The 5 Types of People I Celebrated With After SCOTUS Struck Down DOMA (and more or less eliminated Prop 8)

This gallery contains 5 photos.

1. The Overjoyed Gay!Cheers, Tears, Lots of hugs.  TODAY EQUALITY AND LOVE PREVAIL! 2. The Grumpy Gay Myopic, Self-centered, Lonely.  Today isn’t all about you! 3. The Straight Ally Who’s Almost Happier Than Me   Supportive, Enthusiastic, Congratulatory. We’re all … Continue reading

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Rally for Peace

Photo courtesy of Edward Garou,

Photo courtesy of Edward Garou,

Hundreds already fill 13th Street outside the LGBT Center when I arrive for the rally.  The expected rainbow flags and posters stick up above the crowd with messages calling for action, calling for peace, and honoring Marc Carson who was shot and killed three days ago in a hate-filled, reckless act.

There have been four attacks on gay men in less than 2 weeks and this is the second rally to unite the community and make a stand for the queers of the city.  With so much progress in recent years for marriage equality and a general acceptance for gays into society, it’s shocking that men are being singled out and attacked for being gay.  This is not the NYC I know.

“I gave up sex to be here today, y’all,” declares a young black man to his friends.  “It’s important to come out and march and take back our city.”

The faces around me fill the spectrum of gender, age, and race and phones are regularly lifted aloft to snap pictures of the assembly.  The afternoon sun is bright and hot and I smell a charming mix of cologne and BO emitting from all the queens, bears, and twinks (you might be surprised to know which were the smelliest).  A piece of paper listing all the chants is passed around and I briefly scan it wishing I had brought a drum.

Our march begins at a slow shuffle and people seem hesitant to chant.  Middle-aged lesbians carry the calls and there’s something about their energy and ease at leading that tells me they’ve had to march before.  I overhear two women talking about an AIDS rally from the early 90s.  The young people next to me slowly gain the courage to clap and shout from time to time.

We pass through the West Village–a historically gay neighborhood–going by the places Marc walked and died last Friday night.  Our passage remembers him and clears out the residual darkness that clings to sidewalk.

I meet a friend and chat about boyfriends and families while we march and feel the conversation is appropriate for the occasion.  As we march for gay equality, I share the personal struggles I’ve had with being seen as an equal citizen, friend, and son.

We reach the end of our route and are encouraged by multiple speeches from community leaders and activists.  I think Marc’s mother speaks, but I’m too far back to be able to see and her voice is so weak in the microphone.  We are told to unite, care for one another, and protect one another–wise words for anyone anywhere.

The rally ends and in minutes 1,500 people disperse back into the city.  I’m left standing against a police barrier wondering if there will be more violence to come and what I should do if it ever comes to me.

As I head off I see a handsome stranger in the crowd and smile.  He smiles back.  The warmth and opportunity in that smile serves as a poignant end to today’s rally.

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Shorn: My Beardless Exile

Before and AfterI know before I start that what I’m about to do is a mistake.  Staring at my face in the mirror, I know that shaving off my beard is going decrease my subjective attractiveness and potentially lower my social capital.  I know I won’t like it.  I know many of my gay beardy friends won’t like it.  But still I press forward and click on the buzzer.

The beard is a symbol of masculinity and a signal that you’re in style and a part of a group, so what happens when I remove it?  Who will I be without one?

In minutes the grooming is all over and I’ve traveled back in time four years to an alternate version me (though my baby face looks about eight years younger).  I hide my face from my partner behind a towel and urge him to brace himself–he’s never seen me clean-shaven before!  Fortunately he’s also incredibly supportive and more interested in substance of character than the furriness of my face…but still he indulges me and takes a photo for Facebook declaring, “You look twelve!”

As I venture out into the world I feel a constant chill on my cheeks and every time I touch my face it feels oddly small.  I don’t recognize myself in the mirror.  The man looking back at me is too young and his chin is too narrow.  I feel less confident and less connected to the men around me.

Standing outside of Bear Happy Hour in D.C. I encountered a beefy guy with a cigarette and some attitude.  “You look more like a squirrel than a bear,” he laughs when I tell him I work for The Urban Bear.  “You’re more of a twink than a manly man.”

