Monday, April 30, 2007

Gay living neighbourhoods in London

Last Friday, I received the following e-mail from a gay guy who's going to be moving to London:

Dear GB,

I have been following your blog for quite a while and I have to say that I am most impressed by your writing. To put it shortly: you write well.

But I am not writing just to praise your writing. I am going to move to London in September to study Law and am wondering if you could recommend a gay neighbourhood in which to live, sort of like the Village and Chelsea were in New York (and where Hell's Kitchen is becoming). Not just a neighbourhood to go to for fun, but to live in. I have lived in a gay neighbourhood in Chicago before ('Boystown') and I had a really good time. It's just that I feel more at ease, and enjoy the almost palpable sexual energy in the air, in a gay ghetto than in a conventional neighbourhood. I know segregation is not good, and that integration is important, but I suppose for myself, I just want to live somewhere I can be absolutely comfortable in, where cruising boys is not only safe but also acceptable.

So: not sure if you could help with this?

Many thanks in advance!

It's a good question. But in fact, I don't think we really have a neighbourhood like New York's Village or San Francisco's Castro here in London.

Old Compton Street, SohoThe gay centre of London is in Soho, but it's not really an area where many people live. It is possible to live there of course, but being right in the very centre of London it's quite expensive. For example, looking on Foxton's web site this morning, the cheapest place to rent was £265 a week, but with only 195 square feet it's very small!

The People's Republic of IslingtonHistorically, the residential areas with a higher proportion of gay people have been the areas where people mainly voted for the Labour party. So places like Camden and Islington. Back in 1997 when Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister for the first time, he was living in Islington. But again, because Camden and Islington are both quite central, they too can be quite expensive.

Like many old European cities, the cheaper places to live tend to be in the East, and the more expensive ones in the West. Apparently, the reason that this pattern is repeated across lots of cities relates to the fact that the wind tends to blow from West to East. So when everyone had coal fires, the west side of a city was more desirable because the air blowing in was fresh, whereas the people living in the east of the city had to suffer the smoke from the people in the west! Hence Bow and Whitechapel in the East are cheaper places than Kensington and Notting Hill in the West.

All the places that I've mentioned above are in North London of course. South London is another possibility. But apart from Soho, none of the places that I've mentioned are particularly gay. Perhaps that's a good thing though, because as the reader suggests, in principle integration is preferable to segregation.

Do any other readers have any thoughts on this subject?

Friday, April 27, 2007

An update on all my boyfriends

Although I've been a bit quiet on the subject recently, I'm still seeing various guys for fun :-). Back in February, including boyfriend number 1 there were six guys that got some kind of Valentine's day wish from me. Since then I've met all of them at least once, except boyfriend number 2 because he lives in a different country. But if all goes well I hope to visit him soon.

Boyfriend number 3 has been getting on well with the guy that he's been seeing on and off for ages now, so unfortunately he's had less time for me. But I did see him last Wednesday :-). He was in quite a horny mood because almost as soon as I got through the door he had me strip off, so we had a fun time together as usual. He's always really anxious in case his main man finds out that he plays around, even though it quite a casual arrangement, and even though they've never agreed monogamy. I told him that he should just tell this guy that he's committed to him, but on a 'non-exclusive basis'!

I still see my gorgeous Japanese masseur too. Sometimes we go running together along the river, but I'm never quite sure what the situation is with his business partner who's also gay. I'm sure they've been boyfriends in the past, and somehow the business partner makes me feel that I'm intruding on his patch. But the last two times I saw my gorgeous Japanese masseur we had very enjoyable sessions, although I won't see him for a couple of weeks now because his family will soon be visiting him from rural Japan.

Unfortunately I've only seen the cute Chinese guy once since last November. We hooked up a few weeks ago after work. On that occasion, he told me that he's working very late most weekdays, and also going abroad on business a lot too. I can imagine that I'll carry on seeing him occasionally, on a very irregular basis.

The last guy that I sent a Valentine's day wish to was the wonderful guy that I first met in mid-January. In total now, I've only seen him three times. I think he's more interested in finding a full time boyfriend, rather than hooking up with guys like me. I last saw him in mid March, and since then he hasn't responded to my occasional txt msgs. Perhaps I'll send him one more txt msg, and if he doesn't reply to that one either then I'll have to assume that he's not interested any more :-(.

Apart from that, I've also met a few new guys of course :-). After all, variety is the spice of life!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Email from a young gay guy in a long distance relationship

A few days ago, I received the following e-mail.

Dear GB,

I'm a Malaysian American guy who's been living mostly in Milan since I was 10. Now in my final year of my masters in economics and finance in Switzerland and about to do a summer internship at a major investment bank in NYC, I discovered your blog yesterday and read almost through all of it, as you do when you're student with nothing better to do. Really enjoy the way you're writing about your life and your stories about your bf nr. 2 and 3 etc. totally remind me of the feeling of infatuation I had when I first fell in love. Such a huge turn on and so much better than all the pornographic crap one normally reads! I know you don't respond to offers that would compromise your true identity, so just take this as a flattering ego boost ;-) And if you ever decide to contact me for some fun in the future, you can find me on fridae or gaydar
[NB: profile names deleted, but he's definitely an attractive guy :-)].

Now here's my situation: I've been together with this British expat in Singapore for over 2 years. He's older than me and has a successful banking career, which bothered me in the beginning because I didn't want to have a sugar daddy, but I guess I just got used to being spoilt :-) Got to know him first when I was there for an exchange semester, then lived together with him last year when I did an internship there, but for the rest of the time we had a long-distance thing going on with talking almost every day via Skype and seeing each other every 2 months for just a week. Looking back now, I'm amazed that we've made it so far, especially since neither of us believed in long-distance relationships. And now, coincidentally, he's relocating to NYC so we'll be able to live together during my internship.

