Facing Pride (when the guy who sexually assaulted you will probably be riding on a float)

And when that float comes by, people will cheer. It’s a very popular organization. People like popular things.

I do not feel particularly popular this year.

He’s a very active member of a very active organization that has always mustered a float, going back to the days before every company with a slack-jawed intern’s ability to Photoshop a rainbow onto promotional materials had a float. I assume he will be up the night before putting some sort of tissue paper rainbows on the float because of course rainbows.*

*No one will be able to figure out it’s a float of gays without the agreed-upon signifier. People love agreed-upon signifiers as they are scalable all the way from billboards down keychains down to Pride-themed quarks…“Take this fun quiz to find out if you’re a Top Quark or a Bottom Quark. Then alter your fundamental quantum architecture to show them ‘Love is Love.’”



But I digress. Let me. Let. Me. Digressing is the only way to keep him out of my head now that I’ve confronted him. 

He is everywhere.

The actual incident took place over two years ago, but I had compartmentalized it away. I was busy walling off this particular anchorite even as I was calculating how much friction* was needed on my part to get this the hell over with.

*There has to be a happy medium friction. Not too enthusiastic. That would get it over with, but you need to demonstrate to him that you really, really wish had not chosen this current path that is fucking up your life even as it happens. Not enthusiastic enough, and it may never end.

When you’ve been reduced to mere provider of friction, you’re free to leave your body and wander your mind. You look for an empty chamber in which you can brick up all the emotions attached to whatever hell your body’s going thru. It’s called dissociating. It’s neither fun nor not-fun; that’s the point of it.

So, I walled off what he did; we remained friends; I met new people thru him. I actually had people to stand next to in gay bars. That’s pretty good for me as I am wondrously horrible at small talk. But, I have not been intimate with ANYONE in Ohio since. I am increasingly scared to be alone with people. I let other relationships, ones without sexual assaults wither. I wasn’t worth it.

The physical pain from being scared and clenched all the time sucked, too.

And the panic attacks. Don’t forget the panic attacks.

I had to confront. I had to let him know what he did to me. After getting triggered by particularly lame pass at a May 4th BBQ from a dude in a sad, confusing hat, I spent the next three weeks consumed with the notion that he thought everything was okay. I yelled at a lot of things and and a lot of people.

So, I wrote him a succinct note. Short declarative sentences. The biggest word was “compartmentalize.” I never used “sorry.” And, if you’ve ever spent five minutes with me, you know that’s a big fucking deal.

So, that’s that. Right? I mean, they released the Mueller Report, and the next day we got a functioning democracy back again, right? And my succinct note actually took longer to come into the world.

Everything is now great!

When you stop compartmentalizing something, the shit-covered anchorite you got in there runs amok. It smears the walls and tries the locks on other cells. Some of those open, and those shit-covered anchorites get to rampage, too.

His stupid face is everywhere, even in places it’s not. Week before last, I thought if I went to DC to twirl thru some museums, I could escape him. Lose myself in the loose structure of sightseeing. And, at times, it worked. It’s hard to be think of anything but the Hope Diamond when you’re looking at the Hope Diamond. I saw the moment when two 70 year old women discovered that LL Cool J stands for Ladies Love Cool James.

*

*Then they both tittered, blushed a little, and seemed to get lost in the giant hands Kehinde Wiley had given him (or he actually has; in that case… Damn!). Of course, this was all done in hushed tones, because Mr. Cool James was hanging in the same room as Amy Sherald’s rapidly iconic Michelle Obama. Michelle and LL were brooking no nonsense.

But those moments were fleeting. I couldn’t escape WHY I had driven three hundred miles thru the mountains. I didn’t want to go to DC; I wanted out of Columbus. I did not want to see him, did not want to think of him. So, of course, that’s all I did. I was miserable. I had panic attacks each time I tried to go out at night.

And now this weekend…



They will be parading him thru the streets of Columbus like some golden calf of non-consent. Over half a million folks —the biggest Pride in the Midwest (and West Virginia) —will cheer and smile when the float goes by, and he will smile back. In that moment, his smile and the crowd’s smiles will all be the same to me. I won’t be able to discern whether they mean happiness or threat. The worst shit comes with a smile.

