Does he still make you laugh ? I haven't seen him naked lately... Dorothy Zbornak, The Golden Girls
More than a year ago, I wrote about my insane need for comedy and laughter and even wrote a formal invitation for the brilliant Margaret Cho to marry me (Cho you missed out; I'm hitched).
After writing this post and continuing with my insane obsession with what makes love work, I stumbled upon a great insight.
I looked at my most fulfilling and uplifting relationships and realized this is one area that consistently presented itself.
Much like the primary secret of successful relationships (shared values), comedy and the ability to find humor in things as a couple is what is needed. Like values, comedy is individual and personal. What I am referring to here is the ability as a couple to create shared joy via comedic interaction with the environment.
Couples often design their own comedy "bits" based on what they find mutually amusing and downright hysterical.
For years, I stated that my closest allies made me laugh and learn something in every conversation.
With humor as my guide, I began searching for different types of love.
My man needs to be funny as hell. Period.
Living in this country and in this world can be scary, frustrating and at times downright fucked (up). You better have a "ride or die" soldier at your side who can point out things that are ridiculous and comical.
My man does incredible characters and voices (Brooklyn hood rat, British society maven, Irish brogue, Maine and everything in between) there is never a shortage of character driven humor and insight in my home.
By constructing the ability to delight one another, we have made a place to retreat when things occur that leave us frustrated.
Having been in relationships that had no humor taught me that this is not the type of interaction that I either require nor can accept.
As a black man who dates white men and has to deal with classism, racism both internal and external, community upset and social interaction on a daily basis, it is wise to have something that will allow for safe and ongoing navigation.
A shared sense of humor is one thing that will allow for continual victory when facing the aforementioned destructive variables.
So what do you and your man joke about ? Find hysterical and ridiculous ?
Many gay men wrongly assume that sexual attraction means relationship (material).
What is not understood is how to create wonderful relationships.
Often times those of us who have created something wonderful go underground.
We make it difficult to provide tangible, visible proof of what two men who are in love the right way can create. Most of us not only don't know how to date but also bring these simplistic types of interaction to our attempts to design relationships.
When we are limited to less than stellar relationship resources, we can only recreate more of what doesn't work.
Spending damn near three decades and unmentionable failures trying to make love work, there are three things that repeatedly show up when successful relationships are the topic.
Incidentally, these are the same three things that can be utilized in developing incredible friendships.
For a very long time, it was a goal of mine to be in a loving relationship that would assuage all past mishaps.
While I had no idea how to do this, it never was clear until a friend pointed it out, that nothing substantial could be created without a similar /identical set of values.
Like many of my misguided brothers, my assumption was sexual attraction equals relationship (see the wonderful Bethany Marshall for a clearer understanding of the limited thinking this provides). When these colossal flops presented themselves one time too many, my focus became finding a man with similar values.
Often times you can ask a person directly what they find important and although many either don't know or feign ignorance, simply watching a potential paramour will yield some honest and clear indicators.
My brilliant acting coach Colette Duvall always taught us that the subconscious always reads.
Another way to view this philosophy : watch what a person gives their time and attention to.
If your date claims exclusivity but is spending a whole lot of time at the bathhouse, it is time to rethink the relationship if your goal is monogamy.
If you are interested in saving money and the new paramour finds ways to not only refuse to look for work but finds ways to spend the agreed upon mutual savings, he is not interested in honoring you or your finances.
After agreeing to support your decision to attend school, does the "potential" mate find ways to create chaos when you should be preparing for a major exam ?
If so, take a look at your values and determine if this is the man for you.
You can't really get anyone to change their values or necessarily adopt yours.
In the same fashion, you've both shared the desire to protect the relationship and the home you share and as a result neither of you invite psychos into your home for any reason this is also a shared value.
If the term "values" seems to airy fairy or clinical think : what does this person find important and what do I find important ? If there is a match differences can and should be examined and worked through.
Do you know the values of your latest love interest ? Do you have an agreed upon definition of monogamy ? Open relationship ? The way you spend your time ?
Here are few wonderful insights from the aforementioned Dr. Bethany Marshall which should be memorized when we are attempting to fall in love and want to desperately build a lasting successful relationship.
Healthy relationships are founded on mutuality (both of you are equally invested in the relationship), honesty(you never walk away from a conversation feeling confused) and generativity (each conversation generates a new experience, a new understanding and a new way of being with each other).
If these factors are there, then consider falling in love !
Most of my young life, I dreamt of a large family with many children screaming, playfully terrorizing one another and basically providing loads of love and energy in a semi large contained space.
There were only two problems : I am gay and I could not find another suitable individual who had done the emotional and psychological work that would allow us to co-parent from a position of love and guidance and not neediness.
The more I longed for young ones and fought to become and stay emotionally healthy, the fewer men I encountered who were healthy enough to raise or consider guiding young people.
