Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Month: September, 2011

The Man That Got Away

Late August, 2010. Rushing, I changed my shirt and my deodorant in the bathroom at work. After an eight-hour shift, I was meeting up with a guy from an internet dating site. We shall call him Scott. I had recently been broken up with in an email by the man who I ironically nicknamed the Gentleman. I was emotionally vulnerable, but wanted to get back in the game. No matter what I’ve been through with men, no matter how disastrous my heartbreaks, I’ve always been willing to try again.

I met Scott at Pauper’s Pub on Bloor Street. He was adorable, with curly red hair and a boyish smile. We talked about the Muppets, Joan Crawford and Canadian politics. Our first disagreement was about Michael Ignatieff.

“I actually like Ignatieff,” he claimed.

“Isn’t he just the worst example of a pompous, other-worldly academic who…”

“Okay. I lied. I agree with you.” He laughed.

“What a classic Liberal you are!”

It was the best first date of my life, made better when he agree to come back to my place. We cuddled in my bed and then began to kiss. Overjoyed, I blurted out, “I’m so relieved you’re kissing me!”

“Um,” he started. “What are you looking for right now?”

“What?” I asked, moving away from him. “What are you looking for right now?”

“Nothing serious. I’m still getting over my ex.”

It was like the bomb was going off slowly. In denial, I tried to curtail the unpreventable. “Okay. Scott, this is a first date. It’s going very well, and I want to have a second, but we just met.”

“I think I might have to leave it with one night.”

“Oh…”

We lay in silence for some minutes.

“Scott, do you really think you’re going to meet another guy who wants to talk about the Muppets, Joan Crawford and Canadian politics?”

“Probably not…”

“Listen, it’s okay to go slow. I also have an ex who broke my heart. But you take it day by day…”

Then he began to cry.

He slept in the spare bedroom. The next day, he sent me an email which gave the excuse, “I think we both had too much to drink.” I never saw him again.

 

Late August, 2011. I rushed from work to meet Derrick. Having sworn off dating websites, I had met him on facebook when he ‘liked’ a status of mine. (My status updates are kind of a big deal.) I met him at Pauper’s Pub and he was even cuter than I expected. If you had written a list of features Max likes, you would check off every one: big dark eyes, check; scruffy beard, check; a face which would be intimidating in its handsomeness were its owner not so bashful, check! He had an easy going nature and an admirable community-building job to boot.

We talked about ‘Sesame Street’, Liza Minnelli and American politics. He stared intensely and a couple times openly mentioned that he was interested in me. I liked the Max I saw reflected in his eyes.

He offered to walk me home, and half way there (“Okay, Max, you do not live ‘right by’ Ossington Station!”) we both had to pee, which provided a good excuse to get him upstairs.

“I love your room!” he exclaimed, scanning the walls of all my Edward Gorey, Barack Obama and Vogue pictures. I fidgeted around, excusing the clutter, babbling on. I sat beside him on the bed to show him a book and was interrupted by him kissing me. It was nice kissing.

And this time I was determined to keep my mouth shut. Er, what I mean is, I was not going to say anything to provoke a scary “what do you want” conversation. We made out for ten minutes and he murmured my name softly. No one had ever done that before.

“Max,” he said, looking down on me with a smile, “Have I told you about the difficulty in dating me.”

“What?”

“Oh…”

“What is it!” I demanded, sitting straight up.

“I don’t do monogamy.”

Ba-boom.

“Okay…”

“I just can’t close myself to experiences with anybody right now.”

“Right now…?”

“Or ever, I guess. Although I think I will find a special person to share my life with, I always want to be free to explore others sexually.”

“I see.”

“Are you all right?”

“Why is there always another shoe?” I asked the universe more than him.

“You’re not all right.”

One year after I met Scott, another ‘perfect’ man and I lay in silence. I could have thrown a hissy fit and kicked him out of my house. But what would I gain from that? I didn’t want a repeat of last summer. I didn’t want to lose him before getting to know him. How many guys out there want to discuss ‘Sesame Street’, Liza Minnelli and American politics?

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come,” Derrick said.

“Can you do me a favour?” I asked. “All my dating life people have made decisions without me. Can we just hold out on figuring this out?”

“Yes,” he answered. I kissed him. “I’m so glad you’re kissing me,” he said.

“I have one more question: do you think we might have something really special.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay, that’s all you need to say right now.”

It was dawn before we fell asleep.

The next day brought no more clarity. He rode with me on the subway as I went downtown for Jack Layton’s memorial. I told him I was going to my cottage for a week and a half.

“So I guess, if I’m lucky, I’ll see you in a week and a half…?”

He kissed me goodbye at the platform.

The getaway to Lake Simcoe was well timed: I didn’t take my lap top; I watched Indiana Jones movies and read P.G. Wodehouse and P.D. James (who I kind of thought were the same person until I bought paperbacks by both); I thought things over.

