Author: popphits

I'm a single, gay, twenty something with a good heart and a healthy sense of humor. I work as a theater artist in a wonderful city and have a fantastic group of friends and family. I'm constantly looking for love in all the places, right or wrong.

My Pledge of Allegiance

I went camping this weekend.  I went camping with my two best friends.  I went camping at a gay campground on a weekend that celebrated light with amazing displays of neon colors and festive creative looks.  Gays from all over converged to indulge in a free spirited playground of poolside drinks and long nights of sweaty filthy dance parties.  It was wonderful.  

As a treat to myself, I decided I’d disconnect from my phone and give my full attention to the beautiful souls in front of me, checking only once a day just in case someone I loved beyond the campground needed me.  

On Saturday night, as I was still buzzing from the libidinous energy of the night, I settled into my air mattress and turned on my phone.  

Fortunately, my texts were few and about nothing significant.  

And then I opened Facebook and felt my heart shatter into a thousand pieces.  The real world crashed down on me as a helplessly scrolled my newsfeed.  

I don’t need to recount for you the horrible details.  By now you know about the incomprehensibly devastating actions of the Alt-Right movement in Chartlottesville, Virginia, how they inflicted terror on their fellow humans in an act of unspeakable rage and hatred.   

It’s moment like these that ask me to reflect on my own actions and think about my responsibility in all of this.  How easy it is to say, “Who would do something like this?,” or “These are the worst kind of white people,” or “I’m nothing like them,” with an inflated sense of pride as if not having the impulse to drive a car into a crowd of people is something to be proud of.  It’s not.  

It’s not enough anymore to be a white person who simply distances himself from white racist xenophobes. It’s not enough to feel sad and mortified and feel comfortable because I know I’m not like that.  It’s not enough to accept that simply loving the people of color in my life will bridge the vast violent expanse between us all.  

It’s time for me, and frankly all white people, to take action.  As I figure out how to begin, how to turn this heartbreak into action, I write this pledge to clarify my mission and to hold myself accountable to you, whoever you are who reads this.  I hope you will support me.

To people of color:

I pledge to:

  • Continue to read, watch and listen to your stories so that I may better grasp your experience.
  • Push myself to become an accomplice, not just an ally.  
  • Remember your needs have to come first.
  • Accept that my privilege may always be a barrier between us.
  • Find ways to leverage my privilege to help advance your cause whenever I can.
  • Stand behind you when you need my support.
  • Stand in front of you in order to protect you from dangerous white aggressors.
  • Always ask you what you need instead of assuming I have any fucking clue what that might be.
  • Respect that you are all individuals, nuanced in your reaction to every act of violence.
  • Understand that sharing a post does not equal activism
  • Help other white people understand our privilege.
  • Allow other voices speak before mine and engage myself in true listening.
  • Love you as fully as I can.

To my fellow white people:

I pledge to:

  • Use what I learn to help teach you how to be a better citizen of our world, in the end always directing you to the source, accepting that I am never an expert on the feelings of people of color.
  • Encourage you to do better by confronting you when you say something problematic and not just silently rolling my eyes.
  • Have difficult conversations which might make us both squirm because people are dying in these streets and that’s way worse than a botched dinner party.
  • Remind myself that loving someone fully also means embracing the worst of them but progress comes when we work through those hard moments rather than pretending they don’t exist.

 

To everyone:

I remind myself that love should be unconditional and active.  I accept that by turning this pain into positive action, I might see sides of people, white people, that I do not like.  I already have.  But turning away or blocking these people does not solve the problem.  It only makes us more oblivious to each other’s point of view.  

I hope that our world can be better.  I’m not sure how we can fix it or how I can make a difference but I intend to work towards a better tomorrow that embraces us all.  You are all beautiful and I respect you as much as I love you which is a whole heck of a lot.  

A Brief History of Public Nudity

I went to a nude beach for the first time this weekend.  I didn’t go to prove a point or for some exercise in exposure therapy or to reclaim a confidence lost to tragedy and ridicule.  I went simply because my friends and I have heard tell of this mythic place in up state New Jersey and were curious.  

A few weeks ago, we compared calendars and picked an available weekend just like you’d plan a trip to a vineyard or that cool new bar on top of an old school.  The day finally arrived.  We all got up early as fuck because we’re grown people who rise before the sun, packed up Brian’s car, made a trip to Starbucks and hit the road.

We arrived at the beach two hours later, bypassing all traffic.  Gunnison beach is tucked away in a state park in New Jersey.  For $15 a car, beach enthusiasts can enjoy a quaint and well preserved stretch of beach that feels sequestered and peaceful.  There’s no hustle or bustle that’s generated by a busy boardwalk or dense residential development.  

At every turn, the park gives off a family friendly vibe which I found surprising given that we were about to visit a nude beach.  I had been primed to expect a gay-centric space that catered to muscles and hot bods.  I found the opposite.  Sunbathers of all sorts were there. Men, women and, presumably gender non-conforming individuals of all sizes, shapes and colors made camp with their umbrellas and coolers.  At the bathrooms just outside of the beach we even saw families with small children though they seemed to hang away from the nude bathers.  

In any case, what I expected to feel like a sexualized day was anything but.  More like “anything, butt” am I right?!  Anyway, my friends and I stripped down to nothing and enjoyed what felt like every other day at the beach I have ever spent in my entire life.  Sure, I checked out the bods, but, like, even that felt like pretty common place. 

Within my own self, I also didn’t feel any anxiety about getting naked.  I was just one naked body in a sea multi shaped bodies.  There wasn’t a specific aesthetic expected of the bathers.  It felt inclusive and sublime.   

I’m no stranger to being publicly nude so the whole ordeal wasn’t particularly shocking either.   A friend of mine has been known to throw naked parties once in a while.  A year ago, my two besties and I attended our first one.  We weren’t sure what to expect.  Given that it was thrown by gay men for only gay men, I was sure it would to turn into an Eyes Wide Shut situation.  

When we arrived at the house, we were greeted by a horde of naked dudes holding solo cups chit-chatting like you do at a house party.  We were directed upstairs, given trash bags for our clothes, and stripped down.  The three of us shared a deep breath and made our grand entrance.  

Sexualized it was not.  Not really anyway.  We all checked each other out, for sure, but strip away the stripping and it was a pretty standard house party as far as parties go.  I caught up with people I hadn’t spoken to in a while, had some drinks, ate pulled pork and we all played a game or two.  

After the initial shock subsided, the novelty of the nude bodies kind of passed and we were all just a bunch of cozy dudes chatting about Game of Thrones.   

Now let me be clear, I didn’t walk into the party with anything resembling the confidence or nonchalance I’m presenting right now.  I did a lot of soul searching, iron pumping and physical landscaping to prepare for it.  I feel as complicated about my body as anybody else.  

I mean, I love it.  I do.  Generally speaking, I think I have a pleasing face with balanced features.  I’m relatively in shape and have an ass that won’t quit.  I’m good.   

But then there are those mornings or weeks or months when I feel betrayed by it.  I’m either too bloated, too soft, there are too many surprise crevices that spring up as I reach for a T-Shirt in the bottom drawer of my dresser.

The journey to personal physical satisfaction is a damn bear and I’m just Leonardo DiCaprio wrestling it, doing whatever it takes to earn a damn Oscar.

That said, at this point in my life, I’ve been exposed enough times that I don’t really feel threatened or fearful of it.  I accept myself, flaws and all, and understand that nudity can be a source of fun and joy.  

But like all things that require extreme amounts of bravery, it often takes an unexpected thrust to cross that boundary.  

Flashback to 2007…

I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college dancing for a very corporate theme park in Tampa, Florida which shall remain unnamed because I’m not tryna get sued here.  I, along with seven other people, was put up in deluxe suites for the length of the gig. We worked six hours a day, six days a week and were home by 2pm with unlimited pool access at the hotel and free entry to a local water park.   As far as summer jobs went, this one was pretty dope.  

This was, however, an especially tenuous moment in my life.  At this point, I had never admitted my sexuality to anyone save for the few guys back at school with whom I shared tawdry clandestine trysts.  I made them all cross their hearts and swear to secrecy like all terrified closeted homosexuals do.  And like most juicy gossip, word started to spread that I was one of Rupaul’s chosen people.  

