gay stories

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.

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Showing up is half the battle.

I went out with the Ex this weekend.  This was the first we spent any one on one time together since the Great Break Up.

On Friday morning, he and I were part of a group text with another friend; something about Catwomanalive, which is not an unusual topic of conversation.  I asked the group what the plan was for the evening.  Drinks? Dancing? Painting the town various shades of red?  It was Friday morning and, baby, I was alive!

As it turned out everyone was busy except for him.  He said he planned on eating a pizza alone and I was welcomed to join.

I wasn’t sure if that was a sincere offer or one of his classic snarky remarks.  But I accepted and was surprisingly exciting.

We met at our favorite pizza place having already agreed to split a large pie.  He’s one of the few people on the planet in front of whom I can unabashedly be my grotesque self.  I don’t need to feign modesty or posture like eating a half of a pizza is something I wouldn’t typically do. There were no “oh I can’t believe I’m pigging out like this!” or  “I haven’t eaten anything today” conceits.  Because clearly I had already eaten Chinese food for lunch AND dinner earlier that day.

I caught him up on everything that had been going on at work and provided hilarious updates on the state of my family (which could easily be a spin-off blog.)  He briefly filled me in on his work and family, things he never liked to talk about any way.  Everything had a familiar ease to it.

We finished the pizza and decided to find a spot to drink too many martinis, a once frequent past time of ours.  It wasn’t long until we started talking about his new relationship.  Previously, this was a powerful source of tension for me.

He started seeing this boy shortly after we split.  (I’ll henceforth be referring to New Boyfriend as Shelly Stewart, after Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in The First Wives Club.)  And, no, he didn’t leave me for Shelly Stewart.  They met on a camping trip we were supposed to go on together with some friends that I opted out of after the break.

The first time the The Ex, Shelly Stewart and I were in the same room, I found myself sitting next to them on a sectional sofa with the rest of our friends looking on while they were blissfully canoodling and I was eating the loneliest hamburger you ever saw.james_franco_sad_burger

 

But with each passing time the three of us are together, it gets less and less awkward.  I had to get used to my newly single life and his rapidly attached status.  Seven months out and I’m finally at peace with the whole thing.

Can I be honest?  I’ve never admitted this to any one before now, but they’re a wonderful couple. Really.  They’re happy.  Like actually happy.  The Ex is not a particularly warm and fuzzy kind of guy, and yet, in the few times I’ve been around the two of them, he’s affectionate.  And kind.  And shows Shelly compassion in ways that are foreign to me.  And it’s weird, frankly.

But seeing this new side of him, this side that I only caught glimpses of in rare private moments, I know something there is right.

We were never right for each other.  Never.  We didn’t exactly make sense.   I tend to be effusive and carefree while he was… well… more rigid and exacting.

This was the unspoken truth of our relationship.  Neither of us admitted it until we finally had the relationship-ending talk.   Unless, of course, you count the time at his parents’ home, when his sister asked if we were ever going to get married after a couple (hundred) drinks, he replied “Oh no, we know we aren’t perfect for each other.”  (He’s honest, god bless him.)

We were both operating under the assumption that eventually this would end.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work.  And I don’t begrudge that.  Sometimes two people aren’t meant to be in love.

But when the wound was still raw, I found myself frustrated.  Mostly at myself, mostly for staying so long in a relationship that just wasn’t doing what I had expected that kind of thing to do.  I’ve burned considerable hours since then trying to understand why I got so stuck.

But the longer I traverse the world of singledom, the more I’ve figured out which spell this dark wizard cast on my heart and judgment. The answer is simple.

He showed up.  Everyday.  Without exception.

There were no wicked games in the beginning.   I didn’t have to do that thing where I obsess about if I would hear from him again or try and decide what’s the sexiest number of days to wait in between communiqués.

During the first few months of our relationship, when everything is so tenuous and one wrong move can ruin everything, he avoided the biggest mistake of them all.  He never made me doubt his interest.  And damn it, that’s a turn on.

How many guys have I started talking with recently only to wait days for a reply?  How many dates have been cancelled, rescheduled, politely avoided?

The Ex spoiled me because I’m finding now even the best of men seem to lack this ability.

