Unlearning Groups

When I left undergrad to “romantically” be with my first boyfriend, I did it because it was a dramatic and interesting move.  To me it made me as worldly and spontaneous as my college friends.  After that and the rest of my twenties, I un-learned the group mentality.  I wondered what about who I was that was unacceptable.  I separated myself into different baubles, guised with adjective-derived masks to fit in, which denied myself a confidante.  Because I was scared that if I shared my real fears, secrets, and thoughts, with anyone they’d not like me – and that there is no possibility for repair. I imitated others’ expectations, hoping to be included, itself predicated upon adopting various skins that brought me affection and attention.  My not being seen combined created a spiral of neglect bound with being loved.  I had observed my peers and saw what I wasn’t. Growing up, I was bombarded with the norms you’re transgressing, or will come to transgress. Passing and normalizing have great benefits in day-to-day ease of life—what they meant for my spirit was an entirely different issue, of course.  Compliance allowed me to go unseen

I felt punishment was warranted. Over time I learned to express feelings and practice self-compassion, by putting a strong spotlight on the dried and cracking leather hid of my baggage.  I embraced my uniqueness – shown self without a mask.

 

Identity in Separate Baubles [2018.02]

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My high school façade was designed for survival

In high school, I didn’t go to parties because I wasn’t invited.  If kids were doing drugs and drinking it wasn’t with me because no one asked.  Popular was the jocks or musicians because they got all the attention; and paid attention to all the girls, and not to.

My high school façade was designed for survival, leaning heavily on the cartoonish geek persona from middle school.  The comic books that had sheltered me in middle school became the defining trait in high school.  The differences I had from other boys was easily masked by the label “geek.”  I welcomed being considered a geek because it allowed me to avoid being ostracized as a “sissy.”  While this got me socially accepted, it limited the depth of my character.  I allowed peers to dictate my identity and silence my own interests. I strived to fit-in but gained attention because the adjectives that allowed me to nonchalantly shift cliques fixed a spotlight on me, and the impending question about my outsider status.

I knew acceptance wasn’t me being made into a token, but I sabotaged acceptance by defensively rejecting labels.  Instead my rejection came from refusing my own skin, which was rooted in the denial that was needed in high school to survive.

In high school I met Luna, an openly butch lesbian.  We ended up meeting over Erykah Badu, Live, in Freshman English.  I do not know what Luna’s true feelings were towards me, but our friendship was one sided.

Luna seemed embarrassed by me and our friendship.  She aligned herself with me while in school, but when it came to life outside of high school she dissuaded me from participating in the same, and only, local gay youth group.  The handful of times that I asked Luna what happened at the meetings, she told me they talked about what was going on and their problems.  When I followed-up with inquiries to go, Luna told me that I would hate them and that they weren’t filled with my people.  Luna was confident in her identity, her labels – similarly to those in the youth group who had already presented to their parents – gave them the bravery to confront the world that I lacked.

After asking Luna those handful of times to participate, I got the hint that I was not welcomed into that part of her world.  I could not discern what it about myself that kept me from being acceptable for a youth group targeted at my group.  I had made my friendship wholly unconditional and fully.  It was when I discovered the usage of the internet and Gay.com as linkage to fellow young gays, was I able to comprehend why.

The homosexual teenagers I conversed with through the internet, just as the youths in the gay youth group, had an acceptable idea gay youth: Bruce la Bruce models.  Repeatedly from the other teens, who lied that they were 18 as well for access, I was not an acceptable because of comic books.  The geek façade that protected me in the halls of school isolated me from the homosexual community because I didn’t appear to fawn over pop-idols as porn stars.

Since I was 9…

Beginning when I was 9 years old homosexuality entered my peripheral through knowledge of AIDS, gleamed from the deaths of Anthony Perkins and Robert Reed, attaching a dark stigma of death, separation, and sensationalism to homosexuality.

Self-contempt, isolation, and a strong sense that I was untrustworthy accompanied one another until shame became my core identity, and locked in a set of very unhealthy beliefs. I was incapable of trusting my own emotions as a compass for living; I felt shame for being abnormal or wrong, that my failures would bring unnecessary drama.  There was no developed skill to ground myself in the present, and being in the moment and staying observant without judgment of my own emotions.  The parts, believed, that would force support networks away are believed to be shadows of our true place in the world.  I diluted or ignored parts of myself that I thought would alienate me, believing I was a failure.

I made masks for acceptance based on the expectation others had of who I was in relation to them.  I created an untrue place in the world, a false self that wasn’t defective or flawed, amplifying the most acceptable of myself.  I sanded off the more off kilter interests, such as poetry and Southern literature, and less culturally mainstream – comic books, cartoons, and fantasy.  I buried what I did on weekends with

I didn’t want to give a reason to have the spotlight on me.  I lived in fear that my masks would not be viewed survival, but would be duplicitous, bring about rejection from others.  I became paralyzed by the intense feeling that I would be ignored or thrown away.  What didn’t lead to being ignored was compliance to others’ needs. It was easier to serve another than to assert myself.  The very nature of my game necessitated duplicity as I navigated the numerous worlds that I had begun inhabiting, as I tried on various masks and identities.

