Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Email from a gay Chinese student with a homophobic family

Yesterday, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I've been visiting your blog occasionally for a while now. It's an awesome resource. I have a lot of things to say, and it's going to a rambling mess of words. A weird rant.

I'm a gay ethically Chinese 18 year old university student from North America who is out to everybody EXCEPT my parents. My sister does know that I'm gay, and I'll discuss her later.

Ever since coming to university, I came out to a lot of people, and have been received pretty well. I mean, nobody gave me any trouble. My coming out story was actually quite smooth. Looking back I did a lot of smart things. I joined the gay-straight alliance at school, I came out to close friends, read queer-themed books, I talked to gay people I knew about their experiences, and chose to go to an ultra gay-friendly university. I even decided to go to a gay pride event, but I got caught by my parents and we had a gigantic argument later.

Just like a lot of queer teens/people, I was a depressed mess for about two years. I didn't cut or harm myself in any physical way. The entire struggle took place inside my head. My parents' homophobia certainly didn't help. I remember watching Prison Break with my parents once, and after a gay character was introduced, my mom leaned in and told me in a very serious tone that gay people are evil and that I should never become gay. My dad insists that I cut my nails ultra-short and that I should never put my arms on my hips because "that's what women do". In middle school a guy came to my school and talked to my class about homophobia. I told my mom about it later and she was really concerned. She asked me repeatedly if the guy said that "being gay is better than being straight". My parents unfortunately believe in the existence of the gay agenda.

All my life, I've been indoctrinated with homophobic nonsense. Coming out to people helped me get over it, but traces of it are still there. For example, I don't act very flamboyant at all. I'm scared of attracting attention to myself. As I grew older and I joined the gay-straight alliance and went to ONE pride event, my parents found out about both of those things. They were furious and demanded that I quit immediately. I was scared of revealing my sexuality (given all the things they said about gay people over the years), so I always said something along the lines of 'I want to help people'. One time, they kept pressing me on why I had joined a queer-themed club, and I got fed up and straight up said I was gay. My mom immediately said, "You're not", and had a ghastly expression on her face. My dad became angry, and said that he would not pay for my university education at all if I was. They were very homophobic. Naturally, I feel like my parents failed me. As my primary caregivers, they were supposed to love me unconditionally. That's my perhaps naïve belief. My mom threatened me with the same thing because one time she saw me looking at news of a celebrity coming out of the closet. They. Are. Neurotic.

Long story short, me and my parents spar over the topic of homosexuality often. My dad reads Chinese homophobic nonsense on some Asian news website all the time, and once got mad because middle schools are educating kids about homophobia. He was so mad he had to go take a long walk outside. He always talks about how gays gives him goose bumps, and especially after the gay-related family drama we had, always scrutinizes signs of femininity in me. It's quite annoying and I get mad at him often. I think both of them know already, but are threatening me to prolong the inevitable.

Being a safety-first kind of guy, I have an elaborate plan on coming out to my parents. I will tell my mom first, because out of the two, she seems more accepting. (My dad is just neurotic and I don't feel close to him at all). I have a shitty relationship with my parents, needless to say. I even have a back-up plan in case I get kicked out. Two of my friends have offered for me to live with them should that happen. One of my friend's mums is even involved, and supports me. I hope that doesn't happen though. I'm just scared that IF my parents DO follow through with their threat of cutting me off financially, I wouldn't be able to complete university. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that at the LATEST, I have to come out after university, after I get a stable job. That way I will be on secure footing when I do come out. Like I said, I like to cover absolutely everything.

My sister is no help, even though she has known that I am gay for almost three years now. She remains tight-lipped whenever I ask her for advice, or changes the topic. She wants to protect my parents, and defends them against me when I bash them by saying that "they're ignorant, they're not as educated as you, so don't push them too far!" I usually respond by saying "well if they're ignorant, obviously we don't want them to stay ignorant, and who better to educate them than me?" She always continues to dance around the topic, saying that she supports me, but in reality does nothing (she NEVER talked about it in the three years she knew, no support, no nothing).

Once, my sister's homophobic friend (who is quite close to my sister) pissed me off by saying that I NEED to be nicer to homophobic people when coming out to i.e. my sister and not push them AT ALL, because I AM the aggressor and they're the ones who have to deal with it. I was mad and yelled at him for his complete stupidity. I'm the GAY ONE, you're NOT. What's the huge deal for YOU? I told my sister about our argument, and she immediately sprang into action, comforting her friend and of course NOT OFFERING A SINGLE WORD OF ADVICE TO ME. As a sister, I feel like she's failed me. Over the next couple of months, I became aggressive and was really upset by her continued silence so I confronted her about it. She reacted by saying that it's REALLY HARD on her too and that she hates change. Basically nice words for saying she doesn't like the fact that I'm gay. I asked her for help to come out to my parents because they are extremely homophobic and I would appreciate the help of a sibling. Because we live in different places, we only communicate via text. She stopped responding to my texts. She became distant and made up excuses to not respond. The only time I Skyped with my sister, I casually mentioned that I had made a lot of progress on coming out. Her roommate was in the room and I didn't think it was a big deal. She did. Upon the word 'gay' leaving my mouth, she immediately shut off Skype and messaged me ANGRILY: "geez, why don't we just message each other? My roommate is IN THE ROOM! Can't we talk about something else? I don't feel comfortable talking on Skype with my roommate in the room". She was comfortable talking with me with her roommate in the room until I mentioned that I was gay. Shitty sister I have.

