Tag Archive: bisexual


Luck of the Irish

During my most recent 10 day trip to Ireland, I had the good fortune to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone (I have the pictures to prove it). I had ridiculed those who rushed to kiss the stone, figuring they were suckers of a good tourist scam, but I have to say that seeing the grounds turned out to be one of the major highlights of my trip. The grounds, including the Poisonous Gardens and the secret wishing well, were beautifully laid out, and we explored the castle grounds over the course of two and a half hours.

As happenchance would have it, the day Rosie and I visited, gay choruses from around the United States were also visiting, including groups from Atlanta and Minnesota, who were also making a trek to kiss the Blarney Stone. A transsexual named Ann introduced herself to us and volunteered to take our pictures, incorrectly assuming that we were an interracial couple, facing the same prejudices she did as a man who lives as a woman. Unfortunately, Ann was not exactly blessed with the ability to “pass” as the other gender, but probably faces a fair amount of prejudice and ridicule on a daily basis. I’ve been told by some that I’m not apparently or obviously gay, and that I can live among heterosexuals invisibly, and this is both a blessing and a curse. At times I’m probably more obviously gay than others, but living in the western burbs of Chicago, I’m careful not to throw my sexuality in the face of others. It’s a Bill Clintonesque “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

I had imagined the Blarney Stone as some kind of boulder or rock outgrowth, and didn’t really envisage it as part of the castle, but it was great fun to stretch out backwards and kiss the stone while being held by a handsome redheaded Irishman. In a strange twist, just before Rosie went to kiss the stone, the guy in charge thoroughly wiped down the wall. It was done with some measure of good humor on his part, and I would have thought, had he been truly prejudiced, he would have scrubbed the wall after she kissed it, not before. We did experience prejudice while on the trip, but that occurred more during the later half of the trip. The Irishman in charge did wipe down the wall after each kisser, but didn’t seem overly concerned with “disinfecting” it, except as some kind of blarney joke. There was a rather ribald humor to the whole expedition, and all the GLBTQ choruses from around the United States dominated the scene, scouting out camp photos in the cavernous rooms as we climbed the stone staircase en route to our thirty second smooch designed to guarantee we would always be blessed with the gift of blarney. I have yet to see how completely I will be blessed with this gift.

I did, however, realize how lucky I am to live in America at this particular time in history. As a nation, we may have “miles to go” yet, but I’m aware that I’m afforded the liberty to “live out loud” if that is what I choose. It may cost me some friends, but it likely won’t cost me my life.

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An Abundance of Riches

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “When it rains it pours,” but you may not be familiar with the lesser known declaration, “I have an abundance of riches.”

I suppose calling out, “When it rains it pours,” could be used to positive or negative effect. You could complain about how life heaps challenge upon challenge upon you, overloading you, weighing you down, or you could, I suppose, look on the bright side of things, and say that good things come in twos and threes and then, “when it rains, it pours.”

On the other hand, declaring that you have an abundance of riches can hardly be misinterpreted. In my case, after a long dry spell, a veritable 12 year desert drought, I’ve had an abundance of people expressing an interest in dating me lately. I’m inordinately busy, however, and not especially free to commit myself to one special person so I’m learning, in early middle age, to take it slow. What can I say? I’m a slow learner. . .

I’ve recently developed a crush on a guy I’ll call Kevin. We’ve met “accidentally on purpose” several times at a local coffeehouse and are slowly getting to know each other, and I’m enjoying the romancing going on, but I have to admit, there’s an something I can’t quite put my finger on. I think he might be somewhat emotionally unavailable. I don’t have too much experience dating bisexual men, but I do believe he has a child from a previous relationship (This is as yet unconfirmed. He kinda muttered something about having a child). It’s not a complete deal-breaker, but at the same time, it doesn’t bode well for developing a serious, committed relationship. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m marriage material, and I’m not going to have a fling just for the sake of having a fling with a handsome man. And he is a handsome man.

