A Pornvasive Identity Crisis

Electronic technology will only bring us more information, more choices, more contacts, and more complexity. It will push us beyond all the old frontiers of identity—home, neighborhood, country, values, and the natural rhythms of nature. Our old touchstones for forming an identity will fail and we will have a pervasive identity crisis. -Yogi Bhajan, April 1995

The fundamental questions we must answer are: how is our identity being maimed by these so-called advancements and how do we reclaim our power so that we are not at the effects of our screens? Here’s one very personal (and to be honest, uncomfortable) admission…

12068474_10100780672233842_5515505154571984726_oI didn’t’ realize how much I had sunk into the sea of technology until I was nearly drowned by my own abuse of its excess. I was born in 1982, which makes me just barely a millennial. I was the last generation to be born before the internet and the first to feel its effects on my sexual development. I got dial-up when I was 16, which meant that like most horny teenagers I was consuming digital porn before I was dating. Unique to my age cohort is that for many of us, off-line and on-line sexualities were interchangeable. Looking at web-porn or sex-chatting with strangers was often a small piece of a larger sexual development that included plenty of real-time interactions with people you met “in real life” like good old-fashioned dinner and a movie or awkward blow jobs in the back seat of the car you borrowed from your parents. That wasn’t my experience, though; my sexuality was developed entirely online. How I have related to nearly every intimate or sexual experience was cradled wholly by web-browsers and imitated fully from porn-stars.

I was an awkward, shy, and overweight teenager with excruciating acne and crippling self-doubt. I came out as gay in 1998 while living in Gastonia, North Carolina. It had not gotten better yet. I was more afraid of rejection for being ugly than I was being homosexual, though. Coming out was rough, but coming into my own skin would prove to be even more vexing. There’s a stigma that only a certain kind of people look at porn—bad people! I see it as more morally neutral. It’s one of many distractions that can stunt our growth if we let it. Unknowingly, that’s what I did. Today I’m 36 years old and have yet to have a true relationship with another man who is attracted to me. I’ve had a string of odd non-sexual relationships with men, gay and straight, but any romantic or sexual feelings I harbored were not mutual. I’ve had plenty of sex, but never with anyone I was intimately connected to—at least at the time we were physical. There’s never been reciprocity in any of these encounters, a dynamic similar to the one-sided gratification of porn.

Pornography had its purpose, though. The first time I ever saw myself represented in another person was when I watched a gay porno online. It was the year before Ellen DeGeneres came out. Bob Dole was running for President and lots of people were doing the Macarena, but there weren’t many openly gay roles models. Ricky Martin was “Living La Vida Loca” in the closet. I was 14 and spending part of the summer at a friend’s house. One day, we found a hetero porn video in his older brother’s room. I was totally disinterested, except for the rare moments when the camera would pan onto the guy. That’s when I knew this lingering attracting I’d always had to boys was more than a phase. My friend had the internet on his computer downstairs; that night I typed “gay sex” into a search engine. Within minutes (well more like 20 minutes…this was the dial-up era after all!) I was seeing a tall, dark, svelte hunk of a man artfully penetrate the backside of a slender blonde lad. That was my introduction to what it meant to be gay: witnessing two anonymous and nameless men fucking for 5 minutes. I knew nothing about them; they knew nothing about me. Yet, with a powerful intensity, I ejaculated into a tissue with my eyes transfixed on their figures. I’d been masturbating for years, but somehow this was different. There was a rush of something that happened simultaneously, something more than just a sexual release; I felt this magnanimous energy flowing out of my body. It was magic and bliss all at once, laced with a lingering desire for something more, an aching to stay in this state of satisfaction for as long as possible, a yearning to transcend to a level of pure ecstasy. All of that from a shoddy video on a random Geocities website. This is how my sexual identity was born.

