Family anxiety

My sister and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest and are back here for a month. We’re planning to go back over to my hometown to see them today while they visit my mom and dad for a couple days. I’m really looking forward to seeing them, but I’m also extremely apprehensive.

Ever since my dad retired, he has slipped farther and farther into the far reaches of the Internet. He is not a QAnon person (thank God) but he has kind of replaced socializing with people with watching fringe YouTube videos and participating in political message boards. He posts daily posts to Facebook that I think he posts because he likes trying to teach people things (he’s a former teacher) but really, I think he’s addicted to the attention they provide. I’ve watched his political views get more and more extreme and he just can’t resist talking about them. My sister and her husband disagree with him on a lot of counts (BLM and women’s issues, just to name a couple.) They also don’t shy away from engaging him, and I’m frankly nervous that today is going to be a disaster.

I’ve struggled with how to reconcile the fact that I want to continue to have a relationship with my dad and how unacceptable I find his behavior. I think that I’ve found myself in a very delicate spot where I don’t talk about it with him, and when he tries to engage me, I just gently steer the topic of conversation to something else. I think so much of it stems from the fact that he has no other friends other than my mom and his older brother who is cut from the same cloth as him.. He has basically isolated himself from anything that would challenge his opinions on things. If one of us challenges him, he gets very angry and claims that he’s done the research and we haven’t so we don’t know anything. It all makes me so uncomfortable that sometimes I feel like the less I talk to him, the better. But the flip side to this is that he is my dad and he’s 75 and won’t be around forever and when it comes right down to it, I do want a relationship with him. And it’s hard because I really find his personality hard to take.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s early dementia or other mental health issues, but I don’t really think so. I think it’s just him being stubborn, trying to control a world that is getting ready to discard him and that scares him. I would be 1000% more down to discuss that than these red herring political issues that he has decided to champion. Every time we get together it’s a crap shoot as to whether it’s going to go well or not and it didn’t used to be that way. My parents used to be the non-problematic side of the family. No longer. I guess it was a good run, but all good things come to an end.

When I came out to my parents in December, it was something I never thought I would do, and as I watched my dad’s whacked out political view solidify, I became even more sure that I would definitely not tell them. But my spouse’s coming out as non-binary pushed me to do so and I will never forget how much they made me feel accepted in that phone call. And then I posted a thing to Facebook and I remember my dad saying to me “you could have given me a week to get used to it!” and that’s the thing that I remember the most now. I feel now like my family is this weird thing that they don’t know what to do with and wish I had just kept my mouth shut. Maybe that’s the thing that I’m least comfortable with – the fact that I’m gay and my spouse is non-binary has really stripped the “normal, happy couple” veneer off of our marriage and I am still reeling from that a little bit. Maybe I was hiding behind that a little bit and now there’s nowhere to hide? Probably. And that’s the part that I don’t think my parents, especially my dad, know how to handle.

So we’ll see how today goes, but frankly I’m already exhausted and we don’t leave for another hour and a half. I’m just going to focus on the fact that this is the first time in probably 2 years that I’ll get to see my sister and try to hang on to that.

Husband material

Yesterday I was really in a rough spot. I had a tweet go semi-viral that netted me a bunch of new followers on Twitter. Because I am me, I checked each one of the new followers out to see if I wanted to follow them back. A lot of them, I did. My spouse always says I’m a snoop, but I honestly don’t look at it that way. Rather, I frame it as being interested in people, which I realize is kind of splitting hairs. Anyway, after looking at people’s Twitters and Instagrams, I noticed that a lot of them were gay (naturally, it’s the company I keep on Twitter) and many of them were married. The more I looked at the pictures of them with their boyfriends/husbands, the more anxious I got.

And that’s because I think, deep down, that’s what I want as well.

Now, I realize that I’m well past my sell-by date and really, coming out for me was so long delayed that I put off a lot of my “normal” development as a gay man. Sometimes I still have trouble referring to myself as a gay man. I mean, I know that I am, have known it for a very long time, but culture and self-imposed expectations resulted in me keeping it buried for so long that I thought it was dead. And back when I was in my early 20s, when I flirted with coming out, I didn’t see a path forward. There are times I’m tempted to call my early 20s self a coward, but I did that one day in therapy a couple weeks ago and my therapist really called me on the carpet. Was I scared? Overwhelmed? Couldn’t see a path? Yes, to all of those things, but a coward? Never.