I cannot forget that smile. It’s a smile that in an instant went from a sign of camaraderie and affinity to one of menace and uncertainty. He never stopped smiling, like steamrolling over my withholding of consent was just a fun game. I wasn’t attacked at knifepoint in a dark alley by some right-wing closet-case unfortunate —it happened on a pleasant afternoon, for the most part in my kitchen. After a bit of pleasant chit-chat.

And now I’m supposed to go out and make small talk? I rather stroll thru the parking lot of a dead mall in a dying suburb with glowing fifty-dollar bills stapled to my naked supple man-flesh. At least then I could reasonable be prepared for what happens.

Small talk is now a primary assault vector as far as I’m concerned.

I am overwhelmed by this new variable. I know in my logical brain, when I slow things down, that a smile and some banter are still just as innocuous as they always were. But are they? Were they ever?

What am I supposed to do when the float comes by?

I could stand up on a trash can, point, and go all Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasions of the Body Snatchers.

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J’accuse! 

The crowd will hush, turn to me, and I will clear my throat. My voice will not waver or go into that octave that only the astronauts can hear. In my best police procedural prosecutorial tone, I will calmly, forcefully lay out why they shouldn’t fucking be smiling at him. 

They will stop smiling. Someone will suggest harming the guy, teaching him a lesson. No, I will say, let this be a teaching moment, but for everyone. I will make a sweeping hand gesture. I will urge them to examine their own actions.

How have they contributed to an LGBT community that in many, many ways valorizes toxic power bullshit?*

*For examples of toxic power bullshit, look at the flyers to your next club “night.”

How often have they laughed off assault as just something that happens? Just something you’re asking for by walking into a bar?

Have they ignored someone’s NO, treated it as the starting point of a zero-sum game?

Everyone will be quiet for a moment. A few will weep, but then smiles all around. Folks will hug (only if they want to), happy the air has cleared. The parade will continue, just a little more chill and respectful. They will make me King Gay.

OR… I will fly up like the pissed-off chupacabra I am, and I will rip out his carotid artery with my teeth or beak or whatever chupacabras have. Then I will shake it around like a chew toy, howl, and dive into the Scioto. Everyone will know my righteous anger.

BUT… I will shrink. My anger and shame and confusion and loneliness will register with no one. The “community” that Pride supposedly offers is not for me this year. I cannot compete with tissue paper rainbows and FUN. I will disappear into a Mobius of blaming myself while knowing that I did nothing wrong. And he will be on a float. I can’t square that. I shouldn’t have to.

Wait, you say… You’re always going on about how you hate “corporate Pride.” And you hate crowds. Like you’re going anywhere near 500,000 people all milling about and bumping into each other. So, you’re not even planning on going… What gives? Why are you buying trouble?

Because, I want to be able to avoid the Pride parade on my own terms. I don’t want to have to avoid it because I’m scared to see his stupid, stupid face. Or remember his stupid, stupid bad touch.

I want to avoid it because I don’t like it. Now, if I don’t go, it’s a personal defeat, not me being too cool for school. I don’t have much. So, if you take away my ironic detachment, you’ve really hobbled me as an individual.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend. I know I’m not supposed to hide. He’s certainly not going to. He’s popular; people want to see him. I’ve spent over two years shrinking away out of shame; no one will miss me. Pride is for winners.

Geez, I can’t let that be my new narrative. It can’t be dictated by a guy who thought I was a person until he didn’t want me to be one anymore. 

But what am I supposed to do? Go, mill about, and hope that I “understand” peoples’ smiles?

I’m really stuck.

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25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day nine.

I got the window seat at the coffee shop on a snowy day…

Bite me, Mrs. Murphy!

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Instead of doing what I “should” be doing, I’m looking at snow.

It’s a wintry vindication.

Being able to stare at snow in lieu of work is one of my most cherished activities. It’s been that way since the first day it snowed outside of Mrs. Murphy’s fifth grade class at Malibu Elementary in Virginia Beach.

That helmet-haired, pinchy-faced woman was probably the most damaging teacher I’ve ever had. Continue reading

A Lamprey with a Gavel

 

I had to turn away from the television during his testimony. I just couldn’t look at his garbage mouth any longer.