The problem is that he's just confessed to me today, after 2 1/2 years of "relationship", that he lied about his age. Suddenly he became 16 years older than me instead of 10 originally. I was clearly shocked but remained calm and rational during the conversation, constantly wondering how stupid I was not to notice it myself. But afterwards I went out for a run and that's when I became really furious and confused...

He started off by telling me how difficult this has been for him and that he wanted to tell me about this much earlier but never found the right moment. And he fully acknowledges the fact that the later he tells me this, the more upset I would be. In a way I can understand the difficulties of his situation, but still can't help feeling betrayed and disappointed. I told him that from my perspective, he should have come clean to me about this when our relationship had become "serious" and there was "feelings" involved. I've read that you have an "internet age" yourself, so it would be very interesting to hear from you when it's a good time to confess one's offline age.

The truth is however, that I'm completely capable and willing to forgive his "white lie", but what's really bothering me is simply the fact that he's 16 years older than me and could almost be my father! Being Asian, I've always been suspicious about those interracial, sugar daddy-gold digger relationships which are so common. Just talked to my Asian fag hag who's in a relationship with a Danish guy and she has been suffering from the same kind of social (mis)perception, especially when they were in living in Shanghai last year, probably one of the most materialistic places nowadays. I've always promised myself not to become one of those stereotypical gold digger type which I find degrading, so if I do stay together with my bf, I would have to compromise on my dignity and self-respect. And what's even worse is that I'm almost certain that if we do stay together, I will sooner or later end up looking for someone younger and better, since deep inside I don't really see any long-term future for us both. So it wouldn't be fair to any us to pretend that nothing has changed and just to postpone the inevitable :-(((((

Before he told me the age thing, everything seemed perfect, or almost. I mean I really did adore him, especially his dry English humour. He's very self-confident and claims to never DO jealousy, and he's very supportive of my studies/career choices, even if it means not to be able to live together. But his interest in sex or drive just seems to be way below mine. At the beginning the sex was good, although never great, and over the time the frequency as well as the intensity declined gradually, now it's always me who has to initiate any sexual activity, and we stopped j/o in front of webcam a long time ago :-( He told me he's not seeing anyone else (which I do believe) and that it has nothing to do with me (so what the f*ck is it then?!). Even though I do believe that he hasn't got tired of me and that he still treasures my company, the situation hasn't improved significantly even after talking about it and it was taking a toll on my self-esteem.

Partly because of this, I haven't really been a good boy when I'm separated from him, regularly logging on to chats and hooking up with some hotties (although I never met up with anyone when I was living with him, just seems to be awfully complicated). But I never allow myself to develop any emotional attachment with any of my f*ckbuddies, so I really envy you of having bf status with so many guys. Still I often end up feeling really guilty about my behaviour, especially because I'm pretty certain that he's not having any extra-marital activities and we never officially agreed on an open relationship. On the other hand, I'm just not (yet) willing to sacrifice my youth, and the thought of committing myself to a single sausage for the rest of my life scares the living sh*t out of me :-)

When I talked to him again after I calmed down a bit, I was able to tell him exactly how I feel and as usual he listened and reacted in a very constructive manner. In a way, he's still the same sweet guy, just (suddenly) a bit older, so should this "minor detail" really change how I feel about him? But on the other hand, I couldn't stop trying to look for something "old" about him and something that would confirm my worries that we might be incompatible because of the age difference, am I subconsciously looking for reasons to end this relationship? He suggested that we should still live together during my internship and see it as a probation period. But I'm quite tempted of getting a place of my own so I can have a backup option if things don't work out between us. What should I do? Should I give this relationship a chance or prepare myself to move on? Any advice or comment would be appreciated...

It's true that my 'Internet Age' is not my true age. But it's also true that I always tell guys my true age if I'm keen on them and start seeing them regularly. Indeed, the guy called P in that posting about Internet Age is now known in this blog as boyfriend number 2, and I told him my true age during that conversation. Similarly, I told boyfriend number 3 my true age during my third encounter with him.

I think there are potential problems with relationships where there's a big age difference between the two people, gay or straight. One of the benefits of having a life-partner is having someone to slowly grow old with, and as that happens one's lifestyle changes. A large gap between two people involved in a relationship means that they're at different stages in the cycle of life, and eventually that is likely to matter. One obvious example is sex drive, which has gradually decreased for me as I've got older. The fact that the reader's boyfriend has a much lower sex drive than the reader himself now as an explanation.

Where did this concept that a guy should only have one boyfriend come from? It seems very narrow minded to me, and coincidentally, I got an e-mail from a reader in New Zealand yesterday making exactly this point. In my opinion, once one had developed a strong boyfriend-style bond with another guy, there should never be any need to throw that away. So when one's in the same city as such a guy, whatever one's current relationship status, why not spend time together and have sex together if one wants to. However in the case of this reader, perhaps he should try and get another boyfriend in addition to his current older boyfriend, and preferably the new boyfriend would be someone much closer to his own age.

To me, the fact that the reader's boyfriend claims he doesn't do jealousy is a clear statement that he doesn't mind at all if the reader sees other guys for casual sex. But perhaps he would mind if the reader were to develop stronger emotional ties with other guys, which is what getting a second boyfriend would mean? However, if he loves the guy he should accept the situation, given that there's such a big difference between the two of them.

