Friday, August 1, 2014

High on Heels

Sometimes a man’s gotta do something that’s out of the ordinary. Sometimes he has to push himself. Sometimes a man’s gotta walk into a shoe store and buy a pair of heels.

My love affair with high heels began in early childhood. Read my HuffPost Gay Voices piece, “Discovering and Outgrowing My Mother’s Shoes” and you’ll know.  That love manifested itself at various stages of my life. My senior year in college I participated in our Theatre & Dance Department’s student produced cabaret. That particular spring I performed in drag for the first time in public. Two of my friends and I spoofed a couple of dance pieces that had just been part of our annual dance concert. I played the girl part while my female dance partner in the original piece played the boy part. To complete our menage a trois we added a boy from another dance piece altogether. Incidentally, I had a crush on that boy, but he wasn’t out at the time. Memories. I’m off track. Back to the heels. 

I went to a thrift store. Yes, a thrift store. They were popular even before Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis sang their ode to cheap finds. I was in college and had little money. It’s not like I could ask my parents for the funds to buy a fabulous pair of heels. Can you imagine? Anyway, I went to this thrift store and found a pair of black Nine West heels that almost fit. With a little tissue stuffed in the toe they fit perfectly. That was until I put on pantyhose. Wearing pantyhose those shoes wanted nothing more than to slip up and down every time I took a step. How was I supposed to dance in those? Solution. I wore footless nude tights. My ankle area didn’t have any hair on it, so I was good to go. With tissue in the toes and sweat created just from wearing them, they stayed on my feet just fine. 

Remember on Will & Grace when Karen went to Will’s office and made reference to his bamboo shade and the sidewalk level window where he could see bad shoes walk by? Remember how she then lifted the shade and with perfect nasal condescension said, “See. Nine West?” Every time I see that episode I think of those black Nine West shoes. I thought Nine West was upscale, and I’d found a great find at the thrift store. The things I didn’t know about labels…I guess Karen set me straight about those shoes.

Then there was the time I worked at a dinner theatre in Florida. I remember finding this fabulous pair of glamorous 1940s-esq strappy sandals. They were gold with thin straps creating the vamp across the toes and a loop for an ankle strap atop the upper heel. These shoes, however, were missing that ankle strap, but I was not deterred. I threaded a gold ribbon through the loop with enough length to wrap it a couple of times around my ankle and tie it. The ribbon blended with the color of the shoes and worked perfectly to hold them on my feet. 

I loved those shoes. They even made the move with me from Florida to NYC. There were times my then roommate and I would just put our heels on in our apartment and sit on the sofa talking. He still tells the story of how he liked to put his heels on to vacuum. He was a 1950s housewife in a previous life minus the pearls. 

One of my favorite things we did in our heels was sing the two big Daisy and Violet songs from the musical Side Show. “Who Will Love Me As I Am” ended the first act and “I Will Never Leave You” was the 11 o'clock number. For those of you who don’t know, Side Show is a musical about siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who became famous stage performers in the 1930s. Emily Skinner played “Daisy” and Alice Ripley played “Violet.” I always sang the Daisy role with my roommate singing Violet. I remember this one time (not at band camp) that I was working the cash register at The Drama Book Shop when it was still located on 48th Street at 7th Avenue. I looked up and there was Emily Skinner standing in front of me waiting to pay for a book. I had no filter and proceeded to tell her that my roommate and I sing Side Show all the time, and I always sing Daisy. She didn’t exactly look annoyed, but she certainly didn’t seem impressed when she  replied, “Okay,” with a tone of this-is-weird-but-whatever. She paid and left. I wonder if it would have made a difference in her reaction if I’d told her about the shoes? Nah, probably not.

That brings me to present day. I’ve been wanting to buy a pair of heels for more than two years. A friend of mine has a pair of Jessica Simpson’s that actually fit me, and I found myself wearing them almost every time I went to her apartment. It didn’t matter if we were eating, sitting on the sofa talking, watching TV, or playing a game. I would put on those bronze-colored heels and just exist.

Here’s the thing I discovered about myself. I have a lot of strength and courage for many things in my life, but I was finding it very difficult to access my courage and walk into a women’s shoe store by myself and ask questions of the employees. For instance, I needed to know what size shoe I would need. I’m a size 8 in men’s, but was uncertain what size that translated to in women’s. I think those Nine West heels from college were a 10, but I’m done with stuffing anything but my toes in the toe box of a shoe. 

After exhausting my search for someone to go shoe shopping with me I decided that I had to go alone. I knew I could do it, I just didn’t want to. I needed the confidence boost of a wing man.

There might as well have been a disco ball hanging above the store to indicate I’d reached my destination when I found myself in front of its window. I looked through the glass and saw shelves of shoes from floor level to the height of stretch-up-to-reach-it. So many shoes. I had to refrain from singing an chorus of “Let’s get some shoes.” I would have probably been as giddy as a school girl finally being asked out by the boy she’d been crushing on for month if I’d been with someone, but I was alone and a little apprehensive. 

High on Heels was the name of the store and I was high. I was in shoe heaven. I was surrounded by closed-toe shoes, peep-toe shoes, strappy sandals, etc. Tall heels, short heels, platform heels, and wedge heels floated on boxes around me. The colors ranged from fleshy beige to deep red with a spectra of blues, purples, greens, and yellows in-between. Some were glittery and sequined in silver and gold. Some were satins in champagne and peach. There were enough glittery reds that Dorothy could have clicked her heels three times in each pair and had enough trips back to Kansas for a month. 

“May I ask you a question?” I asked the man who appeared to be the manager.

“Of course,” he replied.

“I wear a size 8, but have no idea what that would be in women’s.”

“Probably and 9-and-half or 9.”