Once, I was playing a board game with my sister and some of my mom's friend's sons. Because one guy was losing, he kept complaining that his cards were "so gay". I let it go the first time, but after the third time I exploded on him:
"Dude. That's really offensive!" My sister freezes up.
Guy gives me a sceptical look, "Don't worry about it".
"No, I'm serious. Stop."
"Why, what's it to you?"
"I'm gay". My sister is clearly uncomfortable, and offers me no support whatsoever. She shuts up completely.
"Oh. Wow. Dude I didn't know. I'm so sorry".
That was that. He said "those cards are so gay" a couple of times and I reprimanded him each time he did it. I'm sort of a big social activist. One of the other guys eventually helped me reprimand the offending guy. My sister never helped. She just sat there, frozen, uncomfortable, and unwilling to help.

I have a lot of pent up frustration about my sister, mostly because of her hypocrisy, unwillingness to help, and how she ALWAYS ignores me whenever I try to talk about coming out to my parents with her. Unless I yell at her, she ignores me always. She says that she supports me, but doesn't show it at all. On more than one occasion she has asked me to hold off coming out to our parents because (1) our dad has a terrible heart, so she says that he will get a heart attack if I tell him, and (2) she want her family together and so she selfishly wants me to stay in the closet. I'm very done with my sister. I told her a couple of weeks ago that I don't want her help anymore because she's too troublesome and I'm fed up with her slipperyness and how she CONSTANTLY ignores me. (If I text her about anything else she responds normally.) I don't know what to do with her, but I stopped relying on my sister.

My plan is to come out to my parents AFTER getting a job, because I want to have a back-up plan in case they do follow through with the threat. My dad gets angry easily - he yells at me because my fingernails are mildly long. He says that no man has long fingernails. When I found a guy with long fingernails, he got madder. But I'm not scared of my parents. I'm actually very fed up with them too. And honestly very hurt, which is why I don't really want to interact with them.

I don't know what to do at all. I want to come out and be myself. I want to mend my relationship with both my sister and my parents. I know that I am supremely angry at all three of them. I know that if I don't do anything I will only become more upset - so I need to take action. Yeah, I'm still kind of uncomfortable with physical intimacy with other guys. Family indoctrination. I haven't kissed a guy yet. Although I did play around on Grindr and OKCupid one time. Grindr was really scary! (Guys I barely knew asked for hookups) and OKCupid was fun, but I also felt kind of intimidated on there. I never did anything or met up with guys from those apps.

I'm sorry that this email is so all over the place. Any advice helps. Thanks a lot GB.

From a confused, upset, angry gay guy who doesn't know what to do about his family.

Overall, it seems that the reader who sent me this email is quite a strong guy. He's managed to come out to a lot of people, and he's also a bit of a gay activist, telling the son of one of his mother's friends not to use the word "gay" in a derogatory way. However, he clearly has some issues when it comes to his family.

Thinking about homophobia in general, in a lot of cases the biggest homophobes turn out to be gay themselves. An article in The Telegraph (a UK newspaper) mentions this, and has links to a couple of web sites (gayhomophobe.com and www.ranker.com/list/top-10-anti-gay-activists-caught-being-gay/joanne) which give examples of these scandals. The Telegraph article has no idea why people get themselves into these situations, but I think I've got an idea. Their problem is that because they are gay homophobes, they don't like their own feelings towards people of the same gender, and so they react by trying to ban or outlaw all things gay. Part of this is saying that because they can't let themselves be gay, they don't want anyone else to be gay either. Also, if they're virulently anti-gay, they think it helps them hide their own feelings. Of course, because it is often the secretly gay homophobes that are the biggest anti-gay campaigners, I always suspect that those kinds of people are indeed gay themselves. In any case, the point is that if these homophobes weren't gay themselves, then they wouldn't feel so strongly about the matter.

Although I don't think it's likely, it could be that the preceding paragraph applies to the reader's father. It's possible that the father sometimes feels attracted to other men, and hates himself for having these feelings. That makes him behave the way that he does, and perhaps the reader's mother is simply reflecting the father's views and trying to support her husband. Whatever the reason for the parent's homophobia, their anti-gay views have probably rubbed off to some extent on the reader's sister, and hence she feels embarrassed about having a gay brother.

Whatever the reason for the father's homophobia, I think it might help the reader to imagine what his father's life has been like if he does sometimes have gay feelings. If it's true, he'll have had a pretty shitty life! Perhaps the poor guy forced himself into marriage, and may have been constantly wanting something that he can't let himself have, namely intimacy with another man. For someone in that position, having an openly gay son just makes his life even worse. In other words, rather than following his current aggressive course regarding his homosexuality, perhaps he should quietly pity his parents instead.

I'm certainly not saying that the reader should never come out to his parents. However, taking into account everything that the reader put in his email to me, it seems to me that now isn't the right time. Unfortunately homosexuality has become a major issue in the family, and pushing the issue at this stage is likely to cause a major breakdown in the relationship between the reader and his parents. Much better would be for the reader to follow his own plan and come out when his studies are over, hopefully when he's got a stable job and perhaps a boyfriend as well :-). Meanwhile, I also see no advantage of him being a pro-gay campaigner with his parents or his sister either, especially if his father is secretly gay or bisexual. For now a better plan would probably be to avoid the issue with all of them, and try to let the situation calm down over time while making the most of the freedom that he has outside the family home. Indeed, his email gives the impression that he's quite able to be gay when away from home, so for now keeping quiet at home might not be too big a burden.