So yes, give the relationship a chance, but at the same time move on in the sense that you should try and develop emotional bonds with other guys too. Think of it this way. When you tell the restaurant waiter that you want ice-cream for dessert, and he asks which whether you want strawberry or mango flavour, tell him that you want a full portion of both :-)!

Do any other readers have any thoughts on this situation?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Can gay guys be successful salesmen?

I was chatting to my friend P over lunch recently about the new job he started late last year.

"So how's the new sales job going then?" I start.

"I don't really want to talk about it," says P sheepishly, "I don't seem able to sell anything at the moment :-(."

"Uh huh," I reply, "do you think that's your fault, or the fault of the firm you work for?"

P tries to tell me that it's all the firm's fault, having the wrong products or products that are too expensive, but I'm not convinced.

"I just don't buy it!" I say, "they're quite a big firm, and they're still in business, so they obviously have products that some people want. Maybe you need to improve your sales technique?"

"But my manager tells me that I'm good at all the skills that a salesman needs," says P defensively, "that's why he hired me!"

"Apart from one thing perhaps," I say knowingly, "I reckon you could be better at empathising with straight guys!"

P looks shocked.

"I remember you told me that you almost managed to win a big contract a couple of months ago," I continue. "You said that after the key meeting, the client was chatting to you about his wife and kids. But did you reciprocate in any way, and open up to him at all?"

"But why should I have to? Shouldn't it all just be about good value products and services?"

"But you have to build trust. For example, he needs to know that he can call you if he has a problem, and if there's some empathy between you somehow he's going to feel comfortable doing that."

"So I should have told him that I like taking it up the arse should I?" replies P dismissively.

"I can't tell you the best way of developing trust with any particular client, but I doubt language like that would do it! You mustn't lie either, that just makes things too complicated, and is bound to end in tears at least some of the time. But if they start talking about their family, I think you have to say something about your personal life too. Actually I don't even know if it's possible for a gay guy to be good at building empathy with straight guys, because there's quite an important difference in behaviour. But I'm convined that if you can do it you'll get better results :-)."

"I'm not out to the other guys in my office though GB," says P, "so this would all be a bit difficult anyway"

"Well that's something else! Anyway, a confident guy like you SHOULD be out. It's much easier to focus on your job if you're relaxed and not worried about hiding your private life."

So what's everyone doing at the weekend?P doesn't work in banking or finance, but the best sales guys that I've seen in my world of work have always been able to seem like all their client's best friends. I can well imagine that at a crucial stage late in the sales process, after a meeting, a potential straight client of P's will be talking about what they're going to do at the weekend with their family and it will seem odd that P doesn't say anything in return.

Perhaps is just not possible for gay guys to be really good salesmen in a heterosexual world? When a potential client starts talking about his wife and kids, the best thing for a sales guy to do would be talk about their family too. Talking about heading for the cruisey gay sauna at the weekend for a bit of cock and bum fun definitely isn't the answer.

But is it possible to use being gay as an advantage? Perhaps one can reach a point in a social conversation with a potential client where the gay guy can tell the straight guy that he is gay, and make it seem like he's sharing a secret because he trusts him? Whatever the best strategy, the one thing I'm sure about is that avoiding this issue isn't going to get good sales results!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An email from a Southeast Asian student in Scotland with cruising/pulling woes

A couple of weeks ago, a reader sent me the following e-mail:

Dear GB,

I'm a student from Southeast Asia in my early 20s studying in Scotland who enjoys reading your blog a lot. Back home I live in a multicultural cosmopolitan city and have had experiences with many locals and foreign students. I have never really had problems chatting up guys I like which I think is partly due to my good looks, height and physique and my confident and friendly nature.

However, I have been disillusioned by the gay scene here after arriving to study last year. Almost all the locals will not consider engaging in sexual activity with me and express disinterest the moment I approach them. Hell, even the locally born Southeast Asians have the same attitude. As you can probably tell by now communication is not a barrier for me at all. I mostly end up engaging with other international students but their numbers are limited (well, the gay ones anyway) so I still eventually have to try my luck with the local crowd.

I have been to Manchester and had a similar experience though subjectively it seemed better than what I usually experience in Scotland. It's the same thing online, I get much better responses from foreigners than locals. I have met foreign students from London online and they told me that the situation in London is slightly better but that I have to accept that this is a fact of gay life here.

What should I do? I am tired of kissing so many frogs just to find my prince for the night. And if I just lurk I get unwanted attention from men who seem to suggest that I should be oblivious of the wide age gap between us. Even though I never end up sleeping with them the attention from them apparently makes me appear even more undesirable to the younger crowd. What is your take on the situation I am facing?

PS: To be fair I'm not saying the Scots were rude to me or anything, but the rejection has happened often enough than chance alone would seem to dictate (people have different tastes after all)

My first thought when I received this email was that it was one of most eloquent emails that I've ever received, which somehow makes his plight seem even more unjust. Since then, I've exchanged a couple of e-mails with him, and in his last e-mail he also asks

I wonder how you came to be with boyfriends number 2 & 3 and if you don't mind, what your attitudes were toward ethnic minority gays when you were my age, whether they have changed over the years and if so what you think brought about those changes?

I don't think there's any easy answer to his main query, but it's not a problem answering his subsequent questions relating to boyfriends number 2 and 3. Long time readers of this blog will know that my boyfriend number 2 is a Southeast Asian guy from Singapore, and that although boyfriend number 3 is British he's ethnically 100% Indian.