Supplied with the answer to my size question I set out to find that pair of shoes that would make my eyes wide like finding the perfect surprise under the Christmas tree. My desire was a beige-colored pair of round toe stiletto pumps. You know the kind that have a high heel and a platform in the front. Yep. That’s what I wanted. I live in NYC, the home of Carrie Bradshaw and the Gossip Girls. No kitten heels allowed. Besides if a man’s gonna walk around his house in a pair of heels he might as well rock a fabulous pair with height.

I found a champagne-colored pair in satin…esq. Five-and-a-half inch heel in back, one-and-a-half inch platform in front. They were pretty fabulous. I took my sneakers and socks off right there in the store and tried them on. After my earlier conversation with the manager, and after noticing that no woman in the store was paying any attention to me, I felt a sense of relief and almost no anxiety over trying the shoes on. I then talked to the manager about how they fit and began testing my balance. It’s interesting how one can rock forward on the front platform. 

“Will this heel bear my weight?” I asked the manager, thoughts of the denizens of Kinky Boots in my head and their discussion of how the heel on a woman’s shoe isn't designed to support the weight of a man.

“Yes,” he responded with a look on his face that I trusted.

I was so happy after finding a pair so similar to what I’d wanted that I couldn’t resist looking at another pair. They were even more fabulous than I had allowed myself to hope to find. 

Sitting atop a display box was a pair of dark mint green, peep-toe, faux-suede, Mary Jane stiletto’s with a skinny gold heel. The heel was 6” high with a solid 2” platform in front. They were beautiful. Honestly, I wish the heel was the same color as the shoe (and I would prefer silver to gold), but still I wanted to do my very best Carrie Bradshaw impersonation and say, “Hello, Lover!”

There was a size 9 and whaddya know, they fit me and they were on sale. The truth is I loved them more than the first pair, but decided there was nothing wrong with buying them both. Options, darling! I may only be wearing them around my apartment, but that doesn’t mean I have to limit myself.

The cashier who rang me up said she loved the mint green pair but no matter how much she tried she couldn’t walk in heels that high. I knew I was going to be able to walk in them, but pretended that I was hoping I could find my own balance. 

I was empowered with positivity and courage after walking out of that shoe store. I sent pics of myself in both pairs to many of my friends. (I wore the green ones for at least 3 hours that day). One of them responded to me, “You’re an inspiration.” I was taken aback. I don’t see myself as an inspiration to anyone, but the truth is, he and I had talked about my lack of courage to go into a women’s shoe store alone and buy a pair of heels the previous night. Now I was showing him that I had done it. To him, I was an inspiration.

We never know how what we do or say can inspire someone else. I found my courage. I walked into the store, apprehensive at first but determined. I tried on the shoes in the store and had a good laugh with the cashier while buying them. I proved to myself that I can do it — not just buy high heels, but anything — and I was rewarded with positive outbursts of pure joy, excitement, and encouragement. 

We can get everything we want out of life if we just take the first step. I’m still learning that. Find your freedom. Live your truth. Express yourself however you want. Hold your head high. Walk tall. I am. My steps just happen to be in 6” heels sometimes.

Friday, July 4, 2014

One Man's Response to My HuffPost Gay Voices Piece 'I Swish'

I received the below letter from a man in response to my HuffPost Gay Voices piece "I Swish." At first I was afraid to read it. I mean when I saw the first sentence included an all caps version of the word bigoted my heart started to pound at the thought of what this man was going to say to me. Differing opinions are something I understand and accept as possibility, but they are not something I welcome with open arms. Then I decided that I had the courage to write my words and to publish my words and I could damn well find the courage to read one man's opinion on my thoughts. There's no need to fear it. One thing I need to learn is to be more like the Heathers in Heathers: The Musical--"solid Teflon, never bothered." And BTW, I've never been called a bigot before.

Here's a thought: Does calling out someone's bigoted comments about gay people make me a bigot? I don't think so. In regard to Pat Robertson, I think the man makes erroneous statements about homosexuals and homosexuality with total disregard for the consequences. There are people in this world who merely listen and take the opinions, thoughts, statements of another as truth without questioning. I grew up around people like that and have no doubt that many of Pat Robertson's viewers and listeners take what he says as truth. His words are damaging. So again I ask, does it make me a bigot (a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion) to point out the smooth-talking maleficence that comes out of his mouth?

Hey Mike-

I read your obviously sincere, sometimes reverent yet in places deceptive and religiously BIGOTED HuffPo entry "I Swish" and would like you to know this:

1) I would like you to go to Heaven too- the lake of fire was created for evil spirits (Matt 25v.41) and contra the lies of ultra-Calvinists like Fred Phelps God desires that no man should perish. 

2) God's inspired Scripture telling of believers' eternal happy home was written in the same era as His sexual morality commands. The deception that the latter don't apply because of what "century" we live in (based on a secular humanistic "sides-of-history" worldview) should be avoided by Christians who see reality in light of Eternity.

3) A far worse deception is that it is okey-dokey for two men or two women to have SEX just because "love" is present, and that people who disagree oppose "love". The reality is God owns our bodies and He has a right to determine how He approves of us using them. If His standard in the new-covenant age is sex being restricted to man/woman marriage then other love relationships ought to be expressed in non-erotic ways. the way which seemeth right to fallible man may not be.

4) Most importantly, only the Lord Himself can look into man's heart. The Reverend Pat Robertson is a born-again Christian man who has led a life of Christian service for decades; yes, some of his decisions have been questionable at best, and I disagree with parts of his theology as well as a lot of his politics. I can well understand homosexuals feeling angry over his reference to a "vomit" button and find his words insensitive, though I would contend he opposes gay romantic behavior rather than "love" alone. The fact is as a sinner yourself you are NO just judge of anyone's faith. Rev Robertson is a Christian and I deplore your bigoted, judgmental, arrogant attempt to delegitimize his faith with the term "so-called". I for one believe God is more angry with you for this piece of disrespect than just about anything you could do with other consenting adults in the sexual realm.

