Saturday, August 15, 2009

Seeing the Light

I seem to spend an awful lot of time cogitating on the topic of homosexuality and writing long, almost Aristotelian posts on the subject of LGBT issues (and particularly my own). Suddenly, I find myself seized in the middle of the night with inspiration to share a personal, perhaps even somewhat embarrassing, anecdote, which has thrown a few of my previous posts into a new perspective. I couldn't get to sleep, tossing and turning under the covers, until I eventually ripped them off and headed out into the night to my office building so I could concentrate on writing this post. I don't really know how I feel about the experience I'm about to relate; if anything right now I feel simply nothing (i.e, empty).

Essentially, I ended up this evening at the Fierté (Pride) festival. This was certainly not my intention early in the day; in fact, I was planning to avoid the Gay Village altogether. However, I ended up walking out to Parc Jean Drapeau, which is on an island (and to get to it one has to either take the metro or walk across a bridge which starts essentially on the furthest edge of the Gay Village). I like to go to the park to sit along the St-Laurent, with what I think is the best view in town, and read listening to the clattering current. However, on my way back into town it was already evening, and after a day in the park (and the long walk there) I was seriously dehydrated. So I had to stop to get something to drink, and the closest places to do that was the Village. So I got a drink, and as I was headed home, I ended up going past the place where the pride festival stage was located. While I've clearly been to Divers/Cite in the past, I had never actually given any heed to this event, so I decided to go in and see what it was about.

After entering the site, I eventually found a place on the grass and plopped down. Unlike my confused and befuddled feelings I described (in the post "A Coming of Age..") from Divers-Cite, which left me both joyful and depressed, this time I really didn't feel much of anything about the experience. I could feel no strong connection with the crowds around me, no shock at seeing loving couples; it all seemed relatively normal. Suddenly and rather randomly I noticed a man sitting near me on the grass, perhaps my age or somewhat older, with a well-built and perfectly proportioned upper-body (outlined by a modest and unrevealing t-shirt), a handsome face, and a distinguishing baseball cap. I jolted back at first glance, thinking that he was someone that I know, as something did seem very familiar about him. It was, however, already night at that point. Initially I didn't think too much about him, but I noticed that he was sitting there alone, just like I was, and looking around, rather, looking for something, just like I have done in the past. He peaked my interest: we were both there alone, not sure of what to do with ourselves, and neither one of us seemed particularly thrilled by the entertainment. Could this be it, my big chance to make a new social connection, on what I guessed from observation to be similar attitudes?

No, I remained mute and fixed on the lame happenings on stage, and the guy eventually got up and walked off somewhere else. I didn't think much more about it, until I saw him standing very near to me later when I had moved (people eventually were standing in my view of the stage at my previous location, and I am always so restless at these kinds of things anyway). It was the second recognition where I found myself fixating on him to a certain extent. He was so amazingly handsome. He, like me, didn't look too enthused about the show, but something was keeping him there, drawing him to the crowd. This feeling, a yearning for connectedness, I could understand. However, I couldn't understand why someone so seemingly attractive could seem so alone, looking around left and right in what seemed like hope for some kind of social stimulation. Fascinating, why wasn't anyone else approaching him or talking to him?

Cue me: what should I do, if anything? Would it be possible for me to actually start a conversation with this guy, when I really have no social excuse to do so? But then again, aren't these experiences about meeting new people and building relationships? But could I really strike up a conversation based on commonalities with regard to our social situation, when I might be projecting a little of myself onto him? I had been speaking with a friend (or reading) in French all day, so my French should have been adequate, but what if even my rehearsed French failed, as my mother tongue (English) often does in these kinds of nerve-wrecking situations? Would I seem like an utter idiot? And clearly he's out of my league (physically-speaking), so wouldn't he just brush me off under the assumption that I was approaching him with romantic overtures (even though, of course, I wouldn't mean to come off that way). But isn't the expression of caring (though social means) and building caring relationships toward others at the very centre of my personal life philosophy, and wouldn't my life philosophy want me to talk to him? There are people behind me; what would other people think if they noticed that I walked up to him and started talking? Would they start judging me, as he undoubtedly would? Was this just some sort of phase or bizarre new type of crush that I'm experiencing, and if it is a crush based on physical characteristics, am I not just being as surface as I beg myself and others not to be?

As all of these thoughts were pouring through my head, I found myself gaping at the poor guy, who I think must have noticed my presence there as I popped back and forth all around that general area, trying to find a good position to stand in or sit in as people constantly moved in front of my view. My head kept screaming at me: go up there and talk to him; the worst that could happen is that he wouldn't be interested in talking (and that would be that, I probably would never see him again). And there was potential that I could make both of our evenings a little brighter if we did talk instead of standing there, awkwardly alone, watching a series of drag queens lip-sing.