Eventually I got my own computer, Bob Dole lost in landslide, Ellen became the world’s most famous lesbian, and high-speed internet made jacking off to porn a whole lot easier.  For the next 22 years, I spent on average at least 20 minutes a day looking at porn, sometimes much longer, often going hours on an endless chase for satisfaction. I kept thinking that eventually I would meet someone who I’d enjoy being around, someone I could exchange this sexual ecstasy and energy of desire with in the flesh. That never happened. There were plenty of guys and plenty of sex. Some of it I enjoyed, some I encounters I just suffered through. Nothing I experienced in the flesh compared to how I could satisfy myself online, though. Somehow my sexuality, this intrinsic part of what it means to be human, was trapped inside a screen, never to blossom outside the contours of a seedy virtual reality. It never made any sense. It drove me mad. I hated my body for not resembling those models I’d see in the videos. I dismissed as boring or substandard any man I’d sleep with who couldn’t hold my fascination. I developed fixations on men who would never be attracted to me; I resented them for this strange and unrequited relationship I developed in my mind.

What I didn’t know is that my individual machinations were part of a larger a crisis unfolding. The old hallmarks of how we previously related sexually were rapidly deteriorating. Sex was no longer something two people did with each other. It became a product one consumed.  Sex was also no longer confined to intercourse, with sexual release found through images and videos that we could pull out of our pocket on our phones any time of the day. Sexual partners were not people we met—sex chatting with a stranger’s screen name on Skype or in a chat room often replacing the need for person-to-person interaction.  How we negotiated sex in the past clearly had not served us, yet how we were navigating this pervasive identity crisis was not exactly a bridge to enlightenment.

Something interesting happens when you start to awaken to higher consciousness: you can’t get away with continuing to perpetuate patterns that no longer serve you. You can continue the action, but you’ll start to feel a very different effect. Overtime, the consequences amplify. It’s not that the action has some new adverse outcome; you were just anesthetized to how low you were taking yourself.  When you’re on the path of growth, though, it’s part of the contract not to be stuck. For me, I had to physically feel the effects before I considered the uncomfortable shift of expanding my sexuality beyond the purview of a screen.

Not long after I started practicing kundalini yoga, I started to notice some distinct physical changes when I would look at porn. I would get this aching sensation behind my eyes that would develop into a throbbing pain in my forehead. When I ejaculated, I felt this instant depletion of energy. I was left with a raw and empty exhaustion that slowed me down for the rest of the day. Overtime that slowdown turned into completely being worn out. There were times I would get flu-like sick for days (and eventually weeks) for no apparent reason. I knew this was my body urging me to shift. At a certain point I just couldn’t ignore the reality I was experiencing: I could feel porn’s arresting effect each time I gazed at a screen. Yet, I found myself unable to escape its grasp. It was as though some force was drawing me in and taking with it my free will. Somehow these machines had become a high-tech jailer.

Kicking a porn addiction was about more than changing a habit.  Pornography was the foundation of my sexuality. I fundamentally didn’t have the framework to experience organic satisfaction. Yogi Bhajan talked about technology brining on a pervasive identify crisis; well, I was having a pornvasive crisis! How exactly do you rewire one of your most personal underpinnings? How do you grow into something authentic after a lifetime of understanding sex to be a manufactured commodity? How do you get to the other side of a crisis when electronic technology itself has become the touchstone by which you experience sex?

You recode your brain, and in doing so you set yourself free! There’s a meditation for overcoming addiction that will literally change whatever programming you have around compulsive habits. My teacher Harijiwan gave this meditation on my first day of teacher’s training. He said that if we did this for 40 days, whatever patterns or addictions we have that are holding us back will fade. If we did this every morning for just 5 minutes we could conquer our darkest haunting forces.

It took a while, but I finally committed to doing it. He was right—the patterns were changing, though not in the instant and easy way I had hoped. Meditation isn’t magic; it’s work. Mediations aren’t pills; they’re pathways. I continued to look at porn after I started the meditation, but there were noticeable physical changes. Within a week of practicing it, I couldn’t get hard looking at porn. I’d see the images and feel the desire but what was happening in my brain wasn’t connecting with my body anymore. I could only ejaculate when my eyes were off it, which made the whole practice rather futile. As I notched on more days with the practice, I started to experience sharp pain in my groin any time I ejaculated after consuming porn (that did not happen with an organic fantasy). As I approached the 120th day, which in daily kundalini practice is the point at which a new habit of consciousness is confirmed, the potency pornography once had was largely extinguished. I assumed it would take years of therapy and addiction counseling to kick this habit, but it turns out all I needed to do was stick my thumbs in my forehead and gnaw my molars silently chanting Sa Ta Na Ma for 5 minutes a day! We don’t get to the light through an endless analysis of darkness. It’s fitting that a simple meditation would be the key to liberation.

