BEAR IN MIND

ADVICE from
MAX VERGA
BENT's own Bear

Everybody knows what bears do in the woods—they 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 do best.

CREATIVITY WITH A CRY

Creation 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.

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.


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.

I've spent 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.

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 be part of the Special Olympics.

After nineteen 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 me.

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.

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.

Members 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.

I 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 it was.

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

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MAX 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 2001