Nevertheless, my secret persisted.  Or at least I chose to believe that.  While I was firmly denying any public accusations, like  Winona Ryder in The Crucible, I was also slowly beginning  to personally accept the truth of accusations, like how I wished The Crucible ended #witchesrevenge.  

Tensions inside of my own brain were high.  My grip on that closet door was slipping and a swift breeze would have blown the damn thing off of its hinges.  Fortunately, I was living with a group of people with whom I felt just as comfortable as I did unfamiliar.  Our relationship began and ended with this job.  

In our group were two gay men and five women who couldn’t have been more open and loving.  I was asked on day one if I was gay or not.  I choose to answer with the lie while white knuckle gripping my closet doors shut.  Obviously they assumed I was in denial but no one pressed me further.  Regardless, the gays boys treated me as one of the fold and I didn’t protest too much.  

I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test out the homosexual life.  We would spend our afternoons at a nearby water park.  I know, they’re gross but we got in for free so get off my back.  Bobby, one of the gays, made up a game where we would assess the hotness of the bathing men.  If we passed a guy we wanted to smash, we’d say “No” and if we wouldn’t smash, we’d say “yes.”  It wasn’t the most original code but if anyone heard us, it shrouded our intentions to a degree.  I kept silent at first, making my own notes until I started vocally agreeing or disagreeing with the men they spotted but never initiating assessment.  As it turned out, Bobby and I had similar tastes which he found all too fun.  

During our stay, we befriended another sweet gay man, Andrew, who also worked at the park.  Andrew took us under his wing and decided he would show us the fun places to go in Tampa.  There weren’t all that many and, as I mentioned before, we worked 6 days out of the week starting at 7am each morning performing three times a day.  Night owls we were not.  

Monday was our day off and so we lived for Sunday Nights.  We were a mixed crowd of people over and under 21 which made finding a spot that would allow us all in together a challenge.  As it turned out, the only bar that would let us all in was this divey gay bar.  

The first time we went there was as rebellious of a moment as I had ever experienced.  Not only was I under age but it was my first time stepping foot into a full gay space.  Nothing about who I told myself I was belonged there and yet I bubbling with energy and excitement to be standing where I was.  I was flirting with what felt like every possible disaster.  

I don’t remember much about the first night there.  Partly because I wasn’t yet great at holding my liquor and partly because I was so concerned about how enthusiastic I appeared.  At one point, Bobby and I were in the bathroom when someone flirted with me.  I remember blushing and telling the guy I was straight.  Bobby rolled his eyes and  I dashed from the exchange but felt a powerful force drawing me back to that man.  I never went back.

Another week went by and it was time for our night out.  We went back to the same bar.  That night, they had their outdoor patio opened.  It stood over the sidewalk and overlooked the water.  My friend, Amanda, and I sat on the patio and chatted with Andrew.  I started getting loose as one does after a few drinks.  I felt dazzling and magnetic, like I was letting myself fully effervesce for the first time.  

Eventually, the three of us heard a ruckus coming from the dance floor.  A circle had formed and inside of it was a drag queen emceeing what we took to be a dance contest.  There was a shirtless man performing a lame Magic Mike-esque dance.  This was, of course, before Magic Mike actually came out so we can’t hold his subpar moves against him now.  

Amanda and I, feeling overconfident from the Long Island Iced Tea, decided that we could dance circles around this dingus.  Were we not literal professional damn dancers?  We slammed down our glasses, no doubt splashing cheap cocktail over the railing and onto the sidewalk below, and pushed through the riff-raff around the circle launching ourselves into its heart.  

Now, for context, this was the summer that Rihanna’s “Umbrella” came out.  We were HUGE fans of that song and naturally had our own choreography to it.  I’m not sure if “Umbrella” was actually playing in this moment but we gave it a 5, 6, 7, 8 and fully and spiritedly started to set the dance floor on fire with our well prepared moves.

Just as we were deep deep into our groove, two burly shirtless men came charging into the circle and pushed Amanda aside.  I started to panic.  We were busted.  Not only were we underage, we must have violated the official rules of the dance contest.  We were pariahs and were going to be kicked out of the bar, or worse, arrested.  

The two men flanked me.  They were positioned within an inch of my face and back.  I stood stone still ready to surrender myself and exit the bar with what I now understood to be the bouncers into the custody of the Tampa police.  Then I felt a tug at the bottom of my Hollister polo.  Suddenly I felt the man behind me yank the bottom of my shirt over my face lifting my arms above my head while the other man began unfastening my cargo shorts (remember, I’m still straight in this moment.) With my arms tangled over my head, I was unable to stop whatever was happening below.  

Then, at the same time, both men pulled in opposite directions, tearing away my shirt and lowering my shorts to my ankles leaving me stark naked in the middle of the circle.  The crowd began shrieking and I was left wholeheartedly alarmed and, honestly, fucking confused.  I pulled up my pants with a quickness, grabbed my shirt off the floor and booked it to the safety of my group who had been watching from the perimeter of the circle.  

It turned out the innocent dance contest Amanda and I attempted to crash was in fact not a dance contest but a strip contest.  And because our dance was going on for far too many 8 counts without so much as a button undone, the go-go dancers, not bouncers, decided to take matters into their own hands.  

It was mortifying.  But fortunately, my company of pals helped me laugh off what was, in retrospect, a comical misunderstanding.  Not only that, they had befriend another group of people who all wanted to get to know the “straight” fool who wandered into a gay strip contest.  What was a truly horrifically embarrassing moment turned into a conversation starter and I was lauded as brave and hilarious: two of my favorite descriptors. 

In the end, I not only survived but I also came in second place.  Obviously this had nothing to do with the sensuality of my strip tease and everything to do with the fact that our party made up about a third of the people at the bar that Sunday night.  The prize was free drinks all night which I rightfully decided was not necessary.  And because this was before everyone owned a smartphone no one was able to record this moment which I maintain is for the best.   

Most of my coming out stories were like this one: unexpected and immediately filled with paralyzingly terror.  A simple conversation took a sharp turn and somehow I was completely and utterly exposed.  Not every one, of course, ended with a laugh and free drinks.  Some were infinitely more challenging than others.  All of them are, however, cherished memories that forged deeper love for the people with whom I shared them.

It’s been ten years since that summer where I clung to the last vestiges of my secret.  Where exposure seemed deadly.  I stand now stark ass naked, amongst friends and strangers feeling the sand in my toes, the wind on my backside, and the sun on my front daring anyone to tell me to cover up.    

I will, however, keep that spf 70 within arms reach.  

How do we go on?

On April 20, 1999, I was in the sixth grade.  I was sick that day so I didn’t go to school.  My mom brought me to my great grandparents’ house.  On sick days, my nana would make me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and we would watch the Price is Right together; the perfect cure for the common cold.  

On this day, April 20, 1999, Bob Barker was interrupted by a breaking news report.  Two gunmen entered a high school in Colorado and 12 students and a teacher were murdered in cold blood.  I remember watching the news all afternoon with my nana and pop pop gathering updates on Columbine High School.  A particularly graphic image of a student trying to climb out of a second story library window has been forever etched in my brain.

My cold passed and I went back to school the next day questioning, for the first time ever really, my safety and the safety of my friends.  My school wasn’t any different from Columbine.  That could have been me.

In July of 2012, a lone gunman walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during the opening weekend of  The Dark Knight, the latest in Christopher Nolan’s gritty Batman series.  12 people were murdered, 70 were injured.

The following weekend, my boyfriend and I went to see the same movie.  I remember sitting in that theater for 152 endless minutes keeping one eye on the door afraid that someone might try to recreate the heinous shooting.  During the movie, a white man with a shaved head left through the exit doors during the previews and never returned.  That seemed suspicious  and sure, I was guilty of profiling.  But I watched the movie, ducked down in my seat, ready to hit the floor should something go wrong.  After all, that movie theater in Aurora wasn’t any different than the one in South Philly.  That could have been me.

This Sunday, June 12, a lone gunman went to Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, a space meant for members of the LGBT community and our friends, a space meant for us to let our proverbial and literal hair down and freely express all facets of our identities in ways we aren’t always able to do outside of those walls, and brutally murdered 50 innocent souls and forever altered the lives of many many many others.

Pulse wasn’t different from the gay bars and clubs I frequent in my city.  That could have been us.  

