Time Escapes Me (US)

The constructs of time have been debated by scholars for centuries. For me, these “constructs” are too cerebral for my little brain to comprehend. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity stated, “time and space are not as constant as everyday life would suggest.” I only know enough about time to prompt me to get me where I need to go and when I need to be there. And like most people, time is something that we never have enough of. 

As a kid, I remember thinking about having an abundance of time and being bored because of it. Growing up in the 70s, my imagination and activities were fueled by my love for Saturday morning cartoons specifically the animated-series, the Super Friends; produced by Hanna-Barbera. My mother encouraged my older sister and me to go outside and play as a way of giving her time for herself. I didn’t mind, I would spend my time running around the neighborhood pretending I was flying and fighting monsters, bad guys, and occasionally my sister, like one of the caped heroes from my favorite show. 

That was then. Now the older I become, the more time I spend wondering and pondering about my life. I am officially a middle-aged man if you look at the numbers. In fact, my partner jokingly mentioned that we probably now qualify for senior discounts at certain businesses; a thought that never previously crossed my mind. I know that I’m not the only one making assertions about their state of maturity having recently made another trip around the sun. This year however, I’ve been confronted by a number of questions where there are no easy answers. Questions pertaining to my health (mortality), my career, and even the question of my and our purpose as global citizens. 

Time has made us complacent (intentionally and unintentionally), when it comes to engaging with others or taking action. For example, we say things like,”We should do dinner”, “Let’s do lunch,” or “I’ll do that tomorrow”, and more often than not, nothing ever comes from these proposals. I’ll be honest, I too am guilty of doing this, and I’m sure that I’m not alone. A short time ago I made a rare appearance at a club. I met this guy who was curious about the number of people I was being greeted by. He explained that he and his husband moved to Portland a while ago, but didn’t yet have a good network of friends. We exchanged digits and would text back and forth about getting together, but could never find the right time. In late July whilst texting about favorite fried chicken spots in Portland, that I learned via Facebook,that this friend died in his sleep. I too am guilty of allowing life’s distractions to interfere with my well and good intentions. My excuses usually include things like work, insufficient energy, lack of money, and even Eric (the hubster). With regard to Eric, he doesn’t ever prevent me from doing things, I sometimes just want to spend my downtime with him ❤. 

I have been thinking a lot about time lately. My recent birthday has caused me to seriously reflect on my life. Maybe I’m suffering from some version of a gay man’s “midlife” crisis. What makes this a gay man’s midlife crisis you may ask? Well, I’m gay in case you didn’t catch earlier hubster reference!  I don’t have any plans of buying a shiny new hybrid/electric car or suddenly running around with some young and muscled 20 – 30 something year old who’s looking for that “Daddy” figure; a title that definitely comes with this age. Personally, I would rather travel than deal with any superficial and temporary needs of someone’s fixation. 

Each morning as I awake, I wonder about the aches and pains that seem to appear out of nowhere for doing nothing out of the ordinary. I understand that our bodies can and do go through processes of shutting down over time, I’m just not there yet. I want to be around when we find a cure for the common cold, AIDS, and bad political decisions. Even as I write this piece, I’ll be heading to see the gastroenterologist later this week for a colonoscopy. The procedure is an important part of colon cancer prevention (Your courtesy Public Service Announcement). This isn’t my first time my ass gets probed (guys will know what I mean) but I hope to at least get a warm blanket and maybe a hug this time. With every check up I feel anxious, nervous, and even a little fearful. The question of whether cancer will again invade my body never really fades from my mind.

Eric has his dream job designing award winning homes. Even as a young boy, he would create home plans. He even made a wood-covered leather bound book to display his residential wonders. Once upon a time I did have my dream job performing (dancing, singing, and acting) in a variety show at a San Diego, California theme park (🐠🐙🐬+🌎) . It was joyous and physically demanding work. Sadly, it took its toll on my knees and very flat feet. I’m realistic, I don’t see myself dancing again in a show as I did some 30 years ago. What I enjoyed most, aside from the performances, was the positive energy we created. I also gained some amazing friendships too. My current job feeds my desire to do something good, just without the physical intensity. I also work with some talented, wonderful, and underpaid colleagues, but there are components of this work that make it feel uncertain and insecure. Is it too late to try and figure out what I want to do and be when I grow up? 

I view myself as a global citizen. In fact, my personal mantra is “Community-Motivated & Globally-Driven”. At one time in my life I was fortunate to spend several years living in Europe. While abroad, I traveled to other parts of the world and experienced some amazing and also harsh realities of our world. My life has been forever changed by these experiences and how I view myself in it, especially being a brown-person. Our foreign neighbors often know more about our American history and political climate than we do about theirs; not to mention the multiple languages individuals are required to learn. So what can we do to make us (U.S.) less insular and really be a global partner? Maybe it’s time for “US” to do better for preparing our kids for a future that has them thinking about their part in the world rather than just within their own cities, states, and country. 

