Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“It’s our second date, and I’m not sure I love you. It’s time to break up.” –Gay Haiku

My last blog seemed to be a little heavy for some people, so I figured I’d keep this one on the light side. I want to share some of my dating stories here; the only problem is that I don’t know which one to start with. Dating is such an interesting experience, and I’ve dated a fair share of strange people which has naturally resulted in a fair share of dating stories to be told. One of my favorites involves a very nice, well intentioned guy from the Middle East. At one time, he told me what his birth name was, but I don’t recall that now. When he got his U.S. Citizenship, he changed his name to an ‘American Name’ to make it easier on everyone else. Though I’m sure no one reading this will know to whom I’m referring, I’ll refer to him as David moving forward.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I find ethnic men irresistible. I’d seen David at the local gay bar on multiple occasions, but I was too intimidated to approach him. Exteriorly, he was exactly my type, but my miniature self esteem lead me to believe he was completely out of my league. Thus, my interactions with him had been nonexistent. It was your typical Friday night for me and my best friend. We pre-partied at my apartment while we got ready to go out, called a cab around 11:00 PM and hit the bar for one last drink before dancing the night away. My friend and I got separated while we were getting our drinks, but before I knew it, she was stumbling up to my inebriated self telling me that she wanted to introduce me to her friend. This didn’t strike me as odd because she knew nearly everyone in the bar and I was frequently introduced to her old pals. This time was different; she was introducing me to David! What made this different was that she wasn’t actually friends with him. I’d pointed him out to her on previous occasions and she had no idea who he was. Being the fantastic Fag hag (although she hates that term LOL) she was, she’d set out on a mission to talk to him and introduce him to me. By the time I met him, I was too intoxicated to be shy or withdrawn in anyway. All my inhibitions were thrown out the window and we ended up dancing and kissing the night away.

As the lights came on in the club and we all made our way out to the night air, he began trying to persuade me to go home with him. Luckily for me, I’d set a firm boundary about not leaving the bar with someone I don’t know. The boundary was so clear in my mind that even in the smashed state I was in, I was able to stand firm on my no. However, I did get his telephone number and promised to call him on Sunday. He told me that he didn’t believe I’d really call because I was too drunk to remember, but I put my mind to it, and I did follow through on my word. I called him two days later and we decided to go on a date the next day. It was toward the end of September, so the haunted houses around town were all open. The plan was set; we’d meet at Nightmare on 13th the following evening for a Monday jaunt through a spook alley.

Unfortunately, the haunted house was only open on the weekends at that point in their season. Consequently, we ended up meeting up in an empty parking lot. It worked out well though because we decided to grab some coffee at a nearby Starbucks. Although I’m not a fan of coffee, these types of dates seem to always work out best. They’re totally casual and there are no distractions. You can just sit and look into the other person’s eyes and make conversation. We stayed until Starbucks was nearly ready to close before we finally made our way for the door. The conversation was flowing easily; there weren’t the awkward silences which are typical of a first real conversation. As we walked through the doors of Starbucks, we decided not to call it a night just yet. We ended up walking around the city blocks a couple of different directions. As midnight approached, we started heading back to our cars. Before we went our separate ways, he invited me to his place that next Wednesday for dinner and a movie.

Wednesday came surprisingly quickly considering how excited I was. I realize it was only two days away, but that new, puppy love feeling really makes time seem to move slowly. Here I was, being pursued by an incredibly attractive, intelligent, kind man whom I’d secretly been admiring for months. I drove to his apartment and was greeted with a unique smell of the foreign dinner he had prepared. It was strangely delicious; my Americanized taste buds didn’t quite know what to make from all the new flavors but I really enjoyed it. After dinner, we sat down and cuddled through a Gay Indie flick. It was cute, but clearly a low budget film; as they often are within that genre. As the credits began rolling, he leaned over and started kissing me. It was quickly evident that he was interested in a little more than a little kissing. Again, I had to stand firm on the boundaries I’d set. After all, I hadn’t known him a week yet, and although we’d had amazing conversation, I really didn’t know him well at all. He was respectful of my wishes and didn’t attempt to take things any further than kissing after that.

