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December 5th, 2019

The Other Side Of The Door Is A Place Called Freedom

“It felt like a dirty little secret, it felt like I had chains wrapped around me, I couldn’t be who I was, I felt alone and trapped. Just telling one person made me feel so much better, just that one person took a weight off my shoulder. I told Sophie my best friend first as I knew she’d be really accepting of it. She’s been so supportive and there for me. Now that everyone knows, I have nothing to hide, those chains that I felt wrapped around me are gone and I can carry on with my life as normal and be happy. I felt like there was something wrong with me, I didn’t know other people out there felt that way, I felt so alone, so locked away and couldn’t say anything. Tell one person. Tell your story, how you feel. Everything is all pretty new so I don’t see any point in putting a label on it – gay, bi, straight, any of those kind of labels. All that I feel happy about at the moment is that I’m dating a guy and couldn’t be happier, it shouldn’t matter who I’m dating and I hope people can be happy for me.”

-British Olympic diver Tom Daley.

What makes me sad reading this: it was 2013 when he told the world this during an interview. I could see reading this as a message in a bottle from someone back in 1971 when I came out to myself. But…2013. Why was this still happening to young people in love in 2013?
 
Why is it still happening? To any of us in love?
 
 

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 27th, 2019

Howard Cruse Has Passed The Torch…Pick It Up…Carry On…

Last September I posted a link to the most recent episode of A Coming Out Story, that I’d managed to get out while vacationing at Walt Disney World. It’s part of a story arc I’m interleaving with the point in the story where I finally, Finally, come out to myself. The last frame has a shout-out to Howard Cruse in it…something I’d remembered from a one off cartoon he did for The Village Voice titled “Sometimes I get so mad…” It’s about all the static gay folk get from all directions in American culture and how that makes you blow your stack from time to time. You just want to live your life and people who don’t know you from Adam feel free to harass you and it takes its toll. At the end of it is a young Howard, sensing his emerging sexuality, trying desperately to find some facts about homosexuality, nervously looking through the pages of a paperback titled “A Pocket Guide To Loathsome Diseases” by one Doctor Pompous J. Fraudquack, and thinking maybe he’d finally get some facts there.

I knew the feeling all too well, even though I was nine years younger and in 1971 coming out to myself in a theoretically post Stonewall world. It would be decades before the effects of Stonewall and the first ever Pride march a year later would make themselves felt much beyond the confines of the big urban gay zones. For years after I came out to myself, everything I knew about homosexuality and what it was to be homosexual were things I’d been taught by the heterosexual majority. A lot of it was hostile and damaging to a gay teen’s self image. It wouldn’t be until the advent of the personal computer and those first amature computer bulletin boards that we didn’t have to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes anymore and liberation came to the suburbs and the rural zones.

The main theme of A Coming Out Story isn’t so much about what happened to me back then, or the guy I was crushing on at the time, and what happened to us both, but the context in which it happened. I’m trying to tell it in a humorous way, because looking back on it there is a lot there that I can laugh about, thankfully, with an older man’s perspective. But it wasn’t funny then while it was happening to me, and if I’m trying to say anything with this story it’s that the world needs to give sexual minority kids a break. It’s difficult enough at that age to navigate your way through the dating thing with all those emerging hormones percolating through your body. Being the outliers in that dance is harder still. Beating up on the gay kids, damaging their ability to love and accept love from another, only serves the hate filled worst among us…all the little Dr. Fraudquacks who taught us to hate ourselves, or at minimum, distrust our hearts, believe ourselves to be damaged goods, unworthy, never to be loved. It snowballs, all the love that could have been given, and now will never be, on and on and on. And so the world gets smaller, and angrier, and darker. That is what the Dr. Fraudquacks are doing to all of us.

I posted a link to the episode when I finished it and got it out on my website. Then in a comment, I gave Howard a shout-out, as to say Thank You…I remember this little one off you did and it spoke to me and I just want you to know you made a difference. Over the years I’d told him this often. But you can’t thank people like him enough. Trying to make a living at art is a hard, hard path. Doubly so if you dare to be an out and proud gay cartoonist. He never got the commercial success and respect he deserved and I’m convinced that was why, because as a storyteller and draftsman he had very few peers. Seriously…look at his lines. They’re perfect. Every one. Compare his draftsmanship to Any commercial cartoonist you like. The polish he put into everything he did, no matter how small or trivial, is intense.

He was at the top of the art form. And as a storyteller he was among the best. There’s his magnum opus, Stuck Rubber Baby, of course. But look at some of the amazing work he did in Gay Comix. Billy Goes Out for instance. At its surface it’s the story of a young gay man hitting the backrooms for some quick anonymous sex. But look deeper and there’s a heartbreaking story of love found, and lost to hate, and the struggle to go on with life, somehow, after the worst has happened. There’s one panel in it that is I think quintessential Howard Cruse in its surreality while looking life’s bad moments right in the eye and not flinching. Earlier on in the story we’ve seen one of Billy’s older relatives instructing him to keep the gay thing in the closet for the sake of his career, and in another panel telling him off handedly that homosexual love was just mutual masturbation. Billy explodes on him while his boyfriend Brad tries to calm him down. Who are You to tell us how we feel!  Then toward the end of the story we find ourselves looking down on that older relative’s grave site from above, the coffin in the ground being shovelled over by a graveyard worker. But the coffin is open and the relative is looking back up at us as his grave is being filled in, saying that his married life was horrible and he hated every moment of it but at least he has someone to cry over his grave. And, one supposes, he knows Billy won’t. Because homosexual love is just mutual masturbation, and his marriage however much he hated it, was more real than Billy’s love for Brad. The scene creeps you out. Howard gave the chillingly heartless mindset of the bigot its perfect representation in that one single amazingly and meticulously drawn panel.  

