Part I Here Goodbye, My Love, Part I
When I wrote part one, I was at a critical juncture in my life. I had just come back a two month vacation in China and Thailand, which was very indulgent, to say the least. I was just beginning graduate school, and I was studying for a pre-licensing exam. Both doing well in grad school and passing that pre-exam were going to be my ticket to career success. I was partied out from my vacation, and determined to do as well as I could in school. A close family member was also dying, so I was traveling back home a lot of weekends. It made staying away from the scene pretty easy. I buckled down, spent hours every night after work and every Saturday and Sunday grinding away, doing work and studying for the exam. I didn't go out once in September, October, and half of November. I thought I had finally broken the grip the scene had held over my life for the totality of my post-college life. All I needed was an intense distraction that commanded my entire attention, and I had found it.
Then my pre-exam date was the next day, and even though I had been studying for two months, I was convinced I wouldn't pass. The morning of the test came, and after three and a half hours of exhausting mental gymnastics, I passed. Not only did I pass, I passed with flying colors. I was in such shocked elation that I couldn't even think. On the train ride home, I blasted music through my headphones and had the biggest smile on my face. As soon as I got back to my apartment, I went over to the Chinese takeout place and ordered enough food for three people, and ate it all. I was still riding the natural high of passing the test, and caught a train back downtown and went on a shopping spree of new clothes and shoes. I spent way too much money, but didn't care one bit. I called up some friends, and planned a little celebratory party at my apartment and then hitting the Gayborhood. We started around 5 in the afternoon and didn't stop till about 6 the next morning. It was like we were back to being the irresponsible, anything goes, who-gives-a-fuck group we were in our college days. It was all so over the top. It was as if all that pleasure I had been denying myself the last couple months came flooding out like a hurricane, and I had no desire to try and control it.
After that night and coming to my senses when the mental high of freedom wore off, I realized how dangerous what I had been doing was. Since graduating college, my identity has been built around my "gayness", and the scene in particular. Growing up, I felt completely out of place and had zero sense of identity or belonging. In college, that transitioned into a sort of half-way in/half-way out mode. I had come out to close friends and started exploring some aspects of gay life, but the vast majority of my word was still lived in the sphere of 'straightness'. I felt comfortable enough, but still not entirely there yet. Then I moved to the city, and suddenly there was this huge, well-established gay community that one could live a pretty self-enclosed life in. I realized this was my chance to finally find that belonging and acceptance that I didn't get growing up. I dove head-first in, and for better or worse, became immersed in it. Clubbing and dancing became my outlet from working in a stressful job, and a way to connect and feel a part of the gay world. It was more to me then just something to do. It represented the ending of my coming out process and the completion of a search for belonging that began as a miserably depressed, fake-faced teenager. Simply quitting cold turkey as I did stripped me of something that had been such an identity marker. I tried telling myself through all those months that I was better off without it, but truth be told I craved it in the back of my mind.
I've gotten to the point now that I realize that going to either extreme is just not a good way to live. I went from a full-time party boy to a workaholic basically overnight. Because I'm a person who tends to operate at extreme ends, I thought the best solution was to do a total 180. As the night after the pre-exam showed, I really failed to control those extremes. When 2018 rolled around, I knew I needed to try and find some kind of balance. I needed to reconnect with the part of me that needed that social outlet that going out provided, but also balance it with the massive amount of time that grad school demanded. Going out every Friday/Saturday night till 4 in the morning wasn't going to fly, but neither would working 12 hour days and every weekend either. Admittedly I'm still far from perfect in this. Whenever I do too much of one thing, I sometimes tend to chastise myself by swinging far the other way. Finding some kind of agreeable middle ground is tough, because the two things seem to be so much at odd with each other. I guess I'll keep trying until it reaches equilibrium or eats me, whichever comes first.
The last couple of weeks, my gym here in the city has been under threat of closure. A few months ago, the building was bought by a New York real estate company that has a track record of demolishing older structures and building condos. The building sits right in the heart of the Gayborhood here in Philly, which in turn is located in the heart of Center City. There has been a huge influx of luxury apartments being built the last ten years, like any other big city in America. I guess it was only a matter of time before the Gayborhood succumbed to that. The gym has over 4,000 members, many of whom are gay with strong attachments to the Gayborhood. It serves as a gym, but also a gay social and community center. I've been a member here for the 3.5 years I've lived in the city, and it's been like a second home to me. In those three and a half years, apartments, jobs, boyfriends, fuck-buddies, and friends have all come and gone, but the gym stayed the same and was always there for me. I got to know a lot of people in the scene from this gym, and it's where I first hit on my boyfriend over two years ago (he was terrified of me at first, lol). The point it, it is more then just a gym to thousands of guys, and now it is closing next week for good. After being Philadelphia's gay gym for 3 decades, it's going to be gone forever. And that is genuinely depressing to me. Everyone at the gym is being forced to disperse to multiple other gyms, thus completely diluting the sense of community the place brought. Sigh.
Unfortunately, the Gayborhood has been changing a lot since the first time I stepped foot it in in 2010. 3 gay bars have closed in those years, while only one new one has opened. The best gay club in the city, Woody's, has now been overrun with obnoxious straight people and mostly abandoned by the gay guys who made it such a great spot. Voyuer, the popular after hours club across the street, is starting to suffer the same fate, with more and more straight people invading and ruining the things that made it such an amazing place to dance until the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately, the building that houses the gym also houses another gay bar, Tabu, and 18 other businesses with a strong LGBT focus and clientele. There is also a beautiful mural painted several years ago of Gloria Casarez, a well-known LGBT rights activist from Philadelphia who died several years ago (picture posted below). All of that will be demolished to make way for most likely another luxury high rise, and further water down one of the most fun, unique, and funky neighborhoods of this city.
I guess this is a byproduct of gay rights and the gentrification of cities. As we become more mainstreamed, we begin to lose so much of what makes us unique from the generic, mostly bland and boring straight world. I'm not quite sure anymore if it's a price worth paying, because I don't want to become like my straight friends. It's such a pre-determined, mind-numbing path that ends in a suburban track home with 2.2 kids and a hour long commute to a job you hate. No, I want what I had in the beginning and what the older gay guys had back in the day. I don't want to be assimilated anymore. I'm okay with being part of a minority that is different and unique. We've lost so much of that, especially here in Philadelphia, and I'm not sure we'll ever get it back.
It's time for me to start looking elsewhere in the world.
So the topic of sex is absolutely fascinating to me, especially gay party/hookup culture in big cities. Anybody who has read my previous blogs can see that. I've been both a passive studier and active participant over the years, and I've gotten a pretty unique view of it all. A good friend of mine once said, "to understand gay men, you need to understand the messy emotions and politics of sex." Now I realize that my experience (and his) as gay men is very much ones that have taken place inside a bubble, unique to big cities with large, established gay scenes. And to limit this view even more, it's anecdotal evidence in the realm of a subset of urban gay men, mainly ones who are active in the party/gym/hookup culture. So take my observations for what they are worth, and I am in no way saying this is applicable to all gay men, or even most. I am simply speaking from experience within my own universe, which like stated above, is somewhat limited in scope. So with that said....
The rise in popularity of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) has almost erased the fear of HIV/AIDS from the minds of many gay men who are sexually active with multiple people. When I moved to the city in 2014, before PrEP was really on anyone's radar, condoms were insisted upon for 90% of guys I talked to about hooking up. The other 10% who didn't insist on condoms were guys who probably already had it or didn't care. Either way, they were people regarded as ones you didn't want to go near, even with a condom. Fast forward a year, to summer of 2015. PrEP has now become well-known to those of us in the gay world, and more and more guys are going on it. It was around this time that I too began taking it. The problem with PrEP is that it is incredibly expensive. It's something like $19,000 a year if you pay for it out of pocket. Luckily I have good insurance, so it cost me next to nothing. You also have to go get comprehensive blood work/STD testing every three months by a physician. So at this point if you didn't have good insurance, it was totally out of reach. So PrEP became a drug only within reach of those with privilege (In America, how shocking). I now started to notice that condoms were becoming less and less of the conversation about hooking up. Guys began asking if you took PrEP, and if you said yes, many of them would simply believe you and be willing to go bareback, even if they themselves weren't on it. This presents several serious problems. First off, the person could be totally lying and they may not be on the drug at all. Second, they could not be taking it every day, at which point the drug's effectiveness decreases dramatically. Third, it is only meant to prevent the transmission of HIV, not other STDS. And anyone who lives in a city knows that G&C spread like wildfire amongst gay men.
