Thursday, December 16, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

My father and I are two very different men. Although we share the same name and I inherited his cerulean eyes and dare I admit it - a glimpse of his temper - the similarities end there. We rarely agree and almost always end up in an argument. Our relationship is a complex one, but underneath it all – we are a father and son who also share a deep love, respect and admiration for each other, not to mention a piece of steel high atop the Manhattan skyline.

See the link below to read my latest essay published in the December 20, 2010 issue of ENR magazine.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Unconditional Love

Last month, a mother allowed her five-year-old son to dress as Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween. She then documented the reaction her son received at his Christian pre-school on her blog, and the discussion began. Should she really have allowed this? He’s five. What message does that send? But it’s his favorite TV show. Daphne is a girl, he’s a boy. But it was Halloween.

Maybe she should have encouraged him to be Scobby instead? Been there, done that. Okay, well then what about Shaggy? Maybe the goatee proved problematic. But Daphne? A female character for a five-year old boy? It’s not like his mother painted his nails or put him in make-up. It was just a simple costume. So why all the controversy?

She’s his mom; it’s her responsibility to protect her child. It’s her responsibility to set an example. Yes, but it’s also her responsibility to raise her child with unconditional love. After all, that’s what really matters – unconditional love and acceptance. Aren’t we all entitled to that?

I spent so many years of my life fearful of what my parents might think or say if they knew I was gay. They were and still are devout Catholics, staunch Republicans, and fairly conservative. A gay son? Their church says it’s wrong. Republicans don’t support that “lifestyle.” It’s undeniably liberal. They’ll never accept it. Yet growing up, my parents walked a very fine line between allowing me to be myself while steering me in the so-called “right direction.”

As a child I played with Barbie dolls, had my own baton, participated in cheerleading practice with my sisters, and even learned how to make hook-rugs and pillows – a craft my mother taught me and one I absolutely loved. When I was ten-years-old, I danced around the house re-enacting scenes from my favorite film Fame (yes, it was rated R, but I so desperately wanted to see it, my mother finally conceded and took me) and became an avid fan of soap operas, obsessed with General Hospital and Dynasty. Not once was any of this ever frowned upon. (Okay, well maybe the dancing was, considering it was usually accompanied by me singing at the top of my lungs.)

On the other hand, they did persuade me to partake in traditional masculine roles as well, such as Little League. Okay, truth is my father forced me to play. I had no say. But I hated it so much that after three torturous seasons, he finally let me quit. Then a year later, my parents bought me a hockey stick to play roller hockey with all the other boys in our neighborhood. I hated that even more. So, then they bought me a pair of bright yellow headphones so I could just roller skate up and down the street bopping back and forth to my favorite music. That I totally enjoyed.

By my teen years, it was obvious I was not an athlete. My parents accepted that and accepted me, but along with puberty, came an understanding that I was definitely different. This was a side I didn’t share with my parents though, because different was certainly not accepted.

At twenty-nine, I finally mustered up the courage to come out to my parents. I had no idea how they would react. My assumption was my mother would start crying; my father would start yelling and maybe even throw me out of the house. Instead, as soon as I uttered those two little words – “I’m gay” – two words that took more courage, strength and energy than I had ever required, my mother immediately responded by saying, “So?” and my father instantly followed with, “So, what do you want money?”

That’s unconditional love. It was always present, has always been and still remains today. It took me almost thirty years to realize that, but I remain forever grateful that my parents didn’t care what their church preached, what their political leaders advised or even what their neighbors would think. They loved and still love me unconditionally, no matter what. So what’s wrong with another mother demonstrating unconditional love for her five-year old son and letting him dress as Daphne for Halloween? Absolutely nothing at all.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Halloween Jock

Growing up, I always hated Halloween. (Okay, well maybe I enjoyed it up until I was six when I dressed as Howdy Doody, but after that, it became a nightmare, and not a ghoulish enjoyable one.) Between the mysterious faces disguised by horror masks and teenagers running rampant through the streets, it was the scariest day of the year. Our neighborhood literally turned into a war zone on Halloween, but instead of bullets and bombs, we dealt with eggs whizzing through the air and shaving cream sprayed everywhere and on everyone.

But since moving to California, far away from the shaving cream wars and salmonella slime, I’ve actually begun to enjoy Halloween again. And it seems I’m not the only one. Over the years, Halloween has become bigger, better and bolder. Every adult I know now hunts for the perfect costume, spending way too much time and money on just the right outfit to enhance their physique, and of course, the gays have taken this to the extreme, going all out, while usually letting it all hang out. The more flesh you flash, the better your costume.

Well, I don’t normally show much skin considering my six pack of abs and perky pecs are still a work in progress (they’re coming along), but lately I’ve noticed a trend in my costume selection. My need to become butch, or at least be perceived that way, seems to rear its head every Halloween as I embrace my athletic side.

