in pursuit of bears and dik-dik. Classic case of déjà-vu: same but different.   

 


I felt relief when Evan restated last night’s decision: we’d skip the hours-long parade and hang out at Seattle Center where the parade ends. I’ve walked around the area countless times during my solo trips to the city. It was the site of the 1962 World’s Fair and the Space Needle, the monorail and a huge fountain remain, with the Chihuly Gardens and Frank Gehry’s colorful slabs of warped metal making up the Museum of Pop to keep the grounds interesting. Seeing the area awash in the colors of the rainbow would add an entirely new association. 

 

There may have been more flashes of skin than splashes of red, indigo and violet. I imagine queers are especially grateful that Marsha P. Johnson and other patrons of the Stonewall Inn rioted in late June instead of on some cold night in January. What would Winter Pride have looked like? Would Pride organizers in the early days have adhered to calendar-authentic snowman building contests and drag queen snow angels? Somewhere in northern Finland, there’s an alternate reality coat maker with patents on beer- and snow-resistant rainbow parkas ruing what could have been to the unsympathetic glances of a herd of reindeer.

 

Yes, Sunday was hot. It was the perfect excuse for the first immodestly dressed attendee we spotted as we locked our bikes: an overly tanned Batman, baring a large chest and chiseled midriff, rendering any fake muscle suit utterly unnecessary. The look wowed Evan but made me cringe. Please don’t let the afternoon devolve into a display of gym gods. My body’s fine for the moment, but I still feel I could work off the extra cinnamon buns I indulged in while in Sweden earlier in June. I’m trying to avoid one of my full-on eating disorder panic diets. 

 


As it turned out Batman was an outlier. I can’t recall seeing other caped crusaders or superheroes. While there were plenty of shirtless men and women and a number who opted for full nudity, with or without body paint, these were normal bodies, unwaxed and perfectly imperfect. Thirty years ago, I’d have been bothered by so much exposure, but the displays seemed utterly ordinary. I didn’t read anything provocative into anyone’s state of undress. Instead, it seemed to fit within a broader theme: be Proud, whoever and however you are. 

 


I’m sure they were there, but I can’t recall drag queens strutting around the grounds. What stood out for me were all the people comfortable in their own skin and in their own clothes which defied traditional gender role stylings. This may have been progressive, but I felt a little old-fashioned—in a good way—thinking about Marlo Thomas’s “Free to Be…You and Me” album and book of the early seventies. Surely she’d be aglow gazing at this crowd of people boldly expressing themselves without a worry…on this day, at least. 

 

As Evan and I stepped into The Armory to give my slathered-on layers of sunscreen a break from fending off the sun’s rays, we drank margaritas and people-watched anew. Seattle Center being a tourist attraction on any given day, I asked him, “What percentage of people walking through here just happened upon all this?”

 


“Five percent,” he posited. Maybe so. Maybe it was ten, but Ned and Shirley from Wichita turned away, deciding to watch an encore of the fishmongers at Pike Place Market. I can’t even look at those beautiful fish on display, pulled from a seabed, now relegated to a bed of crushed ice. To each his/her/their own.

 

Without the nudists traipsing through—perhaps there was a No Shoes, No Service sign on the door—I watched an impromptu parade of people shuffling toward restrooms and the Frappuccino line. I noticed the contented smile of an older man wearing a straw hat covered in rows of shimmering rainbow tiles. I checked out the nail polished fingers of so many people half my age. Boys? Nonbinary? Didn’t matter. I saw a six-foot-seven figure peer over everyone’s heads while donning a formless frock splattered with flourishes of rainbow tie-dye. More people free to be.

 


So many in the crowd were of college age and much younger. They didn’t show the shock I probably couldn’t hide during my first Pride more than three decades ago. They’ve grown with many of the same struggles and much of the same hate, but they’ve had plenty of outlets at school, on social media and on streaming channels to encourage them to explore all facets of who they are, to absorb the pervasive message that Love Is Love and to find their people. They appeared totally at ease here. Happy without having to edit their mannerisms, their attire, their ways of interacting. 

