Let’s Talk About Self-Love

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
– Oscar Wilde

“Easier said than done, amiright?”
– Me

The topic of self-love has been uncharacteristically hot in recent years, especially within queer culture. The increasing popularity of social media and seemingly unending urge to broadcast one’s life to the world has sparked a perpetual debate between generations regarding when it is okay to love yourself and how. When we were children, we were read and told countless fairy tales and fables about how horrible it was to be vain. And then we grew up and learned that many adults had been keeping a piece of furniture called a vanity in their bedchamber this whole time, which is a hell of a mixed signal, if you ask me.

Yet, at the same time, we’ve been taught through numerous lessons in our childhood that we ought to Be Yourself™ and not compare ourselves to others, but find contentment from within. Finally, it looks like some of us have actually cracked that code and are ready to spread the good word.

But now, the concept of loving oneself has become so popular that it is being forced on some of us like a blind date we never asked for in the first place.

Last week, comic genius of the internet and creator of “My Drunk Kitchen” Hannah Hart tweeted the following:

The tweet was greeted with a barrage of unsatisfied replies that I don’t think the author had anticipated when she posted it. I, however, was not particularly shocked. See, I’ve heard RuPaul say her infamous variation on this same sentence upwards of a hundred times on “Drag Race” throughout the last decade, and after a few years of persistent praise, fans and critics have been less impressed of late. I, myself, used to feel that twinge of inspiration every time RuPaul said it to her contestants (and viewers) at the end of each episode, but in the last couple years that inspiration statement has been significantly less infectious.

Complaints from the masses largely refer to the implication that those who are mentally ill…who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other conditions that make a person feel unloveable… are therefore incapable of loving another person, which thousands upon thousands of real-life examples will prove is indisputably incorrect. I can’t claim to have been diagnosed with such a condition (yet), but the stories and symptoms resonate with me all the way from my childhood until now, and I firmly stand behind their messages.

I am absolutely not writing this to attack Hannah, because I think she’s the fuckin’ bomb (and here’s a photo of the time I met her in at Housing Works in New York back in 2011 to prove it.) I’m also not necessarily defending her, either. It was a moment of poor taste… especially considering her fan base… but I ultimately believe that it was meant to come from a positive place. But it’s a topic that is close to me right now, and therefore a well-timed device:

I rarely felt pleased with myself as a kid. Even when I did something I was proud of, the feeling never lasted long. In my pre-teen years, it finally became plausible to me the someone might find me physically desirable, but whenever I became comfortable with this, and a little bit excited, a friend would point out my vanity and I would instinctively feel ashamed.

It wasn’t until my third year of college when a close friend called me cocky for the first time. I was overwhelmed with shame upon hearing this, initially, because it was presented to me as if I had done something wrong. But when a former partner heard this news, he was ready to throw me a goddamn party, because he never believed that I loved myself as much as I should and he was proud of me for making such progress.

Flash forward to now, where my self-esteem is at all-time low. Every now and then I get an entire day when I feel good about the person I am, but it hasn’t lasted longer than that in…years, probably. And it’s always one thing at a time. Looks. Brains. Talent. I’ll feel good about one or two of them at a time, but I’m perpetually displeased with the complete package that is me. I’ve apparently developed a subconscious defense mechanism of seeming confident more often than not, but it is, for the most part, a lie, and I really should be getter more acting jobs for it.

It’s interesting, because the only time I was this low was when I was in a relationship that was very short-term, but very emotionally abusive. I was made to feel stupid and invaluable for the longest four months of my life by someone who supposedly cared about me. I’ve had much healthier and more rewarding relationships since then…well, one… but the aforementioned feelings still haunt me despite not having spoken to that person in an unmeasurable amount of time.

Now, I haven’t been in a romantic relationship in close to 7 years. My life has been turned on it’s head more times than I can count. I have a very loving and affectionate community. I have no apparent source for being so down on myself. I just…am. I recognize that it is bullshit, but it is not a thing that is easily rectified. Contrary to popular belief, it is not so simple as flipping a switch.

I acknowledge both Hannah and RuPaul in their intended messages, because I think it is beyond important to encourage people to love themselves when so few do. But we need more than to be told “just do it”. We need stories. We need representation. We need help to understand the reasons we are lovable, when they so clearly escape those who should know them the best. If it isn’t clear to us why we are lovable, how can we expect it to be clear to anyone else?

To quote a popular meme (whose origin is quite literally untraceable at this point):

 

Can I get an amen?

Bow Down for “Boy Band”

There might be a few of you who are familiar with the new ABC reality competition, “Boy Band”. I say “a few” with minimal sarcasm, because aside from a handful of well-targeted social media ads, I have not observed a whole lot of buzz about it. It aired toward the end of June and is now about 6 episodes in.

