BENT's own Bear
Everybody knows what bears do in the woodsthey
sit around telling each other their life's stories and giving one
another advice. What else would those big, hairy beasts do when
they get together for their Teddy Bear Picnics?
Inspired by the wisdom of my fellow growlers, I'm
here to give advice, when asked. So, if any of you have questions
you'd like answered by someone who's been around the block a couple
of times, please send them to Bear@bentvoices.org.
And in case you're worried that you might have to
censor your thoughts, please remember that my walks around the block
were often done while dressed in kinkwear and with a thought or
two about who I might encounter along the way.
So let me know what's on your mind. If it's a Big
Unanswered Question (or even a little one), let me have
a crack at it. It is, after all, what bears
WITH A CRY
comes with a cry, and nobody about to open the closet door should
ever presume otherwise.
Let me remind BENT readers
that we have an online cripgay discussion group called Disgaytalk.
I wrote some of what I am about to say in response to a Disgaytalk
member's discussion of coming out. In addition to ambivalent feelings
about friends and family, he talked about coming out at work, and
how it might effect professional creativity. That immediately started
my own brain working in overdrive. I had just been reading The Naming
of the World, a Native American compilation of handed-down
stories, which began with a quotation from the Mohawk story, The
Cry: "So, I have begun creation with a cry."
The whole concept of
creativity is one close to my heart. I often feel compelled to create
costumes, appliqué quilts, and even stories and articles.
I can't say where the compulsion comes from, but I am grateful for
it. To my way of thinking, creativity also applies to who and what
we are as human beings. Perhaps my fascination with creativity stems
from my lack of standard religious beliefs. I don't presume that
divine inspiration comes into play when we create something. I believe
that human inspiration is the driving force, something not enough
of us recognize or try to pursue.
I also believe that there
may be more to life than a simple birth-to-death scenario. I don't
preclude the possibility of multiple existences, just as I don't
preclude the notion of a soul simply because I don't believe it
comes as a gift from one particular deity. Thus I place a lot of
responsibility on the individual for the creation of the self and
for the way the self relates to the world.
Perhaps some of my ideas
stem from the feeling that I have lived many lives in the fifty-two
years I've been on the earth (this time, at least). I look back
and see myself constantly changing. For me, change is necessary.
The saddest thing I can say about anyone is that he hasn't changed,
but too often change is negative. Some of us can see that distant
point where we know we should be heading, but don't know how to
reach it. I believe we have to fashion the route with whatever it
is inside us that spurs creativity.
does come with a cry, but I've learned that it's better to get the
pain over and done with, to move on, to free the creative spirit.
I was fortunate. I experienced
little anxiety about coming out. I never once looked back to question
if I had made the right decision. For me, there was no decision.
There was a path. I know that for others it's not so easy, especially
when coming out has been deferred for a significant amount of time.
"Creation with a cry…."
In creating my own coming out, finding sex was the easy part. Finding
friends and keeping family was another matter. I learned painful
truths about human nature. I also learned to protect my soft core.
Some close family members had let me know that I was gay even before
I made my decision to say to myself that I was gay. I went along
with their decision to have my head shrunk. I quickly realized that
the man doing the shrinking was as quirky as his clients. But at
least he had the sense not to try to change me. I later decided
not to deal with some of my family, notably the hurting ones. I
created my own world; one in which I demanded respect for my choices.
But I did not create my world without a cry. Nobody does.
And so, I come to the
core of what I want to say to that Disgaytalk questioner. I believe
that being gay has as many meanings and levels as being part of
any group, racial, ethnic or religious. But not everybody who identifies
himself with one of those groups feels the need to shout about his
affiliation. You need to find your own comfort level.
nineteen years with a man who is out in many ways, but I wouldn't
dream of forcing him to be out in ways or situations that make him
uncomfortable. For me, it's a different story. I've marched in gay
parades, I've sued the agency I work for over sexual-orientation
discrimination. I've done all the other "out" things imaginable,
including participating in a gay theater group and marching on Washington.
gay does not mean that you have to march in parades any more than
being disabled means you have to be a supercrip and climb mountains
with one leg,
or be part of the Special Olympics.
years, my lover has become more comfortable with who he is and who
knows it. He often says, "You see, I'm getting to be just like you."
