Sunday, March 16, 2014

No. 81 – Taboo

Performer: Peter Gabriel and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Songwriters: Peter Gabriel, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Original Release: Natural Born Killers: A Soundtrack for an Oliver Stone Film
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None.

Your brain can be your worst enemy when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Earlier this week, when I was scheduled to have a colonoscopy first thing in the morning, I had to get up by 5:45. Knowing that, my brain flipped the on switch at 3:45, and I couldn’t get back to sleep until 5:30, just before my alarm clock went off.

My brain does this a lot. Sometimes when I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night—something I do more often as I get older—a song pops in my head, or I think about work or something, and then I’m awake. I have to try and consciously NOT think about anything, turn off my brain, to get back to sleep.

Usually, it’s silly stuff like some earworm that wakes me up in the middle of night, but sometimes it comes from trying to solve the world’s problems, or at least my own. The wee hours of the night are a prime time for introspection.

And so it was in Cleveland in August 2003, I found myself tossing and turning, unable to relax and therefore unable to sleep. I had been having a pretty rough go of it up to that point. I’d been in the hospital in April and was suffering another physical malady of some sort at the time. I was having trouble with my car, and my apartment leaked. I felt lonely and isolated. The world seemed to be moving on without me, and I seemed to be the only one who noticed.

I started thinking about my life and in particular my romantic pursuits, particularly the two most recent, both of which went down the drain a week apart. There was a running theme through all of them, both the long term and the short term—failure. Why was I unable to make relationships—any of them—work? Why was I unable to get what I wanted? Why was I always unhappy?

After turning over these questions repeatedly, I answered with a question of my own: What if … I were gay?

I dismissed the ridiculous thought as ridiculous as soon as it popped into my head. But it came back almost right away.

Lots of stories exist of people who live as straight for many years, including having wives or husbands and children, only to realize later in life that they were in denial the whole time. I just turned 39; maybe I was one of those people.

I fit no gay stereotypes. Stereotypes exist for a reason, of course, but they don’t define the totality of a group. However, certain facts seemed to fit.

It was unmistakable that I had trouble with women. I was painfully shy around women to whom I was attracted, and it caused me on more than one occasion to blow a potential opportunity. Then, when I was able to connect fundamentally, I wasn’t able to close the deal and either get the short-termers into bed or keep the long-termers interested.

However, I got along with men with no problems. It was easy to joke or bond over sports or whatever. Maybe there was a simple explanation that I hadn’t thought of: Maybe I got along better with men, because I actually was more attracted to them.

Plus, there was my personal history: I was far more tolerant of gays than most people I knew. For example, I was on the gay-marriage bandwagon back in the 1990s after a particularly insightful conversation with Jin. (I had said I was against it, and she asked why, and when I couldn’t think of a reason better than “I’d never thought of it as something gays wanted to do,” I realized my position was ridiculous and dropped it.) I lived with a gay man in college. Heck, I even pinged his gaydar enough so he took me to Chicago for a weekend once.

Finally, there was the sexual side of it. Sam Kinison did a bit about how everyone has a gay fantasy (AND I WANT IT OUT!), and I had to confess that … yes, I did, too, on rare occasion, go there when I took matters into my own hand.

The more I thought about it that late night in Cleveland, the more I wondered: Did I in effect push women away, because, inside, it wasn’t women I really wanted but men? The more I wondered, the more I accepted the possibility if not the reality. That certainly would answer a lot of questions.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. When I got up to go to the library that day, I decided rather than to continue the self-examination—I had work to do, after all—I’d just leave it alone and concentrate on my work. The next day was a gym day. That would be a good day to test my theory.

I had a good day at the library and got a good night’s sleep that night. When I drove to my Bally’s in Westlake the next day, I decided I wasn’t going to think of anything, just react. As long as I kept myself open to anything, the truth would reveal itself. It did as soon as I walked in the door: I wasn’t gay.

Two guys were talking at the check-in counter, one behind, one checking in. They were just regular dudes, I guess, but as soon as I saw them, I realized that I just wasn’t attracted to men physically. That thought carried over in the locker room. I wasn’t disgusted; just … it’s not my thing. I’m attracted to women.

Well, what about my gay fantasies? There was a huge difference between them and any of the thousands I had involving women. In almost all cases, the female objects of my fantasy were real people—celebrities, Playboy playmates, women I’d met, girls I wished I knew in school.

On the rare instances when it was about a man, it was always someone I conjured. In fact, the more I thought about it, it was someone about whom I couldn’t tell you a defining characteristic—or even that he had a face, just a formless shape. It was an unrealized ideal. As soon as the ideal became real, like, say, Brad Pitt or George Clooney, the game was over. I had zero interest, and as soon as I saw a real man in the flesh, I knew I wasn’t attracted to them.

But … the questions on the floor remained unanswered: Why did I struggle with women so much? Why was I constantly so unhappy? It was a riddle that needed to be solved, and solve it I did a couple nights later in another 3 a.m. conversation with myself.

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