I have always loved and valued children.
My commitment to children is also a commitment to community.
As a young boy, I had the distinct and memorable experience of being raised in many intergenerational situations.
Whether it was an uncle teaching us the latest dance steps or an aunt sneaking us into Richard Pryor's concert film and performing Macbeth in the living room, we had many and varied influences who all influenced and loved us in very different ways.
When my parents could not tolerate my daydreams and basement, standing room only performances, my sister and I would head down the street to an always eager audience (our grandparents).
When raising children certain realities will present themselves.
At some point, adults lose their patience. They will say or do something stupid or insensitive.
Bad parenting and making a bad choice are not one in the same.
Many parents, including my own, are obsessively concerned with being perceived as a good or bad parent.
The parenting gestapo is not concerned with supporting parents and communities dedicated to rearing children.
When parents accept the good/bad parent title, they've lost the parenting battle and have limited their ability to think and make amends.
We all get seduced into the lies that say everyone is more capable, organized and loving than we are.
When the silent voice of defeat constantly whispers we are losers and have no business raising children, many of us react by criticizing, controlling and frantically attempting to dominate every aspect of our children's young lives.
We no longer do what's best for our children.
We do what's best for us and hope that this lack of thought and future planning will not cause any severe and psychological upset.
The trick to creating new parenting strategies is not focusing on whether a parent is good or bad.
Using our community as a source of support, tough love and inumerable ways to interact with young people, we are able to create new strategies for loving and guiding our young people and give up the concept of good/bad parenting.
Lee Daniels, Oprah and their very entertaining movie (The Butler) are having quite a moment.
It always amazes me that the very large and in many ways predictable white power structure makes a decision to "anoint" certain people authorities and makes the decision to silence others.
As a result of Mr. Daniels and Ms. Winfrey's second pairing and obvious grab for the Oscar, it seemed a great time to allow Daniels to not only publicly "come out" but also to spew his brilliance regarding why a "majority" of black gay/bi men stay in the closet.
While I am thrilled that he has publicly acknowledged his sexuality which can only enhance and embolden his work, this business about not "coming out" and allowing himself to be "silenced" so that he could work is troubling and weak.
Many times I have been offered the chance to play the game: Switch pronouns, refer to folks as buddies, gain advice on how to handle love and a lack of communication between myself and the man I was currently dating.
All of the game playing was created by denying who I was and the real nature of my complicated and highly annoying "relationships" with other men.
After growing a pair and hitting my mid 20's, I knew it was time for something else and some very different ways of being.
I started doing my homework and looking for some models of unadulterated courage.
I found one who kicked me in the gut and gave me permission to be my full and present self.
James Baldwin has inspired me for more than twenty years.
Mr. Baldwin was speaking to the "establishment" and creating from a place of honesty and fearlessness fifty years ago. He wrote of gay love, longing and anguish while simultaneously combining it with the "black struggle". Nobody (the black intelligentsia, the government or other artists) could silence him.
When I hear Mr. Daniels describe the struggle of wanting to work, I hear the need to belong.
I hear the need for acceptance and permission to create that only comes, or so we are told, if we don't allow ourselves to be placed in certain boxes.
When I was closeted, I couldn't create shit.
All of my genius and talent was devoted to keeping up a facade.
There was no time or need to develop elaborate, layered characters (via my acting and writing) when my existence was one crowd-pleasing performance after another.
Once I ingested Baldwin's brilliance and boldness and made it my own, amazing things began to happen.
Ten years ago, I wrote and performed a ballsy, brave, one man show:Knucklebones.
My brave instructor, Gretchen Cryer, had given me permission to write about the scary dark places we all possess.
Talking about male rape, addiction, abandonment, betrayal, teen homosexual longing for love, hurt and redemption, there was no way to unflinchingly explore and create insightful, gutsy analysis without speaking in a multitude of voices and tenses.
As I approach the new year and hurdle towards my fifties, I find myself asking :what happened to that emotionally brave theater soldier?
It is time to stop asking permission and struggling to explain and move into taking charge by tapping into those reservoirs of courage, power, initiative and creativity.
I will create a great year by taking on the following three tasks. Creating as if I don't give a shit and have nothing to lose; welcoming opportunities to be honest and confrontational when it is needed and finally, understanding that there might be a better way of doing things that I have yet to discover.
I want to encourage people to be brave in 2016 and beyond. My act of bravery for the year-publishing my anthology, Ain't I A Man and a collection of Sci Fi Short stories.
While creating sci fi may sound like a blast to create, it may require more than one confrontation.
My students often feel that confrontation is a bad thing.
They feel that actively seeking out and highlighting differences is negative and to be avoided. When I point out that an honest discussion (seen as confrontation) can and often does lead to growth and a severe creative outburst, they seem confused.