Another thought is that the reader is still a teenager, and it does bother me a bit that he says that he's gay but also uncomfortable with physical intimacy with other guys. Sometimes teenagers like to rebel against their parents, and deliberately do things that are opposite to what their parents would want. Again, I don't think this is likely, but it's not inconceivable that some teenagers could subconsciously make the decision to be gay simply as a way of upsetting their parents if they know that their parents hate gay people. So particularly in this case where homosexuality is such a big issue in the family, before coming out to his parents I think it would be best for the reader to have had some intimate gay experiences, just to check that he really is gay after all. Another advantage of this is that the more gay experiences a guy has, the more confidence he develops in his lifestyle, and confidence certainly helps in difficult family situations.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the reader's situation?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The boyfriend, the alcoholic ex-boyfriend, and the blog reader

Last week, I received an email from a reader about the two main relationships that he's had in his life, which is a sad and fascinating story. The email was as follows:

Dear GB,

I stumbled upon your Blog a few weeks ago and I must say, it's riveting! Firstly I suspect we're of a similar age, and from what I gather, have similar interests and outlook in life, so I relate to much of what you say in your blog. Secondly, you write with a refreshingly honest approach, fluid and natural, it makes for a good read. Thank you. However, my email has a double purpose. I'd be very interested to hear your advice on something that has, and continues to be a big problem in my life. I'll try and keep it brief.

I met my now ex-boyfriend 'A' when I was 28, he was 26 and a thoroughly nice, attractive and fun young guy. I had not had a boyfriend prior to him, I hadn't even come out really, though shortly after we got together I introduced him to my family and they embraced both my being gay and having a partner. His family, after sometime getting use to the idea also accepted me. For the next 10 years we had a very successful relationship. We enjoyed each other's company, had numerous wonderful holidays abroad, a nice home, and were extremely loyal to each other living a monogamous relationship. However, throughout this period 'A' was always a heavy drinker, what started in the early years as a bottle of wine every night progressed to two bottles, then slowly ended up being a problem that took over his life. In around the 10th year of our relationship I returned from a business trip to discover empty wine bottles hidden in a cupboard. I thought this to be unusual as 'A' had never hidden his drinking at all. I also noticed that he was smelling of alcohol at eleven o clock in the morning. Thank goodness I was at home with him that morning as 'A' collapsed with an alcohol induced seizure, the first of many! I had never seen such a traumatic thing in my life. 'A' spent the rest of that day in hospital and I finally accepted that his drinking was now an addiction. Over the next two years, despite pleading with him to get help and stop, he wouldn't. I tried just about everything imaginable to help him, but to no avail. I became his carer and my life just stopped. I became isolated from friends and even more importantly my family, both of which were starting to say that I should walk away before his drinking destroyed both of us.

Then, one afternoon, while 'A' was sleeping off his mornings drinking, I met 'B' a beautiful young guy (via an ad) for some 'no strings' fun. I'd never done anything like this before, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated at not having any kind of physical Interaction with a guy ('A' and I had at this point been sleeping apart for some time).

'B' and I had agreed to meet that afternoon. Immediately upon meeting we were both instantly attracted to each other, despite there being an age gap. After a lovely afternoon we decided to keep in touch. I was honest with him and told him of my situation with 'A', and 'B' was incredibly understanding and said that he wanted to help me. Over the next couple of months 'B' and I became close. We were slowly falling in love.

Both my parents and friends had been telling me for some time that I had to leave 'A' as there was nothing left to do, that I wasn't able to save him, time to ask him to leave our home. 'B' was keen to move in with me, though looking back it was way too early for this to happen because I'd not sorted out or officially ended my relationship with 'A'. However, I decided to send 'A' abroad to stay with some friends of his. They knew about our situation and felt that it could be a good idea as there were some excellent doctors in the part of the world where they lived who specialised in alcohol related addictions and they were more affordable long term than the treatment programs in the UK. So 'A' reluctantly travelled abroad to give the treatment program a try, but after only a week, he returned. His friends found looking after him for just a week exhausting and couldn't cope. 'A' simply didn't want to stop drinking.

At the time that 'A' had left to go abroad for the treatment program I had thought optimistically that he would be away for several months and return sober, healthy and in a position to move on with his life and accept that irreparable damage had been done to our relationship. But as I said, this was not meant to be.

During 'A's week abroad I'd moved boyfriend 'B' into my home. In hindsight this was, of course, an utterly ridiculous thing to do. Not only was it too early to start a proper relationship with another guy, it was incredibly traumatic for 'A' when he returned, making his drinking even worse. It was 'B' that insisted I not let 'A' back into my home, and effectively packed up 'A's personal possessions and took them to the door for him to collect. I think looking back, I moved boyfriend 'B' in with me in order to keep 'A' away as I knew that I was getting close to cracking with the relentless pressure of looking after an alcoholic. But I should never have allowed 'B' to pack up 'A's things and throw him out of the home that we had shared for 11 years. I stood by and allowed this to happen and I deeply regret this.

Over the next year, 'A' stayed on people's sofas, continuing to drink. I had planned to raise further funds to buy 'A' out of the home we owned together, he would then be able to buy himself a decent flat in the same area. I would see him often, drinking alone in local bars as I passed by doing my local food shop. I would often invite him back to our home to cook him a proper meal, he would come surprisingly, despite my new boyfriend 'B' being there, but he was of course always intoxicated with alcohol. It's important to note that at this point I still loved 'A' and cared about him enormously, but he was an alcoholic, he didn't want to stop drinking and had become unrecognisable from the bright joyful guy that I had fallen in love with. 'B' could see that I still loved and cared for 'A' and was trying to make me cut 'A' from my life completely.