Now the difficulty is that there are two or three other people on the horizon expressing an interest, tentative though that interest may be. Juggling has never really been my forte, and I have school and a trip abroad to Ireland planned over the next month so my motto, at least for the time being, is: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Meanwhile, consider me a rich man.

Retreat Home

Conscious living. . .A buzz word in our modern, hyper-fast, race-to-the-finish-line society. People, by nature, seem to seek what they don’t already have, and we have romanticized the notion of slowing down to enjoy the view, lest life pass us by, but so few of us actually achieve a sense of conscious living.

I feel torn, several times a week, by differing value systems. Some gay men worship the body electric, and put all their focus, time, and energy into working out. That, indeed, is but a subset of the whole population, but I’m self-centered and vain enough to want other’s approval, even if it’s only for being in great shape. Then, there’s the value system of the small town, village really, in which I live. There, the greatest emphasis is placed on being a good person where you’re also encouraged to fit in and not make too many waves, and this can sometimes mean not being disagreeable–being liked. In this community, many diverse people are tolerated, but you certainly don’t want to stick out for being too progressive or controversial. Yet another group whose approval I court are the intellectuals and writers and the writing community at Northwestern as well as throughout the Chicagoland area. There’s a subtle sort of competition among my fellow MFA students to see who is the most talented and who has the most potential to go far.

Last, there is the Christian and Catholic community to which I have just come home on a visit, twenty years after I graduated. I went to a small, private, liberal arts Catholic school, St. John’s University, in upper Minnesota, about an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities. I am, in effect, on a retreat home, a retreat to my spiritual home.

I have, in the course of my life, wandered far from my spiritual roots, starting way back when I was a sophomore, and my former Resident Assistant, Chris Agnew, the student who oversaw our development and encouraged us to come to him with any questions, suffered an epileptic seizure and died in the shower early one morning. I really couldn’t reconcile the kind of God who would take away such a caring, loving young man so early in life. I couldn’t even make myself go to this funeral, held in the big abbey church where his life was celebrated. I didn’t want to celebrate his life; I wanted him still in my life. It was a real crisis in faith, compounded by my grappling with my sexual identity.

I have wandered far, over the years, from my roots, but now I am back for a vacation, and I get to look at the campus with new eyes. There is, indeed, an undeniable spiritual energy to the place, nestled among 2,700 acres and Lake Sagatagan, with a vibrant community of Benedictine monks and priests. St. Benedict was celebrated for the virtue of hospitality, and it is this openness and welcoming attitude that has brought me home, the long way around. I notice an innocence, a lack of jadedness, in the eyes of the summer students, and indeed, among the mentors on campus.

A simpler life is not necessarily a simple life, but this retreat has shown me that it’s okay to embrace a God of my understanding, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional Christian model, and still not be considered a cast out. I have spent so much time and energy trying to fit in among various communities, and now I sense is my chance to take two days to ask myself, who am I, where are my roots, where have I come from, and where am I going.

Much peace to you. I seem to be finding a missing sense of quiet serenity and gratitude up here.

The Big Hush-Hush

Although I’m gay, I have been experiencing great, I repeat, great difficulty creating interesting fictional gay characters. Right now I’m working on a novel where my main character’s best friend, a gay white man named Dewey, is in a relationship with a black man named Prophet who was formerly married to a woman. It sounds just a tad bit like the storyline to a soap opera, don’t you agree? Therein lies my problem. Dewey and Prophet are supporting characters, not even part of the main storyline, but they’ve proven the most difficult to render realistically on the page. I’ve written many scenes between Althea and her husband, then ex-husband, but trying to find the right tone for Dewey and Prophet, striking the right balance in developing a plausible gay characters, has eluded me.

I’m learning that capturing the truth on the page can be difficult, rude, cumbersome even. I think I may unconsciously be afraid to offend my parents by what I write. They haven’t really read much of my work, but when I recently described the plot of my novel to my dad, he responded by asking whether I really needed a gay character at all.