But back to husbands, I sometimes really think I want that. And I won’t apologize for that. The heart wants what it wants. The thing is, to do that, I have to sacrifice the relationship that I am in, which I don’t want to do either. I see guys together with cute husbands and boyfriends and it just makes me so happy for them, and sad for me because I’m not sure I’ll ever get to experience that. And there are lots of reasons that I’m not going to go into here that ending my marriage is just not an option, not the least of which is that I still love them dearly and want to be there for them as we get older. It’s hard to just call it quits after 26 years together, even if you really crave the company of a man. As usual, Scumbag Brain wins. I know what my problems are but I am too afraid and overwhelmed to make any changes.

Yesterday, I tweeted about this a bit and decided that it made me a bad person – at the very least, a bad husband. How could I feel this way yet remain committed to my spouse? I never expected this when I came out to “honor my whole self.” I guess it was inevitable when you think about it. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle and it’s going to take on a life of its own. I really got down on myself until my Twitter followers reminded me, basically in a unified voice, that I am worthy of compassion. That these thoughts are normal. and to be expected. That they truly don’t reflect my feelings for my spouse. And most of all, that I deserve happiness.

That’s something I struggle with. Do I deserve happiness after what I have kept hidden for so long? One of my most frequent phrases is “well, I’m happy enough.” And now that I think about it, I deserve to be so much happier than “happy enough.” I don’t really know what that looks like, and my life has some unique challenges in trying to figure that out, but I think I can do it. It takes honest communication, some sacrifices on both our parts, understanding and patience, but most of all, compassion, both for each other and for ourselves. We are not the same people we were when we got together in the 90s and the world sure as heck isn’t the same.

Like I said, I don’t know what the answer is or what the future looks like, but I’m going to try to treat myself a little better and put my own needs first sometimes, even though I’m not sure I’ll ever stop feeling like I’m just a selfish bastard for doing that. I guess that’s why I’m in therapy.

Ever since the day that you put my heart in motion

Amy Grant – Heart in Motion: True love is frozen in time. (Even if the  production's quite dated.) | murlough23

It was brought to my attention that yesterday was the 30th birthday of the Amy Grant album Heart in Motion. As a result, I’ve found myself thinking about it more in the last 24 hours than I have in the last 5 years. When it was released in 1991, I was already an Amy Grant fan. I had been exposed to her music in the 8th grade at a confirmation camp (it was honestly the only good thing that came out of that experience) when they had us listen to the Unguarded album. Even then, Grant was flirting with crossover success, with “Find A Way” landing on the pop charts. But Heart In Motion is where she really exploded on to the pop charts in spectacular fashion. “Baby Baby” hit number one and the album spawned 4 more Top 40 hits. To this day, it remains her best selling album and the best selling Christian album of all time.

I’ve listened to the album a few times since I realized it was turning 30 and I was surprised to find that it really holds up. Sure, the cheesy 90s production is a little dated, but it’s solid pop music. I’m certainly glad that she recorded “Baby Baby.” It’s a fun little song that endears itself to me almost entirely due to the fact that it has not just one but TWO key changes. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks.  It is eminently singable and in the end, completely inoffensive. I had a friend who lived on the same dorm floor as me the spring that album came out who borrowed the CD from me almost the instant I got it. I never felt like Amy Grant really fit her personality either, but hey, you just never know about people.  The album really was chock full of radio-friendly singles – “Every Heartbeat” being the very obvious follow up to “Baby Baby.”  It also contained the line “you’re not asking for the world/I’m not asking for perfection” which one of my friends at the time (who, oddly enough, became a VERY born again Christian) changed to “I’m not asking for your erection.”  My sister had a very serious love/hate relationship with the singles from this album, taking great issue with the last one, “I Will Remember You”, although they were all played well into the ground by the local radio station so I think that fact, in the end, was what soured her on the whole thing.

At that time in my life, I definitely identified as Christian. I was going to church every Sunday since I played the organ for various Lutheran churches in the area. But even then, I recognized that this album was not in the same vein as Grant’s more explicitly religious albums. When I was reading about it the other day and saw the best-selling Christian album statistic, I thought “is this even a Christian album?” I mean, of course it is in the respect that it is about universal themes of love and kindness, but Jesus only makes an appearance by name in the last song, “Hope Set High” and frankly, it seems like a little bit of an afterthought compared to the pop goodness of “Baby Baby”, “Every Heartbeat”, and “You’re Not Alone.” I do remember grumblings back then that Grant had abandoned her Christian values and sold out by recording a secular pop album. But that was nothing compared to the beating she would take among her most devoted fans when she divorced her husband and subsequently married Vince Gill.

