Wednesday, July 3, 2019


I should not be alive. The first time I should have died was when I was in the womb and only 8 months old. My four-year old sister had just tragically died of pneumonia and my mother went into shock, refusing to eat. If you don't already know this, the time to stop eating is NOT when you are eight months pregnant. It is amazing that I did not die as well at the time, leaving my family with not just one, but two horrible tragedies.

I lived, and was born, and I found a way to thrive, against all odds as they say, by learning to "take care of myself". I probably had my first chance to build this skill on the day I was born.

The second time I should have died was when I was fifteen, and I realized that I was attracted to boys and not girls. Because of my Catholic upbringing, this realization was cause for panic rather than celebration, because being gay meant sure hellfire. I suffered from a depression that I could not talk to anyone about. Music is what got me through.

I lived, and I found a way to thrive, because when all was said and done I didn't want to die. I liked life, I just didn't like how others were defining it for me. So I decided to define it for myself.

Today, at the age of 56, I celebrate World Pride Day and Stonewall 50 by taking pride in who I have become. But I did not become me by myself. I found my people and they lifted me up, and continue to this day. Among them are Carla Stephens, Melani Lust, Eric Rosenblatt, Barry Schwartz, Andrew Tee, David P Organisak, Teresa Onstott, Marta Garza, Zuniga Gloria, and of course Keshav Tyagi. Without them and many others I have lost touch with (Michael, Connie, that Protestant minister at the Naval Academy who understood why I needed to leave), I am not sure I would feel very proud of who I am.

So for a little boy who learned to rely on nobody for anything, I take pride in allowing others in. I take pride in opening the door to them, even if they had to knock for days sometimes. I take pride in pushing against the beliefs of my childhood in order to forge a value system that is real to me, not a relic. I take pride in not destroying the lives of those who have loved me. I take pride in completing graduate school with my own money and my own determination. I take pride in being gay in my own way, by being a man who can cry but also fight for what he believes in. I take pride in loving those who still live in fear. I take pride in surviving an epidemic. I take pride in my beautiful queer community who have offered me multiple examples of how to celebrate my differences. I take pride in loving a man today who refused to give up on me. I take pride in what I do and what I do for others.

I make things beautiful--those who know me know this. It is my way of feeling safe in the world and my way of showing love. I did get this from my mother, who, in the midst of crushing grief and guilt, was still able to create a beautiful home for her tiny queer baby boy. That is what she was capable of doing at the time. It is perhaps the greatest gift she gave me--she showed me a way to love when it seemed there was no reason to do so.

Happy World Pride, Mom. Happy World Pride, everyone. We are all a little bit queer. Fall in love with that this summer. Take pride.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"You Ruin Everything"

"You ruin everything".

I was told this time and time again as a teenager. This accusation continues to influence my approach to life to this day.

In his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, Mark Manson specifies that an unhealthy relationship boundary exists if one person holds another person responsible for how they feel. Conversely, it is also an unhealthy boundary if we take responsibility for another's feelings. Why might this be a cornerstone of his book? Because when there is an unhealthy boundary in a relationship, it always results in disaster. There is no more self-defeating exercise than to hold ourselves accountable for what we have little to no control over, or when we insist that another is responsible for what they have no control over. Trust me on this--I have been testing this theory over the last 40 years of my life.

Here is the thing about feelings--are you ready? We choose our goddamn feelings. Nobody can make us feeling anything, no matter how important a role they have in our lives. It looks like this: someone does something, we have a thought about it, and a feeling follows. Notice that the middle-man of the process is how we think about what happens. Our thoughts drive our feelings, unless, of course, someone punches you in the face. In that case pain drives our feelings. But the majority of the time nobody is punching us in the face. Instead, they are saying or doing things that cause us to think poorly about ourselves.