It wasn’t me those times.  It didn’t happen to me.  I’ve never had to hide under a desk from a school shooter or sat helplessly in the dark as a mad person opened fire on me when I least expected it.  I’ve never lived through those impossible, life shattering moments.

And yet I still have nightmares about a shooter coming to get me at school.  I still get anxious when I see a movie, especially on weekends and premiers of the latest Marvel movie which I rarely miss.

What happens now when I go to Woody’s or Boxers or Tavern?  How can I, how can any of us, feel safe again in these spaces let alone ever walk into one again?

I realize I’m a particularly neurotic person.  Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you, I expend a considerable amount of my mental energy deciding out how a situation might result in my immediate death.

But I can’t help but watch the news or read articles and see the faces of my friends and family in the places of the those beautiful souls taken from us and their grieving families.  (Or see the face of a friend who managed escape Pulse with his life.) I keep thinking over and over again: that could be me.  That could be you.  That could be my mom, my grandmother, my aunt.

How do I continue to exist in this world with the knowledge that the only reason this isn’t me or this didn’t happen here is sheer dumb luck? Where do any of us find the tenacity and the bravery to march on with our lives?

I think the first step is admitting this: I’m scared shitless.

All of us who enter a gay bar knows first hand what it feels like to be threatened, to be squashed, to be fearful.  We know what it’s like to have to question whether or not we should show affection to a person we love in public.  We know that there are places where we have to hide the truest version of ourselves.

These bars, these havens, have always been the place where we have never had to restrict ourselves.

But now…

But now I worry.  I worry that I’m going to go to the bar keeping an extra eye on the door, making sure I know where my friends are at all times, knowing where all of the exits are, pause if I hear a loud noise that seems out of the ordinary, suspiciously watch any one who is acting antisocial.  I worry that I’m no longer free.  When one place of sanctuary is violated, can any ever feel safe again?

I don’t want this.  No one does.  But this is where I am today.

I know I’m going to go back to my favorite bars, just like I know I’m going to continue to see movies and send my future children to schools.  But I’m never going to enter any of these places without preparing myself for the worst.

A friend sent me this yesterday:

IMG_2112

 I am afraid and I suspect on some level I always will be.  I still board planes and silently hope nothing happens this time.  But again, and I stress this, this attack won’t stop me from going back again and again.  It’s the perseverance in the face of fear that leads us to a better tomorrow.  When each one of us decides to return to the spaces some one tried to take from us, we defy acts of terrorism.  

To all of my friends hurting and fearful, we’re in this together.  If you see me paying more attention to the doors than is necessary, if I seem a little aloof on Saturday night, you know why. It’s ok.  We’re healing.  I’m allowed to feel like this.  And if you aren’t affected this way, that’s fine too.  There’s no right way respond.  But dancing together is a form of group therapy.  So just be there, smile at me and I’ll smile back.

I can’t help but wonder, though, how many safe spaces do we have to lose before we do something to save each other.  

No femmes please.

So by now we’ve all heard that gay dreamboat, Russell Tovey, dropped some problematic vitriol about effeminate gay men.  For those of you who don’t know, Russell Tovey is a hunky openly gay actor who stars in the HBO series, Looking, that depicts the lives of gay men living in San Francisco. In a recent interview, Tovey shot from the hip about how he’s fortunate that he is not an effeminate man.

If you want to read all about it click here. Or just check out the quote in question and form wild opinions:

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

Naturally, the internet exploded.  Some were quick to attack him, some were quick to defend him, some sent him a daily love tweet hoping he’ll respond with returned affection (but signed with only one set of XOs so he gets that I’m some one’s not too happy with him.)

Regardless of any one’s opinions of this singular actor’s actions, I think it’s time we address the issue of the effeminate gay man and #femmeshame. Russell Tovey is not the problem, only a mere manifestation of it.

Like so many gay men, I never felt like I fit in growing up. I was terrible at sports and frankly hated them so who cared. I loved theater and Britney Spears. N’SYNC was my shit and I attempted to dye my hair blonde on many failed occasions. On top of this, I was short and once made the blunder of creating the AOL Screen name “PetitePopp87.”

I was picked on a lot. I came home in tears more than a few times because some one called me gay or a faggot or some other hateful shit.

But my problem wasn’t that I wanted to fit into the idea of masculinity like the other boys. Based on my experience, being a MAN wasn’t something that seemed very appealing to me.

My father left my mom and me before I was born. We have never met and it seems unlikely that we will ever do so. With the exception of my great grandfather who passed away before I was mature enough to truly connect with him, positive male role models in my youth were scarce.   So this idea of being a MAN to me equated more closely to being an awful human.

Luckily for me, I had some strong inspiring women to look up to as I was coming of age. Women who persevered through impossibly rocky times to give me a blissful childhood. I often think about what my mom’s life was like when she was my age and I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how any human could and I’m filled with immeasurable gratitude and total anxiety because, like, what the hell am I doing with my life. I wouldn’t be as brave or resilient or independent today had I not watched her overcome time and time again. (She’s probably going to be very embarrassed by this.)

And so my idols weren’t athletes or tough cops or nerds who slept with pies like the other boys. I worshiped Pop Stars and Vampire Slayers. I fantasized about being caught in a beautiful romance film like Meg Ryan or deviously getting revenge on my enemies like Heather Locklear on Melrose Place. But these penchants were all roads that lead to harassment and the dreaded name: Gay. So ages 11-20 were especially confusing trying to reconcile who I wanted to be and who I thought I should be.

Eventually, I embraced that beautiful word and it set me free. I could love whatever the hell I wanted. “Gay” no longer hurt me the way it used to. I had stripped it of it’s power to scar and turned it into my shield. At this point I live for my own personal happiness and comfort. I don’t sweat what label some one might assign me.

However, even though I have been able to graduate from high school and am now getting my PhD in Fabulous Studies, I wonder if some of my gay peers are still working on life’s G.E.D.  Some of us, it seems, think there is a hierarchy to gayness, as if there are better ways to be gay than others. The Masc guy on top and femmes on bottom (not a double entendre.) And Russell, my sweet handsome prince, I’m afraid you’re one of those misguided souls.

I suspect as gay men, all of us had to overcome various levels of alienation growing up, worrying how admission of our identity would be received by our families and friends.

So why is it that some of us, even after surviving high school, still celebrate the masculinity of our gay brothers as if it is the ultimate in gay identity? Why do some of us see the effeminate man as a lesser version of  what a gay man should be?  These men write on their Grindr profiles “Masc for masc only” or “No Femmes.” They create horrid notions like “Bottom Shame” or get uncomfortable when some one says to them “Girl, bye” as if some how the person they’re talking to forgot they were actually not a girl.

And then they express gratitude, like Russell, that they aren’t effeminate. But what they are really saying is “I’m so lucky that people don’t identify me as gay, that I can pass.” Call it self-loathing, call it privilege, call it sheer ignorance.

It has taken me a long time to absolutely love the shit out of my fabulous, sassy, gassy self and all the complicated ways I express my gender. So when some semi-famous gay man casually thanks his parents and school because he’s not effeminate I take offense.

And more over, I fear for all the young people out there who look up to Russell Tovey, who saw a successful gay figure state unequivocally that he would never want to be like them. What are they to take away from that?

These masc/femme politics are complicated. Sure, it’s perfectly reasonable to not want to date or have sex with some one who leans one way or the other on this spectrum. Attraction is attraction. But it seems to me that sometimes the “sexual” boundaries men put up seep their way into any bonds they might forge with another gay man.  Thus creating enclosed sub-communities within our own community.  And honety, high school is over.  I’ll sit at any damn lunch table I want.

There is no wrong way to be gay. The only thing we should worry about it how to live our most authentic lives and love and support any one brave enough to do so. With so many others out there who already blindly fear and hate us, we can’t afford to do the same thing to each other.

Now if any one needs me I’ll be singing and prancing in the streets.

PS. Russell, it’s not over between us. It’s never over. But I hope you learned a lesson.

On vulnerability…

I’ve been feeling vulnerable recently. I mean, we all have.  The recent gay bashing sent a shiver of fear down all of our spines. Violence towards a member of the LGBT community is not something new. Over the years, we’ve all received emails from the HRC or have seen posts on Facebook or the NYTimes about some one gay or trans being victimized by some ignorant straight person in one town or another.   But they have always felt removed to me. In the 5 years I’ve spent living in Philly, I can’t recall anything being so brutal, the reaction so public or hitting so literally close to home.

