Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Operation Carnation: A ‘Little Girl’ Story

The excitement hung in the air like confetti forever frozen in a snapshot. It was palpable as we sat around the kitchen table staring at the piñata shaped like a baby carriage; it’s contents waiting to be whacked from its pastel-covered card board. It was like Christmas morning. But there was only one package to be shared by all of us, and we were all eager to know its secret contents. That is, those of us who had not already played this game.

I received a text message a couple of weeks prior to this particular October day that included an ultrasound picture and the words, “Are you ready to be a faux uncle?” I was caught completely off-guard by the image…and the words. So much so that I teared up immediately. I was so excited—overwhelmed, really—I could barely type my response. One of my dearest cousins (a member of The Family Band and basically a sibling) had finally made it past the first trimester and was now sharing her exciting news with her nearest and dearest who weren’t her immediately family. Other Band members already knew this information (you know who you are), but being the only other boy in the Band besides her brother I was the last member to know. I’m okay with that, but by now I would have thought I was an honorary girl, but I guess all those times I’ve said, “I’ve got a penis” after somebody calls me, “Girl” has paid off. I digress.

Cousins can become the best of friends. Three of mine, along with my sister, make up The Family Band (just a name we gave ourselves like The Little Rascals). The extraordinary thing for me is I’m the oldest (seven-and-a-half years older than the next of us) so I’ve seen them all be babies and grow into the people they are. And now I’m sharing in their lives as adults: sharing in their engagement surprises, attending their weddings, receiving their birth announcements. It’s an odd mix of feelings (love, happiness, anger, frustration, joy, contentment, excitement) all thrown together like the blend of seasonings that make up Shake ’n Bake: you might not know what they all are, but you know it’s good). We share our lives with each other—the important things and the mundane. “Cousins we shall always be. Special friends from the same family tree.” I seem to have taken a detour down the path marked sentimental. The prettiest flowers grow along that path. And I’m a sucker for a pretty flower.

Back to the story at hand.

I had a trip to Kentucky, to visit my parents and my sister’s family, booked for the first full week in October. My cousin and her husband live in Nashville, Tennessee and it’s a mere two-and-a-half hour drive to where my parents live. She told me she was going to be able to drive up for the weekend I was there, but even more exciting than the opportunity to hang out with her was the fact that she was going to reveal the sex of the baby to us. She was going to find out the results within days of my departure and had decided it would be the perfect opportunity to share the news with the extended family.

This is where the excitement of Christmas morning comes into play. My cousin’s mom and brother were privy to the information already and her mom (my over-the-moon happy aunt Cindy) was excitedly sharing the story of their own piñata experience. Excited to the point of me being afraid she was going to spill the beans herself before our piñata could spill its contents. Think about how excited you are about that one particular gift you’ve gotten someone for Christmas. Example: for Christmas 2013 I got my niece a beautiful purple Coach bag. I couldn’t stand not sharing my excitement with people that I knew would be as excited as I was. I took a picture of the bag and texted it to two of my cousins (two female Band members) and then showed the bag to my mom once I arrived in KY. The only people surprised on Christmas morning were my niece and her mom (my sister). I had to make myself not tell my sister. So you get the picture, right? It was that kind of excitement and desire to share that was radiating from my aunt as we sat around the kitchen table. I wanted to talk about that bag, but I had to choose my words and text recipients correctly or I might have inadvertently spilled the beans before Santa arrived. Excitement can get you into trouble. Thankfully, she also chose the right words and told just enough of the story to not spoil anything. Whew!

On a side note: Once I’d gotten the responses from those I’d chosen to share my excitement over the bag with, I completely changed my tune. I became protective of the contents of that box and determined to keep it from being discovered. I wrapped that package and put it under the tree way back in the back so that it was hidden and therefore unshakable. I can be Grinch-y like that.

All of us who didn’t already know were asked to guess what we thought the sex of the baby would be. I did really have a guess as much as I had a desire. All I could say was I hoped it was a girl. I don’t know why. I just wanted it to be a girl. I wrote my name under the word GIRL (again I say, I have a penis) and mine joined the other names who’d guessed the same.

Finally it was time. Think of it as 7am when you’ve been lying in your bed awake since 6am listening for any sound that told you someone else was up so that you could run into the living room and see all the wonderful toys Santa left under the Christmas tree.

