Farewell to GRL 2011

As I sit here contemplating life, family, happiness, or the fairly frequent lack thereof, and the exquisite, sheer joy of those moments when all things are ‘right’, I find myself overcome with emotion.
I recently attended a writers/readers retreat in New Orleans , La : GayRomLit. To say I enjoyed it would be a profound understatement. As the inaugural event it was amazingly well planned, and a moment in time that will not soon be forgotten by its attendees.
One of the things that was most refreshing was the total acceptance of and by those lucky enough to be there. As someone who rarely “blends in” for me it was a surreal experience that I have never before known. In my “normal” life, I try very hard  to avoid putting myself in dangerous situations, or  to find myself the target of the fear that  so often surrounds the lack of acceptance of sexuality that locals do not understand or approve of. I realized though, several years ago that wearing “normal” clothes and sedate hair styles didn’t avoid the disgusted stares or the accusing comments. So in the midst of the bible belt I decided that although I do not make my sexuality or it’s manifestations a matter for public debate locally, I wear what I feel comfortable in, within reason and allow my hair to reflect the man within. Acknowledging this I choose however to keep these issues private and deal with the repercussions of that decision to myself.  The main reason for this relates to my aging parents and in an effort to save my daughter the barrage of prying questions that would ensue.
Before I completely bore you to tears , gentle reader, I will move on. I did want to shed a little light, for those who aren’t familiar with my life and my story, on why this retreat was such a welcome yet painful experience.
During the retreat I spoke to hundreds of people, literally during the many events. The one resounding theme was the wonderful feeling of freedom we all felt. As can be attested by the folks who met me in New Orleans, I let the real Blake shine through. My clothes, outrageous, my style at it’s wildest, and my conversation, unedited and unvarnished. In essence, I exhaled, maybe for the first time probably ever. To find myself surrounded by those who not only accepted me regardless of my appearance, but did so, uninterested in whom I might find appealing,  with whom I shared my bed, or  with whom I might choose to share my life, left me overwhelmed by sheer joy, and an indescribable dread.
To those who have never felt what it is to be hated for nothing more than how you look, or the belief you might feel attraction to someone other than what is accepted, it is a pain that threads itself through the fabric of the facade of our lives. That pain allows us to endure the paradox of what is versus what, in a fair and unbiased world should be. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t pleasant, and more often than not, distances us from those who love us most. The reality though is, it is familiar, you can rely on it. When you find yourself feeling vulnerable, needing validation , the pain keeps your heart and your sanity safe.
Even amongst the GBLT community the venom is often as deadly, sometimes more. Gay men tend to shred others who don’t fit into the safety of their expectations. Youth, fitness, beauty, and oddly enough conformity are gods often worshiped, rarely forsaken. Aging gay men, those who don’t maintain six percent bodyfat, or who look or act too “straight” are castigated as either unworthy of their attention or those guilty of the latter are treated with disdain or more often as turncoats to the cause.
Finding myself in a group of people who valued me either because of or in spite of my appearance or perceived proclivities wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but the lack of judgment and volumes of love shown to both myself and the others attending was not only unexpected but overwhelming. The men who attended ranged from the obvious gay men to clearly heterosexual husbands of readers or authors. It was the het community that most impressed me during the conference. I am accustomed to keeping the customary ‘distance’ when approaching other men. I found it most intriguing that several husbands asked to have their picture made with me or hugged me during the conventions “goodbye brunch.”
Amongst the gay men and women attending, I was treated with love and respect, there were no catty comments, no snarky stares from those who either might be more youthful, more handsome, or in the case of the authors more talented than I. It seemed for that one shining moment, we were all on equal footing.
I doubt, of course, that every participant was filled with love and good will during that five day event. If there were those there who made those type comments or using the experience as a reason to marginalize others, I certainly didn’t encounter them.
The reason for my angst, the fuel for my sorrow stems not from those who might cause me pain . The real reason for it revolves around the glaring disparity between the world that could be as eclipsed by the world that is.
I suppose for those who attended , we simply are left hoping that someday the rest of the world catches up with “our” community. When I say that, I don’t mean the gay community, or the het community. I mean the community of people who love and accept each other based on who we are, not who we love or how we look. Those people are gay, straight, bi, white, black, Asian… the list goes on. In short the world is short on truly good people. It was perhaps one of the defining moments of my life to realize that those people DO exist, and not in small numbers. GRL 2011 may be over, but it’s impact on it’s participants, and the ripples from those people will be felt for years to come.

Although I type this through tears, knowing that truly good, kind and non-bigoted people are the minority, I am thankful to God that I managed to encounter so many of them in one short period of time. And regardless of the fact that it was an isolated skip in time, and those of us who are waiting anxiously for next year, GRL  gave me something that I truly had begun to believe I’d lost, hope for the future.

