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 convention ‘ s “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.