One of the times that I moved, he glanced over toward where I had been standing, then he looked around and saw me in my new location, then threw away his beer cup and walked away. The guy had to have thought I was some sort of creepy stalker at that point, so I justified to myself I could not have struck up a conversation with him because I must have visibly seemed awkward in his presence. Yet that's hardly any comfort considering that if I had just walked up to him upon seeing him the second time and started a conversation, it wouldn't have seemed so bizarre. I discussed in my "Overcoming Asexualization" post that heterosexism and internalized homophobia limited interactions between me and a man that I came upon in a real-world setting. Although I hold to the premise, perhaps I was overthinking that particular example (it's happened before). Clearly in this setting the heterosexism and homophobia were negligible, yet the same end result. I was there, alone, standing next to another likely homosexual man, also alone for the entire evening, and the only natural thing would have been to talk to him. But me being an introvert (my last article), it was just too much. My mind was constantly contradicting itself, and I stood there, frozen to the ground, in utter terror at the very prospect of moving forward. Yet clearly, when it comes to two individuals in a public setting, one person has to make a concerted effort to get to know another. It was, quite frankly, my duty to do this if I really wanted to, and I did want to, but I just couldn't. Instead, I just made myself look and feel foolish. And that was sad, at least for me.

While my introversion is the primary factor behind my difficulty connecting to others, even extroverts can find themselves at a loss for courage in charged situations like these. I once asked one of my acquaintances, who is gay and also an extrovert, how he mustered the strength to talk to people in an anonymous public setting. He grabbed the beer he had at his hand and said "liquid courage." I was disappointed in his answer, because I suspected an extrovert to have a better solution to that age-old problem of breaking the ice. When I talk to new people I like to have my full faculties available to me, even if that means my inhibitions come with them. Another extrovert once told me that he makes most of his friends online. I began to ask myself; why have people in the city become so anxious about meeting and talk to each other in random public situations? In my small hometown, people who didn't know each other did that kind of thing all the time.

Upon reflection, my experience is not altogether uncommon among either heterosexuals or LGBT persons who find themselves in my position; in fact, in today's modern cityscape it is probably rather archetypal. Most of us probably don't write about it, and it seems best to try not to think too much about these uncomfortable, missed opportunities. I did learn one important thing from this experience, however, that may make me more social in the future. It seems like it might be necessary, for people like me, to become a 'temporary extrovert.' When confronted with these situations, which are themselves all too rare and fleeting, they cannot be overthought like I tend to do for everything. The whole process of meeting new people, and dare I also say, courtship, may never truly make sense to the brain. There is one exercise that I think might be useful (which I describe here in the second person): take a moment of zen, clear the brain, and with all your mental energy tell yourself to put one step in front of the other, then take the next step, and then the next one, until you find yourself standing right next to that guy. Then, there is no turning back, and you have to face your fate, be it good or bad. At least then you will know the outcome and not be left with questions and doubts swirling in your head about what might have been possible, if you had just taken that leap of faith in yourself.


  1. well, from one introvert to another, at least, YOU entertain the thought of reaching out to others. in a social context, i am WAY too aloof looking for anyone to even dare saying hello... my loss, perhaps....

  2. Hi Ticklebear,

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. I think I have an idea where you're coming from. In fact, despite everything that was going on in my head that night, I'm pretty sure that I looked outwardly quite aloof (and probably a tad dejected). I really don't have a good solution to the problem of building contacts in the gay community (or in any community for that matter) as an introvert. The internet and volunteer work seem to be a reasonable options, although neither means are perfect. In terms of public gatherings, I've heard some people say that we (as introverts) should smile more, but I could no more walk down the street with a wide smile plastered on my face than I could sprout wings and fly (furthermore, I'm a tad frightened of people who are always, unceasingly smiling). In any case, we as introverts have a lot of positive qualities; for example, we are often more pensive and can readily entertain ourselves when no one else is interested in doing it for us. So I figure I've got to take the good with the bad. If you have any further thoughts on the subject (or potential ways to alleviate these kinds of dilemmas), please don't hesitate to relay them. I wish you the best. Bonne Journée!

  3. i share the same concern about those who just smile too much: time to cut back on those meds!!!! happy people is one thing; "sunny" disposition comes with a diagnostic, & a prescription... honestly, i have no solution to offer. i stick to my frineds, & lately, they're all str8!! not a denial of my nature, just circumstancial. i changed a few things, & distancing myself (voluntarily or not...) of certain people because of it. life has its strange moments (for me!!). but i'm going with the flow. it's all fine. as for the aloofness, for me, it's an art. feeling a bit garbo-esque: "i want to be alone!!!" not really, but i dare anyone to prove the contrary...
    (got your message, thanx!!)