This attack, which rendered a couple battered and bruised at the mercy of a drunk group of 15, has been a cruel reminder that even though our beautiful gay community is so close knit and strong and this city seems to embrace us with open arms, still we are endangered.  Sometimes I forget that.

On top of all of this, my car was broken into on Wednesday.   I had a particularly rough day at work; one of those days wherein everything I did was wrong. Being the perfectionist I am, you might understand why I felt particularly frustrated with myself. After work, I forced myself to the gym despite my despondency.  30 minutes in, I was spent. I left deciding to treat myself to something lovely for dinner and a six-pack (because grocery stores sell beer now and it’s amazing.)

I got in my car, put on my seatbelt and that’s when I noticed the shattered glass on the seat next to me. I let out a “What the fuck!!” before noticing my backpack, which had in it my wallet, phone charger and various work materials, had been nabbed. Without screaming, crying, panicking or freezing, I got out my phone, dialed 911, reported the crime and my location, then called the bank, cancelled my credit cards. I, then, informed my coworkers of my situation alerting them that they must cancel my company card.

I did all of this while remaining steady and focused.

In the half hour I had to wait for the police, I congratulated myself for handling everything so calmly.  How adult of me. The cops arrived, I gave them the necessary information and waited (and waited) for them to fill out whatever paper work they needed.

Still calm. But eventually the breath gets heavy and the chest feels tight. The realization that I have been violated hits. I maintain my cool even though I start thinking about what needs to be replaced, how much a new window will cost, that the mechanics are closing and it’s going to rain tonight and these damn cops are chatting and smoking a cigar (no exaggeration) when they could be chasing this criminal!

But the thing is, I know the rules. Losing my temper and displacing my anger does not make the situation better. Suppressing keeps me safe, right?

I started thinking about the couple, those victims. So the story goes, the drunk assholes called the couple “dirty faggots” and other harassing terms. And they yelled back. My friends and I debated this action recently.

All of us had been there. Had been walking around holding the hand of a boyfriend or displaying our gay in some other way when a person of group gave us a look or shouted from a car or did something vile to let us know that they hate us for being who we are and either verbally or physically wanted to destroy us.

For the most part we all agreed on the appropriate response: You shut the hell up and move along. Don’t yell back. Don’t even make eye contact. Because if you engage then it’s going to escalate.  (For the record: I get why those boys defended themselves because no one needs to be harassed walking home.  They had every right to tell those assholes off and NO ONE should be attacked for that.)  But we all learn that the safest move is to ignore, ignore, ignore.

So there I was: standing next to my car, furious that my shit was stolen and outraged that the police were taking their sweet time to dismiss me and catch this perpetrator. (Didn’t they hear me when I said my boss was told by the credit card company the perp made a purchase at 7-11? Why weren’t the on the way immediately!?) But I kept it all in because yelling at the cops or chasing the perp myself would only make this worse.

IMG_3308Instead, I posted this picture of my car on Instagram and Facebook. I typically only use my social media to post funny non-sequiturs, news stories I feel passionate about or Beyonce. Shitty things that happen to me are kept away from the FacePlace because when I’m upset I tend to want to be left alone. But I figured the condolences or likes might lift my mood. They really did. Knowing I have a community of people who not only felt badly for me but are willing to help me out meant more to me than I even knew.

Like the “I’m sorry” comments left for my broken-into car, seeing so many friends, gay and straight alike, posting about the gay bashings was another warm reminder that people in the world do care. Not everyone is as despicable as the “La Viola 15” (a name I’ve now coined so please credit me, all media outlets.)

Sometimes pain and tragedy teach us valuable lessons or show us what we need to fix. We are all now fervent that Pennsylvania must include sexuality in its hate crime laws. I know now that I must hide my belongings in my trunk when I go to the gym. Change is in the works.

The day after the incident, I went back to the gym, admittedly, with some trepidation. After talking it over with my mom she reminded me that if a criminal can’t see anything worth stealing, they won’t break into my car again. So I went.

I stopped at the front counter just to tell the employees what happened. They apologized profusely, which was sweet since it wasn’t their fault. They also told me they noticed some guy suspiciously riding his bike around the parking lot, looking into car windows right around that time of the break-in… probably the criminal. Hopefully next time they see something suspicious they’ll deal with it before any one else is robbed.

I got on the elliptical, still feeling uneasy and eager to finish up quickly so I could return to my car before another incident or, worse, return home to ensure that that wasn’t burgled too now that the criminal had my license and address. But I breathed and was proud of myself for being there.

As I got my cardio on, I was listening to my gym playlist, sinking into fitness mode and glancing once in awhile at the various  TVs broadcasting the evening news. Eventually, I noticed one of the stations talking about Brian Sims and the rest of gay Philly at Thursday afternoon’s rally. It was a wonderful sight, seeing our community stand together to demonstrate that we deserve equal protection.

And just then, I caught the guy two ellipticals away from me scoff. I took my headphones out and tried to surreptitiously listen to his mumbled rant when I caught this:

 “We’re still talking about this? Who gives a fuck? Get over yourselves!”

It was like some one ripped the air right out of my lungs. My eyes began to water and I wanted to just stop moving and collapse into a lifeless puddle of tears and fear. Like the slight pinch of pain I felt when my finger caught the tiny shard of glass left behind on my passenger seat, I was brutally reminded that I am still not safe. We are not safe.

Hiding my bag will not totally prevent future burglaries just as including sexuality into hate crime laws will not stop violence. If laws could prevent this, then no one would ever be robbed and white men wouldn’t kill black children claiming self defense and no one would ever be raped or abused.

Our problem isn’t legal; it’s ideological. We can pass laws until we are buried in rules and regulations, but when we still live in a society that teaches us to celebrate certain traits in people (straightness, whiteness, maleness, wealth) and devalue and denigrate others (gayness, anything not white, womanhood, poverty, etc) maintaining dominance will always lead to violence. And we learn this from childhood. (I shudder when I think that Kathryn Knott, one of the attackers, was allegedly raise by a police officer, some one we entrust to uphold these laws.)

Sure, we cognitively know that racism and homophobia are wrong. But even in this “progressive” or “post-racial” society, I still hear of my own students sitting alone at lunch because they are bullied.  Somehow our knowledge is not guiding our actions.

I do not profess to know the answer to these large sweeping problems. But it seems to me that passing a law teaches us that we shouldn’t commit a crime because of the punishment NOT because it is inherently wrong and every life is valuable and should be cherished.

I know now that hiding my belongings might prevent future burglaries. And witnessing my beautiful community come together to fight for a common cause fills me with a love and pride I can’t seem to find the words to express. But I don’t feel safe.

And yet…

 

And yet, I’m going to continue to be out and open. I’m going to sashay when the music and spirit moves me. I’m going to hold the hand of a man who is lucky enough to be the object of my affection and kiss him hard on the street because I can’t help myself.

We all will. Because, no matter the act of violence, we won’t hide. We won’t disappear.

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

-Nelson Mandela

As I blow out my candles…

I celebrated a birthday recently. Not a major one. Turning this new age didn’t afford me any new privileges and the number it self doesn’t signify any major milestones. Nevertheless, it’s time to speculate wildly as to what the next 365 days will bring.

Inevitably, some one always asks what I wish for in the new year. Somehow, I’m never prepared to answer it. Sure, I could say something generic like “world peace” or “good health for all.” But as a person with a penchant for the fantastical, I take these wishes seriously. (I may or may not still make a wish every day at 11:11.)

For the record, world peace and health are important and I want them. But this is my birthday wish. I don’t take this request to the birthday fairies or whatever wish granting creature you believe in lightly.

Whimsy aside, the birthday wish, for me, is a challenging concept because it forces me to ask myself one brutal question: Was there anything missing in my latest year of life? The answer is not always easy to admit.

Before I divulge my birthday “wish,” I think I should operationalize the term.  A “wish” is different from a “goal.” A goal is something I’m actively going to try to achieve. A wish is something magic, something I want but something I hope stumbles into my lap unexpectedly.  Most importantly, a wish is a thing I can’t seem to obtain despite my best efforts.

