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A Poem For National Coming Out Day

It Gets Better
by Nick Velasquez

If you feel isolated, alone, and think
that being gay is too much, you feel yourself sink
deep in an ocean of solace; lonely and sad
I speak for all of us when I say: our bad

This is not the world you should have to live in
You deserve better; we know that, but it has been
hard to pull change from under America’s thumb
for the simple reason that people are dumb

They yell that what’s wrong with the country are those gays
and use us to symbolize the end of days
and say our agenda will cripple our nation
so vote for me, and I’ll show them damnation!

These are the reasons your peers heckle and tease
and treat you like an outcast, a germ, a disease
People with power use us like boogey-men
And sadly we have been powerless to stop them.

But you’re not the villain; you’re the protagonist
the bionic gay hero, the strongest, fastest!
Don’t ever feel guilt, or remorse, or shame
for being gay; in the end, there’s no one to blame

Your parents may not understand now, but they will
because parental love is something that’s hard to kill
It seems crazy now but believe that in the end
there is very little that love cannot mend

And just you wait; because in a few years time
you’ll find love, support, and everything will be fine
You’ll look back at yourself and see what you’ve done
and give a pat on the back for all you’ve overcome.

It gets better: it won’t always be this way
Change is hard; Rome wasn’t built in a day
We will fix this together and make a world that’s new
A world that’s better because it has you.

I Failed Tyler Clementi

Those who have read this blog know that the biggest hurdle I had with being gay was coming out to myself. When you’re young and full of self doubt, facing the stigma and being an outcast to your family and friends is overwhelming. Through this blog I’ve tried to document what I went through, partially out of reflection and partially as a chance to share my experiences. I would like to think all gays have some version of my story: a personal narrative of an underdog who comes to understand himself and how he fits in the world. Tyler Clementi sadly will never be able to have that story, and that pains me greatly. When I first heard his story of his roommate who broadcast his gay sexual encounter on a webcam, it hit me for a reason I think all gays understand: if that had happened to me when I was young and before I had come to terms with myself, I could see myself doing the same thing.

During my life I’ve gotten to know many gay men, and I’m always fascinated by how they come to terms with themselves and where they fit in the world. Some had supportive families, and some didn’t, but almost always love triumphs over society. However, before you reach acceptance, we’re all in a deeply venerable state, where we feel we hold a secret we must protect from the world at all cost. This is something almost all gays can identify with as well, and it’s the center of much pain and suffering. Personally, for the longest time I felt my sexuality was my greatest weakness, but now it is the source of strength. I’ve had to come to terms with myself in ways so many will never understand, and it’s made me more confident and bold.

Although I no longer feel ashamed about who I am, I still don’t wear my sexuality on my sleeve. I have a number of reasons that I tell people:

  • Legally, sexuality is a protected category and isn’t to be discussed at work.
  • Living in Kansas, I’m never sure who might be offended by my sexuality.
  • I want to be judged for who I am, not what I am.

All these reasons are bullshit. The real reasons is simple: it’s just easier. I don’t want to have to be the token gay who teaches America that it’s okay to be gay, because goddamit, that’s too fucking hard. I didn’t sign up for that, it’s too much responsibility, and I don’t want it. Leave that to someone else; I have shit to do. What scares me is: what about those who are gay but haven’t accepted themselves yet, those who are looking for others like them in the world, those who need someone to help them through to the other side? By keeping my secret, by hiding my sexuality, aren’t I telling them that they should be ashamed as well? Are there people I know out there who I could help simply by being proud of who I am? I didn’t know Mr. Clementi, and I will never be able to say if he had had a role model none of this would have ever happened. However, all of us hiding in the closet did him a disservice by continuing the belief that he had anything to be ashamed of. Regardless of what the Christian right says, 18 year-olds have sex; in fact it may be what they think about more than anything else. What his roommates did was terrible and a violation of privacy, but our keeping up the belief that being gay is to be ashamed of is also to blame.

I’ll end with a call to action and some hope. I think Ellen DeGeneres’ heartfelt message is something that needs to be heard:

The Make It Better project is using a YouTube channel to post videos of gays telling teenagers that there is a light at the end and it’s worth making the journey.

