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Starting Over

   “The lockdown is over!”

Those are the first words of this new romance, set to take place in a hopefully not so distant future when the events of the book aren’t superspreaders. The world was paused for the coronavirus, but for Kent Campbell, his world has been paused a lot longer.

When he was a teen, his friendship with Dylan Hedderson became something more, but that ended as abruptly as it began, something Kent never really got over.  

When Kent runs into Dylan at that first post-lockdown party, the sparks between them are immediate. Dylan is still as beautiful as Kent remembers, but this new Dylan is also out, and proud, and capable of saying what he wants. And what he wants is Kent.

Can they forget the past and take this second chance?

Coming Out

Every year, National Coming Out Day happens on October 11. This year, I thought I’d revisit my coming out story.

It was 1993. Picture, if you can, a world without cell phones, social media, or even the Internet. There were hardly any out celebrities to look up to. Queer characters on TV and in movies, when they existed at all, were sexless sidekicks or living with AIDS. My uncle and his partner were out, but they didn’t live nearby, and certainly, them being gay wasn’t something that was ever discussed. The rare times I heard anything about being gay, it was a punchline or a source of shame or sympathy.

Looking back, there were all the clues I needed to figure out my sexuality, but I truly believed for the longest time that any queer leanings were a phase I would outgrow. After all, I had very loud, public, and dramatic crushes on girls, and had had those my whole life. Yup, my cover was so good, I’d fooled myself; I was basically the only one fooled though. The “homo” and “fag” that everyone called everyone didn’t mean anything, right?

But then I met and became friends with a guy named Daniel, a friendship that ended as abruptly as it began. The depression that sent me into was way worse than when any of those girl-crushes went nowhere. Even if it was only in my head, I started to accept the fact that this wasn’t a phase. By the fall of 1993, I was ready to start telling my closest friends. Some took it well, some didn’t, but with every person I told, it got a bit easier. Still, I was nowhere ready to tell family, and I honestly don’t know when or how I would have, because one cold November night, a friend did it for me.

It was an accident and I never blamed her. It just spilled out one night along with a lot of other drama and chaos and tears and depression. And vodka. There was lots of vodka that night.  Right from that night, my coming out story really did become my mental health story and my addiction story. For years, I would see them as unconnected. But no, they went hand in hand.

Mom didn’t want to believe it. She wanted to know who was to blame. She was convinced someone had molested me to make me turn out that way. Meanwhile, I could barely process what she was saying because I was 100% focused on the guy I thought I loved starting to date my best friend. It was a very fucked up grade 12 year, and certainly, it didn’t seem that coming out had brought me any closer to peace or happiness. Far from it. I started to self-harm. I started to flirt with suicide. I was in so much pain and all of that pain seemed to come from coming out.

So I went back in. High school was over and I was starting University in a new city, and this was a chance for a total fresh start. Certainly, my homophobic roommate helped reinforce that decision. I decided just to focus on school and forget about everything that had happened in the last 12 months. The way to forget? Booze. I drank so much that first semester. (Spoiler: alcohol didn’t make me happy, and spoiler: it got a lot worse after I came out again. That’s a whole different blog).

I started dating a girl named Kim. I knew I wasn’t straight but I figured I could fake it. What was four years? After University, I could revisit coming out. Who would it hurt (spoiler: Kim). But then I started taking Psych, and in that Psych class, there was a guy named Troy. He was handsome and happy and seemingly out and proud. I didn’t know if I wanted to do him or be him, but I knew the closet wasn’t working for me anymore. I broke up with Kim, figured out where and when gay people in Lethbridge gathered, and called a cab to take me away from the closet for good.

Ellen came out, and that was a huge deal. Matthew Shepherd got murdered, and that was a huge deal. Delwin Vriend took the province to court and won, and that was a huge deal. Mental health got better then worse then better then worse. Mom got better and better and better. Alcohol use got worse and worse and worse and then better. But my coming out journey? That was pretty done from that point on. Aside from those times I still catch myself “straightening up” around people I don’t know; that damage might never go away wholly.

But this National Coming Out Day, and so many other days, I am so grateful that yes, it got better.

My Mental Health Journey

So apparently the day before National Coming Out Day is World Mental Health Day and that seems very fitting.

The below entry talks about how linked my coming out journey and my mental health journey were. However, that coming out journey did end (as much as it ever ends. Really, coming out happens all the time because we still live in a world where straight is the assumed default). My mental health journey is ongoing.

