Say what you need to say

Happy National Coming Out Day friends! As we all know, coming out isn’t one moment.  It’s a lifelong experience  you share with literally every new person you will ever meet.  There is no one coming out moment that defines me.  But for today I thought I share one that always makes me smile.

It was spring semester my junior year of college when I started coming out. I kissed a guy for the first time when I was 17, shared a secret romance with an other man during my first semester freshman year, and along the way, fooled around with more than a few men willing to participate in my charade.

I was still “straight” through all of that. At least that’s what I told myself, my family, my friends, social media and more importantly, those poor souls who just wanted to be with me. Sorry, boys, these walls are up and they are FORTIFIED.

Eventually, I started accepting it. I remember the first time I told myself I was gay. I was in “Media and Society,” a required course for all first year communications majors at Muhlenberg. We were talking about queer representation in the media… in 2005. This was cutting edge liberal arts education at its best y’all. One day in class, we were watching the famous Ellen coming out moment from her sitcom. I sat in my chair in that darkened class room watching Ellen say “I’m gay” into the airport intercom when  I finally let my self think the words “I’m gay.” While the rest of the class was studying this moment in TV history, no one knew that in my brain, a quiet revolution began. It was terrifying and exhilarating, like I was Peter Parker suddenly realizing I didn’t need my classes anymore and my abs were so tight. After class, I went back to my dorm room, locked my door and said it to myself in the mirror. “I’m gay.”

Two full years later, I said it out loud again to another person, “I’m Gay.” I won’t get into it here but a few things happened to discourage me from letting more people in. I don’t remember who I actually said those words out loud to first. Who ever you are, thank you for listening with out judgement. Gradually, I started telling everyone on campus.

By spring semester, it was a well known fact that Tim Popp was another Muhlenberg Theater & Dance Department gay. (Although let’s face it, friends, we all always knew because secrets don’t keep in a small liberal arts theater program.)

One night, one rainy Friday night, my roommates and I were drinking too much Bankers Club Vodka in our suite in Benfer Hall.  Benfer suites had four bedrooms for two people each, a living room and a bathroom.  I lived there with 7 other theater majors in chaotic bliss.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear two roommates dueting “I will never leave you” from the musical Side Show while both in the adjacent showers at any given point in the day.

We were laying in Wilma and Magda’s room probably doing that thing we did back then where we all log rolled on top of each other… Benfer was weird. In that moment, something suddenly struck me. I was free here. No hiding or shame. Spring break was coming soon and that meant going back home to a place where no one really knew me any more… not the new me.

I didn’t want to go “home” and feel like a stranger to myself. Home is the place where you wear sweats, never shower and watch terrible TV for hours. Home is where you are comfortable. I understood comfort in a more complete way now and I wasn’t about to compromise that ever ever again.

Strategically, I knew my high school friend group would be first I’d tell. They loved me, they have been with me through various hardships, and they always accepted me for the silly farting clown I am. My family would be the biggest hurdle and I needed to be really thoughtful about that moment. I did have a plan for how I was going to tell them. I would write beautiful mother’s day cards for everyone that May, spend the summer being the best son, grandson, nephew ever. Make them realize how much they loved me and then drop the crushing news… No part of that plan came to fruition… they still love me any way. That’s family ya’ll.

Back to this rainy Friday in Benfer. So a bunch of us are platonicly cuddling in bed, drinking shitty vodka with whatever mixers we could find, and no doubt Mike, my lovable bear of a roommate, was trying to tickle us because it was a thing that was really funny to everyone in Spring ’08 when I sprung out of the cuddle puddle to announce to my friends I’m ready to tell my people back home. The room cheers with support. “That’s a great idea! And it’s almost spring break! You’ll see them all in a few weeks.” No. I replied. It has to be now. It has to be RIGHT NOW. To this day, put me in a room with positive people, a few drinks and a big idea and suddenly I’m Olivia Pope making shit happen.

I decided to call my friend Erin first. Erin and I may not have been friends quite as long as I had been with other members of my inner high school circle but we did share a sense of romanticism that no one else understood. We languished together over heartbreak and new love. I once even tried to kiss her while we were at the movies seeing god knows what because I was trying to kiss my very straight, very pretty but very much committed friend. When Erin fully blocked my kiss (we’re talking hand in my face), I dealt with the rejection like any overly dramatic future homosexual would. I went home and wrote her an email telling her how I’m the right guy for her, how I would have given her “the stars and the moon,” and how I’m not sure if I can hug her again. She wrote me back telling me she’ll “never stop hugging me.” So if any one was going to get behind dramatic drunken coming out phone call, it was Erin.