The Big D

B and I have been trying to see each other about once a month. At first the ratio of time away to time together was way off, but I’ve slowly acclimated to the fact that (A) this is as much time as I can spend away and (B) this is about as much as I can afford to spend on travel.  A few weeks back B and I met up in Dallas for an extended weekend. I was able to get a deal on a downtown hotel and decided to drive down to save money, and B made his way after work on Thursday.

I often say the only things you can do in Dallas are eat and shop, and I stand by that. There are places to visit (The Sixth Floor museum, the Aquarium, the Farmer’s Market) but in general it’s a consumer paradise, which may be why it has such a large gay population – we love that shopping! After what happened on New Years, B and I had made an agreement that while we are on vacation we would alternate days where we only do what the other person wants. Friday was B’s day to drive, which he used to do everything I would want to do – shopping, eating, and hanging out at the pool. Honestly, it was pretty glorious; I even found a pair of shorts that make my butt look good. B and I hung out at the terrace pool of the hotel, had dinner at Dakota Steakhouse, and then went out clubbing (more on that later). Saturday, my day to plan, was far more scattershot. We went antique shopping at Knox-Henderson – B needs antiques for his office, but the ones there are too pricey – had lunch with a friend, went to North Park mall in search of clothes and legos, and then had dinner with another friend of mine (with a little pool time in between). Sunday morning B left at 4 AM to make it back in time to play his service, and I left an hour later for home

B knows that when I’m in Dallas I like going to gay clubs, and I know that he really doesn’t enjoy them. I enjoy having a drink, feeling the pulsing music and flashing lights, and blending in with a bunch of guys shaking it on the dance floor. Despite being both gay and hispanic I have zero dance skill, but I’m okay with that because you don’t see that on the dance floor; you just feel the energy. B is quite a bit more self conscious, and I think he feels watched when he walks out there. It might be true – he is very easy on the eyes and the first time he walked into a club he was hit on within five minutes – but it makes him feel uncomfortable.

Either way, a night on the Dallas strip often starts for us at Skivvies, which specializes in, um, upscale underwear and swimsuits (When you swim with a gay swim team, swimwear is something of a competition, and you always have to keep up with the Johnson’s). After convincing myself I didn’t need another new swimsuit, we were stopped on the way out by a guy handing out maps to all the gay clubs in the city. To me this was a shock – I’d lived in Dallas two and a half years and had never seen any maps. B and I started flipping through, and B found one and said “Let’s go to that one!”

B.J.’s is Dallas’ gay strip club. When you walk in, you are greeted by beefy guys in skimpy wares shaking it for your enjoyment and Washington’s. Neither B or I had never seen anything like it. Whenever I thought of strip clubs, I had terrible images of me trapped for an evening with a bunch of straight friends who are all stuffing dollar bills in the bikini’s of women with augmented breasts. The idea of a gay strip club had never crossed my mind, and honestly, for the first time I could understand the appeal. Mostly naked people shaking it for you? Oh okay – now I get it.

The club had a bar in the middle and to the side it had a platform with two poles and a trapeze swing, and there were two or three guys shaking it at any moment. The guys could be broken into the following categories.

  1. The beefcakes were mostly muscle. They didn’t have much appeal (or talent) outside of spending their spare time in the gym, and they knew they didn’t need more than that. They mostly stood up there and did the white man shuffle.
  2. The twinks were skinny kids whose main appeal was being young and skinny. They probably spent some time at the dance club, and it showed.
  3. The gymnasts weren’t particularly beefy or particularly thin, though they were fairly toned. What set them apart was the crazy acts they could do on the pole or trapeze. You couldn’t help but state while, hanging upside down at a 75 degree angle off the pole, they slid down in a spinning motion.

One of the gymnasts had left his can of Red Bull on the table where B and I were sitting. He was putting on a very good show and I thought he deserved some tip, so I tried to leave a $5 under his Red Bull, perhaps as a way to admit I was having a good time without slipping to the level of a strip club. The gymnast saw what I was doing, walked over, and said “What are you doing? Just put it here!” and grabbed my arm. When the back of my hand brushed against his bare abdomen as I put the $5 in his underwear, I almost exclaimed “My god, you have like zero percent body fat! B, you’ve got to feel this! I’ve never felt this in my life!”