When PJ interviewed me last year, he asked for my 'coming out' story which I supplied. When I was a student my attitude to any gay guy, whether English or Asian, was simply fear. It was fear because deep down I knew the truth that I was gay, but I couldn't bring myself to admit it, and I was scared that if I was too friendly with a gay guy my secret would be exposed.

Eventually when I did come out, the truth is that initially I had a similar attitude to gay guys who weren't white Caucasian that the reader has experienced from some of the local guys in Scotland. I think I know why too. I was taking one step at a time, and admitting that I was gay was a big deal for me. Having to deal with gay guys with cultural backgrounds that I didn't really understand was simply too difficult. What I wanted back then was someone who had been through exactly the same experiences that I had, so that I didn't have to explain my perspectives to them.

But my attitudes have definitely changed. When Reluctant Nomad interviewed me, he asked me whether I had a race preference, I said that "... I find that Asian guys tend to have less attitude than Western guys. So if I’m online and I spot two guys that I fancy, one Asian and one Western, it’ll be the Asian guy that I’ll start chatting to first." Actually I think the real truth is that these days I prefer guys who are not ethnically British, and the main reason is exactly what was too much for me originally, the fact that their backgrounds are usually completely different to mine. I'm always looking for new ideas and fresh perspectives, and I'll always get something that I find exciting and unexpected from an encounter with a guy who's not ethnically British.

The thing I find bizarre though is the fact that in South East Asia a lot of the locals seem to prefer white Caucasians too. I have a perfect example of this in my very first posting, because when I logged onto in Singapore in February 2005 I was overwhelmed with guys wanting to meet me. Perhaps American cultural hegemony in the modern world is somehow to blame?

Long Yang Club, LondonIn terms of the reader's original question, I remember reading a very relevant article in QX magazine last year. There's a feature article on page 26 of issue 616 titled "No Fats, no Fems, no Asians", and it's all about the problems that East Asian guys face on the UK gay scene. It tells the same story that the reader tells in his e-mail. The article mentions the Long Yang club of course, but apart from the fact that it's in London, it's also clear from the article that it tends to be a place where older Caucasian guys meet younger Asian guys.

The fact that he won't always be living in Scotland isn't much help of course. Based on my own experience, the reader somehow needs to try and find local guys who are very comfortable being gay, and who aren't so worried about what other people think. The QX magazine article doesn't mention, but if he doesn't already have a profile that might help. In my experience, guys all over the world who like Asian guys have profiles, although I don't know how many guys who live in Scotland are registered there.

This blog isn't a dating agency of course, but I can't help wondering whether I have any other gay male readers in Scotland who are in their early 20s. If that's you, and if you find the thought of meeting a Southeast Asian student interesting, just e-mail me a brief description of yourself and I'll gladly pass on your contact details to the reader who sent me the e-mail :-).

Apart from that, do any other readers have any thoughts on this matter?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The seedy gay side of Paris

Elegance in Glass"So what did you two get up to last night?" I ask my friend P, as we're sitting outside at a Parisian café early last Sunday evening.

P had split up from the boyfriend that he found late last year and had decided to visit Paris for Easter with a friend that he met on gaydar. It was a pure coincidence that myself and boyfriend number 1 were in Paris for Easter too, but when P had told me over lunch the previous week we decided to meet up for supper together while we were all there.

Paris, Easter 2007"Oh, you don't want to know!" replies P with a naughty grin on his face.

"We're not children you know," I laugh at P, "so if you've got a juicy story lets hear it!"

"Well, honestly GB, it was AMAZING!"

"Uh huh? What was so amazing then?"

Paris, Easter 2007"We were just wandering through the Marais looking for this gay bar, when a couple of British guys asked us if we knew where one of the other gay bars was. Do you think I look gay GB, I mean, if you just saw us on the street would you know?"

"Well P, the way you drool over anything cute in trousers probably gives you away!" I laugh. "Anyway, where did you end up?"

"Hmmm," says P, pretending to be offended. "Well, we ended up having a couple of drinks with these guys, and then they were heading off to this place called The Depot that they'd heard about. So we went with them and it was the highlight of the trip so far. I mean, it really was heaving with great looking guys!"

Paris, Easter 2007"Yeah," confirms the friend that P had brought along. "When you go in, you go down some stairs and at the bottom there's a sign indicating that the bar is in one direction, and cruising is in the other direction. Most of the guys were on the same side, and I'll give you a clue, the bar was pretty empty!"

"Honestly," adds P, "we don't have anywhere like it in London. There must have been two hundred or more guys there, all after one thing!"

"So it's better than that place in Shoreditch then is it?" I ask.

A little church, all spick and span now :-)"Yes definitely, Chariots doesn't get as busy as The Depot. Perhaps it's because there are fewer venues like that here so everyone just goes to this one, I don't know. Anyway, let's just say that we both went back to the hotel very satisfied!"

Friday, April 13, 2007

GB's Top Tourism Tips for Paris

No doubt some readers are wondering whether one find activities in Paris. Indeed one can, so I'll try and do a brief posting on that subject over the weekend :-). Meanwhile, I can't resist sharing with everyone a couple of my favourite activities for The Beautiful City.

Of course, for many years Paris has been a popular short break destination for Londoners, all the more so since Eurostar started up during the 1990's. In some ways it's a bit naff giving advice about what to do in Paris because everyone's got their favourite restaurant, bar, hotel, shopping district, and lots more besides. None the less, and even though guides are plentiful too, GB's Two Top Tourism Tips for Paris are as follows:

  • Culture: The Museé de L’Orangerie has recently re-opened its doors after a lengthy renovation. It's quite small, so it's ideal for anyone who wants a tiny bit of culture but who doesn't want to get too distracted from shopping for whatever other activities they prefer. It's the home of Monet's famous paintings call the Nymphéas (Water Lillies). Even if one's seen them before, just going to sit in one of the rooms where these impressive paintings hang is very relaxing and peaceful.

