The Appeal of Younger Men

young chickAt the age of 33 I’ve only ever had one real boyfriend. By ‘real boyfriend’ I mean a guy who I dated and everyone in my life knew that I was dating him. All of my close friends and my parents met him in person. Not only did everyone know that he existed, and that he was a man, but we discussed him on a regular basis. I told others about places we went together, things we did, fun we had, the way he made me feel, and other such relationship type things. This was a very thrilling time of my life.

To some people reading this, such details may sound silly to be thrilled about since they seem so ordinary and perhaps downright inconsequential or insignificant. I assure you this openness and honesty about my boyfriend was quite significant for me. It made me feel more a part of the human race and, I daresay, an active participant in this dance of life we are all engaged in.

I’ve been meaning to write about this boyfriend, our relationship, and what lessons he helped me learn for quite some time now. But every time I sat down to write about him my words felt like they were deflated and like the post’s message was not taking on a large enough scope. Like there was more to be said than to just ramble on about he and I and our breakup. Over this past weekend the bigger message here presented itself to me. But first I must tell you about Thomas…

My first real boyfriend’s name was Thomas. From the first second I saw him, there was a spark. God, was he cute! And he seemed so kind and so sincere. That first meeting was brief, but on our second meeting we sat and talked for a very long time about horror movies. I found him physically attractive and he loved horror films! Deadly combination. I was smitten.

One important detail about Thomas, and perhaps the single largest contributing factor to our relationship’s downfall, was his age. At the time I was 31 years old and he was 22. In our case, the 9-year difference was one of the things that attracted him to me, and me to him, but it ended up being an overall negative.

Without going into too much boring detail, Thomas and I were a wrong mix right from the start. I am a communicator, a giver, and a person who desires to talk out problems. In my experience with him, Thomas was a taker who avoided serious conversation at all costs. We were always on a different page and never understood what the other was trying to say.

We dated for literally two months and one week. About two of those weeks were easy and really fun. The rest were a gradual downfall into continuously feeling like crap. We argued constantly, actually had very little in common, and the death kiss – I seemed more interested in Thomas than he did in me. When we would go out, he ignored me and seemed to be constantly trying to hit on other men. Guys would comment about this to me at bars. Thomas was constantly trying to talk me into having threesomes, which now I realize was an indication of his selfishness and his lack of genuine interest in me. Who knows why he even wanted to be together?

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Thomas was very self motivated. All of his decisions and motivations were based on what benefited and satisfied him. Writing about him now makes me feel like an idiot for dating him in the first place, but at the beginning all I knew was that I felt an intense chemical attraction to him and that he made me feel alive. I had no way of knowing how toxic and unsatisfying our time together would be. After it was over, Thomas personally told me that he had cheated on me twice in the short amount of time we were dating.

Thomas was an awful boyfriend, but he was my first. This dating thing was new to me. It still is. Since our relationship ended I’ve internally reprimanded myself a great deal for having dated someone so young. Why would I have done something so obviously stupid?

Jump ahead with me to just this past weekend. I decided to rejoin the world of the living and head to a gay bar in the big city on Friday night. I ended up having a spectacular time. I’m so glad that I went out. I ran into a lot of old friends. It was really nice.

young manThroughout the course of the night I came across a 21-year-old gentleman named Calvin. He was young in all the traditional and enviable ways. His skin was flawless and wrinkle free, his hair was thick, healthy and styled in the coolest modern hair style, he was wearing such a hot and fashionable outfit, he was currently in school, and came across as so innocent.

He smiled so much that it made me happy just to be around him. He made me smile in return. We spent a lot of time talking and he is extremely excited about life. He’s excited about his school, excited about the possibilities ahead of him in his journey, and he talks about love like it’s a concept he just discovered yesterday. He is not yet jaded. Still optimistic and still hopeful.

He seemed interested in me from the start. He was so attentive, so touchy feely and flirty. He kept his eyes on me wherever I would move. Being around this and his attitude invigorated me. In fact, he had such an affect on me that I’m writing about him today and still smiling when I think of him.