So when I posted a link to my newest ACOS episode I waved at Howard, because his example is a big part of why I keep working on it. And as he always did, because he had a big heart, he waved back, and encouraged me to keep at it, that I was making a difference too, just by putting my story out there. You get encouragement from one of your heroes and it really lifts you up.

And now I am more determined than ever. I’m going to miss him. But looking through the tributes he’s getting from the community…cartoonists, activists, family and friends…it does my heart good to know he Was successful at the most important thing of all. By coming out and telling his stories, he made a difference, a real substantial difference, in people’s lives. He was loved. He touched so many lives. And he showed us that we could make a difference too…all of us…whether by art or activism or however…by being our authentic selves, and telling our stories. That is how you defeat hate.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 30th, 2019

Throwback Thursday Only Wednesday

Facebook tossed this memory back at me earlier today…

This is the winter of 1971. I’m 17. The artist at work. 

I love this one, unruly hair, oversized canvas jacket that I thought was oh so stylish, and mismatched shirt collar though it is. It was taken by a friend with my camera for possible inclusion into the yearbook. In my senior year I was staff cartoonist for the student newspaper (The Advocate…really) and was also made staff photographer after the previous one had a tiff with the editors and quit. What I like about this shot is my friend actually managed a snap when, for an instant, I got into the drawing I was working on and was actually concentrating on it there for a moment. It’s not often I get to see my concentration face.

I’m posing at one of the art room desks, not pretending to draw but actually drawing one of my newspaper cartoons. Even though the shot had to be posed I insisted I would be working on something for real, not faking it. That has always been my photographic style. In this shot you can’t see my hand with the pen in it, but that’s the drawing on the board and paper in front of me. The tackle box also in front of me is typical. The artist’s tool boxes they sold in art stores were Expensive and I noticed they looked a lot like the tackle boxes they sold in the sporting goods section of most department stores, which were a lot cheaper. To this day I have a tackle box full of drawing stuff on my drafting table.

And this by the way is why to this day I draw on a horizontal surface and not with the drafting table top tilted at an angle like I see a lot of other artists do. All my grade school art rooms had tables like these and I just got used to drawing that way. And see the board I have the paper on. I still cut Masonite boards to use for drawing and tape the paper on them. Then I have the paper on a nice smooth solid surface I can turn this way and that while I’m working on it and even tilt if I really need to.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 24th, 2019

Dear Night Brain…

Dear night brain… I really do appreciate the vivid dream I had just now, of being back in the apartment with mom when I was a teenage boy and she overhears me thinking out loud about the guy I was crushing on in school and tells me it’s okay and she understands how it is to be seventeen and falling in love because she’d been there too. But these vivid dreams about mom are disturbing. Please stop. I miss her a lot. But she died almost two decades ago after the stent they put in her slipped.

Sigh. It wasn’t until just a couple months before she died she finally accepted it, and wished me the happiness I needed, if not the one she would have liked. I wish we could have talked more. She would have liked any one of the three I crushed madly on. I could have brought them all home to her in a better world. Mom…this is my boyfriend… They’d have got along great. But that didn’t happen. I couldn’t tell her anything back then. She knew, but didn’t want me to say it. I have her diaries. She agonized over it. Two months before she died she told me it was okay.

It took a lot for her to get there. We both missed so much because of the homophobia of her religion and upbringing. I’m sure that’s what these dreams are about. I suppose deep down inside all this will never be settled. That was a very nice dream but I wish they would stop.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Dear Night Brain…

June 9th, 2019

Well I Guess That Wasn’t Shining Armor After All…

I tell myself that in a better world I’d have figured this out back in high school, had a good cry over it and moved on. But even in a better world back then I’d have still been a thoroughly twitterpated teenager with no life experience and no common sense, so probably not.

 

Sometimes, what the lover perceives as shining armor is actually a carefully woven, pretty little cocoon around a soul that never learned to love itself enough to laugh back at prejudice. And then one day you find yourself stunned, wondering how that could possibly really be fear and shame because loving them swept all yours away.

Oh well. Maybe LonerNoMore can post a comment here about how I’m still living in the past and that today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the present.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Well I Guess That Wasn’t Shining Armor After All…

May 24th, 2019

Getting Tired Of It

Out for a cigar walk this evening, after drinks and dinner at Rocket To Venus. Thinking over things. I came home and the feral calico cat I’ve been feeding and providing shelter and food for, came up to the porch looking for an evening meal. I brought the dish out for her and, as usual, tried to keep her a tad away from the bowl as I put it down. She’ll swat at me if my hand gets too close, which it will if she gets too close to the bowl as I put it down. Usually, this involves me putting my foot between her and the bowl until I get it situated on the concrete porch floor. This time accidentally, I managed to step on he paw and she yelped and now I’m the enemy and she won’t come close. I called and called and apologised profusely. But of course cats don’t understand any of that. So she’s gone. For now. Eventually I suppose she’ll come back. There is food and water here after all. But I’ve just about had enough.