Entering into the boisterous Gym bar on 8th Ave a fabulous queen grabs my arm and shouts, “Watch yourself honey, you just walked into a viking party!  Better stick close to us or they’ll eat you alive.”  Excuse me? I think to myself.  Are you talking to me??

Now, I’ve never thought of myself as a bear and I know I’m not as big and wild as some other men, but before shaving off my beard I would have been at least been considered a wolf and I was the one doing the eating.  Has shaving really impacted my place in the gay social order that much?  I feel like a shorn Sampson diminished without his superhuman strength.

“Don’t shave your beard–you’ll be invisible!” was the advice from a gay friend the day before I went smooth-cheeked.  His words were echoed a dozen times by others and I acknowledge each one with the sentiment: to truly own something, you first must lose it…and then seek to regain it.

But the regaining takes time.  My scruffy coverage needs weeks to form into a respectable beard. During these days I feel more like the boy I was four years ago when I used Gillette products daily and was just learning about being an adult in the city.  I meet up with an ex who I knew from that time and I truly feel like I’ve time traveled.  “You look the same!” he says encouragingly meaning I haven’t aged poorly.  But what I hear in my head is “you haven’t made any progress with your life.”

And here is the root of why my beard is so important to me: Not because it’s in vogue and let’s me feel like part of larger group, but because it is a physical symbol of the journey I’ve been on for the past few years.  When I moved to NYC I was a young man on a quest to better understand myself and the gay world.  I’ve learned and grown a lot since then and along the way I grew my beard and it made me feel more like a man.

My beard progressively grew longer through dating and breakups and finally meeting a man I want to call partner; it was with me when I started feeling more like a professional with career goals instead of just a guy at a computer; my beard has been my companion through many adventures where I’ve learned about loss and friendship and what it is I truly want out of life.

So I’m growing my beard back and will wear it proudly…knowing now it’s truly mine to enjoy and revel in.  The Wolf is back and you’re gonna be in trouble.

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Men of the City: Robert Valin, Leader of Bears

Robert ValinA painting of the burly character Bluto appropriately adorns the wall of Robert Valin’s Chelsea apartment where his dog, Benny, sniffs and paws at my bag.  “Do you have food in your bag?” Robert asks.  “Benny gets into a zone when he smells food.”

“Just like a bear,” I smile and joke and then together we coax the pup to abandon the bag for a toy.

A third generation native New Yorker, Robert has deep roots in the city and has witnessed a lot of change over the decades.  “New York City is always changing, it’s always evolving,” he says.  “And I love New York—I’ll always love New York.  I just don’t like what’s happening to the city now.  It’s becoming a suburban strip mall with chain restaurants moving in.  Anything with personality and character doesn’t seem to survive in New York unless it’s a chain because the rents have gotten so extreme.”

As the founder and CEO of The Urban Bear, Robert is in the process of building a brand that unifies and resonates with the expanding bear community.  “It’s a group that’s become more mainstream and the term bear is more recognizable now than it’s been in the past.”

So what is a bear?
“A bear is—I can’t even define it anymore—it used to mean a fat guy, but it’s not that anymore, there are all different types of bears.  There are muscle bears, polar bears who are older, cubs who are younger, wolves who are skinny and hairy, otters…I don’t even know what an otter is, but I call my husband my significant otter.”

“The term bear has evolved to encompass a lot of different types of men and it’s really more about having the ‘bear heart’ and it’s more self-defined now.  A bear is a masculine guy who is comfortable with himself and his body and is open to the community around him.”

Do you identify as a bear?
“Ha, yes I do identify as a bear—I don’t know what kind of bear, but I’m a bear.  I’ve always liked big, masculine guys who are proud of their size and who own who the fuck they are.  My dad was a cop and a biker here in NYC so I grew up around these big burly hairy guys.”

What is The Urban
“The site is meant to highlight NYC for people into the bear lifestyle and either living in the city or coming to city and looking for where to go, what to see, and what to eat.  I also want to showcase events and the talents of guys in the city who are writers and photographers—it’s a collective forum for NYC’s bear community.”