Lately I’ve been feeling so blah and devoid of hope in my own life that being around Calvin held a harsh mirror up to me. Through him I saw an old reflection of Adam at the age of 21. He made me miss my old self. He made me miss my old excitement and optimism. He made me miss being young. Realistically, I believe that is how Thomas also made me feel at first.

old man reflectionStill, Calvin did another thing for me; he helped me realize something about myself. In the past two years I was most attracted to and enlivened by Calvin and Thomas, two men in their early twenties. As I drove home on Saturday morning with Calvin’s sparkling eyes still fresh in my memory, I realized why I was so attracted to these young two men.

I never got to date these young men when I was their age. I never got to date when I was a teenager. I never got to talk on the phone for hours with my teenage boyfriend. I never got to pass notes with him in class, or hold hands with him at homecoming, or take walks with him on warm summer nights. I never got to visit my boyfriend in his college dorm room, or study with him at a table in our college library, or feel his reassuring touch beside me in a dark movie theater. I never got to do any of these things, and to be honest, I feel so damn sorry for myself that it is hard not to tear up when I really think about it. I was attracted to Calvin, and initially to Thomas, because they were what I wanted back then and was without.

I was in Calvin’s presence for 6 hours on a Friday night and during that small amount of time I got to travel back in time to something I had been cheated out of. In the interest of full disclosure, we spent a pretty large amount of time making out on a friend’s couch in an apartment with lava lamps in every room and heavy-metal band posters on every wall. It could not have felt more like college if I had planned it, and it was wonderful.

In all honesty, I don’t think I will ever see Calvin again. This meeting had the feel of a one-time thing. It doesn’t need another instance in order to teach its lesson. He will probably never know what an impact our short time together had on me. I held his face, looked into his eyes, felt his lips on mine, and was completely present with someone for the first time in a long time.

For my future, I’m not completely sure what this will all mean in relation to my moving forward and to my accepting that some things were absent from my youth because I was a closeted gay man until I was almost 30 years old. The hard truth is that I can’t go back to being 17 again, and I will never be 21 and in college again, but I did just turn 33 and some would say that is still pretty young. I still have some youthful experiences ahead of me.

But it’s not really the youth that truly matters, is it? Maybe it’s just the innocence and authenticity that really attracted me to these two young men. Something tells me if I look hard enough there is still some of that to be found in this world, even in a man in his 30’s. I just need to hold on to the positive traits I once had in my youth and mix them well with the lessons of my older age. And maybe there is a man out there whose love will make me feel like a teenager again, while also making me feel like an adult in all the right ways. A perfect combination.

It could happen.

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This is a picture from a truly amazing film about teenage love titled ‘Boys’ – released in 2014. Click on this image to go to its IMDB Page.

 

A Letter to My Closeted Brothers and Sisters

letter to my gay brothers and sistersHello My Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well. I hope that the sun is shining on your face and the wind is always at your back, as the saying goes. First off, I wanted to congratulate you for all of the positive progress you have made so far on your coming out journey.

You may be thinking, “I haven’t made any progress yet. I’m still completely hidden inside of my closet.” To this I say, you are not giving yourself enough credit. At the very least, you are realizing that you are not happy and completely satisfied in your closet. This is a step. It may seem small, but self-awareness is no small feat. Many people live their entire lives ignoring their internal gut instincts.

Your knowing that you wish for change proves that you have a rebel and a dreamer inside of you. I bet if you let your mind wander you imagine a life for yourself where you are not closeted. Visualization is key. Performing this visualizing has the chance to create hope within you. Hope is a powerful thing, My Friend.

Please take time to congratulate yourself on working as hard as you do. It is hard work to be closeted and still function at your job, with family, and with friends. In many ways, you are working twice as hard as the others around you just to perform the same tasks and to stay calm and centered. And all the while you may be blaming yourself for being who you are and acting as you do.

Please let yourself off of the hook for any lies you may have told friends, family and co-workers to hide who you truly are. These things do not make you a bad person. You are merely surviving in the only way you can think to at the present moment. To some extent, everyone exists as two different people; the version of themselves they know to be true inside and the version of themselves which they share with everyone else. No one else ever knows who we completely are from our core to our outside.

Lies and secrets happen. One lesson I can share with you from my personal, coming out journey is that, when it is all said and done, none of that matters. Who cares? You can’t change the past. All you can control is what you are doing right at this moment. Let yourself off the hook for being so concerned with other people’s feelings. Let yourself off the hook for living your life more to please others than to please yourself. In actuality, it means you are a kind and good person. That, My Friend, is a positive thing.