Later that evening, as I made my way to the door, he offered to walk me out to my car like a true gentleman. As we approached my car, he turned and asked, “So what do I call you?” (This story is much funnier if you hear (or at least imagine) his accent). I was flabbergasted! My initial response was to blurt out, “Blake!” But I knew that would be abrasive and tactless. Though I knew what he meant when he asked, I felt the better road would be to ask him to clarify and restate exactly what he was asking. His reply was truly funny, “If my friends ask, are we boyfriends who don’t have sex?” My emotions were all over the place at this point, I didn’t know if I was mortified, confused, ecstatic, nervous, or a million other emotions streaming through me at that instant. It was probably a mix of all of the above. Part of me wanted to burst out laughing right there, but I knew that would make for some awful Karma. I politely explained to him that we were just two guys who were casually dating and trying to get to know each other better.

I drove straight to my best friend’s house to fill her in on this strange turn of events. We discussed the situation in detail. Our conversation further exacerbated my fears of the evening’s happenings. Being the dramatic gay people we were, we quickly convinced ourselves that he would end up being some kind of possessive-stalker type. Our thought process was that anyone who’s totally ready to commit before having known the other person for a week must be completely unbalanced. In retrospect, I feel bad for cutting things off after that night. I may have been a little quick to judge, but then again, a few weeks later, I ran into him at another local gay bar. My experience there was reassuring that I’d made a good decision to keep him at a safe distance.

David and I hadn’t spoken in several weeks, so I didn’t think anything of it when I noticed him inside. Then he looked up and very obviously saw me. Immediately, he looked away and started dancing incredibly close to the nearest guy he could get his hands on. I’m sure you’re probably thinking that it was all in my head, no one would become that attached after a mere 5 days of talking and then a couple weeks of no contact. He couldn’t possibly have been deliberately trying to make me jealous! (Not that he succeeded in making me jealous, I am just left to assume that’s what he was attempting to accomplish) I may have second guessed his reaction to seeing me in later memories of the situation had it not been for my best friend. She’d witnessed the same actions and couldn’t contain her laughter. She was utilizing the laugh we refer to as her, ‘Hearty Beef Stew Laugh.’ This is one of those full bellied, deep, loud laughs which are unavoidably contagious. She couldn’t get over the comedic display we’d just witnessed.

A few hours later, we’d been dancing and having a good time when I turned to see David right behind me. He wasn’t merely dancing near me; he was standing directly behind me. As soon as his eyes met mine, he threw his arms around me. After what seemed to be an uncomfortably long hug, he pulled back and told me he missed me while tears rolled from both eyes. All at once, I felt awful and grateful. I hate the thought that I had caused someone pain. I’m a sympathetic person with compassion for everyone around me, and knowing that someone was hurting as a direct result of something I’d done was disheartening to say the least. On the other hand, if he was still this caught up on me, all these weeks later, after having only actually spoken on 3 separate occasions spanning 5 days, it was probably best that I hadn’t gotten more involved.

Friday, February 19, 2010

“There’s no torment in coming out. The torment is in being in.” ~Armistead Maupin

After posting my last blog, I planned on telling more dating stories because they can be quite comical. However, I’ve had several people give me feedback that they wanted to hear more about my coming out process. There are so many details involved in the process I went through to finally reach the point of coming out. I fear I won’t be able to adequately fide words to describe my experiences as to provide justice to my coming of age saga.

There was never a time I recall not feeling attracted to males. At different times in my life, it meant different things and resulted in different behaviors, but it was always there. The first crush I remember was on a kid from a movie. In fact, my infatuation ran deep enough that every time I played ‘house’ with my sisters, I took on his character’s name. Additionally, whenever we’d play, my [pretend] wife and I would quickly get divorced. Although my parents were, and still remain married, whenever we’d play, I would not stay married for more than a few minutes. I knew deep down that I was ‘supposed’ to marry a woman, but I also knew, whether consciously or unconsciously, that I’d rather not have a woman in that aspect.

