Suburbian In Reverse

Freedom came with undergrad life.  I was away from home and finally near New York City, of a world that I had dreamed deeply about escaping to.  At SUNY @ Purchase perfect was the antithesis of suburban high school, evolving to from machismo jock to artistic and eccentric.  In college perfect was chased by girls and boys, and perfect boys were more likely to chase boys back.  Perfect was still not the quietly humorous one who liked school and read in his dorm.   He was cool though, which afforded me the opportunity to be entertained by a peer as a possible date.  I freely made my homosexuality explicit and explore relationship dynamics.

Refreshed by a gust of attention, I set my sights on who was deemed the most desired boy on campus: Marc.  He wasn’t a student, but was the friend of students on the floor below me, and visited every weekend.  Luckily, the friends I had made on my floor knew the people down stairs through a mutual friend from Long Island; guess New York City isn’t that big of a city.

Mutual friends who knew of my crush arranged for a chance encounter with Marc.  While nothing came of the meet, I did gain wonderful new friends who are cherished deeply.  Marc, also, knew of my crush on him; apparently, subtlety was not in my repertoire.  His rejection of me (I wasn’t his type; he preferred guys more seasoned than I was) dissipated my attraction.  His friends felt sympathy for me, revealing that Marc gets crushed on a lot.  I thought how if I wasn’t special or a first to Marc I’d move on and I was over him.  We hung out after and it was clear we had nothing in common other than our mutual friends.  During that friendship, I saw that beneath bravado, was a desperate want for stability with a boyfriend, just as I did.

As college goes relationships were fleeting but sexual encounters were not, with my attention no longer fixated on one person. The relationship that I had dreamt of, had hoped for during the college experience, eluded me.  I was good enough for a lay, but not to spend time with.  I was no wallflower, but I was unable to break the habit of isolating in my room and studying.  I didn’t go to the campus’ LGBTQ Union to meet peers because the members I conversed with assuredly proclaimed their identity to everyone.  Despite my sexual escapades during this time I continued to rebel from any identity label, that I had no history with.

With a false identity in place, I adventured beyond campus-boys to older gay males.  I turned, again, to the internet to dominate my acquisition of homosexual dynamics.  I quickly accepted invitations, hoping that I’d be a step closer to NYC-escape, that I had expected from Oliver & Company and Tales of the City. Behind my more sophisticated and cool mask older men seemed more worldly and attractive. The Jodie Dallas specter faded from the peripheral of my concept of homosexuality, Sex & the City experiences that I had dreamed of seemed a greater possibility.  Instead of the Manhattan fantasy – theatre, dinners, and art galleries – I repeated my suburban youth in reverse.  This version though didn’t synchronize with the ticky-tacky boxes.  Now I saw behind the neighbors’ curtains, and I didn’t like it.  Calling them dates is using the term at its loosest.  The men that I went home with would close their curtains, citing their need for privacy.  As my perceptions grew I came to see “privacy” as a bent mirror to my rejection of the homosexual label.

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Sex & the City Dating Escape

Sex and the CityJodie Dallas of Soap had loomed over my concept of homosexuality until Stanford Blatch of Sex & the City.  The show populated New York city with playful high fashion, single-life experiences, and a found family that I seemed tailored to me as a glamorous adult.  Sex & the City made the goals I had longed for myself seem a greater possibility.

Stanford Blatch was the primary gay character on the series, riddled with insecurities about not being gay-perfect just as I was, but Carrie Bradshaw was who I had wanted to be.  It wasn’t having all the dates, but her love of style, being a writer, and out partying with literati.  Seeing Carrie’s brownstone apartment made me long for my own, where I could look out a window and watch the world, inspiring my writing.   She started as a columnist and grew into an New York Times Bestseller List author.  Her humor was self-deprecating and her friendship unconditional, while being self-absorbed.

The four women – Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha – were a glamorous and carefree version of the found family.  Where Tales of the City had been realistic working-class San Francisco, Sex & the City was a high-class Manhattan fantasy of friends, weeknight art shows, and weekend Broadway theatre.  The Sex & the City women found each other through shared dating experiences, creating a strong bond between one another that anchored them through hardships.

