Tag Archives: Facebook

Why I had to un-friend my favorite aunt on Facebook today

“I don’t understand it, but I accept it.”

Those words would have to rank near the top of my list of the most annoying things straight people say about gay people. What they’re really saying: “You’re sinners, but you’re here and you’re queer, so what choice do we have but to put up with you?”

Despite serious misgivings, I decided to let it go when my Aunt Juliet did the whole song and dance at my brother Jeff’s wedding 11 years ago. I had just introduced her to my then-boyfriend Khleber, and I was so determined not to ruin Jeff’s big day that I let it pass when she started talking about how sad she was that I would miss out on a spouse and kids, all the things that heterosexuality would have supposedly granted me that she herself was living without.

Come to think of it, Jeff’s wedding day wasn’t the best moment to be gay. The stench of homophobia was in the air, and my Uncle Achille, who was performing the ceremony, made an even bigger stink than Juliet.

I was best man, and I was so nervous about getting it right that I totally missed the thing Achille said about two men in the Garden of Eden. Being the fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper I’d always known him to be, he couldn’t just leave a tender moment alone. He had to drop in some judgment, which, in hindsight, I realize was totally for my benefit and for that of my brother Alexi, who is also gay.

He made some crack about how God created Adam and Eve, not “Hemp and Shemp” …or something to that effect. The names are not as relevant as the intended message: God hates you, faggots. Fortunately, both the words and the message went over my head because my head was elsewhere.

Wait, where’s the ring?…Oh, there it is.

When my mother repeated her former brother-in-law’s comment later at the reception, her voice dripping with disgust, she was furious. It was actually my first time hearing it, and I wasn’t sure if her reaction was about what Achille had said or the forum in which he’d chosen to say it. I decided she was angry for me and for Alexi, and I loved her for it.

As for my uncle, I had only one personal encounter with him at the wedding. It was when he walked into the men’s room and caught Khleber and me in a warm embrace. He glared at us but didn’t say a word, not even when I directly addressed him and asked how he was doing. I bit my tongue and let his silent treatment go. He’d always been my least favorite uncle, and I knew I’d probably never see or speak to him again after Jeff’s wedding day.

Now I can say the same thing about Juliet, who today became the first family member ever to be un-friended by me on Facebook. The deal breaker arrived on the morning shortly after I learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared gay marriage legal. It was wrapped in big box of hate and re-posted on Facebook:

The post itself isn’t even worth debating. It’s passive-aggressive drivel, hate dressed up in Sunday church clothes. If you think I’m a sinner who is going to hell, if you don’t support me or marriage between my kind, I have absolutely no use for your “love” or “friendship.” As for the alleged name-calling and stereotyping, if you’re going to walk the homophobic walk and talk the talk, be prepared to be taken down for it.

But on a more personal level, why would a woman who has at least three gay nephews spread this message in a place where she knows they’ll likely read it? Was she trying to douse a celebratory occasion with some good old-fashioned negativity, just as my uncle did on my brother’s wedding day?

Here’s the thing about homophobia. Like racism, it doesn’t always carry a pitchfork and twirl its moustache. My Aunt Juliet would probably never openly criticize me or my life. The last time I spoke to her, we had a perfectly pleasant conversation. But at the end of the day, she thinks I’m defective. She can hide behind “love” and the Bible all she wants, but she’s homophobic. I have as much use for homophobes as I do for racists. As the kids say (or at least used to), deuces.

Alexi, who tends to take this sort of thing better than I do, may or may not agree with my reaction to the latest incident of homophobia within our family ranks. But I’m pretty sure he understands and accepts it. That’s a lot more than I ever got from others who have called me family.

I can do better…and I already have.

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Filed under gay, homophobia, racism, religion

On My Misanthropic Moods and Random Acts Kindness by Complete Strangers

“Most people have nothing to say — NOTHING to say. And most people give you the same conversation every single day. It’s just the same old pattern, and you’re none the wiser for knowing someone for five years. That’s why I do this music-business thing. Because it’s communication with people without having the extreme inconvenience of actually phoning anybody up.”

–Morrissey, The Importance of Being Morrissey

At the risk of sounding like a pompous egomaniac, I can relate to what Morrissey was saying in this rare interview from a decade ago as much as I can to his frequently isolationist lyrics and song titles (“Never Had No One Ever,” Unloveable,” “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”). In fact, that’s precisely how I feel, and until I watched the 2003 documentary yesterday, I didn’t know how to concisely put it into words.

While I’m fairly certain that Morrissey isn’t on Facebook or Twitter, many people use both forums and other forms of social media as means to a similar end, and they don’t even realize it. I can go a week without having a single live conversation, but my laptop (mostly via my blogging) makes me feel like I’m in a constant state of communion. It’s the same way with Facebook. It can make us feel like we are in regular contact with people, keeping up with their lives, without our having to endure the inconvenience of having actual conversations with them.

“Words are useless — especially sentences.” — Madonna, “Bedtime Story”

I’ve always assumed that Bjork was referring to spoken words when she wrote that line, although it could conceivably apply to the written word, too, as it’s executed in social media. Conversations require so much effort, and thanks to the harsh truths spoken by the former lead singer of my all-time favorite rock band (The Smiths, naturally), last night I didn’t dream that somebody loved me, but rather, I had a grand epiphany about my difficult relationship with conversations. For as long as I can remember, I have been misdiagnosing myself as being shy when, in truth, it’s not fear but rather my preference for doing things when I’m alone — from eating meals, to sleeping, to not sleeping (wink, wink), to, yes, communicating — that sometimes causes me to clam up when I’m around most people.