2016 comes around, and many big cities begin offering the drug and the physician visits free of charge as a matter of public health. By the end of 2016, everyone I know is taking the drug, and 95% of the people I come across are also on it. If you open Grindr or any other hookup app, the vast majority of profiles indicated they were on PrEP. At this point, guys insisting on condoms were becoming few and far between, and bareback sex became the norm. The threat of HIV has been largely eliminated for those on the drug, and the other STDs are, for the most part, easily treated. I saw an article from the CDC that showed how STDs other then HIV spiked among gay men after PrEP became widespread, and that doesn't surprise me at all.
I feel like we are returning to a pre-AIDS sexual culture in the gay world. For many, the fear of HIV simply isn't what it was in the 80s and 90s because of huge leaps forward in medical science. And for guys my age, we came of age in a time where HIV was a fading concern in the national discussion. Now with the introduction of this, that concern is pushed even farther back. Some worry about HIV adapting and becoming resistant to a drug like PrEP. So far, there has been only one confirmed case of a man catching HIV while taking PrEP correctly. I'm not a scientist, and don't have much interest in the science of HIV, so I can't comment on how legitimate of a concern this is.
I want to leave my own opinions out of this for now. Sex in the gay community is both personal and political, and straight people so often fail to understand this concept and it's deep historical routes when looking as an outsider on how sex goes down in the gay world. So much of our community's identity and power is based around sexuality, and as men who still carry around the pains of growing up "wrong", we use it as a means to (at least try) achieve so much.
Well, the time has finally come. We've flirted with going our separate ways multiple times in the past, and several times have actually broken it off for various lengths of time. Yet, somehow against our better judgement, we always find our way back to each other, and after our absence the passion for you burns as hot as a blue flame in me. I seemingly forget all the things I hated about you and the stupid choices I repeatedly made under your influence. No matter which country I meet you on, and I've met you on many, your basic premise remains the same. Your allure sucks us in by the thousands. All of us, young and pretty, and...empty, come searching for anything to grasp onto to make us feel wanted and loved like we so often didn't in our youth. Your music, your dance, your substances, all give us such a high on life, and the feeling like tomorrow doesn't matter. The world could be collapsing outside around us, but your thumpa-thumpa would distractingly blind us all to the truth.
I admit, you've given me a life I could have never imagined living before I met you, at the ripe, insecure, impressionable age of 22. You forced me to become more social, more outgoing, and more aggressive in seizing opportunities in life. I'll forever love you for that. The look and attitude you motivated me to cultivate allowed me to command attention and respect from people who I did not know. It was for all the wrong reasons, yes, but at such a young age do the reasons matter so much as the outcome? You tell me. The invites to parties of every imaginable persuasion from people within you created in me a sense of belonging that was lacking but so desperately craved growing up. You made me feel okay about the long, stressful hours at work that so often exhausted me, because every Friday you'd be waiting to take me under your wing for the glorious 48 hours of the weekend. Those 48 hours where I could drown the pain of growing up a fag in a small town where I never felt I belonged. But in your care, not only did I belong, I was a fucking star. All those types who ignored me as a teenager were now on the outside looking in on me. That sense of superiority you allowed me to feel was the greatest rush I think I'll ever feel.
But my god, you've distracted me with pretty, shiny objects while stealing away from me the things I need most in this life. The sad thing is, you've hinted at me many times over these last 3 years about what you were doing, but I chose to ignore what was so clearly obvious every time. You warned me over and over again about your impact on who I thought was going to be my future husband, but instead of heading your signs, I decided to double down on you and destroy what took half a decade to build. That destruction only led me to latch onto you even harder, and you led a parade of boys through my bedroom by the dozens, so much so that I lost track of who was who. You always gave me a justification. That part made it so easy to stay with you, and made it easy to rationalize your presence in almost every corner of my life. How many opportunities have I lost out on because I was too busy giving you my time? As I was thinking about this the other night, I almost became physically sick at what I could have accomplished and become had you not entered my life.
I had a feeling, or basically knew, that we were about to go our separate ways beginning this spring. I knew we couldn't last if I wanted to start the next chapter of my life that was going to truly matter. But we had several months left together, and I wanted to go 100 miles an hour with you until you left me. And boy did you give me the chance to feel every inch of you before then. Philadelphia, New York, Shanghai, Bangkok, Pattaya. You took me on a whirlwind tour of your world where we experienced each other on an entirely different level. I loved every second of it. I'll forever remember those feelings of ecstasy and bliss. But, your feelings came with a price, and I realized that I was not willing to pay it any longer. I can't allow you to come between my dreams, my career, and the person I love most.
I'll forever remember you, and look back with fondness of the memories you gave me, but I can never go back to you. I naturally just outgrew you, or maybe you just outgrew me. I'm not sure, but I don't care either. Who knows, I'm sure we'll have a few one-nighters together over the next couple years, but it won't last past the morning. We'll simply shuffle each other out the door the second after we get the feeling we want. We don't need to be anything more to each other. I won't be missed by you. There's thousands of other boys, younger and more eager, to be taken under your influence. I won't warn them, because truth be told you have a lot to teach. Plus, nobody warned me, and I've got too much to make up for in the time I've wasted to you.
Thanks for the memories.
Today, on the last day of school, we had several special visitors taking a tour of the building. The school I teach at specializes in non-native English speakers, recently arrived immigrants, refugees from war zones, and other historically under-served minorities. The amount of racial, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity is staggering. This coming year, we are expanding to include a classroom strictly for kids who have just recently arrive in the US and don't have enough language and cultural knowledge to be in a mainstream classroom. Included in this group are several Syrian refugee children who had arrived in the United States several months ago and will be starting school with us in the fall in this program. They got to see the whole building and watch a few minutes of classes to see what school in like in America.
When they came up to my room where I was teaching a small group, I noticed that one of the Syrian boys (maybe about 9 years old or so) couldn't stop smiling while he was looking around. He was giggling to himself and soaking in everything around him; the posters on the wall, the displayed artwork of students, the computers, everything. I heard him whisper something to the interpreter, and the interpreter translated it to the teacher leading the group as "he says, everything is so nice and pretty here". When I heard that I had to stop for a second. Our school is far from what I would consider nice. It's in a converted factory building in a industrial neighborhood with a lot of decay and blight. The inside is all unpolished concrete floors with walls that desperately need a new paint job. But to this kid, who came from hell on Earth, it was probably what he dreamed of always having. It was an opportunity he is probably overjoyed to have in a strange new country after being forced from everything he has ever known. Here we are, in our tiny little corner of this big city, about to hopefully give him, and other like him, a new opportunity in life. It's little moments like this that make all the stresses of this job worth it.
I think it also sends an important message to refugees and immigrants like them that they are wanted here. Despite what our con man president and his hicks in the sticks supporters say, America will still welcome you and give you a chance to succeed. You can find peace and stability and your kids will have the opportunity to become even greater then you. We all need to take up that mantle as Americans.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
It was was Saturday night, and I was going to meet up with a few friends later that night. We didn't plan on meeting till around 11, but by 9:00 I was getting restless so I decided to head out early and start on my own. My first stop was at The Bike Stop, which is a VERY dimly lit leather/cruising bar hidden away in a back alley. It's one of those places where all kinds of stuff goes on in the dark corners. I have a drink and chit chat with the bartender, who I sort of know from the gym. He's a gorgeous little muscle boy and all he wears when he bartends is a jockstrap. His tip jar is always full at the end of the night, haha. Myself and the bartender are probably the youngest people in there by about 10 years, but I honestly like that. Older guys are often easier and more interesting to talk to. I talk a little bit with this guy I know from the gym, but then his boyfriend shows up and clearly gets jealous he's talking to me and pulls him away. Okay, time to move on.