Behind my manic-pixie-boy mask older men seemed more worldly and attractive, I adventured beyond SUNY Purchase boys to older gay males, hoping to be a step closer to NYC escape.  Instead of a Sex & the City fantasy – theatre, dinners, and art galleries – I reversed my escape from ticky-tacky suburbia, to be behind the neighbors’ curtains.  And I didn’t like it.  Behind closed curtains, by men citing an appreciation for privacy, my perception grew to see “privacy” as a bent mirror to myself.    The growth of Carrie and Jodie only moved smoothly because they had the benefit of writers who ensured their progress.  This does not accurately reflect real-world journeys, which are filled with starts and stops.  When I left for college I believed I was leaving behind childhood for adulthood.  College to me was the floor of maturity and not another step towards growth.  The growth of Carrie and Jodie only moved smoothly because they had the benefit of writers who ensured their progress.  This does not accurately reflect real-world journeys, which are filled with starts and stops.  When I left for college I believed I was leaving behind childhood for adulthood.  College to me was the floor of maturity and not another step towards growth.

I had careened from one fantasy depiction of homosexuality to another, from Jodie Dallas to Sex & the City’s Carrie Bradshaw.  Both characters found their lives conflicted and dramatic as they learned who they were.  They both did deal with natural consequences and problems rooted in emotional authenticity, their journeys were routed in entertainment and fantasy.  Their experiences were heightened for viewership and broad appeal, a fantasy where internal and external hardwork are glossed by in favor of the end goal.  In Sex & the City Carrie is rarely seen actively writing (beyond the episode’s hook), skipping over the day-to-day difficulties and grit needed to reach the Bestseller List, just as Jodie Dallas’ emotional journey is truncated by emotional swings that skip closure.  The sweeping storytelling of television leaves daily details on the editing floor.

Ill-Equipped for Ethnography

For such a long-time Joey cast a constant shadow over my decisions and actions.  My life was in a holding pattern as I hoped he’d come back in.

Joey seemed to be the first same-age guy that showed an interest in me.  Prior to Joey, guys my age said was too geeky, too short, too thin, not thin enough, not gay enough.

Joey liked all those things about me.  He was sweet to me.  He was kind to me.  College’s manic pixie boy façade had paid-off.

In my memory, he was the perfect straight-laced rebel.  Edgy enough to be interesting, and clean enough to bring home.

That New Year’s Eve, through Joey and his friends, I was fully introduced to seedy and drug-fueled as normal.  I was introduced to the concept of frenemies by how Joey and his circle behaved toward one another.  A world where my façade got me accepted in and insulated me from; my silence and listening-skills gave the illusion of emotional investment.  In truth, my carefully designed masks had kept me the constant observe of life and not the actor, leaving me ill-equipped for ethnography.  I began seeing the catty duplicitous behavior and normalized it.  I gave myself permission to replicate their naughty behavior.

Eventually, I went back to school and Joey and my correspondence petered out, as he was always too busy to answer a phone.  As I waited for Joey to re-enter my life, I created disruption in my relationships, making myself always available but never alone.

Identity in Separate Baubles

Art by Sachin Teng
Art by Sachin Teng

Being homosexual has consistently been present in my life, beginning when I was 9 years old when AIDS entered my consciousness, putting a dark stigma became attached to being homosexual.  The original facts I had about homosexuality came to me through knowledge about AIDS, gleamed from the deaths of Anthony Perkins and Robert Reed, effectively connecting homosexuality with death, separation, and sensationalism.  With limited exposure to healthy examples of homosexuality I stumbled into a stagnate malleable inauthentic identity, designed for avoidance.