Not everything is fun at the strip club, though. Aattractive naked people dancing in front of you aren’t the perfect photoshopped still image of an A&F ad, but people with flaws and imperfections: Muscle-y guys have veins popping out, twinks are way too skinny, hot guys have some fat on them, etc. The big reality check came when one of the dancers came to talk to B, and gave us the low down.

  • Only a few of the dancers were paid by the establishment, the rest worked for tips.
  • Many of them were straight.
  • In his case he was working to pay child support for the kid he had during his “straight” years.

And on and on. By the time I gave him a pity $5 I felt like I had to confession for having any fun that night.

Scoopy Spoons

Scoopy Spoon

The time between B getting a job offer and him moving was about two weeks, and in that time he had to pack up two years worth of items from the house. For the most part during that time we tried not to talk about “us”, because there was so much to do to get him moved that we didn’t need the distraction. One thing we argued about was the sugar bowl. I’ve generally put artificial sweeteners in coffee, partly because I’m hypoglycemic but mostly because I’m vain about my waste line, and have never needed an accessible sugar container. B, whose frame makes super-models feel fat, has never needed to worry about such things and enjoys healthy scoops of sugar in his coffee, so he put his sugar container with airtight seal and scoopy spoon on the kitchen counter. Eventually we compromised and used a half-sugar/half-Splenda blend in the sugar, which allowed enjoy our creamy sugary  rush in the morning (and then have coffee…). When he was packing up, I pointed out that he hadn’t packed the sugar container. He’d done it on purpose because that’s where it lives, but it was his and it really had to go with him to his new home. It didn’t take long after he’d left for me to realize I really missed having the sugar right there on the counter. Every morning I had to fetch the Splenda from the pantry shelf around the corner, which was annoying. I lived with it, but I wasn’t happy about it. So while I was grocery shopping in uber-Mart, I decided I had lived without for too long and it was time to replace them.

Here’s the thing about replacing something you were perfectly happy with: all potential replacements are now measured against their now perfect predecessor. This one is too big, that one is too small, and why did they put handles on it? Granted, uber-Mary only had four or five models to choose from, but all of them were very meh. Eventually I settled upon one, but there was a problem: none of them had the convenient scoopy spoon for scooping the sugar into the coffee. B had a scoopy spoon that very naturally fit in the latch to the container. Not only did they not come with scoopy spoons, but I couldn’t even find where in the store they sell scoopy spoons. As I searched for the elusive scoopy spoon, I started getting more and more frustrated and frantic. Why did I have to find a new scoopy spoon? I liked the scoopy spoon. It was a great scoopy spoon.  It was a perfect scoopy spoon. And now it’s not here anymore and I don’t know why it had to go; why did the scoopy spoon leave?!

About that time I realized I’d crossed into the metaphor zone.

I’ve tried really hard to not be a giant kill joy to my friends ever since B left, and I’ve done my best to try to not let B know how hard this has been. Most times I think I do okay, but some days I slip a little. I think the thing that B taught me is that I am not an island, and I really do need someone in my life. I find that I’m trying to return myself to the way I was to get through this, only to find out I don’t enjoy who I used to be anymore. What scares me the most is that I don’t know how to fix this; for me to move I have to give up everything I’ve worked towards for the past five years, but for B to move he’d have to give up what he’s worked 15 years for. The status quo is terrible, but all other options may be worse. It’s an impossible situation.

The Oak Lawn Tales – First Date?

The three day rule is the worst. The rule that you don’t call someone back right away, but wait a little time to show that you’re really not interested? It sucks, but it’s a good rule, and here’s why: without the rule, we’d show are total freaks by calling and saying “ohmygodiamsogladyouanswerediamsoexcitedtotalktoyou” right out of the gate. You can’t understand the three day rule until you have someone who is really interested in you not obey the three day rule. Having a few days to wait before contacting the man of my dreams, I used this time to come out to Jeff. Compared to coming out to my friends in Lawrence, telling Jeff was relatively easy. He and I had become hang out friends, and I was afraid to lose that, but after coming out to my friends I figured everything would be fine. It had it’s uncomfortable moments and standard fare of FAQ’s (“So, how do you know?”) that come with the territory.