What is The Urban Bear Weekend?
“It’s four days of fun, fur, and friends.  There’s a lot of beer and socializing and sex and a good time to make friends.  The mission is to build community and give people some fun—and even kooky—events to enjoy.  The weekend has been growing over the years and we get a lot of guys from all over.  I really enjoy doing it and I love meeting and collaborating with everyone involved.  Guys come up to me and tell me after how they met new friends or even their partner at the weekend.”

What’s the rundown of weekend events?

Thursday, May 2

  • Stash Bash, a party for facial hair lovers at Julius, NYC’s oldest gay bar in the West Village
  • Leather bear night at CODE at the Eagle

Friday, May 3

  • Bear invasion of MoMA
  • Hairy Happy Hour at Ty’s, the 40 year old gay landmark
  • Funny Furry Five, bear comedy festival at the Cutting Room featuring NYC’s funniest bear comedians
  • Underbear party at Rockbar

Saturday, May 4

  • Piggy Bear at the Eagle with an all you can eat BBQ and “bearriere” contest
  • Honey, fun dance party in BK

Sunday, May 5

  • Street fair featuring NYC artists and craftsmen with their bear-focus wares. Performances by DJ Lady Bunny, bear rapper Big Dipper, and a sexy boylesque troupe.
    Delicious food trucks and beer!
    Getting to see that hot bear you’ve been crushing on all weekend one more time so you can finally woof hello!

*A portion of the proceeds go towards fighting for marriage equality*

To explore more about NYC and the bear scene, check out The Urban Bear and come out and meet the friend, furry guys at the weekend.

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Fate of Equality: Waiting on the Supreme Court

EqualityThe future of American society is on the edge of change.  For years proponents of marriage equality have been fighting to extend the rights and honors of government-recognized unions to queers and in the next 2 days some big decisions will be made.

The breakdown: The Supreme Court will hear arguments starting today on two separate same-sex marriage cases–one involving California’s Proposition 8 and one on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The rulings on these cases could of course go any number of complicated ways with the range of options including a historic decision that could make marriage a constitutional right for everyone OR a narrower ruling that would leave the issue to the states (with multiple options in between).

After YEARS of working to change policy and public opinion, we may finally be standing on that legendary tipping point we’ve all been hearing about since the tides starting turning.  The push for marriage equality has been gaining support for a while and the more people who support it and the more government bodies who endorse it, the stronger the need for same-sex marriage to become a part of the accepted norm.  The Supreme Court’s ruling–the decision of nine chosen people–will have a profound impact on the happiness and bliss of millions of people.

This is history, folks.

Even if you’re one of the bitter fags who doesn’t really care or believe in marriage, the outcome of these proceedings still has a huge implications on how society–and yourself–accepts you.  I may not be rushing off to marry my boo later this week, but I will surely feel more empowered and more like an equal citizen if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the queers.

Embrace this moment and reflect on the implications for yourself and our society.  This week is an opportunity to stoke the conversation about equality and feel good about the progress we’re making.  We all know the direction history is heading, I just want to hurry up and get there already.

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My Biggest Mistake

Morning afterIn the four years I’ve been in NYC, I’ve been through about three cycles of friends.  Not because I’m some drama queen who’s always cutting fools outta my life, but simply because in this town people come and go as they pursue their dreams and aspirations.  This transient nature of the city means you’re often back to the exhausting square one of making new friends.  And right now as I’m in the midst of sorting things out and seeking to build brotherhood, I realize I may have been approaching the process the wrong way.

My epiphany: the biggest mistake I’ve made as a gay man is trying to make physical attraction a basis for my friendships.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, but in a community that celebrates sex and makes flirting a standard form of interaction it can be easy to get caught up in all the handsomeness of your peers and let the question, “do I want to have sex with this man?” become the main driver for friendship.  We like to feel hot and be surrounded by other hot men–especially with Facebook available to brag about all the hotness.  Plus in a city bursting with homos, you never have to settle (or settle down) for anyone and the cycle of meeting, crushing, and lusting keeps going.

