Monday, October 31, 2011

Falling Off the Wagon

And now someone's on the telephone, desperate in his pain
And someone's on the bathroom floor doing her cocaine
Someone's got his finger on the button in some room
And no one can convince me we aren't gluttons for our doom
But I tried to make this place my place
I asked for Providence to smile upon me with his sweet face

--Indigo Girls

Happy Halloween.

I continue be surprised and delighted by the various and sundry people from my past who have reached out to me since I began posting the Frat Life series, including Paula -- one of Jane's sorority sisters who was on that same Cancun trip with us -- and Bill, the president of Chi Psi during the brief time I was an active member. The writing I do in this blog is so personal to me, I often forget there are actually people out there who read it. It's awesome, but it's also somewhat frightening, because I start to go back and look at what I wrote, worrying that maybe I've hurt someone's feelings along the way. For whatever it's worth, that is never my intent, and I am truly sorry if it's ever the result.

I'm not sure why my focus lately has been so much on the distant past. I guess since I started the Life Cleanse, I've felt a need to clear out all the cobwebs and create a clean space. Which is great, but I don't want to get stuck there. I was in therapy from 1999 to around 2005. And while Joseph, my therapist, was great for me in many ways, he was also a die-hard Freudian. In hindsight, I think we spent entirely too much time focusing on my early childhood. I remember one session where he actually tried to get me to remember having a dirty diaper.

Talk about full of shit!

It's important to understand the early causes of one's behavior, but that in and of itself doesn't change the behavior. I wish Joseph had been more practical. I wish every once in a while, he would have just said, "Just stop doing this. Just quit it. It's hurting you." But he never did.

Speaking of the LC... I fell off the wagon big-time this weekend. Not with everything -- I still haven't touched booze, drugs or cigarettes since Oct. 6 -- but with TV, food and sex. Which is half the battle. So I'm kind of bummed. I'm not getting into details of the sex right now. I'll only say that I may or may not have hooked up with a guy dressed as Hermes, the Messenger God, after passing him on my block Saturday night. And he may or may not have left his costume on the whole time.

His costume wasn't this cool. It looked more like pajamas.

I was on my way home from a photo shoot at the time. The photo shoot was for an upcoming naked comedy show I'm doing for one of Daniel Nardicio's naughty parties, along with Brad Loekle, Chad Stringfellow and Jason Barker.

Jason, me and Brad in a promotional photo by Jeff Eason.
Fun fact: Jason was actually nude under the blanket. 
If you want to know more, you'll have to come to the show.

This all happened during that biblical freak Nor'easter snowstorm we were hit with, and something about the weather just made me want to pig out. So Brad and I stopped at Schnipper's after the shoot, and I ate a cheeseburger with sweet potato fries, while Brad nibbled daintily at a chicken Caesar salad. Then came the thing that may or may not have happened with Hermes. Then I left my apartment again and bought a pint of Ben 'n Jerry Chubby Hubby, of which I ate about a third.

Sidebar: Did you guys know that Ben 'n Jerry temporarily changed the name of that flavor to "Hubby Hubby" in 2009 in support of marriage equality?! How fucking cool! This makes me feel a little better about eating it. Not much, but a little.

So yeah. Fell of the wagon. I'm trying not to beat myself up about it. My many friends in AA tell me the goal is progress, not perfection. Still, I feel rather weak that I couldn't stick to my program -- rigorous though it was -- for even 30 days. It's not even the sex I feel particularly bad about. That only lasted a few moments, anyway. (Hermes is, after all, winged.) No, where I really fell into the trap this weekend was with the television. I watched hours of it, retreating into my old sofa-coma. And yes, the weather was shit. And yes, I had no bookings this past weekend. And yes, nobody called me to make plans, and everyone I called was busy.

But that's the ultimate goal: To find something constructive, creative and healthy to do with myself even when I'm completely alone.

Progress, not perfection.

Ironically, one of the shows I stumbled across Sunday was Oprah's Lifeclass. (Get it? Lifeclass? LifeCleanse?) So many people in my life have been telling me I should be watching this show, so it's probably no accident. Especially since in the first five minutes I watched, Oprah put up a quotation by Iyanla Vanzant.

Iyanla is a relationship expert and one of Oprah's disciples. She is certifiably batshit crazy, and incredibly entertaining to watch. She was on the Oprah show dozens of times during the late 90s, and often Oprah would cede the entire hour to Iyanla. Then the two of them had a bitter falling out, and they never spoke again... until this year.

If you didn't get to see their reunion, I beg you to watch this clip, with Iyanla screaming "I didn't even know what it was!," and Oprah just being as cold and cunty as she's ever been. It's genius.

Anyway, Iyanla is apparently back in O's good graces, because girlfriend is all OVER Oprah's Lifeclass. And as I tuned in to the program, for the very first time, in the first 30 seconds I'm watching, Oprah puts the following Iyanla quote on the screen:

You can accept or reject the way you are treated by other people, but until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. 

You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. 

You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them."       

Did you just get goosebumps? Because I sure did. It's like she wrote that shit for me.

So without even being aware of what I was doing, that's what all these blogged flashbacks have been: An attempt to open the pain that's been holding me in my past and make peace with it.

I love you, you crazy bitch!

One last thing: In doing a bit of research about Hermes -- the mythological Hermes, not my trick from Saturday night -- I learned that he "protects and takes care of all the travelers, miscreants, harlots, old crones and thieves that pray to him or cross his path. He is athletic and is always looking out for runners, or any athletes with injuries who need his help."

So here's hoping Hermes is watching over me and helping me heal my injuries.

Homo cleansing again.

P.S. Thanks, Paul, for always pushing me to blog. You're a creepy perv, but I like you.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frat Life (Part 5 - Finale)

You talk too much
Homeboy, you never shut up.
--Run DMC

Every so often, I begin telling a story that I believe will be interesting and entertaining to my readers -- a twisted, turbulent tale that will conclude with some meaningful, satisfying take-away. But once the story gets underway, it becomes rambling and veers off track, and I find myself at a loss as to how to end it.

This is one of those times.

I'm sorry. I honestly don't know what the point of all this was, and I fear there will be no "ta-da!" moment when you reach the end. Also, my memory of these events is proving to be unusually spotty. For instance, I know Jane was a big pain in the ass, but I can't remember many specific examples to illustrate this. I think perhaps my coming out -- to myself and others -- was so monumental that it overshadows all the events that immediately preceded it.

In any case, if you've traveled this far with me, I feel I owe it to you to at least try and tie it all up in a neat little bow. If nothing else, I do have a cute little anecdote -- courtesy of my big brother, Steve -- to serve as a kind of punchline to this whole mess.

But first, a correction. Moments ago, Colin Scantlebury messaged me the following with regard to my last chapter:

Again, I loved it. I howled at it. I have a few facts for you though:
I am not a Republican Protestant, nor have I ever been! I am a practicing Catholic and a registered Independent (who has yet to vote for a Republican president, btw).

So there you go, and I apologize to Colin for the misrepresentation. This makes me love you even more.

OK, on we go. Apologies again for the lack of clear narrative.