Finally the day came, and I gave him a call. That Hungarian accent that made him so adorable? Also made it hard to understand him. Another complication was that my knowledge of cool places to eat was seriously lacking, and this was before the advent of GPS. We agreed to meet at a Cafe Express across from where I worked. When he arrived he looked so crazy hot that I figured he had to be hitting a nightclub after our date, which was unlikely as it was a Tuesday. When we finally sat down to eat, he proceeded to ask a series of questions:

What’s your story?

What’s your relationship with your family?

How do you like your work?

I felt like I was an interview, but because I was determined (and because he was so hot) I answered every question, putting my own spin on the answers but responding truthfully. Eventually the conversation branched enough from his questions enough that I was able to explain myself a little bit. He also told me his background – that he was from Hungary, he was a Commodore hacker, came to the states to go to MIT, came to Dallas for his first job, and had aspirations to give fitness classes. By about nine o’clock dinner was over.

I met up with Jeff at a coffee shop after wards.

“Ever have a date where you don’t know if you went on a date?” I asked.

“Oh… are we talking about things like that?”

That’s when I learned a useful lesson: straight guys do not want to discuss your gay life. Doesn’t matter if they’re your friend since grade school – they don’t want to know.

Dear B…

On March 7, 2007, I walked over to La Prima Tazza where you were waiting for me. We had only chatted online until that point, it was the first night we met in person. You were waiting for me on the bench out front wearing your dark blue suede jacket that was ruined in Germany a year later. Up until that point, I had only known you as the guy who always had an excuse not to hang out; you had to do research for your oral exams, you had to practice, or, my favorite, you had to clean your apartment. I remember thinking afterward that you needed someone to talk to. One thing you repeated during our first meeting was that you didn’t want to be gay, and I remember thinking how I had felt that way too for so long, and I wanted to help my new friend realize he didn’t have to be ashamed. I doubt either of us would have anticipated anything that followed over the next three years – our friendship becoming a romance, you moving into my house, all the while both of us keeping this a secret except to our closest friends. I want to believe that the past year and a half would be what gay married life would be like – us hanging out after work, watching DVD’s, going to the farmer’s market. You’ve filled the void created by the estrangement between me and my family, and having you live with me has brought a stability to my life I’ve never had before.

I wasn’t surprised when you told me a week ago Wednesday they offered you the job in Texas. Every interview you went on I knew it could be the one, but this one there was no question. I’d known about this interview for two months and I knew you wanted the position. All the updates you gave me while I was in Washington DC said “this is the one.” The hardest part for me has been telling our friends. Whenever I tell them you got a job in Texas, the first question they ask is “Oh my goodness, you’re moving?” Then I tell them no, I’m staying here. The confusion and silence that follows always hurts the most; it’s as if they’re asking “why not? Don’t you love him?” At very least, it forces me to ask myself that again and again.  I’ve always told you that you should take any job that came your way. You’ve worked 15 years to do what you do, and I love you too much to see you pass up something like this. I think you know how hard I worked to get where I am, and you love me too much to ask me to leave everything behind.

I’ve always wanted you to have the freedom to find yourself. When I first met you, I think you were trying very hard to fit yourself into the mold others wanted for you. As we got to know each other you’ve grown in many ways, but I’m afraid that I’ve pushed you too hard to live in my life and my world. Now that you’re in Texas I know you’ll have the freedom to define your life as you see it. I’ve repeated over and over this past week I don’t think now is the time to talk about “us.” I keep telling you this because we’ve always been best when we just let things work out. Right now you have to worry about moving into your new apartment, learning music for two services and a recital, finding where the Walmart is, and learning a new routine. Both of us are going to have to figure out how our lives work without the other being there. Once we’re through these initial humps, we’ll have time to figure out when I can visit, and how we work together in each others lives. We can work out the new normal.