Now here’s the funny part. A few of us had been playing the card game Phase 10 (a variation on rummy) earlier in the evening. It was decided (by someone, not me) that the order in which we would take a whack at the piñata would be the order in which the Phase 10 players ranked—first to last—in the game as it stood when we broke for dinner. Wouldn’t you know I was in first place. So I was on deck to go first. 

Can you see this? I was not prepared for this task. Those of you who know me know that I don’t like to be laughed at, and I don’t easily laugh at myself. (If you didn’t know that, now you do.) I enjoy telling the story to comedic effect when the situation is over, but I do not enjoy being in the situation while it’s happening. That said, I was not ready to be laughed at or laughed with, but by golly I was determined to do it anyway. Embarrassment be damned. ‘Cause you know I was embarrassed. Thankfully, it was still kind of dark in the dull brightness of the combined lights shining from the front porch and in the garage. 

I put on the blindfold and was spun around the requisite 5 times. I was then pointed toward the baby carriage that was dangling from a stick in the capable hands of my cousin’s brother (one who already knew the answer) and set free to “take a whack Ouiser” (Steel Magnolia’s reference). Everyone was excited. I could feel their excitement. The energy in the air was electric. Even the baby daddy, Matt, who was joining us via FaceTime must have been able to feel it. I began to laugh, took a breath then…whack! I connected. First try. I remember hearing two pieces hit the driveway below. Someone behind me yelled, “It’s a girl!”

I removed the blindfold. I looked at the slightly broken carriage then saw one pink Starburst lying on the ground. After that I don’t really know what happened. There was too much cheering and laughing and hugging. A blindfold-free member of my family finished off the piñata. The pink-wrapped candy from the piñata's belly lay on the ground below. Maybe it was better than Christmas. It was my family sharing an intimate moment filled with joy and love that was more special than anything wrapped in Christmas paper. It was a celebration of new life, the beginning of a new family. Soon enough Little Girl will know exactly what I’m talking about. Our story goes on. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Television Characters: I Know They're Not Real People, But...

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Entertainment

“Christian Troy never learns his lesson.” I made that statement very matter-of-factly and honestly about a character on Nip/Tuck during the end of its run on FX Network. It was just a normal part of the conversation while discussing the previous night’s episode. The friend with whom I was discussing the episode began to laugh. He responded, “Sweetie, you know he’s not real.” As soon as that comment was out of his mouth I joined him in laughter. Yes, I know Christian Troy is not a real person, but that doesn’t change the fact that as a television viewer I get very invested in the television shows I like and even more so in the characters I like on those shows. 

Details. I’m obsessed with the details. I watch episodes of How To Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM), American Horror Story: Freak Show, and Scandal more than once to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Usually that repeat viewing reveals something I missed the first time. The attention to detail was outstanding on Breaking Bad. Not even the smallest moment was unnecessary. A flash across the screen of Walter White that might have appeared to mean nothing in season 1 could be an important plot point in season 2 and finally tie up by series end.  

Mythology. I love the mythology on shows like Lost and Once Upon a Time. The worlds created on those two shows in particular are so structured and detailed. It thrills me to see how the characters are connected. The same can be said of Sleepy Hollow. It keeps me on the edge of my seat. It’s a show that takes our country’s history and stories from the book of Revelation and weaves them into an intricate end-of-days story that keeps surprising me week after week. And while I’m touting mythology I have to mention Twin Peaks. The first season was so layered that I consumed each morsel of information regarding the central mystery and was always left hungry from more.

Conspiracy Theories. A show like HTGAWM is ripe for conspiracy theories. #WhoKilledSam is one of the show’s hashtags. I watch. I re-watch. I question. I join the conversation on Twitter. I want to know who killed Sam. I want to know who’s covering it up. I want to see what Annalise Keating is going to do next. Okay, let me be honest, I want to see what any of those characters is going to do next. My curiosity makes me want to cancel all plans on a Thursday night so that I can be part of #TGIT while it’s happening. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been willing to put up with commercial breaks, but television is so of-the-moment right now. In our social media world of live tweeting and live blogging if you don’t watch right away the plot details get spoiled or you’re out-of-the-loop conversationally. If I haven’t watched American Horror Story: Freak Show or the aforementioned Scandal and HTGAWM before I get to work the next day I spend that day apprehensive of spoilers on Twitter and Facebook, frustrated that I don’t know what happened, and annoyed that I can’t take part in the greater conversation.