Of course, at the time of my movie star crush, I didn’t recognize my feelings as being a crush. Not for this child actor, nor for any of the other boys from my childhood whom I had become smitten with. Quite the contrary, I developed ‘crushes’ on girls. In retrospect I can clearly see that I mistook feelings of friendship for crushes and vice versa. I can hear your questions in my mind already. “How do you know you mistook your feelings, maybe you were right back then and wrong now?” The answer is simple, societal norms are presented to children at a young age. Everyone is taught that boys should ‘like’ girls and develop friendships with other boys. Naturally, we don’t view ourselves as ‘outside the norm’ as children, so I assumed my feelings were the same as everyone else. Further exacerbating this misconstruction of my feelings, I overheard a conversation between my mother and an attractive female friend she had. I don’t recall the exact words, but it was along the lines of my mom telling her that she admired this woman for her beauty. Hearing this allowed me to feel okay about ‘admiring’ boys for their looks. After all, my mother had expressed these feelings outright. It must be completely normal to recognize that someone is attractive and ‘admire’ them for that attribute. Needless to say, I spent altogether too much time ‘admiring’ boys at school moving forward, though I never brought myself to the point of vocalizing these thoughts.

There were other feelings and desires I experienced during childhood which I recognized were ‘outside the norm’ and thus did my best to hide them. I never really enjoyed playing with boy toys such as Army men and trucks. I loved my sisters’ toys, especially Barbies! There were several times I played Barbies with them, or by myself. I knew that if I was playing with my sisters, or any other girl, I was mostly safe from the ridicule. However, whenever anyone caught me playing with them by myself, I’d quickly tear their heads off or something else to demonstrate to whoever saw that I wasn’t actually ‘playing’ with them. I hated having to do this! My heart yearned to be able to play Barbies for hours and hours without interruption or sudden death by decapitation.

As I got older, I began to recognize that I wasn’t merely admiring boys, nor was I crushing on girls. Along with these realizations came the conclusion that I was different. Although I didn’t have a full grasp of what homosexuality was, anything different meant bad, especially in a small, close-knit community like Star Valley, Wyoming. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know, Star Valley has a higher percentage of Mormons than the entire State of Utah. I too belonged to this faith. While we didn’t spend too much time discussing gay issues in church, the topic had been touched on enough for me to know that any ‘inclination’ toward it was awful. I turned to God, praying to be more normal. Obviously, that didn’t work, so I changed my stance on things. I’d slowly gone from feeling ‘abnormal’ to feeling worthless, shameful, hollow, alone, lost, scared, betrayed, forgotten, unloved, unwanted, unlovable, and an assortment of other negative feelings. At the bright old age of 12, I remember kneeling down and praying to get cancer or some other illness that would end everything. That way no one would ever have to know how I truly felt inside. It was so appalling to know that I was attracted to men, even in the slightest degree.

By the time I was 14 or 15, I’d fully accepted the fact that I was bisexual. However, I had no intention of ever succumbing to the temptation of dating men. That would be a sin beyond imagination! I was a strong faithful young man. I was going to serve a fulltime mission for the Church and return with honor to marry a wonderful young woman, and no one would ever have to know how I truly felt inside. Even though I knew I’d never act on these feelings, it didn’t stop me from feeling awful for merely experiencing them. By this time, I’d given up on the idea of cancer from God and had begun making considerations to take things into my own hands as a precaution. Even death would be better than becoming Gay!!! Suicide would become my fallback plan in case I was to realize that I couldn’t fight any longer. It was about that time that I discovered the pleasure and release of cutting. The self mutilation, while it provided a temporary release from reality, a small break in the anguish I was experiencing, it wasn’t enough and soon led to an actual suicide attempt.

Prior to the suicide attempt, I’d sought counseling with my bishop; however, after the attempt on my life, my parents took me to a couple of paid therapists. I use the term paid because I truly don’t feel that they were qualified to be actual therapists, yet my parents were paying for me to visit with them. I didn’t click well with either of the ‘therapists’ I was seeing and found out later that one of them actually told my mom that I was a spoiled brat, begging for attention and a bit more discipline would solve all my problems. Eventually, my bishop recommended that my parents bring me to a counselor in Salt Lake City with LDS Family Services. When I look back at my experience with that therapist, it is bitter sweet. I enjoyed therapy with him because he specifically dealt with the ‘Same Sex Attraction’ issues or SSA as he termed it. It was incredibly comforting to know that I was not alone. He recommended my parents purchase a book designed for LDS men struggling with ‘SSA.’ I remember staying up late hours crying while reading this book. It was such a weight off my shoulders to know that I was not alone. But at the same time, even though traditional therapists had long since abandoned attempts of ‘treating’ homosexuality as a disease, this Church-operated therapy facility was doing just that. He spent time teaching me how to stop these thoughts of SSA. In fact, one of the exercises was for me to envision an actual stop sign in my head anytime I saw a male and felt attracted to him.

