This page was originally posted March 2016, last updated March 2017
This is me, Mikey Artelle, in 1994 when I was 20.
I'm wearing my spandex cycling outfit! So cute and gay! :)
On this page of my blog I'd like to share my own experience of growing up in a heterosexual world while coping with being gay. As a result of my internalized homophobia I've kept my thoughts about being gay all bottled up for far too long, so there is certainly a part of me that needs to tell this story and finally have it out there. Though I also think it's important to write this because it's a first hand account of what being a gay kid in the Catholic school system during the 1980's and 1990's was like, at least in my corner of the world.
It's also my hope that someone else out there who has gone through a similar experience as me, or is going though it right now, will feel comforted and less isolated to have found a reflection of themselves in my story. When you are gay, feeling alone and isolated in a heterosexual world is the worst place you can be. With any luck this blog page will help someone else out there feel better about themselves, and help them understand a little bit more about the amazing, normal and natural, one of a kind human being that they are. I'm gay, and I'm happy to be me!
A message for young gay teens...
In 2017 after browsing gay discussion forums it became clear to me that some gay teens today - certainly not all of them, but some - no longer face the same social oppression, internal fear, or confusion about being gay that countless generations of gay folks have faced in the past. This realization came about when I came across comments posted by some gay teens that were rude and dismissive of a fellow gay persons struggle to accept who they are.
It shocked me that those gay teens could be so naive and clueless of what so many other gay folks, both past and present, have gone through that they don't even realize how lucky they are to have been spared such an ordeal! In the grand scheme of things, this complete cluelessness is both a good problem and a bad one. Good because it means in some cases at least, gay kids are growing up in safe gay-positive social environments. But it's bad because they are taking it all for granted, and then being rude about it!
So if you are a gay teen who knows someone like this, someone who is so naive and is rude to others, please do speak up and try to enlighten them. Such young gay folks need to realize that their ease of being gay today was paid for through the personal hardship of generations upon generations of gay folks who came before them.
Being a gay teenager in the 80's and early 90's...
The general understanding about homosexuality in society today has changed quite significantly since I was a teenager in the late 1980's and early 1990's, which is something that I'm very greatful for. During the first 25 years of my life I was subjected to daily negative messaging about homosexuality as well as heterosexist expectations that were just the commonplace, accepted way of thinking back then. Growing up in such an environment affected me on a very deep psychological level, and is the cause of my internalized homophobia.
Understandably, it seems strange that someone who is gay could themselves be homophobic. Hearing such negativity so often as a child and then as a teenager, I essentially became hard wired to respond to anything gay in a homophobic manner... to push it away, avoid it, or suppress it. Because of this I've had to struggle for most of my life with accepting my sexuality, even though there was nothing wrong with me to begin with.
"Biker Mikey" version 1: The Cyclist!
Here I am in 1994, when I was 20, posing in my spandex cycling gear! :)
At age 18 in 1992, after I had finished High School and was finally "free at last", I experienced a profound transition in which for a brief period of time I stopped feeling ashamed of myself for being gay and began to think more positively about myself and my body. After so many years of being nervous and on the edge about the possibility of someone finding out that I'm gay, the constant worrying had left me and I felt alive again. In school, I had always avoided sports and anything athletic, thinking myself to be too slim and weak, but this new sense of positive energy made me realize how wrong I was. So I decided to use the summer to explore doing athletic things such as working out, swimming and cycling.
Although I was quite shy, I allowed myself to be bold enough to buy a pair of spandex cycling shorts and a tank top (which I'm wearing in the above photo)... and then managed to get my nerve up to wear them in public while riding my new mountain bike. On those bike rides I felt as free as a bird and relaxed as the wind rushed around me. That was a really good feeling. Cycling very quickly became my new favourite thing to do. For the first summer in a long while, I felt proud to me.
Previously, when I was in my mid teens back in 1988 and 1989, I began to struggle with being gay and have continued to do so on occasion through to my adulthood. Everyone has their own thing to deal with and like it or not that was mine. On a social level, being both extremely shy while worrying about being ridiculed for being gay was quite a challenge. I was very afraid of being outed and having my secret discovered because I had been convinced that being gay was shameful. Of course, I know now that there's nothing shameful at all about being gay, but there are times when I still have trouble with it none the less.
Here I am in 1989 when I was 16 and in grade nine. I had grown my hair long and was well into my rebellious phase. On the inside, I was very angry about being gay and having to suppress all of my thoughts and feelings. There was also a part of me that hated myself for being gay which became more problematic as my homosexual feelings became harder to ignore. Despite all of that, my new leather jacket made me very happy, I loved it! I had saved up forever to buy that jacket and it meant the world to me. In retrospect, it was somewhat of a life line. When I wore that jacket all my troubles faded away, it made me feel like Superman.
Here I am with my older brother Steven after a puppet show that I did in high school, in 1990. I also have an older sister, Shannon. Both of my siblings are awesome, though I didn't tell either of them that I was gay until my early 20's.
Since my mid teens in the late 1980's I have been captivated with puppetry. In high school I put on a puppet play in the drama department with some classmates. My brother Steven helped out with some of the puppet voices. This production allowed me a much needed escape from all the worrying about being gay and struggling to figure out who I was. It allowed me to just think about puppetry. I would become happily lost in any creative project that came along, and enjoyed them all very much!
My friend Bronwyn took this photo of me when I was 18. It was later published in the 1991-92 school year book. I was much too shy to let her take the photo at first, so she had to convince me to do it. I'm glad she did. Somehow during those years I managed to become both handsome and nerdy at the same time. Love those huge glasses!