The habit has been kicked, but I can’t say I have exactly solved this particular identify crisis. I still have no idea what real intimacy is nor do I even really know how to go on a simple date. I suppose that’s the next step: determining how to grow in a new direction that involves actual connection!  It’s time for some new touchstones.

Whatever happens to me is ultimately unimportant. What is important, though, is that everyone figures out how to overcome any limiting pattern or behavior that’s holding them back. We all have the power to heal ourselves. Just with this simple meditation you can overcome so much! I share this post because I know I’m not the only man to experience this particular addiction. I hope that in offering these words, I can offer a tool to help at least one person find some light!

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Sex and the Single Gay Men: A Valentine’s Day Rapprochement

Attitudes - "Single Gay Man" Trucker Hats

There’s a lot more to being a single gay man than a dating site acronym

I’ve been at war with Valentine’s Day since I was old enough to understand what it means to be single. I’ll also admit to being insecure over the central theme of the date itself: being loved.

In my early twenties, I concluded that the unattached had much to celebrate; Carrie Bradshaw taught me that! The Sex and the City heroine made solo existence enticing, even seemingly preferential at times. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, when the gay parallel to New York City’s most famous fictional single person would manifest. Women have a framework for discovering the importance of being strong, independent individuals: it’s called feminism. We don’t really have a homo-parallel, though, that allows gay men to realize self-empowerment.

When we accept the fact that we are gay, most of us aim to find out what that means by finding another person to, well, be gay with.  We quickly attach ourselves to whoever will have us. In the process, we spend little time unearthing the beautiful complexities that are our own uniqueness. Often, we allow other people to mold our personalities and shape our futures. In the Midwest especially, there’s a certain way that religious guilt, lagging cultural awareness, and rural isolation combine with inner strife to create havoc. We look to ease the tension by hooking up with other people. Our boyfriends will be our saviors, even if we barely know them. Let’s be honest, though…Grindr isn’t exactly a gay emancipator!

I’ve long identified as a feminist, and for years, I hailed its mantra as the focal point of my pride as a single, gay man. Something was always off, though, and it’s a deep-rooted issue I’ve just recently begun to examine.

The simple fact is that gay men face a distinct set of issues that women, gay or straight, do not. We are marginalized differently, many of us having our dignity defrocked because we don’t live up to societal standards of masculinity. Our sexuality develops more aggressively, with pornography and casual sex being far more normalized than most of us want to admit. The social circles we form can get convoluted by body image wars, alcoholism and drugs, and a constant one-ups man ship in pursuit of chasing an Adonis like perfection. Oh, and did I mention the fact that we can’t really talk about any of this openly for fear of retribution from the religious right? There is so much inspiration to be drawn from feminist writings and icons, but we need our own movement of empowerment.

What feminism can’t offer to gay men is something that only we can give ourselves: love. Women didn’t need a movement to find love; they needed to get beyond pigeonholed roles, actually! In a world still hostile to us, and where we are often our own worst aggressors, we do need a movement toward self-reliance. We need to get secure in our identities as single people before we aim to couple with someone else. We need to celebrate our uniqueness, appreciate our success, and value our worth when we do. We also need to see examples for how we can stand strong as individuals first and lovers later on. Television shows like Modern Family and The New Normal, which are fantastically helping mainstream gay families, are great steps forward. The time is nearing for the next wave, though, when single gay men are celebrated in popular culture as the multi-faceted, ever-evolving beings that we are! Will Truman started this on Will & Grace, but focused too much on his co-dependent attachment to his straight best friend, Grace Adler.  Neither was particularly empowered by their status as a single person. We need to get beyond the fag hag motif. We have to liberate ourselves!

