Many times in the past when faced with that question “so what DO you do for a living?” I’ll launch into a convoluted explanation and then, recognizing that baffled look, sum it up as “I work with kids with behavioural problems and try to put ‘em on the straight and narrow”. When asked how I came to do this work, I describe it as a happy accident (well, sometimes I think it’s happy!) but then I follow it up with “but really, it’s not what I was ever MEANT to do….I’m REALLY supposed to be reporting to you from some far off corner of the world live on CNN.”
Or, in other words, I was SUPPOSED to be Anderson Cooper, and that guy is living my life.
Anderson and I have had a love/hate relationship ever since we “met” also known as ever since he first graced my TV screen back in ’01.) I remember being pretty riveted by his coverage of 9/11, and then I started watching any and all of his TV appearances, bought his book, read his magazine articles…you know, began to closely follow his career. But lately I’ve begun to wonder….perhaps it’s Anderson that’s following ME.
I mean, we’ve both gone through our preppy stage, later learning to rock the polo and jeans look with a revolving pair of even more fabulous shoes each time. When I started going prematurely grey and had a receding hairline resulting in a billboard forehead, guess who went all silver foxy and grew a brow you could watch an IMAX flick on? And sure, Anderson has travelled to war-torn countries and reported on the state of affairs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but guess who’s
braved lunch meetings and had to fight the masses for the very last piece of meat lovers pizza, all the while evading those dieters who you just knew would love to claw your eyes out for even one discarded slice of hot pepperoni? And let’s not even talk about the lingering post traumatic stress from diving in the cooler for the sole can of Diet Pepsi!
But Anderson’s latest antics are simply the straw that broke the camel’s back! Years ago I came “out” to my sisters in an e-mail, I think partly describing some long forgotten boy I was infatuated with at the time, but ultimately telling them I was happy and content in my life, and at the end of the day the same ol’ me they’d always known (that exasperating, attention seeking, never stops talking brother from the same mother I’d always been.) So yeah…guess who writes a casual email to a friend, stating “fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and couldn’t be more happy with myself, comfortable, proud.” Well let me tell you…THAT sounds a bit familiar! So call it what you will – parallel lives, copy-catting, or, full-out Colin-wannabe – it seems once again I feel some kinship to good ol’ Anderson.
But, despite my frustrations with what can only be described as a clear invasion of my privacy by the AC and his 360 crowd, truth be told I admire Anderson. A lot. And I share many of the sentiments he’s expressed in the past week since he took these brave steps. For me, being gay didn’t define me, still doesn’t. But undeniably it’s a part of me, a big part of who I am as a person, what I’ve become as a man. But for a long time I struggled with WHY that piece should be so relevant, so present. Hetero friends didn’t introduce themselves by saying “by the way, I’m straight”. Friends of color didn’t say “in case you didn’t notice, i’m black”. I didn’t understand at the time why I should qualify things with “I’m Colin. And I’m GAY!” But with age and maturity (HA! Me, mature?) I’ve come to feel differently. Nowadays, I feel it’s important to be “out there”, to be visible. To be a valuable, contributing, upstanding citizen of the planet – a guy just like a lot of other guys – who just so HAPPENS to be gay. About a year or so ago, my partner Shawn and I were visiting my family in Cape Breton, and had taken my cute as a button little nephew Kyle for ice cream. Kyle and I are very close, and he’s stayed with Shawn and I on a few occasions for vacations and what he calls “sleepover adventures”. He’s young….I’m sure he can’t “define” what Shawn and I are to one another, but he knows we’re “together”, much like his mommy and daddy, or his Aunt Donna and Uncle Gord. He knows we live together, we do most things together, we share a home and even a bedroom together…and I think he’s bright enough to know we’re all “family” to each other. We’d been on outings with Kyle in the past – especially when I’m “home” in CB – where I imagined people looked at the three of us and tried to “figure us out”. There’s enough of a family resemblance between Kyle and I that some people have even mistaken me for his dad, so I know at least folks would get we’re related, but I’m sure in some ways Shawn’s a mystery. Is he a cousin, a friend, or – GASP – could those fellers be QUEER? This particular night we ran into a woman from Kyle’s school, and as they greeted each other, she said “your uncle may not remember, but I knew him when he was growing up too”. Kyle looked a bit confused, glanced at Shawn and I and then back to this lady and said “But….they’re both my uncles!” We laughed at the time, but I’ll never forget that night, those words, that pure moment seen through this innocent little boy’s eyes.
In a perfect world, gay/straight, black/white, male/female….none of it will matter. But it’s not a perfect world. And whatever advances we’ve made as a society in regards to inclusion and equality, we still face many challenges, many obstacles, many long roads ahead. THAT part no one can deny. But as Anderson noted, standing up and being counted matters for something. And fine…if he MUST continue to model himself after me, (I’ll admit he gets a bit more attention then I), if even one kid sees him on TV, one young person struggling with being bullied or put down for who they are, for feeling weird or feeling different, and they look to Anderson and aren’t just told but clearly SEE that it does get better, that someday soon they’ll be free to “love, and be loved” whoever they choose, then all this copying will be for some greater good.
Hmmm. Wonder after he reads this if we can drop the pretense and he can just hire me as his stand in. (Well he’d THINK I’m HIS stand in. We won’t tell him otherwise!!)
Yo Anderson, you listening?