For example, a few months ago, I was dating a guy pretty regularly.   He had a lot going for him: handsome, smart, super good body, a doctor… or, more specifically, a resident.  I still don’t exactly understand how the whole medical career system works but from what I can gather being a resident means you work insane and irregular hours rendering yourself hopelessly unavailable.  Only fueling my desire.

We would see each other at least once a week and I was starting to develop significant feelings.  But things weren’t without complication.   His demanding job made it challenging to get a hold of him or make plans.  And I like to keep a schedule.

If you read my bio somewhere on this page, then you know I’m a theater artist.  Meaning I work tirelessly to put together performances and am constantly brimming with feelings.   AND I work with children who absolutely amaze me all of the time.  So, yeah, I get being swept up in your career.

When the Doctor and I started dating, I had just cast my latest production and started rehearsals.  The show was a regular topic of discussion.  As was his job.  We both happened to be two people who were just as eager to share as we were to listen, a truly rare combination.

The week leading up to my show, we were able to squeeze in a dinner date somewhere between my hectic production schedule and his ungodly rotation that seemed like it might have been killing him.  But there we were, sitting in an Indian restaurant, both worn from work but appreciative of the company.

I expressed my concern for our well-beings over a casual joke.  But he laughed and said it wasn’t too bad.  Anyway, he would finally have time off that weekend.  (The first time in a month.)  How perfect!  That meant he’d have an evening free to see the show I’d been blabbing on about for the last three months.

And then he broke eye contact and started stammering.  “Yeah, you’re right.  I guess I could see it.”  I ignored any notable ambivalence and instead listed all of the dates and times of the show.  He didn’t confirm that he would come to any of them but he said he would “check his calendar.”  I’ve heard that before.  I’ve said that before.  I know what it means.

And yet, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  He definitely wasn’t prepared to receive such an aggressive invitation and maybe he did need to check his schedule.  The subject was dropped.

A few days later, I sent a Facebook message to some of my friends, including the Doctor, letting them know I had two comp tickets if any one was interested.  I won’t say I wrote the message solely with the intent of sending him a subtle reminder.  I really did want my friends to come as well.  But I had hoped that that would have given him a kindly nudge without seeming too pushy (read: insane and needy.)

I never heard back. He never came.  He sent me a text a few days later asking how it went.  “Brilliantly,” I responded but I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t disappointing.

Rationally, I can understand all of the reasons why he wouldn’t want to be there.  Sure, it was his first weekend off in a month.  And, ok, maybe watching a bunch of anonymous kids perform isn’t the most exciting thing a grown man can do with his time.  And maybe I wasn’t clear about how important my work is to me.   But I couldn’t have made it any easier for him to show up for me.

The Ex, who hated theater, came to every one of my shows.  Even a tragic little one I was in only a month or so into our relationship.  He was there for everything that was important to me.

I told my mom this story and she hit me with a harsh truth. “Well, say what you will about the Ex.  He was always there.”  But then she did that perfect mom thing where she followed it up with a slight dig at him as if to remind me she’s on my side. “You might not have wanted him there, but he always showed up.”

The Doctor and I never dated or made contact again (except for one unfortunate time a few weeks ago when we both happened to be on separate dates at the same restaurant.  I would later text him to finally hash out my feelings.  Because I can’t stop myself.)

It was hard enough scheduling dates and harder still to get a reply to a simple “How’s it going” text message.  But to actively miss something as significant as that was for me for a reason I can only assume was as callous as “I don’t want to” was unforgivable.

The importance of presence cannot be discounted. And I don’t just mean to show up at a performance or family function or random theme party thrown by an acquaintance.  We show up for people in all sorts of ways.  It’s the act of letting some one know that you are making space for them in your life.

So often, I feel like I’m constantly fighting an up hill battle with these trifling boys.

I get what it’s like to be uncertain of my feelings.  But texting back takes all of two minutes.  You can do it on the toilet for crying out loud.  And it goes a long way.  If I’m not worthy of a “Sup” while you’re pooping, then I say “To the left, to the left.”  (And yeah sure, I should probably take the hint.)  All I’m looking for is confirmation that I’m somewhere on a list of priorities.

