I try to post at least a little something every year on my birthday. Since I have been so bad at posting much of anything here this year it felt extra important that I do.
My husband managed to turn the entire weekend into a birthday celebration. He had me open presents while we were online with our gaming group on Saturday. That’s also when they sang to me and made me blow out a candle.
Then when I woke up Sunday and started cleaning and otherwise preparing to watch some football, I kept finding birthday cards he had hidden here and there around the house. He also insisted on getting takeout for dinner.
I took today off from work and slept in a little bit. Among my presents were books that I may spend the afternoon reading.
But the main thing I need to do is post some new words of wisdom since I try to do that every year. This year I give you:
Love isn’t so much something you feel, as it is something you do. But it never hurts to tell those you love that you do love them. Don’t make them infer it.
Today is my birthday. If you want to know which birthday, let’s just say that I am the only prime number less than 60 and greater than 54, okay? When I was a kid, my birthday was early enough in the school year that I often seemed to catch teachers by surprise. It was late enough in September that, under the rules of the school district we lived in when I turned five years old, I wasn’t allowed to be enrolled until the next year. So I was usually older than the rest of the kids in my class. There were some downsides to that, but also a few upsides.
The other thing that used to be more of an annoyance when I was younger was how crowded the birthdays were among my extended family. I was born 39 days after my Mom’s 17th birthday, and only 6 days before my Dad’s 18th birthday (yes, my parents were 16 years old when they got married!). I was also born 8 days after one of my cousins (the one that has been called my almost twin since we were infants, because when Grandma was babysitting both of us strangers would think we were twins). I was born two weeks before one grandmother’s 38th birthday and ten days after one grandfather’s 40th birthday. Also within a few weeks of my birthday were the birthdays or two uncles, and a whole bunch of other cousins (and demi-cousins, and step-cousins, and cousins-once-removed and so on).
During my teen years, when we lived in the same community as most of my mom’s siblings and other extended family members on her side, from the middle of August through Christmas there were one or two birthdays every single week. And my grandmother on that side (who was emphatically the ruling matriarch of the clan) insisted that everyone needed to show up and celebrate everyone else’s special day. Which didn’t really feel all that special when it was the 6th or 9th extended family get-together of that month, you know? Not that I have a right to complain. My one cousin whose birthday is two days after Christmas would be the first to point out that there are worse times to have one’s birthday than late September.
Which is sort of a convoluted way to say that while I have always enjoyed those times that we have gotten together with a bunch of friends to have a blow-out birthday, I’m also perfectly happy to spend the day lazing around the house, reading, and enjoying the well-wishes from friends; and then celebrating with a dinner with my husband.
But to get back to the cluster of family birthdays and why I mention being a homo in the title of this post: one of the step-cousins I mentioned in passing above had his birthday just a couple of days before mine. He was the step-son of one of my dad’s siblings, and therefore didn’t join the family until I was about 11 years old. When I was in middle school he was in college, and whenever we were visiting his family, or if his family came to visit the grandparents (and therefore we all had to show up for at least part of the visit), he always found a way to tell me that I was a freak.
By which I mean he would literally say, “You are such a freak!” or “God, you really are an over-educated freak, aren’t you?” He only called me a faggot to my face once that I recall, but years later I learned that my aunt (his step-mother at the time) was constantly admonishing him for calling me a faggot while talking about me with other family members. And I want to emphasize here, he was 20 years old and when I was 13—so this wasn’t a child being cruel to another child, but rather someone who supposedly was an adult being cruel to a child. Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t shed any tears when said aunt divorced his father when I was in high school. I thought I would never have to deal with his nonsense for the rest of my life, right?
Well, now we live in a world that includes Facebook. I typically log in to Facebook no more than about once or twice a month, and only then because for some family members I care about, Facebook is the only way to reliably get news about what’s happening in their lives. And so a couple weeks back when I logged in to ping some of my fellow Seahawks fans, what did I find but a friend request from this jerk…
Now, to be fair, he wasn’t the only person during my childhood who found ways to point out that I didn’t conform to societal expectations. I spent most of my childhood trying to figure out why so many of my classmates, public school teachers, Sunday School teachers, and pastors thought that there was something wrong with me. Specifically, why so many classmates, teachers, adult relatives, and at least one pastor kept calling me a “pussy,” “sissy,” “homo,” “faggot,” “weirdo,” et al. Once puberty hit in full force, I finally knew and all of that energy was redirected to trying to convince myself that I wasn’t gay, but that somehow I could thread the needle between my sexual orientation and the expectations of both society at large and the evangelical church in specific.