I don’t think you’re leaving me and I hope you don’t think I’m pushing you away; I simply don’t want you to be sad that I’m not there with you. I know you’re going somewhere where you have friends to support you, and I’m know that you’re strong enough to get through us seeing each other every day. That been said, as soon as you’re life is under control and you want me to visit,  let me know.

Good luck with your move, B. We’ll talk as soon as you’re settled.



I am The Ricky!

Today, Ricky Martin shocked no one by coming out. Let me say that coming out is never easy, even ten years after you were a massively popular household name, and I’m very glad he did. I couldn’t help imagining what conversations were going on between him and his boyfriend the days leading up to the announcement.

When you read this, voice the characters with an terrible Antonio Banderas accent.

RICKY MARTIN and his incredibly hot latin BOYFRIEND are sitting in the living room of their villa, which rests off the coast of Puerto Rico. They are finishing up a meal of Arroz con Pollo with a bottle of Argentinian Malbec. Ricky sits back and sighs softly.

What is wrong my love?

I am not sure I can do this.

But The Ricky – we talked about this! It’s time the world knows who you are!

I know… but I am The Ricky! The women, they want me to live the vida loca, not la vida pichita! What will they say?

The Ricky, my love, the women will love you more. Do you know why? Because you are hot gay man! Before, the women only wanted you to shake your incredibly tight ass. Now, they want you to go shopping for shoes with you! You will become to women what Madonna is to us – a god!

I like Lady Gaga better.

BF jumps out of his chair.

(Yelling) Esa puta? No digas cosas malas de nuestra dios!

Of course – you are right my love. But this will tarnish everything I worked for! When I do my comeback tour next year, I won’t be The Ricky Martin, Latin sex machine who mysteriously never had sex. I will be The Ricky Martin, closeted gay man. I might as well do a tour with Lance Bass.

BF walks over to The Ricky and begins to give him a shoulder rub.

The Ricky, do not be sad. Be happy that the world will finally know the real The Ricky. They will know you as I know you.

BF rubs The Ricky, his hand moving lower over his washboard…

Whoops! That last part is just for me.

The Oak Lawn Tales – The Halloween Party

When I first moved down to Dallas I had no life of my own because I couldn’t separate my life from work. It all stems back to my childhood and my first computer, the Commodore 64. As an awkward kid, it was a lot easier for me to relate to the Commodore’s internal memory map than to the kids in my classes. I spent hours upon hours in my parents basement writing BASIC games, learning the inner workings of the VIC II chip, and playing many of the cracked games my dad had acquired from a co-worker. When I started working at Multi-National corp, the products I was working on had about the same power as the Commodore 64, but were much smaller. Work to me was like what I did for play after school growing up, but they paid me lots of money to do it. Meeting people on the other hand had proven about as difficult as in my high school years. Over a year after I first moved I was beginning to form a semblance of a life in Dallas. I had a couple of people I knew from, a gym, a library volunteer job, and a gay soccer team.  I still didn’t fit in though.

Manuel and I were still friends since our break up (if you could call it that) and in October of 2002 he invited me over to a Halloween party he was throwing. The idea of going to a gay Halloween party made me extremely nervous (isn’t that where the gays grow fangs under the full moon and “recruit”?) but it made me secretly excited as well (maybe they’ll recruit me!). There was no requirement of costume for this party, however this frighted me more because it meant I had to actually wear what I owned. It’s a gay party; what if they judge me and my engineer ware? The week before the party I went to Armani Exchange at the Galleria to find something gay enough to wear. For anyone who has ever been to Armani Exchange, everything in the store is gay enough, and I found a tight fitted long sleeve blue tee-shirt to wear. Sadly, I never wore that shirt after that night because I thought my fellow engineers would find it too gay.