Back then nobody knew that I was gay, at first, not even me! From around the age of eight or nine I knew that I was "different" but didn't fully understand it until my mid teens. Of course once I fully clued in the situation terrified me. My instinct was to keep my gayness a secret, and even deny to myself how I really felt. The word "gay" didn't really come into use until the 1990's, and I never knew what "homosexual" was until grade seven. But I was well aware that a boy wasn't supposed to like other boys other than for friendship, and if you did it meant that you were cast out as being strange and perverted, or worse.
My cat Weeble and I in 1990 or 1991.
From boyhood and throughout my teens to my early 20's I grew up in a Catholic community and social environment in which I was taught that I should be ashamed to be gay, that my feelings were unnatural, and that homosexuality was sinful and immoral. But the most devastating aspect was the realization that I should hide how I truly feel inside and never express it to another human being, no matter how I might have felt about someone... or him about me. It was a matter of survival. The cruelty of it all apparently didn't matter to anyone. Homosexuals were treated like vermin, that's just the way the world was.
This environment was in every sense of the word, abusive. No human being should have to endure that kind of social or personal degradation, which in truth is a form of brainwashing. It has taken my entire adult life until now, my early 40's, to undo all of that negative messaging. To convince myself that I no longer have to hide how I feel and that in fact, I have a right to just be myself. But most importantly, that I should stop hating myself, or stop hating the part of my soul that sighs with heartache at the sight of a handsome, beautiful guy. Sometimes I still have trouble with that, and just believing that the world has really, truly changed from how it was when I was a boy and a teenager.
Mego Batman and Robin 8 inch dolls from my childhood.
Believe it or not playing with dolls does not make a child gay, nor does it prove that a child is gay! The Mego dolls shown above were extremely popular in the 1970's, so much so that they were manufactured for a full decade, from 1972 to 1981. As such, almost every kid in my school played with these dolls, not just the kids who were gay. Boys have been playing with these types of dolls since the 1960's and they're still very popular today. So you really can't give gay kids like me all the credit for supporting this multi-million dollar industry of "boys dolls" for the past 50 plus years. I've posted more about this on my doll blog, here: http://mikeysdolls.blogspot.ca/p/introduction.html
Even at such a young age as six or seven I had an awareness of liking the male figure and a specific interest in boys. So in regards to my dolls, when I was in grade one I recall being very interested in the sculpted muscular chest on my Robin Mego doll (above), and liked how his shirt opened at the front to show him off. But my Robin doll didn't "make me gay" because I already was gay, even before my parents had bought the doll for me! And I was a selective gay kid, as I clearly preferred playing with Robin over Batman. Heck, at least my Robin doll permitted me to enjoy an innocent expression of my gayness as a child before the weight of the world would come crashing in on me as a teenager!
I also remember as a kid, drawing a picture of the Incredible Hulk and thinking about how much fun it was to draw his pecks and muscles. Then in grade two, I remember being very interested in a boy in my glass. He had blond hair and for some odd reason one day he took his shirt off in class to reveal a white sleeveless undershirt. The teacher scolded him and told him to put his shirt back on right away, and I recall being quite fascinated while watching him. As far as I'm concerned, memories such as these are evidence enough to demonstrate that my gayness is indeed natural... aside from the other more obvious indications during my teens!
In all honesty, talking about being gay still isn't easy for me but I'm working on it. Back then I had attended a catholic school, was often taken to mass at a catholic church, and I had catholic friends and a catholic family. So I suppressed my feelings as best I could, and in doing so supressed a significant part of my identity. Even today, at 40 something, I'm continuing to learn how to breathe easier and to not worry so much about letting people know that I'm gay... to just be my genuine self.
Being genuine... the real me!
Below is a silly photo that I took of myself at age 20 "showing off" my muscles, which I considered to be quite risqué at the time. This was very much out of character for me as I was so shy, and because I was raised to be a good Catholic boy. By taking this photo I honestly thought that I had done something so shockingly rebellious! Silly me!
As much as I was trying to supress my gayness back then, I believe my gayness was fighting back and trying to come out of me anyways, to express itself as it was always meant to. Like any normal guy, I used to pose in the mirror and pretend that I was stronger than I was. Although I was very shy and lacked self esteem around others at school, privately at home I was a tad narcissistic. I think it's fair to say this is a quality that most if not all gay guys have in common. It just stands to reason that a gay guy would appreciate their own reflection in a mirror far more than a straight guy would appreciate their own reflection. I don't have any prove of that though, it's just a theory. In any case, I had wanted to capture in a photo what I saw when I looked into the mirror, so I took this picture of myself. You might say this is an original "selfie" taken long before there were cell phone cameras, in the early 90's!
I've always thought of this picture as being quite gay so I've kept it hidden out of fear that it would "prove" that I'm gay if ever someone found it. In fact, I've never shown it to anyone until I posted it here! To be honest, I love this picture! It's silly and cute and totally gay, and definitely belongs on my coming out blog page. Back then, I never got the chance to show this side of myself to anyone so I'm glad that I took this picture. This is the real me! The real Mikey! Gay, gay, gay! LOL :)
The side effects of living in fear
In my experience, being a gay kid during the 70s, 80s and early 90s was to grow up with an ever present feeling of fear. I worried about being my true self, worried about what would happen if everyone found out that I was gay, and I worried about just letting down my guard and doing or saying whatever I felt like. In fact I was so wound up that by my mid teens I ended up with intense chronic stomach pain. At times out of the blue I would get such an intense pain in my stomach that I would crouch over and grab my stomach in agony and couldn't move until the pain went away. This became a regular thing, just part of the routine. As such my family doctor sent me to do a barium test so that he could find out if I had an ulcer.