Enough of all these one-way relationships in my life. I let myself put my heart into these relationships that never give much if anything back and I’m tired of it. She’s a feral, granted. I knew that when I first started putting food out for her, but it’s like a recurring thread in my life I am getting really tired of. She won’t let me touch her, she’s so skittish. but I’ve grown fond of her nonetheless and I get almost nothing back out of it but her occasional rub up against my door or my foot if she’s feeling safe enough. I didn’t mean to step on her paw but she’ll swat at me and draw blood if I get too close. If she doesn’t come back I will be heartbroken but such is what it is. My other neighbors feed her too so she won’t go hungry. I’ve become accustomed to this sort of heartbreak.

I don’t need these sorts of relationships in my life anymore, where I put my heart into it and I get nothing back. It’s how my life has gone for…well…mostly all of it. And I’m tired of it. Crushes, attempted boyfriends, putting my artwork out there and getting silence back, wearing my heart on my sleeve and getting battered, so it goes. I need to assert some degree of self respect in these things. I know…cats. Especially the feral ones. They’re not domesticated. They don’t trust humans and they’re skittish and they have to be to survive. Some gay guys too. Especially ones of my generation. But I’m tired of it. I need to be loved back. At least a little. She can go somewhere else and that would be good. I’d actually like to be able to sit on my front porch again and enjoy the evenings. Alone I suppose, but at least not loving someone that won’t love me back.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Getting Tired Of It

March 6th, 2019

Life As A Sequence Of Fine Dining And Lots Of Tequila

I’m going to start a gallery of foodie shots of every nice dinner I’ve had on March 6 since 2016…

…but first…

Afternoon of March 6, 2016.  One of the shots I took inside one of my favorite watering places in Walt Disney World (the other two are Tune-In Lounge and Jock Lindey’s Hanger Bar). The margarita before the storm. Plus chips and jalapeno and cheese dip. Hot? Ohhh Dios mío…the day is about to get hotter…

The Kobe beef steak I was having at the Brown Derby when I got scolded. In retrospect it would have sounded better in the original German…

Rocket to Venus 2017…their absolutely decadent pork steaks and garlic mashed potatoes. I’ve been mourning the loss of this item on their entrée menu for a long time…

Rocket to Venus 2018 (noticing a pattern here?). I forget what this one was but it was amazingly good, as always. I can’t recommend this Hampden, near The Avenue eatery enough.

And here I am drinking my margaritas every march 6 since 2016.

Probably heading out to Rocket to Venus again for dinner tonight. Because the food is great, the staff are nice, and one of the bartenders is very nice on the eyes, doesn’t mind my gawking at him in disbelief, and I can get drunk enough I can appreciate the sight of a beautiful guy and not feel any pain. Plus I can walk home stinking drunk and not be a hazard to everyone else on the highway. 

Prost!

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Life As A Sequence Of Fine Dining And Lots Of Tequila

February 19th, 2019

Oh We’re Not Getting You Wrong Mr. Wayne…

The day Brokeback Mountain got an Oscar nomination, and the stately senior members of the Screen Actors Guild, appalled, said that John Wayne was rolling in his grave, they knew who it was they were talking about…

John Wayne’s Racist and Homophobic Playboy Interview Resurfaces, Twitter Reacts

At the top of the interview, the then 63-year-old is complaining about the “perverted” movies currently being produced, when the interviewer asks him which films he means.

“Oh, ‘Easy Rider,’ ‘Midnight Cowboy’ — that kind of thing,” he horrifyingly replies. “Wouldn’t you say that the wonderful love of those two men in ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ a story about two f–s, qualifies?

“But don’t get me wrong. As far as a man and a woman is concerned, I’m awfully happy there’s a thing called sex. It’s an extra something God gave us. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be in pictures. Healthy, lusty sex is wonderful.”…

Go read all of it. None of this would have surprised anyone the day that Playboy interview was published. Wayne’s hard core right wing kookery was an public joke even back then. Except of course among his fellow Hollywood nutcases like Reagan, Linkletter, DeMille and various studio heads to the right of McCarthy and Nixon. Scratch a homophobe, find a racist…

“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

None of this would have been surprising or controversial to Wayne’s associates in the industry. They would have been nodding their heads in agreement reading it, and telling themselves it was the communists, the New York Jews and all those dirty fucking hippies who were causing trouble with the coloreds. And outside of there, everyone just about knew where Wayne stood. He never made any bones about it. 

None of that registered on me when I was a kid watching raptly whatever was playing in the theaters that week. Back then movie theaters were Palaces where a schoolboy’s dreams and adventures came to life. I used to make a bee line for every new John Wayne flick that hit the theaters. They were Fun. Lots of things were back in those days.

Then I got a bit older, puberty switched on my hormones, and one day I found myself completely twitterpated by a classmate, a junior with long hair, dark eyes to drown in, a smile that made my knees weak, and long legs that moved his hips in ways that made me shiver every time we crossed paths. One day as we walked together out of school he put an arm around my shoulders and I didn’t come back to earth for hours, and when I did I knew something about myself. And also that movie stars I watched raptly on the silver screen, and Science-Fiction writers whose books I devoured, and rockers whose albums I bought and listened to over and over until I wore the groves out…all of them probably thought I was disgusting human garbage.

