Today’s National Coming Out Day. Tonight, twenty-one years ago, more than half my life ago, I came out to my mother. The entire experience was paradoxical, something I thought would be a mere formality turned out to be a Very Big Deal, something I’d feared doing for years became one of the best things I ever did.
I knew I was gay long before I came out. I was aware of being different from my peers “in that way” from a very early age. I didn’t have a name for it, at least not at first. Despite not remembering vast stretches of my childhood, I remember quite clearly being in the locker room at the pool at the local university. I attended a small private school at the time and the school went swimming for a field trip. I’d never seen naked adult men before, and oh my God. I didn’t want to leave the locker room. I just wanted to look. Even now, I remember the intensity of the feeling.
Another snap shot: I was maybe 7 or so and at a friend’s house. I guess her mother was one of those wacky free spirits you read about, because when she came back from a vacation with her boyfriend, she brought her children smutty magazines, Playgirl for her daughter and Playboy for her son. The Playgirl centerfold electrified me. Yep, that right there. That’s for me. I kept finding reasons to look at it.
This same friend taught me the word ‘gay.’ It meant boys who like boys, and I thought, “Oh. That’s me then.” Unfortunately, she alsop taught me that it was not a Good Thing to be gay. I don’t remember now exactly how she conveyed that information, just that it wasn’t something you were supposed to be.
Snapshot (because that’s all I have of childhood memories–flashes and images rather than concrete stretches of recollection): Around the same age at my piano lesson. The song I was assigned to learn was called “Let’s Be Gay and Play.” The accompanying illustration was of children playing or some such sentimentalized twaddle. I was terrified. If I played that song, somehow everyone would know my secret. I objected to it strenuously. My music teacher, a big ol’ earth-mother of a hippie, was, I realize now, pretty angry at my objection. I remember her scratching out the title and calling it, “Let’s Be Happy and Spend Money.” It was only a few years ago that I figured out she was actually calling me a shallow bourgeois asshole.
Snapshot: I was maybe 9 and at my dad’s place for the weekend. A friend had come over, and we found a copy of Playboy under my dad’s bed. My friend was all over it, but I remember looking at the centerfold and thinking, “Uh…no.” So there I was, nine years old, knowing I liked boys, knowing that pictures of naked women did nothing for me, and already I had The Fear. It would be another decade before I so much as kissed another guy, but only because I was too afraid and dense to realize that the guy in my church youth group on whom I had a huge crush had one right back at me and was trying in his own fumbling way to ask me out. I sometimes wonder how different things might’ve been had I realized what Mike was up to. I don’t waste a lot of time on “what if,” however.
It was in that decade that I grew more and more afraid of being found out, of disappointing my parents. I grew more and more adept at lying to protect my secret, at flying under the radar, at suppressing emotions and feelings that might betray me. That was the decade of the closet. It was a stifling, deadening place. Sure, I felt safe there, but it was the safety of a prison cell or a tomb, and when it comes down to it, I didn’t even feel that safe there. I was always afraid something would betray me, that I would say or do the wrong thing and everyone would figure me out. The safety of the closet is a mirage, and it takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort to maintain it.
But emotions are funny things, and have a way of expressing themselves whether you want them to or not. I was starving for release and for freedom. The closet led to some pretty flaky behavior. I knew I was gay, but couldn’t tell anyone. In this era before the GSA and the knowledge of the existence of homosexuality by society at large, I felt alone. I hungered for contact, any kind of contact, with other people like myself. I grew up in a college town, and had access to the college paper. There were ads in the back for the gay student group. I remember calling the number just to hear the voice of another gay man, even if I was too afraid to say anything and hung up. Those men and women were gutsy putting their number out back in the ’80s. I’m sure that man thought I was just another homophobic jackass crank calling. I actually know that guy now (hi there, Bill!).
By the time I started college, I knew I had to come out. The realization terrified me. I was a very odd combination of unworldliness (what were those holes in the bathroom stall walls for?) and textbook knowledge. By the end of my sophomore year, the strain had taken its toll. That summer, I felt like I was going to break, reading everything I could about being gay (and there are so truly dire books out there), needing and fearing to deal with this. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt like my personality was fragmenting. I knew I couldn’t take much more, and when school started I manned up and went to my first support group for bisexuals, gays, and lesbians. It was freeing and terrifying and it became exactly what I needed in very short order.