I got through hers. I rooted for her because I related to her being terrified, her asking politely for caffeine, and going all nerd under stress. Thank the baby jeebus nothing in her account triggered me too badly. I’ve never encountered physical sexual abuse. I have been “persuaded” into providing unenthusiastic consent on numerous occasions, some much worse than others. Example: here’s a special place in hell for the woman in college who asked “You do like girls, don’t you?” as a negotiating tactic. But nothing physical. I’m lucky. I’m a pretty big guy. As my grandpa would say, “Strong like bull; dumb like ox.” I can look real mean, like I’m about to go berserker, and I have a very low center of gravity.

But the Brett Kavanaughs of my life did physically abuse me. Sometimes it was fists. Once it was milk crate. Or it could be having to run until I felt like my heart would burst. Or it was the constant stress of never knowing where the next attack would come from.

And when the bullies cornered me —and they always eventually did —all I could focus on would be their mouths. I couldn’t look at their eyes because that would only enrage them. I would focus on the mouth because it was always pointed in my direction. And the mouths were always moving. I would fixate on those mouths until my entire field of vision was some twirling psychedelic bully-mouth kaleidoscope. Whatever crap they were spewing pulsated into almost-music. Sometimes it would seem like the bully’s toadies were dancing like go-go toadies to the almost-music of his hate. It’s easier to take the blows if you imagine they’re dancing.

If you turn away from the mouth, you start to react. People don’t like it when you react to bullies. How people react to you reacting is worse than whatever you’re dissociating away from at the present time. So you stare at the mouth.

Sometimes it seems like their teeth have come detached from their jaw and are just swimming around in pink spit.

All bullies have the same mouth. When that much anger, illogic, and saliva get forced thru a small opening, the force of the hate begins to change their faces. The mouths cease being human. They become mere conduits for an ugliness so old, so gross that you’d have to go really far back in time for an analog, to some back channel of the evolutionary tree. Continue reading

It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

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This is what you get when you Google “melancholy shark.”

CUE VOICE (FROM BEHIND ME AND TO THE RIGHT):

Remember how the Sugar Free Dr. Pepper fizzed in your mouth and all over your face? Remember how a little fountain of Sugar Free Dr. Pepper shot out of the gap between your front teeth? Remember how one of the Xanaxes got loose and, through a forced perspective, seemed to hover in front of the faces of your dorm-mates. And, drama queen, they’re there because you summoned everyone to their windows for the fountain spectacular. Now we’re just going to freeze it here and zoom in on your roommate, Larry, standing naked in one of full-length stairwell windows. And let’s put one of those shadow circles around Larry’s ridiculous penis. Wow, if everything had gone according to your impulsive non-plan, one of last things on your retinas would’ve been an image of quite possibly the largest member you’ve ever side-eyed.

Y’know how during August, when it’s Shark Week, how you have Shark Week proper on The Discovery Channel, but there’s also Shark everywhere else? All the little ancillary remora channels of the Discovery Network are shark-flogging. Then Colbert does a bit about how the Mueller probe is like Shark Week. Then one of those weird retro channels that have decimal points in their ID programs a block of sitcom episodes where the shark is jumped. Yes, the Fonz is there. Then your Facebook feed fills with sad pictures of sharks with their dorsal fins hacked off because shark fin soup is cruel, and sharks are not the mindless killing machines that Discovery portrays! Didn’t you know that?!? Why do you hate Mother Ocean? You suck at being woke. Then, in response, Discovery has a night where they assure everyone that sharks are perfectly reasonable denizens of Mother Ocean. Sharks gotta shark. Then they will show slow-motion video of hacked-off dorsal fin set to whatever Sarah MacClachlan-ish collection of chords they own the rights to. Then there will be a BP commercial.

You cannot escape Shark Week. That is the whole point of Shark Week. It is a merciless engine.

Well, it’s June, and this June it isn’t Shark Week. It’s Suicide Week. Continue reading

“The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Please note: For the piece itself I will forgo the exclamation point after Jeopardy. It is stupid. If they had one of those Spanish upside-down exclamation points before it, too, I would happily reconsider.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop writing. I forgot my earbuds, and I’m way too lazy to walk out to the car and grab my “emergency” pair. Then I remembered that I auditioned for Jeopardy three weeks ago, and, as parting gifts, they gave me a set of Jeopardy! earbuds and a Jeopardy pen. “Please do not use the pen as a ‘practice’ buzzer. We do not travel the country to hear people click pens.” Noted. The earbuds came in a little Jeopardy blue pouch –Pantone 2935 U, because if you want to be on Jeopardy, you need to know these things. I took the pouch out of my bag, removed the buds, and flopped the pouch on my table. It landed logo-side-down.