I tap danced to be seen.

Unfortunately, the dance is all that is seen.

 

The Narcassist Boy [01.2018]

Liar!  That’s the very definition of manipulation.  It dawned on me in that conversation that James thought I was going to keep my life on hold while he kept putting his together.  Just fuck off!

Now you’re being spiteful.

That would require giving a fuck, and I’m fresh out of fucks. He had made his affection ebb and flow until I was no longer able to care that he was completely gone.

He said, That doesn’t make any sense.  I’m not moving in!

I was relieved because if James moved in and if I didn’t thoroughly cater to him it would trigger an explosion of his anger towards life.

James made all his internal struggles my fault – just as Ben had.

James took advantage of my hard work to have a life of luxury – just as Frank had.

James made me bend and compromise into exhaustion – just as Joey had.

Every moment with James had dripped with desperation.  In the time between Joey and James, I had convinced myself that I only had one relationship before throwing the towel in (had one relationship left in me) and retiring to perennial bachelor.  James turned out to be that relationship.  I didn’t want to be alone, to be forgotten, and I had many fantasy-futures.  I had made a promise to give-up, and I really didn’t want to – I am a rom-com fan, like “What’s Your Number?”  I was hell-bent on not being a male-spinster.  I’m sure my desperation didn’t make me easy to live with, but – there is no but.

I would’ve been living for him, continuously biting my tongue, and living in the name of fear of abandonment; pretending to be stunted, but all that brought was being walked over, and misconstrued; I couldn’t keep surviving like that.  I was better off because it took too long to stop the tape of disparages telling me I am cruel, uncaring, and cold from playing in my mind.  I convinced myself that I loved him, but it was only a relationship.  James was every poor choice in one person, and by dating him I managed to begin truly exorcising ghosts of the past.

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Narcissist Boy [2018.01]

Bent Dating Mirrors

In high school, while I explored life through the internet, adults were just as eager to meet as peers.  I exchanged emails and messages more with adults, but their eagerness to meet only reinforced my Jodie Dallas induced greatest fears.  Still, though, I quickly accepted an adult’s invitation to meet.  In adult companionship, I saw a greater possibility of the exciting homosexual adventures, like those in Queer as Folk.  I had wanted big city Sex & the City adventures with Mr. Big, who’d take me to theatre and art openings.  And older men had seemed like the best way to experience that.  What I found instead was sneaking off to the backwoods of Upstate New York and trailer parks, where their own inauthenticity funhouse mirrored my own.  They were adults trapped in adolescence, attempting to stay past their prime by hanging with the freshly prime.  I was an adolescent playing adult, attempting to stay out past bedtime by hanging with those without a bedtime.

In college, I turned, again, to the internet to acquire homosexual dynamics.  I focused my attention away from the campus to familiar older gay males, hoping they’d be more worldly and attractive than when I lived at home. I quickly accepted invitations to meet.  Jodie Dallas’ specter faded from the peripheral of my concept of homosexuality.  The big city experiences that I had expected, from Sex & the City and Tales of the City, seemed like a greater possibility.  Instead of a NYC Queer as Folk, I repeated my youth in reverse, by escaping dorms into Yonkers, White Plains, and white suburbs along the New York and Connecticut border.  These ticky-tacky suburbs reflected like funhouse mirrors my suburban attempts at escape because now I was seeing behind the neighbors’ curtains, and I didn’t like it.  The men that I hung movie and TV inspired fantasies on, whom I went home with, would close their curtains, citing their need for privacy.

As experiences grew my perceptions, I came to see “privacy” as a bent mirror to my rejection of the homosexual label.

Back on the college campus, relationships were fleeting but sex was not. Sexual encounters were often furious and fleeting, held in others’ dorm rooms while their roommates were away, or secluded areas within lecture halls late/early mornings.  Despite my sexual escapades during this time I continued to rebel from any identity label, that I had no history with.  I was unable to break the cycle that had resulted from middle and high school’s habit of isolating in my room.  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.

In post-undergrad and grad-school, I doctored acceptable variations of myself, believing my exposed self would not be good enough.  My authenticity was deferred to others to avoid insult and derision.  Receding behind partners’ goals I built up their hopes, while exploring how to play with the truth, creating narcissistic chaos that ultimately resulted in implosion.

Superficiality

In homosexuality the superficiality of idolized physicality was not me – the queer geek who’s the interests, experiences, and beliefs existed on the peripheral of popular.  I liked dressing in big sweatshirts and sweaters with oversized jeans; everything I wore was about disappearing my differences.  The popular straight boys, who got all the attention, were pop-idols and porn stars who looked like Justin Timberlake in Abercrombie & Fitch.  Not me.

