Shattered sanctuary

The first time I walked into a gay club, I fell in love. Not with a person, but with the realization that I had discovered a place outside of my own home where I could really be myself, completely uninhibited by the expectations of the straight world.

And let’s be honest, there isn’t anything much better than being totally present and comfortable in your own skin.

I could wear makeup and tight clothing without anyone batting an eye. I could hold hands with and kiss whomever I wanted without worrying about offending the sensitivities of a heterosexual. I could follow my female friend into the ladies’ room simply because she didn’t want to go alone. I could lose myself on the sunken dance floor as the pulsating beat of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails and the flashing strobe lights hypnotized me.

After two decades of learning that I needed to be on guard almost every moment of every day, I had finally found a place to relax and just be. In this sacred place, we were normal and fear was a distant memory.

Most people recognize the horror of what happened in Orlando last weekend when a heavily-armed shooter massacred 49 young men and women at the gay club Pulse, but I am not sure many understand the impact this will have on the gay community at large.

The survivors of this unimaginable event will probably never feel safe no matter where they are, and although the LGBT population in this country is know for being resilient, I would venture to say we will never feel completely at ease in a gay establishment again.

Terrorism won’t win. We will still gather for our parades, our drag shows, and our Saturday evenings with friends, but the one public place we could be completely ourselves has been violated, and our fearless refuge is no more.

Celebrating 10 years

A couple of weeks ago, Honey and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. Because we aren’t married (and can’t get married in our home state of Kentucky), we annually recognize the day we first met.

We wanted to travel somewhere special for our big year, so we decided on Savannah, Georgia. This was a first visit for both of us, but some of our friends have been there and highly recommended it. We settled on a condo in Tybee Island, which is about 20 minutes from historic downtown Savannah, and made reservations at a few restaurants that looked promising.

Our condo was beautiful and inviting, with floor to ceiling windows facing the Atlantic Ocean. We could sit on our balcony and watch gigantic commercial freighters slowing going out to sea, before they dropped out of sight on the horizon.

View from our condo on Tybee Island.
View from our condo on Tybee Island.

We visited Paula Deen’s Lady & Sons restaurant for lunch on our second day in town, and it was just as delicious as expected. We walked off some of the buttery goodness with a long trek to Forsyth Park to see the famous fountain filled with mermen.

The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah.
The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah.
Fountain at Forsyth Park in Savannah.
Fountain at Forsyth Park in Savannah.
Live oaks with Spanish moss in Savannah.
Live oaks with Spanish moss in Savannah.

The weather was overcast and rainy for the first two days of our vacation, but things changed dramatically when the day of our anniversary arrived. I snapped a photo of a beautiful sunrise from our balcony as my heart almost exploded from contentment.

Sunrise on our 10th anniversary.
Sunrise on our 10th anniversary.

We learned of a movie being shot on the beach about a mile from where we were staying, so we walked there to do a little snooping. Zac Efron’s character takes his grandfather (Robert DeNiro) to spring break in Daytona Beach, Florida, but they chose Tybee Island for filming because it wasn’t as crowded.

Movie shoot starring Zac Efron and Robert DeNiro on Tybee Island.
Movie shoot starring Zac Efron and Robert DeNiro on Tybee Island.
Another view from our condo.
Another view from our condo.

We chose Alligator Soul as our dinner spot for the evening, and it was the nicest restaurant I had ever entered. I felt slightly out of place as our waiter completely reset the table between courses (and even used a crumb scraper on the table cloth), but it was a lovely experience with incredible food.

Lamb chops from Alligator Soul in Savannah.
Lamb chops from Alligator Soul in Savannah.

The next day was our final full day in Tybee Island, so we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather with a dolphin tour. I didn’t really have high expectations, but Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventure knew exactly where to go to get the amazing creatures to interact with the boat. It was definitely one of the high points of our trip!

For our final dinner on vacation, we gorged ourselves on seafood at The Crab Shack. Our “Dinner for Two” included snow crab legs, shrimp, crawfish (yuck), mussels, potatoes, corn on the cob, and sausage. It was pretty amazing. We enjoyed seeing the baby ‘gators outside in the lagoon.

