So what happens now, where am I going to...

"The past is history, the future is a mystery and the present is a gift." - Valerie Malone, Beverly Hills 90210.

Friday, July 15, 2011

For the Bible tells someone about something

So I just came back from a screening of "For the Bible Tells Me So" here in Lima.  It was an interesting film about the Bible and what it says or doesn't say about homosexuality and abomination and so forth.  It made me miss Church all the more.  After the screening as the host was ushering the 4 people who had come to see the film I asked him if there was a church in Lima that accepted openly gay people.  I mentioned how I attended an Episcopal church in the US and how the Anglican Church here was not all that open.  He says he did not know of any, but that there was a Bible study kind of group that met at the center on Sunday nights as 6pm, but not this coming Sunday as there was some sort of event on the street and access would be difficult.  

So many things about that are very Lima right now.  Hurray that a center that would show a movie like that exists, but of course it is funded largely by UCLA and other foreign groups.  Great that there is somewhere I could theoretically go to hear the word of God that would accept me being gay, but it isn't a church but some semi-hidden little group.  And it only meets when traffic conditions are favorable.  Lima is a city where more and more I see being gay as living in the shadows.  It is kind of like little Eva Duarte being kept hidden form her father's funeral because she was of the "other" family of his.  

As someone who lives their life open and honestly at all times in the US, this is not something I can really get used to.  I don't see myself as a flamboyant person, not someone who walks around with a rainbow ship on their shoulder, but nonetheless, I don't dodge the question or hide who I am.  Here is Lima it is as if the world is not ready for fairly conventional, openly gay man.  No I don't speak with a lisp, nor do I wear a cravat or give "three snaps up" to stuff all the time.  I'm guy in a suit who works for an engineering company, drives a car he bought from an octogenarian and lives on a quite street.  I marched for marriage equality in a suit.  Someone had to.  Not all activists are t-shirt wearing, long haired rabble-rousers.  

So what do you do in this kind of environment?  I was sitting at lunch the other day with a group of polities when one of them talk about how awful it was that the Mayor of Lima, Susana Villaran, was getting involved with "those gays" and how it was likely to diminish her as Mayor.  Well, Susana Villaran is kind of ineffective as it is really, but what does one say in that sort of situation?  Since the comment was not directed to me and I was the invited guest of someone I simply kept silent and went back to my ceviche, but I really would have liked to comment.  When faced with situations like that on an almost daily basis, what do you do?  How do you handle it?  How do you stay honest and still save face.

In reality there is not easy way out.  I don't have the luxury to be the activist here, the freedom to make waves.  Too much family and work and expectations for that.  As much I would like to be out and proud and speak up, I can't see doing it and alienating my mother, my step-sister and others.  And on some level maybe it shouldn't matter, but in reality it does.  I know already that my secret is the one no one talks about and wants to keep hidden, being out isn't going to change that, it will only make it harder to be around me.  

Fixing people up is sport here in Lima and everyone plays this game.  Its bigger than football (soccer for you Americas).  My cousin (I call her Cousin Fabulous because she just is) who used to regularly parade her female friends in front of me until she figured out I was gay recently contacted me about introducing me to a guy.  I'm sure it is a first for her and frankly my first family related set-up.  What is interesting is in her message to me she describes the guy as "discrete like you."  So that is the culture, be who you want to be but just keep it under wraps.  

While there are many things I love about Lima and about Peru, I just can't see living here.  It would just be too hard to transition to partially back in the closet and having to dodge the question at political gatherings.  

I told my boss this week that while I was willing to stay for a while I could not commit to a full relocation to Lima.  His first reaction was sympathetic.  Upon a subsequent conversation he became almost cruel.  He said he wanted to convince me to stay to which I replied I would be willing to do so for a while but not a relocation, to which he replied that I was too young and that it would be a number of years before I got that big corporate job.  Now, I don't have my sights set on a big corporate job and I tried to explain upon our first conversation that it was for personal reasons that I may my decision, but clearly he wasn't listening. 

Now, I should just caulk this up to one more person saying something unprofessional to me.  Been there, heard that, moving on.  But for whatever reason I was thinking he would "get it."  His comment also reminded me of my ex to said to me that no one else would ever love me, when we broke up.  No I know that intellectually that cannot be true and he could not know that, but as someone who never really thought anyone could love him or would love him, it really hurt.  And he knew all that and that's probably why he said that.  But boss man's comment just made me feel that way all over again.  