Most of you are probably assuming that I would have dove in head first on Day 1 and not come up for air since, which would not be unjust…but this assumption would be inaccurate. My interest was piqued, for sure, but I had a lot of hesitations about it.

First, I was just straight-up confused, because I mistook it for the scripted series spearheaded by Zayn Malik that I had been promised previously, titled “Boys”, and thought that the producers had dropped their balls and resorted to yet another unnecessary and unoriginal reality series instead. Shame on me for not reading up more carefully. Who could commit such an error?

Second, it just…didn’t seem relevant.  Which I hate to say, because I always want boy bands to be relevant. But aside from One Direction’s half-decade heyday, there hasn’t been a substantial demand for boy bands since the early 2000s, so I didn’t see the need for supply. In short, It felt like they were trying to make fetch happen.

As the release date approached, I did a bit of research. And by “research” I mean I sat through the “meet the boys” segment on the series’ Instagram story. As I had expected, I was greeted with 30 perfectly chiseled faces with expertly coifed hair, carefully constructed outfits and panty-dropping smiles. All between the ages of 14-19, which seemed like a ridiculous age to embark on such a journey until I remembered that was a standard set by the boy bands of my era and I’m just old and regretful. There was an impressive range (from my caucasian perspective) of ethnic diversity, but for the most part, the guys all looked relatively the same.

Personally… I was bored.

I know that sex appeal is a gigantic factor in a boy band’s success, but I got the impression that the casting team was relying too heavily on looks before giving their vocals or (god forbid) their personalities a chance to shine. With a package so pristinely decorated, I couldn’t help but question the quality of the actual contents, so I did not approach with high hopes.

When I finally took the plunge, my expectations weren’t immediately proved inadequate. There were a lot of fine voices, but none that really stopped me in my tracks. Save for one, who ended up being the first one kicked off. Because fuck my opinions. What reeled me in almost instantly, though, were the judges: my idols from my pre-teen years, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and Spice Girl Emma Bunton, along with Timbaland, whom I was not very familiar with as a personality but won me over within five minutes. All of them, as well as host Rita Ora, gave some of the most solid feedback that I’ve seen on any reality competition, while still contributing to a fun, “we’re all in this together” atmosphere. Encouraging, and completely sincere.

Once the competition was officially underway, my perspective began to warp. I watched as the boys rotated and formed new bands every week (Six weeks, which I consumed in two days. Naturally.) I watched as the judges developed relationships with the contestants. I watched them all work together to create music together, and about halfway through, I had an epiphany:

This show may be the best antidote for toxic masculinity that I have ever seen.

And I know that’s a bold statement, but hear me out.

The last time reality TV was used to create a boy band, it was the very first “Making the Band”, where late record producer scumbag Lou Pearlman auditioned naive talent to form what eventually became O-Town. My memories are faint, but I recall a substantial amount of conflict and egotism, as well as Lou’s unsubtle and unbridled greed.

Now…here…we have eighteen teenage boys, who are constantly being rotated throughout different teams, selflessly supporting each other without hesitation, hugging and showing each other physical affection, crying together when the time is right, and overall, just not giving a damn about their masculine presentation. There was one moment where a singular ego disrupted the flow of things… but that was it. And sure, there’s a bit of talk about making the girls go nuts, but it is far from a priority for anyone. It is mainly about the music and the bonding for everyone. It’s pretty magical, to be real with you.

The moment that really rocked my socks off to the fullest was on an episode that was dedicated to movie soundtracks. The first band, ‘All In’, performed “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana. If any insecurities emerged here, or during any of the other songs the boys sang that were made famous by female vocalists, they were promptly edited out. But when the song began, I bit firmly into my fist, waiting to see how tragically they would alter the lyrics to be more becoming of a group of young men. The answer: none. My fist flew from my lips to the air as Sergio Calderon sang “I wish I could be a perfect daughter”, as if nothing was unusual. As if to say, “What? I might be a perfect daughter. You don’t know my life.” My emotions were amplified exponentially when 19-year-old father Chance Perez brought his daughter (who is a *huge* Moana fan, I hear) up on stage to meet the crowd. That. Shit. Was. Precious.

I feel odd putting this much weight on a reality competition, as I have been dismissive of the value of almost every single one that’s existed in a decade and a half, but there is something very special happening here. A show that encourages sensitivity, allows room for growth, and refuses to capitalize on failure… especially with a cast full of young men…is groundbreaking, I feel. If you have even an ounce of patience for pop music… preferably a ravenous thirst for it… I encourage you to give the show a watch.

 

Perverts of the World: Unite?

After I attended my first kink event, I discovered a need that I didn’t know I had. A new appetite that would now need to be satisfied. It was a lot like acquiring a new pet: Overall it’s a big bundle of joy, but it’s also another mouth you have to feed, and you end up buying a lot of weird new toys and only a few of them get played with. Since then, I have been on a constant search for more consistent playmates within a reasonable radius of my dwelling.