Getting over my hyper-punctuality, I arrived at the party already in progress. My fears of trying too hard on the wardrobe front were put to rest when Manuel greeted me at the door wearing a dress shirt and black leather pants; I clearly was not trying hard enough. Manuel had prepared quite a spread of food for everyone, and there were about 20 guys there talking and dancing. One guy clearly stood out from everyone else. He was very tall with eastern European features, and his striped dress shirt and jeans did little to mask his very well kept body. His long wavy brown hair was un-kept in a very intentional way. He was like a far less-fake Fabio, and everyone at the party wanted to talk to him. I wasn’t immune; I really wanted to say hello, tell him my life story, and have him pick me up in his strong arms and… oh who was I kidding. Guys like that don’t talk to guys like me.

“Manuel, who’s that?”

“That’s my co-worker Lajos. He’s in a different department from me.”

“La.. what?”

“LAY-osh. It’s Hungarian.”

Wow – a hot stud Hungarian engineer. Clearly I was working for the wrong company.

I began walking around the party, trying to meet people. I can be a cut up with the nerds, but out of my element I clam up very quickly. The only thing gayer than Manuel’s wardrobe was his choice in music. He had picked the clubbiest of club music to listen to, and his friends were starting to complain about how cheesy his CD collection was. When gays are rebelling against the club music, you know things are going badly.

People began asking around if anyone had any music requests. One of Manuel’s friends who was trying very hard to get Lajos to notice him asked him, “Lajos, what kind of music do you listen to?”

“Oh, you would think it’s weird. I mostly listen to video game music.”

I perked up. “Commodore 64 music?” I asked.

“Actually, Yeah,” Lajos replied, surprised.

Oh my god. Do I have an in?

While the hunt for better music continued, I walked over to my new-found fellow nerd. Growing up, he was part of the eastern European Commodore 64 cracking scene; for those not in the know, “cracking” is where you break a game’s copy protection scheme so you could make illegal copies. He came to the states to go to school at MIT, and had come to Dallas for his first job. On the side he was trying to become a fitness trainer, because he was very involved with weight lifting and cardio workouts. Clearly this guy was way out of my league, but as he explained the intricacies implementing fast-loading on the 1541 – a process which involved having the drive clock the bits off as fast as possible and having the 6510 read them across the wire assuming the timing without doing any error correction – the other guys at the party would approach us, try and enter into the conversation, and just walk away befuddled. For once I wasn’t the outcast; I was the cool one.

By the time I left the party I was a nervous wreck, having spent the evening trying to both nerdy yet cool. I wasn’t a complete success; showing him my Commodore rain hat was a step too close to crazy. As I walked over to his car in the misty rain in the hopes of getting the thing I couldn’t bring myself to ask for – his phone number –  he casually dropped “well, I guess I should give you my phone number if you want to call me sometime,” and gave me one of his business cards. I felt like Hoover Dam trying to hold back my excitement. I wrote my phone number on a card, gave it to him, and drove away.

The Oak Lawn Tales – I Respect You And Think Nothing Less Of You

Being in the closet keeps a big secret from the people who care about you. When I say big secret, I mean “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” big secret; something significant enough to feel like if someone heard it their perception of you would be altered forever. I think any gay man in the closet has to contend with the divide this creates with their public and private lives. In public they may be one of the boys, while in private they worry about what would happen to their house of cards if the wind ever blew.

One year into accepting myself as gay the chasm was beginning to form. I had two circles in my life: the gay circle where I was on a gay soccer team, volunteered at an ESL program, and lived down the street from the Oak Lawn strip, and the computer programmer who worked, went to the gym, and mysteriously never dated. I had one close friend, Jeff, who I wasn’t out to, and most of the other people I knew in Dallas were my co-workers. I wanted to join these halves of my life, but I feared if Jeff or my co-workers found out I was gay and couldn’t handle it, I’d lose them. I was at a very fragile period of accepting myself and I had no one I could turn to for help, so I decided I needed to start working on the bridge between my lives and if Dallas wasn’t the place to do it then I’d go somewhere that was.

That’s right. Road Trip.