Things continued like this for about a year, until one evening, after I'd returned from a business trip for two weeks abroad, I called 'A' to see if he would like to come over to the home for dinner with myself and boyfriend 'B'. 'A' turned up looking extremely ill, I could see that something was very wrong. The next day I insisted that he go to see his doctor, who after hearing my plea that 'A' looked like he was dying and something needed to be done immediately, agreed and sent him straight to the nearest accident and emergency department. 'A' was admitted to hospital but over the next few days his health deteriorated rapidly. His liver was giving up.

I cannot put into words how I felt seeing someone that I loved, lying there fighting for their life because of an addiction. Of course it was inevitable that he was going to end up in this place, his drinking had been un-stoppable. I don't believe you can cure an addict because they have to want to cure themselves. An addict will be able to go to the most extraordinary lengths to get their fix. 'A' stayed in hospital for over three months. I visited nearly every day, often feeding him as he was too weak to pick up a spoon. Throughout this period boyfriend 'B' was unaware of all these visits. He was aware and saddened of 'A's condition, but felt it the right time to make a final cut from 'A'. Many of my close friends and family were also saying the same thing. They all took the common belief that 'A's condition was 'self-inflicted'. The good news is that 'A' survived. Finally he wanted to survive, he wanted to cure himself, he wanted back his life. But he wanted his life back with me!

I had moved on, I was now a few years into a new relationship with 'B'. I had not predicted that 'A' would finally give up alcohol and return to his old self. Everyone said that it wasn't possible, that he had gone past the point of no return, that I was to prepare myself for the worst, move on and try and find happiness with someone else in the future.

I'd met 'B' who was a shoulder to cry on during all of this, he was more adult than 'A' and although we had a different relationship to the one I had with 'A', (probably due to the fact that there was an age difference and we hadn't both started out in life together in our early years), we had a good life together and a great physical relationship like one I'd never really experienced before.

But boyfriend 'B' made it perfectly clear that if our relationship had a fighting chance then I would have to have nothing to do with 'A' upon him leaving hospital. I agreed to this, though deep down I knew I wouldn't be able to stick by my word.

Over the following two to three years 'A' didn't touch a drop of alcohol. He made an amazing recovery. I rented a lovely flat for him so that he could rest and get back on his feet. I also took care of all his financial affairs so that he had nothing to worry about apart from getting better. I was extremely proud of him. We stayed in touch of course, meeting regularly for coffee and chats, but always I kept these meetings from boyfriend 'B'. Sometimes 'B' found out that I was still meeting up with 'A', he would find text's on my phone and would then get upset. Understandably, he was my partner now, and had been for a few years at this point, so why was I still seeing my ex when I knew full well that my ex desperately wanted me back.

Increasingly I felt that I had two boyfriends. I had never really stopped loving 'A' but was forced to leave him as there seemed at the time to be no end to his alcoholism. That's the only reason I went looking for a 'B'.

A year ago I sold the home that 'A' and myself bought 12 years ago and gave 'A' half of the profits. My earnings were always significantly higher than 'A's and it was me that really supported our lifestyle, and certainly while he was in his deepest drinking years I covered all of our expenses. But, we were a partnership and I wanted him to have an equal share of the profits from our home. 'A' had been used to a nice life, and for the most part he had been a good, loyal partner to me, so I wanted to make sure he had enough money to look after himself.

Since selling our home which was the last tie that we had together, 'A' moved into a flat alone and 'B' came with me to my new home. Over the last year 'A' realised that I was trying to make a go of things and commit to 'B', and has since started drinking again (though nowhere near the amount as before). He seems to be able to stick to a limit, he never gets drunk, but starts drinking larger, slowly from mid-day till midnight. He says that if I take him back then he would stop again and maybe he would. He says that the only reason he stopped drinking for three years was for me, to prove to me that he loved me, and that he could live a life without alcohol for me. However, he also blames me for his drinking in the first place. He has said that I didn't show him enough love and that I was always difficult to reach emotionally. There are some truths in this, but back then I was a young ambitious guy working hard and excelling in a notoriously difficult profession, he was aware of my passion on day one of meeting me. That passion enabled us to have lovely homes, regular expensive holidays, shopping trips, eating out in expensive restaurants, all the things that you think you want in your 20's and 30's. I was also loyal to 'A', and supported him in everything he wanted to do in life. I always showed him kindness and generosity. I was not always forth-coming with talking about feelings and emotions, I simply didn't feel the need to discuss these things. But, can my above short-comings really drive someone to almost kill themselves with alcohol? Or, is it really down to his genes and other more complicated issues (there is a history of alcohol abuse within his family). He seems to think not.

My problem is this: for the past five years now, despite everything, I still love and care about 'A'. The physical attraction has gone, I'm not sure why this is, but I can be sure about this. He is still very much in love with me and despite knowing full well that I'm trying to make a go of things with 'B', he is still hanging on for me.

Boyfriend 'B' is asking me to finally Let go of 'A' as he understandingly wants his partner to himself.

In conclusion, I'm now at a point where I have to choose between the two, I cannot possibly continue living my life like this having in effect, two partners. Neither of us are happy with the situation. If I decide to stick with boyfriend 'B', I know we'll have a good life together, he's reasonably solid as a person, very adult for his young years, and he shows me a great deal of love and care. My only fault with 'B' is that he needs to get a job, he takes advantage of my generosity, but we've talked about this and he's trying to fix that issue. There is also a strong physical attraction between the two us.