I find the majority of extended human interaction to be awkward and uncomfortable. It’s not that I’m anti-social, exactly. (“A recovering introvert,” as my brother Alexi once offered, remains the single best description of who I am.) Give me a hot topic to explore (racism, gay marriage, the Oscars, General Hospital), and I’ll run away with it. Ask me where I’m from, what I do, what I’m doing, how I’m doing, what I had for dinner, and I’m ready to run in the other direction.

Why, you ask? I think it’s partly repetition, as Morrissey suggested, and partly what I spend most of the day doing. My writing serves the same purpose for me as Morrissey’s music does for him. I reveal so much about myself through my written word that when I’m actually talking to a human being face to face, the last thing that I want to talk about is me and all the minutiae of my life. I spend so much time in my own company, writing about what I’m thinking and feeling, that when other people enter the picture, I’m constantly having the same conversation over and over again.

I’m not blaming other people. I know that for most, conversations are all about Q&A. I prefer them when they revolve around ideas, but sometimes you have to slog through the small talk to get to the good stuff. Sometimes — honestly, most of the time — you never get there. Most people simply don’t dig that deep.

Despite my low estimation of the conversational capabilities of the masses, I have no delusions of grandeur. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be around me. That’s not because I don’t have any good qualities. I like to think I’m an excellent listener who occasionally offers sage advice, and I’m definitely independent and low-maintenance. When an ex once described me as “needy,” I laughed out loud because nothing could be further from the truth. It was my inclination to run off on my own for months at a time that precipitated our break-up.

I would have expected him to have been relieved in my absence anyway because when I was around, I was constantly challenging him. Not just with the hard questions but with my personality, too. I’m opinionated, headstrong and moody, given to periods of physical and emotional withdrawal. Why would anyone fall for someone like that? I accept the love of my friends without questioning it, but in the past, when a boyfriend has said, “I love you,” I’ve occasionally found myself looking around to see who else he could be talking to.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have a low opinion of myself, nor am I brimming with self-loathing. I’m actually quite fond of myself, and that’s because I get me. I am my own best company because there are never any awkward silences between us. I never have to ask myself “What are you thinking about?”, and I never have to explain myself to myself. I would hate to have to spend all day listening to my own voice, but I rarely ever tire of being alone with my thoughts.

So yes, I understand the profound pull of solitude of which Morrissey was speaking. That said, I also recognize the value of human contact. I love and appreciate my friends for being the people they are, for supporting me, and also for putting up with me in small doses. They never cease to amaze me.

There’s great value, too, in total strangers, and I’m not talking about the ones we occasionally — or frequently, depending on one’s sexual proclivities — take to bed. (Those beautiful strangers usually do more harm than good.) A stranger on the street can help create the magic moments that totally make a city, or simply boost my spirits when I’m down in the depths of a blue funk. I’ve told the story of the random woman who stopped me in the streets of Buenos Aires one Christmas morning and gave me a hug just because she thought I looked like I needed one. She remains as memorable to me as any of the guys I dated there.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but I consider myself lucky that it happens at all. Yesterday, I was walking down a deserted street in Tel Aviv when a guy came rushing up behind me. As he brushed by, I yelped and nearly jumped out of my skin because the song blaring through my iPod earplugs had made me completely oblivious to his approach. He turned around to see what the hell had happened. When he saw me glaring at him, he paused his phone conversation, and approached me. Smiling, he said “Hello” and held out his hand. After shaking mine, he turned around, and he was on his way. It was such a small gesture, but one that totally made my hour.

That same evening, the coolest one since I arrived in Tel Aviv, I made the error of going to an outdoor bar wearing a t-shirt, shorts and my Haviaiana flip flops. A young woman noticed me shivering, and although she barely spoke a word of English, she took her leather jacket from the back of her chair and offered it to me. Thanks to her kindness and warmth, I was finally warm enough to enjoy myself.

She told me to keep the coat until I was ready to leave, and I didn’t hear from her again for the next hour or so. That was the best part about it: It was kindness without strings attached. There were no awkward attempts at chit chat, no expectations, not even an exchange of names. The strangest thing is that today I can remember the conversation that we didn’t have more vividly then any of the ones I did have.

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Filed under Entertainment, Movies, Music, Television

Pain Revisited: Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

“The mind is a very powerful thing.”

That’s what I was told years ago (a little over seven, to be exact) by someone who was given to such trite pronouncements. His point: The panic attack that I was in the throes of at the time was basically my psyche playing wicked tricks on me. My cold, clammy palms, my heartbeat accelerating, my shortness of breath, the feeling that I was floating on air and could, at any given moment, ascend heavenward to my new home — all of it was just my imagination running away with me.

Oh, how I wish I could blame my recent bouts of physical pain on a cruel, overactive brain. I suppose that I can pinpoint it as the cause of my recent mental anguish, if nothing else. Here’s the thing about us hypochondriacs: Regardless of the height of our threshold for pain (and mine has always been slightly taller than the average man’s), every little physical sensation can easily become a matter of life and death, sending us scurrying online to medical websites to predict the source of our gloom and impending doom.

Earlier this year when, for an entire week, I suffered from the worst ear infection ever, not only did I spend possibly a cumulative 24 hours trying to figure out what greater dreaded and potentially fatal disease could be the cause, but I also wondered if my right ear would never be the same again. That’s exactly what I was thinking that Saturday when Devarni and I took the train from Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula to visit her friend Dave: Would my ear and my life ever return to normal? Would there ever again be an absence of pain there?

Needless to say, it wasn’t the end of my world. By the following morning, the worst had passed. The pain in my ear began to subside. A week later, the ear was as good as new. As I pulled it and tugged at it to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I wondered if I’d imagined the entire earache. Had I actually experienced those days and nights of excruciating pain, or was it just something that my powerful mind cooked up.