I took my Motorola cell phone (it’s 2008) to our shared bathroom as my friends waited with bated breathe just outside the door. I was flushed red from the excitement, embarrassment and cheap booze. I dialed her number because we remembered those back then and hit “send” when the most miraculous thing happened.

Remember ring back tones? Like when you would pay a premium to have a song playing while some one was calling you instead of listening to the phone ring? I pulled my phone to my ear and heard “Please enjoy this song while your party is being reached.”

Suddenly, a familiar song starts playing… something folksy with a gravel voiced crooner, instantly nostalgic but also not a song I immediately recognize. Then I catch a lyric “Say what you need to say, say what you need to say…” the crooner repeats. The song was John Mayer’s “Say.” Hearing these words, which seemed to be selected just for this moment by some divine spirit, broke me. I was suddenly ugly crying in my bathroom to a grainy John Mayer song followed by Erin’s voicemail message.

I spent the next 60 seconds sobbing into my phone. Somewhere in there I managed to say the words “I’m gay.” Or something resembling that. I don’t actually remember exactly what I said.

The next morning Erin called me to see if everything was alright because listening to 60 seconds of incoherent emotions might make you think your friend is in real peril. Also, did she hear me say I was gay? Was that real or did I make that up, she asked.

We talked it out for a while and she couldn’t have been more supportive. As was the case with everyone in my life. And while “support” doesn’t always present itself at first with a big warm hug or an immediate “I love you no matter what,” any one who puts in the work to accept you as fully as you are, loves you, even if it takes them a little longer to get where you want them to be.

My advice to you, my friends, is listen to John Mayer. Say what you need to say.

…. ok but also maybe only listen to John Mayer on this particular issue.

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:


 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

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.


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.)


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?

With me, it’s all or nothing lately.

For the first time in a few months, Philadelphia wasn’t a frozen waste land this weekend. enchantedI couldn’t be happier.  I had a brunch date at a local doughnut and fried chicken joint (yes that is a thing, Non-Philly readers.)  I put on a light sweatshirt and sauntered out into the beautiful day where I would be greeted by an animated bird that rested upon my finger and joined me in a jaunty tune on my front stoop.

The Chicken/Doughnut shop was about a 30-minute walk from my place.  Four days prior, I would have been grumbling about it being too cold and too far from easily accessible public transit, but this weather had me head over heels in love with my city again.  I needed to strut.

So I’m whistling Dixie, on my way to a pile of deliciously unhealthy food and a guy I’ve been seeing with regularity when a few paces ahead I notice a man jogging towards me.  (Pfft, runners, am I right?)

As the runner got closer, I realized I knew his face.  I went on a date with him a few weeks ago.  He texted me a few times after that attempting to plan a second date but I never followed through.

This was the first I had seen him since that date.  I held my breath and felt a twinge of guilt in the back of my neck as I braced myself for what would be an undoubtedly awkward conversation.  I may have been a touch unclear about my lack of interest.  You see,  I did that thing I always do when I’m not feeling it; I politely explain I’m busy whenever they say they want to meet, promise I’ll get back in touch in a few days once I “get a better hold of my schedule,” and then never make contact again.

Somehow I’ve been able to convince myself that I do this because it preserves their feelings so they aren’t broken by the news that it’s not going to happen.  But really, I do it because I’m selfishly avoiding hard honest conversations.  And it’s making me feel like shit.

The runner passed me and without breaking his stride or smiling, greeted me with the coldest wave you ever saw.  I should have been wearing my winter coat.

In the past few months, I’ve dated a number of guys.   Very few of them have made it to the second date with me.  I keep taking an “All or Nothing” approach; either they are my Future Husband or I never need to see them again.  And their FH potential status is decided probably in the first ten minutes.

For some reason, I can’t seem to reconcile a place for them in my life if it doesn’t immediately involve a ring… wedding ring to be clear.  I started this post ready to argue that this is analogous to all gay men, but I don’t think that’s true.

mean girls walk

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a close knit group of friends, all of whom are gay men and the greatest people you will ever meet. (Yes, that is a Mean Girls reference.)  This clique has been together for a few years before I came into the picture.  I’m the new girl, the Cady Heron if you will.  (Don’t roll your eyes, Brian, I’m the Cady.)

In the early days of our friendship, I had a lot of catching up to do.  I adopted the group jargon easily enough and studied our herstory.  What I still find most surprising is that most of their friendship origin stories began with a date.  Their romantic encounters with each other turned into deep but (mostly) nonsexual friendships.

I don’t know that I’ve ever successfully made that transition.

Which causes me to realize that I am the anomaly.  I am the one with the issue.  I’m the asshole.