Its still early, not even 10 o'clock yet, so I have plenty of time to kill. I walk back out onto the street and think. It's early and I'm still sober, so maybe we can all drive up to New York and spend the night there. It's less then two hours drive, and could be up there before midnight. That's pregame hour there. We could have the whole night to enjoy it all. I throw that idea to a friend via text, but he's gotta meet with a client the next day, so he can't show up a hot mess. Okay, guess we're all staying here. No biggie, it'll still be fun.
All of a sudden I hear someone calling my name. I look up, and there is this guy coming at me from across the street. He's kind of a stereotypical city gay; impeccably dressed, muscled, good face, white collar with a lot of money. The perfect outside image hides the ridiculous mess he is on the inside. I wouldn't really call him a friend. He (and the crowd he runs with) are really nothing more then party buddies to me. We drink and party and stuff together, but I don't know if I could take them while sober. I wonder if they feel the same about me?
He invites me back to his place, says he's got some people over and a lot of stuff waiting. The two drinks I had in the bar are starting to hit me a bit and I still have almost an hour till my friends come. Sure why not, I tell him. His place is just a few blocks away, and the whole walk there he just blathers on and on about nothing, talking so fast and so much I can barely get more then a 'yeah' or 'umhmm' in. I must admit his place is stunning. A 16th floor loft with expensive furniture, funky artworks from god knows where, and floor to ceiling windows that look out to the Ben Franklin Bridge and the river into South Jersey. As promised, there's about 7-8 other guys there, most of whom I know (although strictly on a surface level), and stuff on the table. The whole scene makes it excruciatingly obvious that this is trying to compensate for some deficienty, and I wonder if I'm the only one to notice. But hell, maybe I'm just as guilty because here I am, partaking in it.
We all get lit in the living room as the "Circuit Party 2017" Spotify playlist thumps in the background. The Grindr scrolling is constant, and the conversation is very much centered on sex and the upcoming shore season. Rehoboth or Fire Island? New York or Miami? This annoyed me at first, but the more intoxicated I got, the more I seemed to enjoy it all and partake as well.
It's close to 11, so I excuse myself with promises I'll meet up with them later in the night, maybe after hours at Voyuer. I feel pretty good, and make my way back out of the building and onto the street. The warm weather and Gayborhood's promise of sin has brought out the crowds, and the street is noticably more crowded then when I last left it. Everyone seems to be flowing right into the heart of it all at 13th and Locust. The energy is palpable, and it stimulates my already invigorated brain. What a hell of a time and a place to be alive!
I reach the bar where I'm meeting my friends, and the bouncer doesn't even bother checking my ID. I guess he recognizes me now, wow. At this point though, it doesn't even register. The bar is busy, but not yet packed. Still too early for that. I look around and my friends aren't there yet, so I text one of them. He says he's running a bit late, but I'm not surprised. I've learned through the course of our friendship that Chileans are never on time. Why I keep bothering to show up on time with him is a mystery to me. I look around, but I don't recognize anybody. The bar is starting to transition as the mostly older, calmer, early crowd give way to the younger, livlier, late nighters who constitute the public face of this 'hood. I sit down and order a gin and tonic, which has become my drink of choice this summer. I probably shouldn't be drinking anything more after the impromptu loft party, but what is Saturday night for if not bad choices? I stand there for several minutes, sipping on my drink and taking in the crowd. Talk about an interesting cross section of people.
Someone taps me on the shoulder, and it's one of the DJs who I know (he used to sleep with my roommate sometimes). We shoot the shit for a minute, and he throws me a couple comp passes to the after hours club across the street. They make it so easy to keep going that it's hard to say no. I go back to being alone, and I'm rather enjoying the good feeling that is overtaking my entire body. I realize this is a happy place for me, both mentally and physically. It's something I thought I'd never be a part of, or could have been a part of. I've worked hard to find a solid place in this life, and now here I am living what I only thought existed on some alien world. My life has become a duality of weekday me and weekend me, and I love the contrast. One does not touch or bleed into the other. I bet that is true for a lot of the guys, young and old, in this place right now.
The guy next to me, who has been glancing to the side at me non stop since I ordered my drink, finally gives up and vacates the space to my right. Immediately an older gentlemen fills it and orders a drink. I see him out of the corner of my eye glance at me, look away, and then glance again. He gets his drink and then asks me 'how's your night going buddy?' I get slightly annoyed at being interrupted in enjoying the scene around me, and I hate when people who don't know me call me 'buddy'. Especially older people. It just seems patronizing. 'Just waitin' to meet a friend'. My voice betrays my annoyance, even though I didn't mean to let it. He instantly recognizes this, and looks away to try and make a retreat. I kind of feel bad, and why not have a conversation with a stranger while I wait?
We make small talk, and he asks me about my job, where I live, yada yada. He downs his drink in about two minutes and quickly orders another one. He starts telling me about his life, how he got married, suburbs, kids, the whole typical 'closeted married guy' thing. He explains how he had just come out two years ago and still lived in the suburbs and this was only his second time to a gay bar. Ugh, his story is painful and everything I actively work to avoid in my life. I think he picks up on this fact as I lay out for him the life I live where my freedom of self is my utmost value.
'So what's it mean to be young and free?' The question catches me totally off guard and I'm a bit taken aback by it. I ponder, and I honestly could have answered a million things, but the thing that came out of my cocked up brain was 'the consequences of society don't apply to me like they did to you. Nobody set upon me the burden of expectation so I can make of it what I want.' Now it's his turn to be taken aback, and all he can say is 'wow', and looks away from me and down at the bar. I can't quite tell what he feels, and to be honest I'm not really sure why I should care. I gave him a raw (albeit inebriated) answer to his question, so whatever. My phone buzzes and it's my friend asking me where I am. I look up across the bar and there he is on the other side by the door, late as always but waiting impatiently for me.
'I gotta go, my friend is here. It was fun talking to ya' I say to him. 'You too' he smiles and asks if we could meet up later. 'Sure, maybe after hours at Voyuer' I say. He has no clue what Voyuer is, and I don't really feel like explaining it to him. I shake his hand, awkwardly, and push my way through the ever growing crowd toward my friend.
When I first got my current job teaching, I decided this was going to be an ultimatum year. I had decided that if I didn't like teaching at this new school within the first couple months, I was going to leave education for good and sell my soul to corporate America for a bigger paycheck. My college background isn't formally in education, but my work experience at various teaching/mentoring jobs before was enough to get me in the door to teach temporarily. I liked doing it, but wasn't really sure if I could see myself doing it long term. To make a long story kinda short, my first job teaching was in first grade in a very rough part of West Philadelphia. I taught both the school day and extended school day (7:30am-6pm), which was exhausting but paid really well. My entire life during the work week was nothing but going to work, going to the gym, and sleeping. As a 22 year old with all that responsibility and stress, I turned to partying and sex to relieve the pressure. Despite the sub-par working conditions, long days, and general craziness of working in an inner-city school, I loved what I did, loved my kids, and loved the people I worked with. A month before the end of the school year, I was notified my position was being reduced to hourly, part time. I felt stabbed in the back, and lost a lot of my motivation.
That school year ended, and I went unemployed for the whole summer. I got really depressed, lonely, and again turned to partying and sex to give me some sense of being useful for something. I hit rock bottom when, on August 15th, 2015, my bank account was near zero. I was too prideful to ask my parents for money, and had only a loaf of bread, peanut butter, and jelly in the fridge. Instead of using my last $30 to go grocery shopping, I decided it would be better spent on a night at the club and bathhouse forgetting about the fact I felt totally useless. I woke up that next morning brutally hung over with somebody in my bed who I had no recollection of. I lived on PB&J sandwiches until I scrapped enough money together to buy real food again. I found a Teaching Assistant job, but we were basically nothing more then glorified babysitters to high-needs, mentally disturbed children. It was a huge pay cut and I wasn't much of a teacher at all. It was a long year where I basically just worked for a paycheck.
I hated it and decided to give myself one more year to figure out what I wanted to do. The only job I was really qualified for that didn't pay entry level, crap wages, was still education. I came upon a teaching opening at one of the top schools in the city, and almost didn't apply because I thought I had no chance. It is one of those schools where it is very rare to even have an opening, and when they do, they get flooded with applications from qualified people. I decided to give it a shot. To my surprise, I got the interview, and in an event that shocked me beyond words, they offered me the position. It was like a miracle. I was just happy to get a good paying job again, and planned to use it as a year where I could figure out what I wanted to going forward. I was ready to sell my soul to an office cubicle for a fat paycheck.
