At 51 I don’t feel old, but I recognize that I am not young. This realization is something new for me. I never felt the need to stay young forever or live life as I did in my twenties, but I’m not ready up hang up my fabulously gay shoes just yet.
I’m a middle-aged gay man who has lived in El Paso all my life. I am the product of a Mexican-American household that boasted nine children. I was number nine. We were far removed from all the Mexican traditions like quinceañeras and Día de los Muertos ceremonies. We were also distant from the red, white and blue American Dream. And, the term ‘Chicano’ had more punch than we were comfortable with.
We were simply, El Pasoans. Which is to say we weren’t exactly any one thing other than that unique mix of language, culture, tradition and values. And I love it. Being gay in El Paso has been a comfortable life for me.
I did struggle to come out of the closet, but that was more of a long story-line rather than one big dramatic moment. In fact, understanding that I was gay was a process for me and my family. While I never pretended to be anything I wasn’t, I was very selective about what I shared.
Over time, enough of the details were filled in to complete the entire rainbow-colored picture. And now that I am facing middle age in the mirror, I look back at my gay life in El Paso and I like how things turned out. I have even learned a few things over the years. Here are some of the highlights:
There is nothing like your first gay pride parade.
When I was in my twenties, me and my colorful tribe went to San Diego Pride. I didn’t know what to expect because I had never really been one for rainbows and floats. But I was amazed to find a better understanding of myself among the thousands of people that surrounded me. The acceptance and communal love was a feeling I would never forget. When I hear friends tell me about their first Pride Parade, I relive that joy.
Let people surprise you.
There was a time when I thought that I could not live a completely open gay life in El Paso. But once I started to, I was met with acceptance and love. (For the most part.) El Paso is an accepting, family-oriented community, I wish I had learned that sooner.
Your friends become your family, appreciate them.
When I was young I belonged to a group of friends that truly supported and loved each other. My room mates became by brothers, (Well, more like soul sistahs) and we squeezed every drop of fun out of our twenties. It was the gayest time of my life and will always be special to me. Eventually, things change and even your closest friends move on. I wish I would have cherished them more.
Heartbreak comes with life – it’s not worse because you are gay.
I have given my heart to a handful of men and eventually ended up empty handed. As I look back at those episodes I understand that while the pain I felt was very real, it was temporary. For a while, I began to think that an honest, committed gay relationship was not possible. It turns out, it is just as hard for straight people. I finally learned that you have to let your heart break. The right person will come to pick up the pieces.
Happy hours can be really happy, until they aren’t.
I later fell into a group of friends that centered around partying and going to the bars. I always knew deep inside that I needed more. What I came to realize is that friends who always have a drink in their hand or who only call you to party are not as dependable as you might think. It is important to find friends who share your interests and values – and with whom you can do absolutely nothing with and still have fun.
Pretending to be someone you are not is exhausting.
Finding your way in the gay community is like high school all over again. It may sound juvenile, but we all try to fit in or impress other people to belong to a group. And there are so many gay sub-cultures. Twinks, jocks, show queens, bears, otters, all have something to offer you. Just don’t let anyone else dictate your identity. I had to learn to be gay my own way.
Head into your thirties with wild abandon.
At 30, I was old enough to stand completely on my own. I was doing well at work and living in my very own apartment. This period was important to me because I learned how to be okay with spending time alone. In fact, I embraced it. I was free. Free enough, for example, to drop everything and chase a really hot muscle bear to Chicago. Or, jump in the car and head to Albuquerque for a date. Neither one of these encounters had a story book ending but I was independent and learned about what I really wanted out of life.
Allow yourself to be loved.
Being single is great but if there comes a time when someone really wants to love you, let them. Nothing is guaranteed to work, but you have to surrender to love. Perhaps this is the most important lesson I have learned. One of the hardest challenges to overcome when starting a long term (or life-long) relationship is yourself.
Live in the moment but prepare for the next phase of your life.
I recently wrote an article about being happy and almost all experts agree that the key to happiness is living in the moment. Right now. I am happily married. I am personally fulfilled. I am ready to take on the next phase – whatever that may be. Heaven knows, I’ve got the shoes for it.
Author: Ted Escobedo
Owner and publisher of Snappy Publishing, LLC, Ted has worked in publishing since 1990. He specializes in developing content and communication tools for non-profit organizations. One of his current projects is the wellness blog, www.good2knowelpaso.org which he developed for the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation. He has been married to Eduardo for ten years. Together they share a large family, four dogs, a cat and a loving home in El Paso.
Column first appeared on the Borderland Rainbow Center’s site, and is republished here with their permission.