This is uncharted territory for me, this single, city life.  Seriously.  I moved to Philly in November ’09, fell in love the second weekend I was here.  Four months later it totally and utterly fell apart, I met the Ex maybe two months after that and was spoken for until this past July.

So maybe I’m doing it wrong.  Maybe I should be able to turn my luke-warm feelings into a friendship with my various gentleman callers.  Maybe it’s okay to keep a line of communication open even after I’ve firmly decided I don’t want to date.  I mean it couldn’t hurt.

I don’t know.

I don’t know if I want to.  I don’t know if I should have to.  I don’t know that I need to.

sad walk

I passed by the chilly runner and all of this was swirling in my head.  When I first moved here, I was 22, heart broken, wandering without direction, and working at a coffee shop.  I was every Taylor Swift song.  When I was overwhelmed by all the ambiguity of my early twenties, I would go on what I called my “Crisis Walks” where for hours I would roam the city streets reflecting on my choices.

The lush and unique landscapes of my city were always the perfect cure for the 22 blues.  Inevitably, I would applaud my bravery for taking this risk, moving here without a real plan, and enthusiastically dream of the possibilities that lay before me.  All of that terror and anxiety would wash away.

My walk to the Donut/Chicken Joint became a Crisis Walk.  (Sorry, fella! Though don’t worry, I got it together by the time we met.)

I started asking myself what is it that’s missing from my life right now.  What is this specific role I’m trying to fill that these duds aren’t satisfying? What do I want?  I have a job I love.  It fulfills me artistically, emotionally, intellectually often to the point of happy tears.  I freelance for another theater company on the side, which I totally dig.  I have a fantastic group of hilarious, ride or die friends.  My relationship with my family couldn’t be better (except, sure, I could visit more often!)  I have a great living situation with one of my oldest and dearest friends in a killer row home.

I’m pretty damn lucky.

But still, something is missing.  Something important.

This is a strange moment in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I really love my life and to sit here and bitch and moan is not my point.  In fact, punch me in the face if I ever do that.  But I’m starting to  contemplate my independence.  I’m totally free.  As much as I love my family and friends, we don’t need each other in any measurable way.  And with the exception of my professional responsibilities, no one actually relies on me for anything significant.  The success or failure of my life will only have a direct causal effect on me.  Suddenly “independent” feels very lonely.

So the short answer is a boyfriend.  That’s what’s missing.  But you all knew that, that’s why I’ve called you here each week.  I don’t mean some one to go to dinner with, or sleep with or see my shows or hang with my friends.  That’s easy.  I can make a patchwork quilt out of these silly boy swatches for that stuff.  It’s deeper than that.

What I’m missing is my partner in crime.  Some one that I can build my life with.  Some one who cares if I succeed because when I do, we do.  Some one who, when I fuck it up, is there to help me make it right.  Some one who makes me feel as important and capable as my work does, who makes me laugh as much as my friends do, who supports me like my family does, who wants me even when I have eye boogers.  Some one who is there to share the often crushing weight of existence.

Each day, I’m going it alone.  And I’m handling it.  But like Olivia Pope: flawlessly empowered while hopelessly fragile hoping Fitz is going to get it right.  And I’m not looking to rush into something because it feels safe and cozy.  I’ve been there before and it ain’t cute.  I know this thing I’m looking for is rare and special and I’m picky.  I know it takes time.

RestlessnessAnxiety and Disappointment are all names of magazines in the waiting room of Dr. Love’s office.

I reserve that right to be disinterested for any reason at all.  Because at the same time that I think I know exactly what this man will be like, I also have no clue.  I’m a fickle pickle.  And these boys that I could give or take, I am not obligated to make space for them in my life because they bought me a beer.  I don’t need to turn boring conversation into a life long friendship.  Besides, you would have to be pretty damn amazing to join the pantheon of my loved ones.

But in the meantime, I could stop being such a scaredy cat, put on my big boy pants and tell these boys up front, thanks but I’m not interested right now.  And maybe they will become a friend instead of another person I’m trying to avoid at Woody’s.

14 Ways to Be Your Own Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day lovers of all sorts!

Can I be honest with you all? I love Valentine’s Day.

Before you give your screen a side eye and close the tab on your browser, hear me out.  I totally get that Valentine’s Day is stupid.  It is.  Greedy executives who are interested in making a quick buck by propagating heteronormative mores created it.  I went to a liberal arts college.  I get it.

But that doesn’t stop me from swooning every February 14th.  There is something magic in the air.  Valentine’s Day generates a kind of energy that puts people in a better mood.  It’s probably because every one is excited about shamelessly eating chocolate. In my case, I’m secretly hoping a secret admirer will step forth and confess his undying devotion (hint hint.)