Spoiler alert: my success rate has not been high.

Between various apps and websites and, well… everywhere booty calls are sold, I have consistently described myself as “kinky”. And I’ve received a reasonable amount of inquiries about my more taboo interests, but time and again it wasn’t a match. And that’s putting it lightly.

After a great many disappointing discussions, I began to pick up on a theme. A motif, if you will:
Dudes would ask me what I’m into.
I would respond: “Fucking, groups, rough play, dirty talk, impact play, bondage.”
I would ask them the same question.
They would respond: “Dirty jockstraps, sneakers, sniffing pits, piss.”
And I would think, “Well, that’s a whole lotta hard limits for me.” (Minus the watersports. I’m totes down.)

I’m not about to try to prescribe anyone else’s definition of kink, but when I think of kink (yeah, poetry!) I think of…you know…whips and chains, handcuffs, smack ‘er little booty up with my belt. In technical terms, BDSM. The activities that these other guys came at me with fell more into the category of what many refer to as “pig play”, which is primarily focused on *ahem* bodily secretions. And excretions. Yeah.

I racked my brain for years, trying to figure out why there was such a divide between two worlds in terms of what “kink” consists of, as well as why no gay man in the entire universe knows what “impact play” means, despite the fact that plenty of us do it. (Hint: Hitting sex. Flogging, Spanking, Whipping. Punching. Love that shit.)

Eventually, it struck me. Well, something did. I can’t claim to be knowledgeable enough to know that it was, in fact, “it.”

The primary element of BDSM is an exchange of power. In most cases, the submissive relinquishes their power, in some capacities, to the dominant, and in return, the dominant provides an exciting experience for both of them (ideally).

However, gay men have already incorporated power exchange into their sexual encounters for years. It is so deeply engrained into our our culture that it is rarely recognized as kink at all. The obsession with the dichotomy of ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ is epidemic, in my professional opinion. It is largely assumed that a bottom is inherently submissive and that the top is inherently dominant, and a gray area is rarely even considered. This leaves little wiggle room for those who may prefer one position over the other, but don’t necessarily want the power, or lack there of, that comes with it. I have long identified myself as a top and gone to great lengths to defend my preferences, but I don’t usually want to be dominant or in charge. I prefer a collaborative effort, on most occasions, and even like to not be in control.

Is your mind blown yet?

Because these roles are so frequently assumed, a lot of gay men don’t bother with the negotiation processes that are the literal backbone of the pan kink scene. For example, if I say that I’m a bottom, most prospective partners assume that I not only like to get fucked, but that I also like to be tied up, spanked, humiliated, etc., and if I say I’m a top, it’s assumed that I am happy to take control without hesitation. I recently had a new partner who assumed that if he made a lot of noise while I fucked him, that I was going to shove his face into the pillow and tell him to “shut up, you little cunt”. But that’s not my style. I like the moans. I like the screams. They tell me my partner is having fun. And I would have told him this beforehand if he had asked. But he didn’t. So I didn’t. A portion of the blame is mine.

Being sexually bilingual is a skill, I will admit, but it is one that I really wish I didn’t have to acquire to survive. I get off on negotiation, and I know a lot of others that do too. Unfortunately, our anatomies and sexualities are rarely in alignment with each other, so we aren’t able to help each other out. So I soldier on, with this extra appetite hanging around my neck like a papoose…containing something very grumpy and… vaguely human?… waiting for a mate, however casual, who wants to give me what I want, how I want it, by asking me about it with words.

 

 

Partnership is a Privilege

This is a thing that has been on my mind for quite some time. There is not a nice way to say it, that I have found, and blogging about it is probably not the best way to go about, but it is a conversation that I think needs to be tackled and, well…who better than me?

 

 

Ask me how long I’ve been single for.

You don’t have to ask me. I’ll tell you. It’s been six years. Almost exactly. You may or may not know this already because I may or may not have mentioned it in 7 out my last 10 blog posts. I want to say the number of dates I’ve been on since then remains in the single digits, but that may be a royally self-deprecating exaggeration.

It isn’t the absolute worst. I have less than two years of relationship experience totaled up throughout my entire time on Earth so at this point I’m pretty well-adapted for it. But I am also eager to be swept off of my feet by the most eligible bachelor that fate can throw my way. I spent most of my days debating whether my relationship glass is half-empty or half-full.

I think it’s fair to say that I am someone who enjoys being alone more than most people do, but I also don’t enjoy being alone as often as I am. And when those moments come where I don’t want to be alone, I have difficulty communicating this with most people in a way that is healthy and direct (Thanks, Social Anxiety.)