Eventually, Mike P.'s behavior became so obnoxious -- the shit on the cook's car being the proverbial icing on the cake -- that an official campaign was launched to de-activate him from the fraternity. This was highly unusual and a very big deal. The lodge elders called a meeting  at which Mike P. was present where we all discussed in depth his misdeeds, arguing for and against his expulsion. At the end of the meeting, a vote was taken.

As luck would have it, I was the only neophyte eligible to vote. Actually, it wasn't luck; it was the fact that I was an anal-retentive little goody-goody who studied diligently for my Chi Psi history exam and was the first and only neophyte to have passed it in time. (As part of the exam, we had to memorize the Greek alphabet. I'm sad to say that all I remember now is Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon... and that's it.)

The meeting was emotionally wrenching. Men wept. Not Mike P.; I don't think he was capable of human emotion. But some of his supporters cried openly. Tempers flared. Personal attacks were lobbed.

As for me, I stood up and gave a little speech that I had prepared, explaining my vote to expel. My recollection is that the writing was first-rate, but the delivery was crap. I was nervous as fuck and stared at the ground while mumbling my words. It turns out it's not easy to tell someone to his face that you want him to disappear, especially with an audience of peers watching.

I remember the last two lines verbatim:

Throughout my time pledging Chi Psi, I never knew where I stood with Mike Putridio. At the very least, now he knows where he stands with me.

Ooooh! Burn!

Whatever. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping him in the fraternity. So the only real result of my speech was that Mike P. hated me even more than he had before, making things between Jane and me all the more fraught. Actually, the vote to boot him did seem to have something of a neutering effect. There were no further major incidents involving him that I recall.

Another emotional meeting that sticks with me now happened during my last semester as a Chi Psi. It was during the rush process. One of the rushees that semester was the younger brother of Chi Psi's president at the time, a hard-headed guy named Bill. The younger brother was a little blond twink named Michael. To avoid confusion with Michael P., I'll call the little brother Mikey.

For some reason, Mikey rubbed just about all the brothers the wrong way. It was an unwritten law that if you were a legacy, you were a shoe-in, especially if your brother was the current president. Not so with Mikey. People just couldn't stand him. "This kid's a major tool," was the oft-repeated refrain. I didn't feel that strongly about him one way or the other, but he seemed nice enough, in addition to being a kindred spirit (i.e. flaming).

Bill held his tongue while the other brothers expressed their unwillingness to consider Mikey. I was one of the few, it should be mentioned, who spoke in his favor. It should also be mentioned that during the course of the rush meeting, I consumed an entire bottle of white wine. I mean one of those big-ass 1.5 liter bottles. My tolerance to alcohol was probably somewhat higher in those days than it is now, but that's a helluva lot of booze in any case.

Finally, Bill got up to speak on his brother's behalf. He gave an impassioned and deeply personal speech about he and Mikey's relationship with one another, and how much it meant to Mikey to become a Chi Psi. And at some point in the speech, much to the surprise of my fraternity brothers and myself, I began to sob. Not cry -- sob. A loud, ugly, painful, primal sob that went on and on. Everyone, including Bill, glanced nervously at me, wondering when this mentally unstable woman was going to quit her caterwauling.

Actual photo of me from that night.

To this day, I have no idea what moved me so, other than the wine. I'm sure I was crying for all sorts of things that had nothing to do with Mikey. But whatever the case, my tears in combination with Bill's speech did the trick, and Mikey was voted in by a tiny margin. When we delivered the news to him, he immediately informed me he wanted me as his big brother as soon as he became a neophyte.

That never happened. A couple of months into his pledge period, Mikey announced that he was dropping out of Michigan to become a fashion designer and was thus de-pledging from Chi Psi. I have no idea what became of him.

OK, let's try to wrap up the Jane thing.

Jane and I basically played our respective roles as the perfect fraternity-sorority couple. We never went as far as getting pinned or lavaliered (yes, people actually still do this), but we did accompany each other to all major events. I also accompanied her -- along with most of her Alpha Chi Omega sisters -- on a week-long spring break in Cancun.

Here's what I remember from that trip:

1) We had no refrigerator in the room, so we kept our drinks on ice in the bidet.

2) Jane's best friend and her boyfriend shared the room with us. Her boyfriend looked like a young Matthew Morrison. I lusted after him non-stop.

3) It was virtually impossible to get Jane out of bed each morning, what with the combination of hypoglycemia, irregular eating and heavy drinking. So I spent nearly every breakfast as the other couple's third wheel. Which was fine with me.

4) I smuggled a cheap bottle of vodka out of Mexico, and it broke in my suitcase, soaking everything.

5) Cancun was where Jane and I had intercourse for the first time, in between her comas. It was nothing to write home about for either one of us, I'm quite certain.

So not my type now, but at the time... woof!

We broke up shortly afterwards. I don't recall the details, but I know it was I who broke up with her. And that I never told her I was gay. Which I sort of regret.

Once single, and having finally admitted to myself that I was a big ol' fruit (and after having bumped into Will at the gay bar in Saugatuck,) I realized it didn't make much sense for me to stay in Chi Psi. My social life had changed dramatically. I was now spending every Friday night at Ann Arbor's one and only gay dance club, the Nectarine Ballroom, where "DJ Roger" spun the latest hits from five years prior, and one could buy a well drink for a quarter until 10PM. And since I didn't actually live in the lodge and was no longer attending most of the parties, I couldn't justify paying the monthly dues.

So I simply de-activated, giving a little farewell speech at one of our monthly meetings. There was only one thing left to do: Come out to the two people responsible for my joining Chi Psi in the first place, Jules and Steve.

Here's how Steve remembers it:

You and Will knocked on the suite door essentially right after your Sawgituck (sp?) visit, and we told you it was alright to come in (despite being undressed under the covers). You both came in, sat down in separate chairs, closed the door, and told us you had something serious to discuss.

"That's fine, go ahead."

"No, it's REALLY serious." (I can't remember if it was you or Will who said this line.)

 Jules: "That's fine. It's not like you are going to tell us you're gay or something."
Loooooooong pause. Excruciating uncomfortableness. In those ten seconds, it was clear to EVERYONE that it was EXACTLY what you were going to tell us, and then all four of us started laughing. You both eventually told us the story of running into each other on the west side of the state and, yes, you had come out. It was one of those few moments that I've gotten to enjoy someone else inserting his/her foot in his/her mouth.

Incredibly, I don't remember this episode at all. But it seems crazy to me now that Will and I would have decided to come out to them simultaneously. A double-outing! And by two guys to whom they were both very close! It must have been incredibly surreal for Steve and Jules, but they handled it with uncommon grace and kindness. When I told Colin, a short time later, he also took the news with total acceptance and great humor.

I cannot overstate the magnitude of magnanimity and open-mindedness exhibited by these folks -- and the select few others to whom I came out at that time. You have to remember that this was 1992, an entirely different era in LGBT history. There were no gay television characters, and the only gay celebrities we knew about were the ones who had died of AIDS (and Elton John). And while the University of Michigan may have had a progressive tradition, it was still in the Midwest. I can promise you not too many Michigan frat guys would have dealt with my news the way Steve, Jules and Colin did.

I made a lot of mistakes during my time in Chi Psi, but choosing these people as my closest friends wasn't one of them.