At the hospital I had to take off all my clothes and put on one of those backless gowns, then they made me wait in the hall with my dad and the general public until they were ready for me. You see where this is going don't you? Yep! Unfortunately there were no chairs so I had to stand, and being nervous about the test I was pacing the hallway. After a while my dad noticed with alarm that the back of my robe wasn't closed, so he quickly tied it up for me. Ah! ...so that's what those folks were giggling about! So embarrassing! I certainly didn't think it was funny then but now I can joke about it and say what a bummer it was. As for the barium test itself, the less said the better. Trust me! First and last time I ever want to go through that!
Thankfully I didn't have an ulcer, none the less this meant that part of my secret was out. My parents now knew that I was extremely worried about something, and my family doctor even ordered me to stop worrying so much. My parents, especially my mom, pestered me as kindly as possible to open up, but I simply told them that I didn't know what I was apparently so worried about.
Considering how much of my personality I had supressed back then, it's not surprising that I was worrying my way toward poor health. In addition to the stomach pains, in my late teens and early 20s I experienced a few distinct moments of identity crisis where I would completely forget who I was for a brief period of time. I wouldn't forget my name and my birthday and all that stuff, but I wouldn't know who the genuine "me" was. My mind would go blank and I would forget what my personality was like, and what my interests were, and I would also forget that I was gay. I didn't feel any emotion at all for men or women. I became momentarily neutral and blank. The only thing that I felt in those instances was confusion, but then the moment would pass and everything would come back to me and I would remember again. This only happened two or three times, and thankfully while I was at home, but that was more than enough to thoroughly freak me out!
Of course, deep down inside I knew exactly who I was all along. I was gay. I knew that I found guys attractive and although I had tried looking at girls the same way I knew that I just didn't feel the same. I knew that I swooned over guys at school because they were cute and that I had serious crushes on some of them. I even thought about them after school and as I lay in bed at night I would imagine what it might be like to ask any one of them out on a date.
Yet, I couldn't ever do that for real. I also couldn't flirt with them or show off around them to get their attention. But my gayness had to come out of me somehow. It just had to, otherwise my stomach pains and identity crisis "blank" moments would continue to get worse. So, even though I was still struggling with my denial about being gay and was afraid to actually be gay, I somehow made a bargain with myself to allow a few small guilty pleasures, such as my selfie above, as well as...
- Whenever I had the opportunity at the beginning of a new semester I would choose a desk at the back of the class so that no one would see me staring at the cute guys in the room. When sitting at the back wasn't possible I would sit in a desk next to a cute guy so that he would talk to me during class if he had a question about the assignment or just wanted to talk with someone. I enjoyed answering those questions, however I was always too chicken to start a conversation of my own with any of those guys. I was happy just to be near them! :)
- In gym class when we were learning how to wrestle, on one occasion I got paired up with one of the guys I was crushing over, so I purposefully put up a poor fight so that he could pin me to the mat. My momma didn't raise no fool! It was a glorious win for both of us! Though I must admit, during one of those wrestling gym classes I said something mean to one of the guys in the class. He tried to embarrass me by telling the rest of the guys that he could see up my shorts while I was in the middle of a wrestling match and could do nothing about it. He succeeded in embarrassing me thoroughly, though I tried not to let on. After my fight I responded by covertly suggesting that he was gay for getting so excited about it. I've always felt badly about saying that to him. Back then among guys that kind of comment was like going for the jugular. ...Hey dude, if you're reading this, sorry I said that! My sincere apologies!
- On another occasion I noticed a guy that I liked staring at me in class so I allowed myself to smile back. He got the biggest smile on his face after that! I couldn't believe how cute he looked smiling at me like that! He spent the rest of the class glancing back at me, and so I kept smiling and then jokingly winking. I thought for sure we were gong to get caught. We started to hang out after that, and I ate lunch with him a few times, but we were just friends. We never talked about how we felt about each other or that our friendship had blossomed from a flirting session in class! Then one day he stopped coming to school and I never saw him again. I asked my teacher about why he wasn't coming back, and her reply indicated that there would be no way to get in touch with him. I've often thought of him over the years and wondered how he was doing. I think we would have hit it off and could have been a cute couple together! I may have even come out and accepted being gay a lot sooner than I did otherwise, but who knows?