But then one day after you’ve been pursuing some guy for weeks and finally realize you have NOTHING in common other than beards and 82 mutual friends on FB, you see that the motivator all along wasn’t “to hang out and get to know you better as a friend”, but really “to hang out and get inside your mouth”.

The journey to this understanding is paved with good intentions, but in the end you feel frustrated, unfulfilled, and confused as to why you aren’t happy.  I’ve seen the same emotions in the eyes of men around me and I realize that here in the city we’re all starving for community, but regrettably illiterate as to how to actually create it.  We know we want men to love and have them care for us in return, but actually achieving this result takes more than woofs and casual groping at the bar.

Meeting fun, interesting people is super easy in NYC.  But integrating these people into your life can be a Herculean task.  Everyone is so busy making their mark on the world that it’s hard to get them to stop and invest in you–and not just invest in your brand or your social capital, but really in YOU.  That kind of effort requires patience, sacrifice, and real empathy.  If you want authenticity with your friends, you have to open up and reveal all your dark inner workings.  And when you finally see the flawed human side of someone they usually become significantly less hot…but also infinitely more attractive at the same time.  Sharing in that vulnerability strips away all the bullshit we deal with everyday in glamorous NYC and you can finally just be yourself and realize that’s more than enough for anyone.

I’m happy I’ve met so many great guys in the city, but I’m so hungry for more significant connections with them.  I understand that being gay grants us a blurry line between “friend” and “hookup”, but right now I’d celebrate being in the friendzone if it meant having someone who would genuinely be an ally in this big frightening world.

My quest is for brotherhood, though my path is not certain.  More updates on this to come.

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The Bearded Era

Bearded Kiss

Gentlemen, we are living in a glorious age of facial hair.

You see beards everywhere from hip BK boys to sophisticated midtown men to the daring Harlem pioneers*.  Handsome, alluring beards of all colors and lengths adorning the chins and cheeks of the men of this city.  Get enough of us in a room together and it’s actually a bit overwhelming.  Beards have become almost more a standard trait than a distinctive one and as a result reduced the question, “Do you know that guy with the beard?” to a unhelpful inquiry at any party.

Not since ancient times has society enjoyed such a golden age of beards.  Classical Greeks would only be considered men once their beards grew in thick and full and the Vikings took great pride in oiling and grooming their beards–a past time for their warriors and gods alike.  You hear that?  We’re emulating classical heroes and warrior gods!

So why are men putting down their razors and letting their facial hair grow?

One reason may simply be: Why not, we gotta do something to keep trends changing?  The previous trend was CLEAN SHAVED followed by a hesitant SCRUFFY phase, so naturally this led us to FULL ON BEARDS.  There are really only so many options available, so in the cyclical turning of society, we’ve ended up on the hairy era (at least for our faces…).

Another reason is: Daaaamn, men look goood with beards.  I’ve always been drawn to the primal, masculinity of a hairy-faced man and have often mused about wanting MORE of a beard (mine is fine, just not one of the substantial, warrior ones).  Gay men often emulate what they find attractive so a self-feeding loop of “I like beards, I’ll grow a beard” has taken hold and created a populace of dignified brutes.  Plus I feel it’s just a universal fact: grow a bit of stubble and increase your sexiness.

Finally, there are the practical benefits.  A beard protects the gentle face from harsh cold wind and radiation-filled sunlight.  Covering your face in hair keeps the skin younger and healthier.  Also a thick mustache can capture allergens before the irritating particles invade a man’s system and send him into fits of congestion.  The beard is your furry protector shielding you from the damaging elements of the world.

And of course a beard just feels really great to kiss.

Enjoy this era, men, for we are given permission and encouragement (and peer pressure?) to spare our skin and let our handsomeness roar forth.


*that’s totally tongue and cheek as I call Harlem home.

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New Title, New Direction

After a lot of thought and consideration, I’m relaunching my blog as something a bit different than what it started out as three and a half years ago.  A lot has happened in my life, in the life of the city, and in the gay community as a whole in that time.  I still plan to write about my thoughts and experiences as this is an evolving tale told through my scruffy gay man’s lens.  The topics of maturing, body image, sex and relationships, and the gradual social and politic shifts impacting the queer community will be featured, as well as spotlights on men in the City who are doing cool and important work.