Lately, my brain is at it again. My nearly two weeks in Tel Aviv have been marked my one anatomical ailment after another, sending my mind into overdrive overtime. I arrived just as I was beginning to heal from my worst-ever breakout of eczema, one that for a week and a half had left the skin on both of my arms looking like pieces of leather that had been left out in the sun to die.

I don’t think I ever actually thought I would die from whatever was going on with my arms, having battled the physical hardships of a dry, scaly epidermis before, but there were times that I looked at my upper limbs and wondered if  they would ever feel or look the same. Would I ever again walk down the street not wondering if every passerby was wondering what the hell is going on with my arms? Now that the skin there is back to its usual smooth state, I’m wondering how I ever could have been so silly.

But there I was, just a few days into my Tel Aviv experience, letting my mind take control once again. This time, it started with pelvic pain whose sudden onset occurred while I was exploring Tel Aviv on foot on my second full day in town. I was able to conduct my life as usual over the next week or so, going on with my regularly scheduled life in Tel Aviv, jogging along the Mediterranean in the morning, walking aimlessly around town, occasionally going out and experiencing the nightlife.

Of course, I initially imagined the worst, and when I Googled “lower abdominal pain” and “pelvic pain,” for once, I was certain I’d avoided it. Whatever was ailing me probably wouldn’t kill me, but according to one medical website, chronic pelvic pain can be caused by a number of mysterious things, none of them necessarily fatal or even serious, and many of them undetectable. It could possibly be something that I might just have to learn to live with, remedying the discomfort without getting to the root of it, because the cause often eludes the most skilled physicians.

“Oh, great!” I said to myself as I closed my laptop and went for another uncomfortable stroll around the block.

Just when I was starting to get used to the idea of walking and running through life with a sharp, jabbing pain in my pelvic area, it suddenly went away. And almost simultaneously, as if on cue on Tuesday morning, I felt another sudden, burst of discomfort, this time in my middle back, to the right. As the pain intensified over the next 24 hours, I blamed it on a lot of things — from spending months sleeping on beds that are too close to the ground, to leaning forward on hard, uncomfortable chairs while working on my computer because it’s the only way that I can see the screen, to a collapsed lung (something which I’d already experienced second hand twice via the guy who once told me what a powerful thing my mind is), to general organ failure, which I know is totally irrational, but then, so is extreme hypochondria.

Around 8pm on Wednesday when, after a Nurofen, a cup of tea and a short walk down Ben Yehuda, the pain began to subside, I wondered if a) I was actually getting better, 2) it was the round, white pill I’d taken, or 3) I was just getting used to it. Considering the up-and-down nature of the pain in my back in the day and a half since, I’m going with a combination of 2 and 3.

The worst part of my aching back isn’t just that it’s interfered with my already-restless sleep, but it’s delaying my full enjoyment of Israel. I’ve been wanting to take a day trip up north all week, but I can barely make it a few blocks from my apartment on foot without wincing. I’ve booked a one-day Biblical tour tomorrow (Saturday, AKA Shabbat) to the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth and various other holy spots. There’s no way I’m going to let my aching back stop me from getting on that bus between 7.20am and 7.40am.

After having heard from several Facebook friends about their own chronic back pain — the last time I’ve hurt this bad there was two years ago in Bangkok, when it was centered in the middle of my lower back area — I’m wondering if this is my new normal, too. Just in case it is, I’ll be going to the holy land tomorrow on more than just a sightseeing excursion. I’ll look out at the Sea of Galilee, perhaps in the very spot where Jesus once walked on water, hoping, praying for a modern-day miracle to befall me.

In lieu or that, though, I’d settle for a mind that would stop flexing its muscles and leave my poor, aching body the hell (sorry, God) alone.

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Filed under Australia, Bangkok, Melbourne

“Tel Aviv Will Bring Out the Wild in You”!

There are few “Welcome to our country!” moments more auspicious — and, well, welcome — than being singled out by a handsome guy moments after exiting the aircraft. Unfortunately, my Don Johanan was an airport official, and none of the 20 questions that followed included “What are you doing later?” By the time he got to “What do you do?” and asked me to present my “journalist card,” my exasperation was evident.

“I’ve never been asked that one before,” I answered, sighing and rolling my eyes. “I don’t have one, but feel free to Google me.”

“You seem to be a little upset. Is everything ok?” I was as disarmed by his genuine concern as I initially had been by his good looks. Despite his frustrating line of questioning (Is there a law against going to Palestine? Isn’t that where Bethlehem is?), he was incredibly friendly. Frankly, though, if I had wanted to be questioned by a beautiful stranger, I would have gotten on Grindr. All I wanted to do at that particular moment was get to Customs before all of my fellow passengers, most of whom were proceeding without delay, did. I’d heard the horror stories about the rigorous line of questioning there, but not en route.

“No, I’m okay. It’s just that I’ve been traveling all day, and I’m exhausted.” Like my answers to all of his previous questions, this one was no lie. Although I’d only been up in the air for four and a half hours (two and a half from Rome to Istanbul, two from Istanbul to Tel Aviv), the four-hour layover in Istanbul, the two glasses of wine I had there, and all the various security checkpoints and long lines I had to deal with en route had zapped the pep from my step. Mr. Handsome seemed to understand.

“Ok, enjoy your stay.” As I walked away, I felt a pang of guilt. I suppose I could have been nicer. I considered going back, apologizing, and suggesting he Whatsapp me later, but judging from my fellow passengers on Pegasus Airlines flight 779 (particularly the tall, dark, handsome male ones), I figured that on the other side of Customs, there’d be plenty of guys as attractive as my first interrogator.