I realized that I would only ever be free, truly free, if I stopped letting The Fear rule me and told those I was closest to. I lived at home that year while going to college, which made things easier and harder. I also knew that without a concrete deadline, I’d never tell a soul. Enter National Coming Out Day 1990. I took my mother for a walk in the park near our house to tell her. I figured she already knew. I mean, she had to, right? She was the one who took me to all those musicals and footed the bill for my interest in fashion, after all. It’s not like glitter and rainbows gushed from my mouth when I spoke or anything, but I never displayed any characteristics of straight boys. She just thought I was hygienic, I guess.
Boy was I ever wrong. It’s a good thing I was, too, or who knows how long I might’ve carried on with this nonsense. She was shocked, she was horrified (despite having lesbian friends), basically everything I’d feared all along. She blamed herself. She blamed me. It was a rough time, and given that my teen years under her roof and under her thumb had been pretty rough, this didn’t help. Had I not been financially dependent on my parents, I’ve have walked.
I went to PFLAG meetings with her, but I felt like there was a lot of blaming me for not being as understanding of her drama as I “should” have been. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy for the fact that I had my own emotions to deal with, and that having to bear the brunt of hers was more than just the proverbial straw. It was the whole damn bail of hay. I don’t remember why she didn’t go by herself, but I refused to go back. I’d been blaming myself for this long enough, I didn’t need a bunch of do-gooders blaming me for not going belly up at my mom’s feet so she could pick out my liver at her leisure. Sorry, PFLAG, I’m told you do great work, but I never saw it.
What made the difference was my mom finally spoke to the one the ministers she knew. Fortunately, we belonged to a very liberal Protestant denomination, and gave us both useful information. To me, he said that while I’d had a lifetime to get used to the idea, she hadn’t. I should give her time. Of her, he asked a question, and it was a simple one. Did she like having a son? She affirmed that yes, she did. He then told her that if she played her cards right, she’d eventually have two, once I met someone. If she screwed this up and let her emotions get in the way, she’d have none because she’d have chased me off.
We moved through it. I wish I could say it made everything all sunshine and unicorns in my house, but it didn’t. I still had a very rocky relationship with my mother. Coming out just removed a major barrier and the issues it raised. It also set me free. I was able to be myself, to learn who I really was. I hadn’t been able to do that in the closet because I’d spent so much time protecting my deep, dark secret. It set me free to heal. It set me free to kiss a man for the first time and make dating mistakes and form misalliances with epically unsuitable men. Coming out liberated me to be a real person and not just a pretender in my life so that when I met the man I married, I was capable of forming and maintaining a healthy, loving relationship.
There are other memories, other stories to tell, like how my husband inadvertently outed me to my father, but those will keep for another time. Coming out was one of the best things I ever did for myself, maybe the best thing I ever did for myself. I’m an out and proud gay man, and this is so central to my self-identity I can’t imagine it being any other way.
So if you somehow end up reading this and aren’t out, think about it. It’s worth it. Drop me a line if you want. If you’re out, or aren’t gay, but know someone who’s struggling, pass this on if you think it’d help.
Quick update: Tipping the Balance has entered the editorial queue. Since I just received the contract three weeks ago, I’m surprised how fast this is.
On other fronts, I’m working on the storyboards for my next novel. The working title is The Answer to His Prayers (A2HP), and it’s a gay riff on Pride and Prejudice. I noticed at one point that my life resembled a Jane Austen novel insofar that it consisted of a series of social engagements among the members of a small community, the purpose of which was to find everyone husbands, and we all knew way too much about each other’s mating habits.
You may notice that this has nothing to do with rowing or the world of the CalPac Crew. This is because I’m utterly stymied by the plot for book three. So that’s on hold for the time being. It’ll happen, but not yet. I refuse to write a book just to get it written. I have to have a story to tell and I have to fall in love with my protagonists, the way I did with Nick and Morgan or Brad and Drew, or as I am with Henry and Cameron in A2HP.
Okay, I’ll admit to checking the Coming Soon webpage feverishly. But all my anxiety has been rewarded. My book is now listed on the Coming Soon webpage and it can be placed on one’s Wish List for sale the moment it’s released on 2/28/11.