Now I have always been too young for what I was doing.  School and career.  So again, intellectually I know he is wrong and that if I wanted that I could make that happen, but still.  In a way, like the ex's comment, boss man's comment confirmed that I may the right choice, although it was a pretty crappy thing to say.

Now back to Cali with a need to figure out what's next.  I feel like this experience has given me a chance to look at my life and see what I am really being called to do.  I don't know yet what that may be, but I certainly intend to go home and try to find out. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Backwards and forwards

I had a conference call with my therapist back in Pasadena the other day where we talked about how to make the decision or not to move to Lima and what that would mean for my life.  One of the concepts he presented was the idea of moving backwards.  We all want to move forward in our lives, but moving backwards is more difficult.  It is tough to live making $50,000 a year if you are used to making $100,000.  It is tough to go back to being line worker if your used to being the supervisor.

It is also tough to go back in the closet if your used to being an openly gay man.  It is equally tough to go back to a job that is limiting when you have gotten used to professional growth.  The move to Lima is a balance of these backwards and forwards.  Personally moving here means I likely won't date much and will need to step back into the closet in some sense as I can't refer to my ex-boyfriend at work and society at large here does not really have a place for someone who lives like I do in Pasadena.

Moving back though represents possibly going backwards career-wise.  Pasadena has for me the same small projects and small minded people I was working with.  It has the same small office politics and issues.  The work here is amazing and on a scale that we just don't deal with in Pasadena. 

Looking back on my life I went backwards career-wise in a sense when I moved to Pasadena, but it was such a large step forward personally that it all worked out.  Certainly the job was more money and a higher position that what I had in Florida.  But the projects were (and continue to be) of a smaller scale than what I was working on on Florida.  In some sense I was spoiled in that I just happened to be working on the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world, and was there largely by happenstance. 

So certainly the comparison is not perfect, but it does help me frame what I want to do.  In the end whatever career "regression" happened was more than offset but a richer, fuller, more honest and happier personal life.  The question would be if a richer professional life offset a dimer personal life here in Lima. 

Called to do what?

I recently served on a discernment committee at my church.  The purpose of the committee was to help this person explore what they felt was a call to the priesthood.  We spend many weeks discussing matters of faith and matters of how faith takes action in our world.  We talked about what God meant to us, to him and how He is real and active in our lives.  We talked about what a call is, how it feels and what it means to be called to serve God in the Church. 

At various points in my life I have felt like I was being called to one thing or another, including feeling the occasional called to service in the Church.  In the beginning I felt like I had a call to be here in Peru.  It seems strange in that it wasn't like I felt called to do certain work for the company, it was more like I felt I was called to be in this place at this time.  Work was part of it, but there was more that I can't really put my finger on.  There was this sort of feeling or pull or just a notion of being in the right place at the right time.  I don't really know what it means but nonetheless it was there.

As time has gone on and there exists the possibility of a relocation to Peru for work, that sense of call has gotten muddled.  I don't feel it as much as I did before.  Certainly there are days where I wake up and have a great run around the golf course, kiss ass at work and feel like I could be here forever.  Other days I feel trapped in a country that may not want me or possibly can't accept me.  Other days it somewhere in between where I feel a longing for the comforts of home (like Target, really miss Target) while feeling very satisfied in the work that I am doing here and in the ways I am connecting with my family here. 

Maybe the real concept to analyze may not be the notion of a call, but the notion of home.  When I meet people (and I have many lots of people over the last couple of months here) the question is always where am I from.  I speak Spanish well, but not like someone who grew up in Lima but also not like an American who learned Spanish in school.  The explanation is always a bit awkward in that I was born in Peru but moved away when I was young and then lived in so many different places in the US so I don't really have a specific place I am "from."  No hometown as it were. 

When I took the job in Pasadena I wasn't looking to love.  Inertia was keeping me in Florida and it certainly felt home-ish or at least familiar enough.  When I landed in Pasadena and starting working, started meeting people and started to build a truly authentic life, it really did start to feel like home.  It feels like home in a way that no place ever really has.  I certainly will always be connected to Peru having been born here and having so much family here, and that connection is as real as it could be, but it isn't home.  Florida isn't home either, but I can see being connected to that place for the rest of my life. 