But things started to change. As I began to actually teach again, I started to remember why I loved teaching in the first place, and why I love working with kids on a daily basis. I remembered why teaching was such an important role, and how much of a difference one could make for kids who desperately needed it in the city. In just a matter of months, I had gone from being completely ready to jump ship to corporate America, to starting to look at Masters in Education programs so I could make teaching my career. I decided to apply to a lot of programs I knew I could get into, and a few that I had little chance of getting into. My grades in undergrad weren't bad, but they certainly weren't stellar either, and I thought that would hurt me a lot. But luckily for me, I have solid work experience in education, and got a letter of recommendation from one of the most respected principals in the city. To my surprise, I ended up getting into my reach school, and will be starting my Master's in the fall.
I won't lie, I'm nervous as hell about all of this. I'll be working full time still, and going to grad school at night. My life is basically going to be consumed by those two things. It's also nerve-wracking because by doing a masters in this, I am basically committing myself to this as a career for the next 25-30 years. I wrote about this previously, but I fiercely value my independence, my lack of firm roots in anything, and my somewhat libertine/hedonistic lifestyle. A lot of that is going to be sacrificed on the Alter of Adulthood, but it is basically now or never. I can't be the person I am now forever, so it's time to begin that metamorphosis (or whatever you want to call it).
I intend to live it up for the next 5 months as sort of a 'last hurrah'. Since I have summers off, I'm going to go spend a few months traveling through East Asia. Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Bangkok, and Pattya. In my head, I'm sort of billing it as the last trip of my care-free twenties. We shall see what the coming years bring.
2016 was really one hell of a good year for me. My life was thrown for a tailspin at the end of 2015, so I really was forced to get myself together in a way I had never really had to in my young adult life. One thing I learned, and now fiercely value and protect, is my independence. I relied way too much on other people, and put all my eggs in a basket I couldn't control. When that basket fell and all the eggs cracked, I was left with nothing I had before and had to rebuild. I've come to realize it was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to shape my new life in a way I wanted it to be. I didn't have to take other people into account. Whatever I wanted to do, I could do it now. I vowed to myself that no matter whether I chose to stay single, or chose to date again, I would always fiercely protect my independence and keep the ability to do what I wanted to do. A year later, I've been largely successful at keeping that as a core value.
So as I look back on this past year, one small moment from it stands prominently among the many big things that happened in 2016. Rewind back to a cold night in February, not long after I had made the promise to myself to be completely free and independent. At that time, in my mind, being free and independent meant living a very indulgent, vein, hedonistic lifestyle of partying and sex. Living in a big city with a large gay population made this so easy its almost ridiculous. I was going to the clubs every Friday and Saturday till 4am, and Grindr was draining the battery on my phone constantly. It was a period where I had a lot of fun, and I don't regret much of anything about it. Was I making the smartest decisions all the time? No, but damn it the whole thing made me feel so alive and euphoric. I still get excited thinking about it now, and sometimes, in my weaker moments, wonder why I ever gave a lot of it up.
Anyway, so this one night started like any other. I went with a couple of friends to a popular dance club here in Philadelphia, and we drank and danced and did all the other stuff for most of the night. I remember I wasn't in the mood to try and get with anyone that night. I just wanted to dance and hang out with friends. That club closed at 2am, and our little group migrated over to the after hours club in the alleyway across the street. My friend wanted to take a break from dancing, so him and I went up to the second floor that overlooks the main dance floor. The scene was amazing. A huge dance floor, packed full of men, pulsated below us with lights and energy that is so infectious. Standing above everyone, looking down at this scene of pure celebration and freedom below, made me truly believe this was everything. It was amazing just watching the whole scene play out and know that you too were a part of it.
And then I saw him below me. This absolutely gorgeous, dark-skinned and lean muscled boy dancing shirtless right below me. He was sexy beyond belief, and at that moment I was instantly infatuated in a way I had never been before. He moved so gracefully, and I could tell he was probably a little bit of a queen. Exactly my type.
I tapped my friend and said, "Look at him, that cute Brazilian(?) boy down there. I'm going."
"How do you know he's Brazilian?" my friend asked.
"I don't know, I'm just guessing", I said.
"No, you're fantasizing", he said laughing. He knows I have a thing for Brazilians.
"Alright you wanna bet?"
"Sure. If he is, I buy the next drink. If not, then you buy".
Off I went, and retreated toward the back and down the stairs. I got down the stairs and started slowly pushing my way through the mobbed dance floor toward the corner where this gorgeous boy resided. I got within about 15 feet of where he was when he looked my way and our eyes locked. He stared intently for about two seconds right at me, gave me a quick smile, and then looked away. The universal gay club way of saying 'You want me, and I know you want me, so come get me'. I knew right then and there, before I even got to him, that he was gonna be mine for the night. It all becomes not someone that is to be treated as a human, but a trophy to be showed off, collected, and discarded when a newer, shinier version comes along. Those of you who have been a part of this world before know exactly what I mean.
I make my way the last 10 feet to where he is dancing, grab I'm by the waist, and pull him into me with every ounce of confidence in my body. He flashes that gorgeous smile again, leans his whole body into me, and says, "I want you" in the sexiest accented voice I'd ever heard. I remember thinking how perfect this boy was turning out to be. I simply smiled, let my hands wander down right over his bubble butt, pulled him in close, and kissed him, sticking my tongue deep down his throat. Now granted, I was definitely more then a few drinks in by that point in the night, and my head started to spin a little from the music and lights and everything, but I didn't care. At that moment I was so sure of myself and felt so totally alive that the world could be falling down outside those walls and I couldn't have cared less. That's one thing I have yet to figure out, was whether that feeling was actually real or was it just the substances and sex and selfishness that created this giant illusion. Sometimes I wonder if it was all just a big cover for a life going nowhere.
We dance for awhile, and his ability to dance was something only a gay Latino boy could possess. He really knew how to move, and it made him all the much sexier. I still didn't know if he was actually Brazilian, nor did I know his name, and nor did I really care anymore about either of those things. I just wanted him in the way I was making him out to be in my drunken mind.
Eventually we get tired and he asks me if we can go back to my place to finish out the night. I cringed a little bit as I really don't like bringing one-night stands to my apartment. I like to keep my work life, normal private life, and gay life as separate from each other as possible. I used my usual excuse of "Oh I live with roommates and they don't know I'm gay" (which is a lie. I live with a roommate but she knows and has no problem with me being gay).
"So you're closeted?" he asks?
"Something like that," I said. Again, mostly a lie (except at work).
So he says we can go to his place, but he lives way up in Frankford, which is about a 25 minute train ride from where we are and not exactly a safe area at night. At this point, I'm considering ditching and just going home, but his sexiness is just too much to give up. I agree and we head to the station. During the overnight hours, the subway only comes every 20 minutes, so we have to wait awhile and take a seat on the bench. I'm dreading this part because now we have to make awkward small talk the whole way up and I'm not used to this. Most of the time the guys I hooked up with I never really talked to much and didn't know much about them other then what they looked like naked and what kinks they liked in bed. Its kind of crazy to think that I had no problem getting completely naked and screwing with a guy I didn't know anything about, but the thought of actually having to talk to someone made me filled with dread.
As we sit on the bench, he leans into me and starts telling me all about his life. He was originally from Brazil (I was right!) and had come to the US when he was 20 to live with a cousin. He was a waiter at a restaurant, and a whole bunch of other stuff I won't bother to write here. His accent was so sexy that I didn't care what he was saying as long as he kept talking, and it meant I didn't have to say much. If he wanted to tell me his whole life story, so be it, but he won't ever hear mine. But as he kept talking, there was something about his willingness to tell me so much when he didn't even know me that made me relax a little and let my guard down just a bit.
"My name is Thiago (I changed his name) by the way," I remember he said.
Now usually when random hookups ask me my name, I usually use some Romanized version of my name, mostly in Italian or French. I never actually tell them my real name, because again, I don't want my different lives to become entangled.
"Matt", I said without hesitation. He flashed that beautiful smile again. I was immediately taken aback by the fact that I hadn't lied, because in this situation it had been so automatic in the past. I lied without even thinking twice. Gay men are such good liers, because we mostly grew up having to be.
