Saturday, January 30, 2010


I have been thinking of context a lot lately. The same words, same clothing, same look can appear totally different based on the surroundings. If I were to be having a glass of wine with a friend and in a discussion of my job say, referring to my boss, “I want to kill him”, my friend might chuckle and clink my glass. Someone at the next table might whisper to their dinner mate “Must have had a bad day”. If a sullen teenager were to make the same utterance, hopefully minus the wine and likely in some electronic fashion, at best they may find themselves in the guidance office and at worst may have precipitated a lock down. And the thing is that in both cases – the chuckle in the restaurant and the terror in the school – the responses are totally appropriate.

This came to mind in a different realm the other day. I had dinner with Tammy, my thirty something lesbian friend, and we were discussing Phil. Now if this was a real diary I would describe him – slight of frame, “gay” beard…, but this is a public posting so suffice to say a good argument could be made that Phil looks gay. Tammy would change the phrasing from “a good argument” to “are you kidding?” Yet Phil remains to a great degree in that well appointed closet.

The night before my dinner with Tammy, Phil and I went to our favorite informal restaurant – a nice dive in the very gay district. While in the middle of boys’ town, the clientele is pretty mixed – some nights almost fifty percent straight. We are taken to a booth in the back and Phil looks around and does a double take: there is a couple, the wife a friend of forty plus years, a couple I met last month at their holiday party. A table is quickly pulled over and they finish desert while we nurse our beers. Now these are highly intelligent, sophisticated human beings but I suspect later that evening they just commented that Phil’s friend seems nice or boring or whatever they thought; I sort of doubt they had a discussion of Phil’s orientation.

One of Phil’s longest friends dates back to college – four plus decades – and is quite gay. A year or so ago after I had met him once or twice, Phil decided to come out to him. As we sat in his apartment – Phil and his new friend, his accountant, me! - Phil points out we met on Craigslist, a sure giveaway one would think yet a few days later he discovers the friend assumed I was found in the classifieds under tax services. I suspect the same phenomenon also occurs the other way; there are people I work with who surely know I am gay, who I suspect are not particularly gay friendly, yet they are my work friends.

It is hard to separate context from content and maybe that is a good thing because it recognizes that who we really are exists in our own unique spaces: I am a man who happens to be gay (along with a few other attributes) as opposed to being defined primarily as a gay man.

As for the poor teenager, maybe someday we will live in a world where assuming the worst is not required protection.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Night Moves

Relationships are complicated – whether on the basic level of two friends or colleagues and more so when you toss in love and sex. And so it is with Phil despite our mutual mellowness and deep understanding of human imperfections. We are older, not looking to get married or have children and are quite laissez faire when it comes to comings and goings. This fits well into our parallel pathologies.

I still have the weekend wife who I speak with every day, extensively, and he still has the other boyfriend- Carrie and Stan, our bookends. Now Carrie was at an advantage knowing all there is to know and in theory a few weeks ago the imbalance was corrected for Stan as Phil explained to him the facts of life. When it comes to Carrie, there are no mysteries to me but all I know of Stan is through Phil’s eyes, a prism that at times is hard to gauge.

New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday – a strange combination of forced gaiety combined with social pressure. In our society sitting alone on New Years is probably considered worse than a solitary turkey sandwich on Thanksgiving. As Phil put it succinctly, it is fraught with emotional danger. It was not that long ago that as midnight struck, Carrie had a meltdown when faced with kissing what she knew to be her future ex and more recently a little after midnight we held each other – not sexually – taking a moment of comfort in each other’s arms.

For the New Year’s we have known each other, Phil has conveniently been away – convenient for both of us – but not this year. Finally some weeks back we acknowledge that we should spend it together, albeit not really knowing what to do. I struggle with what to say to Carrie, my traditional New Year’s being with her and our children. She solves the problem asking "What are you and Phil doing for New Year’s". Problem solved.

Not so quick: As fraught as things are for me, things are equally fraught for Phil. He did explain the facts of life – his relationship with me – to Stan but I am not sure what was heard. As December quickly is winding down, Phil, a widower, announces he really wants to spend the evening with a group of old friends, friends from his married straight life, friends who know nothing of his present circumstances. He does not want to bring me, a combination of not wanting me to spend yet another evening in the closet I have left behind and also a fear: what happens as the bell tolls. Do we kiss, European cheek thing, or maybe just a handshake and pat on the shoulder. You get the picture.

I am not overly upset – spending the evening with my children is not exactly a punishment and is very much in my comfort zone. It is Anna’s first New Year’s as a mother and being alone under her circumstances is not easy, a fact that becomes clear as the evening and weekend unfolds. It is a good New Year’s as New Year’s goes, albeit not what was originally anticipated. It even was okay when a little after midnight we all hear my cell phone in the distance (no, I do not carry it on my hip like a modern day 38) and Carrie points out I should answer it, say hello to Phil. I would love to claim total comfort at those moments, but I am not there yet, but still I did answer the phone, express my New Year’s wishes to Phil.

Of course I think about everything, there are worse diseases, and come to realize that I could have gone to the party with Phil – it is not as if I have not met many of these people before, as the straight friend, and I have grudgingly accepted my place in his closet. The midnight moment, while potentially strange, was manageable, a guy hug if you would. No, the problem was Stan, or more accurately Phil’s loyalty to Stan. The thought of being disloyal to Stan, even though Stan would have been unaware of the circumstances weighed on Phil, weighed on him to the degree that he was willing to pull the plug that evening on both of us.

We have talked of this since that night and Phil has a little work to do. He needs to define who he is and where he is going. I am his friend and happy to stand by him as he works through this, but am also plain that like anyone I do have limits. The danger is that I, and of course Phil, do not know where these limits lie and unfortunately once the ramparts are breached they will be hard to repair.

So we are back at the parallel pathologies. I have a significant amount of my weekend time booked – appropriately with children and maybe inappropriately with Carrie. Phil gets his time with Stan – once again the appropriateness is a subject of some debate, but it all seems to work. The problem is that as my children continue to grow – it is rather inevitable – my weekends become more available, a trend that is already starting to kick in and with that will be the question of what my Saturday nights will look like, or maybe the question is really what Stan’s will be.

Bob Seger had a monster hit back in 1976 and one line from it has resonated as I have mulled the situation:
I used her she used me

But neither one cared
We were getting our share
Of course we all know that taking parallel pathologies and claiming everything is healthy because both sides are equally damaged is not a great formula. Relationships are tricky and some work lies ahead.