Two years ago, I eagerly made my entrance at a Halloween party dressed as a soccer player. It was the first time I showed interest in anything remotely related to soccer since David Beckham posed in his Armani underwear, but I must admit - I looked great and felt great. Then last year, I opted for a football player. I mean, my costume was that of a football player. Although come to think of it, I did hook up with a guy who was also dressed as a football player, so yes, I certainly scored in that costume. So this year, I once again found myself embracing both my athletic and masculine sides and went as a wrestler. I’m not so sure how masculine a skin tight singlet is, but it certainly did showcase my assets.

Well, as I was waiting in line for the bathroom at a bar this Halloween, a self proclaimed straight man confessed to me that he wrestled in high school and wanted to know if I did as well. I said no, admitting I was never an athlete in high school, that’s why I dress like one now. And then it dawned on me - that’s exactly what makes Halloween so much fun. For one day, we get to live out a little fantasy, play a different role, step into someone else’s shoes and become someone or something we’re not. And I really enjoy playing the part of a jock for a day, or maybe I just really enjoy wearing a jock. Who knows, but either way, it works for me. I get to play the part and sometimes play the field without all the hard work - it’s perfect. So now I’m thinking baseball or rugby for next Halloween.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You Light Up My Life

One of the first records I ever owned (yes, I know I’m dating myself) was Debbie Boone’s debut hit You Light Up My Life. (My first record was actually Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy - I know, for a kid from Queens, I had very eclectic taste in music.)

Anyway, yesterday Debbie Boone appeared on Oprah and sang her once ubiquitous smash hit single, which back in 1977, spent a then record ten weeks at number one on the Billboard charts. Well, as soon as Oprah started showing clips of Debbie from the 70’s, I had an immediate flashback to my childhood and the day my mother purchased that record for me.

One afternoon, after school, we crossed the street and stopped in Woolworth’s, and there in the front of the store, was a glass case with all the 45 records on display. I was only six or seven at the time, but I was old enough to read and promptly spotted a stack of You Light Up My Life records. I was so excited, I begged my mother to buy me one. I think back then a single only cost about 99 cents apiece, so mom was happy to oblige. As soon as we got home, I raced downstairs to our basement, plugged in our electric red plastic jukebox, carefully removed the record from its sleeve so as not to scratch it, and gently placed the disc on the turntable. Nervously I placed the needle on the edge of the record and instantly heard Debbie singing, “So many nights, I sit by my window…” Well, from that moment on, that song played over and over again for so many days and so many nights, with me singing along each time. God, I LOVED that song.

My older sisters actually liked the song at first as well, but then again, who didn’t? But in our house You Light Up My Life was heard day in and day out for weeks on end. If it wasn’t being heard on the radio or played on our jukebox, I was singing it at the top of my lungs. I knew ever word, note and dramatic pause. (But of course.) It eventually got so bad, my sisters banned me from singing the song and whenever we heard it on the radio, much to my disappointment, they immediately changed the station.

I actually forgot about the significance of You Light Up My Life in my own life until yesterday’s episode of Oprah. It truly was my first favorite song (sorry Glenn). And as the lyrics state, “It can’t be wrong, when it feels so right, cause you light up my life” - Debbie Boone and her hit single certainly lit up my childhood.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

There is hope!

As someone who was routinely harassed for being gay in high school and commonly endured derogatory statements about gay people throughout my college years as well, it deeply saddens me to learn that almost 20 years later, this behavior continues with dire consequences. Within the past month, four teenage boys in the US have sadly taken their own lives as a result of being ridiculed in school for being gay.

As a young boy growing up in the 80’s in the masculine suburbs of New York City, society constantly confirmed for me that being gay was possibly the worst thing imaginable. I was teased in grade school for the way I walked and talked and upon enertering high school – an all male private Catholic prep school – the teasing and taunting grew even worse. During freshman year, I was continually called a faggot both behind my back and directly to my face.

Fear overtook my thoughts and actions – I never once fought back or stood up for myself, because deep down inside, even though I hadn’t admitted it, I knew I was gay. The name calling and harassment ravaged my self esteem and my pride. I shut down, desperately tried to go unnoticed and fortunately found an escape in my favorite TV shows. Thank God for my deep-seated fear of death, otherwise suicide could have been an option for me as well.

In college the taunting subsided, but the sense of feeling like an outcast remained. The badgering took on a different tone. Instead of being called a faggot, my fellow classmates would just condescendingly ask; “You’re not gay are you?” Once again, fear controlled me, always responding with a stern no.

