Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Male Vulverability...An Oxymoron?

_DSC4570 - Sorrow has become my soulmate
Originally uploaded by Alan Ranger

A dull ache is good. Or, maybe, it's a sharper ache than I want to admit. I'm just going to say this week has been a difficult one. There's no way around it. I want to be doing better, but I think it's just not in the cards right now. So, I've said it, now I want to think about something else.

I'm going to walk away from my computer for a brief moment, then see what comes to mind.

Okay, so here's something that has risen to the level of my awareness each day. It is something that is brought to my mind every time I search for a photograph to accompany my daily post. As you may have noticed, I use Flickr as the source for most of the art work/photography used in my blog. I spend almost as much time searching for the right picture, as I do writing the day's thoughts. I see the accompanied artwork as a significant part of my daily post, as it communicates immediately the tone I wish to set.

Being that the nature of my blog tends to be of intense emotions, namely grief, most of my searches are done with a particular word in mind. I tend to look for images that reflect not only the emotion, or experience, I am trying to convey, but from my individual perspective. With that in mind, I often want the image to be reflective of the fact that I am a 50 year old gay man. Now, of course there is much more to me, but I have chosen to frame my blog's perspective from this; 50, gay, male. I know, I know, do I have a point here? Yes, I'm getting to it.

To your love through the light of sorrow
Originally uploaded by Tatiana Kurnosova

Invariably, whenever I search under a given description, let's say "sorrow" as an example, I tend to find very few images of, dare I say, middle aged men. There are plenty of images of women. Lots of images of beautiful women. There are images of men, but most tend to be either very young (read 'hot') or very old (read 'well beyond my years'). I've noticed, and this probably won't surprise you, that in general, we seem to be more comfortable with images of women emoting. We also seem to be more comfortable with elderly people emoting. But for some reason, an image of a middle aged man showing these depths of emotion is not okay.

In order to understand this I only have to look at myself. Prior to losing Michael, you probably would have been hard pressed to catch me in tears. I was your typical male, always in control of my emotions. Well, at least that is how I saw myself. I think if you asked my children, they would probably say the same. Over the years they have definitely seen me expressing anger, in more ways that I'm proud to admit. But then again, anger seems to be one of those emotions that we are comfortable seeing men express. Anger works for us. Anger has often worked for me.

Expressing anger has never made me, or my children, worry that I am less able to take care of my responsibilities as the 'dad.' Anger doesn't make me look weak, and it doesn't necessarily make me feel weak. It can often empower me to get through a difficult situation. On the other hand, more vulnerable emotions, which more likely are accompanied by tears, do make me feel, or maybe appear, less in control, or capable. I can clearly see the worry in my children's eyes when they see me cry. And while I try not to shield them completely from my grief, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I more often try to not cry in front of others.

I wonder if this is because of my role as the "bread winner." I don't have the luxury of falling apart. Too many people rely on me. Keep in mind that this is solely from my perspective, the only one I can truly speak from. I think there are so many wrong messages that we men have received growing up. And even though I should be a bit more enlightened, I tend to find that historically I have remained true to these societal, or self-imposed, limitations.

So, perhaps this is why it is not surprising that when I go looking for images that reflect my current reality, that of a 50 year old, gay man, who is in mourning, I don't find too much. Actually, it's not just in my searches for images. It is also in my searches for widower blogs, bereavement support groups, books on being widowed, web sites dealing with loss, and so on. They tend to be mostly for women, and by women. When are we men going to catch up? When are we men going to break from these rules we have bought into? When are we men going to, first allow ourselves to be vulnerable, then allow ourselves to admit to being vulnerable?

Well, this is why I am here. I was tired of being in control, and tired of always having to appear strong. When I lost Michael I realized that it was time to loosen the shackles of control. I needed to be more willing to express my vulnerability. With the creation of this blog, I chose to document my vulnerability, and to change not only how I present myself, but how I experience myself.

Hi. My name is Dan. I am a 50 year old gay man. I am in pain. I lost the love of my life. I am lost. I cry on a daily basis. This is me being real.

This is Dan, in real time.


  1. I loved this Dan. It takes courage to break the stupid, stupid "rules" of society's expectations of men ... I mean, it's stupid, stupid, stupid to expect men to deal with grief better, not to be emotional, not to cry ... when you feel as much heartbreak and pain as I do in loss.

    Your loss is as enormous as my own - why then, does society expect you to deal with it in a less emotional way? STUPID.

    That said, you are very right in that there are less blogs, less photos, less groups etc. I wish it were not the case.

    I hope they follow your lead and say it as it is. Recently, when posting, I have tried to remember saying "widow/er" instead of simply "widow" because it had started to bug me.

    And while I'm on the subject, please consider coming to the National Conference on Widowhood in August in San Diego ... or if you do not want to, perhaps we could meet for dinner (wNs, SuddenWidow, me ...) around that time?

  2. i second Boo. do consider coming to see us all in San Diego. my daughter is going to make me bring some glow sticks. she wants a photo of me and everyone "raving" by the harbor behind/in front of the hotel. me dancing with glow sticks? if that's not a draw i don't know what would be.

  3. and I'm bringing my own glow sticks (yes they are the remnants of a mis-spent but happy decade) ... I'll let you share mine x

  4. Holding you close dear brother in sorrow - I have become so much more conscious of saying widowed - meaning all of us - your post is so wonderful. We are all in this together - in our grief and in our journey - love and hugs to you Dan. xo