Category Archives: Memoir

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 Behold My Big Hairy Internalized Homophobia!

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For art, go stand by an eagle.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him. Continue reading For art, go stand by an eagle.

Russell Drive, the end

[Because I’ve been quite blocked lately, I’ve been doing Writing Prompts. Here’s one… What is your earliest memory?]

Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t killed.

We moved out of the house on Russell Drive a few days after my third birthday, so consequently I have very few memories of my time there. All my recollections of what it looked like –white with reddish-brown trim and shutters –come from driving by on visits back to the Milwaukee area in subsequent years.

My only memory of the interior is looking up at my mother while she stood in front of the kitchen window while yellow lightning bolts hung in the sky behind her. And that’s not really a memory of the interior when you come to think about it. I have never seen lightning that exact color and duration again. One’s first memory of a thing always comes with a quality that makes it seem not real. You can spend your whole life chasing that first memory. Continue reading Russell Drive, the end

Aqua-Possum

Right now, here in Ohio, it’s about 92 and humid today. This got me thinking about pools. That in turn got me thinking about the first important lesson I ever got in a swim class…

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Youth swimming was a big deal at the Strathmore subdivision’s pool. Whether you were a pollywog or a tadpole or a minnow determined whether you could use the intermediate pool or were relegated to the kiddie pool. The big, big pool was beyond all our dreams and was only for those who graduated into levels with exotic names like “beginner” and “advanced beginner.”

I was five and just trying to get myself from tadpole to minnow so I could flop around unhindered in the intermediate pool. No one ever pooped (hardly) in the intermediate pool. Once you’re past pooping indiscriminately, the thrill of swimming with poop kinda diminishes. To get away from the poop, one had to learn such difficult moves as holding onto the side of the pool and kicking and pushing off from the side of the pool –all real minnow material.

But standing between my minnow badge and me was the instructor, Scott. He was a high school guy with hair that looked the same dry as wet, and, in place of regulation swim trunks, he wore too brief cutoff denim shorts with extra fringe. All in all, he gave the impression more of someone who herded children into a windowless van than into the shallow end of the intermediate pool. Continue reading Aqua-Possum

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

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

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 Don’t touch the Bear there

A review of the Wendy’s at Exit 262 of I-80 in Hazleton, PA…

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Mile marker 262 of any stretch of highway is as good a place stop as any other.

On the eastbound trip along I-80 into NYC, one knows there’s only fifty more miles of Pennsylvania. Better start prepping your mind and your bladder for the descent into the City.

On the westbound journey, one pulls over to steel themselves in the face of the 262 miles of Pennsylvania that lies ahead.

“It’s sooooo long,” people you talk to always seem to know the exact mileage, “311 miles!” And it not just any 311 miles of Pennsylvania, it’s 311 miles of Pennsylvania laid out as to avoid major population centers. You’ll pass by such landmarks as State Game Lands Number 331 and State Game Lands Number 54. The cruel joke here is the original name of the highway was the Keystone Shortway. “You want the shortest way through Pennsylvania? Well, it’s 311 miles. Fuck you. Call it the Shortway, you rest stop fouling bitch!”

“Shortway…” you grovel.

“Good. That’s how Pennsylvania likes its motorists.” Continue reading A review of the Wendy’s at Exit 262 of I-80 in Hazleton, PA…

Open letter to the friend who broke up with me because he thought I was too much of a suicide risk…

Dear _____________________,

First of all, I would like to point out the not-inconsequential fact that it’s two and a half years later, and I’m STILL HERE. I am not dead. I did not do myself in. Obviously, this must be a bit of a surprise for you, considering how close you must’ve thought I was to… to…

Just how did you fantasize I was going to do it? It’s still an odd feeling that someone besides me was contemplating my demise. How far along in the planning stage were you. There has to be some point where thinking about someone else’s upcoming suicide turns into plotting their murder.

Especially when you turn your back. Suddenly. After eight years of friendship.

I still remember that night you cast me out. Things weren’t going so well for me: I had just spent a week on a disastrous vacation that I thought would relax me but turned out to be basically was one long, extended panic attack, and also I just found out that I was in real danger of being evicted from the apartment I loved. I had had a therapy appointment that evening. The therapist, realizing I was in a fragile state, told me to call a friend to talk when I got home –just to stay connected.

Before I left her office, she made me write out and sign a sheet of paper stating that I would not harm myself. I know that might sound stupid to you, but making a promise to someone in writing really makes you step back and think about offing yourself. She also made me promise that I would call a friend. She asked me whom I could call. Yours was the first name I said.

That’s how much you meant to me. You meant so much that I felt I could actually call and talk to you. On the phone. With voices.

I’m not sure you remember the message I left. It was nothing special, just something along the lines of “Hey, it’s me. Had a really rough therapy session, and she said I should call someone to stay connected. Could really use to hear a friendly voice tonight.” Something like that; I can’t remember the exact words I used.