 

In all, I felt awe. It helped to be alongside Evan, who took in the surroundings and fed off what he too observed. I’ve passed on so many Prides since 1990. My weekend in Seattle reminded my why it still matters to others and, yes, by golly, to me as well.

 


So there it is. Happy Pride. Call it a wrap.

 

Now let me catch my breath before Round Two four weeks from now in Vancouver. Yes, okay, I’m Proud. But this introvert is worn out, too.

  

 

  

Friday, June 24, 2022

SUMMONING PRIDE


I’m trying to fight my reticence. Seattle’s Pride events culminate in its parade and other events this weekend. I’m going, even if I’m dragging my rainbow Converse-clad feet.

 

I’ve never participated in Pride in Seattle. It’s not my city and I’m not one of those to do a whole Pride summer tour. Ordinarily, it’s enough for me to bow out of Vancouver’s Pride activities which come to a head at the end of July or the beginning of August. It’s convenient for me to travel elsewhere at that time of year. The cottage in Ontario calls or, if not, I schedule a hiking weekend around Whistler or on Vancouver Island. I don’t require the annual Pride booster.  

 


This year non-participation is not an option. I’m in a new relationship with Evan who lives in Seattle. He’s one of the masses who loves Pride. We alternate spending weekends in Seattle or Vancouver and it was a given that we’d be at his place for Seattle Pride and then at my place for Vancouver Pride. I get to a double booster. Doubly Proud. Yay. Not yay.

 

I know very well how I sound. I’m the party pooper. I’m the rain on the parade. I have to work through this so that, when it’s time to celebrate, I’ll blend in. Let me not be the death of the party. Of course, if I appear blasé or, worse, mopey, no one will notice. No one but Evan. 

 

I could hit the beer garden. Evan likes it when I’ve had a drink. He says I get chattier and I’m giddy. One drink is about my limit. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I don’t do excess anything. Still, I’d rather track down an iced oat milk latte and do what I can to feed off the energy, not so much from eyeing the corporate banners or the go-go boys on floats, but from watching Evan take everything in. Let his joy be mine. 

 


As I drove to Seattle last night, I attempted to conduct my own therapy session. What’s your problem with Pride? How does it make you feel? 

 

My first Pride parade was in West Hollywood way back in 1990. I went by myself and sheltered beside a friendly group of lesbians. They made me feel safe while taking in a spectacle that was overwhelming. So much leather, so much drag, so much skin. There was lots of talk about the Gay and Lesbian “community” which, at the time, seemed conflicted about the B and the T. Bisexuality was often derisively questioned, a half-step out of the closet at best. I’d heard talk about transgender being a distraction to gay and lesbian causes. The thinking was that it was hard enough for America to accept gays and lesbians. People who were trans would have to wait. In many respects, they’re still waiting. 

 


However broad or restricted the “community,” I had a hard time seeing my place when I looked at the people in the parade. I was a repressed twenty-five-year-old, raised in a reserved family, having lived eleven years in Texas prior to moving to Los Angeles. I took the parade too seriously, at face value…or, really, the value seemed more focused on lower body parts—jiggly thongs and boobs with pasties. This was what I was supposed to be? I couldn’t see myself in bare-assed leather chaps. I failed to see the parade as a performance piece, as a stir-the-pot device to rally the troops, as a party on steroids…our version of Carnival or Mardi Gras. 

 


What I managed to connect with were the more serious entrants in the parade: the local politicians glad-handing while perched in convertibles, the PFLAG contingent that I knew would never include my own parents and the AIDS organizations demanding action now. Indeed, the parade planted the seed for me to become a volunteer buddy at AIDS Project Los Angeles a year later when I finally decided I couldn’t sit on the sidelines, buried in law school case studies in beach-blessed Malibu. When the parade wrapped, I left with a smile on my face—a genuine one without any nudge from booze. I couldn’t process the gay garb, but I truly felt the core message of Pride: It was okay to be gay. I was not alone, in spirit at least. There were tens of thousands of gays, lesbians and allies who would high-five me if I dared to relax and venture beyond my overly cautious life, skimming issues of The Advocate on newsstands and staring at my socks while sipping club soda at Rage on Saturday nights. My version of bold was asking the bartender for a lime wedge.