But I was in teenage love, and nothing had ever felt so healthy and thrilling and wonderful. And if you asked me to trade the good graces of the entire fucking world for just one smile from the guy I was crushing on, I’d have done it in an instant. And perhaps I did, the moment I realized it.

I am in my middle sixties and looking back on that summer crush I am magnitudes more likely to make that trade now. Nothing I ever felt before or since was more pure. I would do it all again. Roll in your fucking graves…all of you.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Oh We’re Not Getting You Wrong Mr. Wayne…

February 10th, 2019

The Love That Dared To Speak Its Name

Sad news crosses my Facebook news stream just now…

Patricia Nell Warren, The Front Runner Author, Dies at 82

The novelist, activist, and longtime editor at Reader’s Digest is best known for her 1974 book, The Front Runner, which centered on the relationship between a closeted coach, Harlan Brown, and an out gay track star, Billy Sive.

The love story became the first gay novel in modern times to achieve commercial success and rank in The New York Times bestseller list. To date, it has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into multiple languages…

I still have my copy of that first 1974 book, The Front Runner, which has within it one of the best scenes of any novel to take same-sex love and romance seriously: the scene where one of the main characters, coach Harlan Brown, lover of athlete Billy Sive, learns from a couple of straight friends in the newspaper business about the rumors being spread about him and Billy, and sees clearly for the first time the cesspool of the bigot mind. As I wrote in a previous blog post

…Harlan Brown, the coach and lover of out gay Olympian Billy Sive, is having a chat with some old friends who work as sports reporters. They confront him on the rumors about his having a sexual relationship with Sive, and while Brown tries to stand up for the honor and the dignity of their love, the reporters, old friends, try to make Brown understand that in the mass media, honor and dignity won’t even buy you a cup of coffee. Which only makes Brown angrier…

“Did it ever occur to them that maybe Billy and I don’t merely go to bed together? That we love each other?” I was really getting mad now. “That neither of us wants anybody else? Do they know so little about human nature?”

“You’re the one’s a dummy about human nature,” said Aldo. “They want to think the worse…”

Finally one of the reporters, Bruce, suggests that they do an interview with the two of them which would hopefully allow the readers to see them as human beings apart from the ugly stereotypes of homosexuals common in those days.

Brown agrees, thinking it a great idea. Aldo pointedly asks if they can dispel the other rumors too…

“What other rumors?” I said.

“You really want to know?” Aldo asked. He was furiously tearing up a piece of bread.

He started to tell me. When he’d finished I’d had one more sociological revelation. Society had tried to teach me that the gay mind was an open sewer. Now I knew, beyond any doubt, that it was the straight mind that was the sewer…

But no, it’s the mind of the bigot that is the open sewer. It was something I’d intuited well before I’d read The Front Runner, just listening to all the gross rhetoric about homosexual sex, always told in such exquisite, breathless even, detail by bigots like Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell had been throwing at us.  The fact is sexual corruption is something they throw at all the hated Others, be they gays or Jews or Blacks or Mexicans. Think Donald Trump and Mexicans and duct tape. It’s their own ids they’re telling us about. Warren was the first novelist I’d ever read to finally bat that one out into the open.

Her later novels didn’t really catch on with me, though I still bought copies out of loyalty. I still haven’t read Billy’s Boy yet. But that first novel was gold, even allowing (spoiler) its Kill Your Gays ending.

After her success, for a period of time there came a torrent of Great American Gay novels, hoping to cash in on this new gay market thing. One Christopher Street cartoon from the period is of the inside of a gay bar where all the patrons are busy with paper and pen, a few have typewriters, and the caption is This bar used to be fun, until everyone decided to write a gay novel. Most of them were gawd awful books I could not get through more than a few pages reading. But that’s just Sturgeon’s Law at work, and the ten percent that wasn’t crap was very good indeed. I could finally see myself and the possibility of love and a life lived openly and proudly in books, if not yet on the silver screen or the tube. Isn’t it always the written word that strikes deepest into your soul.

Mary Renault will always be the gold standard for me, but Patricia Nell Warren’s first book gets a place on my top shelf along with her. She, and others who dared to name the love that dare not speak its name, and then celebrate it without any taint whatever of shame or sadness, gave me a vision of life and love and joy and decency when I needed it most.

Rest in peace Mrs. Warren. Well done.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Love That Dared To Speak Its Name

February 3rd, 2019

Rainbow Mouseketeers Still Not Part Of The Show…

…at least not here, not yet. This came across my Facebook news stream last week…

…and I was overjoyed. The parade was to happen on June 1, to mark the start of Pride Month, and I immediately put in for vacation time for the first days of June so I could be there. But in my delight I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was reading.

I thought they meant Disney Paris in Epcot at World Showcase Lagoon, which is a completely natural reaction if you’ve ever been there. I’d been to Gay Days at Walt Disney World and Gay Days is a very big deal there. A certain someone (Hi There!) who works there once told me it was one of their biggest money making weeks. So I just assumed we were finally official there now, and I put in for vacation time at work and was seated at one of my household computers just about to make my hotel reservations, when I looked up the article above again to verify the date and realized it was going to be at DisneyLand, not Disney World.