I guess that's my "ta-da!" moment.

Homo de-activated.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Frat Life (Part 4)

People talk and people stare, tell them I don't really care
This is the place I should be
And if they think it's really strange for a girl like you
To be in love with someone like me
I wanna tell them all to go to hell, that we're doing very well
Without them, you see
That's just the way it is and they will see
I am yours and you are mine
The way it should be

--"A Girl Like You" 
The Smithereens

It's not like me to post twice on the same day, but I was sitting in my apartment watching "The Sing Off," and I found myself writing the next chapter in my head. Whenever that happens, it's like spitting into the wind if I don't sit down and try to get it all out. So here goes.

The odds were stacked against Jane and I from the beginning, what with my being gay and her being hypoglycemic. But there were other, more sinister forces at work against us. I mentioned previously that Chi Psis at Michigan were uncommonly nice, well-mannered guys. But there was one group of boys in the Lodge who did not fit the bill. This was Mike's group.

I wish I could tell you Mike's real last name, because it's one of those perfectly onomatopoetic character names, like Nurse Ratched or Pussy Galore. But I have a policy of not using full names when trashing people -- even villains -- in this blog. For now, let's call him Mike Putridio.

Mike P. was a singularly polarizing character in my fraternity. People either loved him or hated him. I belonged to the latter group. I regarded him as a piece of shit. In fact, he once left a piece of shit -- his own -- on the windshield of our beloved cook, Jerry. As a joke. Because, you know, shit's funny.

Mike P. ran with two sidekicks who encouraged and emulated his barbaric behavior. One of them was nicknamed D-Gon, which was, I think, some sort of nerdy engineering play on his last name. (If any nerdy engineers know what a d-gon is, please leave a comment.) D-Gon had a recurring bit in which he would run up to you and ask, "You wanna see puss?" And then before you could answer, he would drop his pants to reveal his genitals. Only his penis would be tucked back between his thighs, so that all you could see was public hair. It was exactly like that scene from "Silence of the Lambs" where the killer is admiring himself in the mirror going, "Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me."

This was not regarded as acceptable behavior in Chi Psi.

The movie came out right around the time I joined Chi Psi, so it was probably D-Gon's inspiration.

The other sidekick was a raging alcoholic named Donohue. I don't remember his first name.

D-Gon and Donohue were not shitty to me from the get-go. In fact, I remember in the beginning thinking D-Gon and I might become good friends, puss exhibitions notwithstanding. But Mike P. was another story. Aside from being an overall hooligan, he seemed to loathe me from the moment he first laid eyes on me. Certainly, I don't recall ever having a single conversation with him during rush. He possessed one of those cocky, too-cool-for-the-room attitudes that had always pissed me off in high school. He refused to ever acknowledge my presence.

I don't know what it was about me he so disliked. Officially, the reason that got back to me was that as a pledge, I had pilfered an older brother's girl -- i.e. Jane, who had gone to the hayride as someone else's date. (Jesus, this all sounds so Rodgers and Hammerstein.) But that didn't make sense; before asking Jane out the first time, I had gone to the brother in question and made sure I had his blessing. And Mike P. was not the kind of person who cared much about the rules of conduct.

Looking back, I suspect three possible motivations for his enmity: 

1) He was a homophobe who (correctly) suspected that I was A) a homo and B) a fraud. 

2) He wanted Jane for himself.

3) He wanted me for himself.

As titillating and psychologically satisfying as 3) might be, in my heart of hearts, I believe it was some combination of 1) and 2).

Oh, and one more thing: He was one of Jane's best friends.

This made for some tense interactions among the three of us. For one thing, I could never understand why Jane would want to be friends with such an asshole in the first place. But more importantly, I couldn't understand why, if she and Mike P. were such good friends, she wouldn't just say to him, "Stop being an asshole to my boyfriend." Loyalty has been a recurring theme throughout my life. It seems to me that if you care about someone, you don't stand by while they're being abused, and you certainly don't befriend their abuser. I would have made a good mafioso.

[UPDATE: Following is the paragraphh that mysteriously disappeared before publishing. Blogger keps doing this to my posts, and it's infuriating. If, in reading Sanktastic, you ever notice something apparently missing or otherwise odd, please contact me at once.]

Things came to a head late one night about a month after Jane I began dating. We were in bed together in my East Quad dorm. I lived that sophomore year in a four-person suite, which was designed such that there would be two bedrooms on either side, each containing a top and bottom bunk, with a kitchen and bathroom in the center of the apartment. Well, what my roommates and I did was to move both bunkbeds into one of the bedrooms, creating a dark, crowded man-cave that we used for sleeping only. This left the other bedroom available for use as a TV room, party room, or makeout room. Jane and I were using it for the latter. It was well past midnight, when suddenly there was a loud banging on the door.

I sprang from the double-futon clad only in my underwear to answer the door. And there, much to my surprise, were Mike P., D-Gon and Donohue.

It was one of life's truly awkward moments. Because they had no explanation for why they were there. If Colin or Steve or just about anyone else from Chi Psi had been standing outside my door unexpectedly one night, I would have been happy to see them. But these people had already made it clear they were not my friends. So we all just kind of stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity. They looked as weirded out to see me as I was to see them

Finally I remember Donohue mumbling, "Oh, you have a nice body," which made it even more awkward. Then Mike P. strode right past me into the hook-up room, where Jane was still under the covers. 

"Oh, look who's here!," he said, his tone making it obvious that he wasn't at all surprised to see her there. Jane looked embarrassed, but she still lay there chatting with him amiably for about ten minutes while my blood boiled. Finally they left.

It was then that I decided I would have my revenge on Mike P.

Meanwhile, I bonded with my other fraternity brothers. One of my happiest memories from those days was fronting the in-house rock band, which consisted of me on lead vocals, Alex Guiso on guitar, Darren Lane on bass, Shawn Johnston on drums and some Asian guy from another fraternity named, I think, Derek on keyboards. Collectively, we were Fat Natalie and the Tooties, a name of which I remain proud to this day.

Love her.

Fat Nat, as we would come to be known, only played one real concert, but it was a doozy. At one of Chi Psi's biggest parties, we performed a five-song set in front of a truly adoring throng. If memory serves, our set list was as follows:

1) A Girl Like You - The Smithereens
2) Dancing With Myself - David Bowie
3) I'll Stop the World and Melt With You - Modern English
4) Need You Tonight - INXS
5) Mediate - INXS

RIP, Michael Hutchence.

For the last one, we even made up dozens of big white cards like they do in the video. I still remember those cards flying all over the place while we played. I also remember looking into Jane's eyes when I sang the lyrics, "Your moves are so raw. I've got to let you know... you're one of my kind."

In truth, her moves weren't all that raw. And she wasn't one of my kind.

To be continued. (I know-- this was a short one. But I gave you two in one day!)

Homo in his underwear.   

Frat Life (Part 3)

Lots of things in life are beautiful, but -- brother
There is one particular thing that is nothing whatsoever
In any way, shape or form like any other
There is nothing like a dame, nothin' in the world
There is nothing you can name that is anything like a dame

-- South Pacific

OK, I'm back. Apologies for my absence. As I mentioned in the last post, I had to go to San Francisco -- or more accurately to Stinson Beach -- for a wedding. It's absolutely beautiful there, especially this time of year. The temperatures were in the upper 70s during the day, with brilliant blue skies, and in the lower 50s at night. Just perfect.

