National Coming Out Gay

A photo from one of our first dates, where Lance schooled me in bowling. His unnaturally long arms must give him an advantage, like Lance Armstrong’s enlarged heart…and all the performance-enhancing drugs.

Sorry posts have been so sporadic lately, dudes and dudettes! It’s the busiest time of year at work and nobody’s paying me to do this blog full-time, ya know!  Plus, we’re neck-deep (that is a saying, right? Or is it knee-deep? Or chest-deep? Or deep end of the pool?) in planning for our impending trip to Japan and holiday traveling to various theme parks …so, you know, a full plate.

But fear not, semi-loyal readers and spambots: we hath not forsaken thee! In honor of National Coming Out Day (which is a thing, I think), we’re going to jump forward a little bit in our narration of “Jeff + Lance: Secret Origin” to discuss my very own coming out story…

I was 22, and you could probably count the amount of people who I’d come out to on maybe two hands and half of a foot–and none of those phalanges were family members.  Though I’m sure some psych major could Britta me and identify shame, guilt, embarrassment, and a whole slew of other underlying emotions which kept me from stepping loud and proud out of the closet, I knew my conscious mind held me back because I was just so unsure of how things would unfold if I did.  There was a giant question mark in my way whenever I’d try to logically deduce what sort of outcome was in store.  The uncertainty–for somebody who hates not being in control–killed me.

I’d been dating boys for a few years by the time I met Lance, but I did that awful social limbo that all half-closeted gay dudes do where you deny half of your life to the other half and vice versa, coming up with convoluted excuses for this or that to explain away what you did last weekend (“Oh, me and…a friend (yeah, a friend, that’s it!) went apple-picking together.”) I came out to my friends slowly as circumstance forced me to, not usually by choice.

That…and I don’t really like talking about myself.  I mean, I do talk about myself quite a bit, but it’s mostly topical stuff…revealing heavy emotions, man, just isn’t my bag.

There came a time, though, when it became a necessity to tell my parents, and not just because Lance basically forced me to. See, I had just finished my master’s program at Penn and my parents had come down from Michigan to Philadelphia for my graduation.  I was also using their car as an opportunity to move all of my stuff out of my grad dorm and into…you guessed it, Lance’s apartment, since I hadn’t secured a job yet and, without a sizable chunk of money in the bank or a demonstrable source of income, landlords wouldn’t even consider me for an apartment.

Even thinking about trying to come up with a platonic explanation of my “association” with Lance hurt my brain.  There’s no logical reason why I’d ever meet Lance, a guy five years older than me who worked in a non-profit theatre who I’d be bunking up with while I found a place to live, anywhere outside of a gay bar.

Lance, too, was not-so-subtly pushing me to come out to my parents.  “Are you going to tell your parents?” he would ask in a non-sequitur.  “When’s the next time you’ll see them in person to tell them? TELL THEM NOWWWWWW.”

Hrm.  He had a point. Between the total lack of opportunities to actually say something to my parents in person, now that we lived 800 miles away from one another, and the fact that any fake straight-guy explanation for us knowing one another would create a paradox in space-time…well, I had to tell them.

Oh, that and I guess I loved Lance and stuff at that point and I owed it to him as well.  Y’know…that.

So, my parents and I packed up my belongings and were making our way over to “my friend’s” apartment, and I still hadn’t told them.  My dad pulled up outside of Lance’s building, and I still hadn’t told them.

Um…you’re running out of time, dude.

“Uh, guys…there’s something I need to talk about.”

I couldn’t not say anything anymore.  At least if my parents suddenly disowned me (all prior behaviors suggesting otherwise), I was already 800 miles away and could just figure stuff out then.  But hopefully they’d at least let me unload my stuff before they drove off in a bigoted huff!

You know how it goes at this point: I cry (which might be what Medusa looks like), my parents are instantly and unwaveringly supportive, just wanting the best for me and mostly concerned about my safety and well-being in an intolerant world.

I realize how lucky I am.  Not that somebody should ever have to consider having the full love and unconditional support of their parents as “lucky,” but that’s not how the world works, unfortunately.  I am lucky.

My parents were pretty honest with me, too. “Yeah, I suppose we’ve known for awhile,” my mom said, pointing to my perhaps-too-fervent appreciation of *NSYNC as evidence in the case against my straight-hood.

We had a warm and fuzzy, “Don’t worry, we’ve got each other’s backs” family moment.  It was touching!

…but, we were still in the car, out in front of Lance’s apartment.  I’d waited until the last possible moment to come out to my parents; literally, I came out and 10 minutes later they were going to meet my “we’re pretty serious” boyfriend.  A whirlwind of gay!