So maybe this decision isn't really about a call or about work or about navigating being gay in a conservative city, maybe the decision is about how long I want to be away from home. Maybe that is what to focus on. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

What does personal growth mean to me?

So I am in Lima on a potentially career changing assignment with my company and trying to decide should I stay or should I go.

In many ways the few months I have been here already has been a time to really grow and mature.  It seems odd to talk about "maturing" at my age, I just turned 36, but nonetheless it makes sense.  I lead a fairly self indulgent life in LA, from shopping to sex, so being in a place where I am not sure what the norms of behavior are has made me rethink what I want and how I want to live.

In Lima things are just different in many ways.  Not better, not worse, just different.  For example, I arrived from LA with a bit of a cough that I picked up in the plane.  In LA, I would go to my local Taget, hit the cough syrup aisle and pick from the 842 options.  Here, I had to go the the pharmacy (not like a Walgreens, literally just a stand alone pharmacy), describe to the person working there my symptoms and then she gave me the one product that would help.  It tasted like putrid honey, but the cough was gone in a couple of days.  This experience caused me to think about these differences.  The system here is just different, again not better or worse, but just different.  So why was I bothered by having to interact with someone?  Is it just habit?  If that is the case does that mean I could get used to things here fairly easily?  If what I like to do is just habit, then it would stand to reason that I could drop one habit for another.

Thinking about this has caused me to wonder what I really want as my next act.  I have log believed that things are never the way they are always going to be and that everything gets you ready for what's next.  So what is this experience getting me ready for?  I never expected to move to LA, but it happened and I love it.  I never expected to be in Lima and here I am.  I don't know anything about the mining industry, but I am working on what may be a $1 billion mining project.  So is next more international work?  Is next staying in Lima and making it work here long term?  Is next a flight back to LA and a stop at Micky's in WeHo?  Or is this experience meant to get me outside my comfort zone so I do something all together different?  I have sometimes thought I wasn't the best fit for an engineering consulting company, but it has been over 5 years now and I can't really complain.  I am also not sure what I would do if I were to do something different. 

So, is my hestitation around staying in Lima really about the assignment and the fear of being gay in Lima or is it really about something else, about wanting to do something else?  If it is about something else, how do I decide what that something else is?  There are a million things I would like to try, but none of them seem like things I would want to do for a job.  Dressing windows at Barneys.  Yes, it would be kick-ass to do one, maybe a few, but if that was my full time job I would rapidly get bored.  Same thing with implementing that cool new retail concept I have in my head or getting my English PhD and becoming an academic.  All this prompts me to think if I am in this job just be default and if I were do do something else what would that be?

Sometimes being here has felt like a "call" for me, that something it pulling me to this place at this time.  Exploring what that is has been interesting.  And will be the subject of my next post. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So its a brand new bag

So, up until recently, I was a gay man living in the Los Angeles area and pretty much loving it.  Yes, you can say what you can say about LA, but there are few places in the world where the "Gay Best Friend" is de rigeur and just works.  So, I have recently taken a professional assignment in Peru and have been offered a multi-year extension.  

Lima, while a large city is on the conservative side and the transition has been interesting to say the least.  How comfortable can you feel in a country where one of the two candidates for president has "purge the homosexuals" on his official political platform.  How do you balance being yourself with being safe and how do you deal with a multitude of well meaning family for whom matchmaking is practically sport.  They don't sell the Advocate at the bookstore, but everyone knows that the best salon in town is "Encounters" where they have "those boys" cutting hair.  It really is a place of contrast, of hiding in the shadows and living what can be a very full life.  Was the winter white overcoat too much for the office?  Is that cute guy I make eye contact with every morning jogging around the golf course actually interested?  Was that guy that followed me for a couple of blocks the other day cruising or a mugger?  Will the cab driver actually take me to the gay bar or somewhere else?  Should my mom and I not say in public that I pick out her outfits?