Getting married were Ellen Dunne and Blair Bradshaw. The Dunne family and mine have been friends for 50 years, ever since our mothers met in graduate school. She and Blair have two adorable children together, and both the bride and groom are incredibly creative, artistic, all-around awesome people. They got married on the beach -- with the mountains in front of them and the ocean behind. It was pretty friggin' amazing.

 Ellen and Blair, exchanging vows.

I had a great time at the reception afterwards, though I must say, not drinking at a wedding is extremely challenging. It's not so much that I was tempted, although there was booze everywhere, from start to finish, or that I actually had to go out of my way to get a club soda and cranberry. It's that people at a wedding make a really big deal out of the fact that someone else isn't drinking.

"Oh, come on!," they kept exhorting. "You can have one glass of wine!"

When I explained I was on a Life Cleanse, they teased me. "Should you really be drinking that coffee? Is that allowed in your Life Cleanse? Is wedding cake part of your Life Cleanse?," etc. 

I should have just said, "I'm an alcoholic," which would have probably shut everyone up. Though perhaps not. I spoke to a good friend of mine who's in AA, and he said weddings are the single toughest events for people struggling to stay sober. Now I understand why.

Despite the peer pressure, I stuck to the LC all weekend, as least as far as booze goes. I wish I could say the same thing of diet and exercise. Despite my best efforts, I ended up pigging out and gained three (!) lbs. in four days. Also, I watched about 20 hours of television (including the plane ride both ways) and didn't write at all. So basically, I totally fell off the wagon, except for alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sex. But in my defense, I was with my parents every single second of my trip.

You try spending four days with them and staying sober.

I also got some serious quality beach time, even taking a dip in the Pacific, which felt like ice water. 


OK, so back to the fraternity story. First I must tell you I've been thrilled to hear back from several of my former fraternity brothers about this story, including Colin Scantlebury. (Awesome frat name, isn't it?)

Colin and I were the same age, but he rushed one semester after I did. I have no idea why we clicked so completely -- he being a straight, basketball-loving, Midwestern, Republican WASP, and I... well, by now you know all the things I was. But we just got each other from the start. In fact, I remember vividly the moment we gave Colin his Chi Psi bid.

We had a little tradition -- and we weren't the only ones, I'm sure -- of pulling a switcheroo. We would bullshit the rushee into thinking he hadn't gotten a bid and then, after he was all upset, surprising him with the good news. This involved an elaborate skit, and in Colin's case, it happened thusly:

I knocked on Colin's dorm-room door very late one night. When he opened it, he found me alone, with tears in my eyes, explaining that he hadn't gotten a bid, and that I was furious at some of my fellow Chi Psis for not voting for him. He threw his arms around me, and as we stood there, hugging in the doorway, a group of other Chi Psis suddenly appeared from down the hall.

"Sank, this is bullshit!," the chastised. "You know you're not supposed talk about the process to rushees."

"Fuck that!," I screamed at them. "Colin is fucking awesome, and you guys are fucking dicks not to vote him in!"

We went on like this for a while. Finally, Colin got so upset that he simply went back into his room and closed the door. We had to knock again and let him know that, surprise! He was in.

Anyway, here's an email I got from Colin last Thursday:

Fair Chi Psi, Can We 'Ere Leave thee?
Dude, I just loved your blog. I didn't even know you did that but I found it brilliant. I love the story about coming full circle with Will (and I mean that in the PG, Disney version of full circle, not whatever you crazy kids call it these days).

I wanted to email you regardless as you have been on my mind for the last few days. I was doing some housecleaning this past weekend and I found some files of papers that had been around since..well, awhile. I file this under the heading of, "How on earth did either one of us not know you were gay?"

This is what was in my file:
Ode to Colin
By A. Jacob Sank, with apologies to Emily Dickinson
I think that I shall never see
A stud so hung as Colin Scantlebury
Whose pelvic thrusts can rock the sea
Who's earned that proud nickname 'JB'*
Who's trunk is long, like an oak tree
Who's free to be, like you and me
If ever such a stud you see,
It is most certainly Colin Scantlebury.

*For the record, I have no idea what JB meant but I'm glad I don't remember. There is enough of my time in Ann Arbor that is filled only with shame.
But thank you for making me laugh in 1991 and in 2011. There are many memories I have from that time, and many people that I cherish. You, my friend, have a pretty singular place. Certainly your memories are about the most vivid.
Be well.

Funny shit, right? Apparently I didn't know at the time that it was Joyce Kilmer -- and not Dickinson --who wrote "Trees." All I can say is, these were the days long before google. I don't even know how I managed to graduate without it. Also, I don't remember what "JB" referred to, either. Jumbo Balls, perhaps?

Good ol' Colin. He's now a commercial airline pilot, married, with kids.

When I last left off in my little tale, I had met my final girlfriend (whom I'll call Jane) at an Alphi Chi Omega serenade. But that's not actually true, as my big brother, Steve, reminded me. (I'll post his email later, as I'm trying to tell the story chronologically.)

In truth, I met Jane at my first Chi Psi social event: An autumn hayride. Jane was the date of another fraternity brother. My date was a Vietnamese student named Chau (pronounced "Chow," which lent itself to all sorts of crude puns).

I have absolutely no memory of where and how I met Chau. All I remember is that she was very pretty, very quiet and that we had unsafe sex together. I know this, because a couple months after we had stopped seeing each other, she called me out of the blue and said she had to see me urgently. I was freaking out -- sure that I was going to become a father at age 19. Instead, when I met her at a coffee shop, all she said was:

"I miss you. I miss your touch."

This became a catchphrase among my roommates at the time. I'd often come back to the dorm to find, "Adam, where are you? I miss you. I miss your touch," scrawled on my door's blackboard.

Speaking of my touch, many people have expressed shock and amazement over the years that I, a gay guy, could have had sex with a number of women before I came out. (Probably about ten, all told.)  I never understand why. It's not like women repulse me. Women are beautiful. Moreover, when your options are limited (and you're trying to convince yourself you're straight), you make the best of it. And I had some pleasant experiences with women. I liken it to a back massage. A back massage feels nice, but it doesn't get you all hot and bothered. Unless, of course, you're paying extra.

Another brief side-note: I don't think it was incidental that Chau was Asian. As any gay man will tell you, the last stop before Homoville is Chinatown. I cannot tell you why; nobody seems to know. It's just the way it is. I explained this once to my Asian coworker, and she was not amused.  

In my case, though, I had one more detour between Chinatown and Homoville.

Jane was the all-American girl. Blonde, blue-eyed and big-titted. (I always liked my women that way. Tits are fun.) She also seemed way out of my league -- like one of those popular cheerleaders from high school who would sometimes chat me up in the halls but would never consider going out with me. 

Jane was also hypoglycemic. This last detail is important because she was supposed to eat small meals throughout the day to keep her blood sugar regulated. Instead, she'd starve herself all day and then, when she began feeling weak and seeing black spots, she'd chug down a couple packets of sugar, all of which resulted in wild and unpredictable moodswings.