It’s frustrating when heterosexual authors like John Irving, famous for The World According to Garp as well as his most recent novel In One Person, and recent phenom Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding), have free rein in creating captivating characters who have a different sense of their sexual orientation whereas I’m stymied for writing about something too close to home, as if I were writing an autobiography instead of fiction.

It’s an interesting conundrum to be so inhibited because when I first came out of the closet, way back as an undergrad at the conservative Minnesota liberal arts school St. John’s University, one of my all-time favorite teachers Betty will assure you that I came out with a vengeance. What can I say? It was the late-80’s, frosted hair and ear rings were de rigeur for a certain subset. I won’t say that they were ever truly popular, at least not so in Minnesota, but it certainly made a man stand out.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve learned to be more polite, to create less waves and avoid controversial topics. One example: my dad is convinced that global warming is a fallacy and the leftist leaning politicians propagate alarmist prognostications to advance their own careers. We don’t discuss Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent climate change. All my dad will say in regard to Gore is that those leftist Hollywood types made him their darling, and somehow won the prize on his behalf.

I truly hope I don’t have to wait for my father to die in order to write a publishable novel. I don’t want to spend so much energy worrying what other’s think about my abilities and talents. Charles Bukowski once famously said that when you get the shit kicked out of you over, and over, and over, you have a tendency to say what you think. I’m just not sure what it will take to get me to write my truth as well as live it.

Drunk Dreams

Friends have told me numerous times,  “I definitely have another drunk in me; I’m just not sure I have another recovery in me.”  I always thought, “My God, need you be so damn dramatic?”  After my drunk dream last night, however, I begin to understand their sentiment.

I dreamt last night that I was about to go on a date with Adam Levine (okay, so I gotta dream big), and I got skunk drunk, knock-down-drag-me-out-of-the-bar drunk.  I naturally humiliated myself and he wanted no part of me, leaving me ignominiously on the street corner.  Though the details are somewhat hazy now, several hours later, kind of like the hazy morning-after memories of those now long gone days, I nevertheless remember the panic, the feeling that this is it, I can’t possibly fathom putting together two days sober, two weeks sober, a month sober.  April 27th 2007 was the last day I fell down snookered, and April 28th this year I will celebrate six years sober, God and the universe willing.  I begin to understand, dramatic or not, I may not have another recovery in me so I better make this one count.

I have thought about starting up another blog site, “One Drunk to Another,” and I personally feel it might make for a great book, but I really don’t want to jinx myself.  I’ve got my life going on pretty good, heading creatively in the right direction as a writer who actually writes rather than dreaming about, but not working on the Great American Novel, and most days, I don’t have to think about alcohol or the effort involved in maintaining sobriety.  It often seems deceptively easy.  I laid a pretty good foundation, if I say so myself, and now weeks go by without me even thinking how great a Jack Daniels would be to take the edge off or make me more relaxed and interesting, or some other such nonsense.

Plus, I surround myself with positive people, and seem to naturally draw people with similar values into my life.  Even those friends who drink don’t seem to have a problem having A GLASS of wine or A BEER, or if they order a second, often leave it half finished.  This is unfathomable to me, and at times I find myself wondering, “How on earth can they simply leave a glass unfinished?”  During my drunk bar days, I needed to have a glass in my hand at all times, and though now the glass holds a soda water with a lime, that behavior hasn’t dramatically changed.  I still feel most comfortable holding that reassuring clear-bottomed glass in hand.

Strange enough, I have made numerous friends at Northwestern who speak in code, and let me know, “I had to quit drinking, or die.”  Again, these friends seem to have a flair for the dramatic, but there is truth in the sentiment.  I might not have physically died, though it was certainly a possibility driving home after far too many cocktails, I most certainly would have died spiritually and emotionally.