We are often taught to avoid honest and passionate discourse and dissent for fear that we will upset someone and eliminate a friendship.
Being bold in 2016 means I must develop a spirit that will allow me to be an outsider, a person who goes against the grain and doesn't die a slow death as a result.
Being honest with myself also means confronting my fears surrounding being misunderstood or put "into a box" to make others comfortable. When I allow others to define me, I become angry and feel the need to disengage and cease creating from a position of boldness and self definition.
A healthy confrontation will mean nothing if my ego and love of being right undermines the process of change that could occur.
Most of us want change if and when we have instituted it.
In order to have a big bold life, it is imperative that we welcome change and don't freak out when it appears.
Finding people we can trust who also are committed to "doing it differently" is required if change is to be welcomed and not shunned. It usually means widening your social circle and seeking out folks who are also yearning for something bolder.
People who want big, bold lives are not afraid to think and look at things via a very different lens.
Most people will never get it.
It is not our job to cajole, teach and manipulate those around us who are content with the way things are and have no use for change and the fear it engenders.
Look to folks who are already on the path to developing change and ushering in a new way of thinking and behaving.
It is never to late to take on change and improvement.
Most of us lie all the time.
My friends and acquaintances who were brought up outside of the United States have a very different approach to love, relationships and friendships.
It is their approach to communicating and commitment that I model when examining and making attempts to deepen and enrich my interactions with others.
While they are not perfect nor without fault regarding some of their choices, there is an understanding of what a friendship looks like and what it entails.
I wrote an essay recently with the title: When Friends Attack.
I wanted to have a look at our collective inability to tell the truth to friends and the problems this causes.
When I was in my twenties, it was important that I know and socialize with as many people as possible.
It was not uncommon for me to spend most of the night dancing away in a club and then meet the same folks for a meal a few hours later.
Nor was it uncommon to twirl the evening away then met a different click of folks a few hours later who had nothing to do with the previous night's shenanigans.
It wasn't so much about living a double life.
It was more about coloring the truth a number of varying shades depending on my present company.
I had a need for unmitigated wiggling and six hours stretches of time reading in my favorite bookstores.
I was not willing to give up any of my worlds and enjoyed darting in and out of all of them often deriving a sense of power from being the conduit to people who ordinarily would have never met.
What I refused to do was tell the truth about what I wanted or required at any given moment.
My understanding of friendships for a very long time was warped and limited.
There was no speaking up unless you were pissed off then things that were said could cause irreparable damage.
Until I turned twenty five, it never occurred to me that a good course of honesty is what all relationships need.
Truth telling, based on my experience, was a weapon used to crush the enemy, get the upper hand and shut down conversation.
This flawed thinking kept me around people I didn't like or respect and allowed me to simply plod along in my life with no serious ride or die commitment to anything.
Truth telling in friendships and human interaction of any kind often has unpredictable results.
When a friend gets brutally honest about a feeling and refuses to remain silent, it is uncomfortable and scary.
Will the relationship end?
Will there be a reassignment of friendship duties?
A confrontation basically means:I'm right;you're wrong.
There is one result that you can usually count on:somebody is gonna get mad.
This is the usual response along with a healthy dose of denial and justification and a dollop of blame just to keep it interesting.
As a result of so much of the shaming that goes along with being honest is it any wonder that people freak out when there is an opportunity to be honest thereby deepening the bond with another?
We are taught that being honest is cute for young children and downright entertaining and well earned by older folks.
Allowing this myth oriented and limited thinking to guide our interactions keeps us all afraid to speak or even think honestly.
If we follow this philosophy, we limit the types of powerful relationships we can create.
We learn to settle.
We learn to manipulate, withhold and lace each interaction with subterfuge and veiled, purposely misleading opinions and insights.
Truth telling in relationships is not easy and will cost you some relationships.
I am often amused when people allow you to regale them with your brilliance and insight regarding the world's problems then wince when you honestly mention your shortcomings and places where you have made mistakes.
When people have told me that I am being rude or brash or have upset them as a result of pointing out what is or is not working, I think of the times when I am being honest about a shortcoming of my own which no one minds hearing.
When we boldly move out of secret keeping and emotional dishonesty, we will upset more than a few of our so called "friends".
True friends require from themselves and whomever they are in relationship with to fully "show up".
Truth telling in our most intimate relations forces us to determine the type of communication we allow and then offers us the opportunity to change it or simply wallow and say this is enough for me.
When I declared that my club hopping days were over, folks got mad.
When I announced I was leaving Detroit, folks got mad.
When I moved to Japan and then New York and then to California, those who were acquaintances shut me out.
Those who had built honest relationships with me encouraged my guts and commitment to personal growth.
They knew our friendship could grow not diminish.