Even though I was surprised with what I had just done, something inside me relaxed and I immediately became more comfortable around this boy. We got on the train and I eventually started opening up more to him as he asked me questions about my life. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a early elementary school teacher. This was a fact I usually always avoided telling hookups, because a lot of guys would instantly view this as less manly, and therefor less sexy. A lot of the time I pretended to work in construction, because I figured out that combining pretending to be closeted with pretending to do a macho, blue collar job like construction was a huge turn on for a lot of guys. The whole thing forces you into putting on a charade that, looking back on it now, is pretty much the same thing I had to go through as I grew up deeply in the closet. But this boy didn't react like that at all. He told me how he thought that was such an amazing job and how he really respected people who worked in a job with a real social purpose. I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me feel really good about myself. We got back to his place, and by the end of that train ride I was feeling completely comfortable and at ease around this guy. We got into the shower, and the sex started. I don't necessarily remember how many times we did it, or much of the specifics, but I just remember that it was mind blowingly good. It felt as good as they make it look in porn. It was the best sex I have ever had with a person who I wasn't in a relationship with. In between doing it, we'd talk about our lives and I surprised myself by how much I revealed to him. I told him things that only the people closest to me know. Eventually, after being completely drained, we both fell asleep in his bed.
I woke up about 45 minutes later, and turned over to look at him. His leg and one butt-cheek was exposed on my side while the rest of him was covered under the blanket. I could tell he was out cold from exhaustion and the alcohol, and I just laid there for a few minutes thinking. I started to wonder why I had become so quickly comfortable around this guy and why I had to decided to let my guard down and tell him so much. In my mind, I was terrified that maybe I kind of liked this boy. If I liked this boy, then maybe something more then a fun night of sex could ensue, and maybe I'd have to leave my newfound life of individual freedom and self-reliance. I had promised myself that I wouldn't give that up for anything. I remember becoming panicky at the thought of this, and decided at that moment I was going to sneak out and disappear. I gently crawled out of bed, and gathered my clothes that were in a pile in the corner of the room. I put my underwear on, but decided I'd make too much noise trying to put on the rest of my clothes. So, in nothing but my underwear with the rest of my clothes and shoes in a bundle under my arm, I snuck out the back door of the building and into the alley. It was freezing cold, desolate, and the sun was just coming up over the river. I threw my clothes and shoes on as fast I could, and practically ran back towards the train, scared he would realize I was gone and come chasing after me. Thinking back on it now, this was kind of stupid because why would anyone go chasing after a one-night stand the morning after. The whole point of it was now over, so there was nothing left to be had. I hoped a train a mostly empty train and began the long ride back to my part of the city.
Looking back on it now, this one moment of many wasn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of everything. It didn't lead to any change in my life, and I continued doing what I had been doing for many more nights after that until I finally ended up with a guy who made me wanna stick around the next morning. I'm happy now with that.
But for some reason that night sticks out to me as extraordinarily memorable. Maybe it's because that night is the perfect snapshot that captures the essence and feeling of that period of my life that, at least for now, is mostly over. It's funny, because a few months later, and not long before I started dating my current boyfriend, I ran into Thiago at a bathhouse one Saturday night. I was sitting in the sauna room, which was strangely empty at that moment. Whether he saw me beforehand or just happened to wander in at that time, I don't know. But as I was sitting on the bench, in he walks and sits directly across from me. We look at each other, and we each smile at each other, but say nothing. We just sit and stare at each other, not awkwardly, but neither of us make any kind of move to signal that we want to start something again. I think we both know that we had fun that one night together, but it was just that: fun, for one night and one night only. Some guy came in not too long after and began playing with Thiago, and I watched as he did the same things to this guy and he had done to me that night in his bed. It made me realize that in this world, nothing is special, everything is disposable, and one hot guy is interchangeable with the next. There was nothing special about him, I, or this other random guy. The game gets played and the cycle continues.
On a side note, if you haven't read Andrew Holleran's Dancer From The Dance, I highly suggest you do. It is basically set around a pre-AIDS, 1970s version of this lifestyle, and really hammers home how we all cope with being gay and changing. It really helped me realize a lot about myself, despite it being in a completely different era, and it has become one of my all-time favorite books.
I guess I'm lucky enough to have been a child of the 90s and 2000s. I came of age right as the country's attitude toward homosexuality was undergoing a massive forward shift. Although I am still old enough to remember when gay men were portrayed as 2-d stereotypical characters with a total lack of depth or humanness. I grew up with a pretty negative image of gay men, and it contributed to a lot of self-hate, depression, and loathing that took a long time to get over.
A couple weeks ago, my best friend, boyfriend, and I took a trip back to my hometown for the weekend. My best friend also grew up there, but my boyfriend had never seen the leaves change in fall, and there is no place more beautiful then New England in the fall. It also happened to be homecoming weekend for my high school, and of course that included the football game. We decided to go, and have a little blast from the past. It's amazing how some things never change. The faces of the high school kids are unrecognizable, but almost everything is the same as it was when I played football there years ago. The uniforms, the coaches, the people in the stands, the music the band plays, everything.
It was weird, and it almost felt like I had gone back to 2008 or 2009. Years you couldn't pay me enough to relive. I even ran into some old teammates of mine who I hadn't seen since we graduated over 6 years ago. At halftime I went to go take a piss, and after I came out of the bathroom, I saw a little ways off what looked like two boys walking and holding hands. I didn't even think twice and thought there's no way that's what was happening. Back in my days there, that would have been totally unacceptable, looked down upon, and a sure way to social suicide. Especially since it was at a place with several thousand people and most of the kids you went to school with. There were only one or two openly gay kids when I went there, and the rest of us were deeply closeted.
I went back to my seat near the student section, and there they were again. The same two kids (maybe 15-16) holding hands still while standing among a couple hundred other high school kids. Talking and laughing and just as much a part of the group as all the others. They actually were out and gay, open about who they were in front of all these people they face on a daily basis. All this had happened in 6-7 years? Had a place that seemed to always stay the same actually been changing...
You would think the natural reaction to seeing this would have been for me to be happy for them and proud of what they weren't afraid to hide. But no, absolutely not. In fact, my reaction was one of bitterness, anger, and resentment. I was almost jealous that they were getting something that had been so totally denied to me at that age. I was angry that during my time, the only choice was to be deep in the closet and have two separate faces; one you kept in private, and the fake one you put on for the rest of the world. Most of us know the mental and emotional toll that takes on people.
I sometimes wonder how my high school years would have been different if I had more of an idea of what being gay meant past the porn I watched late at night in secret or the two limp-twisted theater queens who were the only out gay guys while I was in school there. There were far more of us in those days as I've learned in the years since then. But we were boxed into the closet by the culture that existed there at the time. We didn't get a choice. As much as I like to think I've moved past that stage in my life, I guess a part of me still holds a grudge toward that place and everyone associated with it.
We had to suffer so they don't have to. I guess there's something poetic about that to be proud of.
Today I had a belated first of sorts. For the first time ever, I was called a 'faggot' in a disparaging way. I've always been easily able to pass off as straight, so I've been able to avoid really any direct harassment for being gay. I think too that a lot of (especially straight) guys feel more comfortable around me because they view it as "he's gay, but he's not THAT gay". Its stupid, but just kind of how it is.
Anyway, I had gone to dinner with a friend in the Gayborhood, and we were walking back along a kind of small back street, when a car comes rolling by with the window down. They slow down as they pull up next to us and two of them yell out the window, "Queer ass cock-sucking faggots" and then peel off down the block.
The interesting part was our difference in reaction. My friend, who is more of what you'd consider stereotypically gay, got incredibly angry and almost started to cry. As for me, I just sort of brushed it off and chalked it up to assholes being assholes. It didn't offend me or hit me in any sort of personal way. But for him, it was personal. He's not only gay, but gay and kind of effeminate, and gay and effeminate and Asian. He got tormented relentlessly for being gay and Asian in a mostly black public high school. Me, I was always able to hide who I was, blend in, and able to control my own coming out process for my own gain. Not because I didn't have a choice.
