Ken, in his own words: “Right off the bat I would like to apologize. I am a terrible human being, but I’ve made my peace with that and I’m learning to love myself as-is. If you suppress needs long enough they sublimate and break free, and once that dam has cracked it doesn’t hold for very long. I was homeschooled for 19 years and I was the son of a part-time fundamentalist preacher. Both of my parents are frighteningly bright and I always thought of myself as some kind of wunderkind (not that uncommon in the homeschooled community). Thanks to this set of initial circumstances, I have always had ludicrously high standards for my own behavior, expecting perfection in more or less everything that I do. This need for perfection has interacted with my spectacular laziness and paradoxically been the cause of some of my most deviant behavior. I fall short of perfection, so I give up. I have often hated myself — and I would like to point out to certain naysayers that it is entirely possible to hate yourself. My former pastor claimed that self-hatred was impossible. People don’t hate themselves, they’re just disappointed. If they really hated themselves they would be glad to see themselves being miserable. Well, I have been glad at times to see myself miserable, and to be the cause of that misery. This is not a cry for attention, it’s just me being realistic about portions of my character that I don’t care to hide anymore. I am learning, slowly but surely, how to love myself right down to my scars. In order to start that transformation though, I had to accept the fact that I really, truly did hate myself, and wasn’t just an all-in-one dom/sub.
Over the years my answer to the question “what does being gay mean” has changed a lot. At first I would have said “not much more than being gay would mean to a gay giraffe,” but lately I’ve realized that it does make my life somewhat different from the lives of others. I find that I sometimes feel like an outsider looking in at the rest of society. It’s a little bit alarming to know that no matter what I write I will always be the gay writer, not the white one or the tall one or the blonde one. It’s one of the first things people mention about me. I’m the gay best friend, the gay coworker, the gay gateway into the gay world. There is a real subculture, although it’s not as separated from the rest of the world as it once was, and I have sometimes acted as a doorway between the two cultures.
It comes with its own bag of problems, too. I’ve met a fair number of other people in the community and the shockingly common trends of depression, suicidal ideations, cutting, rocky romances, and daddy issues (poor parental relationships) have made me ask the chicken and egg question a few times. Does being gay come from being fucked up, or does it contribute to it? In my own life the answer has more often been the second than the first, but there have been moments when I’ve wondered. I think a part of the problem for me has been the lack of dreams. A little straight boy can look ahead and dream (unhealthily, perhaps) of his princess and his 2.5 children and steady job. It’s not much of a dream, but it’s more than a gay person has. It’s only in the last two decades that we have had even the chance of gay marriage, and our community is still figuring out what that kind of marriage can mean and look like.
What little of the gay community I have actually seen in Portland seems to be much like the gay community everywhere else that I’ve lived. It’s small, politically active, and more than a little bit dramatic. It’s also much more intersectional and culturally/racially/ethnically diverse than any other gay community I’ve been a part of. To be fair, thanks to my sexual appetites I don’t usually spend a lot of time dealing with the whiter side of the gay community here, so I can’t speak to it.
I have also noticed that the idea of an in-the-closet gay doesn’t seem to exist as much here. Most of the gay men I have encountered have been openly gay even in their work environment. In the past there were coworkers of mine that I never came out to for fear of the potential reactions. Here in Portland that hasn’t been an issue for me.
I don’t know if this is something that other gay men will relate to or not, but there are, to my mind, two prototypical members of the gay community. The first has or contributes to what Republicans would call the “gay agenda” — they are political, proactive, and intentionally pushing for legal or social change. These are the ones that attend meetings and do the non-sexy things like voting and being on committees. The second type, (and I swing between the two without any real consistency, I’ll be the first to admit that) is the type that joins committees to get laid. They often have a lone wolf aspect, some sexy emotional scars or sexy self-destructive tendencies/habits, and they often seem to have more beauty than they know what to do with. They will fixate on a particular physical type that they want to have sex with, whether that’s a race or a body ideal, and pursue people based primarily on this physical attraction. They hold marriage as some kind of potential down the line but they don’t really see themselves staying with anyone long enough to make that work. It is the latter prototype, incidentally, which I find has the highest rate of emotional damage and self-loathing. Perhaps I’m projecting something of myself and my perceptions aren’t something that others will share, but I’m just trying to describe what I see. I think that a little piece of this might come from the fact that at the end of the day we are still “men” (I’m speaking strictly of the gay male cisgender community here, I can’t speak to the experience of anything else). Men don’t have emotions, right? Men don’t have feelings. Men don’t get fucked up. Men can’t open up or have real connections. That would be too… gay.