I called Lance on my cell.  “Uh, hi.  We’re here.”

Lance, who was upstairs in his apartment at the time, said, “You’re with your parents?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I talked to them and they want to meet you.”

There was dead air on the other line, then a nervous laugh that only barely concealed seething hatred Lance felt for me at that moment.  “You mean, RIGHT NOW?”  Lance was probably upset because he didn’t have nearly enough time to prepare a proper outfit and scent medley for being introduced to my parents.

“Umm…yes?”

My coming-out, basically pulling off the world’s biggest band-aid, as fast as I could!

And, as Lance likes to point out, my parents ended up liking him more than me! What the hell, Mom and Dad?!

Origin Story

Very early in our relationship, my then 22-year-old self made a near-fatal error.  You know that time in your budding romance where you shower each other with compliments, a weird sort of one-upsmanship of “Oooh, you’re so thoughtful!” and “How cute are you?” and so on.

Well, I can’t say that I was always the mature wordsmith that I am today.  When we first started dating [Lance interjects here, screaming, “DATING?!?!”…long story.], relieved and somewhat perplexed that I had snared an extremely attractive fellow, I may have half-jokingly said the following…out loud…to Lance, with a smug look of satisfaction on my face:

“Yep, I scored myself a hot piece of ass.”

See, this was totally meant to be a compliment.  I mean, look at the guy!

Adorable!  You don’t just reel that into your boat and toss it back! You take that home and put it above your fireplace!

Well, as you can probably imagine, Lance was not too thrilled with this line.  He didn’t take it as the obvious compliment it was and instead considered it “objectification”…whatever that is.  I didn’t know how upset he was about it until much later; see, I’d said it during that early point in any relationship where nobody tries to rock the boat too much even if the other person has offended you, so Lance kept his distaste for my comment to himself for quite awhile.

Now how did I get to this point where I considered my future husband essentially a piece of meat?

See, Lance and I are super-shy and were both super-alone about five years ago.  I had recently moved to Philadelphia rack up a lifetime of debt in grad school, not knowing anybody.  When my university was holding a grad student LGBTQXYZ mixer one night, I struggled to overcome my shy awkwardness, eventually getting myself to the event to “mingle” (small talk is quite possibly my least fave thing ever).

Eventually, a group of guys decided to head to the bars; oblivious to the fact that nobody actually wanted me to tag along (yep, THAT guy right here, folks), I goofily followed.  Now, most of these guys were, like, PhD students in religious studies or tax code or something like that, and I’d never seen an episode of Sex and the City in my life, so I was waaay out of my element, a dumb Midwestern hick with nothing to provide to the group conversation.  The awkwardness was pervasive, and I was starting to look for a way to remove myself without looking totally lame. I figured I’d give it one more bar stop, just to see if things improved.

After a stop at the semi-legendary drag show at Bob & Barbara’s, we headed to Woody’s, because, honestly, why wouldn’t you name a gay bar Woody’s?  Woody’s represents the kind of pathetic sadness of Philly’s gay scene: the place at that point was kind of a mess across multiple floors: if I remember correctly, lots of seedy industrial carpet, chunky bartenders, and themed nights like…country line-dancing.

That, and it must be said that Philly’s gay scene, like any other “scene” on the East Coast, is full of people that couldn’t cut it in New York City, so…there’s that.

Anyway, yes, it was country line-dancing night at Woody’s. I’d clearly not had enough to drink for this, and people were starting to peel away from the group with which I came.  Time to start looking for my own exit, I thought to myself.

Then I saw him, sitting at the bar, quite possibly the most attractive boy I’d seen.  Just look at him!

We made eye contact, but me being me, I freaked out and started playing with my phone, you know, because that’s smooth and obviously, so many people were texting me at 11:30 at night.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself by playing eye footsie (eye-sie?) only to find out that the cute guy at the bar was just taking mental notes of how not to dress or something.  There’s no way this guy’d want to talk to me, anyway (low self-esteem leftover from childhood obesity FTW!)

Then, a little pixie popped up next to me.  No, not a gay, but a then-unknown Alix, with her cute little pixie-cut, showed up in my life just then and sprinkled a whole bunch of magic dust on me.  Alix coming over and talking to me at that moment, in Woody’s, was one of the most important interactions I will ever have in my life.

“Heeey,” said Alix (we’re all a little drunk at this point).  “My friend over there wants to talk to you.”

My brain was already fumbling.  Uhh, what?  So, I’m like 22 at this point and nobody has ever sent an emissary over to solicit my attention.  Nobody has ever cold-call approached me before, so I really had no idea what to say.