I’ve always wondered what Grant thinks of the LGBT section of her fan base. Having recorded secular pop music, she certainly caught the attention of other young gay boys like me that were trying to reconcile their faith in God and the teachings that our parents told us must be so with the realization that there was something different about us. Mostly, I think she skirts around the topic when asked about it, but a part of me hopes that she is supportive, even if it is only quietly. I’m past the point in my life of quiet support for the community in which I am now a part, but I also respect other people’s journey.

For my money, I still love Unguarded the most – never have religion and pop music blended so effortlessly.  Even now, as someone not particularly religious, I can still enjoy the album.  But “Baby Baby” is just too darn cute to ignore.

Late night shenanigans

I’m working overnights the next two nights so I’m trying to stay up as late as I can so that I can sleep during the day tomorrow. I know that I’ll probably give in around 2AM and crawl into bed, but I have to try. The first overnight is always one fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, no matter how much you sleep. To add insult to injury, I have a haircut at 4:30pm tomorrow, which is prime sleeping time. These overnights were unexpected and I already had my haircut scheduled. However, I was not about to reschedule my haircut, so I will sacrifice much needed sleep in the name of vanity. Truth be told, I’m happy to be doing it because it’ll get my “turn” of working overnight shift out of the way.

So I’m up late listening to Music League playlists and thinking about the day. It wasn’t as productive as I wanted it to be, but that’s always how it seems to work on my days off. I always have big plans and then I can’t be bothered to so much as move. I did have therapy and then promptly went and took a nap because therapy usually wrecks me. It was particularly tough today as we talked a lot about my coming out and coming to terms with being a gay man. A gay man. I still have troubles saying that. How can I be a gay man and be married to a woman? Or, in my case, a non-binary person. Am I really and truly living authentically as a gay man if I’m still married? As with most things, the answer is … complicated.

The bigger thing I am hung up on today is the idea of what is real and what is fake about my life. I’m rereading The Velvet Rage for an online book group that I’m taking part in and while I’m enjoying the camaraderie and new friendships that are coming from that, the book is hitting a lot harder on my second go-round. The thing that I’m realizing is that pretty much my entire pre-coming out life was manufactured. It was a mask that I wore to protect myself against the effects of the toxic shame that I carried with me from basically the age of 10 or 11, when I first started to figure out that I was different from other boys. As I’ve said before, finding those Playgirl magazines in the basement of our house was probably what triggered my sexual awakening, although I know that I was drawn to men’s bodies even before then, if you can believe it. But even then, I knew that wasn’t something that I could tell anyone. I pushed it down and tried to suffocate it, in the process, suffocating me.

So I got good at being a people pleaser to distract from the fact that I was so flawed as to be unlovable. I did all the right things. I got good grades in school, I excelled at music. I was an easy teenager in that I didn’t get in trouble or go out and party all night or drink or do drugs – but never fear, I made up for it in other areas. I really should have been in therapy in high school, but my parents did the best job they knew how to do and nobody but really troubled people went to therapy in the late 80s. Through college, I continued in this same vein. I never dated, always saying I was concentrating on school. I vividly remember my dad talking to me on a break from school, worried that I wasn’t dating anyone, saying people were “pairing up” and I’d get left behind. He meant well, I’m sure, but I wanted to tell him, don’t worry about it, I’m gay. I never did, obviously.

I met a girl and fell in love – I really did, I’m not making that part up. We were and are a good match. We got married in a church as you do – I didn’t know that you could get married anywhere you wanted. I got too much education and then got a job in my chosen field. We bought a house, had a daughter. When I outgrew that first job, I took a job with more challenges and responsibility. Everyone said I was so successful, and I put forth the image of being happy. But deep down inside, I was so depressed and anxious that I could hardly handle it. I kept waiting to be happy, figuring something would happen someday that would finally make me happy. It never happened. Oh, sure, I’d have times where I was happy, but they were always bookended by depression and anxiety. I tried to change myself and that went about as well as you’d expect. Ultimately, I accepted that I was just going to feel depressed and anxious for the rest of my life.

Then I watched a movie about a teen coming out of the closet and I knew what I had to do. I had to come out, or at least come to terms with the fact that yes, I was a gay man. Like it or not, that’s who I am. And here we are almost 3 years later. But today I’m struggling with trying to figure out if any of that – that pre-coming out me – was actually real. Has my whole life been a sham up to this point? Did my deliberate misleading of everyone in my world ultimately result in a wasted 40 years? Before therapy today, I was convinced it did. I was nothing but a liar and everything about my life was completely wasted. But after therapy, I was not so sure.

