June 27, 2013

Austin: The Velvet Coffin.

This past last weekend was my last weekend of travelling for work. And so I decided to spend the weekend in Austin, Texas. I was looking forward to a weekend of beer, music, and awesome food. And that's exactly what I got!

But I also got something else unexpected. I got a bunch of old wounds dug up and brought back to the surface.

I use a couple of geolocation apps for gay men - Grindr and Scruff. For the uninitiated, these apps will tell you what gay men are physically around you at the moment. I've used these apps in Toronto, New York City, Boston, and even the small town of Greenville, South Carolina. In all these places, I've found the men to be fun, friendly, respectful, and kind. 

I expected the same thing in Austin, but boy, was I in for a surprise. The non-white gay men were cool - just the same as in other cities. But the majority of the gay white men I talked to over the weekend were real entitled jerks. Disrespectful, treating me like an object in conversation, and just general flakiness. After a few instances of this, I felt this torrent of old anger come up from deep within me, fired up as I remembered my own difficulties in the past as a brown gay guy. 

I've dealt with racism in some form or another my whole life. I grew up in rural Alberta... And while I will be forever grateful for my time there (Alberta did, after all, give me my inner good ol' boy!), the dark side of my time there was the incredible, excruciating racism I experienced as a child. I grew up believing that I was ugly and unworthy of love, and that no one would ever want to be with me.

Then, I moved to Ottawa in 1998 for university. And I'm gonna just say it... I found a good majority of the gay men in Ottawa to be complete dicks. There of course were exceptions. I have a lot of close gay friends in Ottawa, and my former long-term Ottawa boyfriend is still there. He and I are still friends. I will always love him deeply because of how close we were, and how sweet and pure of heart he is.

However, in Ottawa, all I heard for many years was, "Sorry, only into white guys." Which is fine - but I just didn't understand why two people couldn't at least be friends if there was no mutual sexual attraction. I even remember several occasions in Ottawa of being consistently ignored/served last in the gay bars. I lived this for TWELVE YEARS. And 12 years of that did a complete mindfuck on me. After so much racism growing up, and then 12 years of being ignored and disrespected because of my ethnicity, I truly believed that I was ugly, unloveable, and completely undesirable. 

I moved to Toronto in 2010 finally. And do you know why? Because I signed up on a dating site in 2009 where there happened to be lots of Torontonians. And I was completely caught off guard when I had a torrent of gorgeous, smart, fun guys from Toronto messaging me and telling me how attractive they thought I was. I didn't believe them. In fact, even today, I still have a sliver of doubt when someone gives me a compliment.

It was one of those moments just like I'm experiencing now with leaving my job and buying my Mustang and going farming. I had nothing to lose by leaving Ottawa and going to Toronto, so I did it. And it changed my life. I was shocked at how kind, friendly, and respectful Torontonian gay men were. 

I will never forget the first Torontonian man I dated. So ruggedly handsome. Quiet strength. Gentle. Passionate. Highly intelligent. What a wonderful man to introduce me to the city I would end up falling deeply in love with. I remember at the time feeling completely surprised anytime this amazing man would treat me with kindness and respect.

You know what I loved the most? In Toronto, even if a man isn't interested in sleeping with you or dating you, he will be civil and may even end up becoming a friend. It was the little things that blew my mind, like when gay waiters would talk and joke with me. I will never forget this one day when my Gaysian BFF Stan Chan and I went to O'Grady's and the waiter totally sat down with us and sang show tunes with Stan. 

When the waiter left, Stan Chan and I were stunned. He was from Ottawa, and I'd been there for 12 years. We'd never had a pretty gay waiter treat us and engage us like human beings before. Not once. 

Over the course of my three years in Toronto, I really healed a lot. I dated lots of great guys. I had a 2-year relationship with an unforgettable handsome, sweet man who truly loved me and whom I also deeply loved. 

Even in Boston, I've met a lot of great guys in the six months I've been there. 

And then when I arrived in Austin, it was like my life was rewound back to being in Ottawa. Lots of bullshit, lots of rudeness, lots of disrespect. Lots of profiles that would say, "Whites only."

I believe that everyone has preferences on whom their attracted to. That's fine. But I don't think it's cool to completely disregard or disrespect people just because they're not your "type". At the very least, we should all be civil to one another.