I don't think we should do it to anyone within Christianity, but if you are adamant about "so-calling" people rather than accepting their faith why not find a more reasonable theological target? For example:  extreme culture warrior Michael Moore who has included a "letter from God" defending full sexual and reproductive freedom in his book Dude Where's my Country? and even said "Somebody should let [conservatives] in on the fact that God actually isn’t disgusted by it. ***If he created everything, he created gay sex. God’s probably up there enjoying it right now. I mean, he’s enjoying watching everyone***." ;radical Catholic academic Cynthia Garrity-Bond who is writing a book which approves of womens' "choices" to sell their bodies and "act" in pornography; out-there theologian Marvin Ellison who advocates "erotic justice" including "affirmation" of uninhibited women seeking sex outside their marriages and supports ethicists condemning "devaluing of same-sex eroticism" as "homophobia" instead of the homosexual conduct; or any number of San Francisco values religious-political extremists of that type.

-God bless
JK

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'm a Homosexual and There Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That!

This piece also appears on HuffPost Gay Voices.

“They’re teaching young children about bestiality now.” Katie Donoghue, a Virginia woman who attended the March for Marriage rally organized by the National Organization for Marriage held in Washington, D.C. on June 19, is on record with that statement. When I read it I couldn’t help but share it with my co-workers. You might say I did a dramatic reading of it. I gave it a comic twist with dramatic flair, but let me get serious for a moment. My subsequent thoughts on this statement led to outrage and anger. Where is anyone teaching bestiality?

I continued down my anger path a few days later with the HuffPost headline “GOP Lawmaker Pretty Sure That ‘Sexual Orientation” Includes Incest, Bestiality, Pedophilia.” My co-workers can attest to my outburst, which included pacing around the room, throwing my arms in the air, and all but shouting about the stupidity of these thoughts.

What the hell is up with the bestiality and pedophilia bullshit? Are people seriously associating my sexual orientation (and that of my gay brothers and sisters) with one of the aforementioned acts? Educate yourselves folks. There’s a lot of information out there on this thing called the Internet where you can learn about homosexuality. It’s a simple concept. We’re a group of people who happen to be attracted to someone of the same gender. A 2013 Gallup poll says that the national average of Americans who identify as gay is 3.5%. We exist. We laugh, we cry, we hurt, we love just like everybody else. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for some people to wrap their heads around that, or why they feel so threatened by us. I mean, how difficult is it to accept that there are human beings in the world attracted to their same gender? It must be mind-boggling for some people because their lack of understanding and fear is made known by the vomit that spews forth from their mouths. They wear their hate like it’s the latest trend in footwear and they’re trying to stomp all over us.

Here’s something that might be even more mind-blowing to some of you anti-gay, fear-mongering, haters: We, the gay community, are not attracted to trees or dogs or cats or goats or horses or cows or light poles or cars. We’re attracted to people. In case there’s any confusion in that statement let me clarify. We are attracted to other human beings. Weird, right? Gay people, just like straight people, are attracted to, develop loving relationships with, and yes, want to marry other people. Oh and lest I forget, we want to have sex. We want to have sex with someone of our same gender. We have longings and sexual desires just like straight people. 

Have you noticed how often anti-gay people bring the gay sex act into their detestable statements? It seems to me that it always boils down to sex, the way gay people have sex? Specifically gay men. I continue to be amazed at the number of people condemning homosexuality and equality with their thinly veiled disgust at the sex act. I'm gonna be honest here, the way a straight couple chooses to live their lives, enjoy sex, get married (or not) does not affect my life in the slightest. Yet, conservative, anti-gay Americans are so afraid of how gay people getting married is going to change the fabric of our country. And much of that fear is wrapped up in how they perceive our sex lives and that our sex doesn’t lead to procreation. Jesus, we’re merely 3.5% of the American population. I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about a lack of procreation, but I digress. Why then are so many so deeply concerned with the gay sex act? So gay men have anal sex. So what! Some straight couples also engage in anal sex. (Bueller? Bueller?) So gay men enjoy sucking dick. So what! Some straight couples also enjoy this act. (Crickets) Where’s the vocal condemnation and disgust for the “sodomites” of the straight community? (sarcasm laced with frustration)

I often try to infuse my writing with humor, but the truth is I’m angry. I’m pissed off. I’m tired of the ignorance. And yes, I’m taking these outrageous statements personally. They’re offensive. The number of people, including some of our country’s leaders, who equate gay people with what appears to be any disgusting act they can come up with is insulting. Why is it so hard to believe that two men or two women can have a loving, fulfilling relationship without it being turned into something repulsive and tawdry because, let's face it, you don't understand how we have sex or how that sex act is enjoyable to us. 

I am a first class citizen. I work and pay my taxes. My bills are paid on time. I take care of myself. I’m healthy. I know my HIV status. I work hard to be true to myself and honest with other people. I refuse to be treated as anything other than equal to everyone else. I am not second class or second rate. I’m tired of the bullshit and the ignorance. You know, the children that so many straight, conservative, Christian people in our country are trying to protect are probably smarter than those who are trying to protect them. Today’s America has evolved beyond even the prejudices of my own childhood. Yes, obviously prejudice still exists, but this is a different world. (A May 2014 Gallup poll shows 55% of Americans support same-sex marriage.) And if I may be so bold, those aforementioned children could probably teach their would be protectors a lot about acceptance and tolerance, provided the adults don't teach them to hate first. 