It’s been a while since I’ve updated this, and that’s because there I’ve been quite busy with writing, among other things. I’ve received both the first and second edits back from the publisher, as well the text galleys.
The first edits were just that, the first pass by an editor. The doc file bristled with “track changes” balloons, most of which consisted of line edits. I’ve blogged about those. Everything was pretty easy to fix. Basically, my thinking was, “They bought it, they want it, they’ll probably get it.” At least as far as it applied to line edits, anyway. That said, the editorial guidelines and I part was on commas before the use of the terminal “too.” I’d look it up in the CMS, but I’m kind of lazy, and when it comes down to it, it’s not that big a deal. I’d rather save my time going after modal auxiliaries, adverbs, and other things that suck the life out of writing. More substantive questions in the first edit I gave real thought to, and as often as not defended my position and didn’t accept requested changes.
The second edits were where I made the most changes, because many of the little things had been cleared away, all the rogue commas and questions by the editor. I could actually see the text. Based on that, I realized it’s not a bad story, not bad at all.
But then came the text galleys. These aren’t a full-on galley proof, in large part because my editor compiled them in an airport, and she lacked some final information, like the ISBN for the print and electronic editions that my contract stipulates the publisher provide. I also suspect that’s why the galley lacked the dedication.
The galleys drove me crazy. I realized just how bad my writing really is. There were enough weak or wobbly knees to fill an orthopedics ward, and the use of certain words jumped out at me like the boogie-men they are. I’ll try keeping things like this in mind while writing my current work in progress (WIP).
I’m told the best way to fight insanity is with crazy, but I just keep telling myself that this is my first novel and take it for what it is. The publisher must’ve seen something she liked in it, because she bought (some of) the rights to it. No, it’s not perfect, but even a novel as short as this one is, is still a fantastically complex thing. It won’t be perfect, and striving for perfection is a losing proposition. Just learn from it and move on. I keep repeating that over and over, but I also know that once Rocking the Boat is published, I will never look at it again.
Lastly—drum roll please—I got the b&w sketches of the cover art. I’ve posted the second and finalized draft. Please note that the rights to the image belong to the cover artist, Paul Richmond. But I’m more in love with the cover art the more I see it. I can’t wait for the full-color version.
I raced in a regatta yesterday, an indoor regatta. How does one row indoors? On a Concept2 ergometer, of course. It’s quite a slick set-up. The monitors on each erg are networked together as well as to a central computer, and the result is projected onto large screens. Each erg is represented by a boat-shaped icon labeled as to competitor and pace. This way you can see who you’re beating and who’s kicking your ass. Not only that, each erg’s monitor tells you who’s ahead of you and who’s behind you and by how many meters.
The standard distance is 2,000 meters of pure hell. This is where my coach’s training plan paid off handsomely. That said, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to follow it as closely in recent weeks as I’d wanted, and gave serious consideration to bailing because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain the pace I’d hoped for. Or thought I wouldn’t. Think about what that last bit means—I was going to bail because I didn’t think I’d be able to win, and that’s a piss-poor reason. Yeah, I’ve got perfectionist tendencies, and if my son handed me that kind of reason, I’d explode.
I realized this at more or less the same time my coach prodded me to row and see what happens. I’m glad she did. Let’s just say that I was doing my best to fight the insanity with my text galleys by this point in time, and getting out of my head through intense exercise yesterday was the best thing I could’ve done with my time.
Going into the Golden State Indoor Rowing Championship, I had hoped just to equal my time from last year, 6:40.1. If you don’t row, that means nothing, but it’s pretty damned fast, faster than about 2/3rds of the collegiate men. I was seeded and seated next to the same guy who won last year. To give you an idea of his strength, his biceps are the size of my calves, and I’m a big guy. He’s huge. I looked at him and knew he’d win. It wasn’t defeatism, just an acknowledgment of reality.
He was supposed to be there this year…and wasn’t. Huh. Looking at the times the other competitors had turned in with their entries, suddenly my just going and trying was looking a whole lot more like winning. No pressure.
On my coach’s advice, I went out for the first half of the race at the pace I’d originally hoped for. I felt fine, which is in and of itself evidence that her training plan is a work of genius. Some people go out hard and then back off a bit, only to finish up hard. Me, I take a few strokes at the beginning to get to my pace and then I hold it, a consistent output if you will. So for the first 100-200 meters, guys were ahead of me.
