Gay stuff

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