If you have experienced negative responses from people who you have come out to, brush it off. In the end, pretending to be someone you are not, simply to serve the comfort level of someone narrow-minded and backwards, will never be a path to your personal happiness. Remember that these people’s reactions say more about them than they do about you. We are not meant to mesh well with everyone in this life. Don’t pressure yourself to be an exception from this reality.

I want you to give yourself credit for feeling fear. It may seem like a burden, but it has a place in this life. Fear can make us slow down, think about our moves carefully, and be an active, thoughtful driver behind the wheel of our life. Sticking with the car metaphor – remember that fear is a rear view mirror to help you consider your turns, but it is not the steering wheel by which you should actually make your moves. I will make the suggestion that Hope should be your steering wheel, or at least one of the ones that you use.

I wish I had words to better explain the moment where my internal light switch flipped for me and I suddenly cared more about my personal comfort level with my being gay than I did about everyone else’s feelings and reactions to it. I guess I shouldn’t describe it as a moment; it was really a long transition over several years and several instances of coming out to people. You will get there. One day you will look back at these internal monsters, which feel so huge and scary right now, and they will suddenly feel like tiny, non-threatening, stuffed animals.

Remember to give yourself time to become the person you are meant to be. We all start somewhere.

Remember to feel all the emotions that come with your journey: the fear, the joy, the sadness, and the satisfaction. When it is all said and done, the memories of these feelings will make you a better partner, when you find the love of your life, and simply a better person.

Remember to feel love for yourself. One day, you will see, you are doing just fine.

Chin Up. I have faith in you.

All My Love,

Adamfingers hug in support

Pushy, Pushy: Being Pushed Out of the Closet by Gay Friends

push-cliffIn honor of National Coming Out Day I offer up this post to you, Gentle Reader, in celebration of everyone’s right to be proud of who they truly are, as well as their right to share their truths with others in their own time, when they are fully ready. Here are two stories from my days of being closeted, each telling how sometimes others may prefer for us to come out in their time, rather than in our own.

In the fall of 2009 I was 27 years old and had known, without a doubt, that I was gay for about 8 years. I look back on that particular fall and try to understand why I was still so deep in my closet after all that time. Being closeted had just become such a labyrinth of internal and external obstacles for me, I suppose the more I tried to find the perfect way to accept myself and come out, the deeper I got lost in my maze.

I met my friend Ray at a gay bar in September of that year. From the first moment I heard him speak, I felt comfortable around him. He is the kind of guy that immediately comes across as intelligent and funny. I thought he was so hilarious. Every sentence out of his mouth was fueled by intellectual humor. In my opinion, that is the sexiest kind of humor.

We became fast friends and, looking back, I’m really thankful that he came into my life at that particular point. Ray is brazen and proud of being gay. I needed to be around that back then. Hell, I need to be around that right now. Ray was great because he would speak his mind and if you didn’t agree with him, then too bad for you. I, on the other hand, have always leaned more towards politely bending my will to agree with others so as not to create conflict. Ray helped me view a lot of things in a different light. He was one of the first people to help me understand that I could be proud of my sexuality if I just gave myself time.

Ray and I would have gotten along almost perfectly, if I hadn’t been closeted. Ray hated the fact that I was still in my closet and he constantly tried to push me out of it through our conversations. He would say things like,

“You will be so much happier once you are out. Just do it already!”

or

“You are making a conscious decision to be miserable by staying in the closet. Why are you torturing yourself?”

On one hand I could understand what he was saying and I truly believed that I would be happier once I was out. But I just wasn’t at that place yet. This reality caused many arguments between us, all of which left me feeling stupid and cowardly. (Not things that your friends should make you feel on a regular basis.) My being closeted was one of the major things that ultimately unraveled our friendship. I know Ray mostly just wanted me to be happy, but his pressure-fueled tactics were flawed. Being nagged at does not make coming out any easier. But I still find my mind wondering to thoughts of Ray often. I smile remembering how genuinely funny he was. I miss how he made me feel when things were good and I wish him well.

coming-outJumping back seven years prior to Ray, during the fall semester of my junior year in college, I existed even deeper in my closet. At the time I had just begun meeting guys online for dates and I was only just beginning to accept that I was probably gay. In those days I was really immersed in ‘The Closeted Game”. I had a whole system worked out so that I could live two separate lives. I had two AIM screen names and two emails (one gay and one straight). When I would go on dates with guys I would sheepishly ask them to keep my identity and sexuality a secret. I nervously explained to them that no one at my college knew that I was gay. I was terrified about acting on these gay feelings and I was actively begging the guys I dated to help me stay on the down low.