If however I decided to go back to 'A', although It would be wonderful to have my soul buddy back in my life and enjoy many of the things we enjoyed back then together, despite his assurances, he might never stop drinking and his liver could give up at any point like a ticking time bomb. 'A' says that if I decide to continue my life with 'B' then he never wants to see me again. For his own emotional survival he couldn't bear to see me with 'B'. So that would be the end, which seems a shame as if I did decide to stay put with 'B', I would love to remain friends with 'A'.

I worry about 'A'. I worry about what will happen to him if I don't take him back. What if his drinking spirals out of control again? Who will be there to pick him up off the floor if he were to ever have another seizure? Will I feel guilty for the rest of my life that I left him alone to fend for himself knowing full well that his life could take a turn for the worse if he continues drinking? Am I allowed to go on to have a nice life with boyfriend 'B'?

I can't help feeling that I should walk away from both 'A' and 'B' and start again, probably alone for a while. My reason for thinking this is quite simply out of fairness to all of us. This way there are no winners.

But what do you think GB? Thank you for taking the time to read this, and any thoughts on the above would be greatly appreciated. I would of course understand if this is a bit on the 'heavy' side of things and not something you would like to advise on.

Kind regards,

When I read the email for the second time, I chuckled to myself when I got to the line at the end of the first paragraph which says "I'll try and keep it brief". It's certainly not a brief email, but if the reader had left anything out, it might not have fully described his situation.

There are several similarities between this reader's situation and my own situation. I also ended up splitting up from my first long-term boyfriend (i.e. ex-boyfriend S a.k.a. boyfriend number 1), and a health problem certainly played a significant part in the break-up. In my case, it was my boyfriend's mental health that was the problem, and in particular his depression. However, it's now almost 10 years since the problems with ex-boyfriend S first arose and over 5 years since he moved out of my house, and I now have an excellent friendship with him. I've realised that ex-boyfriend S is effectively part of my family now, and I have the same kind of feelings for him that I'd have for a close brother. Ex-boyfriend T understood this, and luckily boyfriend K understands this too, and as such things seem to work fine between all concerned. In my case, the fact that ex-boyfriend S has dated other guys has been a big help, because it helped both ex-boyfriend T and boyfriend K see that ex-boyfriend S isn't any kind of threat to their relationship with me. This is a big statement to make, but the way I feel is that I couldn't be boyfriends with a guy who didn't accept that ex-boyfriend S will always be an important part of my life.

It seems to me that the reader here has the same kind of feelings for his ex-boyfriend A that I have with ex-boyfriend S. Nothing is likely to change that, so any boyfriend that the reader ends up with needs to accept that fact. However, the fact that ex-boyfriend A would like to become boyfriends with the reader again complicates the situation enormously, so it's easy to understand why boyfriend B is trying to insist that the reader completely stops seeing ex-boyfriend A.

It's clear that ex-boyfriend A has a personality that succumbs to addiction, and to some extent it may be that he's become "addicted" to the reader. But for the reader, even if he splits up with boyfriend B, I can't see that another relationship with ex-boyfriend A would ever work. The reader has moved on, and trying to recapture what made their old relationship work would be like trying to recapture the way one felt in childhood. The reader's interest in A is now fraternal, and without the physical attraction that the reader once had for A there really is no hope that they can become boyfriends again. All the things that ex-boyfriend A has been saying recently, about how he ended up as an alcoholic because of the reader and about how his family history is irrelevant to his drinking problem seem ridiculous to me. Saying those things also sounds very childish and selfish too, given that ex-boyfriend A can see that the reader now has a good relationship with boyfriend B. He seems to be trying to manipulate the reader, and interfere with the reader's relationship with boyfriend B, and that's an appalling thing for a close friend or brother to do. Ex-boyfriend A is basically trying to blackmail the reader into a relationship with him, which is another reason why it'll never work because you can't start a relationship like that and expect it to work. In any case, it would be foolish of the reader to think that ex-boyfriend A could keep his promise to stay away from alcohol for very long, in the event that they did try and become boyfriends again. The reader needs to find as many ways as possible to try and make ex-boyfriend A understand that although the reader is prepared to play some part in his life, they're never ever going to be boyfriends again.

Regarding the reader, it sounds like he's been taking far too much responsibility for ex-boyfriend A's life. Ex-boyfriend A will always be there (unless his drinking finally ends up ending his life) so if the reader wants to have a life of his own, with boyfriend B or someone else, then he needs to let go to some extent. The reader needs to accept that he can't be responsible for what happens to ex-boyfriend A, and that it's not his fault if the worst finally happens and ex-boyfriend A does kill himself with drink. The reader has already done more than most other people would have done in the same situation. As I said above, I think the best way for the reader to think about ex-boyfriend A is as a needy brother, because that way of describing it captures both the kind of love that the reader now has for him, and that fact that they'll always be connected in some way. But if the reader can't have less to do with ex-boyfriend A to some extent, then I don't think he has enough emotional bandwidth for there to be anyone else in his life, whether it's boyfriend B or someone else.