- One of my other school buddies was into WWE wrestling, so whenever I went over to his place to hang out I would let him do all kinds of wresting moves on me. We rationalized it as my way of "helping him" learn how to do the wresting moves correctly, which was fine by me. :) Frankly at that age it's perfectly normal for heterosexual guys to be curious about other guys, so this was my buddy's way of acting on that curiosity. I don't suspect that he was gay too. In any case, he was naturally quite strong and had a nice set of pythons on him, which I secretly admired. So hell ya, I was in for some wrestling! Quite often in the rush of things while switching from one wrestling move to another his hand would grab me places that would normally have been off limits between two buddies! By necessity some of the wrestling moves from the TV show also required him to put his hand in unusual places, especially if he were to lift me up "wrestling style". As such, for several of my high school years that buddy of mine had his hands all over me, especially the back side! Lots of groping the back side in wrestling! After a while of allowing myself to be naive about why I was so into what we were doing with the wrestling, I was unable to continue to enjoy it and instead I began to get freaked out by it. The wrestling had become such a major part of spending time together that I let my own worries and fears get in the way of our friendship and stopped hanging out with him, which hurt him terribly. It was wrong of me to do that to him and I've always regretted it. Years later I did apologize to him but we unfortunately had grown apart by then, and have since lost touch with each other. Now that I look back on it all in hindsight those wrestling matches with my buddy helped me out much more than I realized at the time. They became a harmless way for me to express my gayness on the sidelines, while in my "real life" I was forcing myself to be what everyone expected of me. I would even go as far as to say my buddy and his wrestling moves quite possibly saved my teenaged life! So thanks to my buddy, who shall remain nameless here but is in my heart always! Luv ya dude! ;) Of course, that being said, it wouldn't surprize me to learn that throughout it all we had inadvertently become engaged! (Kidding!) I'm sure the papers will turn up some day!!! :) We even took our shirts and jeans off once and got all sweaty together "wrestling" in our underwear. This was rationalized as a way to mimic the briefs worn by the wrestlers on the TV show. It was quite a gay moment. Funny thing is, we got dressed in a hurry when his parents came home! :)
- Aside from school there was also the YMCA which, since the 1970s, had a well known reputation as being a place for gay guys so I treated myself to a membership. The rational that I told myself was that the membership was so that I could go swimming and use the pool, but I also spent about the same amount of time in the shower and the change room pretending to get washed and dressed. Bad Mikey! (Yay! Good Mikey!) Being the shy person I was, I never spoke to anyone though unless it was very brief. I was much too wound up and nervous about being there anyways, as I still had the denial going on, so the whole time I had two narratives in my head. On the one side I wanted to be there and on the other side I didn't because it meant admitting to myself that I was gay.
Silencing my spirit
Frankly, there's so much more to being gay than just who you are attracted to or who you have sex with. A person's sexuality is a part of their character and spirit, it's part of how they exist in the world. To tell someone that they can't or shouldn't be gay, or that it's unnatural or wrong, is like telling someone that their true being is not worthy of being loved to the same extent as everyone else. It's like saying that there are two classes of human beings, those that are worthy of being genuine in the world and those that aren't.
Though I had wanted to, back in the 1980's I didn't talk about Scott Baio with my sister, and I didn't tell any of my friends how cute I thought Christopher Atkins was in The Pirate Movie! I certainly didn't say a thing about how I felt when I saw a movie magazine photo of Miles O'Keeffe as Tarzan, or Dolph Lundgren in the live action Master of the Universe film! Nope, not a peep to anyone.
Scott Baio as Chachi from the TV series Happy Days, circa 1980 "Wa wa wa!"
It's well known that Scott Baio is not gay and is also very conservative ...but it's free to look! ;)
Later in the early 1990's during my late teens, I said nothing about how stunningly handsome Brandon Lee was as the Crow or that I had a crush on the rebellious Axl Rose! I also didn't have a high school sweetheart to steal kisses from, nor did I attend the school prom with a handsome date. I missed out on all of that.
In fact at one point a cute guy in my school that I had a huge crush on, and who I thought was way out of my league, much to my amazement had asked me out on a date but I refused and told him that I wasn't gay. Internally I was quite fearful of facing the reality that I was gay and the possibility of being "outed". Even though I was thrilled and flattered that he was interested in me, I wondered if his asking me out was just a trick to find out if I was gay so that he could beat me up. Maybe it was foolish of me to think that; I was a genuine ball of confusion back then. Thankfully my puppetry and art work gave me a way to stop worrying and find peace of mind whenever I needed to. In the long run of things that's quite honestly how I survived high school. My puppets saved me! :)
In retrospect, I've always hoped someday that I might find out if my high school crush was being genuine when he asked me out, but even with all the social technology nowadays I have no idea what's become of him so I'll likely never know.
Here I am with my puppet character Jeremy, posing for a PR photo for the "Jack and the Beanstalk" show that I created in 1994, a few years after I had finished High School.
This picture was taken in 1995 during my visit to the Sesame Street studio in New York.
A self portrait, made as a class assignment while studying animation in college, created Feb 1995
when I was 21 years old. It's a bit wonky in some places but I still like it.
Being gay in the mid 90's and beyond...
Beginning around 1995 during my early 20's when I was in college, I had begun to set aside my denial and accept that I was gay which I had been struggling with since my teens. Somehow I got up enough nerve to tell my parents and siblings that I was gay, and later told a few of my friends.
Here I am in my room at age 23 in 1996 when I was studying animation in college.
Fortunately, the reply from my family was a positive one, and mostly positive from my friends, yet I kept the fact that I was gay private. To my dismay, coming out didn't change how I felt about being gay, as I still wasn't comfortable with it at all. I didn't understand at the time that I had a major case of internalized homophobia (which I discuss more about later on toward the end of this page, under the heading "Internalized Homophobia"). At this point, figuring out how to be openly gay in a heterosexual world became the next struggle, which in all honesty continues to this day.
Back then in my mid 20's it didn't take long for me to discover that the combination of being gay, having long hair, and liking hard rock or heavy metal was quite an anomaly! As such, I didn't feel any connection with the so called "gay community" which, from my experience at the time, seemed rather manufactured and tended to dictate how gay men were supposed to think, act and look. In addition, there were many in the gay community who criticized other gay guys who stayed in the closet, which I thought was extremely cruel and hypocritical. This made me feel as though I didn't belong in the heterosexual community or the gay community, but rather somewhere in between which was quite a lonely place to be.