We make no choice to be gay. I certainly didn’t make that choice. The choice we do make is to have courage. Gay people are some of the most courageous people I’ve ever had the experience to know. We have to be courageous to accept ourselves, be honest about our feelings, and live our lives. I struggle with that courage every day, but when I read the bullshit that people say—because of fear, because they feel they need to protect the children, because the Bible says so—I just want to stand tall with my chest puffed out and say, “I’m a homosexual and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!” 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Prick of Preventative Maintenance

The walls were lilac. From top to bottom. Every inch except the baseboard, which I would say was charcoal gray. The orchids, sitting on a table in front of the window, were in shades that complimented the lilac. I hadn't even realized until I was gone that my violet Michael Kors polo and purple plaid Ben Sherman shorts were dramatic pops of color that coordinated with the walls beautifully. I should have taken a #selfie, but alas, no record of me in this room. 

The color was tranquil, calming. The perfect choice for a small doctor's office where behind a frosted glass door the impending prick of a needle to the face awaited me.

I was nervous as I sat in the waiting room filling out the patient history form, reading of the possible side effects, signing my name in acceptance of the knowledge. 

However, once behind the frosted door myself, I was excited. My nerves seemed to be pushing me forward instead of holding me back. I had been curious about this for longer than I can remember and I'd had this appointment for 2 weeks. The time was upon me. I had “come up to the lab” and was the one “on the slab.” It was my turn. I sat patiently as the nurse practitioner explained the different areas in which the Botox can be injected. I listened to her explain about some of the possible side effects, which I had already read about while sitting in the lobby. Then, being a short woman, she stepped up on the step at the end of the “slab,” her needle in hand, my face it's destination.

I should tell you that I probably didn’t really need the Botox injections. Typically no one guesses my age. And when I tell them I’m 43 the reaction is usually one of genuine surprise. My sister is often commenting about the lack of wrinkles on my face. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. The truth is, I take care of myself. Along with moisturizing, I eat a healthy diet and aside from my one cup of coffee each morning I drink nothing but water the rest of the day. Yes, yes, I imbibe in alcoholic beverages, but not to the point of excess and mostly it’s red wine anyway. Even a doctor will tell you that a glass of red wine is good for your heart. When I told the nurse practitioner my age and that most people were surprised by my number she agreed saying the I had a “baby face.” I should have coo’d, but just smiled instead. I took it as a compliment. I talked to her briefly about the lines beginning to form on my forehead and how at the end of the day they are deeper than I would like. 

Five injections later it was over. This procedure I’d been anxious about for two weeks was completed before you could make a dirty vodka martini. The needle was tiny. After the first injection I had been so surprised at its lack of sting that I had to convince myself it had actually happened. In my head I had created various possible scenarios of pain, stinging, and pressure. But the truth is, the injections didn’t really hurt. The reality came no where near the possibility I had created in my head. (Note to self: this is usually true in all aspects of life. Learn this lesson!) The nurse kindly wiped away the blood from my forehead and sent me out the door with botulinum toxin attaching to my muscle fibers, preparing to work its magic. 

I can’t lie, I was giddy with excitement. I had confronted my fear of a needle-to-the-face and the idea of “freezing” a part of me that is a hub of expression. Now I just had to wait for the final results. I was informed it would be 2-3 days for the effects to start showing themselves and 2 weeks to be fully realized. That was new information for me. You see, I was under the impression that I was going to walk out of the office with frozen?, numb?, paralyzed? muscles. I had no idea what that was even going to feel like. I mean the thought of not being able to move my forehead at all was one I couldn’t quite comprehend, but as you can see from reading this, it wasn’t enough to deter me from doing what I set out to do. I just figured I would deal with it.


Listen, I know that elective cosmetic procedures aren't for everybody. I didn't even know if they would be for me. But I'll admit it: my vanity gets the better of me. I’m not ashamed of that. And now those lines that maybe no one other than me could truly see are less visible. I see nothing wrong with maintaining my youthful appearance. It’s preventative maintenance. I’m not “frozen.” I can still express myself. And at the end of the day, stress is no longer visible on my forehead in the lines of a furrowed brow. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Return to Winthrop St. - Part 14

“Standing on the street unsure of where I was…what I’d done the night before…I, I didn’t know what else to do, but call my mom,” Atwood said as he looked down at his hands in his lap, gently caressing his left thumb between the thumb and index finger of his right hand. He was embarrassed to recount his drunken and sexual escapades to this stranger sitting across from him.

She sighed deeply. “I’m glad you’re finally opening up, Atwood,” she said “This is our third session and I want to ask you again to tell me what you hope to get from seeing me?”

“Help,” Atwood responded. He found the courage to look her in the eyes. His were pleading. “I need help figuring out why I spiraled out of control. I feel broken. I need to be fixed.”

“I don’t like that word ‘fixed,’ Atwood.” Her voice was passive and gentle, free of judgement. “You don’t need to be fixed. You’re not broken.”

“Then why do I feel that way?”

“I understand that you feel like you need to be fixed. I just want you to understand that you’re not broken. You experienced something that you’ve never experienced before. You accessed a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed. You—“

“—I lost control of myself.” Atwood interrupted, his tone frustrated, on the verge of anger. This was the most emotion he had allowed himself to show her so far. “I lost sight of who I am and what I wanted for myself.” His agitation was growing. “And for what? Meaningless sex and binges on drugs and alcohol? I flunked out of my first semester of college. I got arrested. All of those things the result of a hook up I had with my best friend who admittedly was just using me to see what sex with a guy was like. I want to know why that one experience caused me to fall into a hole so deep that all I could do was walk in circles, pushing myself to drink more, smoke more, have riskier sex.”

“Have you seen Kinlin since you’ve been home?”

“No,” Atwood responded quickly, his voice louder than he intended. “And I’m not sure I want to. I don’t know how I’ll react.” 
“It’s okay to not know.”

“I don’t like not knowing.” He was beginning to calm down.

“When you told me about the dream you had where you’re in the boat and Bobby and Kinlin are both there. The dream that turned into a nightmare. They both tried to drown you, but it was Kinlin holding you under the water by himself at the end. I don’t want to get all mystical on you, but water can signify the unknown.” She saw Atwood’s reaction. “I know, you don’t like the unknown, but hear me out.”

