Late last week, I had a long talk with a young man (ok, not that young...he's 33) who I used to sponsor in AA back in Kansas. He's been through some rough times, and we kind of lost touch. He'd heard through a friend that I'd come out, but we just hadn't talked since last August, when I was really getting ready to move out of the "private" phase and be more publicly out. So it was an interesting conversation...
He was every kind of supporting - delighted to hear about some of the steps I'd taken, curous (as many have been) about the "Why'd you wait until now??" question. Then, out of the blue, he asked, "So...have you met anyone? Anyone special in your life?"
I had to admit that it's only been in the last six or eight months that I've even allowed myself to look at other guys that way. And the standard excuses came out...too busy...too much work...not exactly a circuit boy...but they were half-hearted. And my young friend said, "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Damn good question, Jimmy...
Then, in the process of catching up with friend's blogs, I read Geek Boi's "general coming out" post, where he posted his picture. And I was really shocked...not by the picture (which is really quite nice, actually), but by the words. It was like my words were coming out of his post...
There's a part of me saying "Don't post your pic, don't cross the Rubicon. You're largely anonmyous -- you can always try to be straight later on if the pressure gets too much. Nobody needs to know that you're gay, nobody needs to know anything about you! Hell, you're not cute enough to be gay..." etc,etc ....This is also difficult for me as I have body image issues like you wouldn't believe. I can't help but stare at my picture and just see nothing but ugliness......I read that and thought, "Sweet Jesus, someone's been reading my mind." Because, you see, I'm right there with ol' GB, folks.
I've been spending a lot of time this weekend thinking about this. I've got pictures of me in high school - and while no one would ever mistake me for a member of the gymnastics team, I was not that hideous a fellow. But I have always had this image of myself as the ugly duckling...and have always been waiting for the magic to happen, and turn me into the beautiful swan. (Hasn't happened, as of yet...) But remembering brought back this set of events that sort of cemented that ugly-duckling image in my head...
Back in my junior year of high school, I was invited to join an all-guys youth group. A group of us got to be good friends, drinking buddies (yes, Virginia, in high school), and hung around together a lot. While I was significantly less rotund than I am now, I really saw myself as horribly obese back then - and showers in gym class showed that I was well behind the curve on the male-endowment scale.
But somehow I fit in with this group of guys - a couple of whom were rather unattractive (even to my jaundiced eye) but most of whom were quite fit and attractive (in what seemed at the time to be a disturbing way). It was a strange mix of jocks and geeks and misfits of all kinds from across several school districts, and yet we still seemed to click in many ways.
One of the ways we'd blow off steam in the summer was going up to a cabin on Lake Erie near Vermillion, Ohio for the weekend. It wasn't much of a cabin - but it had beds, a TV, a flush toilet, and a refrigerator, which was just enough for eight or ten guys planning on spending a weekend drunk and goofing off. I was already an 80th-percentile alcoholic by that stage of the game - so the idea of a weekend drinking sounded like a good deal to me. And, as one of the three guys who were "of age" at the time, I was part of the "bucket brigade" for the weekend, which made me an essential part of the fellowship and guaranteed me an invitation and a comfy bed spot.
There was a lot of sleeping in, swimming, a lot of horsing around, and of course the requisite smuggled straight-porn mags (no porn tapes in those days - the VHS VCR wasn't introduced until later that year, Christmas 1977). (Yes, I'm that old). Sometimes we'd start off with a trip to Cedar Point (not much drinking those weekends until we got back from the Point, of course). But for the most part, it was just hanging around the cabin, the beach, and the barbeque.
After the first couple weekends, it sure seemed like several of my buddies were getting to be much closer with their youth-group brothers than I was. Though all but three of that group ended up well down toward the "zero" end of the Kinsey scale, you'd never have known it from the sounds coming from the sleeping bags on the beach, or the squeaking of the bedsprings in the cabin. Despite the complete absence of women, almost everyone (it seemed) was getting some on those weekends.
