Thursday, November 19, 2009


My God, when I consider Chris, how can I feel anything but blessed to have such an amazing human being in my life?

I often think it's utterly remarkable that someone like Chris chooses to be with me, shares his life with me, has been my partner for over seventeen years.  

Sometimes, I look at him, and I'm overcome with a love I never thought I'd feel toward another human being.  Sometimes, I wonder what I've done to deserve such a beautiful spirit in my life.  Sometimes, it all feels like the most incredible dream, and I pray I'll never wake up.      

How can one human being make me feel so full inside?  How can one human being so connect me to myself, to the world, to the greater universe?  How can one human being expand me so fully, make living so worthwhile, and show me what's possible with love between two people?

When I look at Chris, cup his face in my hands, stare into his innocent, patient, and compassionate blue eyes, I know that I'm exactly where I'm meant to be.  I know that I could not receive a greater gift in life than him.  I know that I will cherish and love him for all eternity.

Blessed!  That's exactly what I am.  And every day of my life that I spend with Chris, I know is another day that I'm blessed beyond measure.  


During my honest, soul-searching moments, when I look deeply inside myself for the truth, I'm forced to admit that I'm homophobic.  Sounds like a contradiction, I know--I'm gay, yet I have a "hatred or fear of homosexuals."  This would account for why I've had so much difficulty over the years accepting and loving myself because I'm gay.  It would also explain why I've had difficulty accepting other gay men.

Well, not all other gay men.  I have no difficulty accepting those who don't look or act gay.  If I see a handsome, well-groomed man, with all the outward signs of masculinity (thick musculature, hairy chest, five o'clock shadow, etc.), and I learn somehow that he's gay, for some reason, I hold him in higher esteem than I do the weak, soft, effeminate man, whose physical appearance and mannerisms often scream gay from the moment you see him.

That's why I've always understood those "Man to Man" personal ads in newspapers, magazines, and the Internet.  The ads that state the man placing the ad is masculine looking and acting, and he's looking for a fellow who's masculine looking and acting too.  I understand how, in our society, still largely homophobic, a masculine looking gay man, who wants companionship from another man, usually expects to link up with someone who doesn't look or act gay, who won't attract negative attention to them when they walk down the street as a couple. Let's face it, it's easier to be gay and to be in a gay relationship if you don't look gay.  (Like I said, I understand this, but I don't like it.  It's just the way it is.)

The gay man I have the most difficulty with is the flamer, the fellow that, as far as I'm concerned, goes out of his way to ensure everyone around him knows he's gay.  You've seen the type:  He dresses in tight, skimpy clothing that you'd expect to see on Britney Spears.  He wears his hair in a style that draws attention to itself, usually because of how feminine or wild or colorful it looks.  His wrists are limp, he minces or sashays or prances when he walks, and his voice sounds like a girl's with a bad cold--all feminine, and affected, and frankly, sickening to listen to.

This is the gay man who makes me crazy.  Everything about him screams "GAY," in big, bold, bright, neon letters.  There's nothing subtle or understated about him.  He's "out there," and his life seems to be all about making the political statement that he exists, whether we like it or not, and that he doesn't give a rat's ass if anyone knows he's gay.  There's not a bone in his body that makes the least effort to downplay who he is.

He's also the one who, from a stereotypical perspective, gives being gay a bad name and makes all of us who are gay look like we're cut from the same cloth.

I know damn well I could get into trouble for saying all this.  After all, gay is gay.  If you're gay, whether you're masculine and don't look it, or you're a flamer and do, then you're all about connecting with other men on an emotional and physical level.  In that sense, there's nothing different between gay men.

But that's where the comparison ends, as far as I'm concerned.  I've written about this before too:  Being gay is more acceptable, both to the straight world and to other gay men who aren't flamers, if you don't look it or act it.  It's all right to be gay--just don't make it unmistakable when people see you or watch you.  I'm not saying this attitude is right or wrong, I'm saying "it is."  It's reality.

Every time a flamer is let loose in the community--whether on the street, on TV, on a stage, at an art show, wherever--the stereotype of what gay men are is confirmed.  Historically, many people, straight and gay, have come to expect that gay men are flamers.  So if you're gay, whether you're a flamer or not, it's expected that you'll look and act like one.

Every time I see a flamer, wherever it might be, I think there goes the neighborhood again.  The stereotype is perpetuated once more.  What homophobic straight and gay people alike think is reinforced, making being gay consistently difficult for those who are.