So, he wasn’t really that much of an outlier among the folks I had to deal with back then, but still, I look at that friend request and have to ask, “Why?” Because when I look at his timeline, it is all pro-NRA and pro-Trump memes. Therefore I can’t imagine that he is reaching out to apologize and say that he wishes he had been more supportive of my non-conformities when I was a kid. Maybe he is, but even looking at his current photos all that comes to mind is all of those times he called me a freak and how he used to disparage me to other family members. So, no, I am not going to accept his friend request.
I spent too much time as a child, teen, and young adult trying to accommodate haters like him. As an adult, I’ve forged a life with friends who love me and accept me (even though I am far from perfect) for who I am. I don’t feel any need to make time for people who couldn’t do that when they had the chance.
I usually end my birthday posts with some words of wisdom about some lesson I have learned. This year I’ve going to paraphrase/mangle Harvey Fierstein:
There is nothing you need more from other people than love and respect. Anyone who couldn’t give you that when they had a chance, doesn’t deserve a place in your life.
Yeah, I used the graphic recently, but it’s appropriate. I need to do a real NorWesCon review this week, but today we’ll stick to one discovery I made.
On Monday morning, after our fourth night sleeping at the con, my husband was up and had already carried some things out to the car when I woke up. Most other mornings he had gotten up before me, gotten dressed, ran off to do his staff job, and sometimes came back as I was getting moving to see if I wanted to go to breakfast. So Monday was the first morning he was there the entire time I was doing my initial get up and get ready shuffle.
He kept expressing concern, asking if I was all right, a lot during the process. I attributed it to him feeling tired because he never sleeps well away from home, and he had been very busy all weekend. So I thought it was a bit of projection: I didn’t feel quite right, so he assumed I didn’t, either.
But when we were almost done loading the car, he asked again, with a really concerned tone of voice. So I asked him did I look bad? Why was he asked.
“You were complaining a lot while moving around this morning.”
I explained that that was just the usual thing: my joints are always stiff when I first wake up until I’ve been moving around for a while. And I always mutter to myself while doing certain tasks. “I just had that in my hand a minute ago… oh, there you are!” and so on.
“You weren’t just groaning! You were dropped the F-bomb several times”
And I had an epiphany. On weekdays, he leaves for work about three hours before my alarm goes off. Then on weekends, he sleeps in. So he’s almost never around during that time when I’m just getting up and moving. Apparently in the last couple years I’ve gone from just groaning when I reach for something and my shoulder protests. I now mutter bad words along with the groaning.
Now, I probably did it a bit more than usual Monday, because I also don’t sleep very well when I’m not in my own bed, so by the fourth night of sleeping at the hotel, I was also feeling less than fully rested. I was also trying to pack, which meant lifting and moving a lot more things than I’m usually handling during a typical get-up-and-get-ready-for-work routine.
The truth is I am getting older, and parts of my body just don’t work as well as they used to. I own several folding canes and keep them stashed around. This started in the early days of my pre-diabetic treatment. When I started eating a low-carb diet I started having random gout flare-ups where suddenly just trying to walk on whichever foot was having the flare-up was extremely painful. I almost never have random flare-ups any more, thanks to more adjustments to my diet and medications, but some days the ankle that had all the torn tendons a few years ago starts hurting when I put weight on it. Or the knee (in the other leg) that got banged up really bad a couple of different times gets a little unreliable.
Those are more likely to happen in certain kinds of weather, or when there has been a significant weather change. Someone watching might notice me having a slight limp on one side or the other for part of a day, or if it gets bad, I get out one of the canes.
Similarly, because of scar tissue in one inner ear, when there are fast changes in the local barometric pressure, I get to hear all sorts of buzzes and clicks and whistles and pops on one side only. That one can get particularly surreal, since ordinarily that’s the ear I can barely hear anything with.
