More gay

I wonder if I should present as “more gay” at work. I’m not even sure what that would look like, but the question has been provoking me ever since the Unitarian Universalist Association began a concerted effort to change the culture (of the workplace as well as the whole movement). Much of the focus is on race, but not only is whiteness privileged, so is heteronormativity (whether one is straight or not; i.e., gay people also make choices that are heteronormative), cis gender expression, higher education, and upper-middle to upper economic class.

I have some colleagues who appear to be totally free of “work casual” expectations of how to dress. I’ve been subject to dress codes at previous jobs, and didn’t like it, and while I reject the idea of a dress code, I still tend to reach for unremarkable. As a fat, older gay man, I’ve often fallen into the “wear dark baggy clothes” trap, and I’m trying to get out of that. I used to have quite a collection of earrings, but I no longer change them since I switched to surgical stainless hoops. And I used to wear rings on occasion, but most of them don’t currently fit on my fingers.

What I have been doing is wearing bracelets and choosing some brighter colors in clothing, as well as paying more attention to fit. The most obvious way in which I don’t conform to the work casual vibe is that my clothing reflects my working-class background. (My father owned his own business and owned property, but he did agricultural work and manual labor his entire life.)

Hospice work and traveling in the Quaker ministry

I’ve supported people doing hospice work and traveled in the Quaker ministry with a concern to get Friends to talk about AIDS.

One aspect of the height of the AIDS epidemic was how many people were estranged from their families. So, if they were going to have help in their sickness and dying, it meant that their friends (and all too often, strangers) had to step up. I was not some Florence Nightingale, but rubbing hand lotion on a friend’s feet to soothe the neuropathy, or making sure they have a hot meal, or sitting in the hospital as they sleep, or keeping vigil on their deathbed really changes a person.

In 1992 I helped create an AIDS Working Group in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Responding to a proposal from Carolyn Schodt, we created a Quaker Ministry to Persons with AIDS, which trained volunteers and paired them with people with AIDS for weekly visits. Usually the partners were people in hospice, and volunteers formed friendships, gave support, and provided respite to caregivers. I was involved in the training program and in a monthly support group for the volunteers.

My religious work among Quakers around AIDS had begun earlier, when I shared with my monthly meeting my concern that Quakers should be talking about the epidemic and considering what, if anything, God was calling them to do in response. After a discernment process, I was given what’s colloquially called a “travel minute,” which is an official statement of a Quaker body endorsing the activities of a specific Friend on a specific topic. Initially I travelled to other monthly meetings in Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting (roughly the city of Philadelphia) and later to other meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. By the time the AIDS Working Group had formed, I also travelled to other yearly meetings in North America.

Quaker practice varies widely (as does Quaker theology), and one striking memory I have is visiting Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative. The “conservative” in their name refers to largely to practices of worship and to some degree cultural practices. Certainly the way they conducted their meetings for business was an eye-opener. When my travel minute was presented and read, upon acceptance of the minute, it was clear that Friends were prepared to hear whatever message I had, right then, should I have one. I was so used to very carefully and heavily scheduled agendas that I almost missed the significance of the moment.

My work around AIDS is part of what led me to enter a yearlong program, “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” led by three Friends who had created an organization called School of the Spirit. In monthly residential weekends, participants heard from a variety of spiritual nurturers from different traditions, experienced various contemplative practices, and reflected together on what we were learning. Between times we did lots of reading and reflection papers, practiced local ministry under the care of oversight committees, and considered our own particular calls to ministry.

What I learned in the School of the Spirit has informed my approach to friendships and care and support for others, although I did not formally become a spiritual director. As I’ve been taking a fresh look at my life around the occasion of turning 60, I’ve given consideration to renewing and deepening my own spiritual practice and to the possibility of offering spiritual direction to others.

I’ve accompanied some friends who’ve died and grieved many more

Anyone who has reached the age of 60 has assuredly experienced the death of loved ones and a variety of griefs. And so of course there are people who stand out in my memory whom I remember with love.

My friend Ruth Fansler, a member of my Quaker meeting in Philadelphia and a coworker, proved to be an unexpected mother figure. She dressed for comfort, not according to any standards of femininity. She was, when I knew her, a bookkeeper, with exactly the insightful and critical curiosity that suggests. She wasn’t verbose or cuddly. We didn’t know each other all that well. And yet when I received emotional news at work one day when my father was in the hospital, I still would swear she leapt over her desk to come stand beside me and put her hand on my shoulder, because she thought the news was that he had died. When Ruth was comatose shortly before her death, members of our meeting were visiting her and singing to her. One of her sons and his family had arrived, and the other was on his way. I still remember how the heart monitors changed when her son walked into the room, even though she was otherwise unresponsive.

Anyone who knows me at all well soon learns about my great friend Barbara Hirshkowitz, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 57 in 2007. (Only as I write this I do realize I’m older than she was at her death.) I wrote a whole post about her (and preached once about what she taught me.)