At 190 NIS (New Israeli Shekel), which is equivalent to U.S. $53.70, the cost of the taxi ride from Ben Gurion Airport to the apartment where I’m staying on Mapu Street, just two blocks east of the beach, seemed to confirm what I’d read: Tel Aviv is the most expensive city in the Middle East. But the sight I saw when I got out of the taxi — two guys walking by, nonchalantly holding hands — suggested that it might be worth it.

One hour later, as we drank our $9 pints at Evita, a gay bar not too far from my apartment (apparently, Tel Aviv is compact enough, and I”m central enough, that everything is not too far from my apartment), Rob made the point, too. I’d have so much fun here that I wouldn’t mind having to take out a mortgage to afford it. He reiterated it a couple of hours later as we were eating our $3.50 slices of pizza on the corner of Allenby and Rothschild, his favorite Tel Aviv intersection.

Unfortunately, he had to catch a flight back to London at 8am, which was only four hours away. We had planned on spending the entire weekend in Tel Aviv together, but I’d somehow gotten my dates wrong and booked my arrival for September 22, the day of his departure. I’d been wondering why he was getting there after the weekend.

Ah, well. At least we got to meet up. Not only was it great to see him in person for the first time since my going-away despedida in Buenos Aires three and a half years ago, but his enthusiasm for Tel Aviv was positively contagious. By the time we said our goodbyes, I was even more excited about what the next two to four weeks might bring than I had been upon my arrival in Tel Aviv.

The following day, Rob checked in on me via Facebook email, and I offered my first report on “the white city” (so-called for the second of its two main architectural motifs: functional and white), Rob’s now second-favorite city in the world (after BA — natch!).

Rob: “How’s Tel Aviv treating you?”

Me: “I love it so far — although I still haven’t come up with the words to explain why, or to write a blog post about it. I guess right now I just feel really happy and comfortable here. Everyone is super nice; the weather is beautiful; I can see the beach from my balcony window; and the guys are HOT. [About that “super nice”: They are, but as in Rome, cashiers in Tel Aviv insist on ignoring your outstretched palm and placing your change on the counter, which I always found incredibly rude when select testy cashiers in New York City used to do it. The check-out staff at Woolworths on Chapel Street in Melbourne wouldn’t dream of doing anything so ghastly.]

“This morning, I went running along the beach, up to Jaffa, through the hills of the old town, and then back to the apartment, along the sea. This afternoon, I walked over to your favorite corner in the world, and while I was walking down Allenby, I was wondering, Why is this Rob’s favorite street? It’s like a mix of Once in BA and 34th Street in NYC! Then I got to Rothschild and realized that is the one you were talking about. Gorgeous! I may hang out with your friend Moshe tonight, or one of the cute guys that I’ve been talking to on Grindr/PlanetRomeo. There are a lot to choose from!

Rob:  “You’re absolutely right! I even made that comment to Ricky about Allenby. I said it looks just like Once! The promenade from Jaffa to Tel Aviv is stunning! And the scenery (men) is even better. I’ve never seen so many hotties running on a street in my life, ever! Rothschild is gorgeous — pretty and tree lined, it’s one of my favourites in the world!! A lot of nightlife happens around there, too. Aren’t the guys like ridiculously stunning? There is probably a party tomorrow night as it’s a holiday eve. 

“It seems like the hotties only go out on the big nights, but you can see them on the street. Don’t miss the beach on the holiday! Hang out with Moshe, he’s so nice! Such a nice guy. Plenty of others like him. They are all keen to meet up and do stuff, even in a non-sexual way, which I found was very nice. Keep me very updated, I want to live Tel Aviv through you!

Me: “You are making me even more excited than I was after I just returned from walking around in the beach area after dark and picking up beer and wine from the supermarket. It’s really not as expensive here as I thought it was, not if I think in terms of euros instead of dollars. If I do, it’s really not so much more expensive than Rome and Germany were — and at least booze in the supermarket is very reasonable: 39.99 NIS for a 6-pack of Carlsberg and 32.26 for a bottle of white wine. That’s less than $12 for the six-pack and about $9 for the wine, which would be a STEAL in Melbourne!

“The one thing I find very strange, though, is the Hebrew script. Am I imagining things, or does it read right to left instead of left to right? For a while, I thought it might be upside down, too, but that would be ridiculous!
“So which holiday is Thursday? I picked up the latest Time Out Israel and got the lowdown on all the September holidays. Rosh Hashanah is past and so, thank God, is Yom Kippur (I did enough fasting in Dubai during Ramadan!), so it must be Sukkot. But doesn’t it end tomorrow? Do they celebrate after it’s over? Or is tomorrow like New Year’s Eve and the next day like New Year’s Day, the actual holiday but not the really important day? Boy, I may not have timed this right for us to get more face time, but it looks like I timed it perfectly in every other way!”

Rob:  “I need to find out which holiday is Thursday. It’s some weird holiday that’s after Sukkot. It’s a one-day holiday; I heard from the guys in TLV that the holiday was again on Wednesday. I’m not sure what it is, but Jews love their holidays! You did time it right, definitely. You aren’t imagining things, though, they read everything from right to left! So when you have a regular-looking menu or something, it looks like everything is upside down because the book opens the opposite way. The weirdest part is when you have an English menu and a Hebrew menu. You never know which side to open it from! You’ll see. What’s on tonight?” [So that’s why Moshe’s smiley faces on Whatsapp looked like this — (: — instead of like this — 🙂!]

