The One Who Said No
Yesterday morning I had to provide the first phase of training for a new client at my day job, and given the size and importance of this new account, most of the training is being done on-site at the client’s workplace rather than by phone or webcast. So, like thousands of other workers, I found myself on the métro heading downtown — orange line from Snowdon to Lionel-Groulx and green line to McGill — which is a major shift from my normal commute from my bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, and finally to my home office.
It’s toward the end of my journey along the green line that I saw her face, and as I stepped out of the métro at McGill, I’m sure I must have had a grin going ear to ear. One of my very few good memories from high school had come flooding back.
Her face was on an ad for L’École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal. It was the face of Annie, who is now an associate professor in mechanical engineering at the Poly and is doing research on topics I can bearly understand. But in 1981, she sat behind me in Chemistry 112. And I really liked her.
How much did I like her? Well, Annie is the only girl on the planet whom I ever dared ask on a date.
I still remember my Grade 5 class with Madame Marie at École Essex, specifically the shenanigans going on where the boys and the girls were starting to want to pair up as boyfriend and girlfriend. I say “shenanigans” because I recall that everything had boiled over to the point of an obsession among my peers — except with me, who “inexplicably” (ha ha!) showed no interest in finding myself a girlfriend. As everything had become such a huge distraction in class, Madame Marie put an end to it by declaring, “For heaven’s sake! You’re only in Grade 5! You have a lifetime to find yourselves a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Just take it easy here.”
I took Madame Marie’s admonition to heart and as a sign that THEY — my peers — were the crazy ones and I was the sane one for not obsessing about getting a girlfriend. I stuck to that reasoning for years and I was still holding to it by the time I reached high school. But, of course, what Madame Marie suggested back in Grade 5 wasn’t pertinent anymore by Grade 11, and I realized I had to snap out of that frame of mind.
The thing is, though, that by Grade 11, still wanting to deny to myself that I was gay, I had come to rationalize that I simply needed to find a girl who was really, really smart in order to get me interested. And, in addition to being attractive in her own right and having an easy smile and a propensity to laugh a lot, Annie fit that bill perfectly. So, one evening, out of the blue, I called her and asked her if she’d like to go on a date.
She said no. She already had a boyfriend.
As simplistic and non-sequituresque as it may seem to you, dear readers, that was it for me. Within a very short time after that call, I concluded that if Annie, the only girl in whom I had ever had the remotest interest, wasn’t interested, then I had to face the fact that what I really wanted is to date boys. However, there was one thing that would remain (although I clearly haven’t stuck to it): the object of my affection would have to be really, really smart in order to keep me interested.
It would be tempting to be flip and say that Annie’s rejection is what turned me gay. In fact, I’ve said that a few times as a joke, but of course I have never meant it. She had nothing to do with that, and I don’t believe she has ever known where my thoughts and feelings went after that fateful call. As a matter of fact, that phone call that was such a turning point for me, she probably doesn’t even remember.
And now there she is, on an ad in the métro for L’École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal — a successful teacher and scientist. I would love to say hello to her and perhaps even tell her this little story. But I think that would be way too weird, especially for her. It goes to show, though, that we all may touch other people’s lives in a pivotal way yet never ever realize having done so.
I do love Montréal, and I am grateful to have a very good friend here in Cleopatrick, but as I mentioned to him recently, I wonder if it’s normal that, after two-and-a-half years in town, I haven’t made any new friends and he pretty well remains the only friend I have here.
Certainly there are a few factors to consider. First and foremost, although I work for a huge company, I work at home. I have very little in-person interaction with my colleagues. In truth, I could never imagine myself having to report to work inside some cubicle jungle in a downtown office tower. My productivity would plummet if I had to do that. However, this arrangement does cut into my chances of finding colleagues who could also become friends outside work.
Second, I may have been underestimating the impact of breaking up. Frankly, in the first few months that followed it, the overwhelming feelings I had were either of relief or thinking I had dodged what could have been a fatal bullet. But despite more time passing, I still get little flashbacks, almost daily, to pivotal moments that accumulated and accumulated and finally led me to the breaking point — that devastating realization that I was losing my soul, felt hollowed out, and on the verge of wanting to either scream or cry or both each morning as I stood in the shower. I still can’t come up with a plausible answer to that one, singular question: Beyond the obvious statement that love is blind, how and why did I let it all happen while very deliberately ignoring all the signs — some subtle, others obvious, and many just plain ugly and frightening — that normally would have sent me running the other way?
