My emotional self. I hate it. It gets in the way, it’s messy, painful, and mostly it’s a foreign language that I’ve never learned to speak. And yet, it is there. In all its glory it will come out when I least want it to, in ways I abhor, affecting relationships from family to business to friends.
I can’t avoid emotions any more than you can. Oh I try. I bury them in food, or obsessive video watching (How did I spend three hours watching videos about orchids?!?!?) there are other unhealthy ways, but emotions creep back into my life.
The hard emotions are primal, and based on experiences from a world that no longer exists. I have fears and hurts from the 80s and 90s about being gay and being unlovable, because I grew up in a time when gay was a death sentence of AIDS, and I haven’t let that fully go. It was dangerous, insulting even, to hit on a straight man, like I was attacking his masculinity and certainly his sense of self. It was never a compliment, so I learned to associate fear and danger with feelings of lust and love. This is not an empowering combination.
As a young man with no gay role models, and no opportunity to learn dating, I felt that my “pervert” lifestyle meant I wasn’t allowed a relationship. As a consequence I’ve played supporting roles to straights my whole life. There is a movie, The Dresser, in which the gay assistant to a lead actor, with whom he is in love, is forever unloved and unvalued – I still remember the pain of watching that movie and identifying so strongly with that character. It’s a mindset that is no longer working for me, but I haven’t been able to shake it yet.
My young friends have no idea of what I speak. The fear and bigotry by straight men that was omnipresent in my life, it’s not a thing in their world view. I understand it to be equivalent to my lack of understanding of life before electricity. I can conceive of it, I can even approximate it with a trip to a rustic mountain cabin, but I have no deep understanding of it. I share with them the fears and hurts I carry, but they have no frame of reference.
I’ve learned a great deal from my younger friends – not just how technology works but how society has changed. Changing times demand we keep up.
Now I have to start living in their reality, not my history.
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