“Err…hello.  Umm…what?”

Alix motioned over to the bar, in the direction of the cute guy that I’d made eye-contact with earlier.  “The guy over there, he thinks you’re cute.”

Haha.  She must be joking.  When does it ever happen that the person you think is attractive is actually attracted to you as well?  That’s, like, a thing that surely doesn’t happen, right?

“Uhh, well, I don’t really think…” I mumbled.

“Ohh, please.” Alix at this point was already over this act of goodwill.  “Just go talk to him, ya goon.”

Okay.  Okay okay.  So, I had some “evidence” here, just by Alix’s presence, that I wasn’t going to totally embarrass myself by initiating a conversation with this Cute Guy at the Bar.  Still, I needed to leave myself a little bit of an out in case it soured or in case this was just some giant prank.

I walked up to Cute Guy, and basically said in one unbroken word, “UmIhavetoleavesoonbutcanIgetyournumberKThxbyeeeee.”

Cute Guy turned to me, and said, “I’m Lance.”  The rest is history.  We ended up going to another bar, a piano bar, together, where we discussed the merits of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, as sung by a sixty-year-old chain smoker.

We were both good that night, and went out separate ways, with me writing my number on the cover of a J.Crew catalog that Alix had in her purse.  Lance texted me the next day to ask if I wanted to have dinner, which, by the way, continues to be the only non-birthday meal where Lance has paid for me.

And, in a weird roundabout way as Lance slouches toward his mid-thirties (ooh, man, I’m gonna pay for that comment later…), he now embraces his “hot piece of ass”-ness, wearing it as a badge of honor as he watches many of his contemporaries fall into the sweatpants-in-the-grocery-store disrepair of adulthood.

Through the Queer Window

Our awesome pal Brian recently asked me to further explain my thoughts on gay culture and why I feel so uncomfortable interacting with many other gay men.  Admittedly, I’ve been struggling to come up with a coherent, concise statement that does justice to how I feel.

To sum up: I often feel judged by other gays, and I am not a person to easily tolerate criticism, so I find myself avoiding interacting with other gay men to save myself the grief (this is different from the “hetero judging all us gays, like, all the time” since there’s an added layer of shared “otherness” which should unite us, but usually makes judgment feel like a much bigger betrayal of our commonality).  I’m not psych major, but this seems like a vicious cycle, a recipe for disaster.

I came across the video below on Towleroad today, which I found very illuminating; it also does a much better job of addressing where this sense of judgment comes from than anything I could’ve thrown together. Since it comes from a psychptherapist (who is fabulously dressed/groomed, I must say. #Empowerment!), it actually has some legitimacy, too:

…So, yep, that’s basically my sense of what happens within the gay community, and only rarely do I find some other gay who doesn’t outwardly project that judgment at me, which is why I’m light on gay friends but am a fairly content person.  Of course, we’d love to get to know some more non-judgmental gays…but there isn’t an app for that. 😦

Aside

Queer Window

I was at the kitchen table, working on the final paper for my Philosophy of Sex & Love course (oooh!…no, actually, not nearly as interesting as it sounds), when Lance muttered, “Ugh. It’s those two gays again.”

Lance peered through the blinds of the window in our dining area, which overlooks the parking lot of our apartment complex.  I quickly joined him; these gays are new-ish in the area and have been fairly elusive.  The most I’ve gotten out of them is a knowing, “Hello” as I was walking Ripley.

“Wait a minute,” I whispered, my voice quivering. “Is that one wearing a graphic tee?…That’s…my thing…” I was forlorn.

The two of them walked toward their Acura, which gave us ammunition enough to hate them, though we don’t even know them or their names. (Aside from what we can infer from the Acura’s vanity plate…I mean, seriously: an Acura with a vanity plate? Do you wipe your butt with monogrammed goldleaf?)

“Well, that one is ugly,” stated Lance matter-of-factly, as the gays hopped into their luxury sedan.

We’re both at an impasse here.  While we wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to make new friends, we are both a tad…something around other gays. Uncomfortable? Jealous? Suspicious?

I was going to go into a whole treatise about the psychology of young, urbanite gay culture, but I couldn’t figure out a way to write it that didn’t come across as generalizing and just petty. (This Gawker article does a good job at addressing one or two of my thoughts on the issue.)  Ultimately, though, however alienated we feel by other gays, our kneejerk discomfort/catty bitchiness is as much our fault and “theirs.”