I think this second factor, juxtaposed with the first, is significant on many levels as I think about how I’ve been “behaving” when meeting and speaking with people casually, and how they, in turn, respond or react to me. I notice that if there’s the least bit of a connection, I completely dive into animated conversation as if I’m trying to quench a thirst following a long journey in the desert. Yet, at the same time, I recognize in that behaviour the “old” me that was temporarily lost. But then that contact almost invariably concludes with sincere words expressing a mutual interest in getting back in touch again later …and those intentions never materialize.
In part, the cards quickly get all messy by stated or denied ulterior motives. You know… You start thinking, “Is this person a [A] potential social friend, [B] “friend with benefits,” or [C] perhaps even more? What do I want?” Some of you might think that, at this point of my life, I’m still feeling too burnt by a Possibility C that I wouldn’t want another one, and you would be right …except, not necessarily for the reasons you may be thinking. For you see, I remember all too well how, no more than a year before I opted for C and took it to the maximum, I was convinced I would never consider anything more than a B. Today, I’m thinking I may have been right back then; however, at the same time, I keep my mind and heart open just enough to consider that a C is not only possible, but could be successful this time. I’m just not actively looking for it, and I won’t be shattered if it doesn’t come.
Cognitively, I recognize signs that may prevent a C from coming along. For one, I have a brother who is equally work-identified as I am and who, like me, can’t do otherwise. We can turn it all off and go on vacation, but when we get back, we fall right back into it. He was able to make his C work because she “allowed” him, didn’t resent that part of him and found her own interests to pursue, but not everyone can do as she does. Second, sometimes, when I do turn it all off, I can turn all Greta Garbo and I just want to be alone — pretty much as I’ve been for the past month after work. It can’t be easy for a C to live with that and not immediately think that C is somehow at fault and is being shut out. But I have always needed periods of solitude, and I can’t imagine that ever changing, either. And finally, I’m pretty sure I’m not capable of monogamy. There was a mutual agreement on this point with whom I thought was going to be my C for life, so we didn’t exclude playing together. I can’t imagine it would be easy to meet another C who feels the same way on that issue.
I guess that this year, after turning 45, I really started to think about where everything is heading — where I want to go and what I want to do. The only constant I can find right now is that I plan to stick to my job come hell or high water due to the belief that this really is only a bad phase. But for everything else, right down to where I’m living in Montréal, I draw a blank.
Celebration or Protest?
June marks the beginning of another season of Gay Pride celebrations in major Western cities. On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots in New York City occurred, marking the moment when gays and lesbians stood up against persecution, thus the usual choice of a date in late-June to commemorate the event. But over the years, as Pride events have become more mainstream and commercial and akin to a circuit party, the date choice can range from June to September in different cities, as in Sin City North, for instance, where it now happens in mid-August.
The fact we use the word “celebration” today is telling of the shift that has happened over the years with regard to this commemorative event. Thus, I’m glad that former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray reminds us that the event, not that long ago, used to be a protest. It’s hard to imagine that a mere 20 years ago, it was imperative for some to be secretive about their sexual orientation for fear of losing their job. Thus, some would avoid the event at all cost in order not to be associated with it in any way.
Indeed, much has changed for the better HERE since I was in my 20s, so the term “celebration” may not be totally out of order. What’s more, I now live in perhaps the most tolerant, if not downright accepting, city in North America with regard to being gay. As well, for my employer and my colleagues at work, my being gay is a non-issue. I never fear of losing my job or my apartment over it, just as I don’t for loving coffee too much or having blue eyes. But it never escapes me that our cities and my country are still oases. Too easily we forget there are places on this planet where being gay is an offense — sometimes criminal, and in extreme cases, sometimes punishable by death.