This year, I’ve decided to pull out from the war on Valentine’s Day. Instead, I’ll focus on learning to love myself and doing what I enjoy. Maybe I’ll even write a treatment for a TV show that is the gay answer to Sex and the City. What will you, a single, self-respecting individual, do with your time and your talents?  Your answer might just change the world—or at least your world!

Grindr: Gay Social Tipping Point?

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Even when we’re surrounded by beauty, we’re always glued to our phones.

We’ve reached a tipping point in the gay rights movement: LGBT people and same-sex relationships are now the new normal.  History may one day find the invention of the Internet to be the single most significant advent in this revolution. It was only after the world could see our lives that people began to understand them. What, though, has technology done to augment our understanding of each other? That’s a complicated dynamic that we are still trying to untangle, even in this wireless era.

Virtual socialization has change what is possible for us to experience. We can now easily connect with people who are like us anywhere. Homosexuality was once a complex underworld of secret gestures, clandestine gathering spots, and campy code words that were relegated to big city ghettos. Not anymore; not in the 21st Century.

If we’re being honest, we’ve likely all had some entanglement that started out online. It’s a phenomenon that began on message boards, migrated to chat rooms, machinated onto MySpace, and now unfolds on our smart phones. Certainly this is not a homo-indigenous happening; statistically, more straight people have probably rendezvoused after a cyber convo. We understand what a hetero-normative society is, though; men and women meet, intermingle, and ultimately decide to co-mingle easier in a world where they are by far the larger majority. For a minority population, though, the ability to manifest an immediate connection creates complexities.

There’s something awesome about the ability for two gay boys in a small town to find out that they aren’t alone because the dating smartphone application Grindr shows they’re only a mile apart. There’s also something a bit scary about the ability to “special order” your significant other by chatting it up until you find someone who will go out with you. I know from experience.

Every time I’m on the infamous app, I’m longing for one thing: a person who gets me. The likelihood that he happens to be within the radius of my phone’s GPS is low. Yet, when I get one of those little red numbered replies, I put all of my hopes into the possibility that this person may be the one who I finally click with! Long before we actually meet, I’ve decided who he is and what he will do for me. Invariably, he’s constructed his own fantasy narrative about what I can do for him. Then we meet, and we completely disappoint each other. We’re so disillusioned by our own hype that we forget to consider the actual individual in front of us. We walk away. Or perhaps we stay, maybe for years, trying to turn each other into the imagined version we wish the other person would be. People aren’t canvasses for us to paint our own insecurities onto; we’re all beings with our own faculty. There’s something about the instant gratification of technology allowing us to conjure up an on-demand connection that makes you forget this really fast, though!

A lot of gay men I talk to, especially my younger peers, say they feel disconnected from the gay community. There’s a sense that midwestern isolation combines with the inherent drama of a small population for a toxic effect. This furthers the narrative for connecting online: the more sequestered you are from your surroundings, the more you’re likely to seek out community somewhere else. Are we getting any better at understanding each other, though? We find out who we are, in large part, by other people mirroring back what we offer. When we’re deflecting our own insecurities and hiding behind a screen name, can anyone truly see us?

Technology may have brought gay rights to a tipping point, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for how we will ultimately fit into this modern age as gay individuals. I should probably stop trying to find my future on Grindr and dig deeper within myself to attract someone worthy of my own, unique energy. Maybe if we all did that we wouldn’t have to fight for people to understand us. When you know who you are, your truth is self-evident.

Naked Emotions

When you bare your raw emotions, you’re as good as dead.

Fiction. Ish.

“I can’t be naked with you physically because we’ve already undressed each other emotionally.”

That’s what he told me late at night while we were standing in the kitchen downing shots of tequila. Both of us were trying to numb a certain pain. He didn’t know how to be alone. I had no idea how to be with someone else. I needed another gulp of poison to wash down the words. Even in an inebriated state, I understood their meaning.