Abandonment became engrained in middle school when everyone began pairing-off to experimenting with relationship dynamics, leaving me feeling alone.  I couldn’t go to local gay youth groups because I wasn’t ready for an identity label, which was rooted in the denial that was needed in high school to survive.  The homosexual teenagers I conversed with through the internet seemed so much braver than myself because they had found and proclaimed their inner authenticity.  Their assured identity, confidence in their labels – which had already been presented to their parents – gave them the bravery to ask to meet immediately.  I was incapable of reading other homosexual teenagers’ eagerness to meet as a shared isolation, and so made excuses as to why that couldn’t happen.

Loneliness Dreams

Life taught me early that existence was being in a state of constant heartbreak.  The gay domesticity templates of Jodie Dallas, Ellen, and early representation demonstrated that life would never consist of a cozy bubble with another; only the longing for one.  Jodie Dallas was perpetually single, and Ellen’s relationship was full of bickering.  These examples of playing-house were a lacking perfect reflection of what I wanted, which was the bittersweet rom-com of How to Marry a Millionaire; 13 Going on 30, What’s Your Number, and Sex & the City.

In the past, I sunk under the weight of pursing others like a puppy only to not be selected.  I frequently dream about my exes and crushes, wherein I omnisciently observed their typical day as they worked, then home to their husband.  If it was an ex, I gave them kids or the home we had dreamt of together.  A crush was bestowed the ideal life, where someone else filled the role that I had hoped to fill.  In my fantasies I make other people happy in their relationships away from me.  Dreaming or awake I have the believe that everyone is happy but me, who is overwhelmed with a feeling that I am incomplete.

Fiction is My Playground

Fiction is the playground where authenticity can be developed.  Reading and writing fiction pushes a participant to go through the world as experienced by another.  Fiction can legitimately present the inner-world of characters, letting outsiders experience the turmoil of daily interactions. Authenticity is rooted in a deep understanding of the world and the place that one holds in it, which fiction safely allows to occur.

Toni Morrison, Armistead Maupin, Carson McCullers, and Caitlin R. Kieran brought readers into their and their characters’ worlds.  Each author presented the inner-life of a marginalized group; Morrison revealed the psychological scars of slavery on African-Americans; Maupin showed the normalcy of LGBTQ+ community; McCullers and Kiernan gave representation to mental illness’ isolating ability.

Fiction explores these identities to form connections to understand an increasingly diverse world.  Stories expose radically different cultures, not Americanized variations, where presupposed rules can’t be applied, and are unable to change the culture. Authors create narratives that demonstrates blanket-solutions can’t be applied to every problem and expected to work.  Instead, fiction demonstrates that solutions must be unique to problem and culture, requiring imagination in examine the setting’s effect on characters and interactions.

Personalized for Authenticity

Authenticity’s exposure is informed by expectations, the measurement ruler that experiences are held against.  Expectations color our how we present our authenticity, often diluting, covering up, or ignoring parts of myself that I would alienate me from those around me – the unique parts of an individual.  Conversations expressing authenticity are collaborative dialogues.  These interactions become cornerstones of authentic identity, informed by cooperative experiences.

Struggling with presenting authenticity is first, contradictorily, dealt with by creating facades that amplify the most acceptable of ourselves.  The parts, believed, that would force support networks away are believed to be shadows of our true place in the world.  Reinforcing social facades requires experiences go un-analyzed, unlived.

On the playground we are taught, as evolutionary survival, that it is important to be like everyone else, to find acceptance into the group dynamic.  From pre-historic to ancient-times, and beyond, avoiding being ostracized meant avoiding death.  This evolutionary hold-over is what pushes queer youth to hide our authenticity from others, keeping our interests, past-times, and loves from friends and families.

I grew up in a suburbia that was a nostalgic Mayberry: students walked to school, left campus to eat lunch in the village, and formed cliques based upon clothing labels; there was a dairy to buy milk fresh from the cow and boutiques that were hobbies for doctor wives.  The school district heavily focused on academic success and rigor, not grit or character; children were taught to be students and not to interact with educators.  We were academically prepared but street smarts were not taught between Great Expectations and chemistry.  The few gay boys that were known easily fit the mainstream suburbia of backyard pools, in ways I never could.  I sabotaged acceptance by defensively rejecting the labels and tokenism they appeared to willingly accept.  I deliberately kept to myself, denying myself a confidante, by refusing anyone I could divulge to because I was scared that if anyone knew my real fears, secrets, and thoughts, they’d not like me.

I retreated into books, making the characters my friends.  I found with Spyder from Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Silk, the characters of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Milkman from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and everyone in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, characters similar to myself – they struggled with authenticity in silence.  The characters modeled authenticity as being politely selfish by connecting through known shared hardships and joys.  Connecting through the simple failed-expectations of personal days deepening relationships with friends and family.  Personalizing shared experiences allowed façades to be dropped, deeper connections are formed, resulting in an increased quality of life.

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.