I give it up to the Ex.  He’s a man who got it right, who never let me doubt he was interested.  And because we didn’t waste any time emotionally terrorizing one another, our relationship blossomed quickly and into something that for a time was as lovely as any relationship could be.

At the end of the day, we made the right decision to call it quits.  We’re now on a path towards greater happiness and have been able to salvage our friendship.  I’ll always love and care for him.  But now in a way that makes sense for us.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he has set the bar pretty high.  Damn, that’s depressing.  Oh well, cue the Dusty Springfield!

you don't own me

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program…

I started this blog so I could share funny stories from my woefully tragic dating life.  I started this blog because I was spending too much time trolling the dating apps, sites and bars and it was driving me crazy.  I started this blog to entertain and to fill the hole that being single created.

But once in a while I come across something so ignorant, so virulent, so damaging that I must stop what I’m doing and call attention to the big pile of bull shit some one is trying to pass off as a red velvet cupcake.  (Can you imagine a more heinous offense?)

The other day, I read a post on Thought Catalog that was entitled “I’m Not Racist, I’m Just Not Attracted to Black Men.” (I’ll give you a moment to let your eyes roll back to the screen.)  The author, Anonymous, bravely explains how his distaste for black men does not mean that he is a racist.  It’s simply a preference and is not meant to hurt any one.

He continues on bemoaning the response he receives from people on Grindr when they see his “white for white only” tag line.  As if everyone who reads that and takes offense, black, white or otherwise, is patently wrong for chastising him.

I won’t waste my time summarizing the whole thing but if you wish to read it, click here.

I know I’ve made sweeping statements like that about a whole type of human being.  We probably all have.  And I’m the first to admit it’s pretty fucked up. But everyone is entitled to having preferences and a type.  For example, my type is a hilariously intelligent, gorgeous, wealthy, single, non-sex offending, sane man who texts back (If you know any one who matches this description, please send him my way.)

Identifying what we want in a partner is a critical part of finding love.  So if Anonymous here “just doesn’t feel a sexual attraction to them,” (“them” meaning black men, in case you forgot) then shouldn’t we respect that that is his preference and back the hell off?

Sure.  But the problem, and what is really rubbing me raw here, is that he is trying to justify that his preference isn’t racist.  It is.  It is undoubtedly racist.  Whenever you lump a group of people together on the basis of race and then draw one conclusion about them, you are being definitively racist.

By claiming that Anonymous is not attracted to any black man on the planet, what he’s really saying is, “I will only see you, black men, solely for your color.  And because I feel that your skin color and all of the assumptions that I make because of it are undesirable, I will never allow myself to consider the possibility that we might enter into a meaningful intimate relationship despite any compatibility of our personalities.”

What’s worse is that he references a conversation he had with his many gay black friends as if it validates his statement.  A “Don’t worry, my black friends are cool with it” ethos.  Only he doesn’t actually reveal to them his Whites Only sexual policy.  Rather he expounds upon an argument he had with a black friend who shares his proclivity for the White wiener.  (For the record: I would also argue that the black friend is being sort of racist too.  And no “reverse racism” isn’t a thing, but I’m not here for that right now.)

I wonder why he doesn’t tell the room filled with black gay men that he’s not buying what they’re selling.  I wonder if on some level he recognizes that it might not be well received by this dinner party of wall to wall black gay men when he admits that by virtue of their skin tone he finds them all sexually repugnant.  I bet he knows he would be casting a shade so deep we may never again see the light of day!

I’m going to make an assumption that this man is probably some where close to my age because he’s writing on this blog that seems geared to people of my generation.  Like me, he probably first learned what “racism” is in social studies when our teachers covered the Civil Rights movement (because no one calls it “racism” when they are actually practicing it.)  They taught us about segregation, sit-ins, fire hoses, lynchings and other horror stories from the Deep South.

But things are different now and we don’t live it that world with those overt displays of hatred, right? We live in a world where black and white kids go to school together and a black man is even president.  We get that we need to be tolerant of all peoples.  We’re not like they were in the Jim Crow South.  So we’re ok, right?