Another thing that the reader has been doing which he shouldn't have been doing is meeting ex-boyfriend A without boyfriend B's knowledge. The fact that in the past the reader has tried to hide his friendship with ex-boyfriend A will only have fuelled boyfriend B's suspicions when the reader's meetings with ex-boyfriend A have been discovered. Obviously, the reader has been doing this because ex-boyfriend A has been a significant point of tension in his relationship with boyfriend B. But apart from the issue of ex-boyfriend A, it sounds like the reader has a very good relationship with boyfriend B, and it would be a pity to see this relationship come to an end. I have a lot of sympathy for boyfriend B's position because the reader has been far too involved with ex-boyfriend A. Additionally it sounds as though boyfriend B is a thoroughly sensible chap. Nonetheless if boyfriend B can't accept that ex-boyfriend A is now like some kind of brother to the reader, then I don't think that his relationship with the reader can continue. If boyfriend B and the reader do split up, then if the reader can become more detached from ex-boyfriend A, I think the best thing for the reader would be to find a new boyfriend who can accept that ex-boyfriend A is part of the reader's life. But if the reader can't become more detached, then I think the reader is relegating himself into some kind of carer role again, because as I said above I don't think there's any future in a relationship between the reader and ex-boyfriend A.

In summary, it sounds to me like the reader has had the wrong balance in his life between ex-boyfriend A and boyfriend B. I'm not suggesting a split with either or both, simply that the reader needs to focus more on boyfriend B and less on ex-boyfriend A, and accept that he's not responsible for what happens to ex-boyfriend A. Also, any interactions that the reader has with ex-boyfriend A shouldn't be hidden from boyfriend B. The mature thing for boyfriend B to do would be to be as friendly as possible to ex-boyfriend A, having confidence that ex-boyfriend A isn't a threat to his relationship with the reader. Ideally boyfriend B would adopt a kind of "good Samaritan" approach because ex-boyfriend A clearly needs help sorting his life out. Because ex-boyfriend A is important to the reader, and because the reader is boyfriend B's boyfriend, then ex-boyfriend A should be important to boyfriend B as well.

My main concern about all these ideas is that I've used my own situation with ex-boyfriend S and boyfriend K as a model for how to the reader might solve his problems. Although there are some similarities in our situations, there are some differences too, and it could be that I'm trying too hard to make what works for me work for the reader. So does anyone else have any thoughts on this reader's situation?

Friday, February 21, 2014

How to behave when visiting a Japanese onsen

Through the banks that I've worked for, I've had quite a few business trips to Tokyo. Indeed, at one point I worked for a Japanese bank in London, and I used to go to Tokyo regularly to visit their head office. The experience of working for the Japanese was the start of my interest in Japanese culture, and as a result, I've now also had three sight-seeing holidays to Japan with different boyfriends. The first was with ex-boyfriend S, the second was with ex-boyfriend T, and the third was much more recently with boyfriend K.

To the Western mind, there are many curious and fascinating things about Japan. All the Japanese people that I've ever met are super-polite, and on average I think they're much more polite than the people from any other country that I've visited. They're also often a bit shy and reserved. That makes the culture associated with bathing in an onsen all the more unexpected, because getting completely naked with strangers in a bath isn't the kind of thing that you usually associate with shy or reserved people.

An onsen is a large steamy bath that uses the hot spring water that naturally bubbles to the surface in volcanically active countries like Japan. In areas where hot spring water occurs, there'll be public onsen where people can go to bathe, in much the same way that there are public swimming baths in countries like the UK where people can go and swim. Additionally some hotels, and especially the traditional Japanese inns called ryokan, provide onsens for the use of their guests. In areas where there isn't any naturally occurring hot spring water, ryokans will still generally provide communal bathing areas which just use ordinary heated water and which work in exactly the same way as the genuine onsens.

Given the reserved nature of Japanese people, I originally assumed that onsens would be like swimming pools in the UK, in the sense that one would wear something like a swimming costume when bathing in the hot spring water. But they're not like that at all. They're segregated by gender, and once inside everyone is completely naked. I've seen quite a few explanations about how to behave when visiting an onsen, and I always think that it's amusing if that is not stated very clearly. And as one might expect given their reserved culture, it's the explanations written by Japanese people that tend to gloss over that fact!

So, here's GB's guide on how to behave when visiting an onsen. It's based on my own experiences, together with my observations of the way that Japanese men behave when bathing:
  1. Before entering the onsen there may be an area for people to leave their shoes or slippers, and if so, use it.

  2. Once inside, the first area will be where you leave all your clothes. This area may also contain things like towels, hairdryers, disposable razors, disposable toothbrushes, sinks and toilets etc. In any case, take off all your clothes straight away and leave them here in the baskets or lockers provided.

  3. Having removed all your clothes, go into the next area and sit on a stool in front of the taps and shower heads, (see adjacent picture). Wash yourself thoroughly before getting into the large steamy bath.

  4. I've seen two sorts of towels being used in onsens. Big bath towels are used for drying oneself in the area where you leave your clothes. On the other hand, much smaller towels are used in the area where you wash and bathe. I've seen the smaller towels used like a flannel for washing yourself, and also being worn as a kind of hat or headband while in the communal bath. However, I've also seen a notice saying that wetting or rinsing these small towels in the communal bath is bad etiquette.

  5. Another key thing to avoid is getting into the communal bath while there is still soap on your body, so make sure that all shampoo or soap has been washed off before getting in.
I've seen literally all ages of Japanese guys use onsens. On my recent trip to Japan with boyfriend K, I saw a father bring in his very young son who was probably only about seven years old to teach him how to behave in an onsen. I've also seen a father with his son who was probably around twenty years old. So although the prospect of bathing naked with other guys might be a bit of a turn on for some gay men, in fact onsens have a kind of family / locker-room type of atmosphere and don't feel at all cruisey.