During day light, laying in the hammock or going for muddy walks, I’d think, ‘It’s not a big deal. Normally, You wouldn’t ask for exclusivity after a first date. He admitted you have something special and maybe he’ll adapt. He’s the best guy you’ve met in a really long time.’

At night, though, the demons of doubt would come: ‘Max, are you nuts? This guy was willing to jeopardize it on your first date? Non-monogamy is that important to him! What do you think is going to happen? He’s going to change for you, like the end of a romantic comedy? End it with him on facebook tomorrow!’

I should add that I support people’s right to have whatever kind of relationship they chose. The queer community has always pioneered different ways of loving and I admire that…in theory. But polyamory is not for me. I find it emotionally icky.

A drama-free open relationship, like visible abdominal muscles, is a myth of the gay community.

So I was left with a complex Catch 22. Start the conversation soon but risk ending it and always wondering what could have been, or give it time and wait for Derrick to fall in love so that he’d be open to compromise, but risk getting even more hurt.

I succumbed and borrowed my Mom’s laptop and snuck over to our neighbours’ log cabin to use their internet.

I had a message from Derrick: “Is it weird that I already miss you?”

“No weirder than me using my Mom’s laptop and our neighbours’ internet connection to check and see if you’d written me,” I typed.

 

Our second date went well. We rented ‘Burlesque’ and drank a lot of red wine. We managed to not bring up the pink elephant and, more surprising, I didn’t worry about it.

On our third date, I wasn’t so lucky. We were at an art event in Parkdale and Derrick started telling a supposedly funny story about going to “one of” his lover’s parties, an anniversary for him and his partner. Derrick, unknowing of whether the partner understood how close they were, got up to the open mic and told embarrassing stories about the lover. Afterwards, the partner gave him a hug of recognition.

Beyond becoming instantly jealous (Was this a current lover?) I asked myself if I actually wanted to be with someone who was so comfortable being the other man. I want to be part of a committed partnership, but not one in which our younger lovers come to our anniversary parties. With the seed planted in my mind, for the rest of the evening when he mentioned a boyfriend I couldn’t avoid thinking ‘Past or present?’

The next morning, I was so wracked with unease I almost made myself sick from worrying. Oblivious, he cuddled me.

Derrick and I didn’t talk for a week, but he continued to comment on everything I put on facebook. Perhaps I was postponing the conversation (which, despite my best efforts, I still thought of as an ultimatum) because I was hoping something would change.

One night in bed he had said to me, “Do you know how hard it is to meet nice, cute guys who are good conversationalists and good kissers?”

“Yes, I do.”

He surprised me by showing up at the Word on the Street festival. I was tired from being there all day at the WORN table and a little ill from too many sweet potato fries. My heart sunk when I realized I’d have to have the talk with him then.

“You look really hot today,” he said. My heart entered my stomach.

We went for a walk on the UofT campus. Although I could barely make eye contact with him, once I started, everything I had been worried about spilled out.

“I like you more than I’ve liked a guy in a long time. You’re incredible. I probably should have brought this up earlier, but I didn’t want to lose you before we had a chance to get to know each other. You were honest with me about monogamy on our first date, but I also let you know how I felt about your position. If I wasn’t more clear, it’s only because I liked you so much. If you had treated me less romantically, like a casual friend with benefits, maybe I wouldn’t be feeling this way. But I can’t fall in love with someone who wants to sleep with other people.”

We sat down on a grassy knoll in Philosopher’s Walk.

“Derrick, don’t make me ask the question you know I need to ask.”

“I like you a lot,” he finally sighed. “And I don’t treat anybody else the way I treat you. You are amazing and I think we have something special. But I can’t promise anybody monogamy.”

“Can’t promise monogamy?”

“You’re right, that’s bad wording. I don’t want monogamy.”

I told him the joke that had been brewing in my head for three weeks: “I can make you this deal: we can date other people after we break up.” He smiled weakly. I said, “Can I ask why?”

“I want to experience my friends and people I may meet in a lot of different ways, including sexually. I told you, I can’t close myself to good experiences.”

“Thing is, Derrick, you’re closing yourself to me right now. What about when you meet that special someone, you still want to be open?”

“Yeah. It’s something I’m always going to want.”

“Well,” I said. “I think that’s selfish. Being with someone, loving someone, sometimes means giving up stuff which would hurt them.”

He didn’t respond.

“Hasn’t this happen to you before?”

“Not really. I’ve had boyfriends, it’s just always ended over something else.”

“You’ve been lucky.”

“Yeah, I’ve been told that,” he said.

“This sucks,” I said.

“Can we at least be friends?”

I shook my head. “I don’t stay friends with exes. Most of my exes have hurt me too much.”