Wrong.  And what Anonymous is demonstrating here is that he doesn’t actually understand what racism is.  Sure, he may not be depriving gay black men the ability to be employed or sit where they want on a bus, but he is replacing their individuality with their color. And he’s trying to justify it publically.

I’m very lucky.  Like Anonymous, I grew up in an almost entirely white community (wait, that’s not why I’m lucky. Keep reading!)  In fact, when my hometown was established just after WWII, the sale of homes to any person of color was strictly prohibited.  Racism runs deep there.  But many of my mentors, collaborators, peers, and friends (some of whom are more like family) are of various races, ethnicities, orientations, sexes, and levels of crazy.  And they have challenged me to have these hard conversations.  I have learned from them because I have listened. (Admittedly, not always without crossing my arms, pouting my lips and getting defensive but I’m a work in progress.)

I’m not a paragon of equality and political correctness and, honestly, I’ve never dated any one outside of my own race (this probably has more to do with their lack of interest than mine… which is actually a trend that seems to transcend all races at the moment.)  But honey, I work at it every damn day.  I don’t think anything Anonymous’ gay black friends said at that dinner party sunk in.  I get the distinct impression that Anonymous hasn’t been paying attention.    And I’m pretty sure he’s not the only one.

Sometimes, my fellow white gay men make me uneasy.

A few months ago, I had a one-night stand with a white man.  Let’s call him Cranston.  (Prepare yourselves for a bad date story because I can’t help myself!)  This isn’t something I do often.  I met Cranston at a bar.  He was relatively funny and looked vaguely like a man from Michigan I once loved.  So I invited him back to my place.

We were in my room and I started asking him probing questions in an attempt to get to know him better. (I’m really bad at these casual encounters.)  Eventually, we started sharing our coming out stories and talked about our families because seriously I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

He told me coming out was challenging because his family is “very small minded.”  Sure, I get that.  My coming out was a struggle too.  But he insisted his family is worse than mine or anyone else’s for that matter.   Then to demonstrate how bigoted they are he tells me this charming anecdote about a family party where his grandfather went on a racist rant.  And in order to further prove his point, Cranston dropped at least 4 N-bombs recounting Pop-pop’s tirade right there in my boudoir.

I delivered a side eye so wicked, my cats scurried under the bed.  Aware that he said something wrong, Cranston looked confusedly at my cross face and said, “What? That word? It’s ok. I’m not a racist, I’m gay.”

Alllllrriiiight.

Let’s decode the meaning behind his cryptic choice of words, shall we?  The idealist in me wanted to believe the subtext was, “Please understand that now being a part of a marginalized group, I am critically aware of systems of oppression.  I decided to appropriate that word so I may further the discourse of hate speech.  I meant no harm or disrespect.  I’m sorry.”

But I wonder if what he was really saying was “Hey man, we’re minorities now.  We have license to say anything we want because we’re in the Oppressed Peoples club.  We get it what it’s like.  Don’t be so offended.”

But, really?  We were two people, absolute strangers, and he made an assumption that he could freely use that word because somehow the fact that we were two gay men together granted us that permission.

This isn’t the first conversation I’ve had like this.   And so I worry.

We, as gay people, understand oppression.  I starting noticing my attraction to men at puberty, I had my first gay experience when I was 17 and didn’t come out until I was almost 21.  In all that time, external factors of my environment made me afraid and ashamed to admit who I was.   That is a system of oppression.

But our queer identity is quite unique when you look at other marginalized people.  For many of us, it’s not something that is necessarily visible.   Stick with me for a minute.

For a number of years I worked in a coffee shop in a massive office building.  Every day, I would serve hundreds of 9-5ers, many of whom were much older and had probably not interacted with (m)any gay people.  I’m not particularly masculine; I’m usually gesticulating with my hands too much and referencing some broadway show or pop diva in conversation.  I sit into my hips when I stand.  And yet, I could regale you with countless stories of when a male customer would make an inappropriate comment about my female coworkers and their attractiveness when they weren’t around or of when a female customer thought that my lady coworker and I would make a cute couple.

They were so conditioned to expect that everyone is just like them that they compulsively assumed I was heterosexual.  I “passed.”