Suddenly, I realized that I wasn't powerless anymore. That in fact, I never was. What I did next is, I admit, quite unenlightened. But something in me broke. 

So anytime a white, 0% bodyfat, entitled guy messaged me, I would reject him. Racist of me to do this, perhaps. But I would say for me it was a crime of passion. The first time I did this, the guy said something I couldn't believe.

 "haha ive never been rejected before."

I still can't believe he said that. But I also wasn't really surprised. The media and magazines have told us that white, 0% bodyfat, and muscled is beautiful and everything else is not. I'm not surprised that men who conform to this image can have a tendency to have a superiority complex because everyone fawns over them.

So yes, I was a bit of a dick to these 0% bodyfat white dudes, but I could tell that for many of them, it was the first time a non-white guy had rejected them.

Years ago, when I felt ugly and unwanted and undesirable, I used to chase after these "ideal" men. And they always rejected me, disrespected me, and treated me like less than human. I chased after these men because they were what I was told was beautiful. And because of my low self-esteem, I felt that if just one of these men would be with me... That maybe, just maybe, that would mean that I wasn't a worthless completely ugly guy. I put up with a lot of shit from these guys over the years, shit that I would never put up with today because I thought that allowing myself to be disrespected was the price of admission to dating one of these guys. And I thought that dating one of these guys would validate me, take away the feeling of being less than, and make me feel beautiful. 

Today, I am in a much better place. With the help of a great therapist, supportive friends, and the wonderful gay men of Toronto, I'm happy with who I am. But it's still a daily practice to remind myself that I am enough, that I am a worthy person regardless of how I look.

I've also rejected the image of the 0% bodyfat build that is shoved down our throats by the media. I believe this image is presented as an ideal because it requires you to pay for products and services (ie. gym membership) for the rest of your life to maintain that shape. It all comes down to economics, really. I am much happier as a naturally hairy guy who has a bit of a belly than I ever was when I would spend hours at the gym trying to look like the guys in the magazines. I also feel physically stronger, and more vital in general than I ever did when I would go to the gym religiously.

I like men who are natural. Some bodyfat, body hair, scruffiness - I love all these things. But ultimately, I like men who don't feel they have to shoehorn themselves into a media-driven unhealthy body image. I like men who are comfortable in their own skin, and confident enough to know that they are enough as they are.

While in Austin this past weekend, I spent some time with a really cute, really nice guy who also was, to use his lingo, a "POC" (Person Of Colour). We went for frozen yogurt, had some great conversation, and even exchanged a few sweet kisses (yes, I wore my cowboy hat). We talked about our shared experiences as gay men of colour in a white gay world. He was a few years younger than me, and I shared my experiences and my healing process with him. He said that it required daily effort for him too to remember that he was in fact NOT ugly and actually a decent-looking, desirable man. 

He described Austin as a "velvet coffin". Austin was pretty, people were friendly, and the city is lively with great food and music. That was the velvet. The coffin was how Austin's dating scene, for non-white gay men, erodes their self-esteem, lowers their standards, and makes them feel less than.

Over the weekend, I chatted with about a dozen non-white gay men in Austin, and they all shared with me how they often felt hopeless, ugly, and unwanted... And how they either felt completely rejected or completely fetishized.

I just felt my heart drop a bit each time they shared their stories. I reminded as many of these men as I could that it wasn't them - it was the city they were in.

I told these guys that it was worth it to move, even just for a couple of years, to a city like Toronto, Boston, or NYC. I told them about what moving to Toronto did for me. I hope at least a few of them give themselves the gift of moving into a more loving, open, inclusive city. It's truly life-changing. 

I wouldn't have been able to come through my weekend in Austin with my self esteem intact and stronger than ever if not for my experiences in Toronto.

So, to my beloved Toronto, I will always love you for what you gave me, and I will never forget you, no matter where I end up.

Thank you, Hogtown. <3

One of the reasons I am writing somewhat openly about the sexual side of my life is that in the west, non-white men are generally seen as asexual. Brown guys in the western media are either the sidekick, the asexual doctor or cab driver, socially awkward IT guy, or the guy who whips out an Indian accent for comedy relief. 

And we never, ever get the metaphorical girl.

And so rather than wait for the world and the media to change, I think by sharing my stories and experiences openly, perhaps I can be a part of the change rather than wait for it to happen.