“You’re breaking up with me, Max.” I needed to hear the words come out of his mouth to actually believe it. “I’m going to really miss you. It makes me sad.”

“It makes me sad too.”

We got up and walked to the subway, mostly in silence. “Any extra time I can spend with you,” he said, wistfully. He stopped to pick up some smooth chestnuts and I almost started crying when he tried to give me one.

“Derrick, please, no…”

Outside the subway station he asked if he could invite me to his birthday party in December.

“No. I’m always going to wish I was your boyfriend.”

“Are you even going to delete me off facebook?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to go.” We hugged. It was tight and lengthy. “Listen, this sounds weird,” I whispered in his ear. “But I sort of love you.”

“Not weird at all,” he said, tears coming to his eyes.

“Please don’t message me. I’ll email you if I want to.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

I walked all the way home.

 

Postscript: That first evening, I grew angry that he hadn’t budged in his position. He didn’t waver about the non-monogamy in any way, wasn’t even tempted to try to stay with me. But soon I realized that this also showed that I did the right thing. We would have fought about it eventually and the break up would have been even harder.

I also realized that I was just as stubborn as him.

But the difference is that I’ve been a push over with guys in the past. The Max of four years ago might have stayed with him longer, or changed his mind mid-break up. The silver lining of this whole mini-romance is seeing plainly that I know who I am and can put myself first. Offered a relationship with a beautiful and wonderful guy, but one who would hurt me, I chose to be single.

And the freedom of choice is a wonderful thing.

Advertisements

Dancing With Myself

The stereotype that gay men are good dancers, along with the idea we’re better dressers, can be alleviated after one night at a gay bar. What gay men are good at is dancing by themselves, swaying and gyrating to get the attention of other guys (that is the purpose of gay fashions as well).

Although I am not a particularly un-awkward person, I can do this kind of dancing adequately, if not spectacularly. My brother and I both have a pretty good sense of rhythm, inherited from we know not where. But I still met the invitation from my co-worker Rain to be her partner for a ‘blues dancing’ workshop with hesitation.

Rain is the coffee roaster at my café. She is knowledgeable about the different beans and coffee-growing regions and can answer inane questions (“Which coffee is the best?”) with a level of professionalism I sometimes fail at. She also pasts Captain Picard stickers by her work station and her uniform’s white shirts and black pants just barely conceal her tattoos.

She wanted to do more fun things in the city, found the ‘blues dancing’ event online and wanted someone to dance with. Wanting to say ‘Yes’ to life, I eventually agreed to go. A gay guy and straight girl going to dancing lessons together seemed like a cute concept from a late 1990’s romantic comedy.

So one evening I ventured east past Dundas Square to a neighbourhood which wouldn’t seem unusual on a CTV crime drama. The dance studio, which was up a flight of stairs, looked exactly how you’d expect a dance studio to look, with large windows on two sides and beautiful hard wood floors. As is my habit, I came twenty minutes early and shyly padded around in my socks watching the others arrived. I was very relieved when Rain showed up.

As we gathered in a circle, I noted that the 15 or so assembled dancers were a good mix of ages and ethnicities. The instructors stood in the middle and introduced allegedly simple steps. ‘Blues dancing’ it turned out was like swing dancing, but slower and sexier. And a lot of it relied on the male leading his female partner.

This was my first problem.

Because there were more men than women present (question mark, exclamation mark) we were told to stand in two circles, males on the outside, females on the inside, and rotate every three minutes. This meant that, when we were trying to learn the moves, we were essentially starting from scratch with a different person every 180 seconds.

‘I wanted to dance with Rain!’ I thought petulantly. ‘That’s what I signed up for.’

Instead, I had a different female partner every couple of minutes, and where I placed my hand on their sides never seemed to be the exact right spot. Whether they were experienced dancers (in which they would help me out, with varying levels of patience) or newbies like myself, all the women expected me to lead.

“Sorry,” I would fluster, trying to brush off my clumsiness with self-effacing charm. “I don’t really know what I’m doing…”

“Well, it’s up to you. You’re leading…” some of the women would say, staring blankly at me.

“Listen,” I felt like snapping back, “I’m gay. I opted out of your heteronormative dancing binaries a long time ago!”

A little bit of history: because it was illegal for men to dance with each other, gay men in the 1950’s and 1960’s developed a form of dancing which upended the couple-based one which had dominated from Jane Austen line-dancing to the waltz to swing. (In some places, it was even illegal for men to go onto the dance floor until at least one woman was on it, so sometimes a brave, lone woman would dance with a gay guy so all the other men could start. I salute these proto-fag hags.)

What’s interesting is that, as lesbians and gays gained wider social acceptance, we didn’t dance more like straight people. Instead, it went the other way around, as straight people danced more and more like us.