This is my first Single Valentine’s Day in a long time.  I don’t have any dates set up and I’m not really the type to ask some one to be my Valentine or anything as lame as that.  This doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy Valentine’s Day.  After all, how much can we really hate on a day that asks us to tell the people in our lives we love them?

But for some, today bares the ugly moniker of  “Single’s Awareness Day” or other debasing epithets.  And that bugs me.  Because being single isn’t something to feel bad about.  It’s taken me some time to realize that and you’ve all sort of been witness to part of that process.

So today I say, Single is great! Valentine’s Day is for all who love!

To those of you who, like me, don’t have any plans, I’ve come up with a wonderful list of ways to spend this day celebrating your one true love: Yourself.

Please enjoy my recommendations while listening to my collection of the Greatest Love Songs of all time:  (The Beatles aren’t on Spotify, so you may notice a significant emptiness.)

The Cupid Shuffle

Take all of the digits of your birth date and add them up to find your Love Number.

For example: If your birth date is 2/14/1987, then you do the following:  2+1+4+1+9+8+7=32

Then go to your OkCupid profile (any Dating site would work.)  Set your Matches to “Special Blend” and search.  This will provide a random assortment of people not based on your alleged match percent, location, or how recently they joined.

Count from the first profile of the results all the way to the one that lands on your Love Number.  Without hesitation or qualification send that person, whoever he or she may be, the following message:

“Happy Valentine’s Day!

romeo and julie

Let’s make the most of it.  Meet me at (INSERT YOUR FAVORITE SPOT) tonight at 8pm.  I’ll be the one wearing (INSERT YOUR BEST OUTFIT)

Here’s to the magic.”

Then brace yourself for an exciting new encounter.

What you will need:

  • An OkCupid account or other dating app/profile
  • An adventurous spirit
  • Back up plans if/when he doesn’t show up

The Show Stopper

Everyone loves a musical.  Everyone.  I don’t care who you are; you love them and know all the words to at least one.  Tonight is the night to let your inner Sutton Foster shine, girl!

There are two ways to do this:

1)   Pick your favorite movie musical (Netflix has some amazing choices right now.  West Side Story?! If you need more, please contact me.)  Lock the doors to your home, put on your best cut off T-shirt, Jazz pants, and Capezios.  Hit play and perform the shit out of every musical number.

2) Invite over your most talented friends and cast them in your favorite movie musical.  You’re the casting director, remember?  So no one gets to call dibs.  You are always Maria or Effie or Mimi.  Perform a concert version of that musical and maybe a second one to make sure everyone gets a featured part.

effie white

What you will need:

  • Beers or Wine (in bottles) as these are the best vessels for alcohol/microphones
  • Ample floor space
  • A solid warm up
  • Preferably a dance studio style room with a mirror on one wall and Ballet Barres.

*Costumes optional.  Nay, mandatory.

The Lady with a Past

In the grand tradition of every role Jessica Lange has ever played, put on your sexiest outfit and head to a dark, romantic spot.  Take a seat at the bar where you are sure to grab the attention of everyone in the room.

Jessica Lange

Flirt casually with the bartender (so every one looking on see’s how charismatic you are.)  Order only whiskey or scotch on the rocks, the world’s sexiest drink.  Sit and sip alone as if you’ve just gotten out of a terrible situation.  Appear vulnerable yet resilient.   Look off into the distance with an expression that tells everyone the weight of the past is heavy on your heart.

Drink the whole night and laugh with the bartender until some gentle yet commanding man comes and rescues you.  And don’t worry if you sit alone all night.  That just means you’re broadcasting an air of mystique so powerful, it’s intimidated everyone.

What you will need:

  • Your sexiest black dress (or whatever appropriately gendered equivalent you have)
  • Whiskey.  Lots of Whiskey.
  • Optional: Cigarettes to help the mystique but only if you have a cool cigarette case to store them and you find a bar that allows smoking.  Better though if it doesn’t.  You’ll seem infinitely more dangerous.

The Text Mess

A personal favorite.  Start by drinking a whole bottle of wine.  Then send the following text message to all of your Exes:

“That was a lot of fun.” 

Immediately reply with the following:

“Oh my! I’m so sorry this was meant for a different (INSERT THEIR NAME).  This is awkward.  Hope you’re well.”


I’m not suggesting you do this with the intention of rekindling any type of romance.  It’s just a way to stir the pot.  In my experience (because I have done this many many times) you may get to hash out some painful feelings, exchange some kind words with each other that might surprise you, or (in one particular case) offer one of the greatest loves of your life some relationship advice while also confessing that you will, in fact, always love him.

Somehow this will feel great.  It literally can not go wrong.