For many of us (but certainly not all), we can tuck away our sexuality.  How many times have you been to a grocery store and some dick drop an F-bomb to his friend at the check out counter?  Do we always confront Joe Dumbdick?  Probably not.  Should we?  Absolutely.  But sometimes, I’m just trying to get my eggs and get on with my day.

We face these little coming out moments every day and sometimes, for the sake of our own convenience, we keep ourselves closeted because ain’t nobody always got time to be teaching life lessons.  But I worry that sometimes those of us who are white gay men forget that in these little moments when we decide to “pass,” we jump back into our seat of white male privilege.

So what am I getting at here?  Opinion pieces like the one written by Anonymous, by a gay white man, horrify me.  Because they make me think that we, white gay men, forget that there are people out there who have it worse than us.  Who undergo more layers of oppression that are far more complex and damaging then our own.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being gay is a struggle for all of us.  We face laws that block our basic freedoms, bullying, being disowned, violence, and a host of other fucked up shit.  And arguing over who has it worse is pointless.  I think most people at some point have a shitty go at life.  The actual amount of people on this planet who have never felt marginalized in some way is probably ridiculously small.  It might just be George Clooney.

But when we, white gay men, come out and accept ourselves for the beautiful creatures we are and join this community of love and support, we are not freed from the responsibility of critically examining our culture and ourselves.  No one is.  So when some Anonymous boy says something as foolish as “I think black men are icky, but I’m totally not a racist for that,” it’s our duty to politely say, “Yes, ma’am, you are.  I love you, but you are.”

We don’t need to run out and have sex with a person of every race like we’re trying to earn our “Egalitarian Lover” badge at the next troupe meeting. (Oh man, if the boy scouts gave out badges like that I might have lasted longer than two meetings.)  But why draw a firm line in the sands of sex and love and declare that one type of person may not pass?   Aren’t we just closing ourselves off to unfathomable possibilities.

Rant, over.

audra mic drop

Because I could never resist this GIF, not in a million years.

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.”

rocket

Cupid, draw back your bow. No, seriously.

Perhaps the most complicated relationship I’ve been in is with my OkCupid account.

It all began in February of 2010.  I moved to Philadelphia the November before that and very shortly after I met and fell madly in love with a man who lived in Michigan.  Suffice it to say it did not last.

During our brief courtship, Michigan Man off handedly mentioned that he had an OkCupid Account.  I, having remembered this detail, created mine solely with the purpose of remotely monitoring his love life in Michigan.  (Oh, yes, by the way, I’m a crazy person.)

After finally accepting the fact that Michigan Man’s trysts were beyond my reach, I started using OkCupid for its intended purpose.   I went on one date that ended with the guy saying, “Well, you were a lot nicer than I expected.  Let’s do this again.” And then I met the Ex.

Truth be told, the Ex and I never closed our accounts.  I did change my status to “Seeing Someone” and honestly, I never initiated a conversation with anyone while we were together.  But I guess deep down I knew I would need it again.  Ok, so it wasn’t buried that deeply.

The first Monday after the Ex and I called it quits, he went on a date with the man who ultimately was the catalyst for the break up (that’s another damn story for another damn time.)   He was beginning a new relationship while I was home rekindling an old flame.

link wink

The world of online dating is a strange one.  In theory it’s great: an open play ground for single people trying to find Mr. or Ms. or Mx or (ideally) Dr. Right.  More often than not, however, they’re mostly just a breeding ground for uncomfortable encounters and weird sex stories.

I kept things casual that first month.  Not only was I moving to a new place, a show I was performing in was opening.   I didn’t exactly have time for innocuous messaging.  Eventually, the show wrapped up and my boxes were unpacked.  I was ready for love.

We all know how these things go.  You browse around, see a profile you like, visit it one or nine times until you finally summon the courage to send a message, and then if you’re lucky, three days later you get a response.

One fateful night, the most miraculous thing happened.  I messaged a guy who not only was “online” BUT he responded right away.  He even asked me a question he sincerely wanted me to answer.  This cycle went on all night.  We had a full-blown conversation!

