Happily Ever After

Happily Ever After

[October 1, 2017]

Stories. Stories were a very crucial part of my development. They helped shape me. I have grown into the person that I am today because of the influence the stories I heard throughout my life have had on me. Those stories have come from many places. They have come from my family; they have come from my friends; I have read them in books, seen them in movies and TV shows and have had them taught to me at church, school and university.

The story that has had the greatest bearing on my life, however, can be traced back to the fairy tales I was once told as a child. In that story a handsome young prince meets a beautiful princess, marries her, and lives happily ever after. I have seen that story recycled and retold countless times throughout my life. It is what I am supposed to want. It is the goal that I am meant to attain.

The boy-meets-girl-boy-marries-girl narrative is so pervasive, it has been re-interpreted thousands of times; through the movies I see, the TV shows that I watch and even the commercials, billboards, and print and online ads that are forever vying for my attention. Growing up, I wasn’t even aware that there was any other alternative. There were no stories that spoke of different lived experiences. There was no story about two men falling in love with each other and getting married. There was no “Cinderfella”, no “Peter Pan and Wendell”.

With seemingly only one story to emulate, I did everything that I could to make it fit for me. With blinders firmly fixed, I embraced that story and learned the lessons it was meant to teach me. That story made a deep and lasting impression on me. It became the material in which I crafted my dreams upon. The instruction manual I used in order to construct my life.

I began to look at the world through this dominant and assumptive lens. To illustrate this point, and see how this pervasive story affected me, let me deconstruct the impact that one of my favourite TV shows, “The Dukes of Hazzard”, had on my young life. Debuting in 1979, when I was 11, that show was just the right combination of comedy and adventure to keep me coming back week after week. On the cusp of puberty, my friends and I watched that show, entertained not only by the action but tantalized by the characters we saw on the screen.

I remember all my guy friends being captivated with Catherine Bach’s portrayal of “Daisy Duke” and though, I certainly thought she was pretty, I never quite understood why they thought she was such a big deal. I understand now she was supposed to be the person that the boys were attracted to; an archetypical female manufactured for the male gaze, and cast in a story created just for them (To wit: nearly 40 years later, we still refer to jeans shorts as “Daisy Dukes”). Though not exactly a fairy tale princess that needed to be rescued, Daisy was still set up to be the object for the boys’ desires. Again, the message was clear: men are only supposed to desire and fall in love with women.

However, I knew I was different. But, not wanting anyone to know I was different, I suppressed my very real and actual attraction to John Schneider and pretended to fit in with all the other boys, to be attracted to Daisy. I quickly understood that I could like, admire, and aspire to be like “Bo”—masculine, fun-loving, good guy, awesome car— but it wasn’t okay for me to be attracted to him. It was clear that the only acceptable character in the show for those kinds of feelings was Daisy. With that realization, I quickly came to the inevitable conclusion that the attraction I felt for Bo must have been wrong. It wasn’t the norm. Therefore, I was not normal. Since I didn’t want to be different, and even though part of me suspected back then that I might be gay, I decided to ignore those feelings and do my best to live my life as a straight person.

Overwhelmed with these relentless hetero-normative stories that I was being inundated with every day, I convinced myself that the only way to be truly happy was to be straight. During my early adolescence, having been perceived as being gay and bullied for it, I became even more determined to deny any such feelings and assert my heterosexuality in any way that I could. I needed to avoid the hatred showered down on me by my tormentors. In my senior year of high school, I pushed away my unwanted homosexual feelings and desires, and wanting to distance myself from the label of being gay, I regretfully became very homophobic. No one can call you a “faggot” if you are pointing your finger in disgust at someone else and, as a way of self-preservation, I had no problem spouting my own kind of hurtful homophobic rhetoric. Determined to be normal, and wanting most of all to be perceived that way, I began my search for a girlfriend.

Now, hindsight tells me that I was struggling with my sexuality and suppressing my true self, but at the time I was in such denial I wasn’t even fully aware of my actual desires. To be afraid to even entertain the notion that I was gay, I whole-heartedly believed that I could live my life as a straight person. Presenting myself as straight then was not an attempt to deceive anybody; it was in fact the only identity that I could realistically be. I had no possible way—no support, no stories, no role models, no guidance—to be able to begin to even think of grappling with my true feelings.

So, I chose to be straight. I embraced that identity and with clarity of purpose became overjoyed when a girl, in my senior year of high school, actually showed an interest in me. As you know, from my other blog posts, it is during this time that I began my own theatre group. It was through that group that I met this young woman who for some reason thought that I was attractive. Though not very experienced in the ways of dating, I did my best to pursue her. When I realized that she had feelings for me I was overjoyed. I liked her a lot. She was funny, charming, and very pretty.

I wanted very much for her to be my girlfriend, and did everything that I could to win her over. But, to my disappointment, something was holding me back. I could handle being her friend. I loved talking and spending time with her. Being her friend was awesome. But, unfortunately, I just couldn’t bring myself to be intimate with her.