What you will need:

  • Wine.
  • Extra Wine.
  • Not a shred of dignity.

The Undercover The Bachelor

So I just love The Bachelor. Not because I think it’s compelling television or how I think love should work, but because it’s about a bunch of crazy people committing to strong feelings.  I’m here for that.   And I’m also certain that if I were to compete I would win the $250,000 grand prize. (Wait, that’s not what they get if they win? Nevermind.)

Any way, send a text to all of the people you’ve been sort of dating or flirting with over the past few months.  Tell them you’re meeting a few friends out at the bar and you’d love it if they would join.  When all of them show up at the same time, act as though this is a Bachelor group date.  Pull them a side one at a time and “get to know them better.”  If possible, create a group challenge or two. the bacherlor

At the end of the evening, tell the guys you’re going to another bar.  Bring them to a previously selected alley where you have already hidden a dozen roses.  Then reveal that they’ve been part of your Bachelor challenge and present a rose to the guys you’ve liked the most.

 What you will need:

  • A Camera Crew
  • No sense of decency
  • As many roses as you have guys you want to bang

The Cake War

This may be the best one.

First, decide what your favorite type of cake is.  Set aside plenty of time.  This is a decision not to be made lightly.  You may think, “Oh, I like chocolate cake, I guess” but what about cheesecake? Or Carrot Cake? Or Angel food?! There are too many options.  Don’t jump into this without considering all of them.

bruce cake

Once you take the appropriate amount of time to decide, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to visit every known bakery in your neighborhood and try a piece of their version of your favorite cake.  Once you finish, post your results on all social media.   You’re supporting local business or whatever!  Mostly, cake. Lots of cake.

What you will need:

  • A journal to record your deep spiritual thoughts about the cake experience
  • Loose pants.  You know what, just wear your pajama bottoms!
  • Any extra Weight Watchers Points you can save.  (Yes I did say Weigh Watchers, because if it’s good enough for J. Hud it’s good enough for me.)

The Yoko Oh-No You Better Don’t

Find a band that’s playing locally.  If possible, look them up online to find out if any of the performers are dreamy.  Or at least cute enough that with enough booze you’d make out with them without feeling bad about it tomorrow.


Work your way back stage using your secret weapon… your sexuality.  Pay close attention to the group dynamics of the band.  Identify the leader and then flirt with whoever comes across as the weakest band mate.

Subtly convince the weakling that he is the true talent of the group and encourage him to confront his band mates in front of you.

If all goes well, the band should be broken up by morning.

What you will need:

  • Sexuality
  • Powers of Manipulation
  • Filthy Band T-Shirts

The Cultural Elite

For the fancy ladies,

Get your self some culture! Put on your finest tweed blazer complete with elbow pads and begin the night with a visit to your nearest art gallery.  Stare long and hard at paintings that make you think of sex and war.  As Future Husband comes up to look at the same painting, try this move:

Cross your arms and bring your left hand to your chin as if you’re stroking your beard (actual beard not required.)  Look the piece up and down with a furrowed brow.  Let your gaze land at a specific spot, stare at it for a moment, let out a “hmmm,” reach your left hand towards the work of art and before you touch it, stop, and then return it to your chin.  Turn and walk away.  As you leave, look back with a knowing smile and make sure he’s checking out your rear.

Grab a glass of wine and then let him come to you.

janet snakehole

If he doesn’t come to you, get yourself to a damn theater and experience more art! It’s good for you!

What you will need:

  • Maybe smart looking glasses
  • A sincere interest in art
  • Something to say 

The Gwyneth Paltrow in that movie about karaoke.  Duets, I think

Drag your best friends to a Karaoke Bar, even if they hate it.  With your BFF in tow, strike up a conversation with another group of people, making sure one of them could possibly be your Future Husband.

karaokeOnce you start talking with the new guys, demonstrate how fun and witty you are but make sure you seem a little demure.  Eventually, you are going to be called up to sing.  Create a rouse like your BFF signed you up without telling you and act so embarrassed.  In reality, you’ve had this song prepared for months.

Once you wow everyone and the ovation dies down, drop the mic and run right into Future Husbands arms

What you will need:

  • A Legendary song (Celine Dion or Salt-N-Pepa come to mind)
  • Three months of practice with a vocal coach
  • A BFF ready to go along with this whole charade

The Survivor

All the Single Ladies! All the Single Ladies!

Gather your best friends over to your place for a night of  trash talking the exes and celebrating being the Independent women you are.  It’s your Destiny, Child.  Build a quick trashcan fire to burn old pictures/items from your Ex and proclaim loudly, “I’m a Survivor, I’m not going to give up!”

