My life seven years ago was very different from what it is now. For starters, of course, I was still closeted. At least one thing has remained true for me in all that time, though… I am a Grey’s Anatomy loyalist. I love that show. And always, always will! Over the years, Grey’s has done a pretty good job of providing visibility for LGBT folks through its storylines and character development (something that has always had a really profound impact on me, as discussed in one of my older blog posts from 2012, Media Matters: “He should know!”, which I hope you’ll go back and read). I grew up in small-town Oklahoma and before college had never even met an openly gay person. The escape of television was the only way I could have ever imagined what a future for myself could look like. I didn’t know how to understand — let alone articulate — the feelings of confusion, fear, and shame I was experiencing due to my secret attraction for other boys my age. Like Will & Grace, Glee, Modern Family, and Brothers & Sisters have been for so many others, these shows were much more for me than just television dramas and comedies. They were a peak into the possible. They were a place — the only place — where I could imagine what a daily life could look like for an openly gay person. They were a place that helped me imagine that I just might end up being okay after all.
Seven years ago I remember watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Erica tells Callie she’s gay. She’s realizing it for herself in that moment. Take a moment and listen to the metaphor she describes in this scene. It’s powerful.
When I watched this scene live in 2008, I was with other people. (Yes, we had watch parties at my house.) I immediately had strong heart palpitations and began to panic silently. I mean, it was truly an out-of-body experience. I was trying desperately to hold myself together in front of all these people and act like nothing was happening. But on the inside I was having a breakthrough. I was about to graduate college and was still only (kind of) out to two people. In the clip she realizes she’s gay and compares it to when she was a child and got eye glasses for the first time. Before she got the glasses, she didn’t even know what she was missing. She thought the world was supposed to be blurry. And on the day she left the doctor’s office with a clear prescription she looked out of the car window and realized for the first time that the green blobs she had seen all her life were actually leaves, with details and definition, and she wept. A new clarity had just expanded her world and flipped everything she thought she knew on its head. I instantly related to what Erica described. I had worn glasses and experienced that exact moment of discovering blobs to be leaves. And — although I wasn’t ready to admit it out loud to most people yet — I was now discovering a part of myself that had been blurry for so long. The metaphor immediately made sense to me. And it immediately terrified me.
Recently, someone who reads my blog emailed and asked me to write a post about dating. At first I thought this was silly. Why would I ever write about that? I’m certainly no expert, and, unfortunately, I don’t have much of an exciting dating life. I was surprised to even read the request. But then I remembered the power of hearing stories of gay relationships. Just to hear them. Just to know they exist. To know that there are gay people in the world who seek love just like all the straight people we see in literally every storyline that exists in the media. To see yourself reflected and imagine a hopeful future, in spite of current hardship.
Well, I’m still not going to suddenly turn this into a dating blog, but please allow me to briefly channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw for just a moment anyway. I actually have had a new observation about gay dating since I recently moved to Miami. Fast forward seven years from the time that episode of Grey’s aired and not only am I still watching the show, but I am also still discovering new “leaves” out of green blobs all the time. Each day out of the closet, something about myself clarifies. Something about the world around me comes into focus. When you allow yourself to be all of who you are, the blur sharpens and the leaves take shape. Dating is a new leaf for me. And moving to Miami has been a whole new phase of leaf discovery.
As a gay person, where you live is so important. In Oklahoma, I was surrounded by green blobs and never knew what life could be like when one has the clarity to see a world with leaves. That’s what Orlando became for me. I found a good community of gay men and women who helped me build a wonderful life there. They helped me figure out what it meant to be gay, or at least what it meant for me. While living in Orlando, I really learned to become my most authentic self. I no longer had the burden of hiding who I was, so I was able to build genuine relationships with others without the looming secrecy or fear. Over time, though, my vision sharpened enough to see that there were blobs for me still even in Orlando. Limitations to what I could see as possible for myself. And one of those was truly believing that I was worthy of love and could exist within a committed relationship with another man.
In Orlando, I went to gay bars all the time. I didn’t know where else to find gay people. I had fun and made a lot of truly great friends in those spaces, but in my mind and experience that was the only place where other gay people could be found. One of the new leaves I’ve discovered since moving to Miami has been that gays exist “out in the wild,” too. That they are actually in so many other settings than I realized. It’s almost as if they are just regular human beings living a daily life like everyone else! (sarcasm, of course). Since I moved to Miami, other gay men have approached me in the most random of places, just to start a friendly (or sometimes flirty) conversation. And it actually had nothing to do with alcohol or gay bars. In public. In the light of day. Not in a dark club where no straight people could be found, but in plain view without any shame or fear. In regular places. Straight places! The grocery store. Starbucks. The gym. The hair salon. The beach. Business networking events. The park. I really, truly, honestly didn’t think that happened! I didn’t know this was available to LGBT folks. The clichés of meeting someone at a coffee shop or in the park were, in my mind, for straight people in romantic comedies. Gay men only find each other at bars or on hookup apps. That’s what I knew to be true. That was all I could see in my green blob of romantic possibility. So, when a guy starts talking to me at Starbucks about the book I’m reading and then asks for my number… I was stunned. Suddenly, I saw leaves. This actually happens? That’s how important geography is. Because in Oklahoma, no, it probably wouldn’t have happened like that. Not so publicly. Not so unapologetically. Not so freely. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if it could?
I want to see a cute guy in the park and not immediately look away out of fear when we make eye contact. I want to be one of those people who thinks a true rom-com relationship is just one clumsy-barista-when-I’m-late-for-a-meeting away, even for me. That I can meet someone out in public in my daily life and not just in dark, smoky clubs. I experienced that some in Orlando, and I feel even more freedom now here in Miami. But let’s not forget that many people still live in places where that is not only far from likely, but also far from safe. This is my hope: That our society can keep progressing forward enough that these innocent beginnings for love can seem just as possible for me as for anyone. That holding my boyfriend’s hand in public is seen as cute and normal. Because just as Carrie told Petrovsky in Paris, “I’m looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.’” (Yes, I really love Sex and the City, too — seriously, how did everyone not know I was gay from my TV choices alone!). One of my favorite Carrie quotes is, “I revealed too much too soon again. I was emotionally slutty.” Pretty much sums up my compulsive over-sharing that you all get to witness regularly! But I hope it helps just a little for us to consider the power of hearing stories like these. Even seemingly mundane stories of flirtation and dating. They help us imagine new ways to visualize romance. And for some of us, they sharpen our vision and dismiss away the green blobs.
Wishing you all bouquets of newly sharpened pencils (and other rom-com memorable lines),