From Our Department of Bitter Regrets
I’m on the verge of turning 59, which it seems to me is on the verge of turning 60, and thereby becoming officially an old man. The old, single, lonely gay male troll I swore I would not let myself turn into when I came out to myself at age 17. Somehow it happened anyway. But I had help getting there.
When I was a teenager, before I came out to myself, my straight friends and I would do little things to help a friend break the ice with a girl or boy who’d caught their eye. And sometimes not so little things. Once we arranged to get two of them together at a local Baskin-Robbins and then, one by one, found an excuse to leave until they were the only two there. That was just something you did, some happy little thing you did, to help a friend. There was more then ample reward in the glow of happiness you saw in their faces when they had that chance to connect with someone who made their heart skip a beat. It made you feel almost as wonderful as if it had been you.
After I came out to myself, I figured my straight friends wouldn’t be much help in that department. These days it’s different, but back then gay people were still considered mentally ill and sodomy illegal in all but one state. You could loose a job if you were found out…ask me how I know. And while I don’t think my own mother would have thrown me out of the house, I had a pretty good idea that she wouldn’t take it very well. My straight friends, even the most progressive and liberal ones, wouldn’t have known very many out gay people. They couldn’t connect me with potential dates the way we’d done for each other. So right away I knew I was going to have a much harder time finding that special someone then my straight friends. I had to find my way into the gay scene. The problem was I had no idea where to go look for it, other then the one seedy gay bar downtown everyone knew about…a place I felt pretty sure the sort of boyfriend I was looking for would not be waiting, and in any case not the best of places for a gay teenager to hang out.
So for almost a decade, well into my thirties, my dating life was a pretty brutal struggle. Even when I chanced across someone who made my heart beat, and I seemed to do the same for him, navigating ourselves to a place where we could feel safe opening up our feelings toward each other was a minefield. Once I met a guy at the catalog retailer I was working at at the time…a small outfit that had only three stores and sold mostly during the Christmas season from the glossy catalog it mailed out. I worked in the warehouse and he at the store at Montgomery Mall…and whenever I went out there with a van full of new merchandise, or he came to the warehouse on some errand, and our eyes met, I swear the sparks flew. But it was a dangerous time for gay people, and were either one of us found out, we could be fired. So I was cautious…I figured first I’ll strike up a conversation with him the first chance I get him alone, get his name, and we’ll talk. But it seemed every chance we tried to get ourselves alone together, in the warehouse, at the store loading dock, we were constantly watched. One day his manager saw us share a smile and I saw the look on her face. The next day we were both fired. I never got his name.
That’s how it was. Then in my thirties, I found my way to the first gay BBSs and from there to one from which I made nearly all of the gay friends I ever had until 2005, and the Love In Action protests.
I came to know an older gay man there, knew him for decades, and eventually came to consider him one of my best friends. My attempts at finding a boyfriend from among the BBS users were pretty uniformly unsuccessful, but I had confidence because now I had such a big theoretical gay social circle that was away from the bar scene…a place by that time I understood to be pretty much exclusively about tricking. I wasn’t into trick. I wanted…I Needed…someone to love and be loved by. I understood by that time that lots of people, gay and straight, couldn’t care less about the love part. They just wanted sex. Fine. You look for your paradise, I’ll look for mine. I figured…I Trusted…that the gay people I had made friends with by then would help out just as me and my straight friends had helped each other, once upon a time.
I’m shy, but not paralyzingly so. And…introverted. But all I need is a little help breaking the ice, getting me a name, an introduction. Better still, some info. Am I his type? Is he mine? Then I’m okay. You expect friends who know people who know people who know people, can help out with that. Once the ice is broken I can pretty much handle things myself. But left to myself I have a really hard time socializing in a crowd of people I do not know, and which is full of cliques I am not a part of.
The older gay guy I came to know…and Trust…would sing his favorite song to sing at me whenever I got to feeling lonely. Bruce…you need to get out more and try harder. And he and his boyfriend would take me out clubbing some nights, and to the dancing boy bar in Southwest D.C.. But when some nice looking guy caught my attention I was always on my own. And when I would ask him about that he would sing his song. You need to get out more Bruce…
It went on for years and I eventually I began to notice that not one iota of help meeting people was coming from his direction, or that of his younger boyfriend. One day, in an effort to get him to realize that, actually, I had been trying pretty goddamned hard my whole life, I sat down at the computer and wrote him up my entire dating life resume’, starting with the guy in A Coming Out Story and walking through the entire mess, one name at a time, how I met each one, how I tried to win their affections, from age 17 to the age I was then.
It went on for page after page after page. I was hoping at least, being my friend, being someone I thought I could confide in, he could at least tell me what I was doing wrong so goddamned consistently. Instead, he casually dismissed it out of hand and like a broken record, began singing that same damn song again. I was aghast…did you not read what I wrote there?
But I considered him a friend, a very good friend, who had helped me get my start in the IT world and gave me a comfortable place in his circle of friends. Then (and this is a long story I’ll set down here someday soon probably) I watched him sit on a chance to set me up with a date with a guy who, it seemed, might be a good match. It never happened…I’ll never know now whether we would have been a good match or not. I Trusted him when he told me he’d get around to it…eventually. I waited half a year for him to get around to it…pinging him every now and then on progress…Yes, yes, Bruce…we don’t socialize with that crowd much anymore…we’ll get around to it…I just need an excuse to ask about it… As if my being desperately lonely wasn’t excuse enough. And when I finally confronted him about it he told me the chance was gone, the guy in question was seeing someone else now…and I felt like I’d been kicked in the face. I trusted him.
