A Year of Goodbyes

This originally appeared in the health magazine SexVibe in 1995.

On the day I turned thirty, I admitted my boyfriend Shane into the hospital.  Less than three weeks later he was dead.  Around the same time, for a variety of reasons, I made the decision to cut my best friend of eight years out of my life.  The year brought me other, less significant losses as well.  Each individually would have been difficult to deal with, but together these separations combined to create an utterly sad and lonely year for me.

Given this, I was determined that the holidays would be different.  Mindful of the possible emotional pitfalls the season can evoke, I began to surround myself with the familiar,  placing myself in comfortable situations and enhancing my environment with people and things I enjoy.  It was only then that I became aware that something wasn’t quite right.  Finally, it hit me.  The circle of friends I call family had begun to disintegrate.

This group had been together for several years and I, having been in the circle for only three years, was a more recent addition.  Over the years various members of the group have changed as some guys have moved away or moved on, but the core had essentially remained the same.  Prior to joining this circle I had known some of the guys individually, but as a whole the combined force of their warmth, humor, and love was intoxicatingly seductive.  As holidays and special occasions approached, I looked forward to the pool parties, boat cruises, and dinners with unbridled anticipation.  And on those dates where I couldn’t be there, I would replay past gatherings in my head, reveling in the good feelings.

As much as I feel that I know these guys and understand them, I’m not sure that I can pinpoint when the disintegration actually began or what caused it.  I think it started long before Shane got sick, but I only began to notice it in the months after his death.  It wasn’t as if the guys weren’t there for me–they most definitely were.  But it was as if you could sense that they were each pulling away.  From me, and from each other.

About half of the guys are HIV.  Shane was the first of the group to go.  I know his death scared some of them.  It scared me too.  But why have some chosen to pull away?  Usually difficult situations tend to bring people together.  And yet here there has been a distinct move towards isolationism.

I hate to see this happening and have turned this situation over endlessly in my head, looking for answers or solutions.  Having discussed it with various individuals from the group, the general consensus is that the guys have unconsciously begun to separate themselves in an attempt not to feel the horrendous pain that accompanies sickness and death.  While I understand the instincts of self preservation (and have done it myself) I can’t help but be pissed at these guys.  I want to be around them.  I want to hold them and comfort them and cry with them.  Why are we so afraid of sharing our emotions with others?

The generalization is that most men have a difficult time displaying emotion, and my guess is that this difficulty is further compounded for gay men by the homophobic messages sent to us by society at large.  If we’re taught that simply being ourselves will be met with hostility, persecution, and rejection, isn’t it easier to hide our true selves–let alone our “darker” emotions–from public view?  We’ve taken the message from society to heart, and have in turn learned to keep our emotions and thoughts close and guarded, as if any moment they could be stolen and exposed to others.  Many of us have learned this lesson too well and are, finally, unable to show sides of ourselves to others, even when we want to desperately.  I was in that same situation three years ago, and it was only when I confronted my anger, rage, and sadness that I ultimately realized that these emotions are not something to be terrified of, but are to be embraced for the potential to which they can lead.

Protecting ourselves from the “darker” emotions can stifle the positive experiences of friendship, brotherhood, and community.  I’m reminded of the HIV negative men I’ve heard who say that they won’t date someone HIV positive because there are “too many issues”.  Who the hell told us that life was supposed to be an endless joyride?  Are we just so tired of feeling badly about ourselves that we resist any situation that might be difficult or challenging?

Actor/playwright David Drake once said to me that he believed many gay men partied so hard in order not to hear the silence.  Why do we avoid the silence?  Is it because we are afraid that, in that silence, our emotions might betray us?

I wonder what would happen if the entire gay community were collectively quiet for an hour.  Would we fidget?  Would we cry?  Would we survive?

I believe that we would.  As gay men, we’ve had a harder lot than most, but we’ve come through and grown as a result.  The challenges and difficulties might at times seem insurmountable, but together we can overcome them.  Togetherness is the key.  The shared experience forms the bond between friends, lovers, and family.

I value my family of friends dearly, and I want that cohesive communion to thrive — regardless of the circumstances.  I’m just so tired of continually saying, “Good-bye.”  I’d rather say, “Hello.”

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