Around this time in my mid 20's I was seriously into fantasy art and enjoyed drawing pictures of long haired warrior dudes! I've always really liked long hair on guys and so whenever I used to feel isolated because of being gay, and needed an "escape" from the real world, I would spend hours drawing fantasy warriors in my sketchbook. Above is one of those sketches. I've posted others on a separate page of this blog, here: http://mikeyspuppetryblog.blogspot.ca/p/mike-artelles-fantasy-characters.html
Another drawing of a Warrior Dude from my 20's.
With some persistence I made a few gay friends whom I clicked with. Therefore when it came to socializing I could alternate between my gay buddies and my straight buddies, and that was fine with me. One of my new gay friends at the time was Duane (seen below), whom I'm still very good friends with today. We met at a gay men's support group. I had to work up my nerve to attend, which took several weeks. Previously I had attended a few of the "20 something" group meetings but unfortunately didn't click with anyone there, so the men's group was the next option.
My buddy Duane circa 1999, around the time we first met.
Those support group meetings are the first occasions in which I attended events in the gay community, and the first occasions in which I openly outed myself to others, so they were quite a big deal for me. Simply entering the building was difficult, and walking into the room where the meeting was held was quite a frightening thing to do, yet I forced myself to do it. However, I didn't meet all of my gay buddies at those meetings. I met a few gay friends through work or at college, having made the bold (and for me extremely rare) decision to out myself to them.
Unfortunately however, there are many cases in which I suspected that a guy at my work or in my class at college was gay but didn't have the courage to come out to him or pursue a friendship with him. Even if a guy had flirted with me and gave me some kind of signal that he was interested, I would be too afraid to follow his lead. This was my internalized homophobia at work. Back then, you really had to hit me over the head with a mallet to get me to flirt back or admit that I was gay, even though I was dying on the inside to do so already. I've always regretted those missed opportunities considerably. Having a larger group of gay friends to hang out with would have made life much more easier.
"Biker Mikey" version 2: The Hippie!
Here I am in 1997 next to my friend Jay's motorcycle shortly before I bought my own, shown below. For several years in the late 1990's until 2001 I owned a Yamaha motorcycle which I loved. Some of my friends from college had previously bought motorcycles and helped me learn how to drive one. Riding my motorcycle became a new hobby for me. Each summer we went on several bike trips that I remember with great fondness.
"Biker Mikey" version 3: The Motorcyclist!
More info about "Biker Mikey" and my various motorcycle adventures is provided on another page of this blog, here: http://mikeyspuppetryblog.blogspot.ca/p/biker-mikey.html
In the mid to late 1990s as gay rights became more main stream it became trendy for TV shows to include gay characters, or the shows themselves were based on a central gay theme. It was around this point that the expression "that's so gay" became a popular catchphrase used to diminish or dismiss something as being uncool or poorly done. For example, a bad movie would be described as "that movie was so gay". Likewise, a fashion statement, for example, that was deemed uncool could be put down as "that jacket is so gay". The catchphrase was one of the ways in which anti-gay folks pushed back against the gay rights movement. Unfortunately many folks who weren't necessarily anti-gay and didn't quite understand the meaning or source of the expression, yet wanted to be seen as being cool themselves, began using the catchphrase to be part of the trend. As such "that's so gay" became a common thing to hear in general society at the time.
Thankfully today the expression has fallen out of use as I had found it quite upsetting and hurtful that people felt so at liberty to use my sexual nature as the very thing that defined something that wasn't cool. To me they were also saying that I wasn't cool, and that I could never be cool no matter what because I'm gay. In fact what isn't cool, and never will be, is to put down someone just because they are different from you.
Fortunately, society has matured a lot since my 20s in regards to respecting homosexuals. The gay themed main stream TV shows and annual media coverage of pride events from the 1990's and early 2000's were quite stereotypical, but I think today in 2017 people are generally aware of that. And although there are still movies like Deadpool being made which present homosexuality as something to be laughed at, included in the film only for the sake of comedy relief, I find that the majority of intelligent people in our society no longer accept that it's funny to present gay people that way.
(For the record I like how Deadpool is handled in the comics, at least what I've seen online, I just don't think they translated his humour to the screen very well as it came off as being insulting, whereas in the comics he's funny and relatable. I also liked the movie as far as superhero movies go, it was better than Batman vs. Superman by far, but it is ruined for me because of the insulting presentation of Deadpool's gayness as the comedy relief. In the comics that I've seen, Deadpool's gayness isn't the punch line, but rather the joke is that he can't help flirting with guys even if they aren't gay - such as Thor and Spidey - and the way that he does it in the comics is charming and funny.)
In my room with some of my collectables when I was 31, in 2004. I like this picture because of how slim I was (150 lbs. and a size medium shirt!). Unfortunately I have a rather forlorn look on my face in this photo! Poor Mikey!!! It seemed the perfect segue to the next section...
A tale of unrequited love
Although it's been a long, long journey, I finally, honestly feel that it's okay to be gay. I've still got some work to do regarding my internalized homophobia when it comes to social situations, and I'm making progress. Of course, what would make this all worth the effort, and a heck of a lot easier, is to find a partner.
I've had a few boyfriends over the years, and more than once had thought that I had found my soul mate, but social taboos about being gay were still too dominating at the time and got in the way. It's difficult for a relationship to blossom when your boyfriend has a homophobic family, or he hasn't accepted that he's either gay or bisexual, or when neither of you are able to cope with the reality of actually being in a gay relationship. Such unrequited love was a common experience for me in my 20's and 30's. So while I'd love to write about what it's like to be in a steady gay relationship that has stood the test of time, and tell you all about the big happy ending, quite frankly I'm still working on that.