Lima is certainly not LA, but here on an engineer's salary I can have someone to cook, clean, do the laundry and then leave when I want my privacy.  There is no recession here, no fear of a "double dip" in housing prices.  It is like Manhattan in the 80's, you can smell the money in the air.  Career-wise this is a plumb assignment, contact with all the right execs in the company, a large interesting project and potentially a suite of expat perks that will make my bank account smile.  But then again how do you date if you are afraid of the kiss goodbye on the doorstep?  How do live an honest life if you feel you have to dodge the "your right hand ring is going to make the girls think your married" comments.  Certainly being gay is not the single thing that defines me as person just as being straight is not the single thing that defines non-gay people, but it is something I kept hidden for too long and not something I want to put away again.   What's the right balance?

The scientist in me wants a formula I can program to give me the answer, but the romantic knows there are too many intangibles to make that work.  Going back to LA means giving up what can be a career making assignment, while staying hear means re-learning what it means to live as a gay man in 2011.  I'll miss Gay Pride, but I won't miss doing my laundry every week.  I'll miss the local kareoke gay bar in town, but I won't miss driving in LA traffic since I walk to work here. I'll miss the shopping in LA, but the food here is so much better.

Still not sure what the decision is going to be, but it has been a growth experience just having to think about it.  But I'll save that for the next post.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Aunt

The Aunt

I have a pretty big family.  At a recent family reunion put together by one of my cousins, just my first cousins and their spouses numbered around 50.  It was madness, including ball caps, a PowerPoint slide show and crazy volumes of food and wine, but that is another story.  Amongst this large family is my aunt, my mother's older sister.

Now, my aunt is not what you would necessarily call forward in her thinking in all cases.  She believes that wives should tend to their husbands as their primary function, that nice young ladies stay chaste until marriage and that no one should run around in tight or skimpy clothing.  Organized to a fault, her life is clean and precise.  Even her home looks like a spread from a magazine, albeit a magazine from the 50's.  She is always offering "advice" in her own way, telling whoever she is talking to what they should do about this or that.  She even once sent me a decorating book she had kept since the 50's with the reasoning that the rules of decoration just don't change.  Really, the book was in black and white so I am not sure how you were supposed to learn to match your carpet and drapes, but anyway.  For a fairly long period I referred to her as my Victoria aunt, due to her conservative ideas.

Now, due to my aunt's propensity for giving out unsolicited advice, she often ends up at odds with various members of the family.  At one point while I was in college I was the only person who would take her calls.  She gave me the same advice as everyone else, I would just verbally nod my head and then do whatever I wanted anyway.  I figured she lived in another state, how would she know?  Because of this, we developed a pattern of talking every weekend.  I usually call her on my way to the gym or if I am tied up with an event in the morning I will call her in the evening after she gets home from Saturday evening mass.  If I don't call I can expect her to call me on Sunday morning.  

Now, my aunt is getting on in years and about a year or two ago or so I decided it was time I paid her a visit.  She lives a couple of hours away from me by plane and there was a long weekend so I went to see her and the town that I had lived in as a child for a period.  For a while I had been worried that she was not doing well or that my uncle was not doing well.  I was glad I made the trip because while they were not doing as poorly as I had feared, they were not in the best shape and at least I was able to spend some time with them while they were still in relatively good health.  

I even was able to go to church on Saturday with my aunt.  Now, the church my aunt and uncle go to is Catholic.  I think the three of us are the last practicing Catholics in the family, the rest of the bunch only go for weddings or baptisims.  My aunt and uncle helped found this church and are very active.  My uncle was in charge of setting up the altar that night and my aunt volunteered at the church office.  That particular Saturday had no special meaning in the liturgucal calendar, but nonetheless the church passed a yellow rose up to the altar in memory of the aborted babies.  I asked and they do that every week.  This was not one of those edgy Catholic churches pushing the envelope.  This was strict adherence to Rome and "traditional" values. 

As the weekend drew to a close, I thought about how to be more open with my aunt.  At this point we had a great relationship, talking every week, gossiping about the family.  She was a great sounding board when I was looking at changing jobs.  She would fill me in on arcane matters of protocol and on obscure dead relatives.  I genuinly enjoyed talking to her and didn't want to lose that, but by that same token I didn't want to keep dodging the girlfriend question.  So, just as we were about to leave for the airport, I sat down in her kitchen.  At the same table I had eaten many a meal when I was a child and asked her if she had noticed the ring I was wearing (gold band, ring ringer, left hand).  She said she did and asked me what it meant.  I told her I was in a relationship and I told her his name.  I then told her that I was gay.  