Our correspondence wasn’t limited to that one night, either, like so many of these fleeting cyber romances.  Over the next two days, things started getting digitally real.  We were learning about each other’s families, sharing deep dark secrets of our pasts, we even created an inside joke!  AN INSIDE JOKE! Something about opening a Pumpkin Beer Brewery and running ourselves out of business drinking the whole supply… swoon much?

This was getting serious, folks.  He convinced me to meditate! Like I was some rich lady or a bike messenger!  I fell asleep doing it but still this was big.  The Ex had tried many times over to get me to meditate with him only sort of succeeding twice in three years.  Even the silly X-Box mediation game he bought couldn’t fool me.

Kristen-Wiig-Aunt-Linda-Oh-brother

“Oh, brother indeed”

It was time to meet.  I don’t remember who initiated the plan but we set a date, time, and location.  At that point in the online dating process, I typically close communication until the real meet-up.  You know, so as not to exhaust all of the usual first date prattle.  And, still, he continued to message me! Some one was certainly gunning to be Future Husband.

The big day arrived.  It must be said, I don’t get nervous before a date.  I don’t.  Small talk is my jam.  But, this guy, he had me on edge.  And I’m not talking like a little extra nervous sweat.  In the frenzy that was my pre-date preparations, I actually locked myself out of the bathroom and had to remove the door from the hinges using only a butter knife.  (Did you know you can do that?)  I was a mess.

calm down woman

The text I sent myself

It was 45 minutes before the date and a message came through the Cupid App, POTENTIAL_FH says “Hey, I had a long day and need a drink STAT.” (he was a med student, bonus points!) “I’m heading over now.  I’ll see you when you get here. :)” Well, I put on my favorite blue plaid shirt, did my hair, and peddled my cute little buns over to the bar as fast as I could!

The bar was crowded as it was a Friday night during Happy Hour in Center City.  I did a lap and couldn’t find him.  This didn’t raise any alarms immediately because his pictures were sort of vague.  In one picture he was wearing sunglasses and the other had a grainy Instragram Filter.  He could have been any blurry sunglass wearing 20 something in the bar that night (which if you’ve been to Moriarty’s is half of the crowd.)  No matter.  I sent him a message telling him I was here.  He didn’t give me his number when I gave him mine so my communiqués had to come through the app.  Wait, is that weird?  No.  It’s fine.  I’ll just grab two seats at the bar.

Two pumpkin beers, please.  How lovely.  He’ll find me, sitting here; prepared with the drink that was so important to us.  (If you know me at all, you know I almost never offer to buy the first drink.  I was in it to win it.)  I started sipping my beer while waiting for a reply or for Future Husband himself to tap me on the shoulder and say something cliche like “Waiting for some one?” or “What’s a beautiful lady like you doing drinking alone?” Ugh, he’s so lame, I thought, blushing.

My beer was getting emptier until eventually I finished it.  No reply.  Ok, I’m a bit nervous so I guess I’ll start drinking his beer now.  Calm the nerves.  He won’t know I bought it for him any way.  A half hour passed and I was nearly two beers deep.  I checked my phone because, you know, sometimes it doesn’t send you an alert.  Nothing.

I suddenly started to notice the frustrated patrons around me.  I had been holding this seat for thirty minutes now while at least 5 people were standing behind me eyeing it up like we were a group of people stranded on a dessert island and I was holding the last Luna Bar. Didn’t they get I was saving this seat for my Future Husband?  Back up! BACK UP! And wipe that look off of your face! He’s coming, dammit! Won’t you look stupid when he gets here and you see what a great time we’ll be having!

But still…

I sent a text to my friend David.

“How long do you wait for a date to show up?”

“15 minutes.”

“I think I’m being stood up.”

“Girl, get out of there.  I’m going to a party.  You can come with me.”

I order one more beer because it’s happy hour for ten more minutes and beers are half priced… and I can wait ten more minutes, I guess.

I finished the third beer, paid my tab, offered my seat to the guy wearing a Phillies Hat and his lady friend with the high pony tail and headed directly to David’s.  This was my first time being stood up.  I sort of thought it was something TV writers made up so they could play the sad music before the commercial break.  Good thing there wasn’t a composer scoring my life right now…

Oh what’s that?  A homeless man playing “Memory” on a broken violin? Yes, that is PRECISELY what was awaiting me outside of David’s apartment.  (He lived on South Street so this probably wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.) You’re a sassy bitch, you know that, Universe?