There are a whole slew of reasons for this, many of which I’m sure are rooted in our own individual neuroses and self-doubts, which we then project onto others in order to make ourselves feel better about our Ford Fiesta, or some unsightly pudge, etc. etc. We feel judged when we’re doing just as much, if not more, judging. Maybe we do this with other gays in particular since there’s a weird, added element of familiarity due to our common marginalization, which allows for a more direct comparison.  I think this is particularly true with other young 20-something gays (well, “30-something” for Lance).  Still, on the flipside, I know I often feel condescended towards by other gays, so it’s not just a one-way street.  It’s a lose-lose situation.

In trying to identify just what it is about other gays that oftentimes makes us uncomfortable, I asked Lance for his input.

“I just don’t know how to pinpoint what it is without coming across as shallow and bitchy,” I admitted, a resigned tone in my voice.  How could I demonstrate in words this seemingly legitimate sense of “cold shoulder”?

“Honey,” Lance said, turning toward me, “we are shallow and bitchy.”

Ah. So maybe it’s just us.

WanderLance and Jeff: No Compromise

(In retrospect, I guess I was asking for it.)

One of the more challenging parts of navigating the shared life of a relationship is when there is a disagreement over vacations.  Do you like “sit around and do nothing” vacations? Or do you like “immerse yourself in local culture by touring the food market” vacations? How do you come to some of agreement that isn’t really just a half-assed compromise that leaves both sides miserable?

The first time I realized that Lance and I don’t see eye-to-eye on vacations was when we went to Las Vegas for the first time.

“Oooh, ooh, I can’t wait to see the Hoover Dam!” I squealed. “And maybe maybe we can take a bus tour to the Grand Canyon!!!”

Lance got that look on his face, and shut it down. “Betch, please. I’m going to the pool.”

Y’see, Lance just doesn’t like what he calls “busy” vacations.  He likes to get his pina colada slushee in a giant plastic mug and lay out in the sun for hours at a time.  There will be no “touring,” for heaven’s sake.

I begrudgingly agreed to tag along to the pool, not wanting to force Lance to do anything he didn’t care to do, and surprise!, we didn’t make it to the Hoover Dam on that trip.

The following year, we were in Hawaii, a trip I never thought I’d make. I mean, I had to go to Pearl Harbor, right? How many more opportunities would I ever have to see it?

Our conversation about visiting the hallowed ground where thousands died in service to our country went a lil’ something like this:

Lance had absolutely negative desire to spend 45 minutes on the bus (each way) to look at some rusty metal and oil slicks.  The “do lots of stuff” vacations never appeal to him, which boggles my mind, since those were the only kind of vacations I did growing up.  You’ve got seven days to pack in as much stuff as possible….annnnd, go!

Unlike the Hoover Dam, though, I knew I couldn’t go to Oahu and not see Pearl Harbor.  That just wasn’t going to happen, regardless of whether or not Lance wanted to come with me.

We actually had a pretty serious conversation about how it’s okay to do things separately on vacation, even if you’re on the other side of the world.  It was a strange discussion to have, since, you know, we are in a relationship (now marriage) and we should do everything together, especially on a trip, right? Well, no. We decided that neither of us would try to restrict what the other wanted to do; if we were uninterested, we would just go do something else.

This works well, too, with how we decide vacation destinations.  There’s no compromises in this department: Lance gets to choose a big vacation one year, then I do the next, and so on.  That’s why we’ve been to Hawaii twice (my choice once, and then Lance’s).  That’s why we’re going to Japan this fall (my choice), and probably Hawaii again next year (Lance’s choice; notice a trend?).  While we’re on these trips, we can decide to do things together or individually, whatever each person wants to do.  This set-up more often than not keeps the peace!

With Disney World (my choice, though this gets into the whole vacation sub-category of “long weekend” trips which we tend not to count in our decision rotation), Lance confirmed my fears that he is happy to go, just not that OMIGODM-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-EMICKEYMOUSE! excited as I am. (The interaction captured in the first cartoon was said without thinking, during an argument about dog boarding, of all things.)  At first, I was, yeah, a little sad and kind of hurt, but I had to remind myself that he has a right to his opinion; hell, it’s not like I’ve kept secret my lack of enthusiasm toward Las Vegas, one of Lance’s favorite places.

If Lance doesn’t want to do something in Disney World, we have that understanding that says, “Okay, well, you can go do whatever you want while I do this.”  Nobody should be kept back from doing what they want to do.  If I want to ride Peter Pan’s Flight, nothing’s gonna stop me, gosh darnit!

…Though, now that I think about it, I’ve still never made it to the Hoover Dam.

Hrmph.