  • Le Parc de BagatelleGardens: On the outskirts of the inner city, in the Bois de Boulogne, lies Le Parc de Bagatelle. If one travels by Metro the nearest station is the Pont de Neuilly, and the gardens are about a 20 minute walk south of the station. Travelling by taxi is much easier of course, although finding a taxi to get back the city can be a bit of a problem.

    Le Parc de BagatelleI've visited these gardens before but never in early spring, so when I was in Paris last weekend with boyfriend number 1 we got into a taxi and asked the driver to take us there.

    "Les jardins de Bagatelle?" the taxi driver repeats, sounding surprised. "Yes," he continues in English, "on a nice day like today, it's a very good choice :-)."

    Le Parc de Bagatelle"Why are you surprised?" I ask him.

    "Tourists don't usually ask for Bagatelle. It's a place for French people!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is Paris the most beautiful European city at the moment?

Side view of Notre DameMyself and boyfriend number 1 spent Easter weekend in Paris. We stayed in our favourite hotel in the 4eme arrondissement as usual, and thanks in part to the excellent weather we had a great time.

Île Saint-Louis (left), and Île de la Cité (right)Wandering around the streets, I was struck by how beautiful the city seemed. And then it struck me. All the building cleaning and renovation that has been going on in recent years has now been completed. Ever since my first visit with boyfriend number 1 in the early 1990's Notre Dame had been covered in ugly scaffolding, but now it's all gone. The external renovation of the Louvre is now also complete, so with it's glass pyramid it looks magnificent. All the other buildings and smaller churches also look generally clean and renovated now, and the cumulative effect was quite impressive. Always cover your large erections in white plasticThe only renovation going on that I spotted was that of the Tour St Jacques, but even there, the scaffolding was hidden from view behind a curious white plastic that covered the entire structure. All the other significant European cities that I can think, including London, still have far too much scaffolding, renovation or other building works. But Paris, for the moment at least, looks really beautiful.

Monday, April 09, 2007

An email from a gay reader starting a career in investment banking

About three weeks ago, I got the e-mail below in my inbox. Apologies to the reader who sent it to me because I usually manage to answer Dear GB emails quicker than this.

Dear GB,

I am not a regular reader of your blog, rather I came upon it by accident while searching for something gay to do on a Monday night in Singapore. I am a student in Boston, but I am visiting Singapore because I studied here a year ago and was on a trip to China and figured I couldn't pass up the chance to see the place again. Life can be quite a coincidence at times, can't it?

I am writing you because next summer, I too will become a gay investment banker as I enter the analyst training program for a major investment bank. I will eventually work as an analyst in origination in NYC, and am graduating from my university in May with my undergraduate degree. None of this is particularly relevant to my question, so I won't continue boring you with the details.

You have written about the difficulties of being out to your co-workers, and I started thinking about many things as I read your entries. Coming out wasn't a difficult process for me, I had always admitted personally to myself that I was gay but it just wasn't the "right time" for me to come out. When I got to college, within a month I just decided to start living "gay" and have been out ever since. I am in a fraternity (I hope you know what this is, think the movie "Animal House"), which is the most heterosexually charged environment you can find short of the American military, and all my fraternity brothers knew I was gay from the day I came out. The universal acceptance (and the occasional curiosity...hehe) I received was overwhelming. The one difficulty was the relationship with my family, and this is what encouraged me to write to you today.

My family has been unbelievably loving and accepting of me since I came out to them, but I didn't come out to my family until more that 2 years after I first did it at my university. I just couldn't face their (potential) rejection, so I held it in. For the first two and a half years of my college experience, I lived a dual life. I spent weekends partying in West Hollywood with friends and spent weekdays dodging questions about girlfriends from my parents. I really didn't enjoy this kind of lifestyle; it felt so contrived and made me upset and unhappy with myself. The problem is, I can see this happening again as I enter i-banking.

Granted, one situation dealt with the rejection of people I loved and the other is with my co-workers. It isn't the rejection that scares me, rather the aspect of potentially reliving the whole "dual-life" scenario. I am curious about your feelings on this, and perhaps you can elaborate on some of your experiences of being gay while working in an i-bank.

I apologize if my email was too long and ultimately somewhat open ended, but I would greatly appreciate any comments or insight you can give.

All the best to you, and I look forward to your future entries.

I've said various things about this before, including a few comments in one of my earliest postings. Also, as I said in my relatively recent posting about conversational evasion techniques, I think one of the most important things is to avoid telling lies. However as a general statement, I don't think it's necessary for a gay guy to pretend that he's straight in investment banking these days.

In that posting about Conversational evasion techniques, I tell a short story about when I was asked whether I was married at a bank Christmas party in the early 1990's. What I didn't put in that posting was the fact that the following year, I came out to my boss when I was asked to work in Singapore for a few months. And the view that my boss took then would be even more appropriate in today's litigious world.

I was deeply worried about whether I was damaging my career, but my boss had other concerns. He didn't care at all about my sexuality, instead he was worried about what his responsibilities were, and what the legal situation was in terms of how I should be treated. That was all in the early 1990's, and although I didn't have any problems, some banks were known for their homophobia.

