Leaving the gayborhood

Earlier this week, I was driving through West Hollywood, pointing out the sights to my friend, Eva, visiting from New Jersey.

“Here’s the gay Starbucks,” I said, passing La Cienega Blvd, heading west along Santa Monica Boulevard, before pointing across the street. “And there’s the 24 Hour Fitness. The locker room in there is a 24/7 pride parade.”

As we continued our drive, Eva marveled at the perfectly manicured landscaping in the chirpy profanity of a dyed-in-the-wool Jersey Italian.

“It’s so fuckin’ cute here,” she said. “Everywhere the gays live is fuckin’ cute. What’s regular Hollywood like?”

“Dumpy,” I said. (It’s true.)

She glanced toward the rainbow flags, the gay book stores and the gay bars. “It’s like straight people don’t even fuckin’ exist in your world.”

As we waited for a man in roller skates and a miniskirt to cross in front of us, I realized she was fuckin’ right.

When I was in college, areas with lots of visible gay men and women were called gayborhoods, but after college, wanting to sound more adult, I joined my friends in referring to them as gay ghettos.

Gay ghetto is warmly ironic and more adult sounding and until that car ride with Eva, I didn’t think twice about using it. But later that night, after a wikipedia binge about ghettos and their purpose (to isolate, oppress or keep invisible a group of people), it stopped sounding so cute and cheeky.

All of the gay people I knew in West Hollywood moved there enthusiastically and enjoyed the acceptance that comes with living in an area with a large gay population. It feels safe, it looks nice and when many of your neighbors are gay, it’s really easy to get laid.

But in an era where we’re still struggling to be treated equally, are we doing anyone a service by being invisible to the outside world? I don’t mean in media portrayals– Ryan Murphy is doing a bang-up job for all of us– I mean in all the little ways. Seeing a gay couple out at dinner in West Hollywood isn’t going to challenge anyone’s open-mindedness, but what about a gay couple out at dinner in Chatsworth? Panorama City? Le Havre? Two dads cheering on their son at a soccer game in Topanga?

Why do gay people have to live in gay villages where they can be observed by tourists who want to go on a homosexual safari? Come acknowledge us when you feel like it?

When people of any minority are marginalized in ghettos, it allows their problems to be marginalized, too.

If you were in West Hollywood when Prop 8 passed, you saw the outrage and the anger, but each heartbreaking tear preached only to the choir. If you were an asshole who voted yes on 8 and lived in Northridge, you never had to see the degrading outcome of your bigoted ballot.

By keeping ourselves cozy in our gay ghettos, we’re enabling society to keep regarding us as invisible and not forcing people to acknowledge us. When I hear the rote gripe, “Why do you have to have gay pride parades? We don’t have straight pride parades,” what I really hear is “Why can’ t I keep ignoring you?” And when we sequester ourselves, we’re helping them do just that.

Segregation on the basis of race, gender, class or sexual identity– self-imposed or otherwise– has never been an effective way to achieve equality.

So for our own good (and society’s), we’ve got to stop. We’ve got to stop communing our lives exclusively in gay neighborhoods. We have to stop going out to exclusively gay establishments. We’ve got to stop working out only in gay gyms and we’ve got to stop getting coffee only at the gay Starbucks.

If we can move beyond the habit of seeking out that which is gay and instead embrace that which isn’t necessarily, we’ll help society and ourselves. And besides, if regular Hollywood is any indication, the rest of the world could use our help. Our straight brethren also deserve to live in cities that are fuckin’ cute.rainbowflags

Sex and brussels sprouts

My Ikea bed frame rapped lightly against my wall as the hands of a guy I’d met two hours prior at the Abbey gripped the headboard.

“Why did I buy this bed?” I asked myself. “It’s so plain. I could have done so much better.”

At age 21, my relationship to sex sucked.

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When I was a teenager and every other guy my age seemed horny enough to hump a hole in drywall, I was content to keep ignoring sex. Like boiled brussels sprouts, sex seemed like a hot, soppy mess that I was better off without.

As I got a little bit older and couldn’t avoid sex anymore, I started having it obligatorily and with the same damp enthusiasm with which one approaches a bowl of brussels sprouts drowned in cream of mushroom soup. I would lead my suitors back to my place, ritually grab lube and condoms and kiss just long enough to heat things up, the sensual equivalent of 60 seconds in the microwave.

