Saturday, October 27, 2007

Torch songs and Greyhounds

It started off slow.

I'd had my photo and personal ad on a website for "men of larger girth" - cued by a friend from GCN who'd heard me whining about not dating one too many times. And my face - the face I'd struggled so much to accept the looks of, the one in the mirror - caught the eye of someone. (Thank you, Tim B., for that trio of head-shots - they did wonders!)

Actually, the photo and the personal ad caught the attention of a not-inconsiderable number of someones, to be honest. There were lots of folks who wanted to talk dirty, and act dirtier - the typical man-pigs who show up on any dating/hookup site. It wasn't surprising, exactly, except that they found me to be attractive. Despite being sorely tempted to "just do it" with someone/anyone (Hey, I'm not made of stone, here...), I blew off 99 percent of the responses.

But there was one person who did not want to talk about endowment, or positions, or in fact anything physical. It was refreshing:

Well I just finished reading your ad and I have to be honest your pic is what really drew me to it. Then as I read it I was very impressed of what you said. Wow you are a very nice looking man and had so many nice and straight forward things to say in your ad. You seem very down to earth and I would love to chat sometime.
So we did. Chatted first by email, then by phone, then by Yahoo Messenger.

I'm glad we did it that, phone, then visual. We wrote, chatted, then IM'd and finally got to "meet" via instant-messaging web-cam. There was no lewdness (although I admit to considerable teasing on my part), but just friendly chat.

And I really started to feel connected. Connected in a way I had all but forgotten how to feel. It was amazing; in the space of a week I was 50-going-on-16, with every insane impulse roaring in my ears.

I made a decision - a decision somewhere between Carpe Diem and what the hell, why not? - to go meet this person. Problem was, he was in Springfield, Missouri, and I'm in Toledo, Ohio. The first 1400 miles, round trip, were the big problem - but not for a crazed 16-year-old in a fifty-year-old's body, eh? Too much money to fly, too much wear-n-tear on the car (and too much gas) to drive. The answer just popped out of a slot: Leave the driving to us, they said.

Ninety-eight dollars later, I was on a weekend round-trip run via Greyhound Bus from Toledo, to Dayton thru Indianapolis and Effingham to St. Louis, and thence to Springfield. Seize the day, eh?

I left Thursday afternoon, and had a series of not-quite-excellent adventures (the kind you can only have on a series of Greyhound buses populated with oddballs, genteel schizophrenics and good ol' girls, as Gamble Rogers would say). Fifteen hours later - almost 9:30 AM CT, I arrived in Springfield's bus station.

And there he was.

First surprise: he was taller than I expected - he's about 2 inches taller than me. Second surprise: he was much better looking in person than he appeared on camera, which wasn't surprising - 640x480 resolution on those web-cams doesn't do much for a person's appearance.

What I absolutely was unprepared for was the look of delight on his face. Not lust, not let-me-rip-your-clothes off (which, to be honest, I might have accepted at face value, at that point). A look that said, "This is absolutely amazing...just what I have been waiting for..."

I will confess, I have seen that look a time or two. I've seen it on the face of straight men meeting their dream dates; I've seen it on the faces of couples getting married, or going on Marriage Encounter weekends. I've seen it a lot, directed at other people.

But it's been a long, long damn time since I've felt that look directed at me. An impossibly long time. (I admit, freely, that it might well have have been directed at me, but I just didn't feel it in the same way...)

We both had obligations. He went off to work; I set up my PC and spent the day working from my motel room (ah, the joys of a virtual employee!). The delays in bus schedules meant that it was almost 10 AM before I got online. And I tried to stay focused, but I took the time to post this prayer request on GCN:
10-19-07 06:55 PM

Tonight, amazingly, I am having my first date with a guy.

I mean, my first date ever with a man. Ever. Boy, this coming-out late in life stuff is a real rollercoaster! Who'dve ever thunk it?

Our meeting was completely by chance. He's a Christian. Cute as can be. And he sought me out - which is something I never believed would ever, ever happen.

And all of a sudden I'm 50 going on 16. (God help me, even my face has started breaking out again!)

Dinner and a movie. Transformers. Heaven help me, but this is going to be "transforming," alright!

It's really easy to think of this as the breakthrough after thirty-five years of accumulated closeted loneliness. But I'm trying to think of it more simply - it's just dinner and a movie. I've been doing this with women for years.

But there's just one difference, of course. I've never felt for THEM anything like I feel about him.... I feel like a blind man whose sight has just been restored, standing around saying, "WOW! So THAT'S what you meant by candy-apple red! That's just amazing! And look at that!...."

God, grant me the serenity to just be me, to relax and take it easy, and enjoy the night without expectations....

...and to not faint dead away if I get kissed good night...

Pray for me, boys and girls.
In response, I got a lot of affirming prayers, and this little piece of advice from a brother in Delhi, India:
Oh my! How our little ones grow up... I wonder whether it's time for us to worry about them...

