Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gay on Paper

I didn’t attend the gay pride rally downtown (Durham, NC) yesterday. The sky was overcast and threatening to storm, and Tim, one of the friends I was going with, decided he did not feel up to it, and Dave, the other friend who had invited me along, was worried the event would be rained out. Instead, Tim had us over yesterday evening for a French dish he was attempting, brandade de morue, potatoes and cod.

As for me, I decided I would rather not go to the rally by myself.

Ann called to say that the usual fundamentalists were out protesting and preaching God’s love for sinners but not their sins, the most interesting part of people, I think, but she also spotted a number of tent-like shelters crowded with the out and proud.

And, yes, I felt bad about not attending the events, which I hear are really worthwhile here—about never having attended, frankly, largely because, despite having been personally open about my sexuality since age 29 (to anyone who will stop and listen, or read my blog), I have seldom felt a particular kinship to the “gay community”—a feeling that has only intensified after I moved to North Carolina 11 years ago but had already been growing steadily since breaking up with my last ltr, almost six years earlier.

I should say, though, that there are no “communities” that I feel a firm allegiance to, partly out of extreme introversion and diffidence. I am not a joiner. The only time I tried to be a joiner was a seven- or eight-year stretch of adolescence and early-20s adulthood when I was a fundamentalist.

Now, whatever else I have to say about them, almost none of it good, the fundamentalists are superb at communities. I have never felt so genuinely welcomed and at-home than in my years as a bible-believing, -thumping, separated-from-the-world, and painfully closeted homosexual.

Of course, it was acceptance at a price—based on uniformity to self-denying and soul-crushing principles of ethical cowardice—the cost being, of course, repudiation of one’s own complexities and then the anxious emptiness that that incurs. In fact, being a part of a community led me only to a nervous breakdown at age 19.

I’m not saying all communities are like this. I’m not even saying all evangelical communities are like this. But that community I was a part of, in Hialeah, from about 1968 to about 1976, presided over a period in my life of great satisfaction in the company of others—and of inwardly directed rage and intense misery when I was by myself.

Last night, then, Tim and Dave, who are a couple, teased me on the basis of something I had e-mailed them a few days ago—that, while “gay on paper,” I am fairly certain I would not “pass inspection” today. They suggested a number of ways I might be recertified—intense Judy Garland submersion, campy clothing, a course in interior decorating—and here I thought all I needed was to get laid. Things are worse than I thought.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve had sex with an actual in-the-flesh man—as I recall it was October 2008. Married middle-aged heterosexuals "get some" more than I do. In fact, I think this man was a married middle-aged heterosexual (on paper, anyway) … and a Republican.

I’m not counting online sex or masturbation. If I did, I would be not only still certifiably gay, but also a cross between Madonna and Colin Farrell. And, as already noted, I haven’t had a sexual relationship of any duration in 17 years. Yeah, I know, I feel sorry for me, too.

On the other hand, I haven’t tried. I never tried. Being gay was just something I was, at first, and then something I did. My sexuality was never the principal component of my personal identity, and that was by design. I’m several other things besides a man-loving man—and those things require attention, too.

Up until my forties, sex, regular healthy sex, was something that just happened in the ordinary course of daily life. As I got older, I became “invisible” in the clubs and bars I visited. At 56, I have to make a bigger effort to get a bartender’s attention with a twenty in my hands on a slow weeknight—forget about getting him in the sack.

I was never strikingly attractive or hunky, but my youth all by itself was a drawing card back then. I had tricks even before I wanted to admit to myself that I was gay—frankly, conservative evangelical circles in the 1970s were a great place to pick up men, if you don’t mind the cringe factor, frequent betrayals, and nerve-cauterizing bouts of guilt.

I suppose some of you may criticize me for being overly picky. I would object on several grounds. The problem is not that I have set impossibly high standards—I have my “types,” to be sure, and I wouldn’t kick Josh Wald out of bed, but I have been attracted to all types, surfer boys and femmes, muscle studs and chubbies, tall and short, classically beautiful and guys I’m pretty sure I was the only person ever to have the hots for.

Yes, only rarely have I been attracted to someone more than seven years older than myself, and I have had a thing for men in their thirties from age 14 to the present. And so far I haven’t hankered after the black men, redheads, or extreme ectomorphs whom I have met in real life—though, sure, I could be coaxed into a fantasy three-way with Idris Elba, Kevin McKidd, and Ben Whishaw, you bet!

I’m picky in that I want to have sex only with people I am sexually attracted to. But to people who criticize me for not being attracted to other types (them, usually, or somebody they’ve lined up as a blind date for me), I say, “Look. In this society, the people I am ‘supposed’ to find attractive are women. But the fact that I don’t doesn’t make me a misogynist. I wish I were bisexual, but I’m not. I wish I could find pleasure with anyone with a dick [which a lot of straight people seem to think is the case with us gays—and indeed it is with the lucky few], but, no, I can’t, and I can’t pretend that my range is greater than it is, just for the sake of political correctness.”

So there.

As for the affectations of gay-ness, I am reasonably limp-wristed, love to dance till I sweat like a pig, and have the “gay accent”—hearing my recorded voice is a cringe-inducing reminder of that, along with people calling me “ma’am” on the phone from time to time.

But, no, I don’t call guys “her.” I have two pairs of shoes, of which I wear only one pair, and a pair of sandals. The only drag queens I’ve ever tipped were students of mine, and I wanted to be nice. My place is only slightly neater than most people’s homes, and I haven’t bought new clothes in over a year. I like musicals, but I prefer horror movies. I like Olympic swimming, but I prefer submission wrestling. I like Madonna, but I prefer Emmylou Harris. I used to send money to ACT-UP regularly, but my contributions to gay lobbies and charities have been few and far between.

So, now at age 56, I am alone and reasonably happy about that. I am curious about “community,” but burned once, twice shy. I miss having a regular sex life, but lack the capital to hire escorts or attract anyone who needs to be taken care of … and I am attracted to certain people and not others, and occasionally, and wonderfully, I am attracted to someone who’s likewise attracted to me.

Today I am as socially awkward as I was thirty years ago. But as a painfully shy 26 year old, I had charms I no longer have.

So lately I am “gay” in the sense of being typically cheerful and “queer” in the sense of deviating from the expected—and I have “pride,” loads and loads of it, for many qualities apart from my sexuality as well as for having once had a spectacularly adventurous sex life and regretting almost none of it.

And if I am no longer certifiably gay—or just “gay on paper”—then I am still a man who is intensely pleased with his life and, even with the consciousness that realistically he is past his peak, alert to all the new marvels, new perturbations, and new shit that life still has to offer.

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