Then head to the club with just your friends.  No Tops allowed! survivor

**For added authenticity: Invite your three best friends.  Just before you leave, kick two of them out of the party and meet a new, better third person at the bar.

What you will need:

  • The flawless sexuality of Beyoncé
  • The Horrible style of Tina Knowles (aka just buy, like, camo T-Shirts and cut them up)
  • A Fire extinguisher or some one ready to dial 911

The Mom-mom

Affectionately named for my grandmother.


Movie tickets are expensive.  So plan accordingly.  Make a list of every movie you’d like to see.  Then based on all of the show times and running times, create a schedule for the day.  Buy a ticket for only the first one on your list and then sneak from theater to theater until, like Pokemon, you’ve caught them all.  The apathetic security guards at the movie theater are likely 1) not to notice and 2) not to care.

What you will need:

  • A large trench coat to hide all of your refreshments.
  • The organizational skills of a Type-A Gay (Eyes on you, Brian and David)
  • 3D glasses should any movie on your list require them.

The Barechest Contessa

Create a dinner party as elegant as Ina Garten.  Spend hours watching her show and choose the recipes you like best.  Once selected, invite your most fabulous gay friends over for a meal they’ll not soon forget.  Spare no expense.

barefoot contessaIf you aren’t a good cook, incept a friend who is a master chef into thinking it was his the whole time! He’ll be super excited to host a glamorous dinner party and you’ll get to gorge yourself! Every one wins.

For added fun: Invite that hot friend of yours.  You know, the one who is sort of part of your group and is very attractive and flirts with you once in while but it never really goes anywhere.  Tell him it’s an underwear party.  This is in no way related to food or the meal but if you ask me, sexy men are the only thing missing from The Barefoot Contessa.

What you will need:

  • A shopping spree at Williams Sonoma
  • Elegant table settings
  • A breath taking home in the Hamptons and an aloof husband who is always out of town

The Puppy Party

puppy kisses

Head to your nearest animal shelter, pet store, or neighbor’s house whose dog just gave birth.  Lie on the ground and allow yourself to be showered in unconditional love and slobber from no fewer than 5 puppies.  Their soft fur and energy is sure to pull even the most hardened of hearts out of a grump slump.

Note: Kittens, while adorable, will not work.  I have two cats and I love them (yes, I know, I’m single and own two cats.  Spare me the Cat Lady jokes.)  The only thing you will get from them is a cold sense of ambivalence and maybe a nuzzle when they want food or their litter box cleaned.  I get enough of that from my gentleman callers on a daily basis. 

What you will need:

  • Puppies
  • No animal allergies or tons of Claritin
  • A lint roller

The “Best Gift is the Gift You Give Yourself” Gift

Whatever it is you decide to do today, make sure you take a moment to love on yourself.  Being single can be hard especially on a day when the world wants to celebrate everyone who happens to be committed to some one else.

People in relationships are no better or happier than those of who are not.  Valentine’s Day may be a silly Fauxliday intended for people who lead a certain life style, but this year, let’s allow it to be a celebration of all kinds of love.

Remind yourself of how wonderful you are and don’t be defined by your relationship status.    Relationships come and go, but you’re stuck with you forever.  Make the time to love yourself.

Today, you are all my Valentine.

With love,


blow kiss

The Mysterious Case of Rolf Frankenfurter

*Disclaimer: All important names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent.  Namely, myself.

I turned 26 this August and couldn’t help but feel like this was my year.

The first half of my twenties was wrapping up in a most pleasing way.  I had cultivated a wonderful group of friends in my adult life. My career was finally taking shape in a way that excited and challenged me.  AND for the first time ever I felt confident wearing cut offs and tank tops that summer.  After finishing the Insanity Workout  and the added acro and parkour training for a show I was in, my body was right.

It was like the world finally saw me as I saw myself. My inner life was always a Janet Jackson video but up until this point I seemed to be broadcasting Tracy Chapman. Finally, I was serving Velvet Rope Realness on a silver platter.

sexy tom

Ugh, Tom can’t stop talking about me!

No one was ready for me at 26.

On the eve of my birthday, I invited some of my closest friends over to bid farewell to a year of great struggle and transition.  My plan was simple: drinks at my place (for the last time before I moved), my traditional Funfetti Birthday cake and then out for dancing and general mayhem.

ron dancing

We were all enjoying cocktails and conversation until some one (me) started playing Miley Cyrus on Spotify.  “We Can’t Stop” was just released that summer and I was feeling it in a big way.  I announced to the room that it would henceforth be my personal anthem for 26 and that I, too, could not be stopped.