As I grew up I struggled with the idea that there was something false and untrue about my place in the world.  In reaction, I created a false self that wasn’t defective or flawed.  I diluted or ignored parts of myself that I thought would alienate me from those around me.  When a false-self was created I ceased to be an authentic human being.  The psychologist, the late Alice Miller calls this “soul-murder” – shame that leads to believing that I was a failure. Self-contempt, isolation, and a strong sense that I was untrustworthy accompanied each other until I believed I was a failure. Shame became my core identity, shutting me down to human relationships, living in hopelessness, and locked in a set of very unhealthy beliefs. Continue reading “Identity in Separate Baubles”

Manhattan Dreams

Art by Joe Kelly
Art by Joe Kelly

Manhattan was the setting where I could pursue being queerly perfect.  Manhattan was the place I wanted to have my original introduction to homosexual subculture.  New York City’s celebration of subculture and minorities was to be the place where I’d be amongst others who actively kept their queerness secret from family and friends because society won’t accept it.

With a false identity in place, I adventured beyond campus-boys to older gay males.  I quickly accepted invitations, hoping that I’d be a step closer to NYC-escape. Behind my more sophisticated and cool mask older men seemed more worldly and attractive. The Jodie Dallas specter faded from the peripheral of my concept of homosexuality, Sex & the City experiences that I had dreamed of seemed a greater possibility.  Instead of the Manhattan fantasy – theatre, dinners, and art galleries – I repeated my suburban youth in reverse.  This version though didn’t synchronize with the ticky-tacky boxes.  Now I saw behind the neighbors’ curtains, and I didn’t like it.  Calling them dates is using the term at its loosest.  The men that I went home with would close their curtains, citing their need for privacy.  As my perceptions grew I came to see “privacy” as a bent mirror to my rejection of the homosexual label.

Undergrad Realization

There was freedom to undergrad life away from home near New York City, of a world that I had dreamed deeply about escaping to.  Manhattan was the setting where I could pursue being queerly perfect.  I have always had dreams of living in Manhattan, beginning with the rollicking technicolor adventure of Disney’s Oliver & Company that created the landscape that fueled my queer escape fantasies.  Oliver & Company painted the picture of New York City, and Sex & the City populated the city with the experiences and people I wanted.  Sex & the City’s high playful fashion, wit, and comradery showed a New York City was the world that was tailored to me.

Knowing that NYU or other colleges within Manhattan or New York City itself were beyond my reach, I became an alum of SUNY @ Purchase.  In the shadow of the city I wanted to call home, I freely made my homosexuality explicit and explore relationship dynamics.  In college, I found that perfect hand transmogrified into the antithesis of high school, evolving to be the artistic and eccentric.  Outside of high school, perfect was chased by girls and boys, but perfect boys were more likely to chase boys back.  Perfect was still not the quietly humorous one who liked school and read in his dorm – he was cool though, which afforded me the opportunity to be entertained by a peer as a possible date.

Refreshed by a gust of attention, I maintained a crush on Marc, the friend of the students on the floor below me, and visited every weekend.  My dormmates knew Marc’s friends on the floor below through a mutual friend from Long Island; guess New York City isn’t that big of a city. I bought weed for the first time to impress them, in an effort to appear more appealing to Marc.  My crush was an obvious fact that quickly dissipated by his rejection (I wasn’t his type, and he preferred guys more seasoned than I was).  His friends felt sympathy for me, revealing that Marc gets crushed on a lot.  I thought how if I wasn’t special or a first to Marc I’d move on and I was over him.  We hung out after and it was clear we had nothing in common other than our mutual friends.  During that friendship, I saw that beneath bravado, was a desperate want for stability with a boyfriend, just as I did.

Three Icons Make 1

Art by George Petty
Art by George Petty

The identity I forced was rooted in femme fatales of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  Garbo, Dietrich, and Bacall fascinated me.  Each of them exemplified a chilly aloof, embodying characters who lived as if any compliment was no surprise.  Their no non-sense control was what I needed to conceal the embarrassed boy.