After a few months with this therapist, it was clear that things were still getting worse, though the downward spiral had slowed a lot through meeting with him. There were other behavioral issues coupled with the Same Sex Attraction which led him to suggest that my parents place me in an intensive treatment center for troubled youth. My bishop got the approval for the Church to pay for the treatment center. I later heard that he explained to the people making those types of decisions that if they didn’t help my parents pay for treatment, they would end up helping to pay for a funeral. Although the treatment center was not the best of experiences for me and ended very dramatically, I honestly believe that my bishop was right. They had prevented me from ending my own life, for that reason alone, I feel that my stay there was a success.

While my parents were making plans for me to enter treatment, I was busy being a teenager. Toward the end of my Junior year of high school, I had changed the word I chose to identify myself from bisexual to gay. It’s interesting to think back to that time in my life. I was truly living a double life. On the outside, and whenever I was around other people, I truly wanted to be straight, or at least to live that way. But when I was all alone, my desire to let go and embrace this aspect of me was so strong! At this time, I was still planning on fighting it with everything I had so I could have a temple marriage and an eternal family. Deep down I knew the impossibility of that dream, yet I held tight to the hope of normalcy, or at least the appearance of normalcy.

There was a guy in my high school, we’ll call him Cory, who was obviously gay. People talked about it frequently, myself included. The more I began to accept that part of me though, the less I talked about him. Then one night at a school dance, one of my good friends told me, “Cory is Gay!” I retorted and asked her how she knew he was gay. To which she quickly responded, “He told me himself.” That sent a chill through my soul! He had mustered up the courage to actually vocalize how he felt. Not only that, but this girl, and the other girl he’d told his secret to, were still friends with him. It took me a few more weeks before I followed Cory’s lead and came out to the same two girls. They laughed and thought I was joking, but then I explained myself a bit more until they believed me, or so I thought. Years later, when this same friend met my first boyfriend, she acted shocked, like it was a total surprise to her.

Within weeks of coming out to these friends, I entered the treatment center. I spent just over 5 months there. I learned a lot, and discovered new tools to fight my homosexual desires. Yes, during the course of treatment, I reverted backward and was going to try to fight for a straight lifestyle once more. Toward the end of my stay in treatment, I began seeing a Doctor who was going to repair my brain and remove the attraction toward men. The process included a full day of personality tests combined with sexual arousal tests. The results came back about a week later confirming that I was in fact suffering from a ‘deviant attraction to males my own age.’

The way this change therapy worked was to have me write down two stories. One story involved me engaging in a sexual act with a man. The other story involved me engaging in a sexual act with my future wife, specific to include the feelings of love and companionship we would share. Once I wrote the stories, they would hook me up to some machines to monitor my heart and respiratory rates and another machine called a penile plethysmograph, which involved a copper ring which was placed around the base of my penis. This machine would monitor changes in blood flow and therefore determine a state of arousal. Once I was properly attached to the equipment, I would read the story about me with a man. Anytime any of these machines detected a state of arousal, a Tupperware bowl was placed in front of my nose and the lid was removed. The Tupperware contained a moose liver. But not just any moose liver, this one had been sitting out for far too long and had turned colors. The smell was enough to make you want to snort battery acid to find refuge! Once the moose liver had been inhaled long enough for the arousal to go away, I would read the other story I’d written. This story was followed up with a piece of candy to reward myself for the possibility of arousal to the thought of a wife in some future life. Using these methods, we would ‘retrain’ my brain to avoid the ‘deviant arousal’ altogether. Luckily for me, I ran away from therapy shortly after completing the preliminary testing.

Not quite a year after running away, I had fully embraced the fact that I was gay. I was ready to come out to the world and live honestly. I was sick of the shame I felt in hiding all these years. I didn’t know quite how to approach my parents with the news. Additionally, I had a girlfriend still, and I needed to figure out some way to tell her. She and I had planned a road trip together, and I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to tell her what was going on. Unfortunately, she broke up with me first and we canceled the trip. She didn’t find out my secret until about a month later, in the same cowardly way I told the majority of my friends. I wanted to plan out some way to tell my parents, but I was so afraid of their reaction that I couldn’t just come out and say it. My thoughts were to just go on a date and on my way out the door say, “Bye mom, I’m going on a date … with John!” and then run out the door. The only problem with that was I didn’t have a John, or a gay boy by any other name for that matter.