I went out on one particular date with a guy named Mike. Then several months later Mike coincidentally began seriously dating an out gay man that went to the same, small liberal arts college that I did. (We will call this fellow student Neal). Well, one day Mike decided to tell Neal,

“Hey, actually, come to think of it, I went on a date once at this school with a guy named Adam.”

And he then proceeded to describe me in great detail, to the point where Neal knew exactly who I was. At first Neal must have said to him,

“Nah I know who you are talking about, he’s not gay.”

But eventually…Ding Ding Ding. A light bulb went off and Neal realized that I was closeted and that no one on campus knew about it.

Now Neal just happened to be the only out gay man on our small campus: a situation, which I am sure, was not ideal or entirely pleasant for him. Now Neal saw a unique opportunity with this newfound information and, instead of keeping this to himself or coming to privately discuss the matter with me, Neal began telling my friends and other random people on campus that I was gay and that his boyfriend had dated me once.

push badOne brisk autumn evening one of my friends called me up on my dorm room phone to tell me that Neal was spreading this rumor… I. Was. Pissed. I found Neal’s phone number in our campus directory, called him up, and made him meet me in person. I angrily confronted him, basically threatened him, and demanded to know why he would do such a thing. I screamed at him,

“How dare you! Why in the hell would you do something like this? You of all people know what it is like to be gay on such a small campus. If I do not chose to share my sexuality, which I am literally still figuring out, with everyone else then that is none of your god damned business! You have no right to out someone else! If I am gay then we should be sticking together and helping each other, not going behind each other’s backs and spreading rumors. In this small community how would we benefit from attacking each other?”

Neal cried a lot during that conversation and explained to me,

“I’m sorry. It’s hard for me being the only gay person at this school and I figured that if someone like you, who is involved in a lot of clubs and stuff and who is in a fraternity and who has lots of different kinds of friends, was gay then everyone would see that it is not such a big deal and I guess I thought it would make it easier for me.”

All these years later, thinking back on Neal, I can’t help but to feel a little bad for him. He was scared too. But he really pissed me off. Gay or not, he was sneaky and I can’t respect that. As you can imagine, the whole experience scared me and, in some ways, pushed me even deeper into my closet and my paranoia. Still, to my knowledge, he never spread any further rumors about me, and I was once again free to uncomfortably hide in my closet for many years more.

So what is the purpose of me droning on about these two less than perfect stories on a day that is supposed to be about hope and freedom? The moral is, no matter what, we all come out when we are ready. No sooner and no later, and that is the way it should be. Those of us who are out and proud need to be supportive of our closeted brothers and sisters. Show them we love them while not being pushy. We all arrive at these milestones exactly when we should; when we know in our gut that it is time. There may still be fear and apprehension, but eventually we know the time has come.

So in further honor of National Coming Out Day, I think I will be brave and display a link to this post on my personal Facebook account. I feel ready to now… and I got here completely in my own time…

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Finding My Voice

taped-mouthBeing closeted can feel like having no voice. It is difficult to ask for help, if you have no voice.

The first person I ever came out to was my friend Stacey. It’s easy to understand why I chose to tell her first. Stacey has the kindest demeanor about her. Everything from her laughter to her body language expresses acceptance. To this day, I am hard pressed to think of anyone with a more benevolent tone to their voice than Stacey. She smiles a lot, and she always has this unique expression on her face that seems to say, “Go ahead, whatever it is you want to say, I won’t judge you at all”.

I met Stacey in college and the night I decided to tell her that I was gay happened to be during our junior year. I had been anticipating it all night. I remember we had been hanging out, ate a bunch of junk food, and watched a movie. After the movie we were just sitting in her room talking when I finally leaned towards her and said, “So, I want to tell you something.  It’s kind of a big deal…” Now, I said it with a nervous enough tone to my voice that she immediately lowered her voice, trained her eyes on me with concern, and replied, “Okay…”

I remember taking a deep breathe and jumping out of my chair because I was so nervous. I remember a lot of walking around the room, darting in circles. I remember a lot of flailing my arms around as I repeatedly yelled about how scared I was. I also did a lot of nervously clenching my hands into fists and avoiding eye contact with her. I kept saying things like, “I’m sorry I just can’t say it” and “Oh man, oh man, oh man” and “Jesus, Stacey, this makes me so freakin’ nervous”.