Needless to day, dating her was a lot of fun.

To be continued.

Homo dating chicks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Frat Life (Part 2)

Our house
Is a very, very, very, fine house...

--Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Chi Psi was a fine house at Michigan. (Actually, in Chi Psi tradition, we called it "the lodge" -- not the house.) It was populated, for the most part, by friendly, well-mannered, Midwestern engineering majors. There wasn't a whole lot of diversity; a couple Indian guys, one Latino, a smattering of Jews. But other than that, it was very white-bread. White-bread, but nice.

The guys were not, it should be pointed out, particularly hot. They were not ugly, but nor were they "face-men," as extremely attractive guys were known in fraternity parlance, nor were they very athletic.

It was no accident that I wound up there, my friendship with Steve notwithstanding. When I decided to rush, I checked out a few other houses as well. The men of Sigma Alpha Epsilon -- known as the Sig Eps -- all looked like they had just sprung from an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, and this scared the living shit out of me. I knew there was simply no way I was going to be able to keep my gay thoughts at bay amid such masculine perfection.

[This just in: Sig Eps were kicked off of Michigan's campus this year after hazing incidents!]
A good friend from the dorm, Rick, had joined Chi Phi (not to be confused with Chi Psi) the previous semester, so I stopped by there as a courtesy to him. His brothers struck me as loud, dirty animals -- the kind of guys I had always least enjoyed hanging around. When I gave Rick my feedback on them the next day, he got very defensive. ("Good, because they all thought you were a major tool.")

There was one other house I rushed, mostly because it was next door to Chi Psi, so it was easy to hit up both fraternities on a single night. This was Beta Theta Pi. The Betas were very pretty boys, though not as stunning as the Sig Eps. And they liked me a lot, even going so far as to invite me to dinner during one night of rush. They seemed nice enough, and it was somewhat intoxicating being wanted by the same kind of boys who would have shunned me back in high school. But for some reason, they struck me as a little too Hitler Youth-y for my taste. Remember the whole "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" scene from Animal House? I could easily imagine it taking place among the Betas.

Everyone knows that was Kevin Bacon getting paddled, right?

So that left Chi Psi, where Steve was a brother and everyone else seemed to like me well enough. That is, all except one incredibly scorching guy named Will.

I've told this part of the story so many goddamn times -- including on the blog -- that I refuse to get into the details again. If you're not familiar with it, watch these two videos, in which I recount the entire thing:

But aside from Will (to whom I only got "close" after I was no longer in the fraternity), the lodge was Straightsville, USA for me.

I never lived there, choosing instead to remain in the dorm sophomore year and to move off-campus altogether junior year. And in truth, I never ended up spending a whole lot of time in the lodge. I did eat lunch there most days and dinner at least once a week. I also went to all of the Chi Psi parties, which were genuinely fun. (I have a ton of party pictures from those days, but none of them are online. Maybe someday soon I'll scan and post them so you can see see my horrifying early 90s hair.)

So what else went on there? Well, there's a lot of secret stuff I can't talk about. Not because it's in any way scandalous or interesting -- just because I swore my secrecy,  and I have no desire to be disloyal to my former brothers. I can tell we had a secret handshake. And secret meeting rituals. And that we drank goat's blood.


No, I'm kidding. Our rituals were all totally innocuous, albeit rather silly. To the fraternity's credit, there was a strictly enforced no-hazing policy, and in fact we had brothers who didn't drink at all. Our initiation process was extremely annoying, but it wasn't dangerous or humiliating in any way. Also, unlike any other fraternity I've ever heard of, Chi Psi made its neophytes (newly affiliated brothers) do all the shitty house chores, rather than the pledges.

I had a big brother (Steve, of course), and in time, I had two little brothers. I am ashamed to admit I no longer recall either of their names. Some big brother I was.

Oh, and I was elected to fraternity office! Was I the president? The rush chairman? The social chair? None of the above.

No, I was elected choregus.

What the fuck is a choregus, you ask? Why, only the person in charge of the fraternity's most important activity: Serenades! Yes, Virginia, college fraternities really do serenade sororities, or at least my fraternity did. About once a month, a large group of us would mosey on over to whichever sorority we were trying to woo and sing our hearts out. We even had our own special house blend, as it were, which went back decades. It was called "Maid of Chi Psi," and I still remember the words by heart:

I dream of your eyes, of your golden hair
Like foam on a wave blown high
I dream of you when I'm all alone
And when there are others nigh
I cannot forget you, my girl of dreams
No matter how I try
I want you! I need you! My wonderful one
You're my dreamgirl, maid of Chi Psi.

Believe it or not, I just found a recording of some little twink performing this on YouTube. Make sure you stick around until he starts singing, at around 1:00.

 Not for nothing, but I think I sang it better.

It was at one of these sorority serenades that I met the young lady would become my last girlfriend of all time.

To be continued.

Blogger's note: I picked a really stupid time to get into this saga, because I'm leaving early tomorrow morning for a wedding in San Francisco and probably won't be able to blog again for several days. My apologies, and I wish you all a foamy weekend, my wonderful ones.

Homo serenading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Frat Life

Your lifelong membership
Is free
Keep a-giving each brother all
You can
Oh, aren't you proud to be
In that fraternity
That great big brotherhood of man

--How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Before I get into today's topic -- my brief life as frat guy -- I'd like to appeal to those of you blog geeks out there, especially anyone who uses Blogger to publish. As you have no doubt noticed, I have been trying to spruce up Sanktastic a bit of late, especially since I've been posting a whole helluva lot more. In doing so, I would also like to monetize the site to its fullest. At the moment, I use only two ad services: Google Adsense, which earns literally only pennies per month for me, and Text Link Ads.

I actually like TLA, but unfortunately, most of its advertisers seem to have no interest in me and my li'l ol' blog. At the moment, I have only one sponsor through that site, which is Pride Dating. And although I am extremely grateful to Pride Dating (and encourage you to click on their link on the right-hand side of this page), I'd like more sponsors. Like a lot more. I registered today with Blogads, and I hope that that will lead to additional revenue streams. But if anyone out there has any suggestions or recommendations for me, please don't be shy. Mama needs a new pair of shoes. And a new kitchen and a bunch of other stuff.

OK, moving on.

So yes, I was in a fraternity, a fact which for some reason seems to shock a lot of people. I don't understand why. To me, there's nothing as homoerotic as the idea of a bunch of young, preppy guys living in an all-male environment, sleeping in close quarters, showering together and paddling one another while drunk and naked. If you don't believe me, check out this NSFW Adults-Only site .

Which is not to say I personally experienced any of those things. I'm just pointing out that they do tend to happen in a fraternity environment.

In fact, my own fraternity experience was the opposite of homoerotic -- which is how I intended it be --  although its origins were indeed a little faggy.  Freshman year at Michigan, I took an upper-level theater history course, which was really quite wonderful. Part of the class was about the physical history of theater -- the architecture, the lighting and sound techniques and so forth. I was less interested in this section than I was in the history of theater as an art form. To study this, we read classic plays, including works by Molière, John GayOscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

Also taking the course with me was  a hilariously funny and boisterous upperclasswoman named Jules. Jules sat next to me, and, when our professor got particularly dull describing some 19th century light filament, we would play x-rated Hangman, passing sheets of notebook paper back and forth.