In the three actresses, I found icons I could take who I was and reshape myself.  Growing up excluded from school parties and youth groups, I learned a preference for being alone or with the few close friends I had.  Like MGM did with Garbo, I molded an air of mystery around myself, utilizing silence and deflecting questions to gloss over my lack of life experience.  I became the master of the eye roll.  I learned to manipulate people’s gaze through the way I dressed and colored my hair, fetishizing myself, just as Dietrich had.  Combining the two I designed a Bacall inspired display of command over movement and gesture, never crawling to be noticed.

I consulted them frequently for advice on how to play it cool.  The best masks sit directly upon the face – smoothing over to present a picturesque self.  A generalized individuality to be seen and easily blend into a crowd.

Verve (January 2017)

Growing up I longed for a surprise party that was like what was seen on movies, where a home would be filled of people that wished to be there.  That dream has never come true, even in grade-school when it was mandatory to report to a classmate’s birthday.  I never enjoyed the idea of celebrating my birthday; I do enjoy getting older though.  What I feared was not getting older, but that no one would ever come to a birthday party for me.  My sister was unable to make time to celebrate my birthday, and since family waited for each other to acknowledge milestones, birthdays adhered to my sister’s schedule; my sixteenth birthday was two months late because my sister couldn’t be bothered to take time off from work.  Eventually, I stopped sending invitations out at all, choosing to ignore the celebration and take enjoyment only from cards – and then settle for Facebook birthday posts.

My birthday was where I learned to exist within the cracks, as typically during the school year it fell in the middle of Winter Recess.  Later, this became the excuse for why no one needed to hold a celebration for me.  I wanted to avoid any fuss that would draw attention from friends because if they were paying attention to me, I believed they’d peak beneath my mask and judge me inappropriate – or worse, inadequate.  Around friends, I remained shy as if they were strangers because facades kept everyone at an arm’s length.  It was simpler to cover my self-consciousness and inferiority beneath masks, that were fashioned for inclusion by adopting specific friend-interests, and sub-cultures, and abandoning my own.

Researching the Part

At SUNY @ Purchase, I freely made my homosexuality explicit and explore relationship dynamics.  I was no virgin before or during college, but a relationship continued to elude me.  I wasn’t laser focused on acquiring a boyfriend because the class load made it quickly clear that was not going to happen.  I was a child compared to my classmates who all seemed much worldlier than I.  Their world seemed so much bigger than the one I came from, filled with parties and adventures that I had only see in movies and television.  I desperately wanted to be like them, sophisticated, well-read, and so comfortable in their uniqueness that they could sell themselves.  This was something I couldn’t be, but I could pull forth a façade.

Hours were spent in the college’s library developing my cool gay cabinet, identity, and vocabulary; I read cultural writers to know what to think, and studied the writers and artists to know what to get away with.  I formed a cabinet of (famous or not; perfect or not; real or fictional) people of characteristics to emulate, to develop a crisper identity and world-view.  The cabinet that was selected had no root in the people and interests of my own, but in the interests of the people I wanted to impress; Kafka, architecture, Feminism, playwriting, and psychology.  I could converse deeply about their interests, and engrain myself into their graces.  They revealed themselves, exposing their interests and desires, while I continued behind a mask that reflected them back.  Everyone enjoys seeing themselves in others because it knocks down walls of isolationism, in favor attachment.

Undergrad Dating

 

“In the Year 2001″ by an illustrator in 1895, via The Appendix
“In the Year 2001″ by an illustrator in 1895, via The Appendix

For my undergrad I attended SUNY @ Purchase, where perfect was the antithesis of high school, evolving to be the artistic and eccentric.  In college perfect was chased by girls and boys, and perfect boys were more likely to chase boys back.  Perfect was still not the quietly humorous one who liked school and read in his dorm.   He was cool though, which afforded me the opportunity to be entertained by a peer as a possible date.  Refreshed by a sudden gust of attention, I set my sights on who was deemed the most desired boy on campus: Daniel.  He wasn’t actually a student, but was the friend of the students on the floor below me, and visited every weekend.  Luckily, the friends I had made on my floor knew the people down stairs through a mutual friend from Long Island; guess New York City isn’t that big of a city. Continue reading “Undergrad Dating”