The Tinder boy was already an hour late.
It was my first connection on the dating app and I really should have known better. The chatting had only been so-so, but his picture was cute, and what I knew about him seemed appealing. I had been advised by friends to just ask for what I wanted. So I proposed the meet-up at U-Bar. But he never showed, and then only texted he had forgotten about it three hours later.
I did what I supposed to do for the most part. I insisted on a public meetup (a must if you're going to do online dating). I had a plan to get home no matter what happened. I intended to pay my own way and let him take care of himself. I brought protection just in case. I was going to move forward because I wanted to and not because I was obligated or intoxicated. I have needs but I also have standards: I want to remember my first time with a man, and I want him to be sweet and solicitous.
Old me would have felt wretched and rejected and humiliated. That night I didn't even think twice about it and turned to my neighbor at the bar and started to talk. He seemed much more interesting. Put together. Successful. And handsome! And we just talked and flirted mildly. I touched his leg with my knee. I casually touched his back. It felt natural to do and neighborly.
We only half-watched the Super Bowl while chatting about travel and art. It was not really going to go anywhere it seemed. Just comradely really. We were fellow travelers in this big gay world. And I felt restored by the brief connection.
I got his number and a very chaste kiss when he decided it was time to go home. It was Sunday night after all. We both had work the next day. Maybe he'll call and maybe he won't. It's up to him. I would be flattered if he wanted to do something later, but my life does not depend upon it. I'll meet other fellow travelers on my journey and some of them will want to rub bodies together. Eventually.
My path is precious to me, and there is no point in hurrying along without control. Just let things happen in their due course. It's much more important to me to learn about this fabulous new world and meet people along the way. My body tells me it's more important to be seen, addressed, welcomed by others.
PS) Another friend of mine tells me that nine out of ten Tinder dates are no-shows. So I know it's not me but them. Why be on a site to meet new people if you don't actually meet them? And really if you think about it the whole thing is set up to make prospects as disposable as possible, sorted just on the most superficial of traits. I value myself much better than that.
The drag queen decided she was going to teach me to sing.
Two weeks ago, during my first visit to the Gayborhood I met this fierce lady, name of Carmen Can-Too. We've become close since then. I was in her apartment on a Saturday night with a karaoke machine. We had been hanging out all day so she could take some pictures of me for my online dating profile. We talked and smoked and cried and told each other stories of our life. Before I know it out comes the vodka and the microphone. And we sang. She listened to my offerings and liked my voice, but she said that she had notes for me. And boy did she ever. There was one song in particular she wanted to hear over and over again, until I felt it, remembered the words, and hit all the notes in as sweet and true a voice as possible.
I'm a big guy and I have a really loud deep baritone voice. I talk too loud most of the time. It comes in handy in my job as a professor at Local State University. And I love singing at karaoke, even though most songs are pitched at tenor or above. I had to learn to go higher than I might like. I even have an improbable falsetto. But I always try to sing louder than the music instead of letting the microphone do the work. So she was trying to teach me to go softer and hit the notes in my pitch range more truly. Breathe better.
Her singing instructions were an invitation of another sort. Stop singing the person you think you have to be. Sing the man you really are. Let them hear your true self, your unique savor of the notes and the words. Teach them what you stand for. So I got to hear this song over and over again, until it started to become my own. I've always loved it forever and loved the lyrics, but I never really thought about them very much.
The song is "Rainbow Connection" sung by Kermit the Frog in the original Muppet Movie from 1979. It's cute and sweet as all get-out, and it presents an adorable contrast to my usual fare of punk songs and hip hop.
I sang it over and over again, trying hard to follow her directions, and I found myself crying —voice heaving a bit to fight it — as I thought about what this song was saying. Especially the final verse, which goes:
Have you been fast asleep
And have you heard voices,
I've heard them calling my name,
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors,
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It's something that I'm supposed to be,
It just hit me like a ton of bricks, thinking about the source of those voices and their pesterings all those years. Me lonely and sad for so long, thinking that the night time was the only time I could be true to myself. Going to bed in compulsory straightness but dreaming big Busby Berkeley dreams — only to wake up straight again. Again and again, over and over. For thirty-four years. I learned to dread the sound of my alarm clock, and I never could foresee remit from this fate.