I was labeled "emotional" and "sensitive" as a kid. Mind you, those labels were not complimentary at the time. In my therapy practice, I see couples come in where the woman is often labeled "over-emotional", and I am quick to tell the man that a woman is NEVER over-emotional--she is in fact feeling appropriate feelings regarding what has been triggered in her. My emotionalism as a teenager was rooted in a fear of abandonment--I thought that if my parents knew who I really was (gay) they would not love me anymore. I was wrong, of course, they would always love me, but they certainly were disappointed in how I "turned out". Isn't that a laugh?

Conditional love is still love, unless the conditions are about who the other person is instead of what you can or can't live with.

As a teen, I felt lost and scared. My homosexuality went against everything I was taught about how be loved and how to get into Heaven. It went against everything I learned about how to live a good life and be a good person. I had such a hard time understanding why I was cursed with this perversion--and I had nobody to talk to about it. This led to depression and acting out--as a teenager sex with men made me feel, for a short while, like I was in fact lovable. But when my family found out that (gasp) I was attracted to men, the shit hit the fan. I was emotionally abandoned by both my parents. My father escaped into alcoholism (for which I was blamed), and my mother escaped into denial. My brother just escaped, and he continues to escape reality to this day with his embrace of Mormonism (he would not agree with this assessment, which is just another form of escape).

I specifically remember a phone conversation with my brother when I was 18 years old and in my first year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He told me that I was to blame for the family's problems, including my father's drinking; he told me that I had ruined everything. And I believed him, because I had been taught that my desires were selfish and unnatural, evil and predatory, and that the only way to honor my family was to deny who I was (resist the Devil).

My brother was wrong about me, he was wrong about my father's drinking, and he was wrong about life.

Gay men like sucking dick. Sometimes they like fucking ass, or being fucked. What is the problem with that? Seriously? In this world, there is so little pleasure to be found at times--mostly because our economy depends on us feeling shitty about ourselves, so who could fault anyone for trying to feeling good? Don't you want to feel good?

The problem with religion is that it has criminalized feeling good, labeling pleasure as the "devil's work". What is wrong with wanting to feel good? Religion has flourished by turning suffering into a virtue, at the expense of, well, nearly everything. Pleasure is not the devil's work, y'all. You know what is? Fear.

Fear is what keeps us from making bad decisions at times, but it is also what keeps us from realizing our full potential as humans. I know many good people who are religious, but their goodness is limited by a forced value system that is archaic and juvenile. What is wrong with sucking a dick? I implore you to convince me of the wrongness of that. Certainly the men who are on the receiving end of a dick sucking would be hard pressed to argue against it. While we need fear, we also need to choose despite fear at times, as these choices can lead us to transformation.

When I was a teenager, I just wanted to love and be loved, but fear told me that if I acted on these impulses, I would ruin everything.

I was making a pizza with my boyfriend recently, using a pizza peel I had just purchased. I put flour on the peel so that the pizza would slide onto the pizza stone easily, or so I thought. But it didn't slide easily. In fact, it didn't move at all. I found myself in a panic, not knowing how to get a BBQ Chicken Pizza from the wood peel onto the stone, and I was triggered into feeling that I had "ruined everything". In other words, I started to lose it. Fortunately, my boyfriend sensed my distress and came to the rescue, helping me move the pizza onto a sheet pan where it would bake into a crunchy goodness, and I was able to return to the present moment and ease my upset.

I have to do things perfectly--many of my friends know this. Fortunately, there are many things that I do nearly perfectly, but in the rare case where I am challenged in my perfectionism, I am triggered into feeling that I have "ruined everything".

I am tired of feeling that way. I do not have the power to ruin everything. I never did.

My parents, as loving as they were, failed me in many ways. I never ruined things--I was simply becoming myself in a way that they were not familiar with. What was being "ruined" was the way they were brought up to think about parenting--that it is an activity undertaken to reinforce prevailing values. I got news for you--it is so not that! Parenting is a noble act in that it is an opportunity to foster a blooming individual into a world that is constantly changing.

You know what I love about tulips? You never know in what direction they are going to reach. I love putting them in a vase and watching them stretch and strive for the sun--wherever it is. Children are like that--we never know in what direction they will thrive, but with our guidance they will find their way to the sun. The role of parents is to protect and shepard, not to proscribe. Shame on you parents who proscribe! You are serving yourself and not your children!

