Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Bogeyman: Whether You Stalk Him or Face Him...Defeat Him

I recently saw a production of Stalking the Bogeyman at New World Stages in NYC. The play tells the true story of David Holthouse: the rape he endured in 1978 as a 7-year old, and his plan, as an adult, to murder his rapist.

I can’t even begin to comprehend the pain, fear, and shame attached to the horrific event that is the catalyst for this play. David’s rapist told him if he told his parents what had happened they would be angry because he (David) had done a bad thing. He convinced David that his parents would spank him. Then true to bullying form, the rapist said that if David told anyone he’d come to his house in the middle of the night and gut him like a salmon. As I listened to these words spoken from the mouth of the adult actor playing the 7-year old David my heart broke for the loss of innocence and the life altering event that David kept secret for 25 years after. 

I wanted desperately for David to run to his mother and tell her what had happened. I wanted desperately for David’s father to confront the father of this most nasty of bullies. I wanted desperately for someone to beat the shit out of the cocky 17-year old high school athlete that thought he was untouchable enough to torment, traumatize, and change the course of a child’s life. 

I, in no way, intend this piece to make light of or trivialize what happened to David. There is nothing light or trivial about it. But in watching him as an adult continue to protect his parents from his experience, his secret, his shame, I found myself remembering my own parental protection quandary although it is trivial compared to David’s. It is nothing like his, but shows how we, the children, will do things to protect our parents even when they don’t need protecting. When do children start protecting their parents? 

The words David’s rapist used to scare him perpetuates the idea that victims think it’s their fault, that they’re to blame, that they will be punished. The play exposed to me the fear we possess at revealing the things that happen to us. Even if revealing them might gain us the most needed help.

I have never experienced what David went through and my heart hurts for him now that I know his story — for his 7-year old self and for his present day self. But I do know a thing about keeping secrets. I never spoke to my parents about being bullied in junior high or high school. I was ashamed of myself because I was afraid of my emerging homosexual feelings, and to be quite honest, I was afraid that my parents would side with the bullies. Not that they would bully me too, but that they wouldn't be sympathetic to my plight. I was a child. I was afraid — of the bullies and of my parents. I’ll never know how that scenario might have played out as I never shared my adolescent pain or teenage fears with them. I didn’t trust that they would protect me. When do shame and fear replace trust?

After I moved to New York City in 1997 a new set of fears entered my life. I was in the land of Broadway and my main desire at that time was to be a musical theatre star. Yes, I say star because I had them in my eyes and I wanted to be one. I used to joke about how I wanted to become so popular, so dependable as a performer that Stephen Sondheim would write a musical role for me. I was joking, but I was serious. I had big dreams. But there was always something lurking in the shadows of those dreams. I was gay and not out to my parents. 

I had a recurring waking nightmare that I would actually make it as big as I’d dreamed, and my mother would be in the check-out line at Smith’s Supermarket in Mayfield, KY and look over at the National Enquirer or Star and see me, her son, outed on the front page. I realize I would’ve had to’ve been playing in the big time big leagues for a tabloid in the late 90s early aughts to out me, but my dreams were to be playing in those leagues so it wasn't such a stretch for my theatrical mind to create that dramatic scenario.

I couldn’t handle that nightmare. I couldn’t handle the idea of the ridicule my mother might face from other residents in my small KY town of approximately 600 people. I wanted to protect her from any of the harsh words that I was convinced would be hurled at her or spoken about her behind her back because she had a gay son. I wanted to protect her. I also wanted to achieve my dreams, but I didn’t know how to accomplish both. Being gay was nobody’s fault. There was no blame. The truth as I now see it is that if someone chooses to hurl nasty remarks that is their shit and is no reflection on me or my mom. Of course the simple answer in 1997 would have been to come out to her, but I wasn’t brave enough to do that yet.

David Holthouse was convinced that he couldn't share his terrifying, life changing experience with his parents, even as he got older, because he had to protect them. I understand that yet at the same time I don’t. If his attacker hadn’t made him believe the rape was his fault might he have run to his mother and confessed to her the horrible incident? If not immediately, sooner rather than 25 years later? Without the weight of that secret, what might his life (and that of his rapist — hopefully behind bars) have been like if he had shared his fear and pain?

David carried the weight of his secret until he was in his 30s only to be confronted by his parents after they read about it in 10-year old David's diary. He was caught off guard and with no warning to prepare a lie told the truth. Heartbreak. His mother’s heartbreak washed over me with complete sadness. I became aware that I was holding myself, my arms wrapped tightly around my midsection, as I sat in the back row of the darkened theatre.