Yesterday, I made a mistake at work and totally forgot to acquire an agreed upon resource for one of my wonderful students.
Work relationships, like all relationships that you decide to invest in emotionally, give you the opportunity to address familial and chronic distresses and "not good enoughs".
We can decide to speak up or remain quiet and hopefully exit a situation unscathed and unnoticed.
I will apologize for the forgotten agreement.
After the apology, I will move on and highlight to myself all the good that I have provided for this student and the sixty others I have sworn to support and encourage.
2016 will be my year of taking responsibility. I will not blame, whine or point fingers.
I will not look for things to fear nor someone to blame.
I will make sure that I have all the information I need to make a great decision, then make one and deal with the consequences.
My year of taking full responsibility means I will not agree to things I have no desire to partake in nor agree to things I am uneasy about simply to spare the feelings of another.
On New Year's Eve, there was an opportunity to allow someone to defile my home or speak up and stop it.
I chose to speak up.
Knowing that I have he right to speak up despite how anyone feels is a great undertaking and one hell of a drug.
My year of full responsibility is multi-faceted.
Primarily, I am committed to three things: courage, curiosity and stellar communication.
Recently I began living from courage and urgency and my life exploded in many ways.
I bought my first home.
I tore into my day job like the beast that I am and started handling the financial aspect of my newly married status like a pro.
There is no way to take full responsibility without being courageous.
When I have decided that cowardice was a wiser(easier) choice, I felt like shit.
There is nothing worse than regret.
Choosing inaction makes you feel like a coward.
As a bright Seventeen-year-old, I dreamt of an education and passionate learning environment that was Columbia University.
When no one supported this life vision, I simply did what was expected and justified the decision constantly.
Attending an all black, small, liberal arts institution in the South in the 80's as a gay man was one hell of a decision that brought all kinds of oppressive and vile shit into my life.
Between the homophobia, class issues and constant fear of being outed, there also was the issue of not being challenged to look at things critically.
When you are being indoctrinated into the black, heterosexual, bourgeoisie middle class, there really is no time for taking responsibility outside of any arena that will not secure or improve your social standing in the aforementioned arena.
What could my life have been like had I taken full responsibility for my sexuality (coming out), risked being shunned and figured out how to make it financially without the assistance of people more frightened by life than I was and more committed to the status quo ?
The deadliest thing you can ever do is allow people to make life decisions for you or have any say in what you need or should be doing.
Rather than sitting around indulging in pre-determined life assignments, it is more dangerous to tear out and believe that you will figure shit out and self adjust.
bell hooks in her latest books on education encourages us all to become lifelong self-directed learners.
In this process danger is always afoot. Danger of not knowing. Danger of looking like a fool. Danger of having to continue despite brutal and real obstacles.
Real danger is never challenging yourself or finding out how far you can go in your career, in your relationships, in your life.
As you age, being dangerous is both inevitable and highly avoidable.
Most of us are already dead and just haven't crawled into our graves yet.
Take full responsibility and watch miracles unfold.
It is never too late to take on life and challenge and crush your fears.
Contact me and let me know how your danger looks and how you've kicked it in the junk.
While every interaction is a type of communication, I am learning to be direct, deliberate and clear when I speak.
In my day job, it is not uncommon to speak with forty different people during an eight hour workday.
Each person doesn't hear what I say they screen what I say through their personal history and life experiences.
When we choose honest and clear communication, we increase our chances of making personal and professional improvements.
When we are determined to create wonderful lives and kick some serious butt in 2016, we do not allow confusion to remain.
We share, experience and demand clarity at each gathering and interaction.
We can always choose to stop communication, think about what's has been said and ask for things to be repeated.
Most of don't communicate well because we have not made this a priority nor have we, en masse, mastered the fine art of truly, deeply listening to one another.
We wait for the other person to shut up or their voice to trail off so that we can jump in to correct, offer suggestions or recant a similar experience of our own.
We look for inconsistencies or lies and play detective.
Be a true ally.
Try listening with your heart and not a mind that has no use for fresh, innovative perspectives.
If you're making a decision while I'm talking, you ain't listening.
At my day job, I am constantly tasked with heart listening.
Heart listening means I am not sending emails, texting or otherwise engaged no matter how busy I am or what needs to be done.
Here's a solution:
For the next week, put on a great piece of music that you've heard a bazillion times and listen with a different set of ears (heart listen).
I tried this once with Stevie Wonder's Talking Book and heard some things I had never heard before and was brought to tears.
I now proclaim this the year of heart listening and incredible change.
When we really listen, we will be shocked at what we can learn and how similar we are.
Rather than listening to judge, listen to love. Increase your compassion and dare to listen without distractions and agendas.
When I was jazz/blues singer, my teacher was constantly ranting about "opening our ears" and allowing this experience to take hold of us and change us.
I suggest you do the same.