Of course, I’m not the only person who mutters while doing things. Michael does it, too, and it can get particularly comedic if we’re both hurrying around the house trying to get something done. “What did you say?” “Nothing, just talking to myself.” Over and over and over again.
When we got home and we were both doing it again while unpacking–it was worse because home is much bigger than the hotel room, and so we’re often further apart and in different rooms making it even harder to tell whether the other person is trying to get our attention, or just talking to themself. I had to tease him about it, particularly since today is his birthday. For the next five months, he’s only nine years younger than me, instead of the usual ten.
When I was a kid, I was always being told to stop acting “like that.” It wasn’t usually that I was hurting someone or playing with with something that they thought I would break. It was usually because of things like the time my dad caught me singing along to the “My Own Home” song from Disney’s animated Jungle Book—I had a towel or blanket wrapped around me, like the girl in the movie was wearing, and an empty milk jug balanced on my head. I know, now, that the reason I was so into that song was because 5-year-old me had a crush on the cartoon version of Mowgli. And clearly Dad suspected the same thing.
Admonishments about me acting in a manner inappropriate for my gender and/or age came from Dad and certain other relatives, plus teachers, and of course classmates. Such admonitions were often accompanied with more than just verbal abuse. They kept coming even after my parents divorced and I moved 1200 miles away from Dad. Grade-school and middle-school kids can tease and bully cruelly, but it’s nothing compared to the lengths teen-age boys will go. Just like the teachers who had told my parents earlier that there was nothing they could do about the bullying as long as I “talked like that and acted like that,” the guys who targeted me in my teens and twenties would tell me it was my own fault. If I just would stop “acting like that” they’d leave me alone.
It wasn’t just me this happened to. I still remember a news commentary show that I used to love watching on PBS, when they covered the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979. If you look at historical pictures of the immense crowd, you will see huge numbers of men and women dressed in polo shirts and slacks or t-shirts and blue jeans. There wasn’t a lot of people in glitter or marching nearly naked. But the only footage this news show included in their coverage were shots of the very few individuals (and it was a tiny minority—this wasn’t a Pride Parade, this was a coordinated activist event that thousands of people traveled cross country to participate in) who were dressed very flamboyantly. And one of the pundits on the panel said something along the line of, “if the homosexual community wants civil rights, they should stop acting like that.”
Even though I was deeply closeted at the time, I wondered why queer people needed to earn their rights. The definition of a civil right is that you are entitled to it regardless.
At some point during the process of coming out I had the epiphany that they did genuinely believe that it was an act. I mean, I had one relative angrily yell at me after I came out that I was just “doing it for attention.” Right? Why would anyone want to be publicly known as being a member of a group that is regularly targeted for violence just for fun?
I still don’t know all the little behaviors and verbal ticks about me that set some people off. Given how many times since I came out, even during my Big Earring Phase, other people would mistake a woman friend as my wife, I know that the I’m not that gender nonconforming. Regardless, it isn’t an act. It has never been an act. It’s me being me. Yeah, I like to sing along to songs that I like. I like to dance, even though I know I’m not good at it and even if I’m just by my self. I like wear bright colors—including pink and purple. I love purple anything. I get excited and nerdy as f—k about things I love. I cry out loud at sad or poignant scenes in books, movies, or television episodes I watch (heck, I cry at some commercials!). I don’t often wear makeup, but I know how to put on mascara and eye-liner and I’m not ashamed of it. I grow flowers. I make my own flower arrangements for the house.
And yeah, I’m a guy who likes men. I have fallen love with a couple them over the years. And that isn’t an act either. That’s just me being me.
One of the reasons I’m thinking about this right now is because an old friend who has moved back to the town where we went to high school together, ran into one of my cousins that still lives back there, and was a little appalled when said cousin mentioned being glad I don’t visit often because “he just acts gayer and gayer every time I see him.” Probably a good thing I wasn’t there. Because I probably would have said, “Honey, I ain’t acting!”
The only time I was acting was back when I was trying to avoid more bullying or ridicule, trying to force myself not to do the few things I had figured out qualified as “acting like that.” When I was closeted and scared to death to be myself, that’s when I was acting.