I hate thinking that I'm being compared to flamers.  I don't want people to scrutinize me, looking for the stereotypical characteristics of gay men in general.  But, I admit, I do it myself.  When I see gay men, I look for the telltale signs that they're gay.  I look for the forms of attire that make it obvious; I look for the habits and mannerisms, the speech patterns, the idiosyncracies, all of the little things that are so "gay."

When I don't see them, I'm pleasantly surprised.  I give the men a lot of credit.  It's not easy to fight the impulses of who you really are inside. It's not easy to stifle the real you, to pretend to be something you're not, just to present a more acceptable face to the straight world, just so being gay is an easier experience for you.

When I do see them, well, I'm not surprised.  I expect to see them, so I'm not disappointed when I do.  But I know it changes how I feel about them.  Rather than bring me closer to them because our sexual orientation is the same, it distances me.  I'm fearful of being around them.  I don't want to be compared to them, just because we're together in the same place.  It's easier for me to be gay, perhaps, when I'm not in the company of flamers, because, honestly, then I don't have to face seeing myself in them.        

Perhaps this is what irritates me most:  When I'm in the company of a flamer, I see in him some of the very characteristics I abhor in myself. Their presence forces me to hold a mirror to my own face, and I hate what I see.  I hate the effeminate characteristics we share.  As much as I try to downplay them, I know they're there, and being near a flamer worries me that they might come out, that who I really am will be betrayed, that my sexual orientation will become all the more obvious because I'm near them.

I can't tell you how many times over the years I've stopped myself in front of my bathroom mirror and noted that the way I've styled my hair makes me look gay; the clothes I have on, whether it be their style or color or how I wear them or how they look on me, make me look gay; my overall appearance makes me look gay, even though, sometimes, I can't even tell what it is about the way I look that makes me appear that way.  All I know is I have to do something to make sure I don't appear in public that way.  

I know what I am.  I'm gay.  I'll never get away from that.  But do I have to look it?  Do I have to act it?  Do I have to be it, in the eyes of other people?

How many times has the real me been stifled because I didn't want anyone to know I'm gay?  Why can't I just be myself, and whatever people think of me, whether they be straight or gay, be damned?  Is hiding who you really are from the world any way to live your life? When will being gay no longer be an issue in any respect whatsoever, so that every gay man along the spectrum, from ultra feminine to ultra masculine, can truly be himself and not be concerned with being less acceptable to the world around him?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pink Triangle

I've often wondered what the gay experience would have been like throughout history had all gay people been born with some distinctive physical characteristic that unmistakably identified them as gay.  Black people are born with black skin.  Asian people are born with slanted eyes.  What if gay people, male and female, were born with, say, a small pink triangle in the middle of their cheeks, a mark that was obvious to anyone who saw it, a mark that couldn't be disguised or covered up in any way?  How different would gay history have been?

While some gay people, male and female, are obviously gay, just by looking at them--because of unfortunate stereotypes that have been created and reinforced over the years--most are not, and they can pass for straight.  Most gay people can identify each other in a crowd, but that isn't always the case.  Sometimes our gaydar doesn't go off, and we're as surprised as any straight person to discover someone is gay.

But, in my scenario, even those who could pass for straight now would be undeniably gay because of the pink triangle in the middle of their cheeks.  If they were men, they might be ultra masculine, but the pink triangle would give them away.  If they were women, they might be ultra feminine, but the pink triangle would give them away too.  Thus, whether they were obviously gay or not, just by looking at them, there would be no difference.  ALL gay people, male and female, would be known to be gay because of the pink triangle.  They might deny that they're gay, but the pink triangle would never lie.  Then what?

Imagine how much easier it would have been throughout human history to persecute gay people, depending on the cultural mores of the time.  Imagine how many more gay people would have been annihilated in Fascist Germany, when many of them, along with Jewish people, were rounded up and slaughtered.  Imagine how many gay people would have been discriminated against, would have been denied jobs, housing, the same basic human rights as straight people, in North America and throughout the world.  Imagine how many young, gay kids would be bullied and teased and taunted mercilessly in grade schools, their lives turned upside down, forced to learn to hate themselves at an early age because of who they are.