“Okay.” Atwood sat in the chair across from her still churning his left thumb.

“Drowning can represent your fear and being overwhelmed by emotions. You weren’t out yet and didn’t even realize you had a crush on Kinlin when he made a move on you. You wanted that sexual experience just as much as he did, but for different reasons that you weren’t aware of until later when you realized you had the crush on him. I know that it may be hard to understand, but your subconscious was expressing your struggle with coming to terms with being gay and having a crush on your best friend. Bobby’s presence in your dream was just another manifestation of your confusion and fear relating back to Kinlin.”

“But why would that crush and its ultimate rejection lead me to run down the path of sex that I chose?”

“I don’t know, Atwood. That’s not for me to say. I think it was a way for you to not deal with Kinlin, your feelings for him, or what happened between the two of you. But the more you talk about it the more we can try to understand together.”

“This really sucks,” Atwood said as he took a breath and released it loudly, noticing the digital clock on the desk.

“That’s all the time we have for today, Atwood.” She smiled at him, her attempt to put him at ease as he left her office. “See you next week.”

“What happens if I see Kinlin?”

“That’s up to you, Atwood. You can run away from him or acknowledge him. You have to figure out how to keeping living your life even if that includes an uncomfortable silence. You have to make room for the possibility that there might not be a future for the two of you as friends. You have to decide if you want to forgive him, and maybe yourself in the process. But all of that is up to you. We’ll talk more about that next week, okay?”

“Thank you, Dr. Capwell.” 

He left her office feeling the same as he had after his two prior sessions: like he was working overtime to untangle the big ball of Christmas lights that his jumbled thoughts, feelings, and images turned into after talking to her. He wished his brain could coil everything into nice, neat stacks, but that would be too easy.

∆∆∆

The damp chill of December hung in the Ryland air as Atwood closed the car door. He did what he’d done hundreds of times before, looked in the direction of Kinlin’s house to see if his car was home. Old habits do die hard. Atwood’s breath caught in the back of his throat. He saw Kinlin across the street and froze. Kinlin waved, hesitantly. Atwood stared at Kinlin’s anxious face almost as if by force. He realized he was still holding his breath. He released it into the cold Massachusetts air watching it swirl away from him like fog rolling off the water. He raised his hand and waved back, a gesture of hello that was as unexpected to him as his eyes refusing to look away.

Kinlin began walking toward him. Atwood stayed frozen to the spot where he stood in his parents driveway. His hesitation at how to proceed kept him there. He didn’t know if he should walk toward Kinlin or run inside his parents house. He wanted to run, to avoid, to refuse any conversation. You can run away from him or acknowledge him he heard the voice of Dr. Capwell in his head. As Kinlin reached the edge of his own yard that force that connected them after so many years as friends took over. Atwood’s feet started to move before he could stop them. He met Kinlin in the middle of Winthrop Street.

“Hi,” said Kinlin, a look of uncertainty on his face.

“Hi,” replied Atwood, wanting to avoid eye contact, knowing Kinlin could see his dread and fear.

The moment they stood facing each other seemed like an eternity. It was months in the making. The tension was palpable. Atwood didn’t know what to say and the burden was taken away from him as Kinlin started to speak.

“I have to just say this,” he started. “I have to say it while I have the courage.” He took a deep breath, exhaled, and started. “All these weeks of you not talking to me made me realize something. I miss you in my life.” Kinlin paused, regarding Atwood before continuing. “I saw someone on campus that looked so much like you that I ran over to him without even thinking about how improbable it was that it was you and I hugged him.” He stopped talking as if to let his own words sink in. “I hugged him. Who does that? He looked at me like I was an idiot. I was completely embarrassed and apologetic. He was a good sport.” Kinlin shook his head. “I ran away from there as fast as I could. I wanted to tell you that happened, but I couldn’t. I also couldn’t tell you that my roommate kissed me, out-of-the-blue, at one of our fraternity mixers. I was taken by complete surprise. It must have been like how you felt when I...when I kissed you our last night in Ryland.” Kinlin’s pause this time was for Atwood. In the hopes that he would say something, anything. Atwood said nothing. “I liked it. I think it’s because I like him. I don’t know. It’s all so confusing, Atwood. What I do know is that part of me wished it was you. I wasn’t nice to you. I said things that made me sick to my stomach after I said them or wrote them. I refused to deal with myself and my feelings. I’m sorry, Atwood. I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I do like girls. You have to understand that. I’ve realized that I think I like guys too. I don’t know.”

“Just stop,” Atwood finally spoke, erupted. “I was so hurt by you. You made me so angry. I did a lot of stupid things over the past three months. Things that I will get past, but are going to cost me. For one, I have to repeat the semester. Me. High school honor grad, Beta Club officer. I flunked out of my first semester of college.” He was shaking his head at the words, hearing once more his story as he said it out loud. He laughed a cynical laugh at the outrageousness of it. “I drank too much and I smoked too much pot. I thought I was trying to get over you, run away from you. So does my therapist. But I think I was really running from myself. You were constantly present in my mind, a memory that refused to fade. I didn’t want to deal with you…or with me. I can’t tell you how many guys I hooked up with and closed my eyes and visualized your face.” Atwood saw the reaction of shock on Kinlin’s face. “I know. It’s fucked up. But I did it. I have strong feelings for you. I think I might actually love you, but that’s from years of knowing you. What I do know is I could never be with you.” Atwood saw the sting of his words in Kinlin’s eyes. Part of him was happy they’d hurt Kinlin to hear as much as they’d hurt him to say.

The silence that fell between them when Atwood stopped speaking was thick and uncomfortable. There was merely the vapor from their breath surrounding them, but that air was so dense that even their history couldn’t cut through it.