My over-involvement in the lives of television characters is not new. It goes way back to my soap opera watching days. Back in the late 80s when I used to set the VCR to record them every day. (Grainy tapes that were recorded over, then over again, multiple times.) God forbid I should miss the moment Cruz and Eden find their kidnapped daughter Adriana on Santa Barbara or the day Stefano returns from the dead for the fifteenth time on Days of our Lives. But those moments were merely scenes that I wanted to see happen. Today it’s more about being part of the conversation surrounding all the moments that happen to be happening on any given show during any given episode. And let’s face it, Scandal, HTGAWM, and American Horror Story: Freak Show are roller coasters. Once they plunge down the first hill they begin to reveal every twist and turn their writers have in store for their richly developed (or developing) characters for the season.

During a recent episode of The Walking Dead a friend of mine was live tweeting in all caps. I finally asked her if her use of all caps was an indication that she was yelling at the TV. She responded, “Basically.” I laughed. I’m familiar with this occurrence. I’ve yelled at my television so many times that I have neighbors both past and present who probably think I’m a little cuckoo. Hell, maybe I am. At least when it comes to my investment in the lives of fictional people. During that above mentioned episode of The Walking Dead I was angry. Here’s one of my live tweets: “#TheWalkingDead makes me rethink my faith in humanity. Live together, Die alone. But still…” Did you pick up on my Lost reference in that tweet? The dot dot dot ending leaves the tweet feeling unfinished because I just couldn’t express myself any further. I realized the situation I was watching wasn't real life, but I was putting myself in the scenario and kept wondering when those still alive in the world of The Walking Dead decided that having control and power meant more than helping fellow survivors. Imagine what I could do if I spent that kind of energy on real world problems.

Television characters have moved me to tears, made me LOL, frustrated me to the point of giving up on watching a show, outraged me for reasons I didn’t even recognize at the time, and shocked me to the point of tears, frustration, and outrage at having to wait another week for answers. I know I’m not alone in this. I can’t be the only person who wants to know everything there is to dig up about Annalise on HTGAWM. Or the only person who wants to know in whose favor the Victoria/David/Emily triangle’s game of deception and revenge is going to play out on Revenge. I know there are millions who want to know if Olivia will save Jake on Scandal and if she does will she choose him or Fitz? Will Rick & company ever find a cure for what plunged the world into Zombieville on The Walking Dead? Will Crane and Mills stop the end of the world on Sleepy Hollow or witness it? Will Elsa make it out of the Freak Show alive? I don’t know, but I tune in every week to find out. And you can bet I’ll be tuning in to Showtime in 2016 to see what the hell is happening with Cooper et al in Twin Peaks 25 years later.

I — we — love these people, er, characters. I’m invested. I want to know how it all turns out. I’m the guy who wonders if Monica and Chandler are still married and if Ross and Rachel had any more kids. I also want to know who the hell JR’s daughter is, but unless another network picks up Dallas I may never find out. 

Some might view the amount of hours I spend watching TV as a waste of time and that’s ok. I see it as pure escapism that thrills me, inspires me creatively, and at times teaches me a lesson. I also see it as a chance to connect with people through the inevitable conversation that happens when a TV show is home to flawed, despicable, virtuous, righteous, driven, angry, good, evil, secretive characters. I just keep reminding myself that commercial breaks are opportunities for my blood pressure to regulate…and that these people aren’t real. 

In the spirit of conversation, please keep the conversation going with your thoughts and comments on getting intimately involved in the lives of fictional characters below. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Heels Are Killer in the Best Way at the Brooklyn Museum

How else can I begin except by saying I was giddy with controlled exuberance. It was as if I was alone in a world all my own (Michael Through the Looking Glass) as I stared at the encased heels all around me. These weren't just any heels though. These were “Killer Heels,” as in the ones currently on display in Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe at the Brooklyn Museum.

Have you ever taken the time to really look at a pair of high-heeled shoes? To look beyond the color, the height, and the price tag? Get that pair of your most fabulous, treasured heels out of your closet and look at them. Look at the design elements, the craftsmanship, the architectural lines, the artistry, the creativity. Okay, so maybe the heels you have in your closet are not that interesting. Maybe you see them as just simple and plain. That may be true, but let me tell you, there are shoes in this world that are pure art; as beautiful and expressive as any painting by Monet, van Gogh, or Pollock. There are even people who can and dare to wear this art. The shoes may not always be comfortable, but one can't deny they are daring, provocative, wearable art forms.