I found my way to the sun, but not without many attempts by the world to cut me down. My parents didn't try to cut me down, they just stopped watering me. They had an unhealthy boundary with me, holding me responsible for their fear. So I found sustenance in other wayward tulips.

I am still reaching toward the sun.

It is time I put to bed the notion that I can ruin everything, because I want to be human in the world and with my boyfriend. I do not wish to take responsibility for how he feels, nor hold him responsible for how I feel. I want, instead, to take responsibility for my choices and feelings, with the hope that I will be motivated by respect and love, knowing that at times I will choose, appropriately, myself over him.

We will get the pizza onto the stone, together, and it will be crunchy and delicious, if not perfectly shaped. Sometimes it will stick to the peel, and that is okay. It is okay. It is okay. It will still be wonderful, not ruined at all. Even if it is not perfect.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

21 More Observations

1. You cannot claim "getting married and having children" as an accomplishment if efforts toward those goals are limited to fucking someone.

2. If I can get through the day on only three Ibuprofen, I consider myself to be faring rather well.

3. Being "up to" a relationship is just fine, but not fine in itself.

4. I suspect that reblogging is not as productive an activity as some would like to think.

5. Talking about sex is unsexy only if you are not actually talking about sex.

6. My problem with the general public is that it is both general, and public.

7. The problem with living such long lives is that we have short-life thinking.

8. I refuse to let anyone with an addiction to food tell me what I can and cannot put in my mouth during sex.

9. I am convinced that a sign of maturity is knowing when the story you have to tell is of no interest to anyone else in the room.

10. I worry about people whose range of expressive emotions is limited to "frustration".

11. More often than not I actually buy it when Jennifer Lopez plays "regular women" in films.

12. I shudder to think of the day when "being an asshole" is the only reasonable response to modern culture.

13. The way I see it, in a cost-benefit analysis, veganism is sorely lacking in the latter.

14. Any attempt to reason with toddlers, the fervently religious, or those who are mentally unstable is likely doomed to fail for the exact same reason.

15. I would like to think that my giving up on The Walking Dead is a demonstration of healthy boundaries.

16. When I judge people it is often the result of knowing both too much and too little about them.

17. Wearing a crown on my head doesn't make me a king, but that is of little consequence.

18. Becoming an "entertainer" requires more than just talent.

19. When you buy a $4.99 bottle of wine, you get a $4.99 bottle of wine.

20. I think I may be more attractive in theory than in context.

21. The benefits of religion are like the benefits of red wine; they can all be found elsewhere in places where damage to self and others does not occur.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Ruth Margie

Ruth Margie, or my mom, was born nearly 100 years ago in 1922. Were she still alive, she would be 97 years old today, February 7th, 2019. She is not alive, however, she died 10 years ago at the age of 86 from complications caused by Alzheimer's Disease. I missed her death at the time by two days, but it may as well have been 1000 days, because when your mother dies, time both stops and turns into an eternity.

She was born in Pocatello, Idaho, a city I may have been to--it is not the kind of city you would remember had you ever passed through, despite its size. The city I grew up in, Chula Vista, could be described in the same way. A lot of people know of it, they just don't have much to say about it.

From what I know, my mother did not grow up in the city portion--the family was poor and probably lived on the outskirts, but I remember Mom telling me that she did not know they were poor (does a fish know it is in water?). She reported feeling loved by her parents and tended to--her mother was crafty with the sewing machine--a talent my mother picked up, and I suppose that back "in those days" kids did not need quite as much as they do now.

They also worked. If not formally, then certainly at home. Child labor laws had yet to take effect in many states, but to be honest, I don't know much about what little Ruth Margie did in her childhood. I just know that she looked like this:

As you can see, they called her "Ruthie", a nickname that her sister Edith continued to use with her well into adulthood. Some things just never change!