Atwood began again, “I tried to pigeon hole you. You know? Put you in a box. The only way I could deal with what happened between us was to make myself believe that you were gay…and that you were lying to yourself about your feelings for me. I needed to put you in that box with a label otherwise I couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened. 

“Okay,” Kinlin responded, desperately hoping Atwood was working his way toward words about forgiveness.

“Now you tell me you think you’re attracted to both guys and girls. Okay? That’s confusing-” 

“-It is confusing,” Kinlin interrupted.

“-But,” Atwood raised his voice to talk over Kinlin, “you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. Who am I to limit you or label you?” He shrugged his shoulders as Kinlin looked at him with bewildered anticipation. “You said to me in an email months ago that you thought I was gay and would tell you when I was ready. In a moment of anger I did finally tell you, but I was so angry with you that I couldn’t give you the same courtesy. I’m sorry I did that to you.” Atwood’s words were matter-of-fact, emotionless, not quite the forgiveness scenario Kinlin had imagined.

“I’m sorry for treating you like a science experiment and less like my best friend,” responded Kinlin. 

“Okay,” replied Atwood.

“Do you think we can ever get back to a place where you say to yourself, I wonder what Kinlin is up to? I wonder if he’d like to hang out?”

“I don’t know,” Atwood responded shortly. “Right now, Kinlin, the love I once felt for you has been overtaken by hate.”

“Hate?” replied Kinlin, his voice choked with the pain that Atwood could see on his face.

“Yes. Right now I hate you.” Atwood started to cry. He couldn’t stop himself. “My frustration and anger and confusion feel like they’ve been thrown together in a blender. They’ve banged around my head for so long, that the end result is hate. My hurting has turned to hatred. And you’re the object, the source, the reason.”

“Atwood, I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.” 

There they stood in the center of Winthrop Street. Two young men crying. A gulf of enmity and confusion from one reckless experience between them. In that moment as Atwood Ross and Kinlin GrovĂ© stood staring at each other, they were no longer the childhood friends who’d grown up across the street from one another. They were men who could not escape their experience. Whether their friendship would mend or not was up to time and time didn’t always heal everything the way you’d expect. Sometimes it just marched on sending friends in different directions. 


THE END

©2014 Michael Rohrer

Friday, May 30, 2014

Return to Winthrop St. - Part 13

Atwood ended up at a relatively new bar called Buff Chrome. No one asked for his ID at the door and the bartenders didn’t seem to mind serving drinks to anyone who could pay. Buff Chrome was slick and shiny. Dance music infused with disco rhythms and house beats thumped as colored lights swiveled and swirled over the dance floor. Amidst all the shiny newness however there were plenty of dark corners in which to get lost or be found. Atwood drank it all in as he sidled up to the bar and ordered a Jack and Ginger.

“That’ll be $10,” the shirtless muscle god bartender said in a voice raised to be heard over the pulsing music.

Atwood pulled a $20 bill from his front pocket and slid it across the bar. The bartender returned quickly with his change. Atwood left $2 on the bar. One dollar for the service and another because the bartender was just so damn hot he couldn’t help himself. He laughed to himself, as he turned to watch the crowd, for tipping a guy just for being hot.

It wasn’t long before the warmth of the whiskey was working its magic. Atwood was loosening up, relaxing into the atmosphere. From his prime location at the bar he continued to people watch. From his vantage point he could see all types of people. Buff Chrome seemed to mostly attract people similar to himself, but there were dottings amongst the twinks of preppy guys, bears, 40-somethings, daddy types. That’s when Atwood noticed the handsome man sitting next to him was staring. He smiled then turned his attention back to the room.

“Nice smile,” the man said as he leaned in Atwood’s direction.

“Thank you,” Atwood responded as he turned toward the only person in the place paying him any attention.

“I’m Nick.”

Atwood drank in the Nick’s face. He was olive-skinned with dark hair and light green eyes. Atwood thought he might be middle eastern, but there was no accent to confirm his thought. When Nick smiled he revealed teeth as perfect and white as an actor in a toothpaste commercial. Atwood guessed he was probably in his early 30s, but it was hard to tell with the dim lighting illuminating the bar. 
“I’m Atwood,” he replied turning to fully face his admirer. It was then that he noticed the sturdy chest hidden beneath the yellow v-neck t-shirt. The face and chest were definitely enough to peak Atwood’s interests, and the fact that this man seemed to be interested in him.

Atwood finished his first drink and turned to find another he hadn't even ordered sitting on the bar. He looked at Nick whose eyebrow gesture and grin indicated that he had ordered the drink as well as another for himself. 

The two of them continued to talk about nothing and everything, Atwood seemingly unaware that he was answering any and all questions divulging information rather than getting any. He was happy though. He realized he was smiling and laughing, enjoying himself. The drinks, the attention. This was just what he needed. 

"I need to pee so bad," Atwood said when their conversation had hit a lull. "Do you know where the bathroom is? I've never been here."

Nick smiled as he said, "Sure. At the end of the bar make a right then a left at the wall. Walk straight down the hallway. You can't miss it."

"Thanks. I'll be right back."

Atwood followed Nick's directions weaving unsteadily on his journey to the bathroom. He concentrated on walking and staying upright, placing his hand on the wall here and there to steady himself. He was really feeling the affects of those two drinks. He hadn't eaten anything in a while so it made sense to him that he would be floating in the buzz field between rational thought and blissful abandon. 

Peeing had never felt so good. He stood in the stall hidden behind it's closed door for what felt like an hour, his stream full and steady to the end. When he stepped out of the bathroom Nick was waiting in the hallway. 

"You were gone a while. I got worried about you."

He flashed his smile at Atwood. 

"Really? It did feel like I was peeing for, like, an hour." Nick's concern made Atwood feel wanted and that smile just made his stomach flutter. 
They retuned to the bar where Atwood found two glasses filled with a greenish liquid. 