Basically, I did what I had to to keep the shame of being gay away from me. The shame of being so utterly broken and flawed resulted in me fabricating the life that I thought I should have. But even though I did that, I have learned a lot from my life so far – and I have a lot to show for it.. To write it off as a massive fraud is short sighted and also, just blatantly false.

I’m rambling a bit now so I probably should wrap it up. Someday I will feel comfortable referring to myself as a gay man. I think I need to do it more often so that I get used to hearing it. I was doing pretty well with identifying as gay until the last couple weeks when I felt like I was a gay man in theory only. But I’m still gay. And I’m pretty fantastic too.

MegaMadonna Playlist

There’s been a lot going on in my life lately, both on the outside and on the inside. I thought I might write about it, but in the end, I decided I didn’t want to do that tonight as I’ve dwelt in it long enough as it is today. I’m positively marinating in it today! So instead, I decided to write about something I love, and what better than Madonna’s music?

A week or so ago, my friend Steve challenged me to pick 5 songs from each of Madonna’s studio albums (14 of them plus I’m Breathless) as well as 10 non-album tracks to make an 85 song playlist of what I consider her best work. It was much harder than I expected it to be. The first few albums weren’t hard, but when I got to Like A Prayer, I really had to start leaving out songs that I wish I could have kept. All in all, there were many real Sophie’s choices made but I managed to complete the task.

I love my playlists, as evidenced by the monthly playlists that I’ve made ever month since the pandemic began. Making this one was different though. It was like watching my life flash in front of my eyes. That’s how much Madonna and her music have been woven into my life story. I would say that my uber fandom should have been the first sign that I was gay, but I think my Olivia Newton-John fandom was probably the actual first sign! So many of the stories in my life have Madonna’s music in the background, and if it’s not in the background, it’s in the forefront. After nearly 40 years of being a fan (it started in 1985) and seeing her live 8 different times in 5 different cities across the country, listening to her music is like visiting an old, comfortable friend, someone you know will make you feel good. That’s what her music does for me. Even though she’s kind of cracking up a bit in the autumn of her career, I will be a fan till I shuffle off this mortal coil, because she’s successfully woven herself into my DNA.

I suppose that even with all the changes in my life lately – coming out, embracing who I really am being first and foremost – the one constant in my life is Madonna. I often wonder how many people hear her music and think of me reflexively. I suppose that’s a little selfish and narcissistic, but I bet it’s true!

Here’s my Spotify playlist of what I called my MegaMadonna Playlist. The soundtrack to my life.

Feeling seen

Last January, we made the final payments on all of the phones in our house. It was so nice to do that because it lowered our bill substantially and also, it was doubly nice to not have to run out and get a new phone right away because they were failing or broken or whatever after 2 years of use and abuse. But yesterday, after looking at deals on trade ins for my wife and daughters iPhone 8 Pluses and my iPhone X, Verizon kind of had a deal that that I couldn’t refuse. So we upgraded. The girls get their phones on Tuesday. I ordered the 12 Pro which is back ordered so I don’t get mine until December 16th or so. No big deal – as I said, my phone functions just fine and truth be told, if they hadn’t given me such a sweet deal, I probably wouldn’t have upgraded.

My wife was ordering phone cases for herself and my daughter this morning when she had an “oh shit” moment. As it turns out, she had bought me a new iPhone case for Christmas. Only trouble is, it’s for the iPhone X and not the 12 Pro. So I got it today instead of waiting for Christmas, at which point my new phone should be here and the case would not be all that useful.

Here’s the case she got for me.

It is the Pride Flag Plaid phone case from Look Human. And I just love it. It’s gay, but subtly so. And I have never been so glad that my new phone is on backorder because otherwise I wouldn’t get to use this at all. I looked to see if I could get the same thing for my new phone and the answer appears to be “not yet” as they stopped at the 11 Pro Max. I have no doubt they will add cases for the 12 series – I just need to be patient. Because you can bet your last dollar that I will be getting this case for my new phone the minute I can.