The last time I posted, I took a firm “Who needs a boyfriend” stance which I proudly confess I’m still holding to. In the weeks since posting, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of single life without ever once thinking about the missing Future Husband in my life or getting fervent about any one boy.  Freeing myself from that tyranny has lead me to a personal renaissance.

BUT… in the objective interest in stating my wish for the Gods of Birthdays and Cake, I submit the following: Romance.

Now before you roll your eyes and click over to the another tab, hear me out. I think it’s time we all sit and have a conversation about Romance because I’m not entirely sure everyone is on the same page.

When we start thinking about Romance, there are certain images that come to mind: nice dinners over candle light, champagne, roses, jewelry etc. But that is a list of tangible and purchasable things. It’s more complicated than that.  Romance itself cannot be simply acquired with a Groupon.   It’s an elaborate sensitive experience.

You see, Romance is not simply a gift. It can be a gift.  Sure, you can hide a rare piece of jewelry (think heart of the ocean) in a chocolate cake at the most expensive restaurant in town. But for some one like me, I’m more likely to devour that sweet treat without ever noticing Billy Zane’s lost treasure until many hours later (which sort of kills the vibe.) So it’s not about showering some one with gifts on gifts.  When we behave romantically, we create moments that are surprising, thoughtful and personal.

Sometimes a simple act that shows some one you’re paying attention can create a moment that will imprint on their heart forever.  (Note to self: Sell that line to Hallmark.)

I first developed my concept of Romance when I was in elementary school watching an episode of The Cosby Show. I can never stress enough the impact this show has had on the type of relationship and family I one day hope to have. (Future Husband, please be prepared to stage lip sync numbers with our children for every major event.)

In this particular episode, Cliff challenges the two men courting his daughters, Denise and Vanessa, to a “Romance-off.” (Note to self: pitch “Romance-Off” to every major network. John Legend hosts from his piano.) At the end of the episode, the three couples sit down to dinner and the men demonstrate their Casanovic ways. Alvin (I think) and Denise’s guy do something for their ladies that obviously made no impact on me since I can’t remember it or their names.

Then it’s Cliff’s turn. He tells a charming story about one of his first dates with Claire. During this date, teenage Claire pointed out a wooden barrette she adored while they passed by a drug store. Cliff, being the penniless young man he was, could not afford it. That memory stuck with him for tacky braceletmany decades. And so to commemorate this special occasion, Cliff tracked down and purchased that barrette at last.

The other couples sighed being moved by this gesture. Claire, oh wise Claire, smiles coyly, seemingly touched that he remembered this relic of their history.

But this coy smile was a TRAP. Because she never wanted that barrette. Eunice Chantily wanted that tacky barrette. Claire wanted a green plastic bracelet. The other couples gasp and laugh in a mixture of delight and embarrassment.

Claire, fuming, admonishes Cliff for his most unfortunate careless mistake. She opens the box intending to pull out the barrette to prove how horrible it was only to extract the exact green bracelet she had just described. They embrace, the studio audience cheers, and a young man’s understanding of romance is forged in the fires of an NBC sitcom. Witness this moment here.

Even as a child, I was enchanted by that most perfect reveal. I still have to fan myself off before I catch the vapors every time I watch that clip (I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.) Cliff Huxtable, MD of Love, did not rely on extravagancies to continuously sweep Claire off of her feet. Instead, he created a lifetime of precious moments that were tailor made for her.  He presented his affections with a boldness that made Claire fall in love over and over again.

So I come back to my point about Romance. I worry that we’re not doing it right. These days it feels like we date without consequence. When we can open an app or go to a website to find a database of other dudes instantly to replace the one “that we’re just not into” it’s easy not to appreciate the beauty of starting a new relationship. Our investment in each other diminishes.

With most guys (that I’ve dated any way) I get the sense they are waiting to see if they are really interested before showing up with their A-Game. Like why waste all their romantic charm until we’ve reached some arbitrarily designated milestone (like the third date or first official Facebook photo or some other silly third thing.)

For some one who’s former Scruff tagline read “Modern Day Meg Ryan” this can be very disheartening. (Which might point to the very reason why I quit all of those apps.) I’m a chronic romantic and I have reason to believe that makes me very passé.

It’s not uncommon for me to surprise my gentleman callers with subtle but romantic gestures. Something to appropriately express that I enjoyed the first date and look forward to exploring a future.  I can’t say that it’s ever been met with the overwhelming response I had anticipated.  More often than not, those sweet nothings yield cold dismissive nothing. With each passing disappointment, I get more and more jaded.

Not everyone is good at Romance. And maybe not all of us have been brainwashed by a lifetime of exposure to romantic comedies to value it.  I get it. Starting out a courtship with a big romantic gesture requires a lot of balls.  Because behaving romantically communicates unequivocal interest.  Which is not the MO of any one these days.

However, part of developing meaningful relationships requires a certain level of vulnerability and risk.  As romantic interactions become more sterile, the signals get murky.  Dating, then, which can be a giggle inspiring affair, becomes like an awkward bro-session that may or may not result in dry humping where I’m not sure if he’s actually “feeling it” or just feeling me up.  And honey, you can save your ambivalence for some other girl.  Swipe left.

So 26 was awesome. But if you want to know what I wish for in this next year, which is to say what this year lacked, then the answer is romance.  And, yes, I am absolutely nervous that having told you this my wish might not come true.  But I’m here to prove a point #altruism.

***I have a feeling this may be received with mixed reactions. We all know “traditional” romantic narratives tend to enforce certain limiting gender norms. But I’d encourage us to keep breaking out of that mold. Because no matter who you are or what gender(s) you prefer, EVERYONE likes getting a thoughtful surprise from the apple of their eye. And I firmly believe we can do it without any sexual commerce attached. Like, be sweet simply because you want to see your honey smile, not just because it’s a guaranteed ticket to the bone zone.  But I digress…

 

 

Let Freedom Ring

It’s been one year since the break up, since the Ex and I took a long hard look at one another and bravely admitted that our relationship no longer worked.  We spent an uncomfortable month living in the same apartment, sharing a bed and too many drinks in this weird nebulous state of obliged dYouve-Got-Mail-dont-cry-shopgirletached attachment. And then we were free.

I walked away bursting with a restored sense of romance and energy that months stuck in a failing relationship dampened.  As we all know by now, I fully expected that it was only a matter of time until I met Future Husband during a meet-cute scene that would make Meg Ryan herself wish she were lucky enough to experience love like that.

Well, I’m not any closer to that vineyard wedding and the matching set of his and his Subarus than I was a year ago.  I’m still as single as a slice of Kraft.  But the thing is, I kinda love it.  Like a lot.  Which is utterly shocking. This whole year of freedom has illuminated things about myself I never was able to see before, good and bad.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the person I was when I met the Ex. I moved to Philly shortly I graduating college having no job, no real plan and my friend group was basically my roommates.   I was utterly incomplete.  So in that emptiness, I was grasping at anything that would fill me.  (Insert dirty sex joke here.)

Enter the Ex.  He knew the city, had lovely friends, a killer job and for what it’s worth, always paid for dinner.  Those first few months were intoxicating because I finally found something that made me feel special.

And no it wasn’t just the emptiness that he filled.  All of my life, I had placed romantic love on top of my list of priorities even when I didn’t have it.  Maybe you’ve picked up on this by now, but I can be intense.  I bring a certain “all or nothing” energy that screams, “Because I’m interested, I will be single-mindedly focused on you.  Whatever you need, potential suitor, I’ll give.  Call me Effie White, because you’re gonna love me.”

The Ex was the first guy ever (and maybe ever again) to effortlessly pick up the intensity I was putting down. So our relationship took off quicker than it probably should have and we reached milestones a bit premature and we moved in before we were actually ready to. But damnit it was love and it was mine.

As time went on, I eventually found a job that was greater than anything I could have imagined and developed friendships that meant more to me than any relationship I’ve ever had. By the end, I didn’t need him any more and I’m not sure he ever needed me.

On Fourth of July weekend, 2013, I declared my independence.  (For the record: it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.)

titanicSince then I’ve maintained a healthy dating life. Much of which has been captured on this blog (and much of which will stay with me because if Titanic taught us anything, it’s that a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.)  Some guys were great, some god-awful.  Through it I’ve made new close friends and sworn enemies.  It’s all been like a wonderfully tawdry season of 90’s Melrose Place.  And like a smutty evening network drama, I was obsessed.