I got online and quickly found Gay.com, a personal ad / social networking / cyber chat website. I wrote the names of the handles of a few guys I’d chatted with, and across the top of the page, I labeled it ‘Gay.com.’ I folded up the paper and hid it in my room between two DVDs. Little did I know, my younger sister had a habit of borrowing my DVDs without asking. Naturally, one day she happened to choose one of the two DVDs I was using to hide my note. This resulted in my paper landing on the floor. Of course she couldn’t just keep it folded and put it back where it was, she opened it, read it, and took it straight to my parents.

That night when I got home from work, my parents pulled me into the bedroom for a meeting. I had no idea what it could be about, but I was incredibly nervous. My mom unfolded the paper and held it out to me asking what it was. My initial instinct was to quickly lie, the same way I had done for so many years up to that point. I opened my mouth to spout out the best cover-up I could come up with, when I hesitated, thought better of it, and said, “It’s exactly what it looks like.” She acknowledged the fact that it meant that I was gay. Then she got this disgusted, horrified look on her face and said, “But doesn’t that gross you out? A penis in your butt!?!” I was mortified!!! I spent the next little while explaining that love was not about sex, it’s about companionship. Sex is just one aspect of a loving relaionship.

My parents informed my sisters and they each took turns interrogating me about my feelings and attractions and anything else they could think of. Next came the daunting task of outing myself to the extended family and all my close friends. I had won tickets to Lagoon, so I invited my best friend to come up from Wyoming and go to Lagoon with me. The entire day, I was trying to come up with the courage to say what was on my mind. As we were getting ready to leave, we walked out to his car and he played me some songs from the ‘Chicago’ musical soundtrack. After he was finished, I told him that I had something important to say. “I’m Gay.” He looked completely shocked. He spent the next several minutes telling me that it was the worst mistake I’d ever make in my life. It was an abominable sin against God and he desperately wished I would reconsider. After a time, it was clear that I wasn’t going to obtain his acceptance, and he wasn’t going to change my opinion on the matter. That was six and a half years ago. Even though I’m still friends with him, I use the term ‘friend’ loosely. We’re both friends with the same people, so whenever we have our get-togethers, we see each other, but aside from that we really have no contact. And even at these events, the conversation between us is limited. Right after he returned from his mission, we were all together at a friend’s house playing board games, he got up to leave and said that he felt like he should go around and shake everyone’s hand. It was funny and everyone laughed while he proceeded around the circle, starting to my left, shaking everyone’s hand, but ending with the person to my right in the circle. It wasn’t obvious to anyone but me that he had deliberately skipped my hand while making his rounds. To this day, the only physical contact I’ve had with him was once when he handed me his keys so I could move his car and my fingers brushed his palm while I picked up the keys. It’s very clear that he’s very uncomfortable around me. It’s almost as if he thinks I’m going infect him with homosexuality or something.

After the negative response I got when I came out to him, I was too cowardly to tell anyone else in a face to face manner. I wrote out an e-mail to my other close friends and a few cousins explaining that I am gay and that I wasn’t going to change, and they could either accept me as I am, or we could agree to move on from the friendship. To my utter surprise and delight, every one of my remaining friends responded with love and kindness. A few felt the need to explain their feelings a bit further in letting me know that they may not agree with my ‘choice,’ as they called it, but they loved me no matter what and we’d always be friends.

The last friend from high school I discussed this with is actually someone I’m closer with now than we ever were in high school. I didn’t include him in the initial e-mail because we’d never been too close, and I assumed he’d react worse than my best friend had. He found out through the grapevine and let me know his feelings in a letter he sent me while he was on his mission. I still have the letter. It was a very similar response to that of my best friend. It was worded in a way which I still regard as harsh, but on the other hand, he made a point of spelling out the fact that regardless of my decision on this issue, he still thought of me as a friend. Looking back, I have to question his motives in that last statement because in the same letter he mentioned a desire to date my younger sister. When he came home from his mission, he did just that, and they’ve been married for a few years now.

There are a lot more details to this story which I skimmed over. Perhaps I’ll go back in a later post and elaborate on more of the experiences I had, but I think for now, this is a good enough synopsis of my coming out story.