A game in progress might have looked something like this:

You will never know how long it took me to create this image.

Jules and I eventually became friends outside of class, especially after we were both cast in the Michigan Union's production of "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." I got the tiny part of Edsel, the town newspaper reporter. Jules was a whore. I don't remember which whore, but I do remember she had one solo line in the song "Li'l Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place." The way that song works is, during the "Miss Mona's rules" section, one whore sings or speaks a line and then calls on the next whore to sing or speak the next line.

Jules's line was: "And it don't make money. Beatrice?" And then Beatrice starts singing, and so forth.

Well, what Jules would do is go: "And it don't make money. Beatriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice?," effectively cutting off the poor girl playing Beatrice's line completely. I cannot explain how hard this made me laugh every single time.

Here's the movie version, with the "rules" section coming in at 2:06.
Dolly says Jule's line.

Fun fact about our little production: Jennifer Perry played Miss Mona, Hunter Foster played a football player and Miriam Schor played a whore. All three have gone on to distinguished acting careers on Broadway and beyond. In related news, I'll be hosting the YMCA's Good News Gala in Summit, NJ, next month.

Boy, this story has really run off the track, hasn't it? Nobody ever accused me of being succinct.

Anyway, at that time Jules had a boyfriend who ended up becoming her husband (and later ex-husband): Steve. I had met Steve a few times after theater history class, and more often after rehearsals for "Whorehouse." Steve was -- and is -- one of the warmest, sweetest guys I have ever known. He shared Jules's goofy sense of humor, and the three of us used to hang out for hours, laughing ourselves silly.

The second semester of my freshman year, Steve convinced me to rush his fraternity: Chi Psi.

People called us "Chipsies."

I had never planned to rush. Fraternities to me represented everything that ran contrary to my nature: Conformity, narrow-mindedness, misogyny, and an emphasis on athletics and beer. (I cannot now nor have I ever been able to drink beer. It tastes awful and makes me feel like I'm going to explode.)

In fact, I had chosen to reside my Freshman year in East Quad, undoubtedly the artsiest, crunchiest, most anti-fraternity dorm on Michigan's campus. And I loved it there. But lingering underneath my happy Freshman veneer was the fear/knowledge that I was gay. And did not want to be.

Looking back now, my beliefs about homosexuality at the time mirrored those of today's right-wing homophobes and "ex-gay" proponents. I honestly believed that spending lots of time around straight guys and engaging in "straight" activities would keep my gayness in check, if not vanquish it outright. I even remember thinking I should start working out at the campus athletic center regularly, because doing so would keep me from thinking gay thoughts.

Oh, the irony.

And yes, one could argue that performing in musicals -- I did two my freshman year -- wasn't exactly playing poker and going to strip clubs. But my goal wasn't to change myself completely. I actually wanted to stay exactly who I was... minus the hankering for cock. And I thought maybe, just maybe, Chi Psi could be the answer.

To be continued.

Homo rushing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Turning Down the Noise

Oh, makin' my mind slow
That's why I don't fuck with the big four, oh
Bro, I got ta' maintain
'Cause a nigga like me is goin' insane

Insane in da membrane
(Insane in da brain)

--Cypress Hill

Day 11 of the L.C. It continues to go well, although I fell off the wagon a bit this weekend, primarily because I watched more than one hour of TV both days, and I didn't write at all on Saturday. Speaking of which, I have the television tuned in to hour two of NBC's "The Sing Off" as I blog. I am justifying this firstly because it's two-hour show, secondly because the show consists mainly of a cappella singing -- which I think counts as "background music" -- and thirdly because host Nick Lachey is my future husband. I'm totally rooting for Pentatonix, by the way. They're amazing.

And I actually hate the original version and everything else 
Katy Perry does. She's all tits and no talent.

I want to thank everyone who gave me such nice feedback on my Coming Out blogs. Most thrilling was an email I received from Robb Forman Dew, author of "The Family Heart," the reading of which I had described as being the first step in my mother's gradual acceptance of me as her gay son. Ms. Forman Dew extended an open invitation for me to join her and her husband at their home in the Berkshires, where they will serve me a gourmet salad. I fully plan to take her up on this.

It touches me tremendously when people reach out to me because something I've written has affected them. Yes, I love the attention and the (tiny bit of) notoriety that comes from having an audience read my words, but it's more than that. I have always had a tremendous need to express myself and to be fully understood. Just ask my poor friends and family.

So, yeah. The L.C. Still happening. I've noticed some curious side effects to it. First of all, I keep waking up earlier than I ever have, and always before my alarm. Even this past Saturday and Sunday, when I could have slept until 10AM (and usually do), my eyes opened at around 7:30, and that was it -- I was up. I am definitely sleeping less, and yet I don't feel particularly tired during the day. On the contrary, my overall energy level is higher. Still, it frustrates me to wake up before the alarm. It somehow feels like I'm being cheated.

My brain is WAY more active than it had been pre-L.C. I once had a therapist tell me that if you stop doing all the things that numb you -- whatever they may be -- you'll quickly find out what you were trying to numb in the first place. And boy, is that ever true. In my case, all my little crutches -- the TV, the booze, the cigarettes, the heavy food, as well as the unmentionables -- are obviously designed to turn down all the noise in my head.

No, I don't hear actual voices. I mean, other than the voices of Broadway divas, and that's because I listen to far too much of Sirius-XM On Broadway. But my brain does run on overdrive just about constantly, which is one of the reasons I've struggled with insomnia since early childhood. (One thing I have NOT surrendered as part of the L.C. is my nightly two milligrams of Lunesta. Maybe someday.)

For as long as I can remember, I've had trouble sleeping. I hated being put down for a nap more than anything, because I knew that just meant an hour of staring at the ceiling. Even before I could read, I had a stack of Archie and Richie Rich comics by my bed, along with a giant volume of Tintin that someone had given me. Late into the night, I'd flip through the pages staring at the pictures until my bleary eyes finally got heavy and closed. I am realizing now that those three boys were probably my first crushes, especially Richie, who had such luxurious blond hair and who lived in a mansion with a robot maid.

And let's be honest; he was a little swish.

It's not that I'm always thinking about big, important things. A lot of the time, I'm just re-playing scenes that happened during the day -- trivial conversations I had or songs I heard on the radio -- or thinking about things I have to do in the coming days. Sometimes I'll re-play events from years ago, as if I'm watching old videotapes. It can be really exhausting, and not just when I'm trying to sleep.

So all of these crutches -- the hours of TV-watching and so forth -- have been an attempt to block all that out. And it works, to a large extent. The problem is, in blocking out all the noise, I also block out a few things that are essential and nourishing, namely my creativity, my energy and my emotions. And without those, I might as well be a robot maid. 

It's a Sophie's Choice. I can be a calm, even-tempered, unproductive zombie, or I can be an anxious, neurotic, out-of-the-box artist.

Which would you choose? Honestly?