I'm not really sure what my point of this blog is. Maybe its a bit of guilt for knowing that even though I'm gay, I'm still white and I still have what people consider a stereotypically masculine demeanor. I only have one strike against me in society. He's got all three. Just a thought.
2015 kicked my ass, but I've now come to realize I'm better for it. I lost my job, had very little money, and I could see my relationship of 6 years crumbling. So I did what just about every gay man in his 20s does to cope, and turned to partying and Grindr to help me get away from it all. Predictably, it all ended in disaster that even a blind man could have seen coming. I knew it was coming too, but didn't want to face it. To make a long story short, by Christmas I was single for the first time in my adult life and left living alone in an apartment that had been a symbol of so much hope for the future. I guess it all culminated in a weekend trip to NYC with a friend that ended up amplifying everything I had been doing wrong in my life, and by the end of that trip I came to realize that substance-fueled all night parties and anonymous sex weren't going to make my life better. I decided to get my shit together.
My first realization was that I needed to become totally self-reliant. I had given up a lot of what I wanted after graduating college for my Ex to better pursue his career for the promise that it would help us both out in the long term. Then that all ended, and I had given up a lot to gain nothing. That made me bitter for awhile, but I got over it and become determined to never let that happen again. I started creating a life for my single self that catered to me and me only. It was a liberating feeling knowing that I could make any decision I wanted with nobody but myself in mind. If I wanted to just pack up and leave for somewhere else, I could (and I seriously considered doing it a couple times). I also picked up a few new hobbies, and one of those was running. I made it a point to myself that I wanted to run a 1/2 Marathon. I trained my ass off for months and two weeks ago I finished my first Half Marathon and have already signed up for another. The gym has also been another place I have recommitted myself to with a level of focus and intensity I haven't given it in years. The results have been dramatic, and the preparation and focus and dedication that running and the gym require have helped keep me away from the mentally destructive crap I was doing before.
As for dating again, I pledged to myself that I was going to be single for a long time. Finding someone could wait, and I was going to enjoy my 20s as a free man. It took me awhile, but I realized that attitude for myself was more based in anger and frustration at what I had lost then being something that I truly wanted. I've been dating now again for the past several months (almost by accident) and it has definitely been a big positive in my life. My new job will also be starting in the fall, and I'm excited because it pays a lot more, has more perks/benefits, and gives me a larger scope of responsibility and independent work.
Another new thing that I've decided to try (and again this happened almost by accident), is nude modeling. My boyfriend now does nude modeling from time to time, and he took me to meet the photographer he works with. I had no plans of ever doing something like this, ever. We went to go visit him in his studio, and he started showing me all his work. He does entirely traditional black and white film and shoots pretty much exclusively with muscular men of color (Black, Asian, Latino). He then brought up the subject of possibly doing a shoot with me, which was kind of surprising for me considering I was a white guy. I thought about it, and initially rejected the idea, but it was tempting. After a few weeks of thinking it over, I changed my mind and went to go see the photographer. Basically, his idea is to do a 3-way shoot with myself (white), my boyfriend (Asian), and another random guy (black) and theme it around gay racial politics and sexual power and how the two intersect. The idea fascinated me and I he had me hooked. I had to strip naked for the photographer for him to examine me, and tell me what I needed to improve before the shoot. Most of the guys he shoots have a very specific look being very cut and having defined musculature. If you've ever seen me, you know I have much more of a beefy muscular build, and hover around 15% body fat, not single digit % like most of his models. He said that was fine though because my build plays into the role he wants me to play for the shoot. He did give me some things to work on though, mainly cutting more so my abs are more defined. I'm excited because now I have a tangible goal to work towards in the gym and kitchen. My life works well when I have concrete goals set for myself in every-day living. This is something I never thought I'd do, but I'm at the point now where I'm craving new things in my life.
Anyways, I'm hoping to keep my winning streak going. Hoping and praying and wondering about a better future is all bullshit. You gotta take it for yourself. It took me a long time to learn that lesson, but now that it's finally hit me, I see the infallible truth of it.
I got a new job. It pays better then the last one I had (so thats a plus), but there are also a lot of drawbacks to it also. First off, its across the river in New Jersey, and there is no train connection near where I'll be working. That means I have to keep the expense of having a car, paying for gas, and the tolls every day to cross the bridge. I also HATE driving. Its even worse because its in heavy traffic both in the morning and afternoon commute. At my old job in the city, I hoped on a subway, transferred to a trolley, and in 35 minutes I was there. I could read on my phone, listen to music, or whatever the entire commute. Now I'm spending 30 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic where I can't do anything but honk my horn in a useless attempt to get the guy in front of me in the left lane to go faster. To most Americans, the car is their freedom and the thought of having to take public transportation is horrifying. To me it is the other way around. I moved to a city in part so I could get a job IN the city and not have to drive. This job is also working with a population of students who are very challenging and I have no experience in this particular field. I really liked working with inner-city kids, and I had experience doing it. Now, I'm going into working with a population of students who have totally different backgrounds but are challenging in an entirely different way. There are so many rules and regulations and laws I need to learn, and I'm getting incredibly nervous about starting.
So that brings me to the point of this. I've wanted to live in New York City since the very first time I visited it in December of 1997. I just remember loving everything about it: the crowds, the noise, the hustle, the urban canyons of skyscrapers, all these different kinds of people, food, the smell, the list goes on. I've wanted to be a lot of different thing growing up, but the one thing I've consistently wanted through my life was to live in New York. The city is in my blood, as most of my family lives in New York or did at one point. The energy and non-stop 24/7-ness of the place is intoxicating to me. Having been to a fair number of diverse places in the world, I can easily say there is no place like it on earth. Paris and London and Buenos Aires are amazing cities, but New York is king. The great thing about living in Philadelphia is that we are very close to New York, and it makes visiting easy on the train.
I've grown tired of Philadelphia. It was fun for a while, but now I want something bigger and better. I get it, New York is insanely expensive and competitive, but there is so much to the city that makes the sacrifices of not being a 1% New Yorker worth it. I've decided that come next year when my work contract is up, I'm taking the plunge and moving there. If I fail and have to leave, at least I can say I tried. I don't want to keep waiting and waiting for "the right moment" and suddenly be 30 and settled and not able to just pick up and go. My boyfriend is applying to medical school there, and has a pretty good shot of getting, so that would make the move a lot easier. Keep your fingers crossed.
To be cliche and quote Frank Sinatra, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere".
You can't make this shit up. A man who pretended to stand up for conservative family values has been outed as a child molester, and now using a website to cheat on his wife. These people are such a fucking joke.
Today, July 1st, marks the beginning of the three day clash that is today known as the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. For those of you not up on American history, Gettysburg is a small town in the northern state of Pennsylvania. The Confederate Army's move into Pennsylvania was it's first (and only) attempt at invading into Northern soil, as the war up to that point had taken place primarily in Virginia and Maryland. Long story short, over three days of incredibly bloody fighting, the Confederate Army was dealt a crippling blow and forced to retreat back into Virginia. 160,000 troops total took part, and 50,000 were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Confederate Army never fully recovered from the crippling losses, and was put on the defensive for another 2 years of bloody conflict till they finally surrendered in April of 1865. Thus, in a small Pennsylvania town unknown to the world, the unity and freedom of the United States of America was upheld by 94,000 brave Union soldiers.
Here's a short clip of the Battle of Little Round top and Pickett's Charge from the 1993 film, Gettysburg, set to The Battle Cry of Freedom.
So this past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I think it is all very important that everybody thank a teacher that really taught you something valuable. The very fact that you can enjoy reading on Gay Authors all stems from an early elementary school teacher showing you all the skills and techniques of being an effective reader. The fact that so many of you can write wonderful, sweeping, complex stories all began with learning how to write basic sentences in preschool, kindergarden, and 1st grade.
What a lot of people don't realize is how much work it takes to be a teacher. Its not a "just during school hours" job, as some idiotic detractors will have you believe. Its an around the clock, non-stop passion. Papers don't grade themselves, supplies don't just magically appear, and parent emails don't get answered by magic. All that has to be done outside school hours on the teacher's own time. With the economic clusterfuckery of today, school budgets are being squeezed tighter and tighter, even in nicer districts. Who do you think buys all those supplies for your kids when the budget doesn't allow for it? Yeah, teachers out of their own paycheck. And as a teacher myself, I can tell you that teachers are woefully underpaid for any worker, let alone a skilled professional who works considerable hours. Republicans love to demonize us for being public employee leeches, but those who do are just fucking morons. Have you ever met a rich teacher? Yeah, neither have I.