The danger with going out hard is summarized by the saying, “flying and dying,” and my goodness, some of them did. Slow and steady might win races, but fast and steady wins them by wider margins. Going into the last 500 meters, I knew I could slack off and still win. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I held my pace.
So how’d I do on a race I hadn’t trained for to the extent I felt necessary and almost bailed on? 7.4 seconds faster than last year, and a new PR. 6:32.5. Interestingly enough, it was only faster than about 2/3 of the college guys this year. The kids are getting their game on. These races are by age division, so I wasn’t competing against them directly, but still.
Gold is such a pretty color.
My author bio is up on DSP’s webpage. I had no idea. I’ve sent the first round of edits back to Dreamspinner, but haven’t heard back about the second round or galley proofs. No word on the cover art. The release date is February 28, 2011. As of right now, the “Coming Soon” page only has books released up through February 23. Sigh. Baby steps, right?
On other fronts, I think my coach is trying to kill me. I’ll say from the start that even with as many wonderful and skilled coaches as I’ve had over the years, she’s the most skilled at manipulating our bodies to provoke the necessary physical responses to make boats fly across the water. That’s what training is—targeted stress to provoke specific physiological adaptions. I’ve never been lucky enough to row under someone this knowledgeable. But ouchies!
Mondays are endurance days, which despite the term doesn’t mean putting up with as much as you can for as long as you can. It refers to the low-intensity and long-duration aerobic work that builds endurance over the long term by “teaching” your body to metabolize fat, rid itself of lactic acid, and to increase oxygen-transport capacity by laying down more capillaries. It’s long, slow, and boring. It’s also what will allow me to crush people’s rowing dreams later this year and hopefully in less than a month at the Golden State Indoor Rowing Championship. Last year, I dusted most of UC Davis’s men’s crew. I might be a little competitive.
Wednesdays are aerobic capacity days, which means interval work done up at the higher end of my aerobic zone, 80-85% of my maximum heart rate. They’re not a lot of fun. My coach has an experimentally determined training pace for each of us, so the bulk of this kind of work is done at or slightly below this training pace. The last one I did, for example, was five 8-minute pieces at the training pace, with 1:36 minutes of rest between each piece. I have no idea how she determined that 1:36 minutes would be a physiological beneficial interval, but then, that’s why she’s the coach.
Fridays are a treat. Smell that? That’s sarcasm. Fridays are V02 max day. V02 max is a measure of just how much oxygen you can pull and use from a given lungful of air. The workouts feature short, brutally intense pieces on either side of the aerobic-anaerobic threshold with the intent of raising the latter. It works. It’s just not fun. Fun fact: world-caliber rowers, which I’m not and will never be, have among the highest V0s max of anyone. Yep, rowing’s that intense.
As much as I hate the high-intensity stuff, it pays off. At least year’s Gold State Indoor Rowing Championships (2000 meters of hell on a Concept2 ergometer) I took second in my age division at 6:40.1 minutes, faster than a lot of collegiate rowers half my age. I’m not sure what I’ll pull this year. I’ve been training since last year and have added strength training to the mix. Obviously, I hope to get below 6:40.
Then there’s the on the water practices three days a week, and we won’t even go into CrossFit right now. Yeah, I work out form time to time, although not this morning. I hit the wall. I just did some yoga. Maybe I’ll do the assigned erg workout later this afternoon. I added the picture at the top of the post for incentive.
Introducing the first in a series of occasional book reviews. There are many, many sites devoted to reviewing the kinds of romance novels I read and write, so this will be a fairly intermittent feature of my blog, but every so often I’ll review a book I’ve particularly enjoyed or by an author I quite like.
Review, Eric Arvin’s Another Enchanted April (Dreamspinner Press, January 2011).
Inspired by the novel Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, Another Enchanted April tells the story of three friends who find love and transformation over the course of a week spent at a grand bed and breakfast just before the regular tourist season opens in the beach town of Beechwood. There’s damaged and broken Tony Fisher; Douglas Dester, the pretty boy approaching his sell-by date; and self-effacing Jerry Wilkins, who’s carried a torch for Douglas since their college days. While their lives and experiences in Beechwood intersect, in some ways, each man experiences his own journey of renewal. One finds healing, one finds self-knowledge, and one finds self-respect and knowledge that he’s worth something. All experience the possibility of love in the liminal moment of a week spent in a slightly unreal place, and all three carry this possibility forward into their lives at their vacation’s end.