OK, here are the rules:
  1. At the theatre, if he uses the *yawn - stretch - hand behind your shoulder* move - let him
  2. Don't finick about who pays for what (not on the first date)
  3. Footsie under the dinner table is acceptable (but no fondling crotches with the toes)
  4. No need to go "all the way" on the first night - leave some mystery for the next one
  5. But for God's sake, if you HAVE to, use protection
  6. If #4, then you'd better be back by midnight, young man!
  7. If #5, I'd suggest making breakfast together the next morning
It was remarkably good advice, it seems.

As I told my prayer partners, apparently it was the answer to all of their prayers. It certainly was the answer to mine!

Transformers was sold out - so the alternative was the latest Harry Potter movie (dodges lightning bolts from Christian right about THAT, too). The movie was great - and he did insist on sitting close to the screen, so he could hold my hand during the show. (I can hear the collective "awww..." coming here.)

Dinner was fancy Chinese, swapping stories from our youth, our family, our coming-out adventures, with enough similarities to make things amazing. We were the last ones out of the restaurant...

And yes, he kissed me good night. And yes, the temptation to pass out was there, but I summoned enough strength to invite him into my hotel room to return the favor...

No protection was needed, and there's plenty of magic still to explore - but it still was unbelievable. I'd preloaded my iPod with every torch-song in my collection - everything from Mama Cass' classic "Dream A Little Dream of Me" to Ethel Merman's "I Got Lost in His Arms" from Annie Get Your Gun, which scored an "O" for over-the-top romantic. It was nice to see I still had it in me...

One particular romantic fantasy I had fulfilled that night was one I'd seen at the tail end of the British coming-out DVD Beautiful Thing. The two boys who'd fallen for each other end up slow dancing to Mama Cass's classic Dream A Little Dream of Me. And it felt every bit as good as it looked...

Before the rest of the weekend's gathering the next day, he DID take me out for breakfast, and later on, a drive out into the country around Springfield. And it just got more magical every moment. Saturday after events were over, we finally got to see Transformers, and to indulge in what my British "mates" might have called "a bit of a snog-fest."

Sunday, we were at worship together, followed by breakfast and Steel Magnolias. (Yes, I just admitted that I'm gay, 50 years old, and hadn't seen Steel Magnolias yet. Deal with it. I can check that box now, my gay card is secure again.)

The good/bad part is that I now know what I've been missing for 30 years - which will likely make me more of a coming-out advocate than ever before. The good part is that my date weekend proved that all the thoughts I had about having "missed the boat" relationally was, well, hogwash. "I Got Lost In His Arms," indeed...

The bus-ride home got off to a bad start - the 5:00 PM bus was sold out, so I didn't get rolling home until 12:30 AM. We went back to his house, where we saw Steel Magnolias and tried to find a way to say goodbye. (It was not easy, by any means.) He took me back to the Greyhound station (a nice one, as GH stations go), and we talked until 12:30 AM, when I finally got on the bus. A farewell kiss - or 12 - and he was on his way, and I was on mine.

This last week has been more conversations, more love songs, more of what a friend calls "moogly googly behavior" in spades. I'm utterly astounded; as several people would attest, I was absolutely certain of my complete physical undesirability. Now that this guy has spent much of a weekend with me, and video-chatting nightly, and has not run away screaming (in fact, has been more affectionate than ever), I have objective evidence that, as a friend says, "I Was Right, I Was Wrong All Along."

So he calls me the middle of last week: "How about me coming up for Thanksgiving?"

How will that work, I ask. You're a retail manager at a hobby store - you're not going to get the day after Thanksgiving off! Well, let me do some checking, he says. That night, he says, well, actually the schedule has changed, and I won't have Saturdays off after November 10th. So how about next weekend?

Well, how 'bout it, indeed...

So he is poised to take The Greyhound Adventure to Toledo, arriving this Friday afternoon. I'm once again astonished. And giddy. And scared. And delighted.

I know - the conventional wisdom on long-distance relationships is that they rarely end up happily. I know, this might be considered unseemly behavior for someone I've known one weekend. On the surface, it sounds insane. But I've had two friends in sobriety die in the last month - one just dropped over walking out of a meeting last Thursday. I don't know if I have the time to be prim and proper and "go courting." I've waited 30 years - 16 of them sober, 12 of them completely celibate - for this to happen. So I'm in "full-speed ahead" mode.

If this were just unbridled lust, I wouldn't have to do this. After all, there are plenty of people who are on That Website from right around here who would love to "just do the nasty." And I mean this way, that way, every which way but loose. But it just ain't that; it's just not about "tab-A and slot-B" (although I would be lying if that were not a component, and several caring friends have already had The Talk with me about "safety").

If it was just physical, it would have ended last weekend. The combination of my diabetes and high blood pressure made sure that my animal-passionate responses stayed mostly in my head and heart, sadly. And I wouldn't call it "true love" yet - it's not been long enough to even know about that. But there are hopes in that direction...and only time will tell on that one. Like a good souffle', it won't be rushed.