Neither one of us knew how to form a healthy connection. He was an intellectual who chased after twinky blonde guys whose waste lines matched their IQs. I was an artist who created disaster by falling in love with men I could never really have. He gravitated toward shallow bottom feeders who abused him mentally and physically. I was propelled to intriguingly complex men with vast potential who clearly had no interest in me sexually. He became muted accidently by the expressive cruelty of others. I was always conquered electively by unrequited entanglement. He had lots of hot sex and a leash to keep him close to his lover’s bed. I had endless lonely nights and the freedom to roam the world answering to no one. Both of us consented to such machinations. Perhaps we envied the other’s position. But if we did, we didn’t know how to move toward it.

An awkward truth always permeated our friendship. When I met him, I did what I always do. I made him my obsession. He was cute, fun, smart, and interesting…a package of essential qualities typically lacking in the wasteland of my home in Kansas. You can usually tell within the first hour if you’ll ever have sex with someone; with him, I knew the answer was a definitive no. I didn’t get interested in that first hour, though. At that point, he was merely a sex object, and not even one that I found particularly appealing. My fascination built over time. It wasn’t until I understood how truly multi-layered he was that I wanted him. By then, the friendship discourse had settled in. “Just friends” is how we described each other. It’s funny how the word “just” becomes a mitigating qualifier to something that was actually a lot deeper than a causal connection.

So, we were friends. Just friends. He and I.

We got to know each other quite well over the course of several months. Therein lies the problem. I only ever go after guys I can’t have. My interest is only ever piqued when their desire for me is squelched. This is the point where we should both part ways, but long ago I learned a secret spell: instead of offering my body for a sexual connection, I can offer up my soul for a weird sort of meta-physical mind fuck. I can be the person who understands them better than they do themselves. I can be the one who makes them feel safe. I can be the only individual who knows their darkest secrets. I’m the one whose untenable loyalty and consummate kindness commands a part of them not even their closest lover will ever have access to. This keeps them coming back more often, and with more to give, than if I were actually blowing what’s in between their legs.

It’s an odd sort of voodoo I’ve enchanted over half a dozen guys with. I told myself he would be different, though. This time, the magic would work! Unfortunately, truth is the ultimate dispeller.

He would never be with me because we both knew too much about each other. Somewhere in the dance of our friendly courtship, he told me too much about his childhood, and I volunteered more than he needed to know about my adolescence. I knew too many of his secrets, and he held more than a fair share of mine. Details about our lives—small and large—amalgamated into a strange sort of shared tapestry. We blended.

I wanted to believe this was the making of love. But really, we both knew better. This was us not wanting to admit what we knew about love. In order to allow someone to love you, you have to first actually be in love with yourself. He knew that just because you’re having sex with someone you call your boyfriend doesn’t mean you’re actually in love with him; it means you don’t know how to be alone. I knew that my witchy efforts to coerce sex out of intimacy were futile, unfulfilling, and unfair; I was so afraid of my own body that I didn’t know how to let someone else enjoy it. Both of us knew the truth.

So one night, we found ourselves downing bad tasting, cheap alcohol for hours in a lame attempt to intoxicate ignorance. It’s a sad, simple fact: gay men are pretty much handicapped when it comes to achieving true intimacy.

And no, Maggie Gallagher, that’s not because God created Adam and Eve. The universe is challenging us to connect at different and higher levels. A man-on-man marriage of raw carnal knowledge and expressive sentiments is the latest trial in the human condition. Lucky for most, only the “G” and half the “B” in the sexual orientation alphabet soup have this has their karma. For he and I, this is our destiny.

We gay men are masters at compartmentalizing our emotions. We box up the most vulnerable pieces of ourselves so that no one will ever see how truly fragile we are. We hide this case inside a closet, and we hope no one ever discovers it. Inevitable, though, we let our guards down. When we do, we make sure the person who discovers our pain will never penetrate it. We’re so afraid of what’s on the other side of agony that we deny ourselves the ecstasy of real intimacy.

Maybe he and I really should be together. He could stop being shallow and co-dependent. I could stop living out fantasyland versions of my life in a lame attempt to copulate. He could just accept that the person he needs to be with is the one who knows him best, even if he turns him on the least. I could deal with a less than developed partner as long as I was getting the intimacy.

Or maybe I should just do what he said to me the morning after, when the tequila bottles were empty and we could both conveniently pretend those words from last night were never said.