These are just a few things that come to my middle-aged mind, and with the year 2020 less than 2 months away, only time will tell what the future has in store for US all. 


My Inheritance

My gay DNA …not really

When I was younger I really loved to dance. I would get lost in the rhythms, moving with the highs and lows of the music. It allowed me to express myself; it still does. Though, I can no longer move at the level of a professional dancer, I can clear the dance floor when I’m really feeling the groove. Dancing through its various forms, helped establish my physical foundation and I’m still hitting the gym 4-5 days a week to maintain my condition. It’s important for me that I remain committed to a healthy lifestyle. I’ve even been told by other gym members that my dedication inspires them. It’s not easy waking up at “o’dark-thirty” and dragging my groggy and tired ass to the gym, but I do it. 

In 2013, just short of my 50th birthday, I started getting these strange and painful headaches. These weren’t the regular tension headaches or migraines I would occasionally experience from life. These headaches seemed to linger longer and even continued on during my sleeping hours. At times, they were bad enough that they would wake me from a sound sleep. Ibuprofen brought only temporary relief and when the morning came, I felt drained of my energy, and extremely on edge. I thought perhaps that it was the stress of my job, the lack of world peace, or climate change; I really didn’t know. 

It was a Wednesday evening and my partner (Eric) and I were invited over to the neighbors for libations. As the evening went one, my face started to tingle. I didn’t really think much of it until we returned home. While looking in the mirror as we were preparing for bed, it looked like the muscles on one side of my face weren’t working. The timing of this anomaly couldn’t have been worse. The following day Eric and I were fIying to San Jose, California to see his cousin and her family. Luckily, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning to hopefully shine light on this mystery. Since my regular doctor was out of the office, I was assigned to another physician. Blood tests revealed nothing and due to the amount of time I’d been experiencing headaches, I was sent to have a CAT scan to ensure there wasn’t any nerve damage or even a stroke. It was about two hours before our flight when I received a call from the doctor’s office; I had Bell’s Palsy.

This day was not going well for me. Later in the evening after our flight landed in San Jose,  I received an email from the doctor with results that caused me to literally do a double-take. Here is a portion of that email. 

“Nothing huge to report although I did note that you have kidney failure. It’s stage 3 which is in the middle of the road. You need to make sure you follow up with your doctor.”

WTF!!!  First of all, this information is far too casual to share as an email to someone who’s not a regular patient, and second, I’d never heard anything about having kidney failure!  Apparently, I had been walking around with an undiagnosed case of prehypertension. But why wasn’t this information disclosed during other visits? The reason why my assigned doctor didn’t tell me about my potential organ failure was because on previous visits, I was being seen for something else. Really? If there was any indication of organ failure most people would want to know regardless of the time? (As you might imagine, I have found another doctor!)

But the story doesn’t end there. Right before Thanksgiving, I was given the news that no man ever wants to hear from a doctor; you have (prostate) cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early (Stage 1), but getting a cancer diagnosis can be a life changing experience.

So, why am I writing about this? Most men aren’t ever motivated to go to the doctor, but complacency, avoidance, and denial can sometimes be a death sentence. The American Cancer Society recommends prostate checks at age 50. But in reality, men starting at 40 years of age should get their Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels checked twice a year just to make certain their levels are consistently low (4 and under). 

As a gay man, the diagnosis of prostate cancer sent a wave of emotions over me. The one thought that echoed in my head was MY SEX LIFE IS OVER! When the urologist discussed the results and treatment options, he mentioned a procedure called a Prostatectomy , the removal of the prostate. I just wanted the cancer out of my body and decided that the Prostatectomy  was the best course of action. This was a knee jerk reaction. Eric asked about the number of these procedures (300+) the doctor had performed. This was a valid question. We were given a couple of brochures and a DVD detailing the robotic procedure. I was strongly encouraged to take the weekend to think things over; a weekend that was filled with a trip out of town for a family birthday celebration. Celebrating, was the farthest thought from my mind.

I didn’t know how to tell my friends what was happening to me, but it had to be done.  It was difficult enough to say the word, CANCER, aloud so I did something I never thought I’d do,  I shared my news on Facebook. The outpouring of support by friends and the community was beyond anything I could have imagined. Even the local LGBTQI newspaper (PQ Monthly) ran a story on my disclosure. Soon other men disclosed to me that they have either had prostate cancer themselves or knew someone that was currently seeking treatment, which made me feel less alone in my diagnosis. After speaking with others and researching treatment, I was able to think further about my options. Feeling more informed, I decided to forgo an irreversible surgery for external radiation. This treatment option was better suited to my cancer’s progression, my age, and lifestyle to ensure my quality of life.