And you should especially thank those teachers who work in tough areas, often inner cities, under considerable stress for even less pay, and with hardly any resources. Not only are they just teachers, but often stand-in parents, social workers, psychologists, and behavior specialists, all rolled into one without proper pay or training. They are the only support group that many of those kids have, and we as inner city teachers often work so hard for so little progress. Remember that.
So whether you came up through the boarding school elite or the rough and tumble inner-city public system, thank a teacher because they did a lot for all of us.
Sometimes, on certain days like today, I like to wander around Center City pretending I'm a complete stranger to this place and seeing it for the first time. I take random turns down streets without looking at their signs as if I have no idea where I'm going. I try to look for little details in the surrounding buildings that I've never noticed in order for them to seem new again. New and shiny like that first time I stepped foot in this city when I was 18 in October of 2010. I try and recapture that excitement of the hustle and bustle that was so foreign to a country boy like me.
Usually when I try to do this, I fail at getting myself into the right frame of mind for it to even work, or it only lasts for a minute or so before I snap back into reality. It usually ends up as a disappointment. But today was different. I had been on vacation in Europe the past week and a half, then I got really sick and was bed ridden for 4 days and didn't leave my apartment. I got so engrossed in vacation mode that it was like I forgot everything about everyday life here in the city. So today, the first day since leaving that I actually got out and did things, it all felt so new and interesting and exciting again. I recaptured a small glimmer of that feeling I used to get when I'd come into the city to visit, but didn't live here. I actually had myself convinced for a while that I was a newbie to this place and I spent a good hour just walking around and exploring like it was my first time. I noticed so many details about this place that during "the every day" I never even bothered to notice.
It was so exciting, and a bit depressing when reality finally snapped me back. I don't know why I crave that feeling of nostalgia so much, but I do.
I love the gym. Its the place I go at the end of my day where I expend the last bit of energy I have and it never fails to leave me on a high when I'm finished. It has given me a focus and discipline like few things have ever given me before at times when I sorely needed it. It has done wonders to my own self-confidence and body image and given me more social confidence, and not to mention helped get me laid more than I thought I would ever get. So what the fuck is there to dislike about something that has given me so many positive things? Trust me, a lot.
A little backstory will probably help you understand. I first stepped foot in a gym the summer before my freshman year of high school to start lifting for football. We had our own gym at our school for football, and the whole mentality was to simply get bigger and stronger. There was very little attention paid to dieting or body composition. As long as you were getting bigger and stronger, it didn't matter if all that muscle was covered under pads of fat. I went from a pretty normal 5' 11", 175 pounds at the beginning of my freshman year to 5' 11", 195 by the end of that football season in November. I got a lot stronger and put on muscle, but some of what I gained was also fat. That freshman season I was one of only 4 freshman to be a varsity backup, and practicing with the big boys showed me that I needed to get even bigger and even stronger if I wanted a permanent spot. So my sophomore year I gained another 15 pounds or so, and became a regular sub on the varsity team as well as a starter on JV. All during the off-season I was determined to finally get a starting spot my junior year, and by the beginning of 2-a-days I was at my lifetime heaviest of 245 pounds. I got a starting spot on varsity, and I was actually one of the lightest guys on our defensive line.
Coincidentally right around that time I was at my heaviest was the same time I had come to finally admit to myself I was gay. This was the beginning of a long bout of depression that would sink me pretty damn low. I started looking at gay porn on the internet and all the stars were attractive and in really good shape. I secretly got my hands on a DNA Magazine copy and that magazine is probably the worst offender for pushing the idea of "if you don't look like our perfectly sculpted white models you aren't shit in the gay world". As a closeted, angry, confused, gay 17 year old, I fell for this message of perfection as a measure of worth, and fell for it hard. I still to this day have the picture of the guy who finally made me feel so bad about the way my body looked that I decided to make a change. I decided that I didn't care about anything else, just that I wanted to get that body and hopefully that would gain me acceptance somewhere, anywhere. I started that very night, and for the next nine months of my life I became obsessed with exercising and lifting and getting that toned muscular body that that dude in the magazine had. Like I mentioned before, the fact that I was depressed during that time helped me immensely in reaching my goal. The discipline required with all the exercise and dieting and lifting gave me a sense of purpose where I had none. I craved the dopamine high that you get at the end of a workout because it was the only thing that made me feel happy and alive anymore. I would often go for miles-long runs in July and August in the middle of the afternoon when the heat and humidity were brutal as a way of self-punishment for letting myself get like I was. Looking back in self-reflection, it was a terribly unhealthy relationship. Yet it all paid off (or so I thought) in the end when I had slimmed back down to 175 and had gained a respectably toned and defined body. I got so many compliments and it was a way to make myself stand out for something positive when I thought that was impossible because I was a closeted fag.
For reasons that are too long to go into here, my life took a pretty dramatic turn for the better the second half of my senior year of high school, and I had much more to live for than simply trying to attain a physical standard. Throughout college, I was still very much into working out but I had gained a relatively more balanced approach (though admittedly I still did it for sex as my primary motivator). My college gym was pretty much all straight guys, so there was no sexual competition for each other. They were competing to try to get the girls, not each other (this is key to remember for the next part). The environment there was very much non-sexualized, and it had more of a feeling of a frat house where everyone was chill, so to speak.
Fast forward to when I moved into the city this past summer, and started working out at a gym in the heart of The Gayborhood. This gym has a long history of being "the gay gym", which isn't a surprise considering its right in the gay hood. I joined because it was relatively close to my apartment and I was curious as to what this whole gay gym thing meant. I stepped foot inside for the first time on a hot July evening, and dear lord it was the closest thing to both heaven and hell. It was filled with so many sexy, young gay guys wearing cut-up shirts and tanks barely covering their perfectly sculpted bodies. Lots of guys had abs and every muscle popped under their 8% body fat. I was in good shape too, but I always had a beefy muscular build. I've never had overly defined abs (nor do I care about getting them) and my body fat % has certainly never been single digit. All those old feelings of insecurity came rushing back. This gym is one of the few places where gay men rule and overshadow the straight people in it. Women (even very attractive ones) hardly get any attention, and the muscular, attractive gay men are held up as the ideal, even to the straight guys. The insecurity and sexual tension in that place is so palpable you can smell it in the air. Never have I been to a gym where 95% of the people are in such good shape, yet they can't seem to realize what they have. It all just seems like one giant competition to fuck each other, and the gym is an avenue to do that. When you really think about it, that's all gay culture really is: a giant competition for sex. Most of the guys I see during the week at the gym are the same ones who I see at Woody's and Voyuer and Boxers, etc. on Friday and Saturday nights. What happens in the locker room there is a blog entry unto itself.
Yet through all the negatives that I just wrote about it, I still love it. It's a place where, as a gay man, I feel like I'm the one with the power and, in a weird way, influence, that is just impossible in a world dominated by straight people. I love looking at sexy guys on a constant basis and striving to better my own body to better compete in the giant fuck-fest of urban gay culture. The fact that this place sets the bar so high has pushed me to levels I never thought I'd get to. There is also a certain sense of camaraderie and feeling of belonging that you get when you finally have a space where your "own kind" dominate.
I guess the key is to not get completely lost in it all. TBD.....
There was a guy, maybe 25 or 26, clean cut and well dressed, who I noticed leaning up against a column by the waiting area, with a look of absolute desperation on his face. I discreetly moved closer to him to see what was going on, and all I hear is "baby please don't leave me" before the line on the other end of the phone goes dead. He looks at the screen, and it's clear the call is over before his plea ever got answered. He lowers his head against the column and quietly begins to sob right in the middle of Penn Station on a busy Sunday afternoon. I look around and absolutely nobody seems to notice this guy and his obvious pain. They say in a city people are too busy or rushed to care, and here I am the only one in all of Penn Station who seems to take notice. Maybe it's because I feel him more than he realizes. Maybe it's comforting to me knowing that someone else feels your pain, even if they don't realize it. He finally pulls himself together, the occasional tear still running from his eye and disappears into the mass of people waiting in line for a train bound for Boston. I know the feeling man, even if you don't know it.