I heard of cases in the 1990's where banks did sack employees who worked on the trading floor and who came out as gay. And I have to say that there is one sense in which I think that sacking such an employee could be appropriate. To succeed in that kind of high-energy fast-moving environment one has to focus on the financial markets, and what one's role is. So coming out as gay and making a big thing about it shows that you've got other things at the front of your mind. Banks always want the best, most business focussed people working on their trading floors, so almost by definition if someone is putting their sexuality before their job when they're at work, then someone else may be capable of doing their job better.

However I'm sure that in the 1990's some guys were sacked because the news that there was a gay employee on the trading floor was causing other people to lose focus on their jobs, and sacking someone in that situation is unacceptable homophobia. In the UK and the European Union these days, I believe there are laws in place to prevent this kind of action, however I'm not sure what the legal situation is in the USA. Another encouraging fact, of course, is that these days banks have networks that encourage social contact between gay employees.

Whatever the legal situation, it's now 2007, and my advice these days is simply to be completely relaxed and honest about being gay. Don't publicly come out to everyone, it's not what you're there for, just behave in exactly the same kind of way that your straight colleagues do. Actually a good idea can be to work out who the people are who like gossiping and make sure that one of them finds out that you're gay. In that way everyone else will quickly find out without you having to tell everyone, and then you can really relax and focus on your job.

A lot of the business scancals in recent years, such as accounting fraud and banks being sued for over-hyping tech stocks, all relate to a lack of honesty. As a result bankers need to be painfully honest in their business dealings these days, so matching that with equivalent honesty relating to one's private life seems highly appropriate.

Anyway, I wish the reader good luck with his career. Do any other readers have any other thoughts on this matter?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why can't spa hotels employ more male therapists?

A nice way to unwind - a relaxing massage from another guy :-)It was boyfriend number 2 who first introduced me to the pleasures of massage therapy. Now, before any of you lot out there start thinking that I mean "pleasures", I should make it clear that I am just talking about massage! Not massage with extras, or massage with a happy ending, or whatever else you want to call paying for sex with a masseur. [I should also point out that I started having fun with my gorgeous Japanese masseur before I ever paid for his massage expertise!]

My problem, though, is that high quality spa hotels don't tend to employ many (if any) male masseurs. Take any good spa hotel, e.g. one from the Leading Spas association of hotels although there are loads of examples. When you walk into the spa reception of such a hotel, hopefully in some exotic holiday destination, the conversation is very likely to be along the following lines:

Anyone for massage?"Good morning sir :-)". The receptionist sitting behind the counter is always a pretty young girl.

"Hi :-). I'm staying here for a couple of nights, do you have any male massage therapists?"

"Errr ...?" she replies with a look of confusion, after all English isn't her first language. But then suddenly she thinks she understands, "yes, we can do massage for men, no problem :-)"

"But do you have any male masseurs? I prefer to have a man massage me!"

"Errr, hang on sir," she says looking confused again, "let me check."

She'll disappear into an office or something, before coming back to say that unfortunately a male masseur 'isn't available at the moment'.

I guess I prefer having male masseurs for the same reason that heterosexual guys prefer female masseurs. It's not because I want 'extras' or anything, it's simply that I much prefer the company and the touch of another guy, in the same way that straight guys like to have women around them. I think my preference is quite natural for a gay man.

Actually I'm the same with doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, and anything where there's the possibility of physical contact. For some reason I just can't relax when a woman needs to touch me, so I'm not going to pay for a massage from a female therapist. Of course some gay guys have loads of female friends, but I'm not that type of gay man.

Surely it's not only gay guys who'll prefer male therapists though, what about all the affluent straight women out there? Surely with the two groups combined, there's enough demand to make it worth catering for? Money talks, so if enough straight women and gay guys keep asking for male therapists when we go traveling, maybe one day we'll eventually be able to get the services we want!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

An email from a young gay woman

Observant readers may have noticed that I've started keeping a list of 'Pending Dear GB postings' in the right hand column, just underneath my e-mail address. Part of the reason for this is to reassure the people who've emailed me that I haven't forgotten them, as well as to remind me the order to respond to them in. However when I got home last Saturday night, there was a new 'Dear GB' email waiting for me which seems more urgent that the others waiting in my inbox, so I'm going to allow a bit of 'queue jumping'. Although I sent back a reply, I'm not sure I was much help, so this is another case where comments on this posting could be very valuable.

The email was as follows:

Dear GB,

Hi there, i think! I've read your blog on and off for a while now and its brilliant to have someone as educated as you trying to eloquently describe (without graphic details) what its like living in a non-monogamous relationship.

But...i'm emailing for a bit of advice and unlike many of your readers, i'm a young gay woman. It's about homophobia in the workplace and given that you seem to have risen very high in your profession and having a PhD, i thought you might have experienced something which might help me.

I'm 17, and i attend a sixth form in the UK, although my base school (where i attend the majority of my lessons) is a catholic convent school for girls. I've attended this school since i was 11 and as i've grown up i've realised that i'm gay. Recently i wrote a piece for a publishing committee about coming out, how hard it is and what troubles you face when you do. The brief was "dispelling teenage myths" and i think it fitted it perfectly.

On Wednesday i was called into a meeting with the head of sixth and head of year where they told me that they would not be permitting my piece to be published as it was the "incorrect forum" owing to the fact that it would be published in conjunction with my catholic school. I argued my point, saying that what they were saying was discrimination on the basis of sexuality i.e. homophobia as they were not allowing it to be published because it was about being gay. The conversation further continued and the stance they took was that i had to "tow the line" as it was a catholic institution. The committee which are in charge of the book have raised their concerns and the completion date of the book has been put back.