I was a moody teenager. Moody, dramatic, and so very angry. That was part the closet, part family, part absolute fucking loneliness, part asshole kids in school. But it was a lot more complicated than any of those things too. After years of highs and lows, I was pretty convinced that I was manic-depressive and I went to the doctor for confirmation. Yes, for confirmation. Not for dialogue, not for discussion. I listed my symptoms, the ones I had already checked online against a list of manic-depressive symptoms, and within five minutes, this doctor I’d never met had prescribed me lithium and said it would probably be for life. “Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder” was their diagnosis, and I was happy that I had a fixable answer.

The problem? They didn’t know me. They didn’t know about high school self harm. They didn’t know about my slow dance with suicidal ideation. They didn’t know how often I simply wanted to die (spoiler: the suicidal part of me wasn’t really the same as the wanting to die part of me. The suicidal part still thought suicide was just the grand romantic gesture I had to make before the hero came in and rescued me. Spoiler: I’m my own fucking hero and years later, I would rescue myself). They gave me pills, and the pills meant no booze, which was another problem that needed fixing, so I was happy: two birds, one small white stone.

I was a zombie on lithium. It was life in a permanent fog. I didn’t realize that no lows and no highs meant no anything at all. Surely I hadn’t been that bad. And I figured so I’d essentially self-diagnosed, I could change my mind. Three months. Three months, and I stopped the lithium and continued with self-medicating with booze.

Booze and then later drugs. Years passed, and I figured that it was the partying that was the problem. That’s why I had the mood swings, because my whole life swung from hungover to drunk and/or high. Once I stopped that, the mood swings would stop. The rage would stop. The sadness would stop. The happy would finally start. Spoiler: not so much.

I got sober in March of 2011, but I still had the rage and sadness, and now I had a lot of new stuff too. Like a nearly crippling social anxiety. That was a new one that had developed in the drunken interim. And there was a lot of brain stuff I didn’t know whether to blame on actual physical damage from the years of daily drunkenness and drug use or whether it was just because I was old now (I mean, 33, that’s gotta be when people’s brains get fuzzy from old age right?)

I suffered through sober sadness for a few years, still believing a boyfriend was just the missing link. But a boyfriend definitely wasn’t the answer. Maybe it was just loneliness in general then. I just needed to be friends with the cool gays (yes, late 30s and I was basically living life like it was still junior high. Go Panthers!).

Just in case, I made another attempt with doctors. This one took a bit more time, and made some referrals, and then I met with that new doctor, and they wanted to meet more regularly. Borderline personality disorder was what they were calling it now, and pills could help, but therapy would help more. But then that second doctor left and I had to start over with a third, and this was just ridiculous, and if a pill couldn’t fix me, then I’d work through it on my own. The escitalopram they had me taking wasn’t helping with the anxiety anyway, and I was already finding that the major depressive episodes were more manageable the older I got (as happens in some cases of BPD).

And that is something I will probably always be working on. I’ve had a lifetime of training myself to react certain ways. Angry ways. Dramatic ways. Negative ways. It makes sense it will take a lifetime to undo that training. But fuck, my life would have been so much easier if I had started working on these things years ago. We didn’t talk about mental health then though, not like we do now.

And so I will share my mental health journey, where I’ve been, where I am, constantly and openly. Because just like coming out reduces discrimination, so too does coming out of the poor mental health closet.

We need to talk about it because that’s how we know we’re not alone, and knowing we’re not alone can be the first step towards healing.

Last Call is Coming

Jesse Sterling liked dick.
There was no denying that. If there was a twelve-step program, he’d be standing there saying, “My name is Jesse Sterling and I’m a cockaholic,” and he would have been saying it proudly.
Jesse sucked his first dick at thirteen, and he was hooked. All those after school specials about drug dealers who gave new customers that first hit for free? That was Jesse with dick. He was hooked from the first time a guy’s hard dick touched his lips.
He liked all dick: big ones, small ones, cut ones, uncut, curved, straight. He even liked soft ones because he knew they wouldn’t stay that way for long. Not around him.
Through his teenage years, he got his hands (and mouth, and ass) on as much dick as possible. He got them out, got them hard, and got them off. Nothing made him as happy as discovering a new dick and what made them cum. Every dick was unique in how they liked to be stroked or sucked or ridden,but one thing they all had in common….they were all beautiful.
Well, not all, he sometimes reminded himself. There’d been one that was just…just not good. That had been long ago though, and there’d been dozens of dicks since to wash the taste out of his mouth. Literally.
And then he had met Colton.
Colton Wainford was perhaps the only other man on earth who loved dick as much as Jesse. And Colton’s dick? Perfection. Perfect length. Perfect girth. Perfect rigidity. Simply, perfect.
That they had found each other, that of all the gay bars in all the world, they had walked into the same one on the same night, and paused to take in each other’s sculpted bodies before stumbling and tumbling into a bathroom stall to appreciate each other’s dicks, that was also pretty perfect.
That bar had been Wonderland, nearly a decade earlier, and that’s why, when Brandon texted with the news of pending closure, Jesse had thrown his phone onto the couch, and exclaimed loudly. “Fuck! That sucks dick!”
“What does? Who does?” Colton called from the bedroom. “And do I get some too?”
“You won’t believe it,” Jesse said. “C’mere!”
Colton walked into the living room, a towel wrapped around his waist. He was still the most perfect man, Jesse thought, and the new chinstrap he was growing was hot as fuck, not douchebaggy like Brandon joked.
“Bad news, babe,” he said. “Brandon texted. Chess is thinking of closing the bar.[Peter Sen4] ”
“What? Why?”
“Didn’t say. But fuck. End of an era.”
Colton came over to Jesse on the couch and straddled him. He leaned down and kissed him. “It’s okay, babe.”
Jesse ran his hands down Colton’s broad shoulders and spine and into the dimple at the top of his butt.
“Mmm I know,” he said, pushing his hands down causing Colton’s towel to fall off. “It still sucks dick.” He looked down to see Colton hard and waiting. “Luckily, so do I.”