I ordered some pad thai and waited for you to call. When you can’t talk to someone, occupying your mouth with pad thai is the next best thing.

You never called. I went to bed, taking an Ambien to make the day go away.

Then, just as I was drifting off, you TEXTED back. Texting to return a phone message is always a bad sign. Right off the bat, I knew it was bad: “I don’t think I can do this any more,” you wrote. After going on a bit about how I was shiftless and lazy –“At least get a job at a grocery store! Do something!” –you got to the corpse of the matter. “I think you’re going to end up killing yourself, and I can’t be around for that.”

Well, I know you can’t be around for my suicide. That would be sick, just sitting by and watching as I… seriously, how did you imagine this would go down? I bet you were thinking pills. I’ve always have had a lot of pills hanging around because of my Bipolar II condition.

I know you thought you knew all about Bipolar because of that one friend you had who experienced the manic episodes. Not to diminish her suffering, but she has Bipolar I, a disease as different from Bipolar II as Diabetes I and II are from each other. But no matter how often I tried to remind you of this fact, you always insisted on telling me that she had it a lot worse than me.

And on a side note: Never compare one person’s mental illness to another’s, especially when they are different types. You will look like a fool, and will make at least one of the ill people feel even worse.

That’s what sucks about Bipolar II: It doesn’t have the spectacular manias of Bipolar I. Instead, it has a guy sitting on the couch in his underwear watching an Ancient Aliens marathon. I spend a good chunk of my days praying for just a sliver of mania. That what hurts so much about you wishing I would just pull myself together. You don’t get it… That’s the main symptom of Bipolar II –not being able to pull oneself together. Sorry it, and I, wasn’t exciting enough for you.

But I’m used to friends breaking up with me over it, though none have ever done it as cruelly as you. Mostly they just got sick of my whining or whatever. “You’re so passive,” said one. “You lean on me too much,” said another. I could go on and on. Yet, however horrible I feel these guys may have been at the time, I know they would’ve stuck around long enough to make sure I didn’t slit my wrists. (I have a funny feeling you think I would’ve slit my wrists. I don’t know –you just give me that vibe.)

Now, after two and a half years, I still trust people just a little bit less. I had always felt that most of my relationships were on a knife’s edge –that’s just the way it goes with mental illness –but what you did to me intensified that tenfold. I felt I had a special relationship with you, that I didn’t need to sugarcoat what was going on. It may sound weird, but it’s like we shared responsibility for the friendship. Listen, I know it’s hard being friends with the mentally ill because we don’t do normal things. But I like to think that at least 51% of those not normal things are somewhat charming and more than make up for the other 49%.

However, apparently I did need to sugarcoat. Looking back, it seems to me you were you silently judging me every time we hung out for those eight years. I still hardly trust anyone to know what’s really going on mental-wise out of fear that they will throw up their hands and say, “No màs,” the way you did. I have a very small circle of friends left, whom I cherish, but thanks to you, I’m constantly expecting THAT text. And that’s not fair to them.

That night I texted back, “Just wanted to talk to a friend.” That was the last time I’ve ever had any communication with you.

But I’m still here. I’m slowly learning to trust again. And I want to thank you. Not for the trust stuff. You can rot for that.

I wanted to thank you because each time I have a suicidal ideation –and with Bipolar II, they come fast and furious –I know that NOT killing myself would be the biggest “fuck you” to you imaginable. And that “fuck you” is a huge incentive to keep going.

 

Pledge Dance, 1986: Trying to take a nice Greek girl to “Mexico” for the evening…

Joining is important, especially when it comes to alliterative Border Bashes.

The other week I scribbled about how I felt a health care provider with Bob Jones University memorabilia all over his office wall might not provide me with the best care if he found out that I had the gay. Basically, I was stereotyping this poor guy; I had no way of knowing how he would react if he knew I was the gay. Of course, I had not felt comfortable telling him that fact. So, it’s pretty much a wash.

Then yesterday morning, I read about a “Bronx is Burning” themed rave thrown in some warehouse in the South Bronx that will soon be the site for luxury condos. The party featured flaming barrels and bullet-ridden cars. It featured celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Adrien Brody, and one of those Kardashians who’s actually a Jenner. And the biggest household name of all of the lot, cocaine. Needless to say, the social medias are hopping mad. And rightly so. How can people be so tone-deaf?

Which brings me to the esteemed 1986 Beta Border Bash. I went puerco entero in stereotyping the entire nation of Mexico. If I tried to pull this shit now, Gawker would be all over the story. I am certain our Charter would be pulled, and I would still be attending sensitivity seminars to this day.

In my defense, how I sort out my karma for that evening is the price I paid at the time. For a 19yr old addled in hormones, sexual orientation, and general addledness, it seemed like the entire universe was punishing me. Continue reading Pledge Dance, 1986: Trying to take a nice Greek girl to “Mexico” for the evening…