Even among ourselves, though, we don’t speak with a common voice, and thus don’t form a cohesive community. To be blunt, the only thing I have in common with the vast majority of the guys who hang out in the Village is that we prefer to kiss guys, and even there, there’s a wide array of preferences. (Some don’t like kissing!) So, when it comes to Pride, there are many who can’t stand seeing scantily clad people or adherents to whatever fetish parading down the street, as they not only can’t identify with them but also, in some cases, take offense. “That is not me,” they say, and they resent that others might think they’re anything like them. That’s because, in reality, they aren’t, and it’s way too facile for anyone to accuse them of self-hatred or inward homophobia. For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how a gay guy can be on the socially conservative side of the political spectrum and I would definitely say loud and clear that “he’s not me.” That doesn’t make me self-loathing. He might be, but even that is a cheap shot.
The reason I wish Pride today had more of a protest element is that we don’t have to stray too far from our oasis to find deep resentment and hatred for the gains that have been made in the last 20 years. I don’t know if and how that can be changed. In Canada, where the legal front has been reasonably taken care of, there’s one thing left to protest: ignorance. But elsewhere, there’s that and much, much more. Thus, isn’t it selfish of us to be resting on our laurels and setting aside the notion of protest?
Here Come the Grooms
El Poema and I have come to terms with the fact that we’re a little bit crazy.
This week we spent a lot of time planning our big day. To be truthful, before this week, I didn’t know anything about the Cartier trinity ring portrayed here. And now here we are: that is what we selected as our wedding bands. In the 1920s, Jean Cocteau adopted it and turned it into a symbol, where the three interlocking rings represent the three virtues of love: loyalty, honesty, and romance. Not, as the Queen of Sheba feared, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
We have a date set — soon, obviously — but we’re giving ourselves license to postpone if, at the last minute, we feel we’re rushing too much. In other words, if we feel we’re being a bit TOO crazy.
Is There Such a Thing As…
…baptism by cold?
El Poema and I have booked his trip to Canada next month. We’re meeting in Montréal on the 9th, apartment hunting together until the 13th, and then he’s coming to Halifax until the 2nd.
Of course, the point of apartment hunting together is that Montréal will be a new beginning for both of us, so I can’t imagine him not having a say on the new digs. But what a wretched time of year to come to Canada for a Mexican who’s unusually sensitive to the cold! Obviously, we’ll have to devote part of our time in Montréal to clothing him properly. And then, back in sleepy little Halifax, it’ll be …well …realistic in some ways because I’ll have to work during weekdays. And I think it’ll help categorically firm up our plans on which approach to take for his coming to the country (assuming the cold doesn’t freak him out so badly that everything comes to an abrupt halt).
Meanwhile, last weekend, I visited my mom in Moncton because I couldn’t possibly tell her by phone what transpired in Mexico over Christmas. This is the rub: the fact I like to kiss boys has been a weird and convulted open secret in our family for 25 years, with some of my siblings officially not knowing about my “affections,” shall we say. But now that we’re all in our 40s and 50s and that my marital status is about to change, the denial has got to stop. And I expect nothing less than a recognition that this family is getting a new member.
The talk with Mom went as well as I could expect. I introduced the topic by saying that I had some very good news, but it’s the kind of news I had to tell in person because it has an impact on the family, and family matters a lot to me. She was okay at the point where I declared that El Poema was my “significant other.” But then, understandably, she couldn’t hide her surprise when I went on to tell her how significant and what we intend to do about it. I may be 42 and she may be nearing 80, but I’m still her baby, after all. And I detected some panic coming from her at that point as she tried to imagine how to lift the lid from the house of cards that she so carefully built over all these years and figure out how it should now be reconstructed.
Then, a breakthrough of sorts came when we were looking at our Mexico pictures and she saw him for the first time. Not that it would have changed anything, but I have to admit I worried that she would dislike this tall, long-haired Mexican who has become the object of my affection. But at one picture in particular, she finally said that she could be contrarian but “je dois admettre que c’est un bel homme” (“I have to admit that he’s a handsome man”), noting in particular his beautiful brown eyes. (Coincidentally, within five minutes of my meeting El Poema’s mom in person, she commented on my eyes and how they were so much like her own mother’s.) And then Mom asked me to help her save a particular photo of us to her computer’s pictures folder.
I know my mom. She probably looked at that picture a few dozen times this past week. And although I assured her that I’m happy and confident that we’re doing the right thing, I know she worried at lot …not so much for how to let the cat out of the bag, although there was probably some of that. But simply about me. ‘Cause, like I said, I’m still her baby.