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16 People have left comments on this post



» Tara Lain said: { Oct 24, 2011 - 08:10:57 }

I am writing this comment through tears. Thank you so much for sharing this. And let that acceptance, love and passion for good ripple out. : )

» mary greshan said: { Oct 24, 2011 - 09:10:50 }

Blake,
As I read your post, I think I have as many tears as you did writing it.
I so wish that everyone felt as I do and I think I don’t even have to begin to explain that to you. I hate that you have had to go through so much, even now.
I also felt that I was part of, not so much a community, but a family while in New Orleans. It felt like coming home, I didn’t have to worry, like you, of offending someone with my beliefs. I loved being able to walk down the streets and see men holding each others hands or with their arms around each other. For most people, its not unusual to see 2 women together, but they frown on or make ugly remarks to men.
I met so many new friends and I include you at the top of that list! You are a very special person and don’t let anyone ever tell you different.
Remember, family!

» Trista Ann Michaels said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 02:10:11 }

That was beautifully written. GRL was a blast. I hope next year is even better..:)

» Rachel Haimowitz said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 03:10:19 }

Beautiful post, Blake. It was a pleasure to meet you at GRL–you were witty, sweet, and kind through and through. I’m glad you felt so comfortable there; the openness and love at GRL was off the charts amazing :)

» William Neale said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 05:10:34 }

Beautifully said, Blake, and a real pleasure to have met you. Looking forward to seeing you in Albuquerque.
–Bill

» Debbie Gould said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 05:10:59 }

Beautiful, Blake, as is your soul.

» Susie B. said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 06:10:24 }

Awe Blake,

((Hugs)) I had a wonderful time and have only positive and happy memories of the weekend. I know I will talk with you again through out the year, but I am also looking forward to seeing you again next year. I have already started saving.

» Silver said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 06:10:10 }

I hear what your saying but the problem with hiding sometimes you miss out on the people around you who do accept you for who you are.. I have learned over the years that its harder to hide than it is to be who i am.. Love me or hate me most of the time i could careless.. Do i have moments where i take a pause and think i really wish these people would get off their high horses yea.. does it hurt sometimes yea but i never ever let anyone how deeply, how much or that they have the power to hurt me.. If i keep the power the hurt isn’t so back.. I am glad you found your place and acceptance even if it was for a short period of time.. To me life is too short to live my anyone else’s standards but my own.. BUT i know why you do what you do and respect you for your choices… I am glad you had a blast in NO wish i could have been there but i think in the long run it was best for me to not have been there lol… Thank you for a look into your life dear..

oxoxoxox
Silver´s last blog ..My Review of Come By Chance By AJ Llewellyn My ComLuv Profile

» Bryl R. Tyne said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 07:10:50 }

I came away from GRL with much the same feelings, but you’ve put it into words much better than I ever could! I’m sure most of us experienced that sense of belonging and acceptance that many of us forever yearn. I know, I did. GRL was a truly unforgettable time that I too will cherish as one of the top 10 experiences of my life. Excellent post.

» Missy Welsh said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 07:10:54 }

Blake, I’m one of the people who adored meeting you, hearing your story, and adding your books to my to-read list (box of tissues at the ready!). I especially loved hearing you talk during your social about “being raised right” — which one cannot properly say, apparently, with an Ohio accent :P Be prepared for a tight hug from me next year, buddy!

For me, this event was the shot in the arm I desperately needed without realizing I did. I’ve been unemployed all year, feeling very isolated, wondering at my worth… Then GRL attendees were almost instant friends with shared ideas and opinions and loves. I looked forward to each morning and actually managed to start them without coffee! Next year will be like a family reunion and I already can’t wait.
Missy Welsh´s last blog ..Christmas Story Blurb My ComLuv Profile

» Johnny Miles said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 07:10:19 }

Blake:

A moving post indeed my friend. I understand how you feel because the retreat WAS something very special. I daresay even magical! And to think that I almost didn’t go.

I think we can all relate to what you wrote because there was a comfort level that was truly fantastic. It’s pretty much the norm for me; at least within the last 15 years of my life. However, I know this is not the case for all gay men and women.

Remember that we’ve all gone through that discrimination in one form or another whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and to this day, even straight women. Many still continue to experience bigotry and racism. But all you have to do is reach out. We might not be with you in person but we’re definitely with you in spirit.

I send you a huge hug Blake. Until next year.

» Jaime Samms said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 09:10:25 }

Hi, Blake:

I’m so glad you had such a wonderful time in New Orleans. I did, as well, and though I never did get a chance to talk to you, I was so happy to see you there, see you’re smile, and next time, I’ll try and overcome my shyness and actually say hi. :)

» T D McKinney said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 03:10:35 }

Blake, we’ve talked about this so you know my feelings. I’m just so thrilled you could come to New Orleans and have that experience. I wanted that for you so much.

» Amanda said: { Oct 25, 2011 - 08:10:53 }

Beautiful post Blake. And, so true. I had a fantastic time there and I really can’t wait for next year. I also feel like I have made many friends for life and I love being able to be myself! Big hugs to you.

» Jon Treadway said: { Oct 26, 2011 - 02:10:11 }

Hi BLake,

I was very happy to meet not only you, but all the authors, readers and other attendees at GRL. My main reasons for going were to raise awareness of my name and to get a kick in the butt to start writing again. Not only were those two goals met but OMG I had the time of my life! And I received so much more than that. Your post says it so well! It was wonderful to wallow with others who love gay romance (and people) as much as I do… I’m dying for next year’s reunion.

Jon aka Jen

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