Considering that she had no idea what I was getting at, Stacey was supportive in every way she knew how to be. She was patient as I freaked out. She tried to calm me down. She tried to get me to just say it. I remember that it took me an hour to finally tell her. And I remember it feeling like 8 hours. It was hard to just say it. Saying nothing had begun to feel safe to me. Staying silent was the price I paid to feel safe.

Now, she would be the first person I said this out loud to. What terrified me the most about that was after I told her; there would be no going back. You cannot unsay something like that. I kept thinking about how big of a deal that was. How I was changing my life forever. Once I said it, then it would be real. My declaration would make it true.

Yet, even with all of these worries and apprehensions, this need to tell her still burned inside of me. It’s amazing, I was so afraid of the truth, so afraid of my life changing forever, but I could still feel this need underneath all of that. At last, the need to speak the truth far out weighted the fear.  I think all closeted men and women eventually reach this breaking of the equilibrium, and that’s when we finally say it out loud. There comes a point where saying nothing just doesn’t feel safe anymore. When we reach that point, we not only find our voice, but we start learning how to scream.

man_wordsThat night, Stacey helped me speak. I remember her finally getting worried and taking control. She got slightly stern with me and said, “Adam. Seriously. You are starting to scare me. Just tell me what you are trying to say.”

So I stopped pacing, sat down next to her, looked at the ground because my eyes were too afraid to look up, and I said, “I’m gay.” It felt like someone just ripped a band aide off my arm. I barely got the words out and I followed them up with, “Oh my god, I said it. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. I’m sorry that took so long. Please don’t hate me. If you hate me, don’t tell me cause I can’t handle that right now.” I felt sick to my stomach. I continued looking down at the ground.

And Stacy replied, “Adam. It is fine. It is totally fine.” She put her hand on my arm. I managed to look at her. She smiled at me. I sheepishly smiled back. And as always, her face said, “I’m not judging you at all”.

And just like that, someone else knew I was gay. But most importantly, they knew because I had told them. I had summoned up the strength to tell her from my own lips. I had taken the first step.

And looking back on that very scary and very arduous first step, words alone cannot express how proud I am of myself.

The pride I feel today far outweighs the fear I felt then.

I found my voice. I found my words. And you are reading them…

Your Coming Out & Other People’s Feelings

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Photo from lifehacker.com via Adam Dachis

When you really think about it, coming out to someone should be painless and stress free. All you are doing is sitting in front of someone and saying, “This is who I am. This is part of my truth. Here is something important about me.” Why is that so monumental? Why is that such a big deal? Why should we be rejected and persecuted for telling someone who we are?

People respond negatively to our news for a wide spectrum of reasons including, but not limited to, religious beliefs, learned hate, bigotry, lack of knowledge on the subject, fear and just plain confusion. The terror of these negative responses is one of the reasons closeted individuals are so filled with anxiety and trepidation about coming out. The possibility of these negative responses keeps many of us in the closet for years upon years. Fear of rejection is a very real and tangible thing.

I would argue that one of the main reasons coming out is so difficult, has to do with our forced focus on the person we are coming out to. The focus becomes, ‘how is he/she going to react? How does this make them feel?’ The person receiving the news becomes the vulnerable one. I ask you, are they the vulnerable one? Are they the one who is scared to death?

Call me crazy, but it seems like the focus should be on the terrified LGBT individual experiencing all of this internal fear and turmoil. But the world can be an irrational place. On top of their own feelings, a person who is coming out, is forced to consider the feelings of the other person who they are coming out to.

I remember reading articles that reminded me to be patient with the person I was telling. Consider how this news is making them feel. One article said that the gay person has been sitting with and dealing with the news that they are gay for some time now, but it will be a sudden shock to the person they are telling, so remember to be sympathetic towards them and prepare to comfort them if needed. Comfort them?!?!

comfort

Photo from elephantjournal.com via Wendy Strgar

Please do not misinterpret me as heartless. I agree that when it comes to telling our loved ones we are gay, we should be kind and loving towards them as we share this news. But when did it become all about the other person? Who is considering the feelings of the person sharing their gigantic news? Who is going to comfort them? Well, hopefully the person who they are telling will comfort them.