"What's this?" asked Atwood. 

"Absinthe," replied Nick. 

"I've never had Absinthe. Isn't it, like, illegal or something."

"No," Nick replied, his voice smooth and sensual. He had his hand on Atwood’s leg gently caressing his thigh. "Otherwise they couldn't sell it here, right?"

Atwood thought about it for a second then smiled as he said, "I guess you're right." He looked down at Nick's hand and consciously moved so that the hand was closer to his crotch. 

"Is it safe to mix absinthe and whiskey?" asked Atwood.

"Do you think I would lead you astray, baby?" responded Nick. "I won't let anything happen to you."

"What's it taste like?" Atwood asked, tentatively. 

“Some people say it’s bitter. Some say it tastes like licorice.” Nick responded motioning for the bartender. “I like to drink it as a shot. So the taste hardly matters.”

The bartender placed an ornate slotted spoon on top of each glass then placed a sugar cube on each spoon. Atwood watched as the bartender lit the cubes on fire. His eyes lit up with childlike fascination. The look was not lost on Nick as he watched the flames dance in Atwood’s golden eyes. The bartender then turned the spoons over dropping the cubes into the green liquid, which then turned into a glass of floating flame. 

“Whoa,” said Atwood as he jumped slightly back from the bar in amazement.

“It’s okay,” Nick said as he silently motioned for the bartender to finish the concoction being created in front of them.
As the bartender poured ice water into the glass the liquid began to cloud from crystal green to mint green. It was almost milky in its look. The flame was immediately doused. When enough water was added Nick said, “Thank you, Jeremiah.”

The bartender acknowledged with a smile and a nod then went back to helping other customers.

“You ready?” Nick asked Atwood who looked up from the glass to Nick. He stared into Nick’s bright green eyes and full lips. Attraction and the desire to be desired can be a blinding pair.

“Yes,” he said as Nick gave him the glass of Absinthe.

“Bottoms up,” Nick said with a smile, clinking his glass to Atwood’s. 

With a flutter of trepidation Atwood raised the glass to his mouth and drank the liquid down as quickly as he could. He shuddered as the last bit rolled down the back of his throat.

“It’s both,” said Atwood.

“Both what?” asked Nick.

“Bitter and licorice.”

“It’s the sugar that helps diffuse the bitterness.”

“It’s interesting, but not my favorite.”

“It’s not my favorite either, but there’s more to it than the taste,” replied Nick as his hand found its way back the Atwood’s upper thigh. “It’s kind of magical.”

“Magical?” Atwood replied, curious.

“Let’s dance. You’ll see.” Nick said as he stood up from the bar smiling slyly, beckoning Atwood to join him.

∆∆∆

Atwood didn’t know where he was when he opened his eyes. As the ceiling came into focus he was confused. He looked at the brown sheets on the bed that wasn't his own. He looked at the bedside lamp and the clock next to it flashing 12:00 on repeat. He looked over the side of the bed and felt a sense of relief to see his clothes in a pile. He swung his legs over and placed his feet on the floor, sitting up and rubbing his eyes with his hands. He then heard the floor creak.

He looked up and saw a man entering the room. He was naked and wet, drying off from a shower. When he saw Atwood he smiled and said, “Good morning.”

If Atwood had no idea where he was, he had even less of an idea about who the man was.

“Good morning,” he said as he sheepishly turned his face from the man’s exposed body and reached down to pick his jeans up from the floor. He stood and began putting them on. The man came toward him and leaned in to kiss him.

Atwood recoiled before the man’s lips could reach his own. He looked at this stranger confused, anxious.

“So, I’m good enough to put my dick in your ass, but not good enough to kiss you, huh?” The man seemed hurt by Atwood’s unwillingness to be kissed and lashed out at him verbally in what Atwood viewed as harsh and bitchy. The words were unexpected and hurtful.

“I’m sorry.” Atwood’s response was a mix of apology and distraction.

“Whatever,” the man replied as he walked to his dresser and pulled out a pair of underwear. “You didn’t mind me kissing you last night,” he said as the elastic of his Calvin Klein’s snapped around his waist. “You didn’t mind me doing a lot of things last night.”

Atwood couldn’t bear to hear the words. He didn’t know what he’d done the night before. He wondered if he’d used protection. He wondered if he’d let the man cum in his mouth. He wanted to cry but couldn’t allow that much vulnerability in front of this stranger that he’d let use him last night. 

He grabbed his shirt, shoes, and socks and ran from the bedroom. There was only one way to turn once entering the man’s hallway and from that turn he saw the door. His exit to freedom. The first step to getting away, the opening to shutting out this moment, the opportunity to cry, or vomit. 

His insides were suddenly rumbling. Was it fear, nausea? Nausea. He was almost overwhelmed by it. He had to reach the door. He pushed himself to take the steps and get out of the man’s apartment. This man. This stranger. Nick. His name was Nick. The green eyes and beautiful smile of the man sitting next to him at the bar came into focus. Drinks, more drinks, Absinthe, dancing, kissing on the dance floor. He didn’t remember leaving Buff Chrome or arriving at this place, but flashes of Nick’s toned, smooth, olive-skinned body pressed up against his moved through his memory like electric shock pulsing behind his eyes. He remembered the groping, the hint of manly musk that hit his nostrils as he began to suck Nick’s cock. He closed his eyes hard against the memories trying not to remember.

As he reached the door, he turned and saw Nick leaning against the doorjamb of the bedroom. A flash of the last time he saw Bobby. Nick was watching Atwood race down the hallway. As Atwood turned the knob of the door, he stomach released its contents. The sound filled Atwood’s ears and the splatter hit the floor and the wall. 