Bathing in hot spring water is very relaxing, and my best guess is that the rituals associated with onsens relate to the fact that in most areas the hot water bubbles to the surface quite slowly. So one can't quickly change the water in an onsen, and similarly if there's not much genuine hot spring water to go round then everyone needs to share. Hence people need to be clean before they get in, because no one wants to share the water with dirty people or with people who haven't washed themselves properly and still have soap on their bodies.

Lastly, there's an obvious advantage to being gay when using an onsen. If a guy has a girlfriend, then they have to bathe separately, however when a guy has a boyfriend then they can both bathe together :-).

Monday, February 03, 2014

Dinner with Kenski

Between 2007 and 2010, I occasionally met up with other bloggers for dinner on a one-to-one basis. For each blogger that I met I did a blog post, and there's an index of all these posts under the title "Bloggers that I've met" in this blog's right-hand side bar. I always find it interesting meeting new people like this, so I was very happy when a few days ago an opportunity arose to go out for dinner with Kenski :-). Over the years, Kenski has had more than one blog, but occasionally he moves on and deletes his old blogs. So the fact that his current blog only has postings from September 2010 doesn't do justice to his blogging output.

Kenski first left a comment on this blog back in August 2008, and he's been a regular commenter ever since. In general, I've always found his comments to be very insightful, and so I'd been interested in meeting up with him for quite a while. But we're both busy guys, with the result that for a long time it hadn't been possible. However, early in January we agreed to make time to meet up, so after a bit of negotiation a date and a restaurant were chosen so we were all set.

The day arrives and I'm in a taxi on the way to the restaurant when I get a txt msg from Kenski to let me know that he's already there:
Hi, arrived. Having a martini at the bar ;) I would appear to be the only one at the front of the bar with something of a beard who isn't a lesbian
Immediately I know that it's going to be a good evening :-).

Just like meeting guys for activities, one never really knows what someone's going to look like or what their personality will be like until you actually meet them. So the first face-to-face contact with someone is always an interesting moment.

"Hi, Kenski I presume :-)?" I say to, presenting myself to the only person who fits the description that he sent me in the txt msg.

"Errr, yes :-), hi!" says Kenski looking slightly nervous.

"So are the martinis any good?" I ask, trying to break the ice.

"OK I guess …"

"Actually, I can see that they've got my favourite gin, so perhaps I'll just have a G 'n' T :-)" I say decisively.

A waitress interrupts us to ask whether we'd like to go to our table immediately, but with Kenski's glass still almost full and with my gin and tonic on the way, we decide to start the evening sitting at the bar.

"Sorry that I dragged you over to this restaurant …" starts Kenski.

"No problem," I interrupt, "I've never been here and it looks great, a perfect venue for a meeting like this :-)."

"Well there's this gig that I told you about that I'd really like to go to that starts around 10pm," explains Kenski, "but now that we're here I don't need to worry because it's just round the corner :-)."

A lot of Kenski's blogging has been about his music hobby, and as the evening unfolds it becomes even clearer to me how important this is to him.

The conversation gradually becomes easier as we start getting to know each other, and once we've finished our aperitifs, we move to our table to get something to eat.

"Thanks so much for all the comments that you've left on my blog over the years," I say, "you've always got some useful points to make on those Dear GB posts that I do :-)."

"Well, I think I've made just about all the relationship mistakes that it's possible to make, and more besides," laughs Kenski, "so I guess that gives me a useful perspective for some of those readers that write in to you!"

We look at the menu and before too long we've ordered our food, together with a bottle of red wine. During the course of the evening, we talk about many things, but one subject that we keep returning to is our current and past relationships. It turns out that we're both on our fourth boyfriend.

"The first three guys that I was with only lasted for a year or two, but it's now been well over ten years with the fourth guy," says Kenski, smiling, "and I think, I hope, we're pretty solid :-)."

"Whereas I've only been with boyfriend K for a little over ten weeks!" I say, shaking my head at my own relationship failures, "But I really hope that boyfriend K will be The One :-). I was with my first boyfriend, boyfriend number 1, for about eighteen years, but since then things haven't lasted nearly so long :-(."

"Do you ever see boyfriend number 1?" asks Kenski.

"Yes, actually he's still got a key to my house!" I reply, "Obviously we went through a difficult patch, otherwise we'd still be boyfriends. But these days he's like a brother to me :-). I don't think I could be boyfriends with a guy if he didn’t get on well with boyfriend number 1."

"Anyway," I continue, "seems like you're a little less busy at work at the moment, given that we've finally managed to arrange to meet each other :-)."

"Thankfully my current project will be finished in a couple of months or so," replies Kenski, "and after that I think I'm going to take a bit of a break. I can't help thinking that I need a career change."

"I get the impression that you don't really enjoy your work," I tell him, thinking back to some for the things that he'd told me in emails that he'd sent me last year.

"My job pays the bills nicely, but my heart isn't in it. But I don't know what else I could do which would give me a similar level of income."

"Have you heard about the 10,000 hours that you need to become good at something?" he continues.

"Actually yes," I reply, "a friend of mine told me about it. The way he phrased it was, you need to spend 10,000 hours doing something to become world class at it."

"I'd love to turn my music hobby into a career, but I don't think I've spent nearly enough time on it to be good enough :-|."

We talk a bit about more about his career and I get the impression that if Kenski has any problems in his life, it's trying to find a way of doing something he enjoys and believes in, and which also gives him a decent income.

The time passes quickly and before we know it, it's time to go.