In some countries, where, even today, gays and lesbians are imprisoned, forced to work in labor camps, or, worse yet, put to death because of their sexual orientation, they would go into hiding, never to emerge on city streets.  They'd be forced to rely on empathetic family members to help them survive since they couldn't go out into the everyday world to work or to live.  But, even then, family members might be unwilling to protect their gay relatives because they could be imprisoned, banished to work camps, or put to death themselves for defying the law of the state.  Imagine.    

With pink triangles on their cheeks, gay people would be in the faces of straight people.  There would be no escaping gay people.  They'd be everywhere.  It might be easy now for many straight people to deny that gay people exist, even to deny that they work with gay people, or that there are gay people in their own families.  But, with the pink triangle, they would be forced to deal in some way with all gay people in their lives, distant and close.

Perhaps they'd unconditionally support their gay relatives, regardless of their sexual orientation, because their love would be stronger than any hate their culture might try to make them feel toward them.  Or perhaps, regardless of their blood connection, they'd turn their backs on their gay relatives, having been convinced homosexuality is repugnant and unforgivable.  It happens today, even without the pink triangle.

I thank God every day that I don't have a pink triangle on my cheek because I'm gay.  I thank God that, if I'm careful, I can mostly pass for straight in a straight-oriented world, where being gay in some places is just as difficult now as it was decades ago.  Or, at the very least, that no one pays much attention to me because I blend in to the general population that is always assumed to be predominately straight.

And, at the same time, I feel so sorry for all people who are different in some way, gay or otherwise, who will never be able to hide their differences, and who will always face discrimination because of who they are.  I can't imagine what that would be like.

(As I worked on editing this post, it occurred to me that, if the pink triangle was evident on the cheeks of babies from the moment they were born, who knows what might happen?  In extreme cases, given the way some societies feel about gay people, I have no doubt babies would be exterminated immediately.  In that case, they'd never make it to childhood or adulthood, and the rest of the world--that is, straight people--would never have to deal with them.

In less extreme circumstances, gay babies might be allowed to live, because we are human beings after all, and, for the most part, we're not in the business of killing other human beings who are different ways we don't understand.  But imagine the anguish of parents who knew from day one that their little boy or little girl was gay.  Imagine potentially how different those babies would be raised in relation to straight babies.  Imagine the lengths to which some parents would go to hide their gay babies, to disguise the pink triangles on their cheeks, to hope and pray that our world changed, so that being gay was no longer discriminated against, no longer one of the worst things you could be.  

Playing with the pink triangle scenario is fascinating and opens up all sorts of possibilities that we avoid now because, thankfully, there is no single physical characteristic that identifies all those people who are gay.  But imagine if there were....)    

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Proposed Column for "XTRA! West," Vancouver's Gay & Lesbian Biweekly

About fifteen months ago, "XTRA! West," the local gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper, advertised for new columnists.  The editor was looking for fresh voices, what I assumed to mean writers who, through their work, would present to readers different facets of the gay experience, those who hadn't been heard from before.

I knew I had a fresh voice, or, at least, a voice that hadn't been heard before within the pages of "XTRA! West."  My voice was that of a middle-aged, gay man in a long-term, committed, and monogamous relationship.

Around the time of the advertisement for new columnists, Chris and I found ourselves traveling increasingly in the company of other gay male couples--Steve and Mike, Chris and Justin, Bill and Lloyd--and, with the opportunity, we often asked questions of each other, because we were curious about how other gay couples handled issues within the context of their relationships.

Chris asked me about how my Chris and I handled money issues.  I asked Bill and Lloyd what accounted for the success of their forty-two year commitment to each other.  Steve and Mike talked about the latter applying for and securing a position in a new job, necessitating a move from Victoria to Saskatchewan, and how their relationship was both challenged and strengthened by that.

With the exchange of information between us when we got together, I realized how beneficial talking to other gay couples was, both as confirmation that what Chris and I did seemed to work for other couples too, and as a way to learn about what might work for us if we found ourselves in the same situations.

But, in addition, I believed that my fresh voice in "XTRA! West" could shine a light on gay relationships for single gays.  When Chris and I came together as a couple, and it looked like our relationship might last longer than any other I'd ever had, we slowly lost contact with the single gay men we knew.  Increasingly, we found we didn't want the same things anymore--they were motivated to keep mingling with other singles in the never-ending search to find the right men to share their lives with, while Chris and I had thankfully done that and had moved on to a new phase of our life together.