 


In subsequent years at various Pride events, I felt less affirmation as my inner critic cringed at seeing the more daring, out-there components of the parade. I’d learned that the stir-the-pot moments were the ones that made the TV news which didn’t seek to accurately portray the crowd but instead wanted viewers to react. My agenda had been normalizing being gay. I wanted people to realize “We’re just like everybody else.” Others stole the show with the counterargument: “No, we’re not.” I needed approval; they didn’t. 

 

I’ve evolved—to some degree. I love the drag queens. Really, I always have. I just wanted Joe Public to see the average Joes under the rainbow, too. Of course, the big wigs and glittery gowns made the evening news. Any decent drag queen will do what it takes to pull focus. 

 


I’m understanding more about the T in LGBTQ. I embrace trans rights even though my personal interactions remain far too limited. I appreciate the greater focus in the press and in the entertainment industry. I’m incensed how conservatives are using trans issues to get their followers frothing at the mouth and coughing up political donations. Fear the unknown!It’s outrageously manipulative. 

 


I’m in awe of the entire alphabet spectrum of terms younger and/or newly out queers can draw from in considering identity. I’ve heard others my age bemoan all the new labels and I get it. We worked hella hard to be accepted as gay. Let that be enough. But it’s a larger menu now. Other people choose what’s the best fit for them. COVID expanded my gay universe, allowing me to listen to and learn from a broader, more diverse group of queer writers than I’d ever encountered during my limited out and abouts, pre-pandemic. 

 


While I don’t think my attempt at road trip therapy last night made any inroads, I’m realizing this writing session is proving helpful. The last time I took part in a Pride parade and the showier events was probably seven years ago. Much has changed, some things for the better, other circumstances raising new concerns. Back then, I was single and I people watched the crowd more than the parade entries. I glanced at older gay couples, I studied younger straight couples who brought along their children with rainbow unicorns painted on their cheeks and I crouched down to bond with labradoodles and, wherever possible, schnauzers. I loved the drag queens, but I didn’t need to ogle the shirtless boys showing off tanned abs and toned biceps. As someone who will likely always struggle with an eating disorder, I’ve learned that I don’t need in-your-face displays of gay gods and the more awkward mere mortals desperately striving for that status. I don’t want to go to Pride and feel worse about myself. My issue. Let me shake another paw with Fido who looks rather festive with the rainbow leash and collar. 

 


I’m an introvert and, as I wrote last year, I get more from quieter moments during Pride month. But I think I can put on a happy face—a genuine one this year—and feed off Evan’s joy while celebrating the more diverse representations of pride. Let me cheer people pushing for trans rights. Let me whoop for LGBTQ seniors. And, as a bonus, let me boogie to the old school soundtrack…a little Bronski Beat, a dash of Gloria Gaynor, some sideline Voguing, a couple of Village People tunes and “Born This Way” as a takeaway earworm.    

 

Okay, Seattle. Pep talk completed. See you Out in the streets.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

MEET THE PARENTS


Okay, it happened. My boyfriend met my parents. Previously I’d blogged about deciding to open up my world to them. In the past, they haven’t asked much about me being gay and I haven’t volunteered anything. It was as though I’d come out to them twenty-eight years ago and then gone back in the closet, like a cuckoo clock that announces the hour and then retreats at which point the clock breaks down, the cuckoo stuck behind a door forevermore.

 

With my parents’ Alaskan cruise wrapping up in Seattle where Evan just happens to live, it was the perfect opportunity for the four of us to meet. Initially, they were only going to meet his car. I drive a Mini Cooper and it’s an ordeal for either parent to climb in and out of what the makers generously call a backseat. It’s a great space for tossing my backpack or a sack of groceries but far less comfy for an adult-sized human. On the phone, I’d told my parents the BMW was “a friend’s car.” As always, they accepted that info at face value. No questions from them, no elaboration from me. 

 

When I floated the idea of Evan joining us, he feigned a pained face. He probably wasn’t feigning, but I chose to take it that way. I plodded on with the plan. “It’ll just be brunch. A place with chewy food so you won’t have to talk much. So none of us will.” I wasn’t exactly setting the stage for a pleasant meet and greet. 