When I’m elderly and my grandchildren have gathered around and I force them to look through my old photo albums or whatever Facebook has created for the purposes of chronicling our every move, I’ll be amazed by what I have accomplished this year.  I’m not one to brag, but from July 2013- July 2014 I killed it all day every day. In this year, I have blossomed into the person I always hoped I would be.

But, and this pains me to admit, as a byproduct of my obsession, there was never a moment, even through all the successes and victories, that I wasn’t on some level lamenting some boy or lack thereof.  And that sucks a big bag of dicks.

I’ve treated Love this year like I was that same scared 22 year old with nothing else going for him.  I’d go on a few dates with a boy and suddenly I couldn’t think about anything else.  I’d check my phone incessantly, post on Facebook desperately hoping to score a like, and would be trying to schedule the next date before we even had the main course.  Love was distracting me from the abounding joy. Every time it invariably didn’t work out, it crushed me.

All of this led me to one shocking conclusion: Love, romantic love, has never made me happy.  The rare moments of happiness I have experienced were simply punctuation marks in an endless Dickens-esque run-on sentence of anxious misery.  It was the worst of times, it was the shittiest of times and once in awhile it was a’ight.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve not turned into not some cynic certain that Love is pile of rotten garbage.  Obviously not.  I’m still the same hopeful romantic who believes Love is the greatest thing humans can express and share.  I’m literally listening to my favorite Love Song playlist as I write this.

But I was explaining this to my dear friend the other day and he aptly pointed out that it’s an important moment when we realize we have all the love we need.  I’m very fortunate in that way.  I am surrounded by so many people whom I love and love me back that sometimes I don’t know what to do with all of the feelings.

My skewed priorities insisted though that in order to really feel whole I needed some man to fill this specific role. Despite all the truly wonderful things I had, I still felt like I was missing something important.  I consistently clawed  and scraped at any chance to find Love, focusing so much of my attention on it as if knowing one person loving me in a romantically inclined way proved unequivocally my worth or value or whatever thing I hoped it would do.

scandalI’m no longer at the point in my life where I’m a naïve lost little boy looking for some one to hold his hand and guide him through the world.  I’m a grown ass self possessed man with literally everything to offer (except riches#artistlife.)  I’ve learned only recently that I don’t need to surrender all of my goodies for the first pair of cute eyes who gives me a sweet look. Today I’m Scandal‘s Olivia Pope and Love is Fitz trying to get back with me whenever it’s convenient but I’m walking up to the White House looking incredible shouting back, “If you want me, earn me,” loud enough to ensure the secret service agent in the hall way heard it so I know it’s recorded forever on a formal government document.

A year later and I am making another declaration of personal independence.  For I see now that being single I am complete.  No longer will I bend my desires or compromise myself for the sake of any silly boy.  Farewell to the tyranny of romantic Love.  God Bless America.

And so I leave you with this:  When you’re ready for me Future Husband, when you think you’re worthy, I’ll be here having a wonderful time eager to see how you’re going to contribute and share in my joy.  You still have my number.

Set me free, why don’t you, Baby

I didn’t write a post last week.

On Thursday, the day of the week I usually set aside to broadcast my inner turmoil and bad dating stories to the internet, I received an email from WordPress saying,  “Time for your weekly post!”  But I didn’t have anything to share.

When I first created this blog, I made the goal that I would publish something every week.  For 10 weeks in a row I held to it.  I know this might shock you, what with my easy-going nature and devil-may-care attitude, but I can be a rigidly disciplined nightmare.  I love a good schedule.  My email account and calendar are meticulously labeled and color coordinated.  I cringe when any one adjusts brunch plans.

So last Monday rolls around.  Typically this is when I start putting my fingers to the keyboard composing a symphony of quips, pop culture references and GIFS.  But last week, I felt nothing.  I was like Diana Morales in A Chorus Line in Mr. Karp’s class.  I didn’t feel like a table or an ice cream cone!  I hadn’t really been dating any one interesting.  Nothing was particularly disastrous or beautifully exciting. I even contacted an old flame to see if that I would inspire a story.  I dug right down the to bottom of my soul and I felt Nothing!

Actually, I felt totally overwhelmed.

Nine months ago, while I was living with the Ex, I found my free time consumed by him.  I’d come home from work and was expected to bequeath all of my attention.  Now, I wasn’t forced into this.  I’m a grown man who can take responsibility for his own actions.  He would just get sassy if I tried to read work emails or do singular activities (No Angry Birds!)  And I’m such a sucker for making the people I love happy that I would often (read: always) acquiesce to his demands.

At the time, I resented it.  If I wanted to check my email or kill a bunch of damn pigs using misshapen birds then yasthat was my business.  But he felt that I should give our time together my undivided attention and respect or whatever.  I was catching up with a dear friend over drinks once years ago and she lamented about the same problem.  She so accurately described her significant other as a heavy burden weighing her whole life down.  I raised my hand to Jesus with a, “Mmh, yes Lawd.”

Eventually I cast off my weighty burden (as we all know by now) and I initiated an open door life policy.  You want me to work extra hours? Sure! You, other theater company, want me to manage your website? Why not? Publish a blog on my own and decide that I MUST share something every week? What could go wrong?  More freelance unpaid writing? How can I resist?!

its-handledI can handle anything! My time is my own!

However, if you’ll notice in my list of activities, no where do I mention, “Take time for myself.”  Eventually all that activity was bound to catch up with me.

It did.  Hard.  Last week, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t do another thing.  And yet I was so obligated beyond a reasonable capacity.  I was pissy and aloof with my friends and co-workers who I love so dearly, completely exhausted and on top of all of this, I had closed off any space for Love. AND ISN’T THAT THE WHOLE POINT?!

Suddenly, coming home every night to a loving albeit impossibly demanding partner, drinking too much whiskey and watching hours of The Office on Netflix didn’t sound so bad.

Now let me be clear, I took on all this responsibility because I LOVE these projects and individually they make me happy.  I have the best job in the whole wide world and I’m totally digging the other companies I give my time to.  This blog has been a gift.  It has helped me cope with this confusing and scary new phase of my life more than I could have ever imagined.

But I was overrun, overworked, and wearing pair of bitter pants that made my butt look lumpy.

Love should never be a burden.  Sure, Love is hard and makes you crazy but it’s a battle you want to fight every day, right?  Like my grandfather says, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  (Quoting him is weird for me, for the record.)

I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself.  Even as a kid, in those impossibly rare moments when I would do something “bad” like get a poor grade or that one time I snuck out and got caught, my mom would never really punish me.  She said that I would make myself feel way worse than any time-out or punishment could.

So I read the WordPress email that nagged, “Hey Tim, you’re next blog is due.  Don’t let yourself down,” with more anxiety than this thing should ever have caused me.  I decided not to write anything.  I know it was the right decision but still I felt guilty.  I know that it doesn’t have any affect on any one else if I publish or not, but I set out to accomplish a goal and this felt like giving up.  I don’t do that.

me party 3I recognize now that I need to give myself a break.  I can’t be everything to every one.  It’s ok to take some time off just because I need it.

I’m putting my blog on hold for awhile and making time for me.   I need to recharge my batteries.  And I’m giving myself permission to say that.  I’m so proud of this project and taking time off does not mean I’m quitting.  In fact, the slight twinge of sadness I feel tells me it will be back eventually.

But I’m going to allow myself the luxury of free time.  And maybe it will be filled with a new exciting romance.  But even if it means more sitting at home watching TV and cuddling with my cats, I’m cool with that too.

truman show

Already missing me?  Here, you can relive all of our best moments together:

Our First Date     OkCupid? Not, OK     Sex Offenders    Racism     Reconciling with the Ex

Valentine’s Day: Party of One    FROZEN!!!   My existential love crisis    Body Issues   Online Dating Rules

Winter must be cold for those for those with no warm memories.

(Identify that quote and we’re in love forever!  Two answers are acceptable)

The (previously) unwritten rules of Online Dating.