I believed that what Chris and I learned about each other and about being a couple might show single gays that it is possible to meet the person of your dreams, and here's how to overcome some of the obstacles of bringing together two different people, with two different lives, and make it all work.

With these thoughts in mind, I turned to a list of forty-plus gay relationship essays I'd written about Chris and me over the previous months.  I selected three and spent several weeks reworking them into 1,000 word articles to submit to "XTRA! West."  I prepared a covering letter to the managing editor, pitching my idea for a fresh, new column, and I attached the three essays.  Then I crossed my fingers and waited.

Several days later, I received an email from the managing editor, stating that, while she thought my pieces were well written, they were not a match for one of the columns she was looking for.  She invited me to submit guest pieces to the newspaper in the future, which I haven't done yet, because I remain committed to my original idea (hence the reason why I started writing this blog last February).

Several weeks ago, I reread the three articles I submitted to "XTRA! West" back in August 2008.  From reading the work of columnists in the newspaper over the years, I admit my voice is different from the young gay or lesbian, finding his or her way personally and professionally.  We live different lives:  They go out to the clubs, while I can't tell you the last time I was in a gay club; they're socially motivated and travel in circles comprised of other up-and-coming gays and lesbians, while I'm mostly a homebody who has a few close friends, both gay and straight; and they're smart and hip and clever, their lives and writing reflecting that, while I'm perhaps more thoughtful, honest, and insightful, my writing reflecting that.  As I see it, there's room for all of our different perspectives.  

Below, you'll find one of the articles I sent to "XTRA! West."  I wanted it to be the first in the series, using it to explain my motivation for wanting to write the column in the first place.  While some might think the article lacks professional sheen, I believe what I wrote stands up to any published in "XTRA! West," and I would have been happy to work with "XTRA! West" to bring it up to their standard while still maintaining my voice and content.  With any luck at all, perhaps one day I'll get the chance to do that.

Nothing would make me happier than to help gay people love themselves and see the possibilities for their own lives.  This is what continues to motivate me to write, whatever form it might take today and in the future.  


Last summer, an interview with Nate Berkus appeared in Out magazine.  Nate is a Chicago interior designer, well known for his numerous appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”  His good taste and style principles have transformed many environments, from three-hundred square foot bachelor suites to much larger projects, including houses, restaurants, and retail outlets.  

Nate's name could be familiar for another reason.  On December 26, 2005, he was among the first to report on the devastating tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, calling the “The Larry King Show” on a borrowed cell phone.  Together, with his longtime partner, Fernando Bengoechea, Nate was on vacation in the area.  They were in their small cabin on the beach when the surging water struck that Monday.

Several months later, a visibly-shaken Nate appeared again on “Oprah,” this time to provide more detail about that fateful day.  He and Fernando had tried to save themselves by grasping on to a pole on the top of a hill that the water had carried them to.   Nate had been able to maintain his grip despite the churning water, but Bengoechea hadn’t.  His body was never recovered.

In the Out interview, Nate talked about the numerous letters and emails he received from young gay people following that episode of “Oprah.”  What Berkus had said, and the obvious love he had shared with Fernando, had inspired them.  Some had been moved to come out to their families and friends, realizing they were eager to experience love with someone special in their own lives.

When I read this, the sentiments confirmed what I’d thought for some time.  I knew that magazines and newspapers, like XTRA! West, did a great job of representing many different facets of our community, but I couldn’t remember reading much about gay men and lesbian women in long-term, meaningful, and loving relationships.  As a result, I thought there was an opportunity for them to expand the balance in their reporting, not only by featuring long-term relationships but also by celebrating them in all of their everyday and extraordinary detail.

I started to think about how different my life might have been back in the mid-80s, when I finally came to terms with my sexual orientation and came out to my family and friends.  How differently would I have looked at myself, and at the possibilities for my future, had I had role models, had I seen examples of gay men and lesbian women in long-term relationships.  If I’d known that I could be who I really was, find the right person for me, and develop a life together with that special man.  This knowledge would have given me more hope than I remember having then.

Back in the early 80s, exposure to what being gay was all about wasn’t a lot different from what it is now.  I saw the more visible aspects of the gay community, but not the ones that I would have related to more.  Without that example, I admit that not only did I not like what being gay meant, but also I didn’t like myself because I was gay.  Right or wrong, I thought my future was doomed to endless one-night stands, unbearable loneliness, and growing old by myself.  I didn’t know that I could have what my partner and I have shared for the past seventeen years.