“You should be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them.”

He’s right. I should. But I probably won’t. That, it seems, is my fate.

Pin Up Sexuality

ImageYou can’t quite pin a person’s sexuality to a wall. Sure, you can produce alluring images that reflect a sexual act. You can create art that is titillating.  But you can never capture the true essence of a single person’s complex socio-sexual horizon by freezing it in time.

There’s an element of “pin-up” sexuality that permeates the gay community, and it’s particularly perplexing here on the range. We often turn to pornography or online hook-ups to satisfy our sexual appetites because the inherent isolation that comes with being gay in a place like Kansas leaves few choices for healthier outlets. We rarely talk about it, but those of us in the LGBT community have gotten used to our sexualities being highly compartmentalized. As a result, the sexual relationships we form are frequently fragmented or underdeveloped.

Before I lose you hetero-readers to the “ick factor” of having to think about gay sex, let me remind you that we homos have to stomach more than our fair share of opposite-sexing. Sexual health is part of a community’s vitality, so anyone who cares about living in a wholesome world should be interested in this “pink pin-up problem”. Open your minds a bit and you’ll see this issue is more about sociology than it is sin.

Today, we can get off by cueing up our smart phones. Access to sexual imagery has never been easier. When you’re formulating a sense of your own sexual identity, there really is no digital Pandora’s box. There’s so much more to one’s sexuality and sexual orientation that the carnal act of sex, though. Within that truth, a tangled problem tangoes.

Gay people often see themselves represented for the first time in a porno. That’s a jarring statement that deserves some consideration.

If you are heterosexual, when did you first see another person emulate your sexual essence? If you had straight parents, it was the moment you were born. If you didn’t, I’m sure it was only a few minutes after that! We live in a heterosexual society. We’re saturated with boy-girl narratives in all elements of popular culture. Movies, books, and songs are full of opposite-sex tales. We form our identities, in part, by associating ourselves with representations of who we can become. We color our lives with the paints of others. Our sexuality is one of many elements to who we are, but what happens when there are few representations to draw from?

We want so desperately to know we aren’t alone; to be reassured that we aren’t the only one. That means we’ll go anywhere to find ourselves.

The consequences are complex. Pornographic images produce unrealistic expectations about body image and sexual pleasure. They’re devoid of humanism, making sex a solo activity, and later sexual encounters potentially awkward. Porn is also exclusively focused on sex as a corporal act. To be truly sexual, one has to bring their whole self to their partner. Spirituality, intellect, and sociability matter to LGBT people, too.

It’s easy to “pin up” our sex lives, though.  There aren’t many places outside of clubs or bars to meet gay people in this town. A holistic community is still very much in formation. In the mean time, a lot of us are bumping into each other on Grindr or conversing via Craig’s List. No one teaches you how to be intimate with a person of the same-sex. Even the most supportive of parents probably don’t know how to talk to their gay kids about how to form an appropriate relationship. There’s that “ick factor” again. It’s uncomfortable, so we avoid it. Can we afford to ignore the health problems that it parallels, though? AIDS hasn’t been eliminated. People still get infected with HIV. STDs happen. Beyond the body, though, there’s the soul. We all deserve more than a social media dating app profile.

There are more positive LGBT representations now than ever before in the media, but what about our local community? Celebrities have marginal impact on forming our identities; it’s the people in our daily lives that make indelible imprints. Coming out is a public health issue. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a lack of gay representation will lessen the chance that your kid will be gay. We homos don’t have much choice in the matter. The choice is in how we all live our lives. If you’re straight, encourage your gay friends to talk to you about their dating life. Try to help them out if they’re alone by introducing them to new people. Check in your “inner-ick” at the door. Don’t let someone you care about compartmentalize an important aspect of his or her life.

Let’s stop pinning up our sexuality and start owning up to the wholeness of who we are.

Mine the Void. Fill the Chasm.

When we go to a bar, we have an agenda. Refreshing, tasty beverages are not what most of us seek when we walk into our favorite watering holes. There is no natural lust for alcohol that beckons us to imbibe. There is, however, a yearning for connection imbued in each of us. We buy drinks, dance with strangers, and take random people home in hopes of filling a void. We believe others will give us what we cannot give ourselves.  We are always disappointed.