The sex was always rote, boring and miserable– typical hookup sex– clothes coming off tentatively like you’re being forced onto stage naked, not too verbal because you don’t know each other very well and tense for the same reason.

So my mind usually fluttered off to something else, like wondering whether I should dispose of my Malmo bed and try to find something a little more interesting and nuanced. Of course, even at 21, one can only maintain interest in sex for a few minutes under these conditions.

As my new friend did his best to keep the mood alive, mumbling mindless things like, “yeah, baby, that’s it,” I tried to engage.

“Who’s your daddy,” I asked, because it sounded like a porny thing to ask, but not because it seemed like a good idea.

“Uh,” he paused, “I don’t know.”

When that fell flat, I tensed my body, grunted something insincere about arriving at my destination before collapsing into the chilly demeanor of a feigned post-coitus.

That scene would play out many times before something finally clicked into place years later (meaning way too recently) after several years of the stability and security of a long-term relationship with my boyfriend, James.

One night recently, while James and I were eating balsamic roasted brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan, it hit me.

“Malcolm Gladwell says you’ve got to do something for 10,000 hours to become an expert,” I said.

“So?” asked James, one eyebrow slightly elevated.

“So that’s how much time I’ve spent choking down brussels sprouts,” I announced, “and look at these, I love them!”

“No, that’s not even close to what he meant,” James said.

“Yeah, huh!” I exclaimed like a defiant four-year old. “And that’s why sex has gotten better, too!”

James shook his head, looking down to his plate as the diners around us in the packed restaurant pretended not to hear me.

“You know, we could make these at home. We could also roast them, or probably make a salad out of them with cranberries and toasted pecans, wouldn’t that be good?”

“Yeah,” James said quickly and quietly, wanting desperately for me to be silent.

“I’m going to be this innovative with our sex life, too!”

James stopped talking to me and opted to communicate with a series of tepid mmm hmmms until we got home.

“I meant what I said, you know,” I told James. “Come on, I’ll show you,” I said as I led him to the bedroom.

Later that night, right as James was nodding off into a restful sleep after an invigorating roll in the sack, I leaned over, brushed his hair behind his ear and softly whispered, “Say my name,” as I stifled a fit of ill-timed giggles.

“Jackson,” he replied, “shut the hell up.”

As I lie awake, watching blue shadows dance across the ceiling, I wondered what kind of brussels sprouts we’d have tomorrow. And also, what we’d eat for dinner.

Pills, pills, pills

I was at a party with some friends several weeks ago when the familiar discussion of our “issues” came up.

“I used to have such a hard time speaking in front of crowds,” my friend, Monica, said, gripping a sweaty red Solo cup. “But my doctor gave me some Paxil and I’ve been fine ever since.”

“I can totally relate,” offered my friend, Nolan. “I get panic attacks all the time at work. It’s like I’m going to vomit. I have Zoloft, but I always forget to take it.”

“That’s so funny,” added another friend, Ava, “When I’m manic, I’m great with people, but some days, when I’m on a downswing, it’s impossible. Especially when I’m not taking my Xanax.”

Ava has bipolar disorder, but only intermittently. And when it coincides with her borderline personality disorder, she’s an especially hot mess.

I wanted to speak up and contribute to the conversation, but I didn’t have anything to say. There was a period of time when I thought I was allergic to the tree outside my apartment, but I took a Claritin and that was as far as it went.

“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered aloud.

“You probably have ADHD,” said Ava, as she popped a pita chip into her mouth and crunched so loudly I thought she’d broken a tooth. “Everyone does.”

My friends nodded in agreement.

ADHD sounded plausible. It’s common enough. I’d recently read a Northwestern University study that found in 2010, 10.4 million American children– roughly the population of Portugal– were diagnosed with it. Why not me?

Once Ava mentioned it, I noticed that I did get bored often. I would change my mind about wanting microwave popcorn halfway through its two-minute cooking time. I always cancelled my cell phone contract early. I couldn’t finish Infinite Jest.

I really wanted to fit in with my pill-popping friends, so I made an appointment with a local psychiatrist to discuss my problems.