David’s the perfect friend to have when a man wrongs you.  He gives you his version of the “You is smart” speech from The Help, plenty of alcohol, and when possible will walk up to that scumbag and read him to filth.  He is the perfect medicine for a broken heart.

help gif

After my treatment, we hopped in a cab and went to this party for his friend’s birthday.  Unfortunately, no one told me it was “Pink” themed for a group of gays my friends and I affectionately refer to as “The Plastics.”  (Can we gays go a day without a Mean Girls reference?)  So there I was, the only man in a sea of pink-clad, perfectly quaffed, ripped gays wearing blue and feeling blue.  (Also, I was the only one eating the enchiladas.  Did the caterer really think these boys would be caught dead eating?)

The next morning, it dawned on me!  Maybe something terrible happened! I didn’t want something bad to happen to him.  But if the last thing he said was “I’m on the way” then doesn’t it stand to reason that just maybe he was hit by a cab or something?  Was this my An Affair to Remember?  Now, that was of course this last thing I would wish for him or anyone.  But I have to admit, a cab accident would have really pulled me out of a funk.

an affair to remember

So I messaged him.  I told him if he didn’t want to see it me it would was OK, I can take it, but I’m genuinely worried now that maybe he was lying in a hospital room somewhere.  I asked that he please write back with an explanation post haste so I could at least put my worried mind at ease.  No reply that day.

It was Sunday night and I was tending to my usual post-Saturday hangover, which in light of recent events was particularly heinous.  My phone started buzzing.  “POTENTIAL_FH has sent you a message.  You better take this.  And, hey, whatever happens, you’re great,” alerted my OkCupid app.

I’ll give you the abridged version of his reply: “Hey, so listen.  I’m not dead or in a coma. The truth is these pictures are not mine.  The profile is fake.  I am recently single and just wanted to see what was out there.  I didn’t expect to find some one I would be so interested in so quickly.  I was at the bar but I was too afraid to come clean so I left.  I hope you understand.”

Wait, what?

what-the-what

I think my reaction was a mixture of utter shock, blind rage, and the gluttonous hunger.  Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been lying to me?  That you were at the bar?  That you may have been even sitting next to me?  You watched me order beers for the two of us, hold a seat for you, drink alone and said nothing!?!

Now usually when presented any type of fuckery, I am inclined to flick my wrist with a “Girl, bye” and go about my business with nary a hair out of place. But this was fuckery on a new level.  This was some Lifetime Original Movie starring Gina Gershon shit.  Some one better get my erasers and chalk because I’m about to school this child.

grumpy amy

I won’t make you read my whole long response but I will give you the most important part:

“You might see this [OkCupid] as a safe fun place to anonymously browse hot guys.  But there are real people here hoping that we’ll find the person we’re looking to potentially share the rest of our lives with.   You’re not responsible for the way I react to your bullshit, but you are responsible for treating ALL people with respect.  You’re not ready for this, little boy, and you don’t deserve to be here.”

He closed his account that evening and good riddance.  I sometimes wonder if I was too harsh.  After all, he was 22 and lord knows 22 year olds don’t have a good goddamn clue.  I don’t care what you say, Taylor Swift.  But some one needed to set the record straight for all of us out there.

tswift shock

There is no room for some one like that in the world of online dating.  While most people probably aren’t so irresponsible, I think we take for granted how difficult online dating is.  Simply by signing up for a profile we are all broadcasting to the world, “I’m utterly single and lonely and desperately want to find love.”  And yet most of us, myself included, seem to forget that behind the carefully selected album of pictures and diligently crafted personal essays beats a real heart riddled with insecurities and vulnerabilities just like ourselves.

We’ve all been there.  You send some one a thoughtful message; you see they visited your profile, implying they have read your greeting, and then nothing.  Something, a face you made, an answer to a question, a movie you like, your interests, your size, shape, race, penchant for cats convinced them you aren’t worth the courtesy  of a “hello.” We’ve all done that too.