And I've learned from him. I've learned to temper my challenges
to small minds; I've learned it's not always necessary to make a
preemptive strike before the other person gets a chance to hurt
Being gay does not mean
that you have to march in parades any more than being disabled means
you have to be a supercrip and climb mountains with one leg or participate
in the Special Olympics. Too many gays pressure others to be open
and out, forgetting that everyone has a different comfort level.
But sooner or later, we need to make a choice about acting on our
desires. Deciding to make no choice, to say in place while the world
spins is not called balance, it's called inertia. It's called living
in a vacuum. It's also called "safe." And "safe" may be the most
dangerous place in the world to be.
I would not want to be
anything but gay. It has given me a chance to explore my own creativity,
to sit at a sewing machine for hours on end and not give a fuck
who likes it. It has freed me to write about sex and let others
enjoy what I have to say, even if it's for no other purpose than
a good get-off session. And it's freed me from the expectations
that stifle the lives of so many straight men. Once we accept our
gayness, we don't have to be concerned with whether or not what
we do leans to the masculine or feminine side of the spectrum. We
can create our own spectrum, which is, of course, the rainbow that
identifies being gay.
The same creative energy
used for making a painting or putting together a stock portfolio
can be used to create the world as we see it and as we need it.
But creation comes with a cry, and nobody about to open the closet
door should ever presume otherwise. I've lost a lot by living openly
gay and challenging anyone who wants to deny my right to do so,
by demanding that people accept me for who I am. But that is me.
It may not be you. And that leads us to the notion of how we judge
each other based on how comfortable we are revealing ourselves to
the world-and even to ourselves.
I repeat: There is no
one way to be gay. We each find our own comfort level and we grow
from there. The only thing that really matters is moving towards
self-acceptance. Only you can say if your progress needs to move
by inches or furlongs. Nobody can say that you have to take giant
steps to reach the point where you need to be. Just one small creative
step in the right direction will do. Not all gay men take the same
steps. Some, arguably, mince a bit, while others clomp around in
steel-toed boots. Those extremes may be reactions to how we think
the world perceives us.
is no one way to be gay. We each find our own comfort level and
we grow from there. The only thing that really matters is moving
of Disgaytalk have dealt with issues of personal identity and autonomy,
bisexuality, body modifications, pretenders and wannabes. We've
expressed our beliefs freely, sometimes stridently. Sometimes we
apologize to one another. Sometimes, feelings are too hurt to be
patched over and someone decides to leave the group. Mostly we come
away slightly bruised philosophically, but with deeper understandings.
In short, we learn from each other.
don't expect everyone to adhere to my beliefs. I create my own world,
including my spiritual world, based on my own experience. All I
can do is offer what I have learned: That the individual finds who
he needs to be by looking into himself. The process will be painful,
for you and for others. The pain comes from knowing that once you
decide to make a change, nothing in the world can remain the way
For most of us, coming
out is not easy at any age, but staying in the closet is the most
painful thing of all. Once the closet door is open you can see what's
on the other side, good and bad. With the door shut, all you can
see is darkness, and darkness is where the monsters lurk.
Creation does come with
a cry, but I've learned that it's better to get the pain over and
done with, to move on, to free the creative spirit. Maybe that spirit
doesn't even stop with what we know as the end of life. I, for one,
don't want to believe that after death comes silence. I want to
believe that even when our bodies are in the ground, part of us
will still be creating. Maybe then, after so much crying on this
earth, we will finally get to create something new somewhere else,
without the cry.
©2001 Max Verga
VERGA has been an activist
ever since getting a call from a friend reporting that he'd been
in a riot at the Stonewall Bar only hours before.
He began his activism with the West Side Discussion Group, later
became involved with its offshoot theater group, and was one of
the founders of Mainstream, a gay-disabled group. For more about
Max, see his longer biography.
BENT: A Journal of Cripgay Voices/March