The thing about this particular gift that’s touched me so much is that, by giving me this, I feel particularly seen by my wife, who I frequently don’t think sees me for who I really am – a gay man. I know it has to be hard for her to have ended up married to a gay man, but it’s who I am, like it or not. She sometimes clings to a convenient fiction that I’m bisexual, but no, really, I’m gay. I have no idea what that means for my future, but this is my present and I’m just trying to be simultaneously brave and smart. I had a therapist tell me once that one of the keys to happiness is not getting attached to results. I’m trying really hard to follow that advice too.

So whether she knew it or not, she validated me in a way that is so important to me. My gayness is something we don’t really talk about because I do think it makes her uncomfortable, and with the double whammy of the pandemic and the state of the country, I figure there’s enough stress in our lives without me saying “hey, I really need to talk about this.” I guess that’s what my therapist is for.

For now, I’ll just enjoy what I have, which is a rocking new phone case and a new sense of confidence in who I am.

Revisiting Mix CDs: Dan’s Sophomore Year Journals

I’m trying to get myself to write more, and not necessarily about the gay all the time. And since music is one of my most favorite things in the world, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and look back on some of the mix CDs I so diligently made in the 2000s. What could go wrong, right?

I’ve been in kind of an introspective mood the last week or so, I thought I’d pull one out that I made based on a time in my life when I was probably a little too introspective – my sophomore year of high school.  High school is a time of high drama for so many people.  If only we could realize at that time that it’s really not all that high nor all that dramatic.  I’m fond of saying that teenage angst is most appropriately measured in angstroms because that unit of measure applies quite well to how much it ultimately matters in our life.  Whatever – we all did it to some degree.  Some of us were just better at it than others.

During my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher required each student to a keep journal.  I don’t remember how this applied to the class, but I remember that you had to have so many pages per week.  You could turn it in to be read by her or you could just have her count the pages.  I think that what it really was was her attempt to get us writing, no matter what the result.  I didn’t need any encouragement writing.  At first, I stuck to safe topics and turned in my journal dutifully to be read and commented on.  Somewhere about mid-year, my focus changed.  I started using the journal as an outlet for my own high school drama and I started just letting her count pages.  There wasn’t a sharp demarcation between the fun and frivolous and the turn to the serious, and even when I did start writing about more personal things, I still wrote down song lyrics and random observations.  The margins are full of doodles and the text, while cringeworthy at times, is very 15 year-old introvert trying to find his way around in a world that frequently didn’t make sense to him.

I remember setting out to make this mix – probably about 12 years ago now.  I had already made a 2-CD set of the popular hits from each year of high school, but my sophomore year one was woefully incomplete because in order to really represent the music I was listening to, it had to have a lot of older stuff that I had discovered – most notably Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.  They soundtracked a good portion of that school year, and 1987-88 was when I fell under the spell of the Welsh Witch.  There are also some other oddballs on here – when you look at the cover, you’ll wonder what the hell?  But when I put it together, I looked through the journals and picked songs that I had either referenced, wrote the lyrics down to, or otherwise influenced me pretty significantly.  I’ll try to explain these as best I can.

I’m not going to explain the significance of every song on this mix – to do so would require multiple posts and more time than I have at my disposal.  A couple things I will say right off the bat – you’ll notice that it’s not all pop and that (as I alluded to before) not all the music is from that time period.  It’s also important to know the context of my life at that point.  As a 10th grader and a 15 year old, I had my share of the aforementioned drama. I frequently felt lost and depressed because I didn’t fit in with the normal high school cliques.  Although I had friends, there was no doubt that I was not one of the popular kids.  You can tell by the amount of song lyrics and other ridiculous shit that’s scrawled all over the cover of the journal.  I tended toward songs that were idealistic to help counter some of my negative feelings and while undeniably pop, the music was usually highly dramatic and full of double meanings. Despite feeling isolated and lonely during that time, I became friends with a guy a couple years older than me who I really count as being the first guy friend with whom I could talk openly and freely.  There was no fear of judgment between us.  The friendship was very formative for me and influenced me in many ways.  It really helped shape me into the man I am today. Of course, I was in love with him. Little gay Dan had fallen head over heels for him even though he had a girlfriend and was never going to reciprocate those feelings.  Although we’ve fallen out of touch, (he unfriended me on Facebook for reasons I will never understand) I will always be grateful for his friendship at that time in my life because, as I said, it was an early influence that has helped turn me into the Dan you all know and love today.  While he frequently teased me about my choice in music, I still feel like he had a healthy respect for my taste, even though he didn’t always agree with it.  I still sometimes wonder what he would think of some of the music I listen to today!