 


When Evan brought up the subject on another day, presumably hoping for an exit pass—“Are you sure you want me to come along?”—I quipped, “If we pull up and you don’t feel good about it, I’ll tell them you’re my chauffeur.” In my book and in my parents’, a BMW is hoity-toity. Maybe it wasn’t even a joke. What would I be doing with a fancy car AND a chauffeur on my fixed income? No chance my parents would ask.

 


But Evan, super trouper that he is, showed up as both driver and boyfriend. As we headed to my parents’ hotel, he changed the radio station to classical music. I laughed and said, “You’re a big suck, you know.” He glanced my way, flashing his Cheshire cat grin (which he always wears well). I squeezed his hand while he switched to pretending to be hyperfocused on navigating the nonexistent downtown Sunday traffic.  

 

We approached the hotel five minutes early and I pointed out my father, pacing on the corner in a windbreaker, playing lookout. He’d probably been at his post for fifteen minutes while my mother sat, protected from the elements (cloudy, cool, a slight breeze) in the lobby. On the sidewalk, I received hugs while Evan was welcomed with handshakes. There was still time for him to assume his chauffeur alter ego. 

 


We had plenty, aka too much, time before our brunch reservation so Evan toured us around Seattle, using his architectural knowledge to identify buildings, my mother duly oohing while gazing upward out the window, my father no doubt filing away each tidbit as he thrives on facts. If he Googled for the entire meal, he’d be thrilled.

 

Five minutes into the drive, my mother leaned forward and said, “I like your taste in music, Evan.” We side-eyed one another. Slam dunk for the big suck. I reached over and held his hand at the stoplight, probably the first public display of affection my parents had ever seen between their son and another man. Bach or Beethoven can make the younger folk get a little handsy.

 

All went well. There’s no need for a play-by-play. I’d be at a loss to pick out the highlights. There weren’t any. It was a meal, peppered with benign updates about relatives and my parents’ answers to whatever questions I could come up with about the cruise. (Being on a cruise sounds like a nightmare to an introvert like me. It generates no curiosity whatsoever.) I’m sure my parents asked Evan a question or two. Not enough, it seemed to me, but then I’ll admit to being overly critical of them. Evan talked in all the right places, always charming, if notably less chatty than his normal self. This never evolved into anything other than a command performance. 

 

The initial plan, at least between Evan and me, had been for me to drop off Evan after the meal—“You’re free!”—and then for me to find something to extend the visit with my parents. Gardens would do it. Due to COVID, it had been two and a half years since I’d seen my parents who live in Texas. Surely there’d be more catching up to do. My eighty-two-year-old mother often notes, “We’re not getting any younger, you know.” (My father is eighty-five.) She may say it with an intention to guilt me into a longer visit or, in fairness, the guilt may be self-induced these days. As we got ready that morning, however, I sensed that the meal and the hour and a half of sightseeing ahead of that would suffice.

 

When we stepped once again onto the sidewalk outside the hotel, it was hugs all around, my mother whispering to me, “Evan’s lovely!” He’d passed the test, not that it mattered in my book.

 


Five days later, I got an email from my mother. The most important part: “I have COVID. Dad also has it.” She’d sent other messages, intentionally or unintentionally trying a new form of messaging, each one sent to my spam folder with cryptic subject headers that I’d dared not open. A phone call would have been preferred, given the news and the fact Evan and I had been potentially exposed. Bygones, of course.

 

When I got the news, Evan was on the road, driving up from Seattle to spend an extended weekend with me in Vancouver. His internal COVID alarm is easily triggered. Anytime I cough due to a scratch in my throat or the fact I’ve never mastered the skill of drinking a glass of water, he urgently asks, “Do you have COVID?” Maybe he’s kidding, maybe not. As soon as I start on my next meal, he asks, “Can you taste that?” I remind myself that Seattle is where the first concerns arose over the pandemic in North America. That likely had an even greater impact on its residents than the rest of us. I scrambled to take a home test before calling him. I told myself it was fortuitous that I didn’t extend the visit beyond lunch. I also cursed cruises. Something still seems amiss. 