That was almost twenty years ago, unfortunately it seems little has changed in our school systems since then. Earlier this month, after experiencing endless harassment and bullying during his freshman year at Greensburg High School, 15 year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana hung himself in his family’s barn. Classmates openly admitted that students continually bullied Billy, calling him “fag and stuff like that” even though he never admitted to being gay. On September 19th, 13-year-old Seth Walsh of California, having experienced endless anti-gay taunts from his classmates, hung himself from a tree. He spent nine days in a coma before passing away. A few days later, another 13-year-old eighth-grader, Asher Brown of Texas, took his own life by shooting himself with a pistol. He endured endless torture from four fellow students at Hamilton Middle School simply because he was gay. Asher’s parents complained to school officials about the situation, but now it appears those complaints fell on deaf ears. And now 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose college roommate secretly broadcast images of him kissing another boy over the internet, took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

This teasing, taunting and subsequent torture needs to stop. How many more innocent young lives do we need to lose as a result of this type of bullying? How many more families need to be destroyed by the ignorant actions of others? We must establish policies and procedures in every school across the nation so that kids who are being harassed, whether for their sexuality or other reasons, have a place to turn to for comfort, solace and most importantly safety. A dialogue needs to be established. Action needs to be taken. School administrations must recognize that every child has the right to feel safe at school and deserves protection regardless of their race, religion, sexuality or sexual preference. And we as a society must step forward and let this generation of gay and lesbian youth know that suicide is not the answer.

As someone who has been through the trenches and back – I know first hand that there is hope. As a teenager, I never imagined living the life of an openly, proud, gay man – but here I am – happy, healthy and surrounded by friends and family who love and support me. There is indeed hope. We must find a way to let these kids know it, prove it to them and protect them. We must take action now and honor Billy, Seth, Asher, Tyler and all those who came before them, by putting an end to these unnecessary losses once and for all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Getting Pumped with the P90X

Since the start of the New Year, I’ve been taunted and tormented on a daily basis by body transformations, sculpted ab muscles and the belief that in 90 days, I too could transform my 5’7” frame from flab to fab all thanks to a program known as P90X. Yes, the ubiquitous infomercial featuring fitness trainer Tony Horton has appeared on my television set almost every morning since January 1st.

As I lay in bed, slowly trying to muster up enough energy to rise from under the security and warmth of my down comforter to begin my day, I grab the remote, click on the TV and regardless of the channel – I’m greeted by Tony and his crew of sculptured clones. “Before and after” photos jar me awake offering plenty of inspiration, especially given the fact that when I do finally remove myself from the mattress, my image in the bedroom mirror resembles a carbon copy of the “before” images just witnessed on screen.

Weighing in at 142 pounds and standing at just 5’7”, most would consider me already in good shape. But the roll of flab around my stomach and the love handles that no one seems to be grabbing these days except for me - need to go once and for all. Besides, my desire for sculpted abs, bulging biceps and prominent pecs recently became even more pressing given the number of candles that graced my birthday cake this past March. So after years of working out with minimum results, I figured it was finally time to get serious and resigned myself to the fact that this was certainly more than just a coincidence – the universe and Tony were clearly trying to tell me something. “Get out of bed, get off your ass and get going.” So, that’s exactly what I did and started the P90X program.

Day 1 – Monday morning, 7am sharp – Chest and Back. (Ugh, I am so not a morning person!) Out of bed and onto the floor of my apartment, I laced up my sneakers and pressed play on the DVD player. With my chin up bar securely in place, a glass of water on the bed side table, and my inner voice asking “why?” - I was begrudgingly ready for one hour of pure hell. Surprisingly, I survived - though while Tony and his team knocked out 20 wide grip pull-ups with pure ease, I struggled to complete a mere 4. The push-up portion proved much more successful and after 50 minutes, I actually pounded out a variety of 160 push-ups. I know; I impressed myself as well.

Day 2 proved a bit more challenging – Plyometrics. No, this is not a physics lesson, just an hour of endless lunges, squats and jumps. This was indeed “the mother of all workouts” – as it’s so aptly refereed to by Tony Horton himself. My legs were literally on fire, once they finally stopped trembling.

Day 3 focused on arms and shoulders. Thanks to a few bootcamp classes, this hour seemed to fly by since I was already familiar with most of the routines and shockingly survived the workout quite nicely. With my confidence boosted a bit, I examined my shirtless torso in the mirror - not bad I thought. Only three days in and already I’m feeling great, looking good and ready for my “after” photo. Oh, did I mention the “after” image doesn’t come for another 12 weeks?!?! Yes, 12 weeks. 6 days a week. Welcome to the P90X workout.

I was actually feeling pretty optimistic though about my prospects, until day 4 arrived – Yoga Extreme. Now, I’ve taken a handful of yoga classes in my lifetime, and survived each of them - until now. Yoga Extreme is meant to last an hour and a half, well my workout came to a crashing halt at the 20 minute mark. I literally collapsed and crumbled into a ball on the floor of my apartment as every muscle in my body, and some that I never even knew existed, ached in pain. I was completely defeated and if I heard Tony utter the words “downward dog” one more time, my fist would have gone through the television screen, if only I had the strength. Desperately, I reached for the remote with every ounce of energy I had left, shut the TV off and rolled right back into bed. I was P90X’d out!