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Archive for March, 2009

Five Twenty-Three

“intentions” – I haven’t heard that word in a while. I’m not fond of it. It’s like a small, temporary fence that I always trip upon.

My reply from an e-mail conversation I had with a friend earlier in the week at 5:23a.

Its one of my best quotes ever.  The word has been on my mind all week.

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The thought of marriage is something I haven’t entertained since I was nineteen years old. I had moved to California and was missing my best friend Tiffany – we’d been companions for years and I thought that, if there was one person I would marry, it would be she. I wrote her a letter in hopes that she’d come to California.

A year or so later when I self-identified as gay, I realized that I was thankful that Tiffany hadn’t come to join me in California. I had a new set of circumstances to understand, and with my new reality I moved forward.

The letter to Tiffany was mailed twenty-five years ago but recently I’ve been thinking about marriage again. Not because I find myself in a position to marry, but because I can’t. Despite the media frenzy over same-sex marriage and the continued discussion over California’s Proposition 8, I’ve sat this one out because I felt it didn’t really matter to me.

I’ve determined that the reason I felt it didn’t matter is because I’ve been conditioned to believe that I wasn’t fit to love someone enough to do that. Everything that I’ve been exposed to for the past twenty-five years has said, subtly or otherwise, “its not for you”.

It was a recent article in the Chicago Free Press by the syndicated columnist Jennifer Vanasco that offered a perspective I’d not previously considered. I’ve read this paragraph from the article over and over throughout the past two weeks;

Marriage is a risk. It is brave. When we fight for the right to marry, we are asking for a chance to be challenged. We are not taking the easy way out. We are saying that in spite of the odds, despite the large possibility of failure, we are willing to live in hope.

Over the past twenty-five years there have been a handful of boyfriends here and there. While we spent time together with varying degrees of success, and while we may have challenged ourselves with career moves and housing opportunities, we never had to entertain thoughts of a social challenge as great as marriage. We never had to be that brave.

When I look back with this new perspective, I’m pissed off that I’ve never been expected to be brave like that. I feel jilted, actually. While I can’t change the past, I wonder how things may have been different if every gay man had grown up with the expectation that he could find, fall in love with, and marry the man that makes him feel so alive inside that he just couldn’t bare not to.

Imagine raising a child who has a capacity for music and forbidding them to play the piano, the guitar or denying them the ability to sing out loud. Imagine denying a child with great athletic ability the chance to run the bases, use the parallel bars or shoot hoops. They’re permitted to sit in the bleachers, attend the concerts and follow the lyrics, but they’re forbidden to participate. End of discussion.

Many gay men my age are doing well for themselves. Some better than others but most have solid jobs, livable homes and manage a vacation or two a year. We have not been left out of commercial success. We have, however, been left out of achieving the true emotional success of love.

Marriage is a cultural statement far greater than it is a legal statement. Legal statements can be crafted by lawyers. From a cultural standpoint, gay men and women have been led to believe that they are inconsequential. That our lives simply don’t matter … as much.

For the past twenty-five years I have internalized this without realizing it. Despite the hard work attributed to my various successes, I have kept myself from fully understanding the bravery in love. I grew into adulthood without this kind of hope. Without knowing it I took the easy way out and accepted the societal view of my own capacity.

I always thought that I was being brave – every father tells his little boy to be brave. Now I understand that I have not been brave at all. I never expected to have these feelings and now I do. I’m angry and sad at the very same time. My father told me to be brave and I have failed him.

Click HERE to read more by Jennifer Vanasco.

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“The guys worth dating aren’t hanging out in bars”, they said. “The guys worth dating are on-line now.” That’s how the story went.

The logic here is that the guys who are well read, have good jobs and own their homes are responsible enough to know that staying out and drinking throughout the week isn’t a reasonable way to invest their time or money. Generally speaking I buy that statement. In fact, I bought that statement – hook, line and sinker.

I’ve been ‘on-line’ for nine years and this year I’ve come to realize that in the 3276 days that I’ve been on-line, I’ve met eight men with whom I’ve formed friendships. Of those eight, four have remained in contact and two of them would be considered life-long friends.

Scores, perhaps hundreds of men have chatted me up using various techniques to garner my attention. Some use full sentences and engage in dialogue. Others use one or two-word statements meant to arouse – and not necessarily the brain. In some cases I’ve carried on meaningless dialogue for years with men I’ve never met.