This post is going up late because today is my birthday. I took the day off from work. I slept in. I spent much of the day reading or just watching the birds at the feeder, and the larger jays and squirrel rummage threw the spillage on the deck under the feeder. My husband left a bunch of gift bags scattered around the house, and a couple of packages from my mom were here, so every now and then I would open one. It was a fun way to spend the day. My husband took me to dinner at one of my favorite local eateries. He made me a martini (he makes the best—when we first started dating he was working as a bartender, but oddly enough, he doesn’t like to drink himself).
It has been a good birthday.
I’ve written before of how the AIDS crisis (which began when I was a closeted 20-something and was still ravaging the community by the time I was out in my thirties) had made me feel I was unlikely to live into my fifties. When you go to 16 funerals over the course of a few months, mourning guys who are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties—it just feels as if the Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head. It really did seem that it wasn’t a matter of whether one would get sick, just when.
And so I find myself a bit surprised and a lot grateful to celebrate this birthday. I’m getting close to 60, and I honestly didn’t believe back then I would make it to 50.
So I am happy and thankful. Especially this year and this week. Yesterday morning at work we all learned that a guy we all work with (and a guy who is a couple of years younger than I) suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on Sunday. I usually close my birthday posts with some bit of wisdom or advice. This year, I’m going to quote one of my other co-workers while we were all processing the news together: “It reminds us to treat everyone with kindness and respect, because we never know which conversation will be our last.”
One of the less toxic stereotypes ascribed to gay men is an intense fear of getting old. When I was a mostly-closetted queer guy in my 20s I heard it frequently from other gay men. “Oh, no! He turned 30, that’s 60 in gay years!” and so on. The explanation of the stereotype is that gay men are obsessed with young and/or young-looking romantic partners, and fear they will stop being desirable themselves once they pass some arbitrary age. Even back then, I thought it was a bit strange to say that this was a gay-only thing, because for how long have middle-aged and older actors been paired with actresses significantly younger than themselves playing their spouses, love interests, et cetera? And back when I was a kid and a teen, it was very common in comedy TV shows and movies to have at least one woman who was obsessed with her own age to insist in face of overwhelming evidence that she was only 29 years old. Seems to me that heterosexual men are pretty youth-obsessed, right?
Please note that I said this stereotype is only somewhat less toxic than many others about queer men.
So a few years ago when I mentioned in blog post that it was my birthday and my age (it was 53 or 54, but I don’t feel like going on an obsessive search to try to find the specific post), some random person I didn’t know commented about how broken-hearted I must be, since everyone knows that fags are all obsessed with being young. I typed a reply to the effect that no, I actually considered myself quite lucky. But then I decided that rather than argue with a troll the better thing to do was to simple delete the troll’s comment and move on.
But I keep running into people making this specific observation, or variants of it. A gay activist who is a frequent guest on news programs passes the age of 50 and all the anti-gay hatemongers start referring to him as an “aging activist.” This is pretty rich coming from a completely white-haired anti-gay pastor who is pushing 70, let me tell you. If a 50-year-old is “aging,” what do we call a 68-year-old, hmmmmm?
So, I’m still a couple years from 60, yet, and I know that I frequently make references to my age, mostly because 1) I am older than the average people active on the internet, 2) I’m older than the average age of people active in the various fandoms I participate in, and 3) I frequently find myself being a little boggled at people who otherwise seem really well informed being completely unaware of (or deeply misinformed about) fairly major things that happened in the world when I was, say, in my 20s.
I was still very closeted in my early 20s when the AIDS crisis began. This mysterious illness was striking gay men down, and not only did the White House Press Secretary laugh and make a fag joke when a reporter asked about the first Center for Disease Control alert about the illness, but all of the rest of the reporters in the room joined in on the laughter. One night at a church service I was sitting with my head bowed when a pastor went on a long digression in his prayer thanking god for sending the scourge of AIDS to punish the wickedness of gay people and wipe them from the face of the Earth. 10 years later, as an out gay man, I found myself going to memorial services of men sometimes younger than I. One particularly bad winter, 16 different people we knew died in a single three-month period. It really did seem that every gay person was doomed. And it didn’t seem to matter that we all now knew to practice safe sex—because condoms can break, and so on.