But that was okay too because Disneyland was where Gay Days all started back in the 70s, after a same-sex couple started dancing at one of the dance spots there and got thrown out of the park and the Los Angeles gay community came back in numbers too big for security to deal with. Everybody went into the park wearing a red shirt to self identify as being part of the protest. The genius of that was they couldn’t just toss out every guest wearing a red shirt, but with so many of us in there it would have been obvious that red shirt = gay guest. I’m told that as the day went on some straight guys began taking off their red shirts. But it was a success and after that event (they used to call them Zaps) it became a regular thing and eventually it migrated east to the World too.

I went to Gay Days at Walt Disney World a few years ago and it was a lot of fun…


Gay Days Revelers Receiving The Blessing Of The Fairy Godmother

Yes I cut off her head in that shot. I had to hold the camera up over mine to shoot over people’s heads. Otherwise this would have been a great shot.

And we still wear our red shirts…

…though nowadays our shirts bear the trademarks of all the businesses lending their support to the event…

 

…and some of us even make custom designs on them. I thought this was really cool. Someone at Disney must have thought so too because a few years after I took this a Tinkerbell with rainbow wings pin was being sold at the pin traders kiosks. 

And of course I wore my red shirt, but it was one I got at work with a Hubble servicing mission patch on it, to show some space cadet pride too.

So, thinks I, Disneyland is finally making us official. That’s Wonderful! But I wondered where they’d put a Paris pavilion in the Anaheim park.

Then just this morning I see this article…

…and realize, hey, that’s not the castle at Disneyland. Oh wait…they mean Paris France. I keep forgetting there are more of those things around the world now.

And now I’m a bit ticked off. Not at Disney, I know what they’re doing…they’re still afraid to officially acknowledge us here in the land of the free and the home of the brave because our religious right nutcases who probably never set foot in a Disney park anyway (Holyland Experience theme park is just down the Interstate for them…) would raise a shitstorm….as they’d say in Epcot Germany.

And there’s already been one mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando…

And attacks on patrons coming and going near other gay nightclubs and in gay neighborhoods in this country are on the rise…

So it still can’t happen here. But after the Pulse shootings Disney got a lot more gay friendly and it was so gratifying and you can tell they wanted to do something more. But they still can’t do it here. Not in the time of Trump.

So I cancelled my vacation request at work. Gay days is a lot of fun, but not so much when you’re single and none of your hometown gay friends want to go with you because they don’t like all that Mickey Mouse stuff. I have two DVC vacations planned for this year and that’ll be enough pixie dust for 2019.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Rainbow Mouseketeers Still Not Part Of The Show…

February 2nd, 2019

At 65 I’m Only Now Exhibiting My Photography

I got the camera bug when I was an elementary school kid. Mom let me use her camera to take some vacation pictures and after they came back from Kodak I got lots of complements on how good they were. I don’t even recall those shots now, but later that year mom gave me my first camera, a little Kodak Brownie Fiesta, for my birthday. I took it with me on a school trip to the C&O Canal and when those shots came back I even got complements on them from the same teacher who later wrote in my file that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects.”

In High School I was the student newspaper cartoonist, and also became its photographer after the kid who was picked for that roll had an argument with the student editors and walked off the job. It was around that time I started doing my art photography, after my art teacher, Frank Moran, lit a fire for it in me. I’ve had a camera in my hands most places I’ve wandered to ever since.

I’m in my middle sixties now, and I have a long history with the camera. Yet I’ve never had a show. Not even a little thing at a neighborhood gallery. I’m horrible at self promotion and that’s damage from a life lived almost entirely single. You fail often enough at one of life’s most essential tasks and it makes you skittish in more landscapes than socializing and dating. There’s a nagging certainty of failure that haunts every attempt at self assurance, no matter how inviting things appear, and especially when it comes to artistic pride since that’s so close to the heart that has come to expect breakage. It took me the nearly twenty years I’ve been working at the Space Telescope Science institute to work up the nerve to ask if I could show my photos at the Institute gallery.

I wrote about this in a previous blog post…about how the wound your gay neighbors live with every moment of their lives digs in deep, and becomes an …iron ball and chain of low expectations regarding my place in the world, which I would always excuse as my simply a not having a very competitive nature.

…I never tried very hard to make a place for myself in the realms of my first loves, cartooning, painting and photography. I kept my artwork to myself, and those few times I did venture out to try and market myself, or find work as an illustrator or photographer, I barely knocked on the door, accepting the first rejections I got as final. In retrospect something very deep down inside of me seemed to know I’d never be accepted in the lands of my dreams. I had no clue what I would do for a living, accepted that I would always have a low income life, going from one menial job to another, renting rooms maybe in other people’s homes if I was lucky, but never a place of my own, never a good job that I loved. That was for other people. I never bothered somehow, to examine why I felt that way very closely. I had an assortment of ready excuses. No college degree. Not very good at self marketing. Maybe I just wasn’t as  talented as I thought…  

I stumbled into my career as a software developer purely by chance; the PC and dot-com booms created such a booming job market that anyone who could code even a little was fairly dragged into it. I had a knack for logical thinking that enabled me to figure out how to turn requirements into software, even if it never dared look within as to why I felt so unlikely to succeed at a career. Right from the beginning I got praise for the quality of my work, rose in skill and wage level from one job to another, and ending up working at Space Telescope making six figures. It was a dream come true it seemed. Deep down I was completely scared I didn’t deserve any of it. I think it was only when the director of the Institute handed me a special achievement award at a ceremony a couple years ago that I finally began to really believe I belonged there, among those other highly skilled professionals. I was 60. Somehow it’s still harder to acknowledge to myself that I’m one of them than it was to admit to myself that I’m gay. It still feels pretentious. I have a little Baltimore rowhouse now, in a city neighborhood that is on the rise, and a nice car, and a dream come true job. And my first dreams are all buried in the past. I pursue them now in my basement art room in my spare time.