This is the graphic from a T-shirt available on Amazon, which I relate to very much!
Now that I'm into my forties finding my soul mate will no doubt be a challenge, especially as within the gay community I'm known as what's called a "unicorn". I'm a gay guy who is looking for a long term relationship rather than quick one night stands. I'm not making any judgment calls about which lifestyle is better, "live and let live" is my motto. However for me, I'd much rather live the life of a unicorn! It's just in my nature to be the romantic type, so that will never change! I want the moonlit walks, cuddling while watching a movie together, and finishing each others sentences. I think all that stuff is so cute and adorable, I just love it, and I'm looking forward to it! That being said my soul mate isn't a figment of my imagination either. He exists and he's out there just as I am, we just haven't found each other yet... or we have and just haven't realized it!
In any event, I trust that the day will soon come when my future boyfriend and I are walking hand in hand in a public place without a care in the world, just happy to be together. And that's exactly as it should be, because love is love... which is really all that matters.
A heartwarming image: The silhouette of a cute gay couple and the gay pride rainbow flag.
A few thoughts about religion...
As people tend to interpret things differently, I thought it would be prudent to add a short section about religion for a few reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, is to clarify that the purpose of this page is not to spew hate towards those who are Catholic or who follow an organized religion. I have a great deal of respect for people of faith. In fact my own parents still regularly attend mass, and it comforts me to know that they have a place to take a rest from the world, renew their faith and find peace.
I also think it's wrong to use gay rights as an excuse to bash religion. Reducing the discussion about gay rights, or any human rights issue for that matter, to simply being an "us vs. them" scenario is unhelpful as it prevents progress and only fosters anger on both sides of a debate. Real progress and understanding can only happen if everyone involved is listening to each other. In other words, a debate should not be framed as "us vs. them" but rather how do "we", as in all of us, find a solution. For that to happen, a certain level of compassion and empathy towards each other needs to be genuinely expressed from all involved... and for that to happen, all those involved need to have the ability to express compassion and empathy. I'm not being sarcastic. Quite sadly, there are unfortunately people in this world, both for and against homosexuality, who are simply unable to express feelings of empathy toward others unless they share the same political way of thinking. The fact that we are all human beings, despite our political views, is lost on such individuals.
In addition, considering that it is so blatantly evident that Catholic teaching about homosexuality is harmful to gay kids as is the negative attitude fostered by such teachings, and that children are born gay due to nature's own design, I think logic dictates that it is the Catholic Church's responsibility to own up to this and change their teachings. That's a big ask, I realize, but one that is fundamentally necessary. It is simply unjust and incorrect to teach whole communities of people all around the world that homosexuality is shameful or more sinful than being heterosexual. Such derogatory teachings about gay people are a form of oppression which I strongly doubt was God's intention.
Fact: This guy is flexible.
Belief: I think he's hot!
At the core of the conflict regarding religion and gay rights is a debate about facts and beliefs. These are two very different things which are often confused. A fact is something that the accumulated evidence will support, such as the outcome of doing something a certain way for a period of time. So a fact would be: "Forcing a gay child to conform to heterosexual norms by supressing his or her gay identity through mental and social manipulation is harmful to the child." A belief is not a fact. It is something that a person may hope and wish to be true, or have a strong assumption about. So a belief would be: "Homosexuality is unnatural and therefore gay people should not be allowed to get married." Believing in something does not make it a fact. (Homosexuality is in fact natural. You can believe gay people shouldn't be married, but it is not a fact that they shouldn't.) You can also repeat a belief over and over again until you think it's true, but in reality it still does not become a fact. Of course, a belief can stir up strong feelings and can have strong value, but it will never be an unchangeable, proven fact.
Regarding individual beliefs, one of the problems in our society is that everyone does not share in the same belief that: "All human life is equal and therefore everyone should be treated with an equal amount of respect". In any case, it is illogical to ask others to respect your beliefs if it is your belief that you do not have to respect others. This applies to religious folks and gay rights activists in equal measure.
My thoughts about being "normal"
When reading about being gay I've often come across the term "normal" to describe being heterosexual as opposed to being gay which is thought of as being, well, not normal. For example, a parent who finds out that their kid is gay may think "I just want my kid to be normal". Quite frankly, the notion that being gay isn't normal is a rather silly way of looking at things. Rest assured, gay folks are indeed "normal". In truth being gay is just as normal as being heterosexual. It may not be as common, but it is indeed normal.
What isn't normal is the reaction to homosexuality in our culture. It's quite ridiculous actually. All of this hullaballoo over what? Think about it. What kind of a culture imposes the ideology that every person must be the same? Or dictates who you are allowed to think is beautiful? Or insists upon how you must feel about the opposite sex under threat of social exile, shame, physical harm or worse. What kind of people or culture would treat others in such a manner? Is that "normal"?
To understand what being normal is, think of how many ways the human race is diverse. Think of all the different cultures, languages, skin colours, hair colours, body types, physical abilities, intellectual interests, skill sets, the varieties of food we eat, the smells we like, the vast range of music we create, fashions, art, lifestyles, religions, and on, and on. It's remarkable how people from all around the world can be so diverse from each other. Clearly nature does not use just one mould to create humanity.
With all of that human diversity, it's quite illogical and even foolish to expect every single person on the planet to be heterosexual!
..and frankly, can you really blame me for being attracted to guys when they look like this?!?
..or (someone pinch me!) this!!!
Oh wait, I can't forget this guy...I love his long hair! :)
And this guy, and this guy, and this guy!!!!
