I recently attended a writers/readers retreat in New Orleans, La : GayRomLit. To say I enjoyed it would be a profound understatement. As the inaugural event it was amazingly well planned, and a moment in time that will not soon be forgotten by its attendees.
One of the things that was most refreshing was the total acceptance of and by those lucky enough to be there. As someone who rarely “blends in,” for me it was a surreal experience that I have never before known. In my “normal” life, I try very hard to avoid putting myself in dangerous situations, or to find myself the target of the fear that so often surrounds the lack of acceptance of sexuality that locals do not understand or approve of. I realized though, several years ago that wearing “normal” clothes and sedate hair styles didn’t avoid the disgusted stares or the accusing comments. So in the midst of the bible belt I decided that although I do not make my sexuality or its manifestations a matter for public debate locally, I wear what I feel comfortable in within reason, and allow my hair to reflect the man within. Acknowledging this, I choose however to keep these issues private and deal with the repercussions of that decision to myself. The main reason for this relates to my aging parents and in an effort to save my daughter the barrage of prying questions that would ensue.
Before I completely bore you to tears, gentle reader, I will move on. I did want to shed a little light, for those who aren’t familiar with my life and my story, on why this retreat was such a welcome yet painful experience.
To those who have never felt what it is to be hated for nothing more than how you look, or the belief you might feel attraction to someone other than what is accepted, it is a pain that threads itself through the fabric of the facade of our lives. That pain allows us to endure the paradox of what is versus what, in a fair and unbiased world should be. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t pleasant, and more often than not, distances us from those who love us most. The reality though is, it is familiar, you can rely on it. When you find yourself feeling vulnerable, needing validation, the pain keeps your heart and your sanity safe.
Finding myself in a group of people who valued me either because of or in spite of my appearance or perceived proclivities wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but the lack of judgment and volumes of love shown to both myself and the others attending was not only unexpected but overwhelming. The men who attended ranged from the obvious gay men to clearly heterosexual husbands of readers or authors. It was the het community that most impressed me during the conference. I am accustomed to keeping the customary ‘distance’ when approaching other men. I found it most intriguing that several husbands asked to have their picture made with me or hugged me during the convention’s “goodbye brunch.”
I doubt, of course, that every participant was filled with love and good will during that five day event. If there were those there who made those types of comments or were using the experience as a reason to marginalize others, I certainly didn’t encounter them.
The reason for my angst, the fuel for my sorrow stems not from those who might cause me pain. The real reason for it revolves around the glaring disparity between the world that could be, as eclipsed by the world that is.
Although I type this through tears, knowing that truly good, kind and non-bigoted people are the minority, I am thankful to God that I managed to encounter so many of them in one short period of time. And regardless of the fact that it was an isolated skip in time, and those of us who are waiting anxiously for next year, GRL gave me something that I truly had begun to believe I’d lost, hope for the future.
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