There was no denying the artistry and creativity of the gorgeous shoes I smiled at, conversed about, and kept myself from drooling over as I ambled my way through the "Killer Heels” exhibit. There were so many different eras represented. The evolution of shoes on display. The styles (platform, stiletto, boot, mule, futuristic, etc), materials (leather, cloth, wood, metal, plastic, nylon, etc) and adornments (flames, metal spikes, crystals, hair, etc) pushing the limits beyond the boundaries of what one thinks a shoe can be, should be. Who's to say what a shoe can (or can't) be, anyway? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then fashion, much like art, is subjective. 

I spoke animatedly with a young woman about the Prada Flame Wedge Sandal (Spring/Summer 2012, below). I can usually spot a Prada shoe before I see the label. They stand out in the crowd. Miuccia Prada (Prada, Miu Miu) is a designer with a unique sense of style that, for me, at least with her shoes, is instantly recognizable. I often find myself questioning where one might wear a Prada shoe (answer: anywhere one wants). But more often than not I am thrilled by their imaginative and fanciful design elements. 

Prada Wedge Sandal in Rosso, Bianco, and Nero Leather, Spring/Summer 2012
With an older lady, whom I encountered jotting down notes over a 1960 Christian Dior/Roger Vivier evening slipper for the House of Dior (below), I exchanged thoughts on the heel of said slipper. Specifically its curved design. This particular heel could be the petite grand-mère of the heel on the fall 2014 Louis Vuitton curved-heel bootie, the “shoe to covet” this fall according the September issue of Harper's Bazaar. Invention is prone to reinterpretation and everything old can be new again.

Christian Dior, Roger Vivier for House of Dior. Evening Slippers, 1960
Fashion design thrives on imagination, limit-pushing creativity, the ability to envision then actualize. It can even beg for the update of a successful design from the past as with the heel on the aforementioned Dior/Vivier slipper. The heels in “Killer Heels” are the epitome of limit-pushing creativity, vision, and artistic expression. Just look below at the Julian Hakes "Mojito," 2012.Of course they aren't going to be for everyone, but neither is every shoe at Bergdorf’s or even…Payless. 

Julian Hakes. "Mojito," 2012
I appreciate interesting shoes. Men’s shoe choices are positively bland compared to those of women’s. I try to shake things up. In my own closet there’s a pair of chocolate brown Frye boots, a pair of blue leather Chukka’s with suede at the ankle, a pair of tan leather and ivy green suede saddle Oxfords, a pair of gray Wingtips adorned with a buckle or two. Those are just a few examples. I realize we’ve come a long way in color choices from the days of black or brown, but men are still limited to more conservative shoe choices than women. In recent years, thankfully, men have been able to express themselves by choosing shoes with pops of color in the heel or by changing the color of the laces. With the later, one not only gets to let his personality shine through, he can dramatically alter the look of the shoe by blasting the tediousness with a dash of whimsy. 

(left) A SHOE CAN BE. "Heliotrope," 2013 (right) JANTAMINIAU. "Tarnished Beauty," 2012
I mentioned the word personality in connection with shoes above. Personality is a great word to describe most, if not all, of the shoes in the "Killer Heels" exhibit. The inanimate objects of my admiration had so much personality they could rival some people. Shoes can be the centerpiece of an outfit. They can be the only bit of outrageousness in a beautifully tailored, but otherwise dull ensemble. I know I’ve been known to build an outfit around a pair of shoes. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we all felt the freedom to let our personality run wild on our feet? Choose the height, choose the color, choose the style and design. If it makes you happy own it, then make the sidewalk your runway.

Maybe you’re a worshiper at the house of Blahnik or Louboutin, a lover of fantastical shoes, have a shoe fetish. Or maybe you’re merely interested in seeing shoes that aren't readily available just anywhere. If any of that sounds like you, then get thee to the Brooklyn Museum. You've got until February 15, 2015. Trust me when I tell you you don’t have to be wearing them to be lifted to their heights. 