"Do you mind if we pay the bill now," says Kenski suddenly, looking at his watch, "I've just noticed the time and if I don't go soon, I'll miss this gig after all!"

It took well over a year to arrange this dinner but it's been a great evening, every bit as enjoyable as I hoped it would be :-). Maybe we'll be able to meet up again, perhaps when Kenski's current project finally finishes. In any case, hopefully it won't take another year to arrange our next meeting!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Email from a reader who's not sure about his sexuality

Just before the New Year, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB

Just came across your blog and thought you might be of help? :)

I'm 27 and British Indian (if such a thing exists LOL). Born and raised in London. Anyways, since I can remember I've been attracted to boys, not till I was in late High School that I started thinking I'm gay! Still today I've not told a single person nor has anyone guessed. There have been moments where I thought I could be bi or even straight?! Have never met anyone (guy or girl) who I felt was the one ;( ! I even used a few dating sites and met up with a couple girls but nothing. No spark between us.

Currently I feed my feeling with good old porn and hand jobs ;) (daily). But can't help ogling guys in public, at work, on TV and weirdly some cousins! But some part of me thinks having the perfect girlfriend would make me feel just as good? Expect sexually? I think? I do use Grindr but again no one who sticks ;(. In case I haven't been clear I'm a virgin, sad I know LOL.

Anyways I feel I'm getting older and will never find someone (guy or girl). You may be thinking I should "come out" but as you may know it's tough and not willing to break my close family over.

Any advice would be great. Thanks.

I certainly don't think that this reader should "come out" because his sexuality is very unclear. I also wouldn't say that it's "sad" that the reader is still a virgin. I think it would be sad if he forced himself into intimate situations with another guy if he doesn't feel comfortable with that, in the same way that it would be sad if he forced himself to marry a woman as a result of social pressure to be straight.

It's interesting that the reader says that he's attracted to other guys, whereas he doesn't say that he's also attracted to girls. There's nothing wrong with that of course, because some guys aren't attracted to girls and fancy guys instead :-). It's also interesting that he says that he's met up with a couple of girls, whereas he hasn't said that he's met up with any guys. So it seems that he's forcing himself to try and be straight, because he says he fancies guys but he tries meeting up with girls.

My guess is that the reader has some mental barrier which is preventing him from exploring whether he really does want a relationship with another guy. To help him break down the barrier, I think the next step is to actually meet a guy face to face. To find guys to meet he could use Grindr or any other gay dating apps or web sites. Just because the reader meets up with a guy from Grindr, it doesn't necessarily mean that he's gay. Initially I'd suggest that he just finds guys to chat to and takes it from there. It's true that Grindr is oriented towards helping guys hook-up for sex, but as long as the reader is clear about what he's looking for then it should be OK. Perhaps his profile should say something like "bi-curious, looking to meet for a chat" or something like that.

One good thing is that this reader lives in London, because in general London is a very tolerant city so it's a good place to experiment with one's sexuality :-). It may well turn out that this reader is like the married guy with some gay characteristics and that marrying a woman will suit him best. However, until he explores his attraction to men a bit more, then he's not going to know what's right for him.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this reader's email?

Update 6-Jan-2014: The day after I posted this reader's first email, he saw my response and sent me another email which was as follows:

I read your response and greatly thank you for it! You've really shed some light on my 'situation'. Some good advice and perspective on where I am. Thank you.

To expand/add some points...
  1. Regarding girls, it's right I'm not physically attracted to them but now think it's more mental / yin yang attraction? Like all gay stereotypes, girl parts put me off lol. Even if they are super hot I'd look and appreciate it but can never get sexually aroused? It's been like this since I can remember?
  2. Having a intimate situation with another guy doesn't feel right because I feel it needs to be someone I know or can trust. Plus I don't like lying to family and this would be the ultimate sin? But I do agree that marrying a woman for me is partly social pressure. Maybe what I need is a bi girl? Lol.
  3. I do use Grindr and have tried other apps/sites with little luck :(. I can't seem to find a guy who really wants to get to know me / understand me etc. Saying that, I have chatted to one guy for sometime now and had some cam wanks lol ;). He seems cool, but again there's no commitment? He never responds or does after weeks?! Never wants to go deeper than sexual. Anyways I am still looking, but like you said, it's mainly for guys looking for quick sex ;(. I'm hoping I'll see someone I know from school/college/Uni which would be great!
Thanks again.

His 1st and 2nd points suggest to me that he does need to explore his attraction to other guys. If he can't get sexually aroused with girls then I think it would be a mistake to try and have a relationship with a girl because it wouldn't be fair on her, even if she is bi. Also, thinking about a bi girl is avoiding the issue, namely that the reader is attracted to men!

I don't think being intimate with another guy would mean that he's lying to his family. I think trying to pretend that he's happy in a relationship with a girl is far more like lying, because that would be visible. If he's intimate with another guy, then if he's careful, no one in his family will find out. Also, for a single guy like the reader, I don't see understand why intimacy with anyone is a sin.

I've said it many times before but when dating, which includes using apps/sites to find a date in the first place, confidence is the the most important attribute. I can't help thinking that he's finding it hard to find what he wants because he's not confident enough. Perhaps in addition to using the apps he should visit some gay bars in e.g. Old Compton Street, even if he doesn't talk to anyone. The purpose of doing that would be to gain a bit of confidence that there's nothing wrong with gay people. Although a lot of guys on Grindr are just there for the sex, there's no doubt in my mind that there are other guys there who're looking for the same thing as this reader.

Anyway, other people's thoughts are still welcome :-).