In Stalking the Bogeyman the bogeyman is the rapist. An actual living, breathing person. But under cloak of fear and secrets we all have a bogeyman that shadows us. I think that part of the reason I write so honestly when I’m telling my life’s story, leaving out no detail no matter how honest or ugly, is because I don’t want to go back to a time when my life seemed like one big secret. I won’t do it. Some people may say I reveal too much information, but for too long I hid too much information. 

David finally faced his Bogeyman. I don’t even know how he found the courage. Then again, I came out to my parents who at the time were the people I dreaded — feared — telling the most. I continue to fight my inner demons to be my true, authentic self. I realize that these experiences are no where near the same, but each of us must face down our demons in order to let them go and move forward. Some demons live and breath. Some are in our heads. All of them can be paralyzing.


David originally shared his story in the Denver Westword News in May 2004. Later he told his story "When I Grow Up" on NPRs “This American Life.” 

The Statement Piece

Shopping can be downright disheartening. I say can be because sometimes shopping can be exhilarating. However, when you're not finding what you want, the experience can be as unpleasant as say, taking a plunge in a recycling vat filled with the soggy pulp of discolored images from last month's issue of Vogue
One starts with the simple task of finding the perfect article of clothing. A piece that makes you feel good. A piece that makes a statement. I'm a fashionable guy. My sense of style is typically trendy with a bent toward classic. But on this day I was on the hunt for something dramatic to wear to an anniversary gala. I tasked myself with finding a pair of gray and black plaid pants. I live in NYC for God's sake. How hard could it be? Surely, I thought to myself, somebody will have that perfect pair of gray and black plaid pants that I see so clearly in my head: slim fit, hugging me in all the right places. 
THE SEARCH
I spent an afternoon searching for those pants, to the color of disappointment, in store after store. My vision was not there. At least not anywhere I was searching. Okay, full disclosure. There was one pair of black wool, slim fit pants whose black squares were formed by silver-gray lines. Almost what I wanted, but not quite. The problem was...they didn't fit. Even the size that should have been too big in the waist didn't fit. Couldn't get them past my thighs. I normally wear a 30" waist. This was dispiriting. I was not deterred. I was determined. And I wasn't about to give up or settle. 
This particular afternoon involved me crisscrossing between Madison and 5th Avenues more than once. If I'd been wearing either pair of the heels I most recently described in my HuffPo Gay Voices piece "High on Heels," my feet would have been killing me. I spent hours searching the racks. Looking. Longing. Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana called out to me, but to drop a card on the counter for a piece from either of those fall collections would take more than a months salary for me to pay off, and I just wouldn't allow myself that kind of stress. My eyes get all unfocused right now as I daydream of the gorgeous Dolce & Gabbana velvet jacket that looked so beautiful on. But alas, it's velvety softness and form-fitting cut would have been little consolation when that bill came due. I moved on. I continued my store to store search until finally I found something that, while not exactly what I'd set out to find, I could see myself wearing. 
THE FITTING ROOM
Sometimes I'd rather clean my toilet than try on pair after pair of pants. Hoping each one will appease my vanity, accentuate the positive (my butt), and be just the right amount of tight. You get the picture. Basically I wanted pants that looked as if they were made for me (couture pants) but more affordable (rack prices). I had my helpful sales associate running back and forth with different cuts and waist sizes until finally...
They were silvery gray, slim fit, and fulfilled my needs if not exactly my desired pattern. (You may be thinking I settled, but the pants were gorgeous so it didn't feel that way. I'll find the gray and black plaid. Just you wait.) Everything else after that fell into place. The fitted shirt in striking magenta would be unmissable in a crowd. The turquoise, silver, and gray plaid tie would contrast with the shirt, but blend with the ensemble. The collection of pieces (all found at Express) was nothing short of vibrant. It was smart and vivid. No soggy, discolored mess here. I finished the look with a pair of blue, turquoise, and gray socks and a gorgeous pair of gray shoes from Cole Haan. I must admit that as far as statements go I was fairly certain the magenta shirt or the gray shoes would be the statement piece of this outfit. Turns out I was wrong. 
THE ACCESSORY
I have a gecko broach. I've owned it for years. It's a found piece. Somebody's loss became my gain. It's charming and interesting; dark, gray-black metal covered with sparkling marcasite. I pinned the gecko broach near the top of my tie, it's head slightly over the edge as if it might be crawling away in search of somewhere less plaid. 
That was my statement piece. It had been in my closet the entire time, waiting patiently on the lapel of a vintage pin-striped blazer for me to take it once again into the light. 
The colors and patterns of the clothes I had assembled were beautiful and attention-getting, but that gecko broach was the piece that caught everyone's eye. 
To me, fashion is about expression, personality, experimentation. One just needs to be brave enough to make bold choices and possess the confidence to own the room. 
I was brave and confident, boldly expressing my personality, but it was my gecko who owned the room. 

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