The whole situation is set up to feel like the teller is in the wrong and is hoping for forgiveness from the person being told. This current reality is flawed and unfair.

Perhaps, the stress of coming out is magnified by the fact that it is still viewed as such an oddity and a huge ordeal by many sections of society. Is being gay really that big of a deal? Does who I sleep with really affect the lives of the straight couple living next door to me? Does who they sleep with affect my life? No, it doesn’t!

Still, I argue that some of the added stress with coming out is putting so much emphasis on the other person. Perhaps we need a societal shift for the focus to be on the sharer and not the shareé. It is entirely possible that as our society becomes more educated, and being gay becomes less taboo and alien, coming out will become more focused on and supportive of the gay person.

I am very curious as to other people’s thoughts about this. Am I being too one sided? Do I sound too harsh?

Anonymity: Friend or Foe?

facelessI originally started this blog as a closeted gay man. It’s initial purpose was to talk about being closeted in the hopes that the self-reflection would eventually help me come out, and also that I might be fortunate enough to meet other gay men who would help me in my journey. At the time, I did not share my blog’s URL, or its existence, with any of my friends and family. This anonymity allowed me to speak my truth free from self-censorship. If I knew that people in my life were reading my intimate gay thoughts, if they were reading about things I am ashamed of and learning about my fears and insecurities, then I would be afraid of their judgment and their disapproval. So I directed my voice towards people who knew nothing about me and who were getting to know me for the first time through my posts. I suppose that sometimes opening up to complete strangers is easier than opening up to those who know us best.

Three and a half years later, not much has changed. To date, I have only given my blog’s URL to two of my friends. And I have very briefly discussed it with my parents. In fact, yesterday I let my mother see my blog for the first time. I let her read my post ‘My Love Affair with Peter Parker’ because she knows how much I love Spiderman and she has recently been very interested in my writing. So, otherwise, my blog is still mostly invisible to everyone in my daily life.

Today, my blog exists as much to help others who are coming to terms with being gay as it does for my internal processing and self-reflection. But in order for me to help people with my blog, they have to know that my blog exists. So I must draw traffic to my blog. Enter social media and… Facebook.

For some time now I have struggled with presenting my blog on my personal Facebook profile. This would immediately expose a wider audience to my message and thoughts. But although I do not hide the fact that I am gay from anyone, not hiding is very different from posting in-depth articles about the fact that I am gay for everyone in my life to see.

Internally, I am back and forth with this issue. “To Facebook Post, or Not To Facebook Post…” one could say. Part of me does not feel that my over 700 Facebook friends deserve to know the intimate details of my life. They don’t deserve a front row seat to an analysis of my soul. Even the ones I’m close to don’t deserve to know me in that way. What does that say about me? What does that say about my friends?

AnonymityIn our blogs where we write about personal feelings, desires and experiences, are we more comfortable remaining a faceless, anonymous voice meant only for strangers? Are our blogs meant only to provide people we have never met with our deeper truths, and not our friends and family? Do blogs that begin in anonymity due to fear and self-preservation eventually need to pull back the curtain due to increased pride and the inevitable need for courageous self-declaration? Is my message in any way diminished if my Aunt Ethel finally finds out that I sleep with other boys instead of pretty girls? Or is it just fear, once again, holding us back from evolving into all that we can truly become? Am I keeping my blog about ‘coming out’ in the closet?

———————————-
This fascinating conundrum was recently brought to the forefront of my mind by a truly honest post on a new friend’s blog. Check him out some time at Aaron In Wanderlust. And if you are curious about his post that got me thinking, it was titled ‘The Self-Censored Blogger’.

Breathing Methods

deep breatheFor closeted individuals, struggling with their sexuality can feel like a debilitating, full-time job that allows no room for any of life’s other problems. Unfortunately, Gentle Reader, life keeps coming at all of us whether we are busy with something else or not. When I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21, I had recently returned from a semester abroad experience where I had dated briefly and experienced really being gay for the first time. Part of my goal for the months following being abroad was to begin ‘coming out’ to my friends and family. Well, a month and a half later I was sick, and plans for ‘coming out’ were suddenly put on the back burner. Here is one piece of my cancer story, which was happening to me while I was closeted, and still learning how to breathe.