Atwood turned the knob and bolted into the building’s hallway. He looked in both directions for an elevator or stairwell. He located an exit sign. As he ran from Nick’s apartment toward that exit sign he heard Nick yelling, “You better run you fucking little bitch twink.”

Those words pierced his ears as the door to the stairwell closed behind him. He ran down two flights before stopping to vomit again. A splatter in the apartment, a splatter in the stairwell. His head was pounding. He wanted to crawl into a hole and die, but he had to keep moving. He had to get out of the building and get home. He had to get home. He wanted the darkness of his own room, his own bed. He wanted to be locked away where no one could find him. Where only people he knew and trusted knew him back.

As he burst through the door the sun hit his eyes making him squint in both directions. He found himself standing on a sidewalk that he was unfamiliar with. He felt his insides relax. His breathing slowed. He stepped to the side of the doorway, leaned against the building, and breathed. He put on his shirt, but didn’t button it. He was mentally aware enough to know that he didn’t need to be walking down the street without his shirt and shoes on even if he was in California. He put on his shoes without his socks. He started to stuff the socks into his pockets, but decided to throw them into the trashcan on the corner instead. 

He leaned against the light pole on the corner next to the trashcan continuing to squint as he tried to figure out where he was. He reached into his pocket for his phone, relieved to find it and his wallet still there. He pulled the phone out and pushed a button for his speed dial. As he waited for the ringing to stop he couldn’t help but realize how dramatically his life had changed since he’d left Ryland in August. It had become moments filled with sex or drinking or smoking or all three together. If he wasn't having sex or searching for sex he was watching sex on the Internet or in a back room booth he’d discovered in a local bar three weeks ago. His thoughts snapped back to reality as the person he was calling answered. He couldn’t stop the flood of tears that were released the instant he heard her voice.


“Mom.”

©2014 Michael Rohrer

Friday, May 9, 2014

Discovering and Outgrowing My Mother's Shoes

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Gay Voices

How many of you used to play in your mother’s shoes? Don't be ashamed. Go ahead. Raise your hands. Smile at the memory. Did you have a favorite pair? Do you remember when your foot finally fit them perfectly? Do you remember when your foot outgrew them? 

I started playing in my mother’s shoes at an early age. It was before I started kindergarten. I was between 3 and 4 years old. I didn’t know why I loved her shoes so much (hindsight is 20/20). They were better than any of my toys. Kind of like when a child has more fun playing with the box than with what was inside it. Anyway, my mom had a fantastic pair of white patent leather platform sandals with a bow atop the toe-box. I’m going to call them patent leather, but my guess is they were really white vinyl, maybe even plastic. They were my favorite pair. I loved those shoes. My foot barely stayed inside the peep-toe opening. Instead of peep-toe it was more like peep-foot. I would play in them as often as I could before getting caught and told to put them away. It’s funny how 40 years later I can still see that pair of shoes clearly in my memory.

As I continued to grow into myself (in secret of course), I grew into my mom’s shoes. Between 6th and 7th grade they fit me perfectly. By then the white patent leather platform sandals of my childhood were gone as the 70s had given way to the 80s. My new favorite pair became the metallic fuchsia strappy sandals with the 3” heel she bought to match a dusty rose-colored dress that had a metallic fuchsia thread slightly wider than a pinstripe running vertically through it. It was a fantastic combination. And yes, I also tried on the dress. It fit briefly, but mostly for me it was about the shoes.

I lived for the moments when I would be left alone at our house while everyone else was out grocery shopping or running other errands. I would run to my mom’s closet the minute the car was out of sight and put on those fuchsia heels. I loved them. I would wrap a towel around my waist—much like a man might do post shower—to create a skirt. Sometimes it was a short skirt and sometimes, if I was needing to feel glamorous, I would tuck one towel into the front of my underwear's waistband and another into the back so that I had a long skirt with a slit up each leg. I was a vision in terrycloth (with hints of Little Edie Beale I would later become aware of). Sometimes I’d put on a robe, pulling the two sides together over my left leg instead of overlapping them in the center so that there would be a split from just below the knee all the way up my thigh. My idea of sexy. As I look back on it, that robe was kind of my version of Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. Of course at that time I didn’t know who DVF was or anything about her wrap dress. Sometimes I did try wearing my mom’s skirts or dresses, but getting them off quickly when I heard the car pull into the driveway proved less than advantageous. And when you consider I had to get the shoes off—putting them back in the closet, and (for my own sanity) making it look like they’d never been moved—ripping off a towel skirt was much easier. 

I loved walking around our house in my mom’s shoes. The way I carried myself changed. It was difficult at first. I was clumsy. But I kept practicing. I figured out how to actually walk in the heels. Over time I got pretty good at it. That muscle memory came in handy the first time I performed in drag during a college cabaret night. 

Then the day came when my feet no longer fit into my mom’s shoes. That was a sad day. It was before the start of my 7th grade year. I was a growing boy, and I had grown my way right out of those fuchsia heels. My feet had grown too wide to fit inside the toe-box and so long they hung off the back. Like Cinderella’s step sisters I tried and tried to force my feet back into my mom’s shoes to no avail. It was over. Our time together had come and gone. I was disappointed left only with the memory of their brief perfect fit. Sure I could still wear my towel skirts and robe dress, but I’d lost my favorite accessory—the shoes. From Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City to Lola in Kinky Boots we know it’s all about the shoes.

I don’t own a pair of heels at this time, but I have owned a couple of pairs in my adult life that I loved. I’m not sure, however, that I loved either pair as much as I loved the two pairs that belonged to my mom. It’s kind of hard to compete with the memory of how much joy I got from her white patent leather platform sandals or how fabulous I felt wearing her metallic fuchsia 3” heels. 


This walk down memory lane brought the kind of smile to my face that only nostalgia can bring. I tell my mom how much I love and appreciate her all the time, but I've never thanked her for having such awesome taste in shoes…at least twice.