How I would have appreciated seeing someone like Nate Berkus on “Oprah” in 1985, showing me the other side of gay life -- the side where you could live your life as an openly gay man, where relationships with someone of the same sex did exist, and where experiencing real love was possible.  And where you could be an example to other gay people, young and old, scared to take the risk in opening themselves to love someone else, and allowing that to transform their lives.

I’ve enjoyed reading XTRA! West over these past many years just like everyone else.  I enjoy seeing how diverse our population is, now encompassing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.  Among other subjects, I’ve been informed by, and enjoyed reading about, drag queens, rent boys, nightclubbing, and the like.

But I’ve also thought it was time to give a voice to those who are typically quiet, to those who, whether they believed they had to or not, lived their lives within long-term relationships without drawing attention to themselves.  I believe we’ve arrived at a time when gay people in relationships can now set examples for single gays and lesbians, encouraging them to consider the possibility of relationships in their own lives.

Finally, I also believe that what I have to share about my relationship with my partner could help other gay men and lesbian women who are already in long-term relationships, by providing them with information on how another couple deals with the everyday issues of life, and by validating what they already do in various situations and circumstances.

My goal for this column is to present real aspects of the relationship I share with my partner Chris.  We’re no different from anyone else in a long-term relationship, except that we’ve been together for an appreciable length of time, and, over that time, we’ve dealt with a number of situations, from moving in together, to money, to relocating, to aging, to joint mortgages, to stressful jobs, to understanding the dynamics of a living, breathing relationship.  From the practical and the everyday, to the extraordinary and the rare, perhaps what Chris and I share will make someone else’s life easier or somehow better.

In the end, my greatest hope is that someone else, scared to open his or her life and heart to a potential lifelong partner, will see what the future could hold.  My relationship has transformed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and I hope that I will say something here, and over the following months, that will encourage you to give it a try.   

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Letter to "XTRA! West," 2.0

A couple days ago, I received an email from Robin Perelle, Managing Editor of "XTRA! West," "Vancouver's Gay and Lesbian Biweekly."  She wrote the following:

Thank you for taking the time to add your voice to this important discussion. I’m glad you did. I would be happy to run your letter in the next issue, but we need to trim it first. Your letter is currently 871 words. Letters should not exceed 250 words, in order to give as many people as possible the chance to speak each issue. Could you please send me a shortened version of your letter as soon as possible? 

Excited as I was, the task of cutting 871 words to just 250, while keeping the tone and spirit of the original, seemed daunting, to say the least.  But, hey, I'm a writer, and someday I hope to write for "XTRA! West," so, as far as I was concerned, there was no time like the present to prove to Robin that I was up to challenge of meeting their word limitations.

(A brief word about why my original letter was so long in the first place: Yes, I knew the word limit on letters to the managing editor was 250; however, the issue I wrote about, "sex without shame," had been discussed at some length in several recent issues, and I was certain Robin would be unwilling to publish anything further on the subject. She had herself written an editorial, taking the position that gay people should not be ashamed about having gay sex, and, in fact, should celebrate it, and "XTRA! West" was merely helping us do that by publishing columns and articles with that focus.  With no hope of getting my letter published, I figured I could write whatever I wanted to say, regardless of how many words I used.  Other readers might not see it, but Robin would, and she was the one truly in a position to make a difference about the content of the paper.  Alas, I was wrong.)

With not much time to submit a much-reduced version of my letter, I went to work--printing my original letter; hand counting the words per paragraph; slashing those I knew for sure I didn't need in the revised copy; highlighting those sections that I felt were the gist of what I needed to say.

At first, I tried to keep much of the same wording, but that was impossible.  I had to reduce by at least 671 words, or roughly 71%. Clearly, I couldn't keep a section here and a section there and meet the word limit while keeping most of what I wanted to say.

So, then, I started to think about a different approach altogether. Several opening lines came to me, and I worked with each one, but, projecting ahead, I knew that none but one would allow me to meet the word limitation and still get my point across.

Below, you'll find the final version I sent to Robin yesterday.  Yes, the tone is quite different from the original, which is contained in the post prior to this one, but I didn't think I could write the letter any other way. I was concerned that Robin would advise me she no longer wanted to publish my letter because it was so different from the original, but she seems happy with it.  She sent me an email yesterday to say that my revised letter would be added to those to be published in the upcoming issue.