Jeremy:  “I’m not sure. I might meet up with Moshe, if he gets back from visiting his mom. He said tonight would be a big going-out night. I think it’s every Tuesday, though, nothing to do with the mysterious holiday. If I don’t hang out with him, I might meet up with one of the guys I’ve been chatting with online, or (more likely) head out alone to meet people the old-fashioned way. I have my beer and wine, so we’ll see where it leads me!:)”

Rob:  “OMG, I wish I could be there with you! Maybe I’ll come back at the end of October:) I don’t know why today is such a big going-out day!”

Me:I know! I wish you were here, too. Those few hours on Sunday weren’t enough. And after going out in the cool night air to get stuff from the supermarket, I feel a little bit of old-school adventurous Jeremy coming back. But I’m going to have to try to stay out of trouble!”

Rob:  “Tel Aviv will bring out the wild in you. But a civilized wild, unlike the BA wild. You can meet and get to know nice locals where it isn’t all about sex — but you can have plenty of that if you need to:)”

Me: “After Rome, that’s exactly what I want — and need. So far I haven’t gotten too many crazy messages online, so I’m already feeling like things will be a lot better on that front. Is there any place that’d you’d recommend other than Evita? I have a guide that lists a bunch of places, but they all look the same to me.”

Rob:  “Evita is the only place I would recommend today, unfortunately. I only know of other things starting on Wednesday. Www.atraf.com is a good place to go for that, too, and also to meet guys, apparently. All the guys have the Atraf app or Grindr. I think people are more respectful in Tel Aviv, but wild, if you get wild with them. Also, I get the feeling that everyone knows each other like BA, so you get that whole small scene, but people don’t ignore each other like they did in BA. People are not that big of bitches.

“Well, actually I hear they are bitches to each other but not the tourists!

“And I only heard TWO ‘I want to fuck you because you’re black’ comments, which is FAR less than ANY city I’ve visited and gone out in a bunch of times (outside the US). One of those comments came that night that I was with you!”

Me:  “I was just about to mention that guy!!! At least he didn’t lead with it!

“Gay men wouldn’t be gay men if there wasn’t some bitchiness going on. Well, maybe I’ll go back to Evita then. I know how to get there from here. I’ll have to find out the places for the rest of the week from you. I’ve been hearing so much about TLV’s great nightlife (not only from you), and I’m almost afraid to sample. Not sure my 44-year-old heart can take it!!!”

In the end, I didn’t have to find out — yet. I was in bed by 11, watching Spartacus on my laptop. Crassus coming on to Antoninus as the latter gave him a sponge bath (?!) would be the only action I’d be seeing. Modern Roman guys could learn a thing or two about sexual subtlety from Crassus’s oysters and snails analogy. I pray the boys in Israel have already learned that lesson!

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Filed under Australia, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, New York City, Travel

When Did I Become the Type of Guy I Hate?

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” the great Elton John once sang. What a touching sentiment — and song. I recently saw the video on Radio Capital TV in Rome, and John’s 1976 No. 6 hit sounds just as lovely today as it did when I was 7 years old and could feel every word he sang even if I didn’t completely understand what he was singing about.

Now that I do, though. I have to say I can’t quite relate, which might surprise a certain good friend of mine. Several years ago, when she was visiting me in Buenos Aires from L.A., she asked me a strange, fascinating question: “When was the last time you cried?” She insisted that she couldn’t imagine me ever crying over anything. Later, she added apologizing, too — not because she thought someone with my unimpeachable character would never need to, but because, as I later found out, she thought she had one coming from me.

Had I known I’d done anything to offend her (and agreed that I had indeed been offensive), she wouldn’t have had to ask. In her assessment of me, she was right on the first count: My tears don’t fall freely or regularly. I have a recurring dream in which I receive devastating news and struggle to cry just a little bit, as if my life depends on it. But on the other count, she was dead wrong: “I’m sorry” comes incredibly easy for me.

That’s a good thing because lately I’ve had to say it a lot, mostly because I have a considerably harder time saying, “No.” My former therapist might blame my people-pleasing tendencies, which at the time, he concluded, was damaging some of my relationships. I may have shed some of my people-pleasing ways in the ensuing nine years (along with a few of those relationships), but “No” still seems to be the hardest word,” especially when an unwanted suitor should be on the receiving end of it.

In the past, I’ve been labeled everything from a tease to a “nigger” when I wasn’t upfront with guys I didn’t want from the start. That character flaw may have reached a critical point during my most recent stint in Rome, as the guys there brought out the worst in me. Previously, I wouldn’t have expected it from Italy, considering that it’s the site of two of my most fondly remembered romances of my late 20s and early 30s — the ones I had with Massimiliano and with Paolo.

Thanks to them, for years, Italian men enjoyed a position of high estimation in my mind, despite all of the horror stories I heard to the contrary, the ones about how they’re after only one thing, and how they’d say practically anything to get it. That’s really not much different from most of the guys I met in Buenos Aires, and for years, I’d been unwilling to chalk up the worst of their romantic shortcomings to the Italian heritage that so many of them share, because, well, in my mind, Italian men were just so incredibly charming and sexy.

Then I returned to Rome for the third time, which, as far as the guys there went, was so not the charm. When Paul, a UK expat who is a university professor in Rome, dismissed them as unbelievably shallow on my first night in the capital, I didn’t want to believe he might be right. I still wouldn’t dream of filing them all under that particular heading, but after experiencing them firsthand on their turf for the first time in nine years, I see he had a point.

It only took me all of 24 hours to get it. I’m still not completely sure if it was because I’ve changed or because the men there have, but everything seemed so different between us. It could be that I’m just scarred for life from love’s battlefield, but by the time I left, I regarded every guy I met as the enemy, and I’d more or less lost my will to fight.