Convincing myself that she simply wasn’t the right girl for me, I refused to acknowledge that I wasn’t capable of returning her feelings and instead just pushed her away. I never explained to her that there was nothing wrong with her and that the fault lied with me. Instead, I just let her think that I had lost interest in her. She deserved much better treatment from me, an explanation of my hot and cold behavior towards her, and I will be forever sorry that I wasn’t able to give her what she deserved.

I, of course, know now what my real reason for pushing her away was, but I wasn’t self-aware or brave enough back then to admit the truth to myself. I will always be sorry for hurting her.

I wish that I could say that she was the only woman that I hurt. I wish I could say that I learned from that experience and did the soul-searching work that so desperately needed to be done. But I had written a story for myself, one that conformed to societal pressures, and I was too afraid to give it up. I wanted the fairy tale, the one that had been fed to me since I was a boy, and I was going to do everything in my power to get it.

In the summer of 1992 the curtain closed for the last time on a play from my theatre company. Hitting it off with the leading lady from that play, I forged an intense and meaningful friendship. The young woman was clever, witty, energetic and fun. She challenged me, helped nurture my passions, and kept my ego in check. She seemed to me the perfect candidate for my ideal girlfriend and, though she was seeing someone else at the time, I convinced myself that she was destined to be with me; that she was the missing piece in my story.

Never having had a girlfriend, at 22 I was eager to prove to everyone that the rumours were not true and I really wasn’t gay. So, with the intent of speeding up the process, I gave my friend an ultimatum. Either she would be my girlfriend or I would end the friendship. Regretfully, my actions ended our friendship and I haven’t spoken to her since.

I wanted so badly to be the perfect guy with the perfect girlfriend. That was the story I thought I deserved and sadly I was willing to sabotage a friendship in order to get it.

Looking back, I can see I was so afraid that people would see my platonic relationship with my friend and assume we weren’t together because I was gay that I felt compelled to change its dynamic. I know now that I was just too afraid to admit to myself that I wasn’t straight and that the story I was trying so hard to conform to was never meant for me.

Struggling with those issues, I went off to study at the Ontario College of Art in the fall of 1995. In that first year at OCA, determined to finally have a girlfriend, I began my hunt again for the ideal woman. This time around, embarrassed to be a virgin at 25, I was resolved to actually have a relationship in which I could have sex. A couple of months into the term, I began to date a beautiful woman studying at the University of Toronto. Smitten with her, I tried my best to be the perfect boyfriend and hoped things would eventually lead to something more intimate. Though I was nervous and hesitant about having sex, I just assumed that that was because I was so inexperienced. In the end, when the moment finally arrived, I believe that we both enjoyed ourselves and I will be forever grateful that my first time was with someone loving and caring. Relieved that I had finally been with a woman, I tried to relax and settle into the relationship.

To my dismay, though I had enjoyed being with her very much, when we were intimate with each other something just never felt quite right. As friends we were great but the longer we were together, the more I started to feel anxious about being intimate with her and that anxiety began to make feel me unhappy. After about a month together I decided that things were not working out, choosing once again to believe that she just wasn’t the right woman for me and I broke it off with her.

In retrospect I am disappointed in myself that I couldn’t see the writing on the wall; that I couldn’t be honest with myself about who I really was. I am not proud of the selfish man I was back then; a man who risked the feelings of women just to try to conform to a story that was never going to be right for him. Although I was misguided, I take small consolation in the fact that it was never my intention to hurt anyone.

For years, I tried very hard to find that elusive woman that would finally make me happy. I never did find her. Instead I had to start looking for stories that would validate who I really was.

Stories. When I finally opened my eyes to who I truly am I found the stories that I needed. Although at first terrified to even enter and walk up the stairs, eventually I found Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop (the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore), a haven and special place where I could be myself. Granted, the boy-meets-boy scenario is not as pervasive as its heterosexual counterpart but I am happy to report that it does exist. Through those stories, I have learned that it is possible to be gay and happy, in them I have envisioned my future and lessened my fears.

I am no longer the confused, sad and fearful young man who selfishly tried to conform to a story that was never right for him. I wrote this blog post to honour the women who tried their best to love me. I am deeply sorry that I hurt them and hope beyond all hope that they have found partners that have made their time with me seem inconsequential.

As for me, in 2001 I found my soul mate, Stacy; a man who makes me a better person just by being in my life. We have been together now for 16 years, we have been married for 8 and everyday that I am with him I am convinced more and more that he is my happily ever after.

About 10 years ago Stacy encouraged me to follow my dream and write %Justin Case and the Closet Monster%. In a lot of ways it is as much his story as it is mine, for without him it would not exist. It is my hope that this story, as well as these blogs, will help those like me live their lives in truth and that reading about my experiences will help them realize that the only story that they need to emulate is the one they conceive and write for themselves.

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