And there was Kermit all along, he and the Muppets reminding me of a truth so simple that it's tragically easy to miss. Be you. Be weird. Be true. Let it all out. Make the outcome even stranger than the premise. My favorite Muppet was always Gonzo the Great. He was so flamboyant and bigger than life, totally a queer character — he had nonconforming desires, he was fierce and totally convinced of his greatness. Though he always failed to achieve his fantasies, he always tried the next time in as weird a fashion as possible. The effort was what made him great.
So I guess the big question I have is that I believed everything else that the Muppets said. So why didn't I hear this part — the part that really mattered to my life — until now?
I try not to regret a youth lost in pursuit of somebody else's life. It was mostly my fault anyways. How can I ruin what's left of whatever with sadness, when there's so much out there to do? I can't. Bitterness would be fatal at this late stage in life.
Carmen Can-Too is one of my best friends, and three weeks ago I hadn't even dared to go out to meet anybody. Life changes and speedily. And it's never too late to be the person you deserve to be.
The voices have been calling me a very long time. Those queer voices (we contain multitudes, so there's never just one). Calling me home. I pretended I didn't hear them for a long time. Explored what I could. Admired what I could take in of gay culture from a distance. Loved queer and gender-ambiguous artists and musicians. But I tried to keep it at a distance. Told myself it was natural to feel these things. (Turns out it is, but that's another story...) That I was home in a drab, safe, straight world, and that my invisibility was just because there was something wrong with me.
There were always invitations to be myself. Kind and gentle men at the dance club I frequented in college were always interested. (Warren if you're out there, I made the wrong choice. DM me dahling!) Women who cultivate friendships with gay men tried to cultivate me (And I loved them for trying). But I'd always blush and thank them for being so sweet and go back into the isolation tank. Out and about but always self-deluded about who I really was. It was not a recipe for happiness. There were a few rare occasions I found myself kissing boys and really liking it. But something, some fear, some shame would always push me back to where I felt so wretched and alienated.
Of course when I was younger, gay men were still being decimated by AIDS. So there were fears. But my high school seemed to tolerate the out gay people who were there, so I never witnessed homophobic bullying. Society's thresholds of shame were enough to keep me in the sunken place. At odds with my body and my sense of right. Turns out I was letting the potential disasters keep me from feeling the joys...
After a divorce following eight years of marriage to a woman, I knew the queerness in me had contributed to this painful situation. I loved her, but I knew there was something else inside me. Something that would never be happy as long as that inauthenticity was there. My body longed to be true. Reality was slipping away. It threatened to swallow me whole. The prospect of another failed marriage was too much to bear. I knew I wasn't getting younger or any less gay. The time to act was now.
I spent two years in the darkness along the way. I convinced myself I was far too old to come out now. That no man would be interested in me. That clubs only played music I didn't like. That I was too drab to make it in a world of fabulous and fierce gay people. Nobody needed to tell me these things. I was my own prison guard.
But that changed. I dared to go out to a wonderful LGBT establishment when I was home for the holidays. At once something was happening. People seemed to see me. Talk to me. Welcome me home. I suddenly realized that there was this huge queer family out there, and they've been wondering where I've been all this time. I even got to kiss a cute boy for the first time in forever. Those kisses were welcome, desperately needed, drunken, and totally stupid — but nonetheless they were an imperative. What feels better, SG, safety or love? Choose now!
I chose the route of love. And that must be what we all choose who tread these roads. Connection as an authentic human being is worth everything else. Just because you've done something for 34 years doesn't make it right. It's never too late to be real. You owe it to yourself.
The nice people at NJGayLIfe.com were kind enough to allow me to share my journey with you all. This blog will cover many things I am interested in, but tend on focus on the closet and what it is like to be middle-aged and out and proud for the first time. There may be sad truths here, but there will also be much joy. I feel like a 19-year-old again, and I intend to make the most of my exploration and discovery — and ultimately find the love that makes me feel the happiest I ever have felt.
I live in South Jersey, but can often be found around Philly. If you see me come say hi. I'll be the short, fat guinea pig sitting on the bar. I'm bright orange, tough to miss. While you're there, please buy me a drink. This gig pays nothing.