One party guest was a man with whom I was having steamy affair. He was in an open relationship and, like so many “other women” before me, I thought that we were starting something real.  (Spoiler alert: we weren’t.)  In my new, unstoppable mindset, he and I escaped the party for some canoodling in the hallway.

So let’s put all of this together: an engorged feeling of confidence and sexiness, lots of booze, some of the people I loved most in the world, my current and former gentleman callers, and a soundtrack provided by Miley Cyrus.  Oh there’s my recipe for Disaster.

You may be reading this thinking, “Tim, this sounds more like a psychotic breakdown and less like personal liberation,” but you’re wrong.  If TV and movies have taught us anything, you’re not having a real breakdown unless there is a shot of you cutting your hair in a mirror.  And I’ve been rocking the same haircut since then.  I was fine.

 liz lemon haircut

The truth was, I wasn’t concerned with how I was behaving or what the reaction might have been.  I was getting my life in a way I had never done before.  I never really had that (stereo)typical reckless youthful queer experience like so many other men I know.  I went to college with a limited gay population (I loved my school but it was like being gay in a vacuum where you dated (read: ate at the dining hall) the 15 other gay boys in one semester and then spent the rest of your time playing Mario Party with your best friends.) And shortly after graduating I moved to Philly where the first few months were spent pining over a man from Michigan and then dating the Ex.

So I decided that it was my time to have a little fun on my terms.  Thankfully my friends understood.

The party ended and so did 25.  The next night, on my actual birthday, the Ex and I went out for birthday drinks with another couple.   They missed my party for what looked like the most beautiful lesbian wedding ever.  I wasn’t invited but I probably shed as many tears as the guests did looking at Facebook pictures.  Again, disaster.  But controlled.

We sat outside at the classy (older) gay bar and ordered more martinis than was appropriate for a Sunday.  As the liquor kicked in and the laughter erupted, I noticed a cute boy sitting at the table behind me.  I didn’t say anything at first.  I just kept making excuses to turn around and get a better look.

He had an inviting face and wore boat shoes, that classic J. Crew Summer Catalogue look but maybe in a smaller less sculpted body.  He sat across from a femme man with swooping bangs and guy liner (though I may be embellishing that part.)  It was a surprising duo.  Our  chairs were back to back but eventually he turned his chair so that the back was up against the window of the bar.  We were sitting perpendicular rendering my glances utterly obvious.

At some point, the memory is fuzzy, we got to talking.  He told me his name was Rolf (fake names, remember) and had some career that I found especially desirable.  Let’s say he was a world famous Nacho Chef.   I invited him to accompany me to the next bar and since it was my birthday he couldn’t possibly resist.  He did.  Unfortunately, he had to pick up a friend at the airport or something convenient like that.  We did however exchange numbers.  So maybe all wasn’t lost.

ariel sigh

A few weeks went by.  I was more or less settled in my new place and that birthday was a fond bleary memory   But that ineffable feeling of confidence was ever present, if untapped.

I was sitting at my desk one day and I received a text from some one named  “Rolf the German.”  Something about this name seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite place it.

 “Hey.  I hope you’re doing well. How was the rest of your birthday?”

 Ah there it was!  The cute boy from the next table.

 “Hey.  It was a great night.  Please excuse my silly behavior… it was my birthday after all.”

 We chatted via text for a few exchanges.

 “By the way, I have you saved as Rolf the German.  What’s your last name?  This is ruining my contact filing system.”

 “Frankenfurter.”  Rolf Frankenfurter.  German indeed.

There’s something very intoxicating about a text message relationship.  It starts innocently enough.  You meet some guy at a bar or party and there is at least a mutual attraction.  The conversation pleases so you ask for the number in hopes of capturing this moment again later and for longer.  (Or better yet, he asks YOU for the number.)  From then on, every buzz, every beep from your phone catapults you into a full on frenzy of excitement and nerves that it could be from this once interesting guy.  Pins and damn needles.

A day or so went by and I heard from Rolf Frankenfurter again.  More flirtatious chit chat.  The conversation ended with this:

“I’m going away for a few days.  Family emergency. Let’s get together when I get back.”

“Sounds good”

praise him

Finally, my new attitude was reaping fruit! A date with what I sort-of remember as a charming, smart, world famous Nacho Maker was nigh!

Key word: sort-of.   Admittedly, my birthday weekend was… well, it was what it was.  So I had a picture in my head of Rolf Frankenfurter but was it necessarily accurate?

Only one way to find out!

A few days until our potential date meant plenty of time to find him on Facebook and create a more thorough sketch.  We weren’t Facebook friends at that point but I’ve found a lot more on a guy with a lot less.