Well, I was about to the point of hyperventalating, but she gave me a big hug and told me that I should not have been worried to tell her.  I said well the Church doesn't really accept gay people (with images of that yellow rose in my head).  She said the Church doesn't know everything.  She then proceeded to tell me about a friend of hers with a gay son.  The friend had confided in my aunt years ago when she first learned about her son and told my aunt she could not accept him and would stop seeing him.  My aunt told her she should not do that and then proceeded to show her research supporting the idea that this is the way that God made us.  My aunt, although she doesn't have a degree because of an aversion to math, is a perennial student and has taken piles of child development and psychology courses.  She told me how she had convinced her friend to keep loving her son and told me how she would always love me.  At this point I am tearing up and my uncle walks into the kitchen with a perplexed look on his face.  I excuse myself to the bathroom and then we head out to the airport.

With that behind me I still wondered a bit how things would be with my aunt, but quickly found out.  At out next weekend chat she asked me to tell her how I had met my partner.  So I did.  She asked me if I was happy with him and I told her that we were having some challenges, which we were, and she offered to listen if needed because relationships are relationships and she had been married a long time so had figured out how to make it work.  Boy did i take her up on that offer.  As things got harder and my relationship ended I knew I could call her any time, any day and did.  She was unwaveringly supportive, non-judgemental and knew when just to listen when I needed that.  When I told my aunt that my mom, who I had come out to a couple of years prior to her, had offered to fix me up with a woman after my breakup, my aunt called my mom and scolded her for being so insensitive.  

I think getting through that breakup would have been much more difficult without my aunt to talk to and I consider myself blessed that she is a part of my life.  For that, she is one of my gay heroes.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Physicist

The Physicist

So let me start by talking about my favorite girl friend. She is the best "fruit fly" a gay man could want. Likes to shop with me and will actually help me look at stuff and not just model heels, but she does that well too. She is a book editor transitioning into a job in communications for a fab private school. She has an MFA in Poetry from one of the top schools in the country. We talk clothes and books and politics and boys. Her husband is a physicist. Really. He works on particle physics experiments exploring the origins of the universe. They seem an odd couple on paper, but once you meet them you can see how well suited they really are.

So I met these folks through friends from work. They all played ultimate frisbee. I have never even been to a game myself, but through these work friends I am somehow connected to the SoCal frisbee posse. So MFA and Physicist live a happy scientific literary frisbee SoCal existence.

The interesting thing is Mr. Physicist is a hero in more ways than one. He certainly is MFA's hero and he is super gay friendly in ways I will describe below, but he has a patience for something at a level I never thought a straight man could. You see, Mr. Physicist is hot. Like tall and strong and "I will do whatever you want" hot. Now, he does not have that "I am hot attitude," in fact he is very modest. He does have the patience though to put up with gaggles of gay boys drooling over him. Inevitably when I have brought gay friends to events at their place, they all want to chat with him, look at him, undress him with their eyes. Some have been shameless about it to the point where I have told them to dial it back. Mr. Physicist does not say a word or even react much, he just shrugs it all off. Shrugs it off and makes cocktails.

In other ways Mr. Physicist is a gay hero as well. He certainly had no problem accepting my boyfriend as part of our group, even putting up with off color gay jokes and inappropriate references to penises. He was also very supportive when we separated, listening with MFA to my tales of woe and being there to mix another drink or simply offer a kind word. Mr. Physicist will be the first to crack a great gay joke and is the only straight guy I know who was gay heckled on the street (ironically at an event related to a straight wedding) and just rolled with it.

Since my breakup I have spent more time with MFA and Mr. Physicist that before. Even spending Valentines Day dinner with the couple at their house. I don't know how many straight guys would want the gay friend over for dinner on Valentines Day. He is always welcoming and warm and even when the conversation gets a little too gay, just rolls with it. I have even brought over the top gay men (think Jack from Will & Grace but more) to events and he has no trouble joking along, brushing off the eye humping and mixing everyone another drink.

So for being more than just accepting. For truly living inclusively, Mr. Physicist is a gay hero.