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April 7th, 2010

Accepting Yourself For What You Are

So I went to Key West a few weeks ago, for a little vacation with some friends.   I love Key West.   I absolutely love the climate (at least the winter climate…I hear the summer swelter is a bit much…).   Even more, I love its laid back live and let live attitude.   It’s a place where people go, creative people, intelligent people, non-conformists, go to live lives away from the mainland mainstream.   The t-shirts on sale everywhere there celebrate sex, drinking, cigars, smuggling, toking, Harleys, growing old and not giving a damn, being poor and not giving a damn, drinking, drinking, and sex.   Levittown it ain’t.     It’s San Francisco and New Orleans but more laid back.   It’s Taos but instead of mountains it’s surrounded by a beautiful turquoise tropical sea and never gets below freezing.

The old town part of the island shelters dozens of historical landmarks and structures with history going back to the first Americans, embracing pirates, salvagers, smugglers, shipwrecked settlers, writers, artists, actors and presidents.   Hemingway, Truman, Hunter S. Thompson, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost and Thomas Edison called it home at one point or another.   The locals call themselves Conchs and call their island home a nice little drinking place with a tourist problem.

In 1982 the U.S. Border Patrol put up a roadblock between Miami and Key West, and vehicles were searched for narcotics and illegals.   The roadblock put a huge dent in tourism.   The city council complained to the Feds and got nowhere.   So Key West declared itself The Conch Republic, seceded from the Union, declared war on the United States (by way of the mayor breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of someone dressed in a military uniform…), then immediately surrendered and asked for a billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief.

Well they didn’t get their billion, but the roadblock came down.

I love Key West.   Ever since my first visit, I’ve thought often about moving there someday.   I love its laid back, away from the mainland mainstream attitude.   And it is a party town, at least around Duval Street.   You practically can’t spit in any direction without hitting a bar, at least one of which, The Garden of Eden, is clothing optional.   There are strip clubs, gay and straight and the dancers will walk over to customers to negotiate commerce, barely legal and possibly otherwise as well.   A blind eye is turned to a lot of things as long as no one causes any trouble.   For all its open sexuality and drinking, there is actually very little rowdiness.

You have to love a place where all this can be going on and yet it stays laid back about it all.   I could love to live in a place like that.   The ironic thing is, this trip to Key West really emphasized it for me that I am not that.

I have this love/hate relationship with my Baptist upbringing.   Sometimes I feel like it made me grow up entirely too inhibited.   Sometimes I am deeply grateful for it.   There are values, moral values, I still hold to, and find ever more vital as I grow older, and see more and more of what a world without them looks like.   Honesty.   Prudence in ones financial matters.   Earning your keep, and the trust of others.   A regard for social justice, tempered by a little humility every now and then, when the urge to thump your pulpit strikes.   But for every positive, I can find a negative.

I was never allowed to think of myself as beautiful or desirable.   That was vanity and it was a deadly sin.   Once when I was in my middle teens, mom, grandma, and a few other family members were at the beach.   I had decided to wear the new swim suit I’d bought, which I knew might raise some eyebrows but I thought I’d dare it.   It wasn’t terribly sexy by today’s standards, but it was colorful and showed my body off at a time when I definitely had one to show.   I strolled out onto the beach with it feeling beautiful for one of the rare times in my life, and just loud enough for me to hear some of the folks made a few off color cracks about it…precisely aimed to embarrass the hell out of me.   I must have blushed fifty shades of red and went back to the hotel.   I never wore it again.

I’ve had trouble my entire life with being sexually inhibited, and it isn’t just the beating my psyche took being a gay adolescent.   But there is inhibited, and there is reserved and it’s taken me the better part of adulthood to discover that my sexual reticence isn’t all the result of having the bible beaten over my head all throughout my childhood.   It’s been like carving out a hunk of marble to find the shape within that is really me, and not the stone cast around me from an early age.   I think I’m about down to it now, and swear I’d have thought the inner uninhibited me was a tad more footloose and fancy free then this.   But…no.

My friends stayed in “Big Ruby’s”…a gay “clothing optional” bed and breakfast.   I stayed at the Coco Palm, just around the corner.   Let me tell you about that.   Two of the guys I went down with are a couple.   The other is a party kind of guy, and not to put too fine a point on it, he went down there for the sex.     So this guy makes some arrangements for rooms at Big Ruby’s and the night before, he sends me an email asking if I wanted to share a room with him.   I had a pretty good idea what he was going to be getting into down there and I didn’t want to be sharing a room with him if he was going to be bringing guys back to it.   So I made a polite excuse…told him I’m an “only child” who always had his own room and I like my privacy…blah, blah, blah…   The next day I learn he’d made arrangements for himself and my two friends at Big Ruby’s, but not me.   So I guess “yes” was the right answer.   But…NO.