So I haven't been around much on here lately, and I've neglected talking to people on here who I really do enjoy talking to. Anyway, life has been insanely busy the past month after I got my new job, as well as pretty damn stressful, but it's also been a lot of fun.
As many of you know, I got a job as an Assistant Teacher at a school in a rough, ghetto section of Philadelphia. I work with first graders, many of whom come from the typical broken home scenario that infects ghettoized neighborhoods of inner cities. Many of these kids have behavioral issues that stem from all the stress they experience outside of school in their home lives, and that spills over often into the classroom. My main focus as an Assistant Teacher is working with the remedial-level kids in our class, of which there are many. A lot of these kids don't even have reading/math/writing abilities of kindergardeners, so I spend a lot of my time helping them hopefully getting to a level where they can participate in activities with the rest of the kids who are already at grade level. The hours are long, as I leave my apartment at 8 and often don't get home until 7, then go spend from 7-9 at the gym, and then fall asleep by 11ish.
My job is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting most days, but I've never been so motivated in a job before or believed in what I was doing. These kids were basically left behind by the rest of society, and not given much chance to succeed. I'm under no illusion that the majority of the kids I work with now won't be lost to the streets in 10 years when they get older, but hopefully you catch a couple who you help succeed in the long run. It takes a lot of patience to understand and adapt to how these kids work. The hardest part was that before this I was working at a summer camp for wealthy, white kids from one of the most affluent suburban areas of the country. The complete 180 to this job at an inner-city, almost entirely poor black school was difficult at first. But I'd much rather work with these kids than the well off kids who will get the best of everything regardless if I am there or not. I can see myself doing work like this for the long haul, and I'm glad I found something I am passionate about after deciding to ditch any potential career in policing.
On an ending note, some of you have asked about my story, The Gauntlet. I have another chapter written and self-edited but I'm not sure whether to post it or not. As I wrote chapter 3 and the unpublished 4th chapter, a lot of old emotions that I have long sense gotten over began to come back and remind me of old, bad memories of growing up gay. While my story is basically entirely fictional, all the emotions I put into my main character are very real and ones I've drawn off personal experience to put in the story. In short, I'd rather leave them in the past, dead and buried where they belong. How's that for a depressing ending?
And on a side note, the title of my blog refers to Alex Kotlowitz's book, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up In The Other America. It basically chronicles the true story of two young brothers growing up in the crime-ridden West Side of Chicago in the late 80s. I read it in college and it offers an amazing lens of understanding into the world that many of the kids I work with now still live in.
So I've been living here in my new place in the "new" city now for a month and a half. Everything that was new and exciting before has become routine and comfortable, and no longer has that "oh wow, this is so different" factor. And that I think is a good thing because it makes daily living more comfortable. Riding the subway, driving in insanely aggravating bumper-to-bumper traffic every morning, going to a new gym, living in a very dense neighborhood, finding new places to shop, etc. have all just become routine and a part of every-day life. Yet this still doesn't feel like home the way living on campus did or how I feel when I go back to my hometown. While I feel totally comfortable and happy with my new life here in the city, there is still something strangely foreign about this place that has prevented me from feeling completely at home here. I think some of it has to do with not really knowing anyone here yet. The only person I really know here is my boyfriend, and while he's a great companion I would like to make other friends. I miss my friends from college like crazy, and while most of them are only a 20 minute drive out to the suburbs, it feels like now we are in two totally different worlds. Plus they have been all over the place this summer, so getting everyone together has been tough. Hopefully that'll change soon though. Although one of them I can see permanently kinda disappearing though, as he's getting married in a couple weeks and moving farther south from the city. I'm happy for him, but it really sucks to know that he's basically gone in a couple weeks.
I feel like now that I've settled in to life here I should start finding ways to meet new people, because if I don't I'll go crazy. It's tough going from having a very close group of friends to basically having none overnight.
How long till this place really feels like home?
We often expect old people to be stuffy when it comes to humor, but today that stereotype was thrown out the window.
Now that I've graduated, my school has cut off my gym privileges so I've had to start going to a local gym around the corner. I go in the middle of the day, so its basically only old people and college kids there at that time. It was 95 degrees today and so humid you could feel the water in the air. It was miserable. Anyway, after I got done my workout I went into the locker room to grab my stuff, and there were two old guys (probably around 65-70) sitting on the bench by my locker. They were naked, of course, as nobody over the age of 50 seems to ever wear any clothes in a locker room. I think they do it on purpose to make all the younger people uncomfortable by letting them know whats going to happen to their in-shape bodies eventually. Anyway, back on track. So the two guy's conversation went something like this.
Old Guy #1: "It sure is hot out today. I gotta go put my air conditioning in."
Old Guy #2: "Sure is. It's hotter then Satan's asshole and stickier than a hooker's vagina out there today."
Old Guy #1: *with a straight face* "Sure is." End of conversation.
I was honestly questioning if I had heard that right. I looked over at the kid at the locker next to me (probably around 17-18) and he had the same look of "did he say what I think he said". When we both realized we had heard that right we burst into uncontrollable laughter for a good 20 seconds. The two old guys probably looked at us like we were crazy. The best part was that the guy who said it said it with a straight, serious face and the other guy hardly even reacted to it like it was completely ordinary.
Anyway, it made my day hearing that.
So I graduated. It was the first time that a graduation actually felt like an accomplishment of sorts. Graduating high school wasn't really an accomplishment because if you IQ was above the single digits you would have to work to NOT graduate. They basically spoon feed you through, which IMO does a disservice to those going to college. But thats a different topic. But yeah, I was actually really proud of myself for finishing on time because college was a lot of work, especially the last two years. My parents, best friend, and boyfriend all came down and it was fun.
So what am I doing now. Well, being in a relationship kind of complicated plans after I graduated, but not in a detrimental way so to speak. My boyfriend is putting off med school for 2 years so he can build his resume so he can be a competitive applicant for a top-tier medical school. He's already a strong candidate from a top-tier college, but he felt taking two years to work and gain experience would be beneficial. We narrowed our choice list of cities to basically Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DC, and San Diego. I could basically move wherever and find a temporary job until I figured out what I wanted to do. He ended up getting two very good job offers in New York and Philadelphia. New York has always been my dream city, and the prospect of getting to live there was very enticing. The job even had the possibility of subsidized housing, which when living in New York can be huge since rent prices are insanely high. But the job and apartment were in a upper Bronx neighborhood, far from Manhattan or anything exciting, and it would still be expensive to live there. We crunched the numbers and it just didn't add up to anything more then living with zero disposable income.
So the next option that we considered was San Diego. The thought of living in California, trying something radically new, living in great year-round weather near the beach was enticing. We never envisioned ourselves living there permanently, but it was an enticing option to try something different. It was a crazy idea to move clear across the country with no jobs in a pricey city knowing nobody. Dream crushed. Cross that off the list.
So what did that leave us with? Philadelphia. I love this city, and I have come to view it as my adopted home. It may not be as glitzy and famous as New York, or as pristine as San Diego, but its a thriving city of 1.5M people of all sorts with everything you could want in an urban experience. So we settled on Philly, where my boyfriend already had a job offer as a Research Assistant at one of the top hospitals in the country, and my job potential was greater as well. We signed a lease for a 800 square foot apartment (huge by city standards) in a very desirable neighborhood, a block from the subway (yay to a car-free life!), very near Center City, and the area has a thriving ethnic restaurant scene in it's own right. All for half the price of what it would have cost us to live in a dumpy studio in the ghetto in New York or San Diego.
I'm still not quite sure what I want to do yet. I'm going through the hiring process for one potential job, but I'm not quite sure I will want it if I do get offered. Then again, its good paying and offers stability, and its a job. Plus it would be really nice not to have to rely on the Bank of Mom & Dad to pay my bills for me. But I've also over the past five or so months come to question my potential career choice that I was so solidly for the first 3.5 years of college. I've come to realize that there are other jobs that I would be happier in and I would be better suited for. Plus I always have to think about the gay thing. But who knows, we shall see what the future brings. I'm moving July 1st and it can't come soon enough.