I have dreams again, and the courage to pursue them.  These dreams are far different than the drunken stupors I once found myself wallowing in, and it is a rare reminder to have a nightmare to reinforce that all the good in my life starts with me taking responsibility for my actions.  Hugh Jackman, in talking about the painful life experience of having his mother abandon him when he was eight, refuses to wallow in life’s disappointments.  He said, “There comes a certain point in life when you have to stop blaming other people for how you feel or the misfortunes in your life.  You can’t go through life obsessing about what might have been.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

My philosophy is to aim high. You may not hit the bull’s-eye, but you’ll have a better chance of hitting the target. In terms of my religion, I try to be faithful, but as a gay man, it can be a challenge. Today, when it came time for the announcement of what the faithful should pray for, we were instructed to pray for the preservation of family values and the definition of marriage as between a man and woman. For this very reason, I consider myself a freelance Catholic, what some would term “a cafeteria Catholic.” These kinds of prayers and admonitions tend to leave me feeling left out, and I am considered by those in the Church to be saddled with a special burden to bear in reconciling my sexuality with my religion. No wonder Reform Judaism seems especially appealing!

I am a hypocrite in the sense that as I sat through Mass, and said the revised version of the Mass (which if you’re Catholic and haven’t been to Church for a while–Church with a capital “C”–you will notice things have changed, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically), I kept thinking, “Well at least I know the new liturgy,” unlike my neighbor sitting next to me. I took special pride in speaking out all the new parts, secretly gloating while trying to keep my face pious.

In many ways Catholicism is more than a religion. It is almost an ethnicity, something so indoctrinated in your soul as to become a very part of your Being, much like Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. It would be hard for me to leave my religion behind for this very reason. It’s a part of who I am, for better or worse.

Speaking of shooting for the stars, and aiming high, I strive to be the best person I can, yet one particular moral failing haunts me. I fear the future, in particular I fear poverty. My very own financial cliff. At one time I was on disability, Medicare, and Social Security, and lived in what could be politely termed a hovel with a man who has both cerebral palsy as well as a mental illness. I hid my impoverishment from friends, didn’t dare date, and grew ashamed of my life circumstances.

Later, my mother’s cousin moved to the area and helped me rebuild my life. I have even gone back to school, grad school at Northwestern for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing, but somehow, in some ways, have continued to resent my past. I still take Eric, the man I lived with, out to see movies, but sometimes his behavior embarrasses me, especially when he starts talking to himself, often quite vocally (it’s a part of his mental illness). I even, at times, grow embarrassed by my mother’s cousin’s condition. She’s practically incapacitated, and can no longer walk on her own. I take her to church, out to eat, and to movies in her wheelchair, and I love her greatly, yet at times I find myself praying selfishly, “Please let her live until I graduate,” since I could not afford school on my own. Fear of financial insecurity and impoverishment rules my very being.

I pray in the year to come for greater faith, to accept whatever comes my way. This is not an easy prayer, even for someone who went to a small, liberal arts Catholic school as an undergrad. To whom much is given, much is required (this is not something which I naturally consider). I also pray not to resent those around me or the services I perform for them. For the last six years, I have changed my cousin’s bandages, and I hope to be more like Jesus in washing others’ feet, without expecting accolades for my service. I also pray not to be embarrassed by my circumstances, by the fragility of the life I have constructed. Anne Lamott has written a new book: “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” She comes from a place of gratitude, but doesn’t whitewash her struggles, most especially her struggle to be grateful.

Please, Lord, make me more grateful this coming year, and maybe just a little neater and organized, and maybe more creative as well, but if you can only make me grateful for my blessings, so be it.

Free at Last, Free at Last

At XSport, the hyper-masculine gym I go to, I was amazed at the gumption of one of its members.  A white-haired man in his sixties or seventies was talking about his life to a virtual stranger, a man who appeared to be about fifty.  The fit, trim, white-haired man mentioned how his partner died at age 62. 

Whenever someone mentions a partner, not a husband or wife, my ears perk up. 

Then the man elucidated, saying when He died, the older gentleman had to reconstruct his whole life.  His message seemed to be:  indeed life goes on, and we are richer for the experience of knowing someone extra special to us, someone who has made an indelible mark, but there will always be a sense of loss and a certain type of mourning.