It's not just the book though, the head of sixth wants to tell my mother that i am gay. I tried to explain that she had no basis to break confidentiality as my sexuality has not detrimental to my welfare but she replied and said she had a "moral obligation."

I'm a bit lost and don't really know what to do as i can't go to anyone higher in the school as the head teacher is a nun and i doubt she would sympathise. She has no grounds to do this but i can't stop her. I need to put together some sort of defence but i don't know what. Which is why i'm emailing you, in the hope that you could suggest somewhere to go or an organisation which would help.

Attached to this email was her article about coming out, so I've posted that separately in my Reader's stories category. Before I went to bed last Saturday, I emailed her the following reply:

Dear reader,

Very sorry to hear about your situation.

I'm wondering whether you've tried phoning the London Lesbian and Gay switchboard (020-7837-7324) for advice on this one. I used to know a few people who worked for them, and I know that they've got a long list of useful organisations to hand.

This also sounds exactly like the kind of case that interests Stonewall, who are meant to stand for "equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals". I know they campaign for equality everywhere including schools, but they'd also be interested in the issue relating to the threat of outing you to your mother which is outrageous. I doubt that they'd be able to do anything immediately, but they may well find the case useful in their campaigns.

It could well be that the threat of outing you to your mother is just intended to try and get you to drop the whole subject of publishing your (well written) article about coming out. I have no idea what the legal situation is on them outing you to your mother, but there may be one, e.g. perhaps it could be regarded as an "abuse of human rights".

In terms of publishing the article, my guess is that they can choose to publish exactly what they want, and there's precious little you can do about it. The only way forward there I can think of is getting enough other students behind you to try and show them that their attitude is wrong. But can you face being outed to your family?

Given the strength of your article, I'm actually surprised that you're not out to your family yet. My guess is that even if this situation hadn't arisen, it wouldn't be too long before you did come out to your mother. If you choose not to let the issue drop as your teachers want, unfortunately I think you do need to come out to her, because it's better for her to hear it from you than from someone else.

GB xxx

Yesterday I got a further email from her saying that "The lesbian & gay switchboard is forever engaged ...", and acknowledging that stonewall may be a good idea. But can any other readers offer any further advice?

A 'Coming out' article, written by a young gay woman

In connection with today's 'Dear GB' posting, below is the 'Coming out' article that the reader wrote, which her school don't want to publish.

I'm usually a very logical and rational person, but before I properly came out I used to believe two contradictory statements about myself, namely "I'm not gay" and "I like guys". These are exactly the sentiments expressed in the article below, in the paragraph which starts "ME?! One of those FREAKS?! ... ", so even though she's a young gay woman and I'm a gay guy I strongly identify with a lot of what she says.

Coming out

How many gay people do you know? Two or three perhaps, if you live in a relatively cosmopolitan area, maybe less if you live in a small town or village. Now imagine what it must be like being that gay person. The one people think of when they want to remind themselves that they are "in-touch" with modern issues, that they posses that hint of new labour which puts them a fraction to the left on the political compass, wrapping them up in their PC blanket.

You almost certainly will have encountered gay people in your life but, as with the blank faces of commuters we see daily on public transport, many do not appreciate the journey that they have had to endure. Contrary to popular thought, you don't just "come out" and have that be the end of it. Coming out is a huge process and the end result, the actual words "I'm gay" that you hear and gradually come to accept, are just the tip of the iceberg. Inside there has been a huge and incredibly painful inner battle of realisation and acceptance so hard many choose to repress their feelings and desires totally.

I'm gay. I've been there, done the coming out business, had the verbal (but thankfully never physical) abuse because of it and I'd hope it has made me a stronger person. This piece is to trigger a thought next time you see a gay person, to think of the path they've walked to get a point in their lives where they are comfortable letting others know who they wish to spend the rest of their lives with. However, this can be true of all who are a little different, who don't fit the mould precisely, so perhaps the lesson is applicable to more than just us queers.

If I think hard, with an objective head on my shoulders, I can recall having a fascination with women at about 10 or 11. The most prominent example, and the only one I actually remember, is a teacher who taught at my primary school. She was pretty (or my 10 year old self thought so) with silky straight blonde hair. That's about all I remember of her, no name, nothing of her being in the playground supervising at playtime, just that she was a pretty blonde. Prophetic? In hindsight I now know that it might have been called a crush although here were most certainly no sexual feelings, just an inexplicably strong desire to be around her.

Feelings like this carried on; crushes on teachers, best friends (the cause of much emotional turmoil) and youth leaders were not uncommon. Secretly I hoped that everybody else felt this way but deep down I knew they didn't, that I was a little strange in that respect. I tried to write it off as normal and ignored all feelings, throwing myself into a very unsuccessful relationship with a boy when I was about 13.

It was ghastly from the first kiss; my first kiss, which I had to get ridiculously drunk to go through with, to when we eventually broke up, via text message, after no contact for almost a week. After the break-up all I felt was a deep disgust in myself, I felt as though by doing what it seemed everyone else was doing I had somehow done it wrong. In my quest to prove to myself that I was normal I had proved to myself indefinitely that I wasn't. You could say my plan backfired. I'd shot myself in the foot instead of the gay gland.

After that time I knew. The actual word "G-A-Y" or, in my case "L-E-S-B-I-A-N" (a word which I still loath) had been rooted in my head and would not leave. I had finally connected the feelings I had for other women with the word. The actual word. Lesbian. It may seem completely ridiculous but I did not put me liking women together with the word, it was just an impossibility that would never happen. A ridiculous suggestion; I, a lesbian, or elesbian as I had thought it was until I saw it spelt correctly in the dictionary.