The challenge over the past nine years has been in actually meeting these men. I find few are willing to push aside the keyboard for the sake of a face-to-face meeting. Almost all of the on-line profiles make statements with regards to “looking to meet…”, “tired of the scene…”, or something of that genre. It seems, however, that the chat rooms and web sites may have replaced inter-personal, three-dimensional meetings.

Not long ago I web-surfed into a guy on-line who happens to live three doors down. We’d been chatting for some time when we realized this so I invited him over to continue the conversation. He declined the invitation. I don’t get that. Under the anonymity of a chat room he’s willing to continue a virtual dialogue, yet in person he evaporates.

The logic here is that one may not understand another’s intentions after just one chat session. I’ve seen him on line multiple times since, we’ve chatted further, we’re neighbors, but we never meet. Other gay neighbors with whom I’ve chatted on-line have declined invitations for martini parties, summer-time patio brunches, impromptu dinner invitations and/or bike rides through the city.

It appears as if on-line chat has isolated and incapacitated gay men from participating in developing meaningful (and actual) friendships with one another. Face to face meetings appear to no longer be the goal. Rather, anonymous chat seems to be the ultimate goal. We’ve relegated ourselves to postage-stamp sized images of one another that flash across our computer screens and include the same old statements of sexual innuendo rather than sitting on our front porches and talking to one another.

Understand that I live in this glass house and I am throwing stones – trying to break out from inside.

Last year I met more men than ever thanks to FaceBook and Twitter, many of whom were my neighbors. After recognizing that we had something in common, be it the proximity of our residences, mutual acquaintances or common interests, we found time to get together for coffee, dinner or just to hang out by the back yard fire pit. Interestingly enough, all of these men are straight.

With these men I can have conversations about the books we’re reading, the projects with which we’re involved and just about any political or social topic of consequence. This is not the case with my gay brethren.

Now its said that the best way to meet quality men is to get involved in something with which you’re passionate. I’ve taken this route as well. I’m involved with a variety of projects and events around town from co-working to social media to public radio and public transportation. And from this wide range of activities, I’ve not met one gay man. Meeting a gay man isn’t the primary goal in these endeavors – but I find it interesting to note that, generally speaking, gay men are absent from these activities.

Could it be gay men are now isolating themselves from social involvement because they’re waiting for someone new or interesting to pop into their on-line chat room? Refresh the page and wait. In the mean time, the world is happening – events are taking place, our world is being reshaped and it is next to impossible to meet a gay man with whom I can have an engaging and thought provoking conversation.

Ironically I’ve recently met a man via an on-line portal with whom I speak (and/or write) every day. We’ve met, not because it was easy – he lives in Chicago, but because we both have the desire to engage with someone who can enjoy an hour long conversation about something unique and interesting.

In addition to meeting, we’ve mailed books and newspaper articles back and forth to one another – Jennifer Vanesco’s syndicated column is one we both enjoy. Rex Wockner’s blog is another that we discuss. We challenge our vocabularies with e-mailed words of the day and expose one another to new authors, films and directors.

It’s completely possible that we would have never met had it not been for the on-line experience. In fact, it’s highly improbable. So indeed chat rooms can be a means toward an end – but with the worthwhile end is a meaningful personal interaction. Still both of us struggle to find quality gay friends who care about caring for one another, nurturing one another and helping one another achieve more within our lives.

What we ponder often, however, is how gay men are going to continue with their efforts for equality when they fail to participate in anything other than the pursuit of virtual chat buddies that they have no intention of interacting with beyond the strokes of a keyboard.

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A lot of my time in Chicago was spent just walking. It’s my favorite way to get the feel of a city and when friends ask what I want to do when I arrive as an out-of-town guest, I tell them to carry on with their lives. I go walking.

This past Saturday I was on the street heading to the nearest Dunkin Donuts which was just below the Red Line platform at Bryn Mawr in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. Upon finishing the donuts (one has never been enough) I took off with coffee in hand and made my way down North Broadway – I’d not previously been down this street.

After a few block walk to the north I noticed a new-build condo project and I decided to stop in. I told the young woman that I was just out for a walk and wasn’t there to buy, but just to look. We started talking. She asked what I would want to buy if I were interested and I told her that a two bedroom would be nice.