A number of factors killed couples dancing, like the change in rock over the 1960’s and the popularity of disco in the 1970’s. But even after the swing revival of recent years, at any given club you’ll see people, particularly women, dancing with themselves or in little circles with their friends.

The days when the proverbial wallflower sat on the sidelines, her wilting corsage reflecting her waning hope, waiting for a man to ask her to dance are long gone. Good riddance.

After what felt like forever, I was reunited with Rain.

“How’s it going?” she asked.

“I don’t know what I’m doing!” I whined. “Just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I know how to lead. I wanted to dance with you. ”

“Well, now’s our chance.”

“Will you lead?” I asked.

“I would love to,” she answered.

Seasons Change, So Do Cities

 

The last episode of ‘Sex and the City’s fourth season, titled ‘I Heart NY’, was filmed in August 2001 but not aired until the next spring. Viewers were shocked at the prescience of the last few minutes, in which Carrie feels nostalgic and a bit melancholy because Mr. Big has moved to California. Completely by accident, the show’s creators produced a season finale that reflected some of the feelings of 9/11 without having anything to do with 9/11. I have often re-watched it during times when I felt like my life was about to start a new chapter.

“After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it’s comforting to know, the ones you love are always in your heart and if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.” 

My 9/11 Thoughts

It has been ten years since my grade 11 science teacher came into our class room and announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Details were vague, but they were clear by second period: there had been two planes, the towers were down and it was not an accident. My Modern Western Civilization teacher pulled in a TV and turned it on so we could watch the news. His simple excuse: “This is history.”

I had never before witnessed an event which dominated every area of the media. Magazines naturally were the first reflections of the new environment. The changing colours of autumn that year would not be red, yellow and orange but red, white and blue. ‘Entertainment Weekly’ arrived with an American flag on the cover and the query “What lies ahead”.

The world appeared momentarily united, but this was an illusion, as was George W. Bush’s sky-high approval ratings. ‘Vanity Fair’, no friend of the Republican Party, profiled Bush, Dick, Condi and company with all the patriotic heroism they could muster.

‘Vogue’ featured the Star Spangled Banner and Britney Spears. Inside, the editors had pushed up a photoshoot of spring’s romantic white dresses by American designers set against the New York City skyline. Fashion in 2001 had, as James Wolcott put it, become utterly bored with itself and its dominatrix-Madonna-1980’s retreads. Reacting to the changed zeitgeist with remarkable speed, fashion editors, designers and stylists pulled a giant U-turn: 2001’s black spiked boots would be replaced by 2002’s soft peasant blouse.

Movies, on the other hand, responded to the shifting culture with all the swiftness of a lumbering brontosaurus. Then Hollywood rushed out two different 9/11 movies, neither of which anybody saw or liked. Perhaps you need more distance from an event to memorialize it with the ‘Gone with the Wind’-‘Titanic’-‘Pearl Harbor’ treatment. The wars started as a result of the terrorist attacks are still on-going, as is the threat of violent extremists. As the clichéd joke would have it, the 9/11 films had come ‘too soon’.

The only reflection of this anxious decade I see reflected in cinema are the popularity of super hero movies (we un-ironically yearn for saviors in tights) but I suspect their abundance has more to do with CGI advancements and movie studios eager for franchises than the shakiness of the collective psyche.

I felt a personal loyalty to New York City. I had visited only twice, but it was the first place I arrived in feeling like I had been there before. From Big Bird to Carrie Bradshaw, my life had been filled with Manhattan-dwellers and Brown Stone steps.

When I wore a ‘I Heart New York’ button on the first anniversary, I remember a girl at school rolling her eyes: “Oh, that’s just Americans exaggerating again,” was the jist of what she said. A shocking example of warped political priorities.

We all know what happened next. Bush missed his opportunity to capture Osama bin Laden and instead spent billions of dollars invading a country which had nothing to do with the attacks. In doing so, he frittered away both his popularity and international goodwill, and, by cutting taxes at the same time, began the debt crisis which he deposited on his successor.

Ironically, it was Barack Obama, the one suspected of being a closeted Muslim and Manchurian candidate by hysterical Republican conspirists, who made a priority of finally capturing the al-Qaeda leader. But it will be the Bush recession which will plague his re-election bid next year.

And now it’s been ten years and what have we learned? Sometimes it seems like not very much. We’ve learned to be cautious about political leaders who will use national tragedies to ram through their agendas. We’ve learned that violent extremists can crop up anywhere (the ‘Toronto 18’) and can come from any religious or cultural background (Norway’s Anders Breivik). We’ve learned that combating religious fanaticism while respecting spiritual freedom is a very tricky balance to strike, yet one we must continue to strive for.

I realize this has been a messy, unfocused post. Perhaps on the 20th anniversary my thoughts will be a little more ordered.