Perhaps one of my greatest skills is stalking a person using only the Internet and social media.  I once  had only a guy’s first name and that he “liked comic books” and tracked him down.    (Just saying, if you have or will ever date me, a full investigation is in the works.)

That evening, I curled up in my bed with my computer and began the hunt.  Surprisingly, little was coming up.  He didn’t even seem to have one of those profiles with super high privacy settings.  According to FB, Rolf Frankenfurter  didn’t exist.  This can’t be!

This would require the big guns.  Enter, Google.  It’s a dangerous game.  We don’t necessarily control what comes up about us from a Google search in the way we curate our Facebook persona.  I wouldn’t usually search a guy with this vigor but given the circumstances he could have been a giant space spider for all I know.  My search would give me a visual thus confirming his attractiveness/non-spacespiderness.  (I’ve Googled more than one guy before… not a euphemism.)

Google has this handy function where it starts completing your thought while you’re typing into the search bar.  It’s a real time saver when you’re trying to search “Best recipes for… “ and you don’t really have any idea about what you want to make/order for dinner.

So I start typing “Rolf Frankenfurter” into my search bar and below it appeared some suggested search options in this order:

Rolf Frankenfurter world famous Nacho Maker”

Rolf Frankenfurter German philosopher”

Rolf Frankenfurter sex offender”

Oh I’ll just search… wait, come again?  The operation shut down.  Sex offender? That can’t be him.  Not even remotely possible.

He’s a Nacho Maker so let’s search that.  OK, some wonderful reviews of his food and even a picture or two. Yes, this was him and he was as cute as I remembered.  A bit more frail perhaps.  Does he look creepier than I remembered?  No, no, Tim, that’s just the “Sex offender” suggestion that’s messing with your head.

But “sex offender” was the third most relevant search option on that list.  Now I know Rolf Frankenfurter, handsome J. Crew Model and world famous Nacho Maker who won my heart, was not a sex offender.  He couldn’t be.  That has to be a coincidence.  But I should check….

Rolf Frankenfurter, sex offender.  Full case report complete with a mug shot.

demon pheobe

I didn’t know what the hell to do.   I was lying in bed with my laptop clutching literally all of the pearls.  I sprang forth and ran to my new roommate’s bedroom.  If any one could make sense of this she could.

My roommate, Stacey, is one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and I have been pals since the first grade when we realized we were the smartest kids in class (we were the best Challenge 24 players.)  She has always been a calm collected person with a good head on her shoulders, a perfect foil for some one who tends to let his imagination get the better of him.

photo (3)

Actual page from the biography she wrote about me in 2nd Grade.  (My bio of her is lost)

At first, she laughed hysterically because obviously.  After we wiped away the tears and composed ourselves she asked all of the right questions.  Does it explain the charges?  Maybe it’s something understandable.  A person caught peeing in public becomes a registered sex offender and I’m sure we have ALL done that before.  That doesn’t make one a pervert.

Fortunately (I suppose), all information about sex offenders is made public and with a simple Google search you can find the exact offense, location and date of the transgression and sentence.

I won’t get into the detail but the offense in question was severe.  And even though it happened almost a decade ago, I could never justify inviting some one like that into my life.

This made me feel terrible.  Was I really going to draw a firm line in the sand and cut off communication because of something a man did almost a decade ago?  Hasn’t he payed back his debt to society? What if he’s changed and is better for it?  Girl, you must have lost your mind! These aren’t the compromises you need to make before the first date!

you in danger girl

Most fitting use of this GIF ever.

The debate went on into the wee hours of the morning.

I decided never to contact him again and for reasons unknown I never heard from him either.  I felt uneasy about this whole thing.  Partly because on some level I felt guilty holding some one accountable for a mistake they made when they were much younger. But mostly because I came so close to inviting real disaster into my life.

I started 26 feeling absolutely untouchable which was decidedly unlike me.  The whirlwind of change and excitement was seductive.  I was finally going to live that Queer as Folk lifestyle.  But QAF is fiction and the real world can be a scary place with real consequences.

I’ve always kept a good head on my shoulders, allowing myself to take big risks but remaining ever aware of my surroundings.  At the end of the day, I have to be me.  I’m not that party boy wild child and for my own good reasons.  No shade or judgment for those of us who do like to have that kind of fun.  I love you and support you.

But maybe Rolf Frankenfurter was an angel sent to me by the universe to say “Hey, girl, you look real cute in those cut offs and tanks and I’m glad you’re feeling good about you, but keep it together.  Being a wild child is not the way to Future Husband’s heart.”

I still feel like 26 is my year.  But feeling confident and sexy does not mean I need to come in like a Wrecking Ball (SHADE, Miley.)  Anyway, I’d much rather be a living depiction of Beyonce’s “Rocket.”