Dinner at The Crab Shack.
Dinner at The Crab Shack.
Young alligators at The Crab Shack.
Young alligators at The Crab Shack.

It is amazing how fast ten years can go by. I am so proud of our relationship, and so thankful to be sharing my life with such an outstanding person. I am looking forward to the future with great hope (here’s looking at you, Supreme Court!), and I feel like one of the luckiest people alive.

Casting stones

Each day, when I browse the news and look at social media, I see countless stories concerning religion that make me sick at heart. Whether it is someone committing mass murder in the name of Islam, a “Christian” refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple, or a politician trying to appeal to his conservative base by making disparaging remarks about same-sex marriage, it all makes me completely disgusted with religion.

The only problems I have ever had from being openly gay are because of people who have been blinded by their religion. I have had people tell me I am going to hell. People who have given me books about how God can make me straight. Family members who refuse to be around my partner at family functions. Anonymous people who have harassed me and called me names online. People I know who have done the same.

The common denominator between all of these activities has been religion. Specifically Christianity. How someone can follow Christ and know anything about him, yet allow bigotry and hatred to overcome their thoughts and actions is unconscionable.

I am glad I am gay, mainly because I have had to question things that some take for granted. It has made life more difficult, but I feel like I can see things more clearly than so many who use their faith as shields while they throw stones at anyone they deem abnormal and unworthy of love.

To thine own self be true

Much has been made recently of comments made by Russell Tovey, one of the stars of HBO’s gay-themed Looking. During an interview with the Guardian, he said the following:

I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up. If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.

While he has since called his statement “inarticulate,” it is easy to see why so many in the LGBT community found his remarks insensitive and outright homophobic. After all, how many of us grew up in similar circumstances where we often felt the need to hide our true nature from family members and friends in order to fit in with social expectations?

We live in a time when the effeminate male has become a bit of a pariah within the gay community. The standard for a desirable man is often described as “straight-acting,” and many guys are quick to point out they only want masculine, non-effeminate men. Because so many of us exhibit behavior that could be considered feminine, one has to wonder if this is symptomatic of self-loathing within the gay community.

I certainly wasn’t what one would consider a boyish child. Sure, I did my fair share of tree-climbing and the like, but I was just as comfortable playing Barbies with my sister or going shopping with a car full of women. As I got older, there were times when this kind of behavior was discouraged by adults, but most of the negativity I received as a child came from other kids. I absolutely despised being called a sissy. “Only girls play tambourines,” said one boy at church, much to my chagrin.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother practically encouraged my girlish behavior by saying I should have been born female. She even gave me, my sister, and our two girl cousins matching dolls and strollers for Christmas one year, explaining, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

Even though I tried to alter some of what I thought were undesirable traits as I grew older, I never was able to morph into the idealized concept of masculinity. As an adult male, I still have characteristics that most guys would consider feminine. I cry easily while watching television. I love dancing like a slut to Beyoncé music. I worry incessantly about how I look. I’m pretty sure I have at least two periods a month.

But really, why do we care so much more when female traits are exhibited by a man than when masculine traits are exhibited by a woman? I suppose our patriarchal society can’t help but attribute power and strength to masculinity while relegating anything feminine to the weak and defenseless. It does a huge disservice to women when gay men allow themselves to be brainwashed into such a misogynistic way of thinking.

Human beings are complicated, but I wish we could evolve beyond our imperfect expectations of what we think male/female and gay/straight should look like. I wish we all could just accept ourselves as unique and whole persons without pressuring ourselves to become something we can never be.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

Did molestation make me gay?

I used to think what happened to me when I was a child was what made me attracted to males. I blamed my uncle for my sexual orientation for many years, and while I definitely believe what happened shaped my sexual interests, I am not so convinced of the connection anymore.

Those encounters are my first memories of sex, and they greatly altered my views of affection and intimacy. As a counselor once told me, the guilt the victim shoulders is because the attention and sexual activity feels good even though it shouldn’t.

Because I was too young to understand what was happening completely and enjoyed the attention, I didn’t want it to stop. When my parents found out what was going on, I was upset because I knew it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t.