No sooner do the three friends arrive at the B&B in the middle of a storm, then the ball starts rolling on the transformations. As each man wakes up, he’s first drawn to and then seduced by the gardens around the B&B. At first the sheer amount of time devoted to describing the B&B’s grounds threatened to overwhelm me, but there’s a method to Arvin’s botanical largesse. The gardens, overseen by an at first mysterious gardener, themselves serve as a metaphor for the changes of the characters experience, and in some ways, the Mr. Roarke-like gardener and the plants he tends give each man what he needs.
Lyrically humorous like Arvin’s other works, particularly the charming Simple Men, Another Enchanted April gives the reader likeable characters, a satisfying story, and even a happy ending. My only critique, and it’s admittedly a pedantic and minor one, is the use of the phrase “crew team.” That’s redundant. It’s either “crew” or “rowing team.” But then, I’m a competitive rower who clearly has perspective issues, so this mustn’t deter anyone from reading this fine novella.
Since this is my first review, I don’t have any kind of ranking system in place, so we’ll go ahead and give five out five ergs. If someone with graphic-design skills wants to make me a small silhouette of a Concept2 ergometer (and a half an erg), I’d be very grateful.
I received the edited manuscript last night via email. I spent a good twenty minutes gnawing my guts out about whether or not I should open it right away or chew my entrails out some more. Because that’s how I roll. Anyway, I opened it, and it didn’t look that bad, mostly line edits, but some high jinx with POV.
I’m about 50 pages into it this morning, and that initial impression has turned out to be true. It could be a lot worse. This is due in large part to the work of my beta readers, my husband and Miss Dahl E. Lama, to call her by her screen name.
My plan is to knock the easy stuff out of the way so I can spend some time on the more substantial comments and still get the proof back to Dreamspinner on time.
But I’ve realized while I do this how tremendously grateful I am to everyone at Dreamspinner for making this process so enjoyable for me.
Yep, still not shopping at Target, since the company’s still pumping money to right-wing anti-gay groups and candidates hand over fist.
While I haven’t succeeded in getting my husband in front of a video camera to film our own “It Gets Better” video, I was thrilled to see this from a rowing club in Seattle. The Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation sent the link out to its members.
My publisher, Dreamspinner Press, runs a Google group for its authors, and what a busy little group it is, too. I’m amazed we get any writing done. One of the active threads lately has been about self-promotion.
There might’ve been a time when a writer’s publisher, with a lavish budget and an in-house public-relations person, took care of the advertising and publicity for a novel, but those days are long gone, and in any event, Dreamspinner is a small outfit. Authors need to take the lead in promoting their work to a certain extent.
This terrifies me. I’ve never been good at promoting myself or my work. That was my biggest challenge when I taught at the community college: selling the material. The value of studying Western Civ is self-evident to me, and I couldn’t sell it to my bored, indifferent, and in some cases just downright stupid undergraduates. Here it is, kids. Enjoy! The test is in two weeks.
I want my writing career to be more successful that my teaching career, which means I’m going to need to put myself out there. There is a very good reason for this—if the first book doesn’t sell well, there may not be a second book.
Fortunately, the authors’ group has a variety of suggestions and resources as far as getting a book reviewed goes, and the more experienced authors themselves are full of good ideas and encouragement. I’m still not entirely sure who pays for these, me or the publisher. I recall reading something in my contract about that, so I’ll review said contract when the publication date gets closer.
So I’m learning to use social media to promote my work, starting with this blog and extending to the Facebook author’s page I’ve set up. I’m still not certain how that’s going to work, as it’s attached to my personal profile. I suppose I’ll have to make a list and anyone who friends me from my writing will be put on that one, and the personal things like family photos subsequently restricted.
But it occurred to me the other day…when I was writing my novel, I had the idea that selling it was the end of the line, but it’s not. It’s only the beginning, starting with the editorial process and continuing to publication and publicizing the work so people buy it. Interestingly enough, but publish and publicize have the same Latin root word—publicus, or public.
So writing strikes me as rather Janus-faced in this respect, with one face looking backwards, one looking forwards. This seems appropriate, given that we’re coming up hard on the new year and the month named for that Roman god.
As Semisonic put it in a song, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”