I took a week off work and took a trip up to Lawrence, KS, where I had gone to school, because there were five close friends who still lived in the area that I wanted to come out to. Ruben was my next door neighbor my freshman year in the dorms. He was sharp, witty, and an acid tongue, which was a great counterpoint to my naive computer programmer. If you did something stupid he would be the first to tell you. but he also had a heart of gold. If you needed help he would be there for you, if it was help moving, a ride somewhere, or teaching me how to drive. He actually kidnapped me one day to take me to the DMV to force me to take the permit test; that’s the kind of friend he is. I stayed at his apartment for the duration of the trip, and the first night I decided I would tell him. I was on his couch and we’d been talking for a while after I’d first arrived, and I said “Ruben, I have to tell you that… that I’m…” and the word just wouldn’t come. “You’re gay?” Ruben completed my sentence for me. “My GOD man, spit it out!”

When I was a teaching assistant for the computer science Programming II course, Michael was in my first lab class I ever taught. On the first day, out of a fifteen student lab, I immediately recognized him as an incredible programmer. He was the one who learned about computers for fun, not for class. He could be a slacker and coasted by in the coursework, but he nailed every lab assignment. The next semester when I was allowed to have graders, he was one of the first students I asked. In getting to know him I learned he loved MST3K, which was something I always loved, and I would go to his apartment every so often to watch some of his old tapes. I wasn’t quite sure how Michael process the information that I was gay, mostly because the person Michael reminds me most of is Dr. Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. He was very supportive, and after I had returned to Dallas he wrote me a very nice email letting me know that he understood how hard it was for me to tell him.

The nineties experienced an independent film renaissance, but as a film student in the computer science program I had gotten used to not being able to talk to anyone in my classes about it. There was a quiet guy who always sat in the back of my computer architecture class that rode the same bus as I did, and one day on the ride home I struck up conversation. As it turned out Dave was more passionate about film than I was, with a taste for avant garde and David Lynch. From that point on we’d usually sit in the back of any class we were in, making fun of the professor or talking about any new film we’d seen.  When I told Dave we had a long talk after wards just about art, life, and other other things. It was good that things like being gay didn’t get in the way of the important things.

I took an acting course as an elective towards my film degree. Our thespian TA had us read Stanislavsky and try to find the truth of the scene, but really all I learned was do yoga before you act, learn your lines, and don’t trip over the furniture. There were two types of students in class: the beautiful people who had always dreamed of making it big someday and football players who needed an easy A. Then there was Elise, a fellow film student who stood out because she had no time for any of that bullshit. It was a one credit course, but a lifetime friendship. We met at Paradise Cafe for breakfast, and even though Elise should have been the last person I should have been afraid to tell, the word ‘gay’ still wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I think in the I whispered I was coming out of the closet. I think she told me she never suspected out the kindness of her heart, because even though every closeted gay person thinks they have done such a good job of constructing their facade, to a well trained outsider it’s pretty obvious the Emperor has kinky Speedo underwear.

I’d first met Matt when my sophomore roommate brought me to a physics study session for the physics lab final, a black box test. Matt said the test was going to be really easy, but I failed it, teaching me the valuable lesson that computer science majors should not listen to computer engineers as to what is ‘easy’ especially when it comes to the physical world. That summer I had planned to stay in town to work, but not owning a car I had to live close to my employment. Having never looked for an apartment complex in the past I had no idea what I was doing, so when I found a pre-furnished apartment close to work where three of the roommates would be total strangers I signed right away without any alarm bells going off. By pure luck two of the other three roommates were Matt and his dorm roommate, whom I will call Baldy O’Reilly both for his ties to the Student Republicans and because he was the only nineteen year old I knew with Rogaine shampoo. Over the course of that summer and the years following we’d become very good friends. I will admit Matt was the one person I was most afraid to tell. We still kept in touch fairly regularly via email, and I was afraid introducing something like this would alter what I considered a very good friendship. He had to work over the weekend, so I met him at the office where he was debugging a circuit board. In an awkward transition, I told him “and by the way, I’m gay,” and without even looking away from the board he said “I respect you and think nothing less of you.” It was the perfect response because it said what I had hoped to hear: he was okay with me and nothing had to change.

I went back to Dallas with a sense of peace that I hadn’t had in a long time because I had friends who were okay that I was gay. In the years that followed I’ve lost track of some of them, but others I’ve turned to time and again when I’ve been in trouble, and I’d be there for any of them.

