Bear? Who? Me?
It was my third time around in therapy.
The first time I went to discuss the fact that I was walking around angry all the time. I wound up discussing my non-relationship with my father for the next 2-1/2 years. The anger hasn't abated at all. I've just learned to channel it, mostly. I would spend 55 minutes every Thursday afternoon with Dan in his little office on leafy West 12th Street. As I would leave, I could see other people leaving their therapist's offices up and down the block, some crying, some in shock, some sailing along in seemingly great humor, elated after an excellent session. I'd get to experience that range of emotions myself in coming months.
The second time I went was because all my friends were dying. Considering the fact that my very best friend Barry had just recently died and it was he who had originally introduced me to Dan, this group of sessions didn't last very long. We'd sit in Dan's office and cry together. He would try to reassure me that straight people weren't treating me like some sort of diseased pariah. I put an end to that when I told him how the Chinese exchange student in my office had personalized his coffee mug with a Sharpie, printing the slogan: DO NOT USE! NO AIDS!! Dan couldn't make that into anything nicer or better.
The last time around was during my 38th year. I had developed the distinct impression that I was invisible. Or at least invisible to the general gay male public. The East Village sidewalks and walls were stencilled with Fags Against Facial Hair graffiti. I took this as a personal affront. The most popular bar in my neighborhood was BoyBar. I felt sure they wouldn't let me in there. No, the doorman would laugh and laugh and point me back out on to the mean St. Mark's streets. I hadn't been in a gay bar in years. Robert was retreating to his bed, and I would spend most weekends watching dozens of rental videos, drinking vodka and diet coke and generally being miserable. I'd see other guys running around in their natty shirts buttoned to the collar, wearing those black Nikes that gay guys wore then. Not only didn't I have the look, I couldn't even begin to figure it out. The only guys who looked at me seemed demented or insane. I figured that a portion of my life was over. I had crossed the line into middle age. This was the way it was going to be from now on. I felt unjustly condemned to a sad future of untucked Tommy Bahama shirts and ill-fitting jeans.
I explained all this to Richard, my new therapist, in his tiny Greenwich Village studio which doubled as his office. Richard listened patiently, and made little concerned clucking noises in empathy. When I was done he quietly stood up, went into his bedroom area and came back with some magazines, which he threw in my lap. I looked down and saw on one cover a large man who looked to be in his mid-fifties. He had a salt and pepper beard and wore a flannel shirt, unbuttoned to reveal his hirsute chest. Across the top of the magazine was the word BEAR.
Honestly, I was repelled.
I opened the magazine, and it was full of guys who seemed a lot like me. Or worse!! Was this porn? I thought not!
Richard gently explained that not only was I a bear, but a prime example of one, and as such, there was indeed quite a market out there for me, should I ever want to avail myself of it. This didn't make me one bit happier. I liked Colt Men, dammit! I was sure if Mr. Mike Betts ever met me, he'd spirit me off to his Southern California pool where we'd splash around and I'd get to live out a decade-old fantasy. (Has anyone seen this man lately? He works as an escort out of Chicago, I think, and that old magic has been completely eradicated by the ravages of time and hustling. Of course, given the opportunity, I would certainly entertain the thought of doing him just for old times sake, in much the way I would have fucked Cary Grant in his later years.)
Richard suggested I take the magazines home, to acclimate myself to my new identity, I guess. It didn't work. I showed them to Robert, who laughed long and loud, and had quite a few snide comments about my new therapist.
Later that night, alone and high, I slowly thumbed through the pages, looking for my future.