In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t stay there.   My two friends got themselves a nice apartment room with a kitchen that we all used as a headquarters.   We used the kitchen for making lunch and sometimes dinner too, and we all relaxed around the pool during Big Ruby’s happy hour.   Since I wasn’t a guest there I couldn’t drink their booze, but the landlord was fine with my bringing my own liquor and sharing with the others.   And as I walked in and out of Big Ruby’s, I got an eyeful of the stuff going on there and sometimes it was embarrassing.   They had a hot tub…     Walking past it was a real challenge.   Part of me would be deeply embarrassed while that damn logical/analytical part of my brain was absolutely fascinated, full of questions.     Don’t they have lovers…???

I watched several naked guys rise from the hot tub at full attention and I was not only unaroused, but actually turned off by the whole thing, and I swear the thought crossed my mind right at that moment that maybe I’m not gay after all.   Later I tried to think of a situation where I would be aroused.   Immediately one came to mind, but it involved not a group of guys but one…one special one…just him and me in the tub all by ourselves.   The plus side of having the high intensity imagination I do is I can make myself all hot and bothered pretty easily.

Yeah, I’m gay all right.   Just not the kind of gay guy who goes for casual hooking up in the hot tub with a bunch of strangers regardless of how gorgeous they are.   While reading John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley I came across this saying: Cold Feet, Warm Heart. At the age I read it I kinda thought I knew what it meant, but it took years of growing up and passing through adolescence to really understand it.   Yeah.   That’s me.   Cold feet, warm heart.

So I wandered for a time amongst the party crowd at Key West, enjoying myself very much, but coming to an understanding, finally, that I am not that.   I am a quiet little romantic, who feels suffocated wherever people have to stifle themselves in order to survive.   I’m a shy little homebody looking for his soulmate, who despises people who impose particular gender and sexual roles on others.   I’m a gay man who understands intimately well how conformity kills the soul.   I’ve watched it happen.   I will not willingly live in that world.   Even if I could pass for normal in that environment…I couldn’t.   But I am not that.

4 Responses to “Accepting Yourself For What You Are”

  1. Bill S Says:

    welcome back bruce. It’s been over a month since you posted here. I was getting a wee bit worried.

  2. Bruce Says:

    Facebook is getting all the little day-to-day trivia stuff I used to post here regularly.  Not sure why that is other then it’s interface is easy to use and it’s a very sociable place so it’s more like having a conversation with your friends then tossing messages in a bottle out into the world.  I never really appreciated it before but in the context of a social site like Facebook you aren’t just getting responses to your posts you’re posting your own responses to other people’s posts and it’s all like one great big conversation.

    But I will be paying more attention to my blog and web site in the near future.  I have two more episodes of A Coming Out Story almost ready to post here for one thing, and more political cartoons since I’m doing them regularly now for Baltimore OUTLoud.  Facebook is in some ways this is my web site and anyone can visit here without having to sign up for a data harvesting service that might be selling your information to advertisers and who knows what else.


  3. Valorie Zimmerman Says:

    I don’t see any upside to the Baptist upbringing, Bruce. The hatred of the body, of beauty, grace, joy, even FUN! I grew up with all that. Sure, I have moral standards, but so do many others who do NOT have the negatives we both can see. Love of Jesus, I get that. All the rest of it — hooey. Not good for *anything*.
    Key West sounds fabulous. I’d love to visit, but probably wouldn’t feel comfortable there, either. Oh, well!

  4. hardboy Says:

    I can understand how the excesses of Key West would not be everybody’s cup of tea. I enjoy it in small quantities, which is easy for me to do since it is a 4 hour drive away from me.
    As for different look at Christian religions I recommend ‘Age of Reason’ by Thomas Paine, one of the men who figured prominently in founding our country. It is a MUST READ for anyone with serious questions about squaring their religion with real life. The summary is that Paine uses the bible to expose its internal contradictions and lays out how a life approached with reason can be constantly rewarding in a way that everybody can appreciate and use to improve themselves. He acknowledges the divine all around us while decrying the need for a religion to act as a middle man between us and God. Quite a revelation.

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