And then of course, there’s how low self esteem impacts your love life. Some folks just write love off altogether and dive into the one night stand no strings no complications scene. Others of us just stand quietly in a corner with a flower in hand and hopeful expression on our faces and the unkept look of people who forget sometimes to take care of themselves because they know somehow it doesn’t matter all that much. Please love us. Please don’t break our hearts. But the heart was already broken even before you came out to yourself, in that first moment when you flinched away from knowing. Gay Pride only goes so far healing the wound. You have to work at it, you have to dig down deep to really get to all the subtle little places where it still exists, still hurts still holds you down.

The Institute gallery is a hallway leading to the cafeteria. It is open not just to staff but to the entire Johns Hopkins campus, and now all the folks from NASA and Goddard who are working here along with us on the James Webb Space Telescope flight operations center. Until recently it showcased both staff and local talent from the Baltimore area. Photography, paintings and drawings and other pieces of original artwork. But in recent months it’s been scaled back and now it only occupies half the space it used to. I’ve no idea why, other than perhaps its former curator retired.

Last July I had my first show there, which was my first show ever. And I was very apprehensive about it. My art photography has a very dire sense to it, that I don’t much care for, but it is what it is. I considered just showing some nice travel photography, but the previous gallery by the Institute staff photographer showcased his images from the American Southwest and that’s where my best travel photography is also, so I thought I needed to do something different, and the only different I had was the art photography. I fussed for weeks trying to decide which pieces to put up, afraid that the inner strangeness of my photography would creep people out. In the end I selected ten images that were true enough to what I do, but which I judged to be not quite so glaring.

I put them up on a Monday and waited. If nobody had said a word to me about them other than a few polite very nices and very goods I would have counted it a success. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelmingly positive feedback I got, even from some folks in the science staff. And I think it changed some people’s understanding of me. I wasn’t just the old computer geek oddball anymore. There was something more to Bruce people hadn’t expected to see.

Because…well…I hadn’t let them. I have another show starting next week. This time I’m doing some color work. And this time I’m not afraid to let my art photography be seen for what it is. It’s taken this long. The insidious thing about loneliness is it becomes familiar, and eventually…comfortable. Like slowly dying of hypothermia, and you get sleepy and you just want to rest and you don’t notice how it is draining the life out of you.

My first gallery show, July 2018.

 

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on At 65 I’m Only Now Exhibiting My Photography

November 9th, 2018

Compatibility Is Not About How Much You Like Each Other

Facebook sometimes torments me with that See Your Memories thing…

That was posted back in 2009, shortly after I’d started visiting Walt Disney World, which is significant and I almost grasped how significant even then. I should apologize to the boyfriend because it turned out not to be him after all. It was my first crush, posting under an alias, trying just then to get me to stay away from crush #3, and then some years later trying to get me to go somewhere else besides WDW on my vacations/road trips because (I’m making a wild guess here…) my presence in his life was causing him some closet angst. And nobody does angst better than Germans.

Hell…they invented the word. 

I figured out who the anonymous commenter here was after he used an odd turn of phrase that he’d also used in comments to my blogposts (there were several) and I pegged him on it and I reckon he got pissed. But by that time we were pretty much pissing each other off. When we weren’t getting all sweetness and light and touchy feely. When there is no middle ground it’s a sign that compatibility may not be within your grasp. Here’s why: 

I’m not an angry kinda guy, and neither is he, but pushing back we tended to amplify each other’s annoyance. Instead of making me take a step back his barbed edged teasing would bring out my inner brat…which would only piss him off more, which would only make my inner brat more bratty. At the end he said I was creeping him out and if I could I’d have laughed right in his face instead of via emails and blog posts and hey are you still using that AOL account and were you this closeted on GeoCities too? It was Boys In The Band level bitchiness. And if he could read this now he’d tell me I was still living in the past and I’d throw back at him that he was still running away from his.

It’s not how two people get along with each other that matters, it’s how they don’t get along. Is the chemistry to retreat to separate corners and cool off or does it hoist the Jolly Roger and get out the knives. Different combinations behave differently in the fire.

Life imitates soap operas sometimes. But I have those comments he posted under an alias in my blog to look at whenever I get to thinking I should have handled it differently. No… I handled it exactly right. If the only way you can speak your mind is behind a mask you are not right for me.

And there is the eternal problem for gay guys of our generation. We couldn’t talk it out with our friends, let alone our families…especially your Bavarian families…

Of course, I couldn’t exactly come out with it to my Baptist folks either…

 

But what all that meant was gay kids back in 1971 couldn’t date. You might be able to manage a secret angst ridden tryst or two, but all that tells you is how compatible your libidos are and a teenager is all hormones and hot blood in an instant anyway. Gay kids need to be able to date just like anyone else, because it’s dating where you find out who is right for you…and who isn’t. Two people can both be good, decent, trustworthy people (the inner damage ex-gay therapy later inflicts on a person notwithstanding…), thoroughly twitterpated, thoroughly hot for each other, and still not be right for each other. And where you really see it isn’t so much in how fondly they gaze into each other’s eyes or how combustible the sex is, but in how combustible their tempers are.  