 


The result was negative, as expected. Maybe he’d fret less as he continued his drive. If he continued. I knew he might opt to turn back and isolate in his own home.

 

Evan’s response on the phone: “Your mom gave me COVID! I leaned in to show her how to do something on her phone!” Again, maybe he was kidding, maybe not. He mentioned feeling more tired than usual and a slight cough that began in the morning. And there seemed to be a mild headache all of a sudden. 

 

Like father, like son, I was standing in the parking area awaiting his arrival. We tested together, chatting merrily while filling in the fifteen-minute wait. I got him smiling and laughing. Everything would be fine.

 

Once again, my test was negative. Same with Evan’s. 

 

The next morning, he was reporting more symptoms. He wanted a more official test. I booked a COVID test after fudging the prerequisite self-assessment which stated we didn’t qualify for a test on the first go. Only one of us could be tested. Evan was the one needing peace of mind, needing to subdue the suggestive thoughts seeming to affect his health. The results for the PCR test would take 24-36 hours. We called after 12, again after 24. No info. His name wasn’t even in the system. So we went through the home tests again. 

 


My test: negative. Evan’s: positive. 

 

Dammit. The symptoms were real. And his response was less funny. “Your mom gave me COVID!”

 

Yep. That’s what my super trouper got for being an exemplary, classical music-loving boyfriend. Game to meet the parents, even if it included an unwanted parting gift.

 

My parents and Evan thankfully have experienced mild symptoms…a little discomfort, a lot more naps. I continue to test negative, including this morning. All that exposure yet my body isn’t interested. It’s part of a lucky streak of late. 

 

Until yesterday, Evan stayed with me. He didn’t require much in terms of tender loving care, but I offered what I could and joked that he could hold this over me forever. “Remember that time your mother gave me COVID?” Yes, of course, I’ll take out the trash. Again. And tag along to that social event I’m not looking forward to. And the one after that. To infinity and beyond. 

 

Thanks, Mom. Nice to see you again.

 

 

 

 

Monday, June 20, 2022

HEY, JEALOUSY


I’ve never been fond of people invoking the term jealousy. It has its place, but I feel it’s overused and misused. If someone were to say I’m jealous of the writing careers of David Sedaris and Andrew Sean Greer, they’d be right. In this context, jealous is synonymous with the term envious, each conveying a sense of being covetous. I want their writing success…or even a fraction of it. 

 

In terms of romantic relationships, jealousy takes on a different connotation which suggests that the person portrayed as having it is possessive and/or suspicious of the person who has his affection. This is where the word’s use gets dicey. It becomes a term of judgment. We are not supposed to feel jealous. It’s a bad thing. Indeed, it can be weaponized. It shuts down conversation. It’s triggered when someone wonders about the possibility of infidelity. The mere thought of any such thing conveys a person’s irrationality. “Stop being jealous.” The behavior is considered to cause harm to the relationship but so does invoking the term itself.

 

My first boyfriend regularly accused me of being jealous. We were both in our mid-twenties and his entire work environment involved gay men. He was always telling me about guys hitting on him. It seemed to me that, rather than putting these men in their place or telling them he was in a relationship, he continued to receive and maybe even relish their advances. As with so many gay men, he was insecure and the attention fed his ego. What he failed to acknowledge was that it harmed me in the process.

 

Whenever I asked if he mentioned having a boyfriend or if he made clear he wasn’t interested, he seemed to dodge the question and fire back that I was being jealous and I was thereby damaging our relationship. He’d then continue to tell me about these men hitting on him again and again. His burden, his helplessness. I’d listen to these anecdotes and then suggest how he could put a stop to the unwanted attention. 

 


“If you don’t like Ben, why don’t you tell him you have a boyfriend?” “Why does he keep leaving messages on the answering machine?” No cell phones. It was 1991. Also very much a 1991 thing: AIDS. There was no wiggle room for a wayward romp. We’d gotten tested for HIV together and we were careful but there was still a lot of misinformation then about what was safe or, at less safer. The stakes were literally life and death.  