Perhaps the shift had something to do with the past month having been the first time I’d experienced Italy’s gay culture in the age of Grindr. With the introduction of online hook-up tools like Grindr and PlanetRomeo into Roman gay life, guys no longer have to talk to you when they single you out in a crowd because they’ll probably find you later online. And when they do, they now can jump right over language barriers and land in the middle of a king-size water bed with their pants hanging down below their knees.

“Sex?” is not something most guys would have said upon meeting someone in a club in Rome, or in Milan, or pretty much in any place that didn’t have dark rooms, in 2004. But on Grindr and on PlanetRomeo, it’s perfectly acceptable — at least in Rome, which was the first place I’d ever been routinely approached online in such a crass, brutal, blunt and monosyllabic manner. (The guys outside of Rome had a bit more finesse when offering their opening lines, but their restraint never lasted long.)

After several weeks of openings like “MI SCOPI OGGI POMERIGGIO” (or “FUCK ME THIS AFTERNOON”) and “ciao ti va di fare una bella scopata?” (or “hello you want to do a good fuck?”) and being asked out by Romans (the ones with better opening lines than “Sex?” or “Looking for?” or “Hung?”) and then ultimately being blown off by them after agreeing to meet them, I lost my appetite. In the end, with the exception of a few hours on my first Sunday evening in Rome, I spent my entire five weeks in Italy pretty much celibate, hoping for but not expecting just one guy to restore my faith — and interest — in Italian men.

I encountered a few decent ones online and off, but perhaps scarred by all the “Sex?” talk (not to mention, years of bullshitters in Buenos Aires and Bangkok), I declined without with actually declining. I found myself intentionally leading them on, giving the impression that I might be interested when I knew I wasn’t, because it was a lot easier than just saying, “No.” Eventually, after I played noncommittal long enough, they’d catch my drift, and disappear before I ever had to be the bad guy, though in a way, that’s exactly who I was being.

Sergio got farther than most. He’d spotted me at Coming Out, a bar across from the Colosseo, on my first night in Rome and contacted me on PlanetRomeo the next day (so typical of the new Rome-antic gay guy). I told him when I agreed to meet up with him that I wasn’t interested in anything physical and spent our entire dinner date trying to think of ways to end it early.

Eventually, though, he reeled me in with decent conversation and the unexpected revelation that we’d actually met several years ago at Glam in Buenos Aires. I probably shouldn’t have sent him mixed signals by inviting him up to my place afterwards, but the people pleaser in me knew that he would have been disappointed had I just called it a night after we split the bill, and I couldn’t have that on my conscious.

We’d spent the previous 90 minutes or so communicating on a purely platonic level, and I’d actually started to warm up to him. I wasn’t sure if I was attracted to him, but I was pretty certain that he wouldn’t give me time to figure it out or settle for mere friendship. I was relieved when, after we’d spent a half hour watching videos on Radio Capital TV, with him suggestively trying to decrease the space between us on the two-person sofa while I awkwardly attempted to widen it, he announced he should go home because he had to work at 5am. But instead of leaving, he started putting his hands all over me. One for the road? I cringed on the inside as the 190-meter-tall octopus pawed me, while on the outside, I just sat there like a lifeless blow-up doll.

Eventually, Sergio got the message without my having to say a word (like “No”), because I hadn’t said a word. “Well, at least I know it’s you and not me,” he announced, pressing his body up against the supposed evidence. Then he quietly left. I felt a mix of emotions: first relief, then guilt, then relief again because at least he only lived a few blocks away and hadn’t traveled far for nothing. When I closed the door on Sergio, in my head, I was closing it on the prospect of making any kind of meaningful romantic connection in Rome. Even if I met a guy I liked, would he give it more than one date to develop?

Then two and half weeks later, I met Gianluca. When our eyes locked at Circolo degli Artisti the Friday night before last, and he came over and introduced himself, I thought he might have potential. By the time he bought me a beer and ignored his friends to struggle speaking in English with me, I was certain he did. He moved pretty quickly, as apparently, is customary in Italy. Within moments of getting my number (and calling me while I was still standing there), he added me on Facebook.

The next morning, when I woke up and saw several messages from Gianluca along with his Facebook friend request, I felt a twinge of foreboding as I accepted. I knew where this story was headed, and it would probably have as much to do with my actions as his. Neither one of us disappointed.

During our several conversations on Whatsapp, he kept bringing up the things he wanted to do with me (Sample: “And I want stay whit you and want you inside of me sex”), asking if I wanted the same thing. How was I supposed to tell him no? Instead I took the coward’s/tease’s way out, not saying, “Yes,” but definitely not saying, “No,” either. (When he asked, “You want sex whit me and aleep tigheter?”, I replied, “I’d like to meet up.”)

No offense to Gianluca. He’s a sweet, good-looking guy and, at age 39, refreshingly age appropriate. But I think a confluence of factors ruined any chance we might have had getting more than halfway to first base. Had we both spoken the same language, our conversations might not have been so one-note and one-track. Had my impression of Italian guys not been so poisoned by the ones I’d been coming across, I might not have been so wary and weary. Had I just told him “No” when he asked if I wanted what he wanted, I wouldn’t have had to keep promising to let him know when I was free. Had I not turned into the type of guy I hate, I wouldn’t have kept failing to be true to my word.

Last Friday afternoon, a day and a half after I arrived back in Rome from Tuscany (naturally, neglecting to contact Gianluca as promised), he gave me one final chance.

Gianluca: “I want you when you free?”
Me: “Hey, are you going to Circolo later?” [I thought it would be the perfect way to meet him in a crowd and, hopefully, avoid all the premature pillow talk.]
Gianluca: “I don’t kniw, but I think no
Eanna meet me at 18:30 near my home?
Or after dinner, I want you”
Me: “Where do you live? Not at 18.30 but maybe later…. I will message you later.”
Gianluca: “Ok sexy don’t forget me ok? I want you this night”

I didn’t forget him, but I didn’t write either. The discomforting thing is that I didn’t feel guiltier than I did. They (Italian men) had driven me to it.