But again, the larger context of my original statement was Coming Out Day, and there are particular points to be made about death from my perspective as a 60-year-old gay man. I haven’t just had loved ones and family members die over the course of the years, as everyone does. I came of age in Northern California as the AIDS epidemic began to spread. I lived in San Francisco from 1982–1985. Before I was 25, I had a former housemate die from AIDS, and many more friends and loved ones followed. My story is not in the least unusual. Or, if it is unusual, it is in not having had more friends and loved ones die.

One of the primary lessons I learned as a young man was people die. Not at some abstract time in the future, not some abstract people over there, not abstract groups of people. People die. People just like me. People just like me die, every day.

I’ve known joy and heartbreak

The context for this statement was the years since coming out. My life has not been unusual, so of course I’ve known joy and heartbreak. I won’t list or describe them here, as the themes of future posts directly touch on them; I just want to emphasize that being gay has, in fact, affected some of the joy and heartbreak I’ve experienced in significant ways. I doubt that I am rare in that.

Home, for now: A windswept beach, with brilliant open skies overhead and welcoming restaurants and bars nearby

Well, this prompt is a good way to catch up with what I started last spring!

Provincetown is home, for now. I love it. I intend to stay as long as it feels right. I’m trying not to hold on too tightly to any ideas about what that means.

Why does it feel important not to hold on too tightly? Well, for starters, Cape Cod as a whole is mostly just a giant sandbar. And Ptown is way, way out on the tip and most of it is not very high. Then there’s the building my apartment is in, which is right on the water, and not very high above it. So, you know. Now that I live here, I see that I (unlike most of the seasonal workers or people who have Ptown-based jobs) do have options for other places to live, but it’s still a very tight and expensive housing market.

wooden steps with ocean waves at foot of stairs
High tide at a new moon.

But back to the good parts of that windswept beach (which is *right* behind my building): it’s a big part of why I’m happy here. I can’t see it from my apartment, but I can hear the water when there are waves (often there aren’t), and if I go out my front door, turn right, and walk 30 feet I can stand at the deck railing and just let the wide open sky and the water sink in.

pink and blue clouds in sunset over water
Sunset looking east from my back deck.

It’s so much brighter here than in a city, even when it’s not summer. The buildings are lower and sometimes farther apart, and there’s lots of reflected light.

And finally, the fact that there are lots and lots of gay people here is deeply wonderful. Also plenty of restaurants and bars with a wide variety of food and beverages. During the off-season, of course, there are not as many options, but the variety is still good. I do miss Indian and Korean food, though. A lot.

selfie of Kenneth on the deck of the Boatslip at tea dance with a pride flag and the Provincetown harbor in the background
Me at tea dance at the Boatslip.

So much for #adventurous60 as a new blog start!

But hope springs eternal. My friend Heather has provided 30 prompts, mostly drawn from a Facebook post I made on National Coming Out Day, to encourage me to write. I’ll do my best to keep up (and it remains to be seen if what I write in response to some of these will be something I want to share publicly).

  1. Home, for now: A windswept beach, with brilliant open skies overhead and welcoming restaurants and bars nearby
  2. I came out as a gay man slightly over 40 years ago (that’s 2/3 of my life). 
  3. In those years I’ve known joy and heartbreak. 
  4. I’ve loved men deeply and only a couple of times come to regret being involved with them. 
  5. I’ve accompanied some friends who’ve died and grieved many more (including housemates and coworkers). 
  6. I helped support the production of the first safer-sex pamphlet in San Francisco as part of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. 
  7. I’ve supported people doing hospice work and traveled in the Quaker ministry with a concern to get Friends to talk about AIDS. 
  8. I’ve had personal conversations with Evangelical and African Quakers about being gay. 
  9. I’ve been the occasion for a disagreement between private school administrators and ill-informed parents. 
  10. I’ve been attacked on the street on my way home from a bar with my lover. 
  11. I spent a year or so when my father wouldn’t speak to me. 
  12. I’ve experienced the rewards of rebuilding a relationship with my father. 
  13. I’ve been charged by police on horseback while protesting government inaction on AIDS. 
  14. I survived living in San Francisco during the beginning years of the AIDS epidemic. 
  15. I’m still often uncomfortable holding hands in public. 
  16. I’ve had sex with women, but do not consider myself bi or queer. 
  17. I marvel at how the world has changed in 40 years and sometimes struggle to keep up. 
  18. I struggle with the conflict between conforming to majority culture and being myself. 
  19. I wonder if I should present as “more gay” at work. 
  20. I have a boyfriend who has a husband, and everything about that feels great except for the distance away he lives ( ❤️❤️❤️ ).
  21. It’s National Coming Out Day, and these thoughts reflect my belief that social change often comes as a result of suffering. I celebrate with those who do not suffer for coming out, and with those who do not regret coming out even if they have suffered. I mourn and am angry with those who do not have a choice about coming out (or staying in) and with those who involuntarily suffer. I grieve the thousands who were outed in death and all those who are not alive to enjoy the changes that are happening around us. I’m committed to expanding the freedom and dignity afforded me to include those who have not benefited. I’m committed to continuing the struggle for full recognition of basic human rights for all people. I dream of a world where we can all flourish.
  22. Experienced spiritual practitioner. 
  23. Tarot neophyte. 
  24. Gay man. 
  25. Survivor of the plague years. 
  26. I wear a fairy crown but dress in denim and t‑shirts.
  27. As I review what I have written this month about my past, I notice that . . .
  28. As I read what I have written this month about my life right now, I see that . . .
  29. As I read what I have written the past month, I imagine this about the remaining years of my life.
  30. As I consider all of my writing this month, these are the things I plan to do.