And him, and him!
...and definitely him!
And one more.....so cute!
Wait a sec...can't forget him...oh, and him too! Nice balancing! :)
Okay, well, I have a few more... just go ahead and scroll down the page! :)
...wowsers! Mikey likes it!
Okay, and one more of a cutie on a giant inflatable flamingo! So adorable!!! :)
There, that will do! It was subtle, but I think I've made my point. :)
I think these guys are beautiful!!!
Of course, there are those who insist that being gay isn't "normal" because of the common belief that there are fewer gay folks than heterosexual folks, and therefor the assumed "norm" is to be heterosexual. Such an argument is inherently flawed as it's based on a numerical statistic derived from "research". However the truth of the matter is that there's no way to determine how gay the world's population is or isn't, especially given the social environment towards homosexuality in some countries. How could it possibly be known if someone is gay if they are too afraid to tell you they are gay, or even to admit to themselves that they are gay?
Here is more on the topic of such statistical research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation
To be honest, such research always comes across to me as being slanted to present a desired conclusion that is either for or against homosexuality. Some "research" even goes as far as to insist that there are hardly any gay people at all. Not surprisingly, such information is created by those who do not support gay rights in an effort to diminish homosexuals. In my view, being gay is more common than what is widely assumed, but even if it isn't it's still inappropriate and somewhat homophobic to view being gay as anything but normal. There are millions of people all over the globe for whom being gay is the norm.
Coming out again, and again, and again
It is a false notion that a gay guy simply has to come out of the closet once and then they are done with it forever... finito, end of story, he is an out and proud gay man. Alas, that is not the case. In order to be truly out and open, gay guys have to come out repeatedly, many, many, many times, over several years and in fact for the rest of their lives. This is because it is impossible for everyone that a gay guy will ever meet or communicate with for the rest of his life to be present in the room the first time that he comes out. More importantly however is that heterosexist views still dominate society. In other words, regardless of how illogical it may be, most people still generally expect others to be heterosexual.
This funny photo was taken by my friend Marcus in 2005, when I was 32.
As such a gay guy will have to come out to, for example, a friend, then another friend, followed by more friends, gay folks in his community, siblings, parents, relatives, perhaps his peers or colleagues if it is pertinent to do to so, perhaps his employer, his doctor, and on and on. This is done in no particular order, it is entirely up to the individual. There are also those moments when the topic of homosexuality comes up in conversation with others who may not know that a person in the group is gay. It is of course no ones business if one of their peers is gay, so in such a situation a gay guy is certainly under no obligation to say anything unless he felt it was safe to do so, and was comfortable with the people around him.
This picture is from the 1970's. Kidding! This was one of the few occasions in which I attended the Ottawa Pride Festival, in 2008, when I was 34. I'm striking a pose for my friend Duane.
Obviously not everyone needs to know if you are gay, and I would agree that posting this page on my blog may be seen as somewhat extraordinary in that regard. To be honest, I find it's quite a nuisance to continuously face situations where I have to come out to people, so maybe this blog page will go some distance to help me reduce the quantity of those coming out moments. Looking at it this way, it's a bit of a cop-out on my part I guess, but one that I embrace none the less!
Of course, the more often a gay guy informs others that he is gay it becomes less and less an ordeal, and eventually coming out won't matter to him at all. When I came out to my friend Marcus around 2007, he thought from the look of concern on my face that I was about to tell him that someone had died, and told me so. We had a good laugh about the situation. Thankfully, Marcus is still a good friend of mine. Clearly I'm not yet comfortable with the ongoing process of coming out, though I wish that I were. In this regard, all that I can do is my best which is all anyone can do in any situation. I'm sure that I'll get better at it down the road...
Here I am with one of my puppet characters, Pythor the Barbarian, in 2010.
The effects of conforming
One of the unique things that a lot of gay people experience as a result of supressing their identities during their teenage or young adult years is a delayed adolescence. As we are so involved with conforming to the surrounding social norms and expectations in our earlier years, gay guys like me often miss out on all the normal things that a teenager and young adult is suppose to do, such as going on a first date, or dancing at the prom, and so on. In addition, gay guys who go through what I did have fewer opportunities to genuinely develop their social skills or dating skills, and therefore are more likely to end up single later in life when most heterosexual couples are settling down and having kids.
As such there is a domino effect that comes into play which causes a gay man's usual "timeline" for life events to be thrown out of sync with his age. So if you ever see a grown man who is gay acting like a teenager, or if he comes across as being immature for his age, now you know exactly why. He is simply acting out those social situations which, by no fault of his own, he missed out on earlier in life. I've been fortunate to have had some memorable experiences with my past boyfriends, however in some ways I still find myself dealing with this delayed timeline effect now that I'm in my early 40's. For starters, I certainly hadn't planned on being single at this point of my life! Being such a shy person complicates things even more, so I have my work cut out for me.
In addition to the above, I continue to cope with what I strongly suspect is the most annoying, persistent, frustrating, and ultimately depressing case of internalized homophobia that a gay guy could possibly have, and I'm not being sarcastic. This is the beast that needs to be slain!
This button sums up the situation nicely!
The condition is a direct result of my staunch Catholic upbringing along with disparaging attitudes from society in general during my childhood, as well as present day. Essentially, because I was hardwired as a kid to be afraid of being openly gay and to believe that there was something wrong or abnormal with being homosexual, I have those same irrational instincts as an adult. Logically, I know that my gayness is perfectly natural yet at times I have difficulty with expressing it no matter how much I may want to.