I’ll keep (my coming out story) as short and clear as I can.
On the night that I chose to come out to my parents, I had a female friend over (Monica Hay, if you’re reading this, thank you for that night. I’m glad I didn’t end up needing you but the emotional support was much appreciated.) and I had a bag packed. I had already anticipated everything that my parents might say, (so I thought) and what possessions of mine they had a right to take in an attempt to keep me from leaving. I assumed off the bat that they would take the car keys and my cell phone. My plan was to walk to the nearest public institution with a phone — a hotel over a mile and a half away, I lived in a rural area — and call my grandparents. I had a slip of paper in my wallet with all the phone numbers I was most likely to need: my grandparents, my younger brother, my current lover, a few close friends. It’s been almost four years and I still have that slip of paper in my wallet. My parents didn’t kick me out (which was a hell of a shock, frankly).
Saying the words “I’m gay” to my mother remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The willpower required to just open my mouth and move my lips and vibrate my vocal cords and make the noises was almost more than I knew how to muster. But I did it, and she immediately said the most unhelpful thing she could have at the time: “No you’re not.” So I had to prove that I was, which wasn’t difficult. I had denied even to myself the way that I was for years at that point. It wasn’t until I fell in love for the first time and it blew all the petty infatuations of my youth completely out of the water that I realized yes, I really was gay. I could not fall in love with a woman, but I could with a man.
Incidentally that falling in love was what first made me question my religious convictions. It wasn’t the sex, because there’s a lot to sex that can sometimes feel wrong, but falling in love never feels wrong.
After I had her sufficiently convinced, my father came out onto the balcony to join us, and I had to repeat the words. My relationship with my father has always been almost stereotypically not-great, but his respect was always something I craved. He didn’t even respond, he just sat there. I explained to the both of them that I had fallen in love, and that it was the love and not the sex that had made me realize that I really was wired that way. Then, like a coward, I told them that I had not yet decided what I was going to do with this personal revelation. My mother suggested permanent celibacy as an option. We talked about other things. I said, “I haven’t made a choice yet.” My dad said “It’s not a choice.”
At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my father has actually worked closely with a gay man for years at this point, and that this man is one of his closest work friends. My father and I didn’t have a real conversation for almost a year after that, but I’m still not sure whose fault that was. I learned to disappear and be as absent from family life as possible, and as a consequence I wasn’t there as my siblings were developing into interesting people. When I finally came out to my grandparents, just last year, they told me they had known since I was a child, and that they loved me all the same. Both my sisters guessed, the one by being perceptive and the other by reading my diary and finding an entry about someone I was madly in love with at the time. When I told my brother, he came out of his own closet to me and revealed that he was an agnostic. When I came out to my other two brothers… well, let’s just say I wasn’t as tactful about it as I had meant to be. That’s a more personal story than I would like to get into, but it was pretty funny at the time.
(What advice would you give your younger self?)
Oh boy. The big one. Jesus, I don’t know. Maybe something along the lines of “don’t take life so goddamn seriously. It’s ok to fuck up. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s hurtful and wrong to try. Try to think of other human beings as actual human beings just like you. Nobody wakes up in the morning intending to be irrational, and everyone’s actions make sense to them. Sometimes the largest part of empathy is being able to understand why someone’s actions or beliefs seem rational to them. You’re never going to be able to change another person with words or fists or music or love or anything else, a person has to change themselves. Don’t waste time loving people who can’t or won’t love themselves — they can’t love you back. Cheating and being cheated on are among the most emotionally damaging experiences, but everything that we are is a phoenix birth out of ashes. We are made of exploded stars. Look it up, it’s true. Even the deepest emotional and physical traumas can be recovered from, learned from, healed from. No, you can’t be the same person again, that person is dead and so is the future they dreamed for themselves. But now you’re alive, because that person died. Religion is a crock of shit. Dig for evidence and logic and you’ll see. That’s not to say that the universe isn’t full of wonder or mystery or awe, because it is. It is full of all of those things. But the truth should always trump a pretty lie, no matter how much we might want to believe that lie, no matter how much sense that lie might make or how many questions it might answer. Don’t settle for less, either in love or in truth.
Huh. I guess I did know.”