IMG_1183That would not do. I flipped the pouch over. Now folks coming through the front door of Luck Brothers Coffee can see the blue of the pouch highlighted against the black of the café table. This is by design. When the eye is fully adjusted to darkness, blue stands out against a black background more than any other color. This is why railroad signals and those little reflectors people in the country use to mark their driveways are blue. Yes, it’s bright sunny out today, and everyone’s eyes are adjusting in the opposite direction, but if someone does ask me about the pouch I can tell them all about blue reflectors. And they will say, “Wow! You certainly do belong on Jeopardy!”

In my time as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ (I figure I should start trademarking various aspects of my upcoming fame and icon-hood), I have been amazed at how many people are interested in the audition process. As luck would have it, my audition coincided with a visit to NYC to see friends that I was already planning. (I used to live in NYC. If someone asks about the blue pouch, I can also work in that I used to live in NYC. Moreover, I will tell them I lived in Brooklyn because that’s more specific, and people crave specificity –especially specificity that involves the word “Brooklyn.”) So in NYC, instead answering “Why are you visiting?” with “Columbus is boring.” I could proudly say, “I had a Jeopardy audition.”

Then they would inhale a little bit, maybe subconsciously stroke their hair or beard with a couple fingers. “You did?!? Please do tell me all about it? This will certainly be enlightening and fill an intellectual void I did not know I had.” Continue reading

Behold My Big Hairy Internalized Homophobia!

dragqueenheelsThe words stung even though they weren’t directed at me. They stung even though they were only in a Facebook post about someone I did not know, existing only in ones and zeros. They stung even though the person who typed those ones and zeros has never been anything but really nice to me, and again, they were not directed at me.

But, you know what? Everything’s about me. The words stung.

The post’s author noted that he got blocked on Facebook a lot by “old white men suffering from much internalized homophobia.”

And then someone replied, “So no real loss.”

Ouch. Those couple of phrases divorced themselves from the larger context of the thread, which, again, had nothing to do with me. The second those words hit my optic nerve, my brain separated them out and transmogrified them into a Broadway marquee dripping with flashing, chasing incandescent bulbs. How could I not? I may not be sure of a lot of things about myself, but one thing I do know is that I AM AN OLD WHITE GUY SUFFERING FROM MUCH INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA.

At first, I tried to slough it off. It’s just ones and zeros. That didn’t work; still lodged in my brain. Then I tried to laugh along with it. I typed back something to the effect of “I’m a quivering, sentient mass of internalized homophobia, and I still like ya.” Ha ha… way to internalize a comment about internalization, Chris!

Nope, still stings. Then I decided to really use my words and write about it. After all, I’ve been blocked lately and was looking for something to cattle prod the muse. I thought about latching on to the word “old,” focusing on the all-too-typical and typically boring ageism rampant among the homosexual element. Everyone two or more years older than you is “old,” and everyone two or more years younger than you is “a baby.” I could go full Gen-X Cranky on it with something along the lines of a listicle titled “Eight Ways Millennials are Ruining Internalized Homophobia.”

That still didn’t scratch that itch because the ageism really didn’t trigger me. One gets inured to it. Turn, turn, turn. Sands through the hourglass. Blah blah blah. No, it was the phrase “internalized homophobia” and the way it was just tossed off like a random salad. Continue reading

#MyFirstGayBar Part II… I discover gay bars don’t necessarily have to suck at The Phoenix, NYC

I felt that yesterday’s post about my first time in a gay bar was a bit of a downer, so here’s some words about finally finding a gay bar where I felt accepted.

I didn’t come out until 2000 when I was a whopping 33 years old. This isn’t going to be a tale about me tiptoeing into my first bar (for proper reasons; see above). I had sold pants at Dillards in Austin for a few years during grad school, so I was constantly being dragged to places like Oil Can Harry’s in the name of workplace colleague bonding.