As much of an optimist as I’ve always been, in the face of all the overwhelming chilling life experience, I seriously doubted that I would live to see my 50s.
So, I am not in the slightest bit sad or embarrassed to have reached the “ripe” age of 57. I’m not sad that my beard is mostly white, because I’ve earned every one of these grey hairs! I’m not ecstatic that some of the medical issues I’ve always had are getting worse as I get older. I’m not joyful when I read about the death of someone (famous or not) that I’ve known and admired for years. I know that that is going to happen more often, that’s just the natural consequence of the passing of time.
Getting older has its drawbacks, yes. But the alternative is worse, right? So I say, “Bring it on!”
Among my role models growing up was a very cantankerous paternal great-grandmother (who taught me how to listen in on the neighbors’ on the party line phone, among other fun things) and an even more ornery maternal great-grandfather (whose jobs when he was younger had included driving souped up cars, including sometimes outrunning the police, to deliver illegal alcohol during Prohibition). Both of them said and did things around us kids back then that embarrassed their own children (my grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles), and I fully intend, if I’m lucky enough to live as long as them, to similarly embarrass some of my younger relatives and acquaintances.
On ocassions such as birthdays, one is often asked to share some words of wisdom. I’m going to give you two pieces of advice, one from each of the aforementioned great-grandparents:
“Life is too short to carry grudges or worry about what other people think of you.”
Ah, September! That most blessèd month! When the oppressive, destructive heat of summer begins to abate, the leaves on deciduous trees turn to autumnal colors, a new school year begins (at least in the U.S.), and new network TV shows premiere. The autumnal equinox has come. My tomato plants are dying and many of the flowering plants have lost their blooms and are going to seed. Which means that decorating season approaches!
September also means my birthday… that’s right. Today I am officially another year older.
It isn’t one of the big, decade shift birthdays. The big five-oh was a half dozen years ago, and the bigger six-oh is still a few years off. But for some reason as this one approached, it was feeling more like a major turning point than usual. Maybe I was being a little bit psychic and knew that we’d find out just before the birthday that our building was going up for sale and there might well be very big changes in our living situation by the end of this lease period.
Or maybe my subconscious knew that my first birthday after Dad’s death would churn up feelings. Which would be understandable if we had had a normal parent-child relationship. But since he virtually never called or otherwise acknowledged my birthday (sometimes my stepmother would send a birthday card — at least once she made him sign it), is surprising. To be fair, I almost never sent a card on-time to him on his birthday, even though it was only six days after mine.
What usually happened is at some point in September I’d make a little promise to myself that this year I would buy and mail him a card by my birthday. And then I wouldn’t think about it again until several days after my birthday—sadly what would happen is I would realize I barely had time to get a birthday card in the mail to my grandmother, which would remind me that Dad’s birthday was a few days before her and that meant it was already too late to get a card to him by his day. So the few years he did get something from me, it would arrive a few days late.
Of course, because he’s gone, I probably won’t be asked a dozen times if I’ve heard from him. That has been a common occurrence on every birthday and major holiday for decades: relatives asking if I’ve heard from my Dad, then reacting with varying degrees of sadness, surprise, and disappointment to my reaction to the question. It didn’t seem to matter what my reaction was, whether I simply said, “no” or if I was a bit more forthcoming, “Naw, I haven’t talked to him in, uh, six years?” They were always dismayed. Even the few times when I could say, “I got a card in the mail” didn’t go over well.
I get it. These are relatives who go to the trouble to call all their siblings, children, nieces & nephews, et cetera on their birthdays and such. That’s why they’re contacting me to wish me a happy birthday, after all. My mom’s side of the family has always been big about birthdays and anniversaries. So I get why they’re always at least surprised.
It’s nice to be wished well and reminded that I’m loved. Which I have been.
So far what I’ve done to celebrate is get together with friends to go see a cool movie that opened on Friday: the remake of the remake of The Seven Samurai. Appropriately enough, the first American remake, The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson, and Eli Wallach premiered in theatres just a couple weeks after I was born. It was a movie that was shown on TV many times during my childhood, and it seemed like everyone I knew loved it as much as I did. So when I saw a remake was coming out with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, and a bunch of other stars, I knew I had to go see it.