My goal is to reflect on and share my experiences so we all have something more to think on and talk about with each other.

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Leathermen In The Dark

Leathermen in the Night
Photo courtesy of Instagram user, Frankythefinger

Walking southward down 8th Ave I can see the sudden darkness resting below 23rd street. My walk from parts of town farther north started in the familiar brightness and activity found in NYC streets, but as the street numbers decreased, so did the number of people and, of course, the light.

Super Storm Sandy has left her mark on the city and in the wake of wind and rising water the lower half of Manhattan is without power and rests in darkened silence that’s so much in contrast with typical NYC life.

The change is minimum at first with just a few shops on one side of the street encased in their security bars and blackness. People walking by me carry flashlights and pull their hoods up as I pass. A cautious tension plays on their movements and for the first time I consider how wearing all black leather may not have been the wisest choice for walking darkened streets at night. I should have brought a flashlight, I should have brought a buddy. Still I press onward and soon entered the heart of Chelsea and the blackout zone.

Every building stands silent and still below 23rd St and a pair of homeless men sit watch at the border between light and dark. “Going downtown?” one of the men crackles at me from under his blanket. “I am,” I say slowing only a little as I walk. “I like the…what is that…leather!” he says pointing a bony finger at my legs.” “Thank you”, I respond and press onward heading south.

Cop cars and traffic directing lights blink harshly in the darkness making it impossible for my eyes to adjust. I’m blinded by the light, I’m blind in the dark, and I just keep walking and occasionally seeing shadowy figures at corners. Smell fills in my sensory gap and I recognize gasoline, exhaust from generators, and rotting fish outside a sushi restaurant. I see the reflective sashes of National Guardsmen as they unload something from a monstrously large truck. I pass by an apartment building that the wind tore open and now sits in ruin like an exposed dollhouse.

Below 14th St and into the West Village things get even more eerie. At times I’m the only human in sight and every moving shape becomes an approaching zombie (I’ve been watching a lot of Walking Dead this week). But then I turn a corner and see a candle-lit bar open for business with a small crowd in the warm light and a human touch returns to this post-Apocalypse landscape. Individuals also roam along the street holding their cells phone aloft trying to find a signal in the night.

My destination is the apartment of two fellow Leathermen on an empty street where I can’t see the address numbers. Walking down it all I hear are my boots hitting the sidewalk with a bit of light from the moon pointing out hazards to avoid. With a useless phone and a useless door buzzer, I gain entry to the building thanks to another night walker who warmly embraces me as a genuine visitor rather than an evil murderer. I find my friends in their full leather uniforms surrounded by candles and together we rally to bring back a touch of leather to Christopher St.

Flashback to a sight that use to be more common on Christopher St.
Photo courtesy of Instagram user, Frankythefinger

Walking around in leather during a blackout is exactly what one should do in NYC. A cop car slowly drives by and jokingly announces over their speaker, “We’ve got em, three burglars, all in black!” We laugh and then encounter a solitary figure sitting in the dark who recognizes our leather and exclaims, “It’s like Germany in the 1940’s!” Assuming this is a reference to Tom of Finland, no greater compliment could be paid. He takes some photos and we wish him well and plunge onward into the night.

We have a few drinks at Rockbar that are illuminated by lights and music thanks to a generator and then finish up at Duplex where candles and a well-placed flashlight beneath a disco ball draw stragglers in off the street. Finally I say goodnight and catch a cab back to the northerly neighborhoods where my phone starts working again and lights pop up all around.

As I walk down my street to my apartment, I’m amazed how well-lit everything is. There don’t seem to be any shadows–just a street that’s never seemed so bright before. The night has been a fun and unique one and for all the folks living and working downtown, I hope power is restored soon.