I’m forever in an on-again, off-again relationship with Online Dating.  I’ll go from hopelessly relying on it to absolutely despising its presence in my life.  We’re like Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in The Notebook: we fight, we do the dirty in an old home he wants to buy, I go away to college/be a nurse during WWII and my mother hides the letters he writes me and in the end I leave James Marsden for my OkCupid account.  Eventually I’ll be put in a home while I read old correspondences from past suitors.

A few weeks ago I was catching up with a friend over coffee so obviously my dating melancholy was brought up.  He gave me an inspiring little pep talk wherein he reminded me that I’m a  great guy and I don’t need those apps to find love.  Real love will show up when the timing is right and it will be amazing.

After I woke up from my romance coma, I marched home with a new found zeal and shut them all down.

sister act 2

I was home alone eating a peanut butter sandwich in my pajamas on a Friday night a few weeks later when it suddenly dawned on me: What the hell does he know?! He’s beautiful, kind, smart, artistic, bearded for the gods and always in relationships with outrageously attractive men.  His advice may have given me the vapors but this realization woke me up like an old peddler’s smelling salts (Yes, I did just take you to Oklahoma!)

So here we are. Online Dating 2: Back in the Habit.

For those of you who read this, you’ll recall I’ve been painfully unlucky with Online Dating (Revisit my worst encounter here.)  This time however, I’m changing the game.  During my first foray, I faced so much nonsense that I have taken it upon myself to lay down some ground rules.  No longer will OkCupid Dating (OCD) be the wretched affair of the past.  No more will I feel digitally molested by the predators on Grindr and Scruff. No more shall I face the tyranny of the Hot or Not rulings of Tinder!

If all of us abide, we’ll survive the Online Dating Battlegrounds with our faith in humanity in tact.

1) Make sure all photographs look like you.

lafou

I once met a guy for an OCD and when he arrived he was at least 6 inches shorter and 50 pounds heavier than his pictures lead me to believe.  Looking back on the photos, I was able to understand where I might have been lead astray. I’m pretty sure the camera was on the floor for each shot and his clothes were awfully baggy.

Everyone is entitled to present themselves in the best way they possible can.  However, honest representation will spare your potential suitors from politely trying to hide their shock and disappointment when LaFou arrives when you thought you were meeting Gaston.

2) Always begin with a greeting.

This goes for all dating applications.  Especially Grindr and Scruff.  I’m not opposed to receiving nudey pics but nothing makes me feel more repulsed or violated as when I see I have a message in my inbox only to find an unexpected picture of a dick.

Even if your penis is made of gold and sculpted by the Zeus himself, I will see all surprise dick pics as if it were a mushy brown banana resting on two overripe avocados.

Always start at least with a “Hello,” then you may follow up with, “Can I interest you in a picture of my penis?”  It’s called consent, people!

3) Do not shame yourself for being on any Online Dating sites.

“I don’t usually do these things,” or “I thought I would give this a try,” or “These are so cheesy” communicates one of two things.  1) You’re really embarrassed of being here and admitting you’re lonely.  Or 2) You think you’re too good for this website.

Let me help you out: Nope.  Both are wrong.  You’re just like the rest of us losers.  Embrace it.

4) Do not try to tease out personal details you might learn over the course of several dates before actually meeting in person.

Online dating accounts are simply devised to make a first impression.  If you find some one attractive and had a few witty or pleasing exchanges, be bold and ask them out for drinks or coffee.

Asking personal and invasive questions through Grindr chat or OkCupid messaging tells me you’re trying to figure out if I’m worthy of spending $2 on a cup of coffee and an hour getting to know me better.  It is not flattering.

Also, so much typing!

5) Take your opportunity to sing your own praises. 

How often do any of us get a platform upon which to stand and proclaim we are the best human beings on the planet and everyone should want to date you?  (Ok, so I do that often.)flawless

Being withholding may cause you to think you’re coming off as modest and demure (which is a persona I regularly use at the bars.)  But more often than not, I interpret it as a lack of confidence and pride.  And honey, I’m a Leo.

6) Do not transition your digital relationship to other social media platforms until given explicit permission.

I always try to find the guys I chat with on OkCupid on Facebook.  Tinder basically does it for you.  BUT you will always come off creepy if you try to friend them before you at least exchange last names.  There is no way to make “Well, you told me your first name and what you do for a living and where you went to school so it was easy to find you using Facebook search filters,” sound sexy.  Trust me.

Addendum: If you publicly link your dating page to any of your other social media accounts, you have thereby invited any one to stalk your life and revoked your rights to complain about consequent stalking.  And fellow stalkers, yes, go ahead, but be careful not to be that stranger liking your crushes every photo on Instagram.

7) Take responsibility for what you say.

blanch eyeI wrote a post a few weeks ago about a white gay man who tried to argue it’s not racist that his Grindr tag reads, “Whites for White only.”  (Read here.)  I also recently talked to some one who made a Nazi joke on our third exchange.  And neither of these boys seem to think what they said was a problem.

Possess a higher level of awareness that some jokes or statements might offend an absolute stranger.  If you catch yourself thinking, “I wonder if this is going too far,” then you probably shouldn’t say it.

8) Exercise fiscal responsibility.

Dating is super expensive.  Dinner at any moderately priced restaurant is probably going to run you $30 a person these days.  (This is assuming you have any amount of alcohol, which I highly recommend for all first dates.)

Those of us who work in the non-profit sector (me) or in the arts (also me) may not be able to budget 10 dinner dates a month (HA! Oh, that I had 10 offers a month… moving on.) A coffee shop will always be an ideal location for your first meet-up; low key, inexpensive, and, if you actually like the person, you’ll be revved up from the caffeine that maybe you’ll want to prolong the date into a meal or jaunty walk through the park.

Addendum:  I will go anywhere you want if you promise to pay for everything.

9) At least acknowledge that some one contacted you.

I’m typically all for returning the greeting in most cases.  I mean, what could it hurt?  And if the interest isn’t there then the conversation will fade organically.

However, if you do not wish to even start the conversation, please politely visit my profile so that I may know you at least saw it and have chosen to ignore me.  (This works in cases when the service allows you to see who has viewed your account.)

fassbender

Currently, I am waiting on a reply from a man who I’ve already convinced myself that I could fall in love with forever and ever.  I messaged him a week ago and he hasn’t so much as viewed my profile, which has caused me to obsess over how I may go about nudging him for a response.  And then I wonder if he selected that option where people can’t see you’ve looked at their profile, thus denying you the ability to see who checked you out.  And if that’s the case then I can read over his as many times as I want, right?

Heaven, help me.

10) Check your account daily.

I understand that an online dating profile may not be any one’s number one priority.  Reasonably speaking, it should probably be some where in the double digits on your daily list of things to do.

However, there is absolutely no reason you can’t open your account and see if any handsome Future Husbands have been trying to get a hold of you.  Lord knows, we all squeeze in a moment to check all the other social mediums.  Add this one to your list ESPECIALLY if you have already been in conversation with some one else.

11) The people you talk to are strangers.  Treat them accordingly.

I’m generally a friendly person and will strike up a conversation with any one who seems willing.  But I’m a reasonable human.  If some one isn’t interested in hearing about my relational woes in line at Starbucks, I can take a hint and move a long.

People can ignore you for any reason.  And you don’t know them or have any idea why.  Don’t assume anything.

12) When some one breaks any or all of these rules, LET. IT. GO.

I know how vulnerable we are exposing ourselves like this publically.  And I know the sting of one too many online rejections.  But it doesn’t do us any good to hold grudges or stamp or feet or verbally assault the men who hurt our feelings over the interweb.

And you will never come off as cool or empowered if you tell them off in the bar for not messaging you back.  Don’t take Julia Roberts advice to Jena Malone in Stepmom.  No one knows what snow blowing is.stepmom

If some one doesn’t see how wonderful you are (which how much can they really glean from a few pictures and paragraphs) then they aren’t worth your time any way.

At the end of the day, my friend’s advice is probably right.  You probably can’t find love browsing a website like you were looking for a copy of Homeward Bound on Amazon.  It will show up at some point.  Maybe even when you’re sipping coffee with an old friend.

But in the meantime, I’m going to at least give myself a shot here and with these new rules, I’m determined to succeed.

Because rules make everything way more fun, right?

