“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
That, dear readers, is the wisdom imparted to me via a fortune cookie not too long ago. Of course, I was hoping for something more inspiring like say, “your ideal weight will be achieved” or “your financial concerns will become a thing of the past”. But alas, this was not to be. MY fortune had to be somehow backhanded but hilariously accurate. But you know what? I have reached a point in my life where I can appreciate and recognize the truth in that statement. Why? Because I’m nearing the end of those crazy days we call our twenties. This month I’m going to be twenty-nine, which of course means I’ve got one year left until I hit the big 3-0.
And I have to confess I’m really okay with that. Honestly.
For the longest time, I always viewed myself as a minority amongst a minority. Now before you break out the tiny violins and roll your eyes at me, let me explain. I’ve lived the last 13 years of my life as an out, visible (Am I person or a billboard? Ponder that while I continue) member of the gay community. I’ve watched our community suffer. I’ve watched our community prosper. I’ve have pretty much seen it all. But the one thing I haven’t had is someone to share the journey with. I don’t mean a lover, but a peer, someone my age who came of age in the same era of time with similar experiences.
During this time I had to do what many young gay folk do: search for people whose lifestyles could possibly foreshadow my own. As a result, I always had a tendency to gravitate towards older people in the community. They became my mentors and role models. They were the ones with the life experience and knowledge I so desperately needed to get through my years of self-doubt and questioning. I was curious to know what being gay was and meant, other than what I had pretty much pieced together myself (which in my youth was limited to reading books and the occasional drunken naked slumber party…but I digress.)
I was lucky enough to find myself in situations early on in my life that lead me to being friends with older gay men and women. My introduction to this world coincided with my introduction to the work force.
Like many teenagers, I did the whole after school fast food job thing, where I kid you not, lesbian managers are a plenty. I worked for two different fast food chains, and in both places, I had lesbian bosses. Well, this was before Home Depot came along. Badump-chik!!!. How I adored them. Not only where they two of the most fantastic women I have ever met, but they both in their own ways took the time to get to know me and introduce me to their worlds and what they were about. They respected me as much as I did them and they included me. I had a similar experience in my early twenties when I did a stint at a popular bookstore chain. Now overall this experience was pretty ghastly (personally I was a big ole’ mess. Gotta love that age where everything in your life just sucks) but my fondest memory of this experience will be meeting some of the people I encountered during my employment there. You will never meet a more eclectic group of people than those who run a bookstore. Some of the most open-minded and engaging people you could ever hope to run across. And we all know that bookstores and gay go together like Katie Couric and perkiness. A very good friend of mine at the time introduced me to the works of Ethan Mordden. His book How Long Has This Been Going On?, a fictional account chronicling the gay movement pre and post Stonewall, changed my life, much in the same way that Armistead Maupin’s novels had done in my teens.
The experiences have just kept coming. I have spent the last four years working for, at one time or another, two of Rochester’s most influential gay themed stores. I don’t want to embarrass anyone here, so I will remain coy and brief! I have loved both experiences dearly, have worked with people that I am proud to consider part of my “family”, and have met people from all walks of life who share the vision of goodwill and equality for all, and most importantly, a history and camaraderie. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how this very paper you hold in your hands right now has influenced and affected me. HELLO! I WRITE FOR IT! I don’t do this for recognition or to expand my already teetering on diva like ego, but because these pages and the stories, news, and views printed on them have been very much a part of my gay awakening and experience and I feel obliged to contribute and hopefully inspire, educate, and entertain others as it has done for me.
So as you can see, I’ve spent most of these thirteen years of my “gay life” chasing the gay life and surrounding myself with people to look up to and learn from. And it hasn’t always been easy. Compound the regular issues of growing up and add to that the responsibilities and uniqueness of being “not conventional” and you can have some pretty trying times on your hands. Not all of my decisions and judgments have been good ones. I learned a lot about some pretty adult related issues rather quickly, and sometimes I handled things maturely, and sometimes, like many people starting out in life, I just plain fell on my fucking face. But I never felt alone. I’ve always had the encouragement of my elder gay friends, who had been in my shoes one way or another.
So what does all this rambling mean? What in the hell does all this have to do with me pitching a tent about getting through twenty nine and turning thirty? And why am I so cool with it?
Well, I guess I’m feeling like I’ve begun to reach the part of my life where biologically and emotionally I’m starting to feel more balanced. I’m no longer that “kid” trying in earnest to break into that grown up world. I’m done chasing the life I wanted to have, because I’m living it. I’m no longer searching for people who I can relate to because my life is filled with them. Every moment since I came out at sixteen has been about becoming the person I was meant to be, successes and failures both at every step. And again, I never had to face it alone. I have begun to appreciate the fact that every situation in life, good and bad, leads you to today. If you take the time to get your head out of your ass (for me this happened at twenty seven), you will see that there are lessons to be examined from each and every one of life’s experiences and the people you come across in it. And maybe, just maybe, you will have a better handle on your feelings, your direction in life and the importance of the people around you, because after all, it is the people in my life that I’ve gotten me where I am today. I’m ready to do pass on the strength, encouragement, and acceptance they have given to me
I hope that doesn’t sound too Madonna preaching Kabbalah of me.
As my twenties come to an end, and with it the years of struggling to belong and identify, I look forward to the new faces and adventures my thirties and beyond will have in store.
And I’m really, really, okay with that. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
Essential Download: "Life For Rent"
Available On: Life For Rent
Originally published in the October 2006 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.