Despite the sadness that this man had lost his husband, I for some reason thought of that Virginia Slims cigarette commercial, some of you may be too young to remember, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”  Gay men have come from a place of shame to forthrightness, an “honest-ness” about our loves and our lives.  There was a time in Chicago and many other places where one man was not allowed to buy another man a drink.  Busts of gay bars were a regular occurrence where patrons were rounded up and arrested; then, their names were unceremoniously published in the paper. 

Then the Stonewall riots lit up New York. 

Even many young gay men and women who take their civil rights for granted don’t know about Stonewall.  It was a bar in the Big Apple frequented by gay men, lesbians, and drag queens.  On June 27, 1969, in New York’s Greenwich Village, after the Stonewall bar was busted, as had happened so many other times, in so many places, the patrons this time resisted and fought back.  It was fairly common in that era for the mafia to control gay bars, and these mafia members quickly removed the cigar boxes that served as money tills, but then something highly unusual happened.  It’s unclear whether a lesbian dressed as a man was the first one to resist arrest, or whether a defiant male in drag posed in the doorway, rallying the other people in the bar.  Whatever actually happened, the crowd decided they were not going to go quietly.  What is clearer is that the patrons began throwing coins at the officers, mocking them for the system of payoffs, commonly referred to as “gayola.”

That moment in 1969 marked the start of the gay movement.

We still have much left to do, “miles to go before we sleep,” but Stonewall changed the way gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals let people know what they will and will not tolerate. 

Now the marriage issue, along with its attendant rights, is squarely front and center in our minds, and we still fight for our civil rights, but I think it is a victory that we have come so far.  Now a sixty year old man at a gym in a conservative suburb can tell his story and let people around him know that he is gay and has had a life that matters.

 

  

Amazing Grace at the DMV

Prejudice lurks in the most unlikely places.  I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day, waiting in line to renew my driver’s license when a black woman audibly coached her three kids to stay away from the fag in line.  I’m not sure how she figured out that I’m gay.  At the time I was talking with my friend Ryan who needed to apply to have his license reinstated after a DUI.  We had gone to the DMV together.  I can only assume she heard my voice, and decided I have a “gay accent.”  I myself tend to look around wherever I am to determine who else might be gay, but that is more an issue of wanting to fit in and not feel like the only gay person in the room.

My cousin assures me that I’m not at all obvious and don’t have a discernable accent, but I often wonder what sort of things give me away–who knows, maybe my sense of style.  We all know that gay men are fashion-forward.  It’s one of those little markers that gay men tend to err on the side of being more fashionable than the average man, even as we age.

Earlier in life, however, many gay kids go through experimental periods, pushing the boundaries of fashion.  In some ways, gay kids go through a sort of delayed adolescence since we are generally not encouraged to come out of the closet, or practice dating during high school, unlike our fellow students.  I remember when I first announced that I am gay, I went through a period where I frosted my hair blond, and had my left ear pierced (hey, it was the 90’s).  Since then I’ve grown more conservative. 

You would think that since the woman at the DMV is African-American, she would understand about prejudice and people making all sorts of racist judgments about her, based on her skin color.  I’ve discovered that right-wing conservatives and fundamentalist religious persons feel free to treat gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people as second-class citizens.  I don’t know how many fundamentalists you know, but from my experience, whether the fundamentalist is Baptist, Mormon, or a Tea Party Republican, they can be extremely prejudice against people who don’t fit the mold.  It would be nice if religious people followed Christ’s example, “Love they neighbor as thyself,” and recognized that love is the ultimate commandment.

My friend Ryan, who is straight, overheard the woman’s comments about me, grabbed my hand as we left, singing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, who saved a wretch like me.”  She scowled and turned away, but we walked right by her, swinging our arms.  In truth, all I wanted was to stand up and be counted.  Ryan made that possible.  I’m reminded of the little known adage:  as children of God, we do not grovel.  Bravo to all who take the road less travelled.