My thought process was as follows;

ME?! One of those FREAKS?! Err, no, sorry mate, you've got the wrong girl here. Sure, I have these strange feelings of attraction to people of the same sex as me but doesn't everyone feel that? I'm normal. I'm straight. I like men. And I will get married, have children, those children will be red blooded, horny, heterosexuals and they will have me some grand kiddies. Those grand kiddies will be hetero's and have me some great-grand kiddies and I will live the big fat heterosexual lifestyle with the nice Volvo estate car, a 5 bed house in the suburbs and a chocolate brown Labrador for my heterosexual children to play with. There is no way, I repeat, no way, that I am one of those. No. Thank. You.

Summarised, it was complete denial. And I perpetuated this falsity both internally and externally. I stuck posters of my favourite rock stars up on my bedroom walls and said/wanted-to-believe/pretended-in-complete-denial that I had crushes on them. I told all my friends that they were stupid for fancying X from boy band "xxxxx"; it was all about Mr Y. He had the cutest smile. I day dreamed non-stop about my dream hetero lifestyle, the wedding, how he would propose, where we would be, what I would say, I even went as far as imagining my expression when he popped the question. But I couldn't kiss the man of my dreams in my fantasy, not even at the alter where we would inevitably end up. We'd hug instead.

It's easy to make light of the situation I was in but I genuinely wanted to believe I was straight when the simple fact was, I wasn't, I was gay and there was nothing I could do about it. This caused me much pain. The only parallel I can draw is that of a black person wanting to be white. It's obvious they are black, they just don't want to accept it for various reasons but, whether or not they do, they are still black and will never be white no matter how hard they try. Just as you can't change your skin colour you can't change your sexuality.

The only thoughts I had of lesbians were that they were fat, ugly and looked like/wanted to be men. Sometimes they had facial hair, sometimes they were Russian and lifted weights. Occasionally they looked like Ellen Degeneres but even she wasn't the most feminine of women. I could not reconcile the fact that because I had these feelings I was a lesbian. It made me hate myself. I couldn't look in the mirror and when I did I was disgusted with my reflection. I loathed the part of me that liked women and wanted to cut it out, make it disappear and leave me alone to have my heterosexual children.

I used to pray to God to make me straight. I'd become so anxious I'd cry, begging him to change me. I prayed every night and it never happened, I stayed gay and it felt like god had made me this way as a punishment. He'd created me gay and deliberately written church teaching, through divine inspiration, to prohibit it, to ensure that everyone in the church knew that it was wrong. Yet, I was this way and it was not changing no matter how much I grovelled. How could a god create someone only to have them excommunicated from his family for being the way he wanted? I lost my faith completely.

Imagine a plug hole at the bottom of a bath with a stream of water flowing down it into the drain. Constantly, I felt like that. My stomach was a bath which had just been emptied and all contents were being continually poured down the plughole with no end in sight, it felt as though every positive thought I had about myself was being sucked down that hole, into the drain, along with my hopes of being straight.

After just over a year of mental torment I managed to convince myself that I was bisexual as, in my mind, it was not as bad as being gay. It was a halfway house, not a diesel dyke but not the straight person I desperately wanted, but knew I could never, be. I would look in the mirror and think to myself that it was ok to be bi, it wasn't as bad as lesbian, there was still some femininity left in it. I wasn't a complete man and I still had a shot at my dream life with horny hetero kids, a dog and a husband.

Six months after I'd admitted to myself that I was bisexual I "came out". I now know and knew then that if I didn't tell someone at that time I would have gone mad. The pressure of living a lie combined with the disgust I felt towards myself was immense, ever present and unrelenting.

We were standing under a bridge waiting for the bus to go to school and there was a lull in conversation. I looked down at my school kilt (a green, knee length, tartan number - very fetching) and then over to my friend who was standing a little to my left, level with my shoulder as she was very small and I have always been rather tall. A train rumbled past on the bridge above making the pigeons nested in its awnings flap and fly needlessly.

"I've got something to tell you. (Pause) I'm gay"

"Is that it? I knew that already, I always knew you was a lesbian," she said, disappointed, as if she'd been cheated of a juicy piece of gossip.

"What?!" I screeched, exasperated.

"I knew that ages ago but you always got upset about it when I asked you," she replied matter-of-factly.

We continued our conversation as though nothing had been said.

I came out (as bisexual) to other close friends several weeks later and got a similar reaction from one; "Oh, I always knew that though". I don't look like a typical gay person so perhaps they were such close friends that they could tell by instinct. Whatever the reason, just the fact that they knew was relieving, as though I'd taken a small but hugely significant step on the way to fully accepting who I was.

Since then I've come out as gay and all but my mother knows. I'll tell her in my own time or perhaps, like my friends, she already knows as she's asked the odd question or two which have been ambiguously answered. All friends know I'm gay, the rumour mill has meant that most people in the college I attend know (despite me not having told them) and I've recently found out that several of my teachers also know which was a little unnerving but not unexpected.

Coming out was one of the hardest experiences of my life. It's saddening to think of the anguish many experience until they finally realise that being gay is not taboo; perhaps an obvious observation from an outsiders perspective but, when immersed in the situation, this is not so.

Accepting who you are and the implications of this can be hard but it will not change so it could be looked at as a case of "like it or lump it". Life is so much better if you choose to like it, as hard as it may seem.