No, this is about finally finding a place I liked. When I came out in Austin, I tried going out to the bars there. My entire circle of gay peers consisted of the sad sacks in my coming out support group, and they hated me because I admitted that drag queens kind of frightened me. I needed friends, and I figured I could meet maybe one or two at any one of Austin’s several gay establishments.

It didn’t work out that way. I hardly talked to anyone basically because I felt so uncomfortable in the Austin bars. They were not for me. My only pleasant memory of Oil Can Harry’s was that night I closed the place and found a nice GAP shirt on the empty dance floor in my size. The Chain Drive, the leather/bear bar in town, had fluorescent lighting.

Fluorescent lighting.

phoenixOne winter break, early 2002, I decided to spend a week in NYC. I found a cheap guesthouse on Second Avenue and 13th Street in the East Village and set out, armed with my Damron guide. I didn’t have to go far –The Phoenix was only two long blocks away. First thing I noticed was the music. I had no idea that gay folk who listened to the same type of music as me existed. To this day, I think The Phoenix had the best-curated jukebox I’ve ever encountered. Continue reading

#MyFirstGayBar: I’m a jerk at the Gold 9, Studio City, CA

My first visit to a gay bar was to the now-defunct Gold 9 in Studio City, CA, and it was as awash in closeted homophobia as you can get. You see, this took place a full ten years before I came out. To this day, I worry I was a jerk.

Several of us from my film program at the University of Michigan had moved out to LA late in 1990 to pursue our dreams. We all settled within a few miles of each other in the Valley or in Hollywood proper. To make LA seem a little more like home, one Saturday afternoon we set out to “interview” bars, to see which ones offered the proper mix of drink prices and amenities like pool and darts.

It was going along all very heteronormatively as the six of us walked into Gold 9 on that slow Saturday afternoon. It seemed like a nice dive, nothing out of the ordinary. Two gentlemen were shooting pool so my friend Mark wrote his name on the chalkboard. Beers were obtained. We chatted among ourselves, completely unaware of our surrounding; it wasn’t as though the Gold 9 was awash in rainbow splendor. Continue reading

Don’t touch the Bear there

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The belly in question.

This morning I’m filling out my registration for this year’s Bear Pride, which is to be held over Memorial Day in Chicago. For the uninitiated, the term “Bear” refers to larger gay men who usually choose to sport facial hair. They proclaim that they prefer to gather in groups with other “Bears” to get a little something-something and to fight the stigma of body shaming.

There is a lot of body shaming.

I know I don’t wear flannel shirts and a beard because they look particularly fetching on me. I wear flannel shirts and a beard because flannel shirts are easy to find in XXL, and a beard is really only the socially acceptable way to cover a triple chin, extra jowly.

So I will travel to Chicago for Bear Pride to NOT be nervous about my body and instead judge people on normal things like the wittiness of their quips, or the irony of their t-shirts, or inanity of their WOOF tattoos. [FYI to the uninitiated: Some Bears like to say “Woof.” Avoid these Bears. They are stupid, and this one word will be the extent of their conversation.] Continue reading

Three affirmations arising out of 2016: Week One.

Try to type “affirmations” without sounding like a d-bag. Go ahead, try.

The first week of 2016 has been full of affirmations. I’ve been encountering the word everywhere –in print, on signs, in casual conversation. Even my friend Damian referred to his liking a photo I posted on Facebook as “affirming the photo.”

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The affirmed photo. Highbanks MetroPark.

But before I go into detail about any more of the instances, I need to acknowledge how silly I feel writing about affirmations. Yes, I’m a silly, self-centered man for foisting my New Year’s affirmation encounters upon you, but it’s deeper than that… I feel silly even typing “affirmations.” I wish there was a font that adequately conveyed the voice I feel I need to use to whenever I say the word “affirmations.” My normal voice will not suffice, mainly because it feels weird to hear “affirmations” in my own voice, in my own head, thru the bones in my face. I feel that “affirmations” is best said in a voice and timbre similar to that which I use for the outgoing message on my phone –the voice that’s acutely aware it had to go thru speech therapy in the fifth grade along with all the other boys who couldn’t throw a ball.

Affirmations: I say it deeper, but more out of the body. Like there’s a speaker playing a self-help cassette an inch in front of my face. And I’ve taken a couple Quaaludes.

Affirmations. Continue reading