My mother married four times, with my father being the fourth, and last, husband. The story of those marriages differs depending on who you are talking to, but this is the one I like the best: she first married young to a man who, like many men in those days, knew little about what goes into a marriage, leading to a hasty divorce shortly after he returned from the war. Mom moved to California with her young daughter soon afterward to live with one of her sisters in the Bay Area, and according to my sister, she married the next two husbands because they were "nice enough" and allowed her to appease the family back home, none of whom were too happy about having a divorced daughter with a child roaming about.

Mom and Dad early in the marriage
She met my father in San Diego, where they both worked for Safeway grocery stores, and as luck would have it, she fell in love. I have written about their marriage before, and I stick to the story that in the early days they were great together--two mature, intelligent adults who loved to dance and have fun. By the time I came around, Mom was already 40 years old. Can you imagine that in 1962? It was almost unheard of back then, unlike today where women are having their first child at much later ages. I was the last of her children--after me she was forced to undergo a hysterectomy because she was told, at the time, that it was "for the best".

Mom on her 60th birthday
There are pluses and minuses associated with being the child of an older parent. The plus is that they usually know what the hell they are doing by that time, and the family life is established and stable. The minus is that you don't often get to have them around as you get older. I never thought of my mom as older, she was just "Mom". I suppose it is the same for most kids. She was 50 when I was 10, and 60 by the time I reached 20, and yet she did not really begin to age until she neared 80. But when it came, it came fast--I remember once wondering, during a visit after I had been living in Los Angeles for a number of years, how she had become an old woman all of a sudden.

Of course little did we know that the acceleration of the Alzheimers was starting to take its toll on her vitality and health.

She died in the middle of the night, alone in a care home, two days before I was scheduled to fly in to be with her, but it may as well have been 1000 days before. When I found out that she died, I went to work to take care of some orders that had to be done because I was not ready to face it. I then left work at lunchtime and came home, where I drew the curtains and proceeded to wail for nearly three hours straight. If anyone is capable of corraling extreme grief, it would be me. I grieved alone that day, much as my mother died.

These days, my missing of her is like mood--it comes and goes, sometimes loudly and sometimes softly. That's a lie, actually, it never really "goes", it just gets really quiet, or else the world gets louder--not sure which it is. I do not seek "closure" around my grief--it is the one thing that keeps her present for me--that and the lock of her red hair that I asked for before her cremation. As impractical as it is, I can certainly understand why people want to bury their dead in a coffin. It is hard enough to process a loved one dying, it is harder still to grasp the idea that their physical body is actually "gone". I suppose this is why it is torture to lose someone in a plane crash or in war when you don't even get to see the body--those left behind must live in a limbo where a part of them suspects that their beloved is not really dead. I was not that unfortunate--I did see my mother's body, despite being two days late, and while it did not give me solace, it did move me toward acceptance.

I wish she were around, but not as a 97 year-old woman. I wish she were around as, say, a 76 year-old woman, which she would have been had I been born when she was 20. I would like her to see my life now, to know what I have become, who I have become, to meet Keshav, to see how it all "worked out after all". Some have said that she acted out of fear when she married all those men one after another--that she caved in to family and societal pressure to "do the right thing" and preserve her reputation. But don't agree with their assessment.

Were she alive today, I would tell her that I think she was brave. Like many mothers, she usually made choices based not on what was best for her, but what was best for her child. She had the courage to leave marriages once they stopped being good (except for my father, but she gets a pass on that one because by then she felt she was "too old" to start over). In reality, she acted both out of courage and fear, because courage cannot exist without fear--it is by definition a response to fear. Throughout the rest of her life she played tug-of-war with both. But most of us do, let's face it. It does not make us any less of a person as it did not make her any less of a mother.

This is why I continue to honor her with my life and my words. She earned it with her love for me, which, by the way, was unwavering even if her understanding of me was shaky. She earned my love by showing me firsthand an example of what it is to be human, farts and all.

So on the tenth anniversary of her death and the 97th anniversary of her birth, I write to say, "Happy Birthday, Ruth Margie. Happy Birthday, Mom." It all turned out okay after all.