Everyone, it seemed, except me.
It was painful enough to know that my romantic life in high school had been pretty bland, never getting past third base with any girl (even my 2-year steady girlfriend). I knew I was no prize physically; but I also knew that these guys weren't going for "attraction" or "beauty"- they were just getting off with whoever was around.
Again - except me.
I started to understand how the red-nosed reindeer felt when "they never let poor Rudolph/play in any reindeer games." I started trying to work my way into the groups - joining them when they took their sleeping bags down on the beach - but when I did that, it seemed there was complete stillness until they thought I was asleep, and then the action slowly started, often with a couple sleeping bags pulled away a bit so they wouldn't wake me.
I remembered waking up one morning with a pounding hangover as the sun was coming up, to find two of my friends asleep on top of their sleeping bags, bare-ass naked and holding each other spoon-style. The lake breeze had picked up just a bit, and they were both covered with goose-bumps. Yet they both had this air of bliss about them, and I could see the navy-blue sleeping bag was sprayed with the dried remnants of the prior night's entertainment. Further down the beach, I could see what looked like two more sleeping-bags zipped together, and another pair of my friends snuggled together in what looked like an excess of "brotherly love."
I looked back at the naked pair in front of me, both turned on and infuriated by what I saw. Standing there, watching these two guys who I'd always considered to be my friends, I had this irrational desire to kick both of them until I smashed their naked ribs in. I remember wanting to find a large rock and smash their skulls. I don't think I'd ever before felt that kind of murderous mixture of envy, disappointment, rejection and rage.
I'd had the empty fear that I'd get old and be alone before, but I think that morning was when I decided that I was never going to be desirable to anyone, period. I eventually ended up having a series of one-nighters with my best friend (the first, and only, male "love of my life"), but only when both of us were drunk. Right about that time, I met a woman who found my personality attractive, and did not seem to find me physically distasteful. Even though I eventually married her, I still felt deep inside that I was truly unattractive and sexually not too competent. And that self-loathing, combined with my dark, skulking doubts about my masculinity, didn't do much for our intimate lives. By the time we divorced, any pretense of intimacy had long since vanished.
When I was first considering coming out, one of my arguments to Tom and Damien went like this: "Let's see...I could either be an overweight, greying, middle-aged, under-endowed gay man, and put myself in line for all the abuse gays get. Or I could be an overweight, greying, middle-aged, under-endowed straight man, and skip all the gay bashing and prejudice. Either way, I'm going to bed alone, it seems..."
That's why when I read GB's "Hell, you're not cute enough to be gay..." comment, it was like I got slapped with my own words.
I've since come to realize that being hot is part of the gay stereotype - which is perpetuated by us average gay guys staying in the closet. While a lot of gay men do look fabulous, being a duckling doesn't make me any less gay - or any less worthy of caring or a relationship. True, I'm probably not going to attract someone like this....at least, not without an offer of a lot of money...
(Ryan Carnes, from the great indie movie Eating Out)
But it doesn't mean I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life, either. It doesn't matter, in the end, what I look like. Being gay isn't about being attractive...I know that now. It's about a physical attraction to men - independent of how I look, or to what kinds of guys I'm attracted. And (though it took a while to see it) I'm now sure that, having come out to more and more people, there isn't any way I can go back into the closet - even if I wanted to. [Cue music: "I Am What I Am"]
But I definitely have to enlarge my gay social venues. Because of my schedule, I haven't had the chance to hang around much with my two favorite homo-mentors lately - and they're moving to Wisconsin Dells in the next month or so. So I've got to get out and get "out" with some of the gay natives - and at least find some friends.
Fantasy life to the contrary, I don't think I'm gonna be going out with Ryan Carnes any time soon- any more than any of my straight friends think they'll be makin' it with any of the Baywatch babes. But my hope (and my prayer) is that I'll find someone who can see past the outside and find some joy with the cuddly bear on the inside.
It'll be worth the effort - and the wait.