Later, they hit the gym quickly, showered and dressed, and headed out for the night. If Wonderland was going to close, it was even more important they enjoy it while they could. Not that they wouldn’t have been there anyway. It was a Friday after all.
Not that they only went out on Fridays . Last night’s muscle bear had been a pleasant Thursday surprise. The good thing about fewer gay clubs was a greater chance of visiting out of towners ending up in their bed.
It wasn’t always about picking up a third; it was just a nice change. Sometimes, it was just about dancing; they loved the Hatter[Peter Sen6] , even if he was getting progressively more retro. Of course, the whole world was; everything was remade, remixed, recycled, and it’s not like Whitney ever went out of style. Yes, sometimes, it was just about dancing.
And drinking. That went without saying.
“What’s Brandon going to do if they close?” he asked Colton, as their Lyft car crossed the bridge to downtown.
“Everywhere needs good bartenders. Don’t worry. He’ll land somewhere that he can give us top shelf at well prices.” They both laughed. Then Colton got a serious look on his face. “You don’t think that’s why they’re closing, do you?”
“We don’t drink that much,” Jesse said. He paused. “But maybe, let’s just drink well tonight.”
“Except still Patron, right?”
“Well, of course still Patron.” They laughed again as the car pulled up outside the club. “Oooh, lined up,” Jesse added.
It was. There must have been fifty people outside, most of whom they didn’t know.
“Something is going on,” Colton said, as they walked past the line up to the door. They didn’t do lines.
“Excuse me, boys. There is a line.”
They both turned to greet the drag queen who had addressed them: tall, thin, exploiting her Asian features with a long black wig and kimono. She didn’t look familiar at all, and Jesse and Colton knew everyone who was worth knowing.
“Look, queen,” Colton said. “We don’t do line-ups.” He grabbed Jesse’s hand and, laughing, they walked through the front doors and down the stairs into Wonderland.

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Journey into Journaling

On Sept. 25, 1993, I sat down on the stairs outside my junior high school and wrote a letter to my closest friends. I began to unravel a bunch of lies as I talked myself into coming out to them.  This letter became the first entry in what is now 7000+ pages or journals, spanning the last twenty-five years.

The process of journaling became very therapeutic for me. While at first it was solely about my coming out journey, it soon allowed me to process childhood trauma, heartbreak, relationships, mental health, substance (ab)use, grief, and, finally, it allowed me to accept and embrace joy.

And yes, joy was possibly the hardest thing to accept.

At this silver jubilee moment of journaling, I would invite anyone reading this to find a notebook and begin to write. Life throws a lot of crap our way, and social media keeps us inundated with thousands of voices. The only way to truly drown out all that noise is to disconnect and listen to our own whispers. We know the answers – we just have to give ourselves the time and the trust to hear them.

Last Last Call

Alex’s adventure in Wonderland began in earnest in the fall of 2012. It was never supposed to be a multi-volume story, but a publisher request for a second volume led to Through the Mirrorball a few years later. And that was that. Alex, as a character, had found sobriety, maturity, and a happy ending, and I was content to leave him alone.

But the other characters of Wonderland? The Queen? The twins? And my beautiful bartender Brandon? What about them? They whispered in my head “we want our own stories”. And I began to listen.

And today, that story got sent off to my editor. Last Call in Wonderland is, I think, the best of the trilogy. There’s still all kinds of sexcapades and brunch, but I think the characters are much more real, and the tragedy that much more moving as a result.

And who knows? I’ve a feeling some of those people and places might make cameos in future stuff. River City might not be a real place, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll come back there with me again!