On with the music – a few thoughts:

  • There are two artists on here that get two songs – Fleetwood Mac and Taylor Dayne.  Fleetwood Mac gets two songs for reasons I’ve already mentioned – I fell headlong into their music that year thanks to the release of Tango In The Night – but Taylor Dayne?  Her debut album, Tell It To My Heart, came out in 1988 and I’m not ashamed to say that it’s a great album top-to-bottom.  I picked it up on cassette on an April trip to Iowa Jazz Championships in Des Moines.  I remember listening to it all the way back from Des Moines.  I knew the songs “Tell It To My Heart” and “Prove Your Love” but even the album filler is high-quality album filler.  The two songs on here “Do You Want It Right Now” and “Where Does That Boy Hang Out” never got to be singles, but I still have a fondness for them today.
  • Speaking of Iowa Jazz Championships, the first song on the CD is a 24 year old recording of my high school jazz band performing there. I don’t have tons of great high school memories, but jazz band that year was one of them.  That’s me on the piano solo and it also explains the “Dan [last name redacted] on the piano!!!” on the cover of my journal.  A friend of mine’s parents always said that whenever they saw me.
  • There’s no Madonna on here.  A-mazing.  Although not really because she didn’t release a bit of new music in 1988.  I credit that for opening the door for my burgeoning obsession with Stevie Nicks.
  • I like 80s Heart more than is socially acceptable.  But at least I chose a lesser single for inclusion on here.  I don’t think that “I Want You So Bad” even charted! (it did, but did not go top 40.)  Bad Animals is probably the pinnacle of their “sell-out” period (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
  • “Yesterday” by the Beatles was sung by a small group of friends of mine that took the song to district competition.  I was their accompanist.
  • “Malaguena” was a piano solo that I took the competition my sophomore year.  My parents probably still twitch when they hear it – that’s how much I had to practice it.  I was glad to have found a copy of this back in the Napster days.
  • One of the first things my friend that I mentioned and I did was get together on a Friday night to watch movies.  What possessed us to rent the 1973 Steve McQueen movie Papillon is beyond me, but I am glad that we did!  That’s how the theme to the movie ended up on the CD.  Another Napster find, I’m sure.
  • My love for the Eurythmics album Savage is no secret.  I was just telling a couple people on Twitter the other night that Savage is probably in my top 3 albums ever.  I remember it being hard to pick the song from Savage that would go on this CD, but “You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart” is classic Eurythmics.
  • I’m really not sure why Carly Simon’s “Legend In Your Own Time” is on here.  I remember getting both her greatest hits and Coming Around Again on cassette in the late summer of 1987, but nothing about “Legend In Your Own Time” stands out enough to really merit its inclusion on this CD.  Maybe I just did it because I do like the song quite a bit, even though there are better Carly Simon songs to be sure.
  • The Rick Astley song gets included because of an entry I wrote about trying to stay awake one night long enough to see the video for it.  Upon hearing it, I dismissed it as “Never Gonna Give You Up” raised a half step, but in the end, I prefer “Together Forever” to its better known musical sibling.

I’m sure there are other stories of significance tied to the music on this CD, but I sure can’t remember all of them.  It’s a little musical glimpse into my past, to a different version of me that I’m not always very fond of, but is still a part of me, so I try to treat him with kindness and respect.  Listening to this music doesn’t take me back as much as it used to, but it still does a little bit.  Reading the journals is almost impossible – the angst! – but I do credit that teacher for giving me the freedom to write about what I wanted and in so doing, inspiring years of blogging and writing for fun which I would not trade for anything.

A bittersweet day

For so many, October 11 is just another fall day. For example, today in Iowa, the leaves are falling – piling up in my yard already – the sun’s out, and we’re headed for an uncomfortably warm high of 84 degrees. I have to clean the house and take care of some of those previously mentioned leaves before they get so deep I can’t mow them up. Pretty typical, right? Not exactly. Because you see, for me, this day is special. 23 years ago today, I got married. I stood up at the front of the church in the presence of family and friends and pledged my loyalty to the woman that I have shared my life with for a quarter century now. We’ve had all the highs and lows that make a marriage or any long term committed relationship. We’ve raised a child to adulthood, we each have careers that are varying degrees of satisfying depending on the day. We have learned the meaning of the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows – her from dealing with my depression, anxiety and sundry other mental health issues, and me from dealing with the fallout of her now 13 year battle with chronic pain of unknown origin. We have a good, solid relationship that has stood the test of time.