Welcome to Provincetown!

Sonja not only helped me pack before the move, she drove down in the U‑Haul with me, and she also very kindly provided documentary photographs. (Bob also did an amazing amount of helping me pack, and he drove my cats to Provincetown. Madame Max cried the whole way. And I think Glencora peed in the carrier.)

Lots of stuff remains in the old apartment; some is destined for the trash, some for Goodwill, and some will still make it to Ptown over the next month.

The guys I hired to pack the truck did so in an hour, and Sonja and I set off slightly ahead of schedule. Which was nice, considering the fact that it was snowing at the time. There had been a snow emergency declared (on both ends of the trip), but it was lifted in Somerville shortly before we left. The traffic was light and the roads were pretty good through most of Boston. (We will not speak about the near-death experience in which the weather was not really a factor.)

For a ten-foot truck, it had a surprisingly cozy cab.

There were a few stretches as we headed south with more snow (like Duxbury), but it wasn’t until after we hit the Cape that we got into some pretty serious snowy driving (for a Southern California boy).

Welcome to Provincetown!

I was curious about what changes I would find in the apartment. It’s still a studio, but it’s no longer one room. There’s a new semi-wall and a barn door that somewhat closes off one end (sadly, it doesn’t close enough to confine the cats). The new surround for the bathtub came in cracked, and the new one hasn’t come in yet. There’s a broken pipe under the kitchen sink, so it’s unuseable and “I’ve called the plumber but I’m not sure when he’ll make it, because it’s Ptown.” (At which point Bob interjected the above welcome message.) There’s still a distinct aroma of paint in the air, and the closet-ish area on the back of the semi-wall hasn’t been finished—which is actually nice, because I asked for a shelf and a clothes rod instead of two clothes rods.

Two signs of being in a small town (really a village): a letter confirming my change of voter registration was already waiting for me; at least two people stopped to quite frankly stare at the moving while in process, while not actually saying hello.

I had to move the truck several times for the snowplows. The snow emergency in Provincetown wasn’t lifted until the evening. It wasn’t snowing very much by the time we got there, but it was enough to make carrying things across the street a bit unpleasant. The stairs are also pretty scary when wet.

At last a use for old art calendars. There were blinds in my apartment in Somerville, and I don’t have any curtains yet.

After a very nice (and filling) dinner at Ciro and Sal’s last night, Bob and Sonja went off to their rooms at a B&B, and I spent my first night in my new apartment. The cats eventually consented to visit me on the bed, but they are still far from their usual pushy selves. Today dawned bright and beautiful, and Sonja and Bob helped move the unpacking along much farther than I would have accomplished on my own. We had a nice brunch at Canteen and saw an art show, and I showed them the beachfront behind my building.

And now I’ve begun my exploration of the off-season restaurants (Blackfish, in the space where Local 186 is in the summer), and am about to collapse into bed before 8pm to try and fight off a cold.

Memory lane

Downsizing from a two-bedroom to a small studio in just a few weeks is a terrible idea. Especially when you’re a packrat who previously responded to the last rush before moving by just shoving piles of stuff in boxes. Which then went unpacked. I am paying for my sins now.

But on the other hand, I’ve come across things like a love note and photo from a boyfriend in the early 80s. And a piece of art by another boyfriend in the late 80s. Cards from friends and coworkers when I moved from Philadelphia to Boston. Photos (physical photos! in albums!) that I haven’t looked at in years.

And on a more mundane note, do you remember when you had to buy a box for World of Warcraft and use the CDs to install the game?


One of the things that I’m hoping for from this move is a new perspective on my own life. But of course, it will change my perspective on all sorts of things, most directly, Provincetown itself.

I knew in an abstract way that off-season Ptown is quite a different place from what I’m familiar with in summer. I have friends and acquaintances who are posting on social media from the other side of the country (or the world). There are (very short) lists of what’s open on any given day.

But it really brings it home to make a post on Craigslist looking to hire some help unpacking a moving truck and get sixteen responses in a day and a half—many of those after I edited the post to say I probably have enough help. Lots of people who are unemployed in the off season. It will be interesting to be part of a community where I am unlike many around me by being, first, not retired; second, fully employed year-round; and third, employed with only one job (and that with shorter summer hours) during the season. (And for full disclosure, this summer I plan to be on sabbatical, so not working at all. Ahem.)