And his boyfriend, his younger boyfriend, looking me in the face one night before that confrontation, and telling me, “I’ve seen the guys you look at…people who look like that want people who look like that…” Didn’t make me feel a whole hell of a lot better.
I had to wonder after that, how many other times he passed over a chance to introduce me to someone compatible. There was one time I got help from one of the others in our little happy hour group. He was new to our group, saw my eyes light up, saw my difficulty breaking the ice with the object of my attention, and with a little smile, he got me a name. That was all I needed and I dove right in. Nothing eventually came of it…he was already seeing someone else…but it was looking back on that I realized I never had any help at all from the others in our group, or that older gay friend or his boyfriend.
I should have walked away from them then. No…way before then. I should have noticed what they were trying to tell me all those years I’d known them. I didn’t want to. You get beaten over the head when you’re small about being a good for nothing…because your mom is a divorcee, because your dad is a crook…and it has it’s effect. No matter how proud you are later in life of your accomplishments, and how far you managed to rise above the circumstances of your youth, buried deep within is the small kid who feels like every friendship with one of the kids on the good side of the tracks is something he is lucky to have and doesn’t really deserve, because he is good for nothing.
How could you leave me to a lonely life? Granted, we all have to find our own way in love..but friends can help. How could you not want to help? How could you let chances to help Bruce go passing right on by like it was no big deal?
Because: People who look like that, want people who look like that… One day it finally dawned on me that the dating resume’ I’d sent him had probably proved him right after all. I wasn’t getting out enough. I wasn’t trying hard enough. There was the proof. You see…I knew their names.
What he’d been telling me all those years I knew him, that I didn’t want to hear because I couldn’t believe anyone who knew me would tell me this, was what I was doing wrong was seeking out a boyfriend. Someone like me needed to just get used to picking up a nightly trick. Bruce, accept the fact that you’re not boyfriend material, just get out and get laid more, and you’ll be a lot happier. In many different ways, he kept trying to tell me this and I didn’t hear it because I didn’t want to. I didn’t believe anyone who knew me would tell me this. I didn’t listen to what he said, I listened to what I wanted to believe he meant.
I remember one day in his kitchen, early on in our friendship, when he first started singing that song to me, he gave me a little talk about how I needed to get out more, and he added, who knows maybe someone will (and here he paused as though choosing his words carefully) find me…attractive. I saw that pause, that hesitation, saw it for what it was then, in that instant, and pushed it down somewhere in my consciousness where I didn’t have to know what it was I saw. He…didn’t mean that the way it sounded…
Oh yes he did… Beauty. It’s a subjective thing, but you look at the representation of it in popular culture and you see a lot of agreement about what it is all the same. I don’t think that’s commercialism pushing a concept of beauty onto us. When it comes to sex and sexuality, it’s a libido thing too, and that is, I am convinced, hard wired into us in a very deep place, and you can’t reason with your libido. Nobody can. This is something your gay neighbors know all too well. So by American standards of male beauty, I fall pretty short. But…so what? Never mind I’m not particularly attracted to that standard of male beauty. There is no ugly. I have seen, and so have you, couples that make your head spin, wondering what each sees in the other physically. But they make each other happy, and part of walking through life with your eyes wide open is figuring out that your cup of tea isn’t necessarily everyone else’s. Everyone’s libido is different. Your gay neighbors know this perfectly well too. Some males are not attracted to women, and you can’t psychoanalyze or pray us out of that. It is what it is. Growing up, living life with your eyes open, you come to accept that some people will find beauty where you don’t, and never will and that’s okay as long as they do find it eventually. There is no such thing as ugly, there is only we really don’t do it for each other, and my problem isn’t I’ve never been hit on, just not hit on often enough by someone I’d hit on myself that the magic ever had much of a chance to happen. Plus, when I was younger, and theoretically much more hittable, it was a dangerous time for gay people to be open about it, even a little.
Regrettably when I was in the prime of whatever sexy I might have had, you had to be extra careful what you said, and to who. A lot of gay people back then, struggling under that suffocating culture of anti-gay hate, never found love. But we weren’t supposed to. Love is not something the scapegoat can be allowed to know, because love can move mountains, and the one thing you never want the scapegoat to do is move mountains. But it seems, far too many of us of my generation and before, took that homophobic message to heart and either stopped looking for love altogether, or decided that gay people are better off not needing it. Especially the ugly ones.
How toxic relationships endure: I let them put me in the too ugly for a boyfriend box because I didn’t want to believe that my friends would ever do that to me. They had no right…it was stupid, it was ignorant, it was a sickening betrayal of friendship and trust. But I have to admit looking back on it, that I saw them doing it. So I suppose, when all is said and done, it actually is my fault after all, that I’m nearly 60 now, and still single and lonely. I should have walked away from them the moment I saw they’d put me in the too ugly for a boyfriend bin. I should have found gay friends who saw someone deserving of love in me. I should have gotten out more.