Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Luxury of Being Yourself, Part 2

Even before I went away to college, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to dance.
I wanted to sing, and act, and perform. I wanted to be like the students at the high school of the arts, on the television show "Fame." I wanted to be like the dancers and singers I had seen on stage at Disneyland. I wanted to be like my friend, John, who was one of the performers in Donald Duck's 50th Birthday parade.

And eventually, I did. I became a singer in a dinner theater revue. I later got my first job as a dancer on a cruise ship. Before going away to sea, I also got involved with ex-gay ministry, attending a weekly support group for Christian men who no longer wanted to identify as homosexual. It was another version of the religious leash I still felt I needed in order to be tethered.

One of the jobs I had as a dancer was for a Vegas style show on the island of Guam, which is a tiny rock of an island, south of Japan. The contract, at the Sandcastle Show Lounge, was to be for nine months.

I'm not sure why, but the other dancers in the Guam show assumed I was straight, and I just let them. After two or three years of being in the ex-gay support group, I suppose it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't try to fake a straight identity, but neither did I confirm a gay identity in my behavior and personality.

It's strange to think that, in the atmosphere of dance rehearsals, and being backstage and in the boys' dressing room, other dancers would perceive me as straight. Entertainment people aren't as easy to fool when it comes to sexuality.

I missed Kathy and talked about her a lot. It was difficult for both of us, being apart. That was the truth. But I didn't refer to her as my Best Friend Forever. Omission of the Complete Truth may have been deceitful on my part.

I learned something during my temporary not-perceived-as-gay status: the young women in the show were friendly to me, but there was a barrier, an invisible wall they were putting up that I wasn't used to. It was as if they felt the need to be on their guard with me, even if only a little bit, as long as they thought I was straight.

I didn't like that. I wasn't used to it. Growing up, my closest friends were usually girls. I missed the physical and emotional comfort that female friends felt with me, those who knew that I was gay.

I was unhappy on Guam. Part of it was being away from Kathy, a big part of it. After only two months, I told my bosses that I wanted to go back home. Fortunately, there were a couple of male dancers that had been in the show before who wanted to come back. I was allowed to return to California without fulfilling my nine months contract.

It wasn't until after I had left Guam that I realized another major reason for my unhappiness: I hadn't been honest about who I really am. I had contributed to the walls and barriers that I felt amongst the other dancers by not being my authentic self.

I did not immediately start being more myself, right after that. It took a few years of practice, and it took letting go of my insecurities, little by little. It was not easy to let go of my religious ideals and face the fact that I was just plain lonely. I wanted to do what was right, but I did not want to deliberately choose to be alone, either.

I allowed myself to start dating men again, in my late twenties. I made some foolish choices and mistakes worthy of a seventh-grader. My attempts to date and pursue relationships with men were emotional disasters that were more fitting to a 19-year-old.

Oh, well, only about a decade behind.

I included the recent photo above because it disturbed one of my relatives (ironically, it was a relative who accepts me wholly for who I am). This had been my profile photo on facebook last month until my relative asked me to please change it.
I was surprised by the request. But it was a nice marker for how far I'd come in the last couple of decades, as far as what I can take for granted now, including the freedom to be as fabulously flamboyant as I want to, when the mood strikes.

It took a few years of emotional struggle as well as some trial and error, but I don't worry as much as I used to about receiving the approval of others. I don't feel I have to justify who I am, like I used to in the past. I have the comfort and luxury of being able to be myself without having to worry what others think.

If people don't like me, then that's too bad. It's my loss but I can live with it.

I know who I am, and it is sufficient.


Lori said...

I'm so glad I get to know you.

Peter Varvel said...

Thanks, Lor-lor. I miss you!