 

He viewed my questions as an assault on him. I was the unreasonable person. Jealous, jealous, jealous. He didn’t tire of his suitors but of what he saw as my suspicion and doubt. 

 


To be sure, rooted in anything I said or did was my own insecurity. I’ve never had high self-esteem and I never denied that. We lived in Los Angeles, the land of beautiful men who all seemed to be model/actor wannabes. Friends in Peoria or Spokane or wherever they grew up told them they had movie star good looks and so they moved in their twenties to Hollywood, hoping to be discovered while waiting tables The Ivy or working in a clothing store on Melrose. West Hollywood was a bonus, a chance to be openly gay in the places that hugged Santa Monica Boulevard, a freedom they never had in their hometowns. As the Village People and the Pet Shop Boys implored gays to “Go West,” the pretty ones left for L.A. while the ones with more niche looks settled in San Francisco. 

 

I realize my insecurity must have been exhausting. But maybe his was, too. Why did he seem to go out of his way to tell me about all the guys hitting on him and about the ones that did so persistently? It’s possible that neither of us was frequent or expressive enough with stating how attractive we found each other or of how much we were into one another. I told him many times my questions were not a reflection of him and the possibility he couldn’t be trusted; instead, they showed my insecurity which could be eased (for the moment, at least) with reassurance. The doubts were more about myself than about him. I wanted us to go on forever, but I worried he’d find someone better. So many were better.

 


Forever lasted nine months. He broke up with me because he found someone else. A very good friend of mine. Someone better…or at least so it may have seemed. Rick certainly had the self-confidence I didn’t. I presume they got involved while John and I were together because it was only a few weeks after breaking up that John flew to Michigan with Rick to meet Rick’s family. It was no victory that I apparently had good reason to be jealous. 

 

It's been three decades since that first love. I’ve fallen in love several times. I’ve been cheated on many times as well. I’d like to think I’m more secure, but that’s perhaps a hollow notion that I tell myself. Maybe I’m just more prepared for “forever” to fall flat. Maybe that makes the stakes not as high. 

 


Evan and I just reconnected after nineteen days apart, a huge chunk of time considering our relationship has just passed the three-month mark. While he was in rural New Mexico, I was traveling remote regions of Iceland. We were intent on daily contact—a few pics and texts from him while I was sleeping six times zones away and the same from me while he was sleeping. They would provide smiles and a sense of place in terms of our experiences, but the heart of our contact would be our daily FaceTime chats. He wasn’t just the first person I might talk to in a day; often, he was the only one. It was a simple plan that got complicated in its execution. The internet connections got weaker with each day, our FaceTime chats choppy ins and outs when there was any connectivity at all. Conversations were rushed and incomplete, goodbyes coming via text when it was clear that further FaceTiming would only be an exercise in frustration.

 


It was Evan who asked for reassurance. Had I met anyone? Had I fooled around? He reframed the questioning four times over the course of only a few minutes of better connectivity since he was back in Seattle and I’d moved on to the city of Göteborg in Sweden. I recognized this kind of scrutiny. I also knew that Evan had also been cheated on many times in his past relationships. We’d had decades of things not working out. Could this new love we’d found with each other be any different?

 

Every time he asked, I smiled, answered calmly and honestly. I never felt attacked. I never felt it was about me. He was feeling fragile. He needed to know I was still into him and only him. I told him what I’ve told him before. “Ask me whenever you need to. It’s okay.” His need. “I will never be offended. I am one hundred percent committed to you and I will tell you that again whenever you need me to.” It was such an easy exchange. Time and distance had made him vulnerable, maybe us vulnerable. He needed to feel safe and secure. I’m happy to do what I can to convey that.  

 


I have never cheated. I never will. I know that, but he’s still figuring me out. He may never fully trust that I will be faithful. He’s had cheating boyfriends and, while I’m not like them, I bet each of them assured him they weren’t the cheating kind. Sometimes other people’s words make our own seem too good to be true. I get that. I will say and show what I need to so that Evan feels reassured and as confident as possible that fidelity is possible, that we have the potential to last. He’s doing the same for me. Let neither of us be branded as jealous. Let us both find reassurance if and when we need it.