And where is the body…

Spring is in the air… I think.  Ignore the snowstorm this week and the below freezing temperatures.  As we turn our calendars from February to March each year, I immediately shift into a spring frame of mind.  It’s as if everything is actually coming up roses even if they’re buried under snow and road salt.

But Spring is a double-edged sword.  With it comes the realization that Summer is nearby meaning tank tops and bathing suits and beach parties and the occasional skinny-dipping.  Thus initiating my usual guilt cycle as I notice the ways in which “winter weight” has turned my svelte summer self into a more insulated container.

honey boo boo

I’ll start to examine every angle, bouncing around checking to see which parts have become extra jiggly.  I will admonish myself for every wrong turn that led me here and swiftly devise an intense fitness routine that will get me back up to snuff in time for my first excursion to the beach.

Over my gay years, I’ve developed a healthy love-hate relationship with my body.   I first discovered going to the gym right around the time I came out.  But this was only a correlation, coincidental even.  The first time I actually set foot in a gym was after I was cast in a play my sophomore year of college that required I get naked on stage.  There is no greater motivation to get one to start pumping iron.

I stopped eating my daily pizza with a salad smothered in Ranch dressing (extra so I could dip my crust in it,) actually found my school’s fitness center and then by ShowTime, I felt really good about my body.

While this physical obsession was budding, I started accepting myself for the beautiful gay creature I am.  There was a lot of change happening for me.  A few years earlier, I was sitting in my childhood home thinking that it’s too bad I’ll never get to experience these things; kissing dudes and looking fabulousI believed having a hot body was for models and athletes, not for friendly theatre nerds, and coming out was for any one but me.  Sigh, pass the Doritos and turn on The OC.

But eventually I realized being happy and satisfied is something I could be as long as I was honest enough with myself to identify what I really wanted and brave enough to pursue it.

It’s six years since that transformative phase of my life.  Being open and working out have become habit.

Mostly.

I mean, I’m living out loud all day every day.  But I’ve been rather lax this winter when it comes to the body stuff.  It all stems from the break up.  You see, the Ex and I created a life that put everything one would need to be healthy right at our finger tips.  We had a Bowflex in the office plus all the P90X and Insanity videos.  We were even vegetarian thanks to too many Netflix anti-meat documentaries and his penchant for expensive organic foods (plus he had the income to back that up.)  My skin was great, I was BMing like a rockstar and I was fit as a fiddle.

I can have it allBut he was such a dick about it.  He some how turned our healthy lifestyle into an ugly power game (not atypical.)  So once I got out of that relationship, I went meat and cheese crazy, gobbling everything that once bled as fast as my grubby little paws could get a hold of it.

Eventually, I calmed down and stopped using gluttony to demonstrate my freedom.  But the damage was done.

I noticed subtle changes to my body.  I’m rounder around the haunches.  Bending in some ways produces ugly rolls where they had not before and suddenly I’m counting chins like you count rings on a tree. I’ve ripped the butt out of three pairs of jeans now.

If you know me, you might be thinking “Aw, Tim you look great.” Or more likely “Girl, enough. You look fine.  Stop mugging for attention.”  I know I’m not overweight by any stretch of the imagination. I know that.  But there are definitive changes that I have noticed, that you might not see unless you’re looking at me naked on a regular basis (which is only me right now), that remind me that I’m not at my best.

So here comes the question: Does it matter?

Short answer: hell yeah!

Long answer: Because I hold myself to a high standard, because I can check myself at any given moment of my life and compare it to how successful I’ve been in previous ones whether we’re talking professional accomplishments, friendships, love, money, body, etc, because I’m always striving to be better than I was yesterday, I reserve the right to acknowledge when I’m less than what I know is my best and feel some type of way about that.

Self-satisfaction ebbs and flows.   So the fact that my body isn’t at it’s peak right now isn’t doing any real psychological damage.  It only makes me work harder (ok and maybe fills me with a touch of anxiety.) But what I am making time for is understanding why the way my body looks is something I value this much.

I know I’ve thought one or twice before that if I want some one with a rocking body, then I have to look like that.  As if we’re making an equitable trade off with our physiques.  This weekend, I was hanging out with my dear friends, David and Brian.  We were talking boys and perusing one of those Instagram accounts that show hot guys in their underwear when David says, “I just want a man who when I take off their clothes I think, ‘Why are you with me?’”  Truer words ne’er spoken.

(Although after I emphatically agreed, David also followed up with the more empowered, “Eh, I’m just going to keep working on me so I’m the one they’re lucky to be with.”  He’s so fierce.)

You'll take off your shirt if I buy a shot? I'll take them ALL!

You’ll take off your shirt if I buy a shot? I’ll take them ALL!

But it’s not always tit for tat.  What attracts some men to others is an absolute mystery [to me.]  I mean sure, we all probably find ripped guys to be very sexy, blah blah blah.  We get it.  That’s why we put them in speedos and buy cheap shots with hardly any alcohol from them.

This summer, right after the Ex and I broke up, we were at one of the famous Gay Boat Parties.  It was the night before I moved out.  I reluctantly went because of the monstrous day ahead of me but there I was.  We were all about ready to head home when I caught the Ex hopping into a cab.  I rushed over and kindly reminded him he better be back to help me move in the morning and then I noticed the guy waiting for him in the backseat.

He was way too attractive.  Like super hunky, coifed, bearded, plastic, looked rich.  Way out of both  our leagues.  And yet, there the Ex was heading off for a late night canoodling session.

It was in that moment I realized nothing about attraction makes sense.  People want what they want.  Even if you’re obviously the cuter one, sometimes hot guys have weird taste.

I could never resist.

I could never resist.

I have weird taste.  I’ve gone on record saying my dream man would look something like Chubby Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec or Jason Segel.  I mean, sure I wouldn’t kick Jake Gyllenhaal out of bed, but the heart wants what it wants.

So understanding that attraction is ultimately senseless takes a lot of the pressure off of me to think I have to look a certain way to attract the types of men I want.

I know that I can’t control how attractive some one finds me.  I can message them until my fingers bleed insisting we’d look great together and even OkCupid thinks we’re a great match, what with our 92% score.  But if they don’t want me then I gotta move it along.  I can’t control what some one else wants.

So my body hang-ups are not about how attractive my possible suitors may find me.  It’s really about how I see myself.  When I feel I’m at my best, when my hair looks the way I want it, I’m wearing an outfit I love, when I don’t feel bloated because I ate too much food, I trimmed all the unwanted hairs, my eye boogers are handled and there is nothing in my teeth, I feel free.  Because even if I seem ever present, if I don’t feel good about some part of my appearance, there’s always a portion of my attention that’s focused on it and it’s really distracting.

I don’t think it’s superficial.  I think it’s very human.

I’m never going to look like this.

hugh_jackman_lifting_weights_full

I understand that that body type comes with rigorous diet and exercise and boo, I love nachos and beer.  I also don’t really want to look like that.  I define my personal best based on my own standards.  We all should.  We all have that power.  Sure, we’re inundated with images from the media that tell us what is desirable and what’s not. And sure, they probably have subconsciously affected our own self-perception.

But my body is not built like those guys.  I’m cool with that.  Feeling satisfied with the way I look doesn’t mean I’m vain or shallow.  My version of satisfaction is a product of my own values and sense of self.  Just because I like to look a certain way, also does not mean I think everyone ought to look like that either.  We’re free to define for ourselves what our best is.  Future Husbands of the world, be damned!

I feel underwhelmed with myself body right now and I’m working on it.  That’s ok.  But it’s important to love ourselves all the time even when we’re not at out best.  Isn’t that what we’re looking for in a partner?

If I work out a bit harder for the next few weeks and abstain from too much booze or cheese, it’s because I’m trying to make me better for me.  To any one who says, “But you look good!”  I say, Thank you, really, that means a lot.  I do have to head to the gym now, but sure, I’ll eat one more scone with you before I leave.

And to my friends out there who are looking in the mirror right now feeling like I’m feeling, we’re fine.  Maybe we’ll go to the gym a bit more and maybe we’ll pretend we’ve stopped eating bread.  But we’re fine.  It’s ok to feel less than your best.  It means you actually possess advanced self-awareness.  But whatever you do, make sure you are improving yourself for your sake alone.

There is no greater love story than the one we share with ourselves.

Grill for me, Future Husband

Grill for me, Future Husband