You do not have to be gay to have this experience. For people who are, though, the emotions are compounded.  We are not just looking for a partner when we intimately connect with someone of the same sex; we are often trying to find ourselves inside another person. No one really knows what it means to be “gay”; we hope to find another person who can teach us, though. That dynamic is an equation for ascertaining emptiness.

There is no greater catastrophe than a life unfulfilled. Yet, most would admit that something is missing. Every person who is gay has experienced some kind of rejection; we seek shelter in the arms of others. Intimacy cannot be manufactured, though. It cannot be found on Craig’s List. It cannot be ordered up on smart phone aps. It also cannot be served at a bar. That gut-level unsatisfaction so many of us feel everyday is really an imbedded barometer reminding us that we need to get our internal house in order. And so, we try.

We are sitting at a coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon, the latest issue of The Advocate our only companion.  We feel lonely. We want to be connected. So we pull out our iPhone and log onto Grindr! The gay-dating cell phone application displays diagonal rows of dozens of men within a few thousand feet from us who we can talk to. We zero in on a shirtless guy with scant information about himself in his profile. We chat it up.

We decide during the nascent texting/dating ritual that this avatar will be our salvation. The shirtless man behind the pic will fill our void. He will see the beauty of our soul. He will love our quirky tastes, laugh at our jokes, and explore the world endlessly by our side. He will give us everything we deserve.

None of that is apparent by the few dozen lines of text we exchange, though. We decide to meet up at a downtown bar later that evening. In the flesh, it will click.

So we enter the bar with an agenda. We fail to consider that we are about to meet a distinct person with a whole host of issues and aspirations distinct from our own. We meet. We order a drink. Shirtless Grindr guy turns out to be pretty lackluster. He is rather boring. We have little to talk about. Or maybe we do. It is hard to have a real conversation with someone when you are holding at bay the disappointment that this person is not exactly who you wanted them to be.

Now, we have a choice. We can politely excuse ourselves and go home to a lonely night’s slumber. Or, we can invite our bland beau to our abode. The night’s machinations can either be tame or wild; the morning’s musings are pre-ordained. Either way, he leaves. The chasm remains.

It is within that space—that void—that redemption lives. The awkward moment when we realize the person we are drinking with is not the person we want is really the instant when we discover that pieces of us are missing.  We can wander the world, cruise every bar, and chat up every person in cyber space. No one we encounter will ever be able to give us what we have to give ourselves. Instead of going to out bars, we should probably be doing yoga, meditating, or just spending some quiet time reflecting on how to become the people we want to be.

When we do meet up with people, we should interrupt that awkwardness with something real. We should not be afraid to embrace the uniqueness that lies within. We should share ourselves with the people we find in front of us. We should receive individuals as they are. Our own agendas must be set aside. People are not canvasses for us to paint our insecurities onto. Everyone is their own masterpiece, worthy of faculty and symposium. Ultimately, we must fill our own gap. Only then can we receive the light of others.

This is not just a gay issue. Heterosexuals manufacture intimacy, too…and in greater numbers! There is a certain politeness in straight society that prevents the honest admission of what is really going on in most people’s lives, though. Leave it to the gays to shake things up a bit.

Let’s all try to fill our inner-chasms with more than just alcohol. Let’s stop looking for other people to make us whole. Let’s dig deep into our own firmaments. We can fill the void by mining the chasm.

Solo-Sex Marriage

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Wide open spaces.

Life on the range opens us up to possibilities as vast as the flat land before our eyes. Those prospects can take us beyond tradition and to a deeper place. Sometimes, we find ourselves outside of our safety zones and in uncharted territory. When we do, when we must become our own trailblazer.

That’s what I have learned as a gay man living in Kansas who has always been single. Yes, in my almost 30 years of life, I have never had one real relationship. I’ve had to invent the rules as life happens. I live alone, creating myself as each day unfolds. Most people find it perplexing that an educated, dynamic, and well-regarded person would be met with such circumstance. Indeed, my chronic solo condition used to cause me great pain.