Man up guys! Prostate cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or be embarrassed about. Having a conversation within one’s circle of friends can also be a great way to gain peace of mind during a very personal illness. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from health issues that are embedded in our DNA no matter how fit we may appear on the outside. But when we share our stories, we can empower and engage the community in ways no one can imagine. It can be a very humbling experience if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable!

You’re What?!

By all American standards, my family was pretty was normal. Dad was a Master Sergeant in the US Army and Ma was the obedient wife, cook, and caretaker of my older sister and me; we even had a dog. My father and I did all the stereotypical activities expected with society’s male bonding rituals; fishing, playing sports together, and I even had my first sip of beer. One of my favorite activities however was our time at the base swimming pool. It wasn’t the refreshing waters that I enjoyed most, but viewing all the naked male frames in the locker room. Every size and every shade of man was presented before my young wide eyes.

From a very early age I’ve known that I was gay. I just didn’t know what to call it. Maybe the feeling stemmed from my expulsion from nursery school for biting? This wasn’t my finest of pre-scholastic moments, but it’s true! Was this a future sign of rainbows, glitter, and red dresses? Probably not, but I did have an issue with biting. I chewed on everything from my headboard and footboard of my bed, to the aluminum blinds in my bedroom window. Once, I even bit my mother. This was a HUGE mistake. She bit me back, forever curing me from any future behavioral nibbling…at least as a child.

In grade school I was shy and kind of different. Not outer worldly different like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with his pointed ears and amazing intellect, just different. From all outward appearances, I looked like any other African American boy my age at John Tyler Elementary School in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was only when I was around certain male classmates that I would feel anxious and strangely giddy. Jeff was one of those classmates. He had strawberry red hair, freckles, and an infectious laugh. My little heart ached when we weren’t together. Movie time was my favorite part of class because it gave me a chance to sit next to my favorite classmate. In the dark we felt free and didn’t have to worry about judgment or opinion. I don’t ever remember what films were shown, but I do remember holding hands with my special friend!

With my parents divorced, my mother moved my two sisters and me to San Diego, California. I was a teenager and my feelings for guys remained the same. This wasn’t “just a phase” as some people then and now still might suggest. I attempted to conform to the “norms” of the hetero world and even had a girlfriend but that relationship felt awkward and made me more aware of my sexual identity. I was also now old enough to be aware of the cruelties, and horrific names that were being psychologically branded on guys like me. Being a young black male was difficult enough, and in our conservative suburban neighborhood of Rancho Penãsquitos, this “queer” nuance I was experiencing was something I had to keep to myself for the time being.

My mother was and still is a very social person. She used to love to go dancing and would frequent a gay disco called Dillion’s. Here she made friends with several gay men and women; many would later become family friends. One such friend, Mark B., was in his early 20s and was just adorable. He had blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and a big mustache (think Magnum PI). Mark was always invited over to celebrate birthdays and holiday meals. I don’t think he had any family of his own in town so my mother sort of adopted him into our family. He was a sweetheart and my older sister and I secretly had a crush on him. I think my mother knew it too but then one day Mark stopped coming around. We later found out he moved to San Francisco and was never heard from again.

So at sixteen I decided it was time to come out. It was early in the evening and my mother was in the kitchen doing dishes. I slowly approached her and quietly told her that I thought that I might be gay. In my mind, time stopped and I could hear my heart literally pounding in my chest. She continued to wash dishes and without missing a beat, asked me to explain why I thought I was gay. I think my words to her were something like,’ because I really, really, like guys. That answer wasn’t sufficient enough so she asked me to write her an essay entitled, “Why I Think I’m Gay”. In my essay, I explained to her that I had been aware of my sexuality since I was in grade school and though I had had a girlfriend, it just didn’t feel right and I remained infatuated with guys.

I was the only male in an all-female household. My mother thought the lack of a masculine influence or her gay friends may have contributed to my admission. So she suggested I speak to her church friend Wayne. Wayne was gay and about 15 years older than I. Finally I could speak to someone who could understand my situation. Wayne allowed me to speak freely and in depth about my awareness and the occasional physical confirmations that my dreams would produce; things I couldn’t tell my mother. Wayne confirmed to my mother that I was indeed gay and the rest is history.

I was fortunate to come out to someone that embraced me with love and compassion. Many young gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered children are sometimes abandoned for living or disclosing their truth. Luckily, there are amazing LGBTQ role models such as Michael Sam, Lavern Cox, Ellen Degeneres, and George Takei that have broken down barriers of race, transphobia, and homophobia by living their truth.