She offered a pricing brochure and then the floor plans. The prices were reasonable – not much different than what I’d expect to pay in Columbus for the size. And then she said the magic words, which I already knew but it sparked a conversation that lasted for some time.
“And you know,” she said, “we’re less than two blocks from the Red Line.”
“I am so glad you said that,” I told her.
“Why’s that?” she asked.

I told her that it wasn’t but a couple weeks ago that I ran into a Columbus realtor and our conversation turned to public transit. The realtor was lamenting the current housing situation and the associated lack of sales. I mentioned that the potential for light-rail funds as part of the stimulus package would probably help.

The realtor told me that they could see no reason to build a line running north. “Who’s going to ride it anyway?”

I went on to tell the young woman that I had to explain to the Columbus realtor how public transportation increases one’s home-buying potential.
“Isn’t that just obvious?” she said. “Its one of the reasons we chose this location to build. You don’t need a car to live here.”

This conversation illustrates my point. Public transit, and specifically passenger rail attracts development. A “twenty-something” in Chicago knows this for bloody hell’s sake. Passenger rail attracts density. Could one person in Columbus city government please make note of this? Please?

Housing becomes more affordable when automobiles are not necessary. Everyone needs a roof over their head and the cities that can provide that with the fewest barriers will gain new residents. Cities that won’t will eventually lose population and the associated tax revenue.

The question remains: How will Columbus continue to attract population growth when other cities are doing rather than talking? Honestly, I’m tired of this conversation because it’s been going on for too long in this city. I’m tired of waiting for a local government that just doesn’t get it.

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Landmark Occasion

In 1986 I walked into Chicago’s Palmer House for the first time and found myself amazed with what I saw. Last night I walked into the Palmer House and found myself, once again, taken aback by what I was witnessing.

Landmarks Illinois hosted their annual Legendary Landmarks gala last night and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

The organization is Illinois’ leading voice for historic preservation and the Legendary Landmarks gala honors the significant contributions of Chicago residents. This year’s honorees were Michael Kutza, founder of the Chicago International Film Festival.  Susan and Lew Manilow, local leaders in issues surrounding the environment, human rights and the arts. Richard Driehaus, a Chicago native, joined the list of honorees as one of the most prominent backers of Chicago’s historic preservation efforts.

Nearly 400 people turned out for the black-tie event which included drinks, dinner, desert and dancing within the walls of the Palmer House’s $170 million restoration, truly one of the many Chicago gems. During dinner we learned more about this year’s honorees and listened to passionate stories surrounding their past and current endeavors. Each of them contributors to Chicago’s rich and diverse heritage.

Those seated with me at my dinner table were some of Chicago’s newest preservation enthusiasts from The Prime Group real estate investment company. Also at my table was a young Russian woman who emigrated from St. Petersburg as a child twenty-one years ago and now lives in Chicago. Remarkable, I thought, to have such a vast array of people who cared so deeply about preserving their city. Every age group was represented and I specifically enjoyed talking with younger residents that one normally might not expect to see at such an event.

Also during dinner Richard Driehaus announced that he would donate $1 million dollars to Landmarks Illinois to help further their cause. The crowd rose to their feet with a standing ovation. The sense of pride was tremendous and though I am not a Chicago resident, I felt deeply privileged to be surrounded not only by the nations best architecture, but also by a group of people who understand it’s importance and are willing to fight to preserve it. At that very moment I wanted to be a resident of Chicago too.

Perhaps the most unexpected conversation I had was with the grounds keeper at the Farnsworth House. In December 2003, Landmarks Illinois  purchased this historic Mies van der Rohe structure with the help of hundreds of individual donations. The $7.5 million dollar purchase price was just the beginning however. Following millions of dollars in restoration work, the Farnsworth House is now an historic landmark and open to the public.

Scott is entrusted with keeping the sixty-two acre site manicured and groomed. Living just two miles away, he told me that he often arrives to the site early in the morning to enjoy his coffee on the elevated patio.
“It’s as if the place were all mine”, he said. “I couldn’t think of a better place to start my days.”

I did more than just attend Legendary Landmarks gala and I’ll be back to you with more bits and pieces about my weekend in Chicago.

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