Wish I’d seen that back in ‘71 what I see now. If gay kids could have dated back then I might have saved myself a lot of…well…angst…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Compatibility Is Not About How Much You Like Each Other

July 29th, 2018

The Loneliness Of Older Gay Men

This came across my Facebook news stream yesterday…

Study shows gay men over the age of 45 are more likely to be single

There’s an obvious take on this…that the gay club scene, much like the general pop culture scene, is mostly youth oriented and there are few opportunities for older gay men to have fun and socialize.

But there is a less obvious, until you look at the history of the gay civil rights struggle, reason for this. Probably the biggest reason. Us older gay men lived out most of our young adult lives in a climate of nearly pure unadulterated hate. When our peers could begin taking their own tentative steps into the dating and mating cycle, our hopes and dreams of love were routinely dashed on other people’s fear and loathing. We couldn’t date. Our love lives had to be paced out in the shadows. While the other kids got their proms, we got a few seedy bars and hookup spots. While the other kids got their songs and stories of love and romance and happily ever afters, we got every filthy lie people could think up about homosexuality.

By the time gay liberation made enough difference that a gay kid could ask his first crush to the prom, and dream a realistic dream of going steady, and even marriage, we were middle aged, weighed down and heart weary from all the wounds dug into us when we were young, many of us still too afraid to peek out of the closet for enough time to find a boyfriend. Even those of us who managed to avoid being trapped in a cycle of self loathing and bitterness, still had to find partners from the same peer group that had suffered so much damage.

I could tell you my stories, in fact I have. Most years around Valentine’s Day I repost them here on my blog. Stories of guys I met when I was younger, who made my heart skip a beat.  And they either broke it off with me because they were afraid their families would hate them, or that god would hate them, or hostile heterosexuals would see what was developing between us and sabotaged it because our hopes and dreams had to be their stepping stones to heaven.

So I’m single. I’ve never so much as had a steady boyfriend in my entire life. And I reckon now I’m done with it. I accept it. I will die a solitary gay male. I think I could have been good for somebody, but I will never know. I don’t blame youth culture. I blame the cloud of fear and loathing we all had to live under back then, and which many of my generational peers are still living under.

Below are few links to some of those Valentine’s Day stories I’ve posted here about being a young gay man in the 1970s and 80s looking for love. Read them and don’t wonder why so many older gay males are single.

Do You Believe In Love?

No Rescue For The Rescuers…

The Boy I Met In Church…

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Loneliness Of Older Gay Men

July 18th, 2018

Getting Back Into My Summer Clothes…Finally Wanting To Look Nice Again…
 
I resumed dieting again a couple weeks ago. It’s not the painful thing for me that it is for others. By sticking to a basically bland food intake and no sugary treats I can get back down to a weight and shape I feel good about, and which my body seems to naturally like anyway. Just today managed to get the hourglass is back. It feels nice. Now I need to stick to the plan for at least another couple weeks, but seeing this reappear is a big ego boost and encouragement because I can start feeling good about my appearance again. The age lines in my face notwithstanding. It’s important to me, solitary though I am. Maybe more so precisely because that. 
 
So…from the neck down anyway (people who look like that…) it’s…pretty good again. Gay otter body though it is. I need to stick to the plan for a while longer so it takes for the rest of the summer and autumn. You get to a point where your body is accustomed to a summer intake and then I’m always apologizing to the servers when I go out to eat for all the food I left on the plate, unless I remember to ask for small portions ahead of time. I can maintain a 148-150 weight and the hourglass pretty easily through the summer and fall. It’s when the holidays come around and everyone is waving cupcakes and cookies at me that it all comes unraveled. The past decade or so I’ve been in a cycle of gaining waistline during the winter holidays and shedding it in the spring. This year I just didn’t feel like it…for some reason. But somehow…somehow…I managed to roust myself out of it and decide liking how I look was worthwhile again, even if only to myself. 
 
I’m really not a very big guy and I never needed a lot of calories. What happened was I started making a good income and suddenly I could escape the bland diet of my youth. And then the waistline grew, the hourglass vanished, and appallingly my chin started disappearing along with it. I’ve written before about how I was at 160 heading for 170 and 33 inch bluejeans heading for 34s. I just put it down to middle age…mom was a thin little thing herself until she hit her 40s and I figured that was my fate too. But then I reconnected with my high school crush and he asked for a photo of me, and I started looking at what I was eating and adding up the calories and it shocked me. 
 
Call it empty vanity if you like, but being single and at the end of any possibility of dating at my age, it matters that I can still look in a mirror and like what I see. 
by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Getting Back Into My Summer Clothes…Finally Wanting To Look Nice Again…

July 6th, 2018

A Hug From Beyond The Grave…

Something to understand about the relationship between mom and I, that I need to get out here, before I go into what I just discovered digging through the stuff of hers’ I bought home after the funeral. After she passed away, people in the small western Virginia town she retired to, folks I didn’t know from Adam, would see me walking along, come up to me, and tell me what a ray of sunshine she was, and how sad they were to have her gone. It really helped.

And it was no act. I grew up with it. That was her. And I never doubted that she loved me. She really was a ray of sunshine everywhere she went. So whenever I misbehaved, and she got angry, and the ray of sunshine got all dark and stormy, it was Scary. Because you kept forgetting that was in there.