Map of the city with blackout zone

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The Shockingly Common Case of Barebacking

For most urban gay men, HIV is an omnipresent factor in life.  Between the 52% of gay men who are positive in NYC and the slew of benefits/fundraisers/message points that fill social calendars and Facebook feeds, even the casual observer is well informed and aware of this disease.  Phrases like GET TESTED and PLAY SAFE and LOSE THE STIGMA have been drilled into us thanks to subway posters, ads in bars, and of course, dear friends.  I can’t type 2 lines in a Scruff message without considering safe sex so it’s always a bit surprising to me when an exchange over the “dating” app goes something like this:

Me: Hello random guy I don’t know but am sexually interested in.
RandomGuy: bb?
Me: No, I play safe to protect both myself and any others I may have sex with.
RandomGuy: Lame.  Boring.  <user blocks you>

Shocking, isn’t it?  Some stranger wants to have unprotected sex with me not knowing anything about my status and then throws a little fit when I insist on using protection.  Who is this uninformed individual who obviously doesn’t know the risks?!

But I return to the sea of men who are only a tap and swipe away and encounter some hunky HIV-positive guy.  Well I know that I shouldn’t fear this individual and that knowing one’s status and being on meds can lead to a healthy life both in and out of the bedroom.  Let’s see how he respond to my advances:

Me: Hello HIV-positive man I’m sexually interested in but not stigmatizing.
Hunk+: bb?
Me: Uh no, I play safe both to–
Hunk+: But I’m undetectable!
Me: Still I play–
Hunk+: Boring.  Lame.  I refuse to have sex with someone who insists on using condom.

Okay seriously, wtf?!  Why is everyone rejecting me because I want to use condoms?  I thought I was doing the right thing by being a responsible citizen.  This is not an isolated incident either…I’ve had multiple guys reject me because I wanted to use protection in recent months and so have many of my friends.  In some cases this level of rejection has gone beyond a simple denial and into a juvenile case of dangerous peer pressure.

One buddy of mine, Matthew, met a super hot guy at Folsom who insisted that he “only breeds his subs raw” and while this type of sentiment sounds hot in a porn kind of way, Matthew was not keen on putting his health at risk for the sake of some stupid top’s desires.  “Most intense for me was the fact that I felt this enormous internal pressure to risk my health because of the perfection of this guy’s body…I was only fuckable on the condition that I allow him to risk my health for the rest of my life,” Matthew told me later.

Another friend, Kevin, tells me how when he brought up the issue of safe sex with a mixed group of positive/negative guys they laughed and mocked him as if they were in middle school and Kevin had just told them he needed a nightlight in his room at night.  “They literally said, ‘Kev needs his rubbers!  Get him his little rubbers so he feels safe!’ and laughed.  I was shocked at their reaction.”

So it seems that despite the magnificent efforts of countless groups and individuals to instill the messages of responsibility and safety in us, there are still many who aren’t concerned with the spread of HIV and other STDs.  We’ve talked about this before on my blog and probably the most awesome quote I’ve heard since then is from a 25 year old who recently seroconverted: “Becoming positive is like getting a ‘get out of jail free’ card.  I don’t have to worry anymore–it’s a relief.  Also I expect to get put on some steroids by the doctor so I’m looking forward to getting pumped.”

You can only imagine how my head exploded in mixed outrage and sadness over such a statement.

Look, I totally get why people don’t like condoms and why worrying about STDs is not fun or sexy.  I also realize that HIV is a “manageable” disease now and knowing your status and being on meds if you’re positive greatly reduce the risk of spreading it.  But this does NOT mean we should be recklessly fucking all for the sake of “good sex” with complete disregard for ourselves and others–both future and past generations.  The fact is, we are one community and when one of us seroconverts we perpetuate a disease that has already taken too much.  And despite the level of care available today (care that comes at an expense shared by others) being positive is never easy or simple–it’s a condition that will impact the rest of your life.

Really I’m just pissed that the rhetoric in the social scene is all SAFE SEX, YEAH! and then the demands of the naked men are all “Uh condoms are lame and if you use them I won’t have sex with you.”  I’m tired of selling goddamn raffle tickets at HIV-related fundraisers because people still won’t practice safe sex.  In theory this disease could be stopped and contained right now if we would just be smart and dedicated to the health of ourselves and those around us.

Okay, let the opinions and comments fly!

Posted in Observations/Lessons, Queer Community | Tagged , , | 13 Comments