When I bounded into the office, bright-eyed and eager to fix my problem, my psychiatrist, an attractive woman in her late 20s, surely a recent grad, listened attentively and jotted down notes as I talked about myself enthusiastically, doing my best to lead her to diagnose me with ADHD. To be extra thorough, I’d decided to review symptoms on WebMD the night before.

She was really pretty. Like, detrimentally so. I was concerned for her because I imagined that no matter how bright she was, her peers would always be convinced that her looks would be what got her ahead.

“Well,” she said, interrupting me when I started telling her about a bad date I’d had several years ago, “it sounds like you have a textbook case of ADHD.”

“Her powers of observation are what got her ahead,” I would tell her naysayers.

I was pleased and expected her to hand me a prescription for Adderall, but was disappointed when she instead handed me a stack of papers about an inch thick.

“Fill these out at home, come back next week and we’ll review them to see if you do, in fact, suffer from ADHD,” she said.

…maybe I’d agree that her looks really did get her ahead, after all.

I begrudgingly took the forms, scheduled my followup appointment and went home.

After six days of procrastination, on the night before my follow up appointment, I began looking through the forms as I sat awake in bed.

“I have difficulty paying attention in class or at work.”
Agree, I checked the appropriate box.

“I am easily annoyed.”
What a stupid question. Agree.

“I make decisions quickly, without taking into account their long-term repercussions.”
See: my entire sexual history. Agree.

The more I read the list, the more I was convinced I actually had ADHD.

There were dozens of pages, all asking variations of the same thing and as I began to get annoyed, I had a moment of divine inspiration.

“TOO LONG,” I scribbled across the top of the paperwork, before turning out my reading light.

The next morning, when I returned to her office, I handed Blondie my paperwork. She read my comment on the front page and rolled her eyes. She flipped through what I did fill out and grabbed her prescription pad.

“Here,” she began scribbling, “let’s start you off on a low dose and see how you do.”

As she tore off my prescription and handed it to me, I felt like I’d been admitted to the cool kids club.

I thanked her (red flag!) and made my way to the pharmacy to pick up a shiny, new bottle of Adderall that I couldn’t wait to show my friends.

I’d been taking the pills for a few days when I met up with my dad for dinner.

“What’s that?” he asked as I swallowed a pill at the table.

My dad’s an affable guy, but thinks I hang out with a bad crowd and he doesn’t mince words.

“Adderall,” I said as I tried to stylishly slug a glass of water that was too cold and sent searing pain through my teeth.

My dad shook his head. “You’re nuts.”

“Not yet,” I said “I just have ADHD.”

“You’re lazy sometimes, but you don’t have ADHD.”

We agreed to disagree. Or at least I thought that’s what was happening until after dinner as we walked back to our cars.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Jackson. You just have too much time on your hands. Your friends are all so enraptured by pills– your whole generation. You’re overmedicated.”

I looked down at my feet and shuffled them.

“I have a problem and you’re being insensitive to it,” I said as my dad climbed into his car.

He shook his head. “I love you, kid, but you’re full of shit sometimes.”

He closed his door and revved his engine. Before he left, I had a thought I wanted to share with him, so I banged on his window. He rolled it down.

“I know why you have a hard time relating to me sometimes,” I told him.

“Why, because I’m old?” he asked.

“No, because of your Asperger’s,” I said. “You should get help.”

My dad shook his head again, rolled up his window and pulled out of the parking lot.

As I walked to my car, I rubbed my throbbing jaw, wondering if I had a cavity or sensitive teeth or something more serious.

“Ugh, maybe he’s right,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I’m self-diagnosing too much…maybe I’m a hypochondriac.”

“How absurd,” I thought as I laughed at myself for a moment before changing my mind.

“You know, I better make an appointment with my psychiatrist just to be sure.”pills

Los Angeles

When I was in high school in the early 2000s, I knew that I couldn’t stay in my small, Northern California hometown forever. It didn’t offer a lot of economic opportunity, it wasn’t very diverse or cosmopolitan and I liked drugs, but not enough to stick around for them. At the time, there were only a few cities I could say I knew well– San Francisco, Chicago, Paris and Los Angeles.