A decade ago, when I was beginning a four-year relationship with my ex-boyfriend, Phillip, I came home from work at Fox News one Saturday in tears. (I came home from Fox News in tears quite often, but this particular day stands out in my mind.) I was still in training to be a line producer at the time, and my senior producer was a really passive-aggressive and dimwitted bitch named, I think, Michelle.

I don't remember the particulars, but Michelle had re-written part of my script copy -- badly and incorrectly -- causing the live show to get all fucked up and the anchorwoman to yell at me over the commercial break. Rather than take responsibility for her own mistake, Michelle had let the blame stay on me.

As I sat on my bed next to Phillip sobbing, I remember saying, "Why do I care so much? I wish I just didn't care!" 

And he said to me: "But if you didn't care so much, you wouldn't be you."

That's the truth, really.

So now what?

Homo off to sleep. (I hope.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coming Out (Part 3)

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes(Turn and face the strain)Ch-ch-Changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

--David Bowie

Whenever I've seen coming out stories depicted in popular culture, there is usually one big climactic scene in which the parents finally let go of their homophobia and accept their gay children for who and what they are. Cue tears and tender embraces.

One notable exception to this was a truly excellent and nuanced TV movie that popped up in 1992, just as I was going through my own family drama. It was called "Doing Time on Maple Drive." Every gay man around my age seems to remember this movie, which featured a then-unknown Jim Carrey as the brother of Matt, the gay main character, played by some cutie named William McNamara.

What made "Maple Drive" better than the run-of-the-mill "message" telefilm was that Matt's sexual orientation and his (awful) mother's inability to accept it were among several other major issues with which the family was struggling, including alcoholism, marital strife and possible abortion. This was refreshing and quite novel at the time: The gay kid's not the only one who's fucked up.

And look! Lori Laughlin from "Edge of Night" and "Full House!"

(On a silly side note, there as a very cute, very straight boy in my fraternity named Darren Lane. Every time I'd be hanging out with my one gay fraternity brother, Will, and we would spot Darren, Will would lean over to me and whisper, "Doing time on Darren Lane." And we'd giggle like schoolgirls.)

At the end of "Maple Drive," Matt's father finally begins to accept and embrace his son, though the Mom continues acting like a big ol' bitch.

My own parents' reaction was even more nuanced; for the next few years, things were touch and go. During a particularly gruesome visit to the family therapist, they used phrases like "heartbroken" and "shattered dreams." I was forbidden from telling my secret to any of our relatives or anyone living in our hometown. Then, for spring break the following semester, I decided to fly to Atlanta to visit my gay friend, Joe, who had recently moved there from Michigan. But when I announced my plans to my mother, she made it known that she would not be paying for the plane ticket if I made the trip.

"I'm not going to pay for you to go hang out in gay bars in Atlanta!," she spat at me over the telephone.

"Really?," I replied. "Because I can just as easily hang out in gay bars in Ann Arbor."

Some of you are probably thinking, why the hell should your parents have paid for your plane ticket in any case, especially when they were already paying your full tuition, you spoiled little shit? A fair point, to be sure. But bear in mind that for my spring break the prior year, they had paid for me to accompany my girlfriend and most of her sorority sisters on a week-long trip to Cancun, the memory of which makes me shudder to this day. The Atlanta trip was going to cost a whopping $200. (Yes, that's how much a coach seat during spring break from Detroit to Atlanta cost in 1992. Go ahead and weep now.)

Undaunted, I took a part-time job working the Wendy's counter at the Michigan student union for one month, slipping all over the greasy floors and bringing home bags of leftover cheeseburgers to my roommates each night until I had earned exactly $200. With that, I was off to the gay bars of Atlanta.

My ticket to ride.

But there were brighter moments, too. Over that summer of '92, my mother read a book called "The Family Heart: A Memoir of When Our Son Came Out," by Robb Forman Dew. (I've blogged about this previously here.) In the book, Forman Dew tells the story of her family's reaction to the coming out of her son, Stephen, who was exactly the same age as me and came out at more or less the same time. The book touched my mother deeply; I think it was the first time she felt like someone out there was going through the same sense of confusion, pain and loss that she was. And in what I took be an enormously positive sign, my mom bought each member of my family a copy, inscribing in mine:

Dearest Adam,
From our family heart with love respect.
Mom & Dad.

Incidentally, I've recently become friendly via Facebook with Stephen Dew. And I've told him what a huge impact his mother's book had on our family. Not surprisingly, he seems like a really cool dude.

But after steps forward like these, there would be setbacks. By the time the next winter break rolled around again, I found myself deeply in love with my first real boyfriend, Tony. Because a close friend, Michelle, was getting married in New Jersey on New Year's night and had invited Tony as my date, he accompanied me back East for the entire break. My mother had initially said Tony could stay with us; then she backtracked. It was just too much for her to handle.

Everything turned out fine, though. Tony and I stayed at my sister Anna's apartment in Hoboken. She left us chocolates and condoms on the bed.

The following summer, after Tony and I had broken up, I went to stay with my parents in their Hamptons beach house for a week. One night, out of sheer boredom and curiosity, I decided to check out the Swamp, the area's one and only gay nightspot. (It has since ceased to exist.) A more innocent gay venue than the Swamp has never existed. It was a prissy little restaurant and piano bar where rich queens like Calvin Klein and Barry Diller used to hobnob in the 70s. I would have been more likely to find sex in the synagogue than at the Swamp.

And yet, my mother was horrified, no doubt imagining leather-bound figures grinding and moaning their way through some dank, dark basement. (I wish!)

The next day, my sister Laura chastised me for having gone. "Mom was really upset. You shouldn't go to places like that when Mom and Dad are around," she said.

To which I could only reply: "I didn't come out so I could keep lying to them."

And so it went for a long, long while. For far longer than I ever expected it to. Then, in 1995, after I had moved to Atlanta and then to New York, a shift occurred in my mother's entire paradigm. It was inspired by the most unlikely of sources.

Anna had decided to do the very first Boston-to-New York AIDS LifeCycle, then called the AIDSRide. In preparation, she sent fundraising letters out to all of my parents' friends. (This was still a time when people sent actual letters, as opposed to emails.) Virtually all of them wrote back to her with generous pledges.

All except for one. I'll call him Dr. X.

Dr. X was an Austrian Jew who had fled the Nazis during World War II and settled in the U.S., where he eventually became a successful surgeon. He and his wife had been out-of-town friends with my parents for 20 years, and our two families sometimes vacationed together.

Dr. X chose not to pledge any money to the AIDSRide. That was certainly his right. But the good doctor also took the time to write out a letter to my sister detailing exactly why he would not be donating to this cause. AIDS is a disease that mostly affects homosexuals, he explained, and he did not support the homosexual community. Moreover, Dr. X wrote, AIDS is preventable and only contracted by those who engage in illicit, immoral behavior. Were my sister raising money for other diseases, he concluded, such as cancer or diabetes, Dr. X would be happy to donate.

In a manner most uncharacteristic of her, Anna wrote back a rather gentle response. In it, she said she was sorry that the doctor felt the way that he did, given that there were gay people in her life that she loved and cared about. She also promised to hit him up again the next time she was raising money for cancer or diabetes.