Roger Vivier. "Rose N' Roll," Fall 2012

Friday, October 17, 2014

This Frustration Needs a One-Two Punch of Patience

My frustration bores through the ceiling and fills the attic before it pushes it's way through the roof and permeates the atmosphere. I'm afraid I might be the causing damage to the ozone layer. If I had to attach a color to this frustration it would be baby shit yellow. 

Here I sit at the airport in Paducah, Kentucky. It's a small regional airport with typically two departures and two arrivals per day. Chicago's O'Hare is the origination and destination of the plane that services Paducah. I can't remember the last time I flew in to or out of Paducah when there wasn't some sort of a delay—weather in Chicago most often being the culprit. This trip, however, air traffic is the cause. Due to a fire in Chicago that severely damaged an air traffic control tower, air traffic in and out of O'Hare is severely affected. Six days ago the plane that would take me to Paducah couldn't get into O'Hare from Indiana due to congestion in the air. Today the plane, which sits on the Tarmac in Paducah just beyond the door I'm refusing to stare at, can't fly into Chicago due to congestion. Wouldn't it be nice if we could offer the friendly skies a DayQuil that allowed for freer flying with no congestion? But alas, there is no pill for that. Not even in Sky Mall Magazine. The only thing to do is surrender to the seat in the waiting area and remember that this is beyond anyone’s control—mine, the TSA workers in Paducah, the air traffic controllers in Chicago. This delay is for our safety, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. 

A major frustration that is in the control of the TSA agents in Paducah is the security gate. They have a flight that is delayed by an hour and 15 minutes, but we the travelers have to be through security by 3pm because that's when they close the gate. That would be fine if the flight was still at 3pm, but it isn't still at 3pm. It's delayed to 4:15(ish)pm. So we have to say goodbye to our families and sit on the other side of the security gate for an hour while we wait to board our delayed flight. I shouldn't complain. I mean I realize the flight could have been cancelled. Delayed will still get me there. But it won't get me there in time to make my connecting flight. That is frustrating. Instead of getting home around 10pm it will be after midnight. Still nothing to really complain about. On the positive, at least there was a later flight with a seat available (a window, my least favorite. Beggars. Choosers) so I won't have to spend the night in Chicago. 

None of the above airport frustration has anything to do with the yellow, ozone-damaging frustration that started this piece. That frustration has left me discouraged for a different reason. It's a frustration that was born out of an inability to communicate. There are times when I try and take my knowledge (the best having been learned from prior experiences) and use it to try and understand a situation, to try and make a situation better. When I did that very thing this morning I was left shaking my head at my inability to connect in a way that was beneficial for either party. I was left, for lack of a better word, frustrated. I felt myself fighting anger, wanting to shut down, getting quiet. My lips were in a perpetual state pursedness. 

I wanted to connect—needed to. I wanted to be smart, clever, find a way in. I wanted to be a problem solver. I wanted to be someone who could be trusted. Maybe it's not the right time for that.

Then I realized that so much of my present situation was about me and not the person I was trying to help. I was seeing a younger version of me. I was frustrated by the actions of the other person, yes. But I was also frustrated that those actions were reflecting my former selfacting out, wanting attention, sensitive feelings—back at me. Along with my frustration, my present day self was getting in touch with his jealousy. What!? Jealousy? Yes. There was a freedom present that I never experienced. So yes, Jealousy! Reactions change. Age softens people. I was holding on tightly to my past.  Cue Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” 

Ultimately, I realize I was trying to help myself by helping this other person. I can't control the other person I was trying to help, but I can control my response to the actions. Life is a learning process. I'm continuing to learn from my past mistakes and my present mistakes. 

Frustration is a part of life. I encounter it every day. The thing is, I need to figure out how to keep it from weighing me down. I love my Tiffany key, but it's the only thing I want to wear around my neck. Frustration is cumbersome and neither pretty nor optimal. Bitching about its effects is neither beneficial nor productive. I need to figure out how to let go of it and, even as my mind continues to work on a solution, not let it make me angry, stress me out. I'm thinking it's going to take patience, which is something I struggle with finding daily.

I think I'll ponder that as I sit alone in the boarding area in the Paducah airport waiting to board that plane that's waiting to take me home. The only thing in my control is the frustration. It's time to let my pursed lips return to normal, let the knot in my chest release. After all, when has frustration caused anybody anything but added stress...and wrinkles? 

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. 
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. 
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. 
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

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!”