From that point, I acted out sexually with boys whenever I had the chance. There were only two that I did anything with, but it went on for several years. It was always just fooling around to me. I never felt emotionally attached or like I had a crush on either of them. Even though I know it is normal for kids to mess around while they are learning about sex, I have had a lot of guilt over the years about those encounters.

There were guys that I did have crushes on who I fantasized about incessantly, but I never acted on those impulses. I was too scared and also too ignorant to really understand my sexual inclinations. These guys were like idols to me. I watched the way they walked and talked, admired and imagined their bodies, and rarely ever said a word to them. I had them placed so high on a pedestal that they were unattainable.

As I grew older and began to figure out what it meant to be gay, the crushes continued. I fell really hard for a couple of different guys my age, but, again, I was too scared to act on it out of fear of rejection. We would have sleepovers and spend as much time together as possible, but nothing physical ever happened. In my juvenile mind, the guy would be my boyfriend. Both times, the parents of the guy stopped the friendship because they grew uncomfortable with all the time we were spending together. Both times, I about lost my mind from the grief.

When I finally grew up a little, I met a much older man who took advantage of me in many ways. I was ignorant and inexperienced, so I poured everything into a clearly dysfunctional relationship. When that relationship ended, I began another with a man several years my senior. It was also dysfunctional for many reasons.

Looking back, I realize I was substituting sex for affection. If a guy liked me, I felt like I was supposed to sleep with him. Friendship needed to progress to sex in order to mean anything. This was obviously a direct result of what happened with my uncle. Sex equals friendship equals affection equals love. It wasn’t enough to just hang out and have a good time; I needed them to prove they liked me enough, and the ultimate expression of that was sex.

Over the years, I have changed that line of thinking. I met someone 9 years ago who cherished me from day one. He didn’t expect me to show my appreciation for his company through sex (even though I wanted to). He has been patient and kind and anything but a user. I am one of the lucky ones.

My uncle never faced the consequences for his actions 35 years ago, but I know, one way or another, he will. He denies it happened now, even though he admitted it when it was first revealed. I am a forgiving person, but I refuse to consider forgiving him until he admits it and accepts responsibility for his actions.

I said all of that to say this: It would be easy to assume what happened when I was a kid made me gay, but that is oversimplifying it. I know plenty of gay people who weren’t molested, and I know plenty of straight people who were.

Regardless, I am what I am. Whether I was born this way or made this way, I didn’t have a say in the matter. I know being molested shaped my views of sex and intimacy, but those are things I have struggled with and continue to work on. It makes more sense that I was born with this orientation, and the sexual abuse was just a terrible thing that happened to me along the way.

Gay or straight: Thank you for being a friend

Honey and I have very few gay friends. This weekend, if all goes as planned, we will travel to watch two of them get married. We were at their commitment ceremony a few years ago, but since they have moved to a state that recently recognized gay marriage, they will make it official this Saturday.

I am not sure why we don’t have more gay friends. We don’t typically visit places where gay men congregate, and the few gay people we have met at church usually offer nothing more than a courteous hello.

Although it is unfair to paint everyone with the same brush, most of us gay men are downright nasty to each other when we first cross paths. It isn’t unusual to get a judgmental sneer or some side-eye. Whatever the reasons, I suspect it has to do with male aggression and competitiveness. Much like a lion defending his pride because of reproductive rights, we don’t want any interested parties sniffing around. Relationships are hard, but because gay relationships have even more challenges to face, it stands to reason that we don’t want to invite trouble.

Although it would be nice to have a few more gay friends who personally understand all the issues that gay people face on a day-to-day basis, genuine friendship from anyone is the ultimate goal. And, frankly, I have wonderful straight friends who are supportive, accepting, and understanding without being judgmental.

True friends are priceless, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Remember it

Some people say homosexuality is a sin. It’s not. God is perfectly cool with it, God feels the exact same way about homosexuality that God feels about heterosexuality. Now you might say, “Whoa, slow down. You move too fast. How could you have the audacity, the temerity, to speak on behalf of God?” Exactly, that’s an excellent point and I pray that you remember it.

Ted Alexandro