On Saturday morning, he sent me two final messages:

“:-(
No serios man. Delete my contant. Bye”

Then he deleted me from Facebook.

I was relieved, and in one brief remorseful moment, I considered writing him to explain why I’d been such a jerk. In the end, though, I merely offered the one word that comes so easily to me.

“Sorry.”

At least I never had to tell him “No.”

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Contemplating Love, Friendship, Technology and “Before Midnight” in Tuscany

Wow. That was the best word to describe my reaction to seeing Lori in Piazza del Campo in Siena, our first meeting since she’d visited me in Bangkok one and a half years earlier. I wasn’t shocked because she looked so great — I’d seen all of her recent photos on Facebook — but rather because I felt as if we’d spent an entire afternoon together just last week. We immediately launched into our old routine, telling bits and pieces of stories until a tangent sent us in a new direction, laughing at things that no one else (including Lori’s husband John) would understand, completing each other’s thoughts, and mentally predicting them.

They say the mark of true-blue friendship is that after a considerable lapse of time, you can meet again and pick up right where you left off. What Lori and I have is certainly true blue, but I wonder how much our ongoing close friendship and its endurance over time and space owe to technology, social media and Facebook.

When I left the New York City in 2006, before the invasion of social media and the Facebook revolution, Lori and I kept in touch regularly by email. Our missives to each other painted broad strokes of our respective lives, and we occasionally indulged in long existential conversations like we used to in the old days, only with me in Buenos Aires and Lori in New Jersey or New York, they were in the form of monologues delivered via the written word, not the back-and-forth bouncing of ideas during downtime at work, in taxis on the way home, on my living room sofa on Saturday afternoon, at Bar Six for Sunday brunch, or on the telephone during the Super Bowl.

That face-to-face (or voice-to-ear) interaction is where we really get to the core of who people are, as we observe their process of realization, changing their mind, or refusing to. With email, we have time to carefully edit our thoughts, controlling how we present them so that people see — or read — what we want them to.

With modern technology — Facebook, instant messaging, Skype video — person-to-person interaction becomes less rehearsed, more real. Our long-distance friends can get an undistorted, un-airbrushed view of us — literally, on Skype — without our make-up on. Meanwhile, we can keep track of all the minutiae of our loved ones’ everyday lives, sharing tidbits that we wouldn’t necessarily think to include in an email. Sometimes it feels like we’re actually in the same room.

The benefits of technology can’t be overstated in regards to friendship, but what about love?

One of the first things Lori and I discussed was Before Midnight, which we’d both seen and loved for the thoughts it provoked. Interestingly, had Lori, a dedicated reader of my blog posts, not somehow overlooked the one on Before Midnight, she wouldn’t have had to ask if I’d seen it. She already would have known how much I loved it, thanks to the power of social media.

We broached some of the intriguing ideas in the film, and she mentioned the young couple in the extended lunch scene and how they were like a 2013 version of Celine and Jesse in 1994, only with this century’s technology, an idea that I’d mentioned in my blog post. Indeed, they were the twentysomething Celine and Jesse, but while serendipity brought them together, too, technology was helping to keep them together — at least for now.

Had Celine and Jesse had cell phones and had been able to text each other that day they were supposed to meet in 1994, who knows what direction their relationship would have taken after Before Sunrise? The film’s two sequels might have gone so differently, or perhaps not at all. They may have burned brightly as a couple for a while and exploded in a matter of weeks, months, or well before Before Sunset, the 2003 sequel to Before Sunrise.

I’ve already mentioned the benefits of technology on friendship, but its effect on love and romance is trickier territory. Social media enables us to keep in touch — if only virtually — but people tend to use it to communicate in soundbites, often in 140 characters or less. How much can you truly know someone if that’s how you are interacting most of the time when you are apart. When you’re together, in-depth communication might be backburnered because technology has fooled you into thinking you already know everything you need to know.

Do couples have the sort of revealing, explosive conversations that Celine and Jesse had in the second and third Before films on social media? Do they have them when they’re logged on to Facebook or even chatting by video on Skype? Those are the sort of warts and all that show up when we’re face to face, getting into each other’s, not when we’re online or texting, talking in short sentences, not paragraphs.

A film like 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, with its AOL-related gimmick, might seem quaint by today’s communication standards, but it was the first mainstream movie to explore love and technology in an in-depth way. I’m convinced that Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters are still living happily ever after, but that’s probably because they spent most of the movie getting casually acquainted online while unknowingly (at least for Ryan’s romantic-comedy heroine) truly getting to know each other – warts and all, mostly warts – in person? I imagine that they had so much more to talk about after the credits rolled, having battling each other in person for close to two hours (in real time), than they would have had they finally met as near-virtual strangers at the end.

When you’re hooking up online, breaking up by text, and having sex on Skype, what’s left to say when you’re face to face? No wonder so many 24-year-olds are conversationally challenged. I’m not saying that young love has less of a chance of surviving today than it did in the mid ’90s, but it’s really missing out. Those beats of old-fashioned love — spending hours on the phone, writing letters, receiving letters, longing for each other long-distance, being overjoyed when you finally reunite — beat anything you can do today on your iPad or smart phone.

For me, it’s so much better to have loved and lost that way, than to have never loved and lost that way at all.