But my mother was crushed by Dr. X's letter. For the first time, I think, she felt her own core values deeply tested. More importantly, she felt that her son was under attack. And so, after consulting with one of her oldest and dearest friends, Lee Dunne, who reminded her that "words have consequences, and words can kill," my mother penned her own letter to Dr. X. It read, in part:

I deeply regret that after 20 years of what has been a warm and rewarding friendship, we must now part ways. And it's not only because my son is a homosexual, but because I find your values personally repugnant.

My parents never heard from Dr. X or his family again.

In the ensuing 15+ years, there has been a sea change in my parents attitudes' toward LGBT people. They are, I believe, as proud of me as they ever would have been had I turned out straight. Any boyfriend of mine would be (and has been) warmly welcomed into our family. And more importantly, my mother and father have realized that you can't be a decent, fair-minded person without also being pro-gay rights. (The vicious assholes on the other side have made this very easy to understand.)

I consider myself supremely fortunate to have them on my side. And my coming out experience, long and painful though it was,  taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson of my life: That given enough time and enough love, people really can change their hearts and minds.

See, my story ends just like one of those cheesy movies!

Homo Done (with this story). ♥  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coming Out (Part 2)

There's one life, and there's no return and no deposit
One life, so it's time to open up your closet
Life's not worth a damn 'til you can say, 
"Hey world, I am what I am."

--La Cage Aux Folles

Before I continue with the story, some thank-yous are due to some truly lovely fans. First and foremost, to Scott Fortner, who took it upon himself to redesign the header for this blog, and to coax me into cleaning up the margin issues. I think you'll agree he greatly improved the look of this site.

I also want to give a shout-out to Paul E., better known to regular listeners of the Frank DeCaro Show as "Paul in Mass." In addition to giving Sanktastic multiple shout-outs (and making the smart suggestion that I fix it so all the links open in separate windows), Paul operates an absolutely filthy, perverted, NSFW, adults-only gay porn blog, also called PaulinMass. I beg you not to click on it. (Consider yourselves warned.)

Ok, back to the story. The night of my big unveiling, my parents were on their way to a dinner party. "When you get home," I said to my mother as they were walking out, "I need to talk to you and Dad."

To say that her face fell would not be accurate. It collapsed.

"What is it that you need to talk to us about?," she asked me in a cold, dead voice.

"It's nothing bad, don't worry," I said, perhaps disingenuously. "I'll tell you when you get home."

She sighed heavily and said, "Now I'll be thinking about this all night."

I had already asked that my sisters both be there for my bombshell, so they were present when my parents returned several hours later.

"OK," my mother said before she had even crossed the threshold. "What do you need to tell us?"

"Let's all go into the den," I said.

My family's old den, which probably would have been described as the "TV room" or "family room" in other households, was exactly that -- the room where my family and our guests spent the most time together. This was a happy, cozy space --  a space where I had grown up. My parents sat down on the sofa next to each other. Laura and Anna took the two upholstered chairs on either side of me. I sat on the stone platform in front of the fireplace. It wouldn't occur to me until years later that I had literally ended up on the hot seat.

As I began to speak, both sisters spontaneously reached out and took hold of my hands.

Weirdly, the only thing I cannot remember clearly about this event are the words I used to tell them. I must have disassociated, because it's very unlike me to not recall exact words. I don't think I would have just blurted out "I'm gay!" But whatever I said didn't take too long, and the overall message was clear.

They didn't scream. They didn't cry. They just got very, very quiet. When they did finally speak, it was almost exactly as I described in my early stand-up: My dad suggesting that I was actually bisexual and should "stick to women," and my mother insisting that this was a phase, much like my joining a fraternity.

"Remember when you first joined Chi Psi?," she said. "You were so excited about it at first, but after a while, you weren't interested in it anymore."

This is where Anna spoke up. "Mom, he's had these feelings since he was a little boy."

My mother would have none of that. "You've always been such a wonderful boyfriend to the girls you've dated!"

"Yes," I explained, "but I was never really attracted to them."

We went back and forth like this for a while, and then my mom said: "I think what you need is to enter into a long, meaningful relationship with a therapist and sort these feelings out."

I told her I'd be happy to speak to a therapist, but that no amount of therapy was going to change the fact that I was gay and happy to be so. That was sort of where the conversation ended for the night. Everyone hugged and said "I love you," and then my parents, still in a daze, wandered upstairs to bed. My sisters left as well, and I grabbed a bottle of Chardonnay from the fridge and called my closest gay friend, Joe, in Michigan, to report on how it had all gone down. I remember feeling intense relief that the worst was over.

It wasn't.

The next day, Mom called the family therapist. (Every Jewish family has one on retainer, like an attorney.) I agreed to do a phone session with the therapist, during which he asked me some very basic and innocuous questions about my sexual orientation and how I felt about it. He asked me if he could relay the content of our discussion with my mother, and I told him he could. When he spoke to her again, the substance of what he said was:

"Adam is gay. He's not confused, he's not depressed, he's not ill in any way. He's just gay."

Thank God for the good and decent therapists in the world, right? I shudder to think of all the gay kids out there who aren't nearly as fortunate in this regard as I was.

After her phone call with the therapist, my mother became somewhat resigned to accepting the immutability of the situation. And in her own loving, maternal way, she decided the best way for the family to deal with this crisis was for the five of us to go into the City and see a gay-themed play, so as to better understand our strange, new reality.

It really was a sweet gesture on her part. Unfortunately, the play she chose was Larry Kramer's "The Destiny of Me."

"The Destiny of Me" is the sequel to Kramer's better known, landmark play about the beginning of the AIDS crisis, "The Normal Heart."

"The Normal Heart" is one of the most painful, wrenching, psychologically battering works ever written for the theater. One walks out of any production of it gasping for breath.

But "The Destiny of Me" makes "The Normal Heart" feel like "The Lion King." Most of it takes place in the hospital room of the main character, Ned Weeks, who is suffering from full-blown AIDS and undergoing an endless barrage of painful, experimental treatments. In one particularly awful scene, the actor playing Ned rips his transfusion bag off the metal hospital pole and throws it into the audience, spraying the first few rows with fake blood.

In short, "The Destiny of Me" is not a play you want to see after your son has just announced to you that he is gay. In 1991.

I'd still rather sit through it than "Lion King" again.

We were probably the only traditional nuclear family in the entire theater. And I remember standing in the lobby with Anna during intermission, surrounded by gay men on all sides, while everyone else used the restrooms. Several months before, we had gone as a family to see the Broadway production of "Dancing at Lughnasa," an Irish chamber play that had so thoroughly bored the crap out of us that we had nicknamed it, "Six Sisters Bitchin' in the Kitchen."

"Well," said Anna, as we looked at each other, wide-eyed. "At least this is better than 'Six Sisters Bitchin' in the Kitchen.'"

Without missing a beat, an old queen turned to us and said, "Ohmigawwwwwd! You saw that?"

If my mother had appeared dazed several nights before, when I had told her I was gay, she looked positively catatonic by the time Act Two of "The Destiny of Me" ended and we made our way out of the theater.  But again I thought, "The worst is over."

It wasn't.

To be continued.

Homo off-Broadway.