San Francisco reminded me of an overgrown bathhouse with good public transportation. And it felt too close to home. Chicago was a beautiful city, a huge city, but I couldn’t entertain living somewhere so far from an ocean. And by that, I mean I fucking hate snow. Paris was a city I’d been to a few times and I loved it, but my sense of adventure was directly correlated to the amount of effort I’d have to exert to go on it, and frankly, moving across an ocean with no express purpose would make for a romantic tale later in life, but was way more effort that I was prepared to make. (Plus, after years of trying, I was just starting to get laid in America and I wasn’t about to give that up.)

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I’d been to Los Angeles a lot and if San Francisco was an overgrown bathhouse, Los Angeles was an overgrown bathhouse drain– scummy, disgusting and worst of all for someone who sweats a lot, hot. It’s not just that Los Angeles lacks a real city center; it’s that it’s smoggy and dirty. It’s that moving a mile can take 45 minutes in traffic. It’s that by pretty much every standard of livability that matters to me, Los Angeles is a giant failure. But because life has it out for me, I got into a good university in Los Angeles and so I loaded up my Jeep (nobody took the Prius seriously yet) and made the six hour drive south.

If New York is a gorgeous redhead and Paris is a beautiful brunette, Los Angeles is a toothless hooker. She’s ugly, wide, sun-bleached, rode hard and put away wet. Arriving in LA feels like a mistake on par with giving your number to an undesirable when you’re drunk, but texts are much easier to ignore than 500 square miles of concrete.

I stepped out of my car into the hazy megapolis and my eyes burned at the bright sun and the smog. I instantly considered dropping out of college.

Fortunately for my future, I was too lazy to follow through with the plan and instead accepted my fate and settled into LA.

Within a few months, I’d made some new friends. West Coast liberals have a fetish for different cultures and I’m especially into languages, so when my new friends spoke Farsi, Japanese, Vietnamese and other languages from cultures that produced fantastic food (but always terrible pop music), I was in heaven.

I expanded my culinary lexicon to include simmering tofu soup, stews of pomegranate and walnuts, brilliantly colored ice creams and other things that sound disgusting but that I eventually learned to love (toasted cassava flour, I’m looking at you). And of course, like any white kid with ethnic friends, I learned useful, worldly things, like saying “fuck your mother” in a dozen languages. My liberal parents were so proud that their offspring was embracing the world’s cultures (I left out the bit about the anti-feminist mother fucking) and they were shocked when I told them I hadn’t traveled more than two miles from my college campus yet.

One night, after gorging ourselves on cheap and fantastic sushi (which is as ubiquitous and integral to Los Angeles as bread is to Paris), one friend leaned across the table and with a fiendish look in her eye asked, “hey, I heard there’s a bar in West Hollywood that doesn’t card, wanna give it a shot?”

I hate bars, drinking and dancing (I know, I picked the wrong sexual orientation), but I hadn’t yet developed a resistance to peer pressure, so when the rest of the group excitedly agreed, I feigned enthusiasm and offered to drive. I said it was because I could fit more people in my car, but I was lying– it gave me an excuse not to drink.

So with more people in my car than seat belts, we drove to West Hollywood, parked and lined up to get into the bar.

Once we were inside, I froze. I’d been living in the realm of small town teenage sexuality where messing around in my backseat with someone I’d known since third grade and whom I found only marginally attractive was considered “getting lucky.” Here, there wasn’t a bad looking guy in the bar and a couple of them wanted to buy me drinks. I was excited, anxious and wanted to puke– a condition that my dad calls “being Jewish”– so I did what a spineless, curious kid in a big, new city does and accepted the offer. The drinks tasted more like juice concentrate than alcohol (so much for driving) and within 15 minutes, I was making out with my first stranger in public. It was an incredible rush, but it was short lived as I began to feel queazy after my third drink. With my friends behind me, I stumbled out of the bar less than an hour after entering and promptly vomited in the street.

My friends rubbed my back as said sweet things like, “That’s okay, sweetie, we’ll drive you home.”

When I stood up, reeking of booze and vomit, but inexplicably still feeling like hot shit, I lifted my shirt like a drunk frat girl and laughed along with my cheering idiot friends.

The next morning, I woke up with a throbbing headache, but despite feeling like shit, I knew instantly that I had fallen in love for the first time. She was a big, fat, toothless hooker and her name was Los Angeles.

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