But the secret I keep from a lot of people is that I am gay. I knew I was gay that day when I was standing at the front of the church making those vows. I remember very vividly saying to myself “well, after today, you’re giving up that part of you.” And at the time, it seemed like a fair trade. I was desperately afraid of what being an out gay man would look like. I couldn’t even imagine it in my head for love nor money. I thought that it meant the end of my life as I knew it. My family would reject me, my friends would abandon me, and I’d be alone. And it wasn’t like I was lying and saying I was in love with my wife when I wasn’t. I was and still am, although that love has morphed over the years as one would expect it to. But the bottom line is I was and am gay. It took me a lot of years to be able to say that, but it’s who I am.

The reason today is bittersweet is because today is also National Coming Out Day. Since 1988, October 11 has been a day that raises the visibility of the LGBT community. We jump out of the closet, break the door down, you can choose your metaphor but the end result is the same. After coming out, we’re able to integrate our whole selves, rather than being one thing in one part of our life and another everywhere else. That inauthentic “splitting” of myself has caused me so much pain throughout my life. I realize now that it caused me to lose my college years to depression and anxiety. I sometimes feel like the “best years of my life” were wasted because I was so paralyzed by the fact that I knew I was gay but could never honor that part of myself in any meaningful way. Sure, I could be an ally to the LGBT community, but I longed to be so much more, especially as I grew more comfortable with my sexuality. I knew that something had to give.

Ultimately, I came out to my wife with the help of a fuckton of therapy and a little bit of courage. She was more than accepting. She feels like an asexual lesbian which I guess is ok. Our daughter is also on the asexual spectrum but is queer as well. My wife and I have a monogamous relationship which during the age of COVID-19, is probably not all bad because it’s not like we’re even seeing any of our family or friends. But the problem is that I’m dying to be fully out. This is not something I would have ever thought that I would want because I spent so much of my life being afraid of being gay, denying it at every turn, lying constantly. I am tired of the passive deception that I engage in every day. It’s not that I don’t want to be married any longer, it’s that I want to be able to integrate my whole self. I would say that I am about 90% integrated, and maybe that’s the best I can do, but that last 10% is the part that’s yelling at me these days.

A lot of people would tell me that I need to leave my marriage and strike out on my own as a gay man. To them, I would offer up the thought that it is relatively easy to say and nearly impossible for me to do. Our lives are so entangled after 25 years of being together that to try to extricate our lives from each other, even if we wanted to, would be so hard that I’m not sure we could do it. Also, I don’t want to end my marriage. How do you turn your back on a life lived? I can’t. And perhaps, above all other things, my wife is very dependent on me because of the state of her health. If I was not here, she would be utterly alone and there would be no one to take care of her. I made vows, I feel like I need to keep those promises. But what I do want is the ability to be open about my sexuality, perhaps even experience a little bit of it, without feeling like I have to chalk up the last 25 years as a very expensive experiment that didn’t work. Plenty of men have done that and I do not shade them at all because everyone has to follow their own path. Many would say that me being gay and trying to make a straight marriage work is a fool’s errand and maybe it is. Maybe that’s what I am – a fool.

I so desperately want to write a Facebook post coming out to everyone. It would be so much easier if I were leaving my marriage. But since I’m staying in it, my coming out doesn’t only affect me – it affects my wife and my daughter and how people see them. I can’t stop thinking about what my coworkers would say if they knew I was gay and married. Plenty of conservatives there to judge me for the circumstances of my life. I just can’t bear to have to explain it over and over again to people that only sort of know me. I know plenty of people are not out at work, and I suppose I could do that. I’ve been tempted to remove all my coworkers from Facebook when I eventually reactivate my account because the really aren’t my friends.

The biggest question I come back to relates to authenticity. Is any part of my life authentic? Or is it all a sham, carefully arranged smoke and mirrors that project this image that I was programmed to think would reward me? The answer, I think, is that it’s a little of both. I have never felt more myself than I do now, fully accepting that I’m a gay man and that I deserve love and forgiveness for the mistakes I have made. And that even though I have made mistakes, I can still hold my head up high and know that I am worthy. But the flip side of that is I still need to come out to be fully authentic, and the fact that it took me 30+ years to get to this point makes me wonder if I’ll ever finish the journey.

I am so over-the-moon happy for those that have come out – both today and all the other days – their courage inspires me. Maybe it will inspire me to come out to my best friend from high school who I just can’t tell for some reason. Or maybe I’ll finally bite the bullet and come out to my parents even though they will certainly NEVER understand. But I’ve gotten to a point in my life I never thought I’d get to, the place where the desire for authenticity is starting to outweigh the fear. The fear was overwhelming for so much of my life. And over the last two years the fear has evaporated so much, but deep down I’m still that scared 20 something that couldn’t come out when he knew he should have.