Queer Cinema

B and I have been watching a lot of Netflix lately, both the traditional DVD’s and the instant watching service. At first I was making the same mistake I made when I used Netflix before of only adding movies I feel obligated to watch to my queue. Sadly, when you come home after a long day of solving company problems, exploring the wonders of the French New Wave often becomes something you do tomorrow.

We discovered was that Netflix has a very large Gay and Lesbian selection; far more than any brick and mortar video rental store (think of the children!). Over the past couple of weeks I feel like we’ve been skimming the surface of gay cinema of the nineties and early two thousands with movies like Latter Days, Hedwig and the Angry Itch, Just a Question of Love, Beautiful Thing, and, um… Eating Out 3 (B watched Eating Out 2, of which he said “once I got over I was streaming porn legitimately, I lost interest”). For the most part it’s been an enjoyable exploration. It’s always odd watching straight romance films because I never think the girl is hot, and I don’t care if they get together. I thought I’d look up the review of Latter Days, one of the more recent films to come out, at my favorite movie review site, The Onion AV Club. The reviewer Scott Tobias was not a fan not just of the film but the genre it inhabited.

“”Banned in Salt Lake City!” scream the ads for Latter Days, trumpeting the film’s would-be provocative hook of a closeted Mormon getting deflowered by a well-toned L.A. gym rat… Beyond all this manufactured controversy lies the sort of feeble, pussyfooting gay romance that has clogged indie circles for years; like trick, The Broken Hearts Club, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, and countless others, it banks on safe, straight-friendly formula in a bid for crossover success.”

In Latter Day’s case, the filmmakers tried to use the fact that it was banned as a rallying cry, but it was probably banned because of how judgmental it comes off towards Mormons than being gay. The review got me thinking more about the movies themselves. Most of them follow a pretty standard romance formula where boy meets boy, boy falls for boy but thing is keeping them apart. In all these movies, the “thing that keeps them apart” is invariably accepting being gay: Latter Days they couldn’t be together because the Mormon church didn’t accept gays, in Just a Question of Love and Beautiful Thing it’s the main character not being out to his parents. Eating Out 3 had the main character accept himself, the gay community, and in the end save the community center from foreclosure (I could not make that shit up). Even Brokeback Mountain put acceptance of homosexuality at the center of it’s doomed romance. Using acceptance is an easy way to connect with the audience, as it’s one of the few things that connects gays and lesbians together. We’re a people without a race or homeland.

I suppose I should just be happy we got past the late eighties and early nineties films where gays were all dying of AIDS. My personal theory (aka a theory I didn’t do any research on) is that in the nineties the whole idea of having a gay romance was so controversial it made the films “edgy”, even if the movies themselves were so conventional they’re practically safe for the Disney channel. Beautiful Thing’s protagonists have the longing stares that go with teenage romance, but it’s practically an after-school special. In the two-thousands, queer films that went for mainstream audiences did it by using well known formulas, using the ‘gay twist’ as their hook. While this makes for very conventional films, I wonder if it would have been able to make films with gay protagonists without trying for cross-sexuality appeal. By some estimates the gay population is between 5% ~ 10%. Would you invest millions of dollars in a film that excluded 90% to 95% of the potential audience? This is what made Brokeback Mountain such a breakthrough: a gay romance film made for wide distribution. Of course, it was the only one. The outlier here is John Cameron Mitchell, who is the closest thing to a gay Spielberg we have. His two films, Hedwig and the Angry Itch and Shortbus, are bold, sexually charged films made with real panache. I have no idea how he got Hedwig produced;  it’s a trans-gender musical that defies a simple pitch but is hard to look away from. His second film, Shortbus, has the explicit sex of porn but with real depth of story. Mitchell is the real deal, and I look forward to his future work.

I wonder what the future holds for gay cinema. With the cost of entry of digital film making dropping to never before seen lows, it seems like a new generation of queer films could exist that are edgy because they’re edgy and not because they’re gay. Are gay filmmakers going to follow Mitchell’s lead, or simply make what they know will work? A bigger question would be: are gay audiences looking for (and willing to pay for) challenging films, or are we just looking for Eating Out Four: The Cancun Special?