(Now, if I could just get a paying freelance job from "XTRA! West."  I'd love nothing more than to be on the ground floor of helping them to change and improve their content to meet the needs of the entire gay community, not just the young, club-hopping, single male.)

Dear Managing Editor:

Are you gay or lesbian?  Middle-aged?  In a long-term, committed, even monogamous relationship?

Do you believe that being gay and having gay sex don't define you? That you're a human being first--and gay second?

Could you care less about what the straight community thinks about you having sex with the person you love?

Do you think we should be satisfied with XTRA! West's columns about twenty-somethings seeking love but settling for sex; articles about kept twinks, public sex, S&M, prostitution, and polygamy; reviews of gay and lesbian porn; ads for escorts, bathhouses, and phone sex?

What would you think if XTRA! West published more columns and articles that build up our community; present what's positive about being gay and lesbian; celebrate what makes us unique; feature role models and people of substance; represent all segments of the community, including gay and lesbian couples?

Do you believe that self-hatred is one of the biggest problems in the gay community, leading to risky, destructive, and homophobic behavior. That a newspaper, like XTRA! West, perpetuating through its content the myth that all gays are about is sex, will do little to help us with our greatest challenge--to respect and love ourselves?

Then join me in hoping that we're heard.  We deserve better than this, and we know XTRA! West, the most influential publication in our gay and lesbian community, can provide it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Letter to "XTRA! West," Dated November 5, 2009

Dear Managing Editor:

At the risk of belabouring the "sex without shame" issue that's occupied space in recent editions of "Xtra! West," I can no longer sit by and not add my voice to those already heard.

As a middle-aged gay man, who's no longer a West End resident and who's been in a loving, committed, and monogamous relationship for over seventeen years, I find many of the articles and columns published in "Xtra! West" utterly irrelevant. What do I care about the gay clubs in downtown Vancouver and what's going on in them; twenty-somethings presumably looking for love but settling all too easily for sex; kept twinks, public sex, S & M, prostitution, and polygamy? And what about those reviews of gay and lesbian porn? C'mon, "Xtra! West," are you kidding me?

As a good first step toward positive change, I'd suggest "Xtra! West" be clear on who it serves, and what role it plays in our community. Examine your mission statement. You might discover what you've done over the past number of years no longer meets the needs of your changing readership, and you should be open to that.

On the subject of "sex without shame," as I see it, there are two important points:

First, in his letter to the Editor, Darrell Michaud of Vancouver writes: "Sex, especially who you have sex with, is at the heart of what it is to be gay. It's what defines you as gay."

Mr. Michaud, neither being gay nor having sex with my partner defines me. I'm a human being first, who happens to be gay. As such, I'm keenly interested in all issues that make me human, sex being merely one of them. I'm no more defined by having gay sex than straight people are by having straight sex.

The Vancouver Sun, Metro Vancouver's biggest newspaper, isn't just about straight sex, and all its various perversions, because most of its readers are straight. So why should "Xtra! West," our gay and lesbian community newspaper, be mostly about gay sex, and all of its perversions, because most of its readers are gay? Gay people need to put the role sex plays in their lives into perspective. It's important, but it's by no means everything.

Second, in the same issue, David Myers of Vancouver writes: 'Readers [of "Xtra! West"] who complain about the coverage of [sexual issues such as promiscuity, public sex, SM culture, and prostitution among others] want our community to present a "responsible" and "respectable" face to the public in order to court straight acceptability.'

Frankly, Mr. Myers, I could care less what the straight community thinks about me having sex with another man. Nor do I feel any shame having man-on-man sex.

What I do care about, more than anything else, is how people in our gay community see themselves, particularly in light of the over-emphasis of sex, at the detriment of more important topics, in publications like "Xtra! West." When you see enough of this dreck, in articles and columns, not to mention advertising, you begin to define yourself according to it, as Mr. Michaud apparently has, thereby giving it more importance in your life than it should have.

I'm disappointed in Robin Perelle's defensive comments on this issue in the editorial titled "Sex without shame." To me, there is no relationship between celebrating sex--enjoying it shamelessly--and parading it through the pages of the local newspaper that you're responsible to the entire gay community for editing. Rather than state that the reason why your readers are up in arms with much of the sexual content of "Xtra! West" is because of a backlash against the sexual revolution, and internalized shame for engaging in sex that is unacceptable to the straight community, you should listen to what many of your readers have told you. That returns me to my suggestion above regarding your mission statement, and what your responsibility is to our community.