I know I’m guilty of some online dating transgressions.  I’m not perfect.  And I’m not necessarily suggesting we develop LTRs with every guy who notices you.  I don’t have the time or money for that type of consideration.  But it’s important that we remind ourselves once in a while that we’re dealing with people who feel and hurt and are more than a few pictures and words.

That little boy was probably exceptionally offensive.  But I think this story is indicative of our growing lack of empathy that stems from these sterile online interactions.   When you can’t see some one’s face, it’s way easier to act like a total dick and think nothing of it.  If some one came up to one of us at a bar and said “Hello,” would we look them up and down and turn away as if nothing happened?

I hope not.  I hope our communication doesn’t regress to that.

But if you did, you’d be a real douche-toot.

Epilogue:

A few weeks later, my dear friend Brian updated his Grindr picture, which just so happened to have my face in the background.  We’re not posed together in the picture.  I’m just part of the mis-en-scene, like an extra bush or cloud.  Brian’s profile states he is in a relationship so every now and again some one would figure I was the boyfriend and suggest the three of us get together (obviously we’d make an adorable couple.)  One evening, Brian sent me a screen shot of a conversation he was having where the person said “Tell Tim I said hey.”  The guy also included a picture.  I wasn’t familiar with his face and asked Brian to find out how he knew me.  The guy replied “Tell him I’m sorry I missed him that night for our pumpkin beers.”

Girl, bye.

bernadette gif

Nice to meet you…

Six months ago, I broke up with my boyfriend of three years.  It wasn’t explosive or malicious.  We didn’t fight or cheat or say things we would later regret.  Instead, we sat down and had a reasonable discussion about how we still cared for each other but we no longer loved one another in the way we felt we ought to love our significant other.  It may be the most grown up thing I have ever done.

We found separate apartments and divided our things.  Obviously, I got the cats.  He got the furniture (it was mostly his anyway.)  I said goodbye to him and the life I had created during the early years of my adulthood.  My first night in my new home I laid awake almost all night fantasizing about all of the new adventures that lay before me.  I was down right giddy.  And how could I not be?! Real Love was waiting for me, outside my window holding up a boom box in a trench coat. (Oh that’s just a bum who lives in my new neighborhood? Whatever, he could still be the man of my dreams!)

I joined just about every platform to meet men: Grindr, OkCupid, Tinder, Scruff… ok maybe not all of them (note: they’re all free, because I’m on a budget.) My ex started a serious relationship two weeks after we broke it off.  No, we hadn’t  moved out of the apartment we shared yet.  No, that didn’t make me jealous.  But, Yes, it did convince me that I was bound to find my Future Husband any day.

It’s six months later and I’m still single.

I jumped into the virtual and often real world of dating expecting to find the man of my dreams faster than my browser can play a Beyonce video, search a recipe for mac and cheese and post a clever Facebook status.  Instead I’ve found a whole lot of malarky.  Between the seriously awful guys, the uncomfortable first dates and, lest we forget, the series of rejections I’ve amassed a small volume of stories that I need to share with the world/my few friends who might offer me the courtesy of a read (and then a READ.)  A handful of my friends have said I should write a book of all my dating disasters.  First of all, I’m probably not that good of a writer.  I don’t believe it was a serious suggestion but I thought it would be entertaining.  Truth be told, I didn’t immediately take to Microsoft office because I was convinced I was going to meet Future Husband right away and didn’t want to invade our privacy by chronicling our early courtship online.

Part of this is a desperate attempt to get attention (and maybe some extra money from ads placed here.)  The other more sincere part is my way of sharing my grief, processing the complicated nature of being a single gay twenty something (how do I survive?) and possibly opening up a conversation about the way we treat each other.

I’m still single.  I’m actually ok with that.  I actually like it.  But what I need to remember is that real love, the one that you build with some one over years and years, the one that creates memories and families, takes time.  So while I slowly walk the bumpy sidewalk of Singles Lane straight on to Future Husband’s home on Bliss Avenue (which I think is also the name of sexy lingerie store) I invite you to come tag along on my journey.  (I will also accept date offers in the comment section.)

I feel really good about this.

(PS I really want to add GIFs to this but I haven’t figured it out.  Please send help.)