Mom knew her only child was gay, long before she retired, decades probably, before she passed away. But we never spoke of it. Partly that was reticence on both our parts to discuss anything related to sex. There’s a Monty Python routine that begins “Are you embarrassed easily? I am. But don’t worry, it’s all part of growing up, and being British.” Also part of being an American Yankee Baptist. Easily embarrassed would be an understatement. In my old age I can just let it slide. But in my adolescence, just when a boy needs to talk these things out with the parent unit(s), neither mom nor I could come anywhere near the subject without getting the terminal squeamishes and running the hell away.

But there was also this: she could see it coming. I did an episode of A Coming Out Story about this. With Bruce, it was always about the other boys. You might have thought there were no girls at all in his world. Well of course there were…his friends all had, or were looking for girlfriends. But Bruce was oblivious. Mom would comment later that she knew the names of all my male friends, but I never once mentioned any of the girls unless prompted.

She knew. In my mid thirties mom had to go into the hospital for gallbladder surgery. Back then it was a very invasive procedure, unlike today. A patient had to recover for at least a day, maybe two, after surgery. One afternoon I went to visit mom in her hospital room. She had another women as a roommate, I think they were also there for the same procedure. As I walked in I was greeted by the other woman, and her visiter, a female friend. A few moments of conversation and I could tell both women were friendly, intelligent, and liberal. Mom was getting along well with them both.

Somehow, a conversation about the torrent of political junk mail started. Reagan was running for his second term, and I, a staunch democrat by then, was baffled that I was getting so much mail from the GOP asking for donations. I related one of them…a flyer allegedly from George Shultz saying he and Reagan “need you Bruce” to fight off the democrats.

The two ladies burst into hysterical laughter. I wasn’t getting why the joke was That funny…but yes, it Was a bit hilarious they’d send that to a democrat. Then the roommate managed, between laughs, to get out “…and they sent that to a homosexual…they Need Him…they Need Him…” Uproarious laughter ensued, while mom and I sat next to each other, smiling back at them amicably and pretending we didn’t hear that.

Eventually the ladies noticed we weren’t laughing along with them…gathered themselves together…and decided it was time for them to take a nice refreshing walk. As the roommate passed me on her way out, she put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, as if to say “It’ll be alright kid…”

After they were gone, mom and I immediately changed the subject.

Mom…what sort of conversations have you been having with your roommate about me…that you won’t have with me…? 

Time passes…the universe expands… One day mom retired, and moved to a place in south western Virginia, to be near her cousin and their family, and to live in mountains much like the Pennsylvania ones she grew up in. For reasons I still don’t completely grok, that Pennsylvania side of the family held some kind of grudge against her all her adult life, after she married dad.

By then I was very much the out and proud gay American, but I still couldn’t talk about it with mom. Several times just before she moved away I tried to broach the subject. And the ray of sunshine would get all dark and stormy and I’d back the hell off. So I thought to try a different tack. I subscribed her to the PFLAG newsletter. A thing I’m certain lots of gay kids have done over the decades, as a way of laying the groundwork for officially coming out to a parent. Some months later I went for a visit, and after the usual joyful greetings and catching up on the news, mom pulled out a copy of the PFLAG newsletter, showed it to me, and asked if I knew why she was getting it.

Well…she knew damn well why. But the ray of sunshine was all dark and stormy just then and I wimped out and said I didn’t know. And she very ostentatiously put it in the trash.

Time passess…the universe expands… Here I am in my basement going through things of hers, deciding what to keep and what to discard. It’s one of the tasks I’ve set for myself this stay at home vacation, in an effort to reduce the amount of Stuff I have in the house, preparing myself for old age, when I might have to rent part of my house out, or move to a cheaper part of the country to live, like mom did. But I can’t be moving to somewhere they hate Teh Gay.

I have her diaries now…I know that she knew…I know that she stressed over it considerably. To her dying day she was a deeply religious woman. In the Baptist way she never tried to force me to go back to church, but I always knew she wanted me to and was sad I didn’t believe anymore. I tried in every way I could to make her proud of me, but there were some places I could not go. To church was one of them. Into the arms of a woman was another. Just a few days before she passed away we shared our last phone conversation, and she asked if I was coming for a visit soon. I said I would try, but I didn’t like being on the road by myself much anymore. “I know…” she replied. “I wish you weren’t so lonely. I wish you had someone…” A pause. “It doesn’t have to be a girl…”

And of course we both immediately changed the subject.

And here I am going through her things. Much of it I just simply stuffed into these Rubbermaid storage containers and brought back with me, and I haven’t really gone through any of it in detail, except for what I needed to dig up to settle her affairs.

And I found this.

It’s the issue with the “Mother Talks Back to the Bigots” text that was flying around the Internet in the Spring of 2000 when the election was starting to heat up, and GOP antigay flyers were flooding the mail in the swing states. I’m certain the pulpits were thumping down there in Southwestern Virginia…and the talk radio screamers. Mom didn’t want her boy to be gay, but she loved him very much nonetheless. And this was what she would have read, and didn’t throw in the trash but kept in her files, for me to find all these years later…

“I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse…”

Glad I decided to go through this stuff finally, instead of just putting it off until I was in my grave too, and it fell to someone else to throw it all away.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Hug From Beyond The Grave…

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