It was fun. It was great to meet friends for dinner, drinks, and a movie. Saturday Michael took me out to dinner at my favorite restaurant. Today we’re getting together with one of my gaming groups to do some Victorian sci fi adventuring. I have also taken Monday off from work, and I’m planning to pretend tomorrow is Sunday and watch the football game that my DVR will be recording while we’re gaming today.
I’ve gotten some cool presents, which are always fun. Two different people got me wonderful socks. I love comfy, colorful socks! I’ve also gotten a hand knitted scarf, an old movie I love, cool figurines, my very own Tardis key, brilliant purple ink, some books. Getting anything is always great! I can’t show off the big present from my husband, yet. He had me try it on and pick out which model I wanted on Friday, but we had to order it and wait for it to be shipped.
Whenever I write a birthday post, I always feel like I should end with some words of wisdom. This year I’m feeling even less wise than usual. It has not been a pleasant year for, well, anyone that I know. I’ve been having a particularly difficult time not breaking the “Don’t be a dick” rule, myself—I’ve outright busted it several times, and that’s all on me. It feels like a year of broken things, especially connections.
So I guess this year’s advice is this: try. Try to be kind. Try to be forgiving. Try to pick up the pieces when you can. You never know which conversation with someone will be your last, so try not to let it be one you’ll regret.
This year my age is equally divisible by 5, so it feels like a milestone birthday—even if only a middling one. I took the day itself off rather than do my usual work-from-home day, and I was mildly lazy. I drove my hubby in to work as I usually do on a work from home day, but when I got home instead of going inside to log into the work network, I just sat down on the porch steps with my travel mug full of coffee and let the drizzle come down on me.
I love overcast days with light rain. It’s my very favorite weather, so it was like nature was giving me a birthday present. I posted to twitter and got caught up on personal email until I was out of coffee. But the weather was so nice that after I unlocked the door and refilled my coffee, I grabbed one of our cloth folding/picnic chairs and my iPad and went back onto the porch. I sat there, reading, visiting with a neighbor, watching three bluebirds have a fight, and so forth for for a few hours…Continue reading Birthday not very quizzacious→
It’s already the fourth Friday in September, that most blessèd month! The autumnal equinox has occurred and I check my calendar to see what’s next and… oh, that’s right. Today I am officially another year older. Wow. How did that happen?
And thank goodness it’s FRIDAY!
Anyway, here is a collection of some of the things that I ran across over the course of the week which struck me as worthy of being shared:
We’d gathered at a friend’s place for gaming, and we were reminded not to turn on a particular light switch because the fixture needed replacing. My husband, Michael, pointed at it and said something along the lines of, “Is there a hardware store nearby?”
“We were going to get someone to come in and—” the friend began.
Michael had already pulled a multitool from his pocket and was checking the wires. “Naw, this will take me a couple minutes, tops.”
Michael and the friend walked to a nearby store while the rest of us set up food and reviewed what happened the previous gaming session. When they got back, Michael set to work.
One of the other friends there looked at me and said, “You’re married to MacGuyver!”
Before I could answer, another one of the friends there said, “You’re just now figuring that out?”
Fixing some badly mangled wires and installing a new fixture is not a super complicated task, obviously (though the number different kinds of things my husband can repair, refurbish, or build is a quite impressive). No, the extraordinary thing is how blithely and eagerly he jumps into such tasks, and the fact that he’s always got a number of tools, spare parts, et al handy.
Sometimes I think he physically feels pain when he sees a machine not functioning correctly. He certainly empathizes strongly with people who are struggling with a device that isn’t working properly. I’m constantly finding computers, phones, or other gadgets stashed around the house in various states of repair he’s got in process. When I ask, about half the time he says, “so-and-so needs a better computer/phone/iPod so I’m trying to get them something newer and more reliable.”
When he doesn’t have someone specifically in mind for a device, he says, “I figured if I get it fixed, I’ll start checking around to see if someone could benefit from the upgrade.”
And those are just a few of his more obvious sterling character traits. I’ve written a few times before about what an incredibly sweet, kind, smart, talented, knowledgeable, skilled, patient, and funny person my husband is. And I am hardly the only person who thinks he’s awesome.
I hope you have a happy birthday, Michael. You’ve more than earned it!