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How I Learned to Appreciate Florence

If the two trips I’ve now made to Florence have taught me anything, it’s how much I’ve changed in the 14 years between them. The first time around, like any respectable gay man on the cusp of turning 30, I was all about the nightlife whenever I was back on holiday. Up to then (and probably for at least a decade after), my appreciation for any city was directly proportionate to the number of opportunities I had to meet good-looking guys after dark (hence my unmatched love and affection for London circa 1994 to 2001 and Buenos Aires in the mid aughts). The more gay bars and gay clubs, the merrier.

On that front, Florence failed miserably in 1999. Never mind that it’s one of the most spectacularly beautiful cities on earth. I was too busy looking — hoping — for a gay bar that was better than Tabasco to really notice. I knew that I was in a gorgeous city, but I wasn’t overly concerned about any of the details. It was like being in a room full of attractive men but not zooming in on any of them. You appreciate their physical merits without remembering any of them in the morning.

And so it went with Florence. When the beauty of the city faded from my memory, all I could recall was that I had been kind of bored and frustrated by the pesky (straight) tourists. So I must admit that upon my arrival in Florence last Thursday, I was a bit surprised by all of the beauty — both natural and man-made — that greeted me.

There was still a surplus of tourists and way too much traffic for a city center with such narrow streets, and the architectural density made me long for the wide open spaces of Rome. But that first time, how did I miss (or forget) the dramatic interplay of shadows and spotlights on the buildings right around sunset? Were there as many joggers running around town 14 years ago, and I just didn’t notice because I didn’t take up running until 2006? And was that statue of Neptune (which I clearly remembered — though more as a concept than in specifics) next to the replica of King David in Piazza della Signoria always that hot? (See, you can take the boy out of the gay bars, but you can’t take the gay out of the boy.)

For the first time, I noticed that Florence, though distinct from Rome in both its look and its vibe, has one crucial thing in common with Italy’s capital city: the power to evoke a vivid sense of place and time. If traffic in Florence’s centro storico were banned (or even as limited as it is in Milan’s), and all the tourists went home, you could tilt you head and almost feel like it’s 1890, or 1790, or any given century going back to the Middle Ages.

But alas, there’s no escaping the tourists and the traffic, both of which are made more imposing by the narrow sidewalks, meaning you must often step into the street to avoid bumping into passersby while risking being struck by an oncoming vehicle. At times, Florence can feel like a crowded elevator, or a packed dance floor that you must elbow your way through to get from one side of the nightclub to the bar on the other. You’re too busy watching where you’re going, trying not to fall on or off the uneven sidewalks, to grab magic moments. And if one were to come knocking, who would hear it, with all of the noise?

So although I was finally really noticing Florence, and I couldn’t care less that, unlike Rome, it still has no thriving gay village, or that Tabasco was closed for the summer, the crowds were once again ruining it for me. They were messing with my art appreciation, too. I quickly grew tired of tourists spoiling my view of masterful works of art (like that glorious Fountain of Neptune) because they just had to pose for photos in front of it.

“Why?” I kept asking myself. Not only was I pretty sure that to most onlookers, it’s probably just a naked man or something they’ve been told is important by travel guides, but why is art only of interest if it’s interactive? Would these people go to the Louvre and pose with the Mona Lisa? If they could somehow work their way into the Sistine Chapel ceiling scene, for them, it probably would be the greatest holiday coup.

Watching them descend upon monuments to mythological, historic and Biblical figures, only appreciating them long enough to get another photos of themselves to show their friends on Facebook, cheapened what could have been so many magic moments for me. It was like sitting next to a loudmouth at a concert who insists on singing the wrong lyrics to every song.

Or like that terrible dance version of The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” that was blaring from somewhere while I was trying to appreciate the replica of Michelangelo’s King David that overlooks Florence. It stands in the middle of Piazzale Michelangelo, up on a hill on the south side of Florence, otherwise known as the good side of the Arno River, if only because the fewer statues, churches and notable architecture there also means there are fewer tourists.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Piazzale Michelangelo, which was full of people angling to get their close ups with another replica of King David (above), as if they’d luckily stumbled onto the real thing, and locals hawking assorted trinkets. Sadly, the lady howling the Bob Dylan-written Byrds classic didn’t really seem so out of place.

And in the end, in Florence, neither did I, and I have my friend Shirley, whom I’d traveled to Florence to see in the first place, and her mother to thank for it. I’d quickly discovered that Florence is best explored at night when there are fewer people crowding the same key spaces, or via those short, dark alleys that connect the roads most traveled, or from several stories above, or from one of the half dozen bridges that aren’t Ponte Vecchio. But the pleasures of experiencing Florence from these vantage points were all too fleeting.

Then Shirley and her mom led me down Via di San Niccolo. On our final night in Florence, just after sunset, we walked down the mostly deserted street that features vintage apartment buildings accented with minimalist street lighting and that’s only occasionally marred by passing cars, or tourists. By the time we reached Bevo Vino, a restaurant Shirley and her mom had stumbled upon on the way back from a trip to Piazzale Michelangelo, I was completely rethinking my first and second impressions of Florence.

Even the tourists who surrounded us during dinner seemed cooler, calmer, than the ones I’d encountered in Piazza della Signoria and Piazza San Croce on the other side of the Arno. They appeared to be less interested in posing for potential Facebook profile pics and more appreciative of the local charms of an area that had no tacky bars or photo ops that they’d read about in a tourist guide. It looked and felt like Florence the way people who live there enjoy it, and that made it all the more enjoyable.

“If I lived in Florence, this is exactly where I’d want my apartment to be,” I announced. And for a fleeting moment, a magical one, the city that I’d never thought much about, the one that had previously been a footnote in my Italian experiences — seemed full of possibilities. It wasn’t exactly love, but it was something damn near like it.

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