Me from the ages of 14 through 46.

Happy Coming Out Day to one and all, and happy anniversary to me because my marriage and family is still important me. I have no idea what the future will bring, but I want to be able to do it with less fear, more authenticity, and filled with as much gay as possible.

Long time gone

Man, it has been a LONG time since I updated this blog. My last post was pre-COVID! Now it’s all we think about, except when we’re thinking about the election, which has my anxiety up, even though I know there’s nothing I can do except vote against the Cheeto-In-Chief.

There’s been a lot go on in the interim, and also a whole lot of nothing. Still have gainful employment, unlike a lot of others. My daughter deferred going to college this fall, and my wife got approved by the state to use medical CBD to treat her chronic pain. I have come out to a few more people, but that river has slowed to a trickle. Mostly because I’ve run out of easy people to tell. The people that come next are more fraught with risk than the low-hanging fruit that I had among close friends, both in real life and online.

One of them is my parents, who I just can’t imagine telling ever. They are in their 70s and I am sure that at some point in their lives, they suspected that I was gay. I had very poorly hidden Playgirls in my room (under my mattress) when I was a teen and I’m sure that my mom discovered them at some point. They were probably relieved when I got married because the lack of dating in the interim surely did nothing to quell those suspicions if they existed.

Who knows if I will ever tell them. Maybe I’ll get brave some day? Likely not. But as I always say, 2016 Dan would not recognize 2020 Dan.

I’ll leave you with some Chicks music tonight. I will endeavor not to neglect this blog as much as I have been.

Bump in the road

I hit a little bump in the road yesterday. It was likely a combination of being really busy at work and how much that just wears me out these days and feeling very acutely anxious and nervous about what being gay and married means. I’m not going to air my dirty laundry in this open forum, but let’s just say that sometimes I wonder about my choices. I don’t really regret my choices at all – there’s no real point in that because you can’t change them now – but still, I can’t help but think that me getting married has hurt a lot of people, not the least of which is my wife. Last night, I was very caught up in the idea that I have ruined her life by marrying her. That’s something I have a nasty habit of doing – assigning thoughts and feelings to other people when really, I shouldn’t do that. The healthier option is to ASK people what they are feeling rather than assuming.

I have joined a message board that is for gay and bi men who are married to women. The other common bond is that they have (or plan to) come out to their wives. It’s really been helping me a lot and the camaraderie that I feel with these other men in my same situation has been amazing. They are really helping me to defuse some of the guilt that I feel about getting married and, as a consequence, hurting other people. The thing of it is, In the mid-90s, it was a very scary time to be gay. Sure it was better than pretty much any time that preceded it, but the thought of coming out filled me with abject terror at that time. I thought I would lose my family and friends, that who I was was unlovable. Some of that was my depression talking, but a lot of it was societal norms at the time. Who could blame me for wanting to get married and wanting a family all the while knowing that I could not have that if I came out as a gay man? I just thought I would be alone forever and never know love.

So when I fell in love with my wife, I knew that things would be better. And they have been good – we have a strong relationship and she’s really my best friend. And the funny thing is, I think the fact that I’m gay is probably what attracted her to me in the first place. I don’t mean that she knew, but there are certain personality traits of mine that she probably saw that made me attractive as a partner. The fact that most of those are stereotypically gay traits probably didn’t hurt either. I’m not this big hulking macho man and I don’t think she wanted that either. I’m introspective and thoughtful and quiet. Not that these are traits all gay men share – of course, gay men are not monolithic in their attributes – but they are definitely part of my experience as a gay man. Those same traits have probably made me a good father to my daughter. I’m a good foil to my wife’s parenting style which is practical, let’s-fix-this, whereas mine is “come let me hug you and give you quiet support.”

I guess the thing I’m trying to say is maybe I didn’t hurt anyone after all. At least not in the way that I think I did. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve made my share of mistakes and have definitely hurt those I love over the years – I mean, who hasn’t? And one thing I absolutely did not do is ruin her life. If she felt that way, things would be different in our marriage.

Anyway, that’s where my brain is this morning. I have therapy this morning and it is the most well-timed appointment ever. Usually I go and I’m like “yeah, I’m doing well and let’s rehash things I’ve talked about ten million times” but I think I have some work to do today.