Take this Fourth of July for example:
I cannot bear to spend a holiday alone, even if it’s a holiday that doesn’t have any substantial meaning for me. If the rest of the city/country/world is out having a good time, I need to be doing the same. So I reached out to two of my closest friends to see what their plans were. I then sat around all day waiting them, individually, to tell me whether they would want to hang out or not because they were waiting to hear from their partners.

Eventually I gave up and moved on, and truthfully, ended up having a very lovely night. All the while, I was plagued with guilt over how I handled it (and still am) but if I hadn’t done so, I very well could have ended up plopped on the couch by myself all night while the sounds of fireworks echoed in the distance. Or, ya know…down the block. I don’t think any of the participating parties meant any ill will, so I don’t want to begrudge them in such a fashion, but they possess a certain safety net that I lack and covet, and I feel that this gets taken for granted all too often.

As I get older, being unpartnered becomes more and more uncomfortable. I find that, in general, partnered people who have been in their relationship for a certain period of time quickly come to neglect the simple struggles of singledom. They have a social advantage of having each other, even when all else falls through the cracks. I say this, of course, as an introvert who does not have an easy time arranging outings, and might be more frustrated by these happenings than others, but it is something that I am growing increasingly resentful of with some of the people that I love most.

I’ve lost count of how many times the people I’ve wanted to spend time with have asked to bring their significant others to an outing, while I myself have had no one to invite along for the same reason. And this puts me in an uncomfortable place, because more often than not, I really like their significant other. But not having a similar figure in my life that I can extend a similar offer to, it lands me in a really uncomfortable place, and I feel like I don’t have the right to communicate that.

And it sucks. I can’t think of a better way to say it. It just sucks.

Society is structured to benefit partnered people. Socially. Financially. Any way you can think of, pretty much… the coupled people have it going on across the board, in the grand scheme of things. And the single people, well…we’re often left in the dust. There are a great many of us who don’t have someone to go home with/to at the end of the night…an automatic date for every occasion… and I can only speak for myself but I’m sick of acting like I’m okay with it.

I feel a strong sense of responsibility to fight this phenomenon… to make society more accommodating for the singular stragglers. But also I just want to throw up all of the middle fingers and snag my own unpaid romantic intern who is obligated to kiss me goodnight whenever I demand it.

In conclusion…
Me:

What I’ve Been Up To

I am ashamed.

It’s been too long, once again, since I shared my thoughts, feelings, or gratuitous selfies here on my primary domain. Once upon a time, this was the first place to look if you knew what I was up to. Now, several months have zipped by without a single update. And the truth is…I’ve actually been doing a lot. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr, then you’re probably reasonably up to date. But for those of you who haven’t, allow me to catch you up.

Orlando Fringe

Photo by Harris and Mattei Photography

Last week I returned from another solid run in the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival with my latest one-man show, Exit Through the D*ck Shop. In my fifth (whoa, really?) solo project, I recounted my 5+ years working in a sex toy shop (well, two of them but let’s not make it too complicated.)  It was a lot more challenging than previous projects, primarily because in the past I’ve never taken a show on the road that I hadn’t been working on for at least a year, and I was working with minimal direction so I had to rely on my own instincts to guide the show. There were a handful of hiccups, both on stage and off, but audiences responded very positively and I received a very warm review in the Orlando Sentinel. I’m looking forward to polishing it off sometime in the next few months and staging a production at home in Boston.

And speaking of Boston…

Smut Slam

At the end of last year, I was approached by fellow sex-positive solo performer Cameryn Moore. She created a sexy storytelling open mic called Smut Slam, which I attended a production of in Boston around Christmas time. Several chapters were being staged in cities all over the globe on a monthly basis, and she asked if I’d like to host the Boston chapter.

OBVIOUSLY.

I started up in March, running on the first Thursday of every month, and it’s been an exciting ride. Crowds have fluctuated, what with Thursday being a popular month for burlesque shows in this town, but things are picking up and I have very good feelings about the events we have coming up this summer. If you’re in the area, or just want to know more about it, I encourage you to ‘like’ our Facebook page.

Burlesque

Hosting ‘Punk Rockin’ and Pastie Poppin”. Photo by Roger Gordy.

The last few months have been a slow season for me in terms of burlesque. I’ve been a little mopey about it, but I also had the previous events occupying my brain matter so I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to it anyway. I have, however, been granted a gig as the full-time host for Punk Rockin’ and Pastie Poppin’, a delightfully haphazard monthly burlesque show in Jamaica Plain. I absolutely adore the show, and I’ve always wanted to become a stronger emcee, so I’m thrilled to have been given a more frequent opportunity on the mic. I do have a handful of performances coming up this month, so if you like to see me strip (and who doesn’t? …don’t answer that) you can check out my stripper page here.

Anyway, that’s the quick and dirty update. I’d like to say you can expect to hear from my more regularly in the coming months.