Then I got to thinking about exactly where it is I choose to live…

Wichita is a great place to raise a family. The city offers a very affordable, high standard of living. There are lots of big houses on large lots to rent or buy at relatively low prices. We have quality schools to educate kids. We have strong neighborhoods to give families support. We have vast amounts of churches to enhance spiritual and community growth. Generally, a slower pace and calmer way of living makes it a relaxed spot to settle into married life.

Not everyone chooses that lifestyle, though; and that’s not just because of sexual orientation!

A growing number of folks are eschewing traditional family life altogether. More and more, people are choosing to either defer marriage until later in life or forgo the concept entirely. Those who are single and remain in The ICT are finding themselves on the “family-friendly fringe.” We who are single and gay…well, let’s just say it isn’t same-sex nuptials we’re concerned with. For us, it’s a daily struggle to find contentment living in a solo-sex marriage.

LGBT individuals generally don’t feel the same familial and societal pressures to partner and reproduce that our heterosexual friends do. This leaves us plenty of space to build our own lives and forge meaningful friendships. That doesn’t mean we’re devoid of devotion, though. To live alone for the long haul is just as much a commitment to one’s self as a marriage is a solemn promise to another person.

There’s a lot of inherent joy that comes with simultaneously being gay and single. There’s a matchless air of freedom inherent with knowing you never have to legally be bound to someone else. You can eat anywhere you want to for dinner. You can go out to any club you like. You can take up whatever hobby interests you. You can travel anywhere in the world. No one else’s feelings have to be considered as you explore the depths of who you are.

Yet a solo-sex marriage is actually quite the polyamorous affair. When your focus isn’t just on one person, you have the ability to invest in lots of people. For me, that’s meant building some very meaningful friendships, the depths of which transcend the layers of many legal marriages. I know more about my best friend Mary than most husbands do their wives. I’ve connected with my friend Trishna on a deeper emotional level than a lot of boyfriends will ever connect with their girlfriend. I’ve had more fun dancing at loft parties with my friend Lynette than I probably would have had grinding on any guy I’ve ever been interested in dating. In all of my relationships, I’ve invested part of myself in another person and gotten a piece of me reflected in their eyes.

In cities like Wichita, though, unconventional joys can only last so long before tradition takes root. Most of my really good friends have moved away because, while Wichita is a great place to raise a family, it’s not a good place to be single. That’s especially true if you are looking for a mate. Sperling’s Best Places rated us the #2 worst city for dating in 2011. In 2004, another study had us at #3; we increased, but this is not a list on which you want your rank to rise! People who are raised in Wichita are all too aware of the realities behind the numbers. They often move on to greener pastures, off the range.

Though there are many joys that come with being partner-free, no person wants to be devoid of connections altogether. Most of us want a life full of friends. Many of us want to experience love at least once. I’ve gotten to know myself quite well as I’ve lived in my solo-sex marriage on the range for the entirety of my twenties. When I’m not connected with friends and not sharing my daily life with other people, though, I feel as though the sum of me is lost. I develop by allowing parts of others to fertilize shares of myself. Left alone too long, I can feel a withering away of my best parts. I know the years by recounting the people who shared them with me. It’s good to be alone so that you can truly know yourself; but you must also live among so that you can share that self-cultivation.

I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that, while the prairie lands of Kansas hold vast potential for shaping an unassailable sense of self, lasting connections with others will have to be explored off the range. Wichita has been a great place for me to find myself, but as I embrace the person I’ve uncovered I know I’ll have to go elsewhere to fully share him. I’m not alone in this line of reasoning. This is the heart of the city’s “Brain Drain” problem that sewers away young talent. It’s also the central point of the simultaneous “gay-away” that chases off our LGBT occupants.

Having to choose between one’s self and one’s home is unfortunate. The beauty of Kansas, though, isn’t just the enormity of its land; it’s the profoundness of the people the land shapes.  The real home on the range is the home one finds within. Maybe this land was settled so that people could come here to know themselves first, then then blaze trails elsewhere with others by their side later. If so, everyone should have a Kansas sojourn.

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