While battling my testicular cancer the doctors exposed me to many different drugs:  chemo drugs to hopefully kill the cancer, steroids to make sure I didn’t lose my appetite and anti-nausea drugs to make sure I didn’t lose my lunch. Each drug came packaged with their own smorgasbord of side effects. Some side effects were just annoying and inconvenient. Some attacked my self-confidence by causing acne and weight gain. Most were temporary, yet there was always the fear of scarier, longer-term side effects that could stay with me long after the cancer was gone. One particular chemo drug brought with it the possibility of long term negative affects on my lungs and my ability to breathe. As a result, one of the tests they exposed me to on my first day of inpatient chemo, was a test to pinpoint exactly what my lungs’ current air capacity was.

I remember they wheeled me, even though I was plenty capable of walking on my own two feet, into an oddly confined room, on the lowest level of the hospital, to meet with a respiratory specialist. A plumb, middle-aged woman with an awkward gait and an immediately welcoming smile appeared in front of me. I can no longer remember her name. But I remember her reassuring hand on my shoulder and her honest eye contact. I liked her immediately.

I remember her stepping to my right as she talked, and suddenly there was a large, egg shaped machine in front of me where she had once stood. In my memory now, it was the size of a compact, new-age, two person, smart car. It was beige with some almost artistically placed blue. She helped me into it and inside, in front of my face, there was what appeared to be a fighter pilot breathing mask hanging from a pretty serious number of tubes.

She politely explained how this machine would test my breathing and my lungs’ capacity to take in appropriate amounts of air. She mentioned that many people find the small confines of the machine to be uncomfortable and claustrophobia inducing.

She smiled and said, “This will be the easiest test you have here at the hospital. So no worries all right? All I need you to do is breathe. Just relax and do the most natural thing in the world to your body. Just breathe for me and it will be over before you know it. You will have to take deep breaths, long ones and short ones. I will tell you when to do each. But you may start to feel like you can’t breath any more and you know what I want you to do at that point?”

She actually stopped and looked at me. She wanted me to answer.

I shrugged my shoulders with a tiny smile. “I don’t know. Stop?” I asked.

“Just keep breathing.” She said with a wink and a smirk, then she cranked up the machine.

I remember that first test going smoothly, but my head was spinning from the journey that was still in front of me. Cancer is a pretty intimidating foe. My first meeting with this woman was so early on in that journey. There was still so much more discomfort, fear, thankfulness and relief yet to experience. At the time, she was just another doctor and it was just another test.

I would revisit this test and ‘the egg’ two more times during my cancer journey. A second time in the middle of chemo and a third time after my last cycle was complete. Each time she smiled in the same way, placed her hand gently on my shoulder and assured me that the test was easy because all I had to do was breathe. Just keep breathing.

stretching on the beachAs I would find myself to be in many ways when it came to my cancer, with my lungs, I was very lucky. My lungs remained strong and developed no harmful scars or long lasting negative results from the chemo.

And when my chemo was finally finished and I was home recovering, my parents had to bring me back to the hospital to see that woman one last time, to make sure that my lungs were definitely ok. When I saw her that last time I was still bald, still tired and still feeling crappy in general. At the time of this last visit I did not yet know that the cancer was actually dead, but I was hopeful and continued to smile. Especially with people who offered me support and kind words, as this woman always did.

At the end of this final test, as we were saying goodbye, she gave me a hug and wished me the best of luck in my journey ahead, as many doctors and nurses had before her. But she put her hand on my shoulder, as she had always done, looked me directly in my eyes and said,

“All of this was just a part of your life. Trust me, Honey, there’s lots of hard roads and wonderful roads in front of you and all the rest of us. You’re gonna be alright, Sweetie. It’s all the same as that egg and that test. Just keep breathing. One breath at a time and you will be fine.”.

“Just Keep Breathing”. Where truer words ever spoken?

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If you have any reason to suspect that you may be suffering from Testicular Cancer, please see a doctor immediately. Though self-diagnosis is always tempting, especially in today’s google hungry world, obtaining direct information and facts from a health care professional is always the best course of action. Don’t be embarrassed, this is your life we are talking about!
For anyone who is interested here is The American Cancer Society’s Informational Page on Testicular Cancer.