Arguably the most influential publication in our gay and lesbian community, "Xtra! West" has an opportunity like no other: To present positive aspects of what it means to be gay and lesbian, for the benefit of gays and lesbians, not to appease the straight community. The emphasis should be on building up the community; celebrating what makes us unique in an uplifting and inspirational way; featuring role models and people of substance who set great examples; providing us with information that's current and helpful on a myriad of topics unrelated to sex; representing all segments of the community, including those who have gone largely unnoticed in your pages, such as gay and lesbian couples, and the issues and concerns affecting them.

Self-hatred is epidemic in the gay community and leads to all manner of risky, destructive, and homophobic behavior, which we see consistently in your pages. Using your newspaper primarily to perpetuate the myth that all gays are about is sex will do nothing to help us with the greatest challenge we face: learning to respect and love ourselves 
first, so we are capable of respecting and loving others and accepting that from them in return. I can only imagine what we’ll be capable of if we ever arrive at that place. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Unexpected Lesson from Schulz

Recently, I finished reading Schulz and Peanuts, by David Michaelis. It's the life story of Charles "Sparky" Schulz, who, in the early 1950s, created the Peanuts cartoon strip. Peanutsran almost continuously for the next fifty years, Schulz taking only one short vacation from drawing the strip in the late 1990s.

In 1999, Schulz had a stroke. At the time he went into the hospital for surgery to help with the aftermath of the stroke, his doctors discovered he had colon cancer. The cancer had metastasized, and he was told he was terminally ill.

Canadian Lynn Johnston, Sparky's friend, and creator of the comic strip For Better or For Worse, went to visit him in the hospital. 'He reminisced with Lynn, but all his memories seemed to be about being picked on as a boy, and about how he still wanted to meet the kids who had bullied him face-to-face and get even. "I'd always known that side of him," recalled Lynn, "but at a time when people usually resolve their unresolvable histories by making peace with the past, he was angry that he'd never changed anything. You could see the bitterness in him.... Nothing in all of his seventy-seven years had been resolved."' (p. 562)
I was stunned when I read this, in part, because I too was teased when I went to grade school (which I've written about in prior posts). Although I read Michaelis's book in detail, I don't honestly remember what Sparky was teased about, but I'll take it for granted that he was. I know for a fact he was not teased about being gay.

I was also stunned when I read this because, here is Sparky Schulz, having achieved so much with his deceptively simple, yet complex, and beloved comic strip over five decades, somehow making the choice to recall not how much joy he had brought to millions upon millions of people; not all of the wonderful experiences his strip had afforded him over most of his adult life; not all of the recognition and rewards he'd earned over a lifetime of dedicated service to his art--but, instead, how much he'd been hurt by other children when he was a boy, and how he'd never been able to exact revenge on those who had caused him pain and anguish.

Long ago, through my many trips to Disneyland between 1976 and 2007, I realized that inside each one of us is a child, the child we once were and always will be, even though we grow up and mature, adopting adult characteristics, both mentally and physically. I believe that when we are hurt as an adult, it's that little child inside who feels the pain, as he recalls how he felt in the past when a related hurt was inflicted on him. It's also that child who keeps us in touch with the essence of who we are, with our spirit and our soul. As long as we draw breath, that child inside remains alive within us.

I understand Charles Schulz carrying the hurt from when he was a child into old age. I've always wondered where my own hurt from all those years ago would end up. Often, I think I'm over the pain from the past. I can't say that I've forgiven all of the people who hated me because they thought I was gay. In my own way, I've had to deal with that pain the best I can. But I know for a fact that what I suffered is always close to the surface. It doesn't take much for me, even at fifty years of age, to descend again into how lonely and miserable I felt because I was different from everyone else, and because I had no friends.

And, now, I see from what Sparky is quoted as saying when he was close to death in 2000 that, for some people anyway, they never forget that hurt. And, despite everything else that's happened to them in their lives, all the good and the positives, they remain that wounded child, still needing retribution, still suffering because of what they once endured.

Above all, when I read what Schulz said, I told myself that I don't want to be him on my deathbed. I don't want the bullying and the teasing, and how I felt, and what I still want to do to the bullies, to be among the foremost thoughts on my mind. I do not want my bullies to have the same hold on me, for an entire lifetime, that they had on Charles Schulz.

I must not let that happen. I will not let that happen.