But I think what comes closest is what The Eagles called a peaceful, easy feelin.' Our communications are open, and honest, and I'm not holding anything back. Our internet contact is not (as one friend calls it) "typing one-handed," and our conversations are about both fun and serious and teasing and affectionate.

The quest for torch-songs and slow-dancing continues; he wants to attend an open AA meeting to see what that's all about (he will never, ever qualify, that I can see). We will have a turkey dinner (an "early Thanksgiving") with the family, which will be interesting in itself - they have not seen me in any kind of relationship (straight or gay) since my divorce 16 years ago, and have never seen me express any affection for a man in public. So this will be a revelation, in more ways than one.

Back when I first came out to my Christian friends on my other blog, I used the chorus of a song by worship leader Chris Tomlin, called The Way I Was Made. I believe that I'm doing now what I really wanted to do back in high-school, back in college - what I spent so much time, effort and wreckage hiding - living the way I was made. I can only trust that the One who brought me this far has not brought me to this point to drop me on my fat white butt.

So any prayers - for discernment, for restraint when needed, for abandon when appropriate, for peace among the family, and for travel mercies for The Guy - will be deeply appreciated.

Monday, October 15, 2007

To dream the impossible dream...

Hi, I saw your personal ad here and I must say you're a very attractive man - just my type.
Well I just finished reading your ad and I have to be honest your pic is what really drew me to it. Then as I read it I was very impressed of what you said. Wow - you are a very nice looking man and had so many nice and straight forward things to say in your ad. You seem very down to earth and I would love to chat sometime.


I know a lot of men who have heard those words.

But I have to admit in all honesty - and my friends Tom and Michael can attest to this - I never in a bazillion years expected to be one of them.

Half on a dare, half out of a sense of desperate, desperate loneliness, I succumbed to a friend's suggestion and posted my picture and a statement about myself and my level of experience with men (zero over the last 2 decades, plus or minus 10%) to a men-for-men website, and hit "submit."

And then the responses started pouring in.

And now I'm 50, going on 16 all over again. Even my acne is acting up again - it's unbelievable.

Guys wanting to meet me. Dating - what the hell is that? The last time I had a date (with anyone of either gender) it was with a woman in 1994. The last time I went on a formal "date," George W. Bush's father was president, people.

And I find myself in the same place a lot of 16 year olds would be - should I be 'good,' or should I 'have fun'? Several guys - strangely good looking ones - have proposed doing things with me (and to me) that I wouldn't have imagined outside of a porn site. If I spend any time channeling the inner 16-year-old, I get my answer pretty quick...

But I'm 50 - I know better. Sex without some kind of friendship/relationship is just masturbating into someone else's body. But I'm 50 - and celibate - and that doesn't sound so terribly bad, right now. "If you're going to sin, sin boldly," I guess....

But my celibacy has probably also bought me my life - we were talking at our GLBT AA group how awful it was to be sober and GLBT in the 80's, when huge portions of the gay community were wiped out by AIDS. "Safe sex" isn't just about not having babies, as it was with women - it's about not having an awful, fatal disease. Compliance has a MUCH higher price, these days.

The answer is "take it slow, think it through - meet 'n' greet, first, then think some more."

And pray...God is in this mess, somewhere...I'm sure of that. There are just days when I'd really prefer He not be, sometimes.

Growing up - yet again - in public is never a fun thing. But, as Keith L. was asked by his sponsor 20 years ago, on a similar topic, "Of all the problems you have, which one is going to be more fun to work on?...."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What have you done today....?

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

This week marks National Coming Out Day, October 11th. That makes it an appropriate time for me to coming out from under my gay blogging rock, and step back into the sunshine. There will be more, but this is a baby-step back out of the darkness...

This YouTube video is both a tribute to the Showtime series Queer As Folk and a showcase for Heather Small's great anthem, "Proud." The first time I heard the song was the remix version in the very last scene of the last season of QAF. Judging from the output on YouTube, it has become a gay pride anthem since it came out - though the original video was more focused on racial pride than not.

I have to admit that, while QAF embodied much that was near-pornographic, and was hardly the best model of gay life for much of the gay community, it was also one of the first "mainstream" depictions of gay culture that I'd ever seen. It was one of the first really clear cracks in the wall of my denial. After all, how many straight men are willing to admit they've even watched a scene from Queer As Folk, let alone owning an entire season's DVDs?

So as we start this week, I offer you Heather Small's "ballad" version of this great song, along with this 5 season retrospective from a ground-breaking cable TV series...

I look into the window of my mind
Reflections of the fears I know I've left behind
I step out of the ordinary
I can feel my soul ascending
I'm on my way
Can't stop me now
And you can do the same
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
(It's never too late to try)
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
You can be so many people
If you make that break for freedom
What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Still so many answers I don't know
I realize that to question is how we grow
So I step out of the ordinary
I can feel my soul ascending
I'm on my way
Can't stop me now
And you can do the same