For example, I went to the mall the other day to speak with a sales rep who turned out to be a very cute young guy in his 20s. He had a very chatty, friendly demeanor, and long hair that looked really attractive on him. If I were 15 years younger he would be the kind of guy I'd want to go out with. While we were talking I got the sense that he might be gay (which gay folks refer to as "gaydar") and found myself becoming more curious about him, impulsively studying him to see if he really was gay. In that moment when I was experiencing those gay feelings of attraction for him I suddenly became fearful about being gay, rather than feeling good about it. As such, I ended the conversation with him quickly and left the store in order to avoid feeling attracted to him. This is a completely irrational response for me to have toward my own gayness, but the fearfulness just keeps dogging me.
Doing away with my internalized homophobia would make me feel like this guy!
Thankfully my internalized homophobia doesn't affect me all of the time. As I mentioned earlier, I do have gay friends and have had a few boyfriends in the past. However my internalized homophobia has prevented me on many, many occasions from simply being myself and saying what is actually on my mind. In the past it has caused me to miss out on making new gay friends, talking with cute guys that I'd want to go out with, using my gaydar to meet gay guys who might not be out, making myself open to having a steady boyfriend, flirting back with a guy who is flirting with me, being openly gay in general, and establishing a long term relationship with a partner.
Dealing with internalized homophobia isn't as simple as just saying "get over it already". To do so would be dismissing it as trivial which is not helpful at all. Internalized homophobia is a complex issue that requires a tremendous amount of patience and understanding to sort through as you work to peel back the layers and expose irrational thoughts. More importantly, it's critical for me to remind myself that this internalized homophobia is not my fault. It is the result of being mentally abused during my childhood when I was forced to conform. When, as a boy, I was made to feel so fearful about my natural gay feelings that I am still fearful at times even as an adult.
As I understand it, those who are aware of their gayness when they are a child or in their teens are more at risk of developing internalized homophobia, where as those who become aware of their gayness in their 20s or as an adult are less at risk.
Therefore in order to overcome my internalized homophobia, I have to push through my fear and acknowledge that I am gay, acknowledge the struggle that I'm having with being gay, and talk more about it. To that end, I've taken the bold step of adding this page "Mikey's Coming Out Story" to my blog, and I've even included this section discussing internalized homophobia! Take that you nasty dragon!
So now my internalized homophobia is exposed for all to see! Without question, I'm working on it and I will slay this beast. Despite that it has already taken me a long, long time to get to this point, I need to continue being patient with myself. Sometimes though, that's very hard to do, especially when I think about all the years that I've missed out on living my life just being my true self....
A handsome Christmas photo from 1994 when I was 21.
Although being gay hasn't been easy for me, I am very proud of how I endured and persevered over the years. The struggle has knocked me down a number of times, but I always, always get back up. I'm not made of Teflon or steel, I'm just very stubborn which in this case is a good thing!
When I was very young and came to understand the social and political situation that goes along with being a gay man, I also eventually realized that while I may not have been given the choice to be gay, or the choice to be in a Catholic school, or the choice to be in this specific predicament, I knew that the choice to always get back up again after being knocked down was something that nobody else could decide but me.
And here I am, a stubborn, shy warrior, still standing.
For that, I give myself a big gold star. Without question there were times when I didn't get back up right away. Sometimes it's necessary to be patient with yourself and take the time to think things through, find some support and talk to someone. But I knew that I would get back up again when I was ready. I refuse to let those who poisoned my young mind win this battle, so I will always get back up. Not only is this a promise that I made with myself, but it's also something that I owe myself. After all, it's rather silly to be down about others treating you with disrespect if you aren't going to treat yourself with respect either, so I owe it to myself to always get back up. I cannot continue to let the negativity of those who are anti-gay determine the extent to which I can live a life of happiness.
It goes without saying that all gay people do not have the exact same experience with coming out, accepting who they are, and then finding a partner. There's no formula or pattern that must be followed. Everyone is on their own journey and deserves the freedom of coming to terms with being gay in whatever amount of time they need. Variables such as a person's surroundings, the tolerance or intolerance of friends and family, and a person's physical location on the globe, all have an effect on how each of us muddles through it all. This is why some gay folks are able to be so openly gay and have a partner, while others living in the same city choose to be patient and give themselves more time before coming out.
Clearly, I needed a lot of time for my own journey, but I can now say without any fake pretences that I like being gay and I'm happy that I'm gay! It's part of my unique personality. The lessons that I've learned from my struggle to accept being gay have made me a more compassionate person. If given the choice today between being gay or not I wouldn't change a thing. I'm proud to be gay, and if you're a gay guy like me, I hope that you're proud too!
Carry on brave warrior! Onward and upward!
Thanks for reading! ;)
Here I am with all of my superhero puppets in March 2016 when I was 42.
Go to the next page of this blog "Biker Mikey: Fond memories from my 20's":http://mikeyspuppetryblog.blogspot.ca/p/biker-mikey.html
Here is an amazing interview with Ricky Martin on the Ellen show:
Coming Out as gay: 6 stages for understanding the emotional process
Wikipedia information about homosexuality:
...and another picture of Chachi! ;)
Originally Posted March 2016
Last Updated March 2017
This page is also posted on "Mikey's Blog of Awesomeness (and Astute Observations)":
Please contact me through my website at www.artellepuppets.ca
The original contents of this blog page including text and photos are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1988, 2017
This excludes the pictures that were found online including those of Chachi. (Scott Baio, thank you for existing! You are a handsome, dark haired, hot stud muffin of boyish 70's perfection! ...and cute too!)