[Editor's Note: While this article is written for gay men, its principles and insights apply to all, male and female, homosexual or not.]

"The important thing is to keep your mind, soul, and imagination open."

 Many gay men feel that their lives are ones of unrealized intentions. They intended to have a lover, but never did. They were sure that the right man ("One day he'll come along, the man I love!") would never come along, or that any man who did would never come up to their fantasies of what a lover (". . . and he'll be big and strong, the man I love!") should be. They wanted deeper friendships, but could never work them out, either. They wanted to be more open with their families, but could not even imagine how to do this -- how to begin talking about themselves. They wanted to have a more sexually exciting, fulfilling life, but their bashfulness and repression cut them off, also, from this.

The only thing they could imagine were the brutal consequences of being open. These consequences were shaped for the most part by internalized homophobic feelings of guilt, fear, hurt, and repression. Having lives of unrealized intentions has become for many of us part of the gay landscape -- and despite several decades of "gay liberation", it is often the only landscape we see for ourselves. A landscape that gets smaller and more depressing after an initial, sometimes euphoric "coming out" period.

So we come out. Then we hit a solid "blank wall" of unrealized intentions.

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The blankness is caused by one simple fact: realizing our desires and intentions is something we cannot even imagine. Our imagination is stopped by an atmosphere of jaded cynicism (How many of us want to be the next Oscar Wilde?), or by commercialized sexual images that say, "You are never going to be this guy, so why bother?" or, "He's never going to be the man of your dreams, so why bother with him?"

This brings me to an early lesson in my life.

Years ago, when I first came to New York, like many young men I took acting lessons. I was a very shy, repressed kid from Savannah, Georgia, and one of my friends, a would-be actor, said that at the very least acting lessons would decrease my shyness. At my first lesson, my coach, who was of the "Method" school, declared: "An actor's first work is to realize his intentions on the stage." I looked at him dumbly, so he explained: "Just learn to get done what you want to do! If you need to pick up a coffee cup at the end of the stage, make sure you do that. Even if you have to jump over a wall and two tons of scenery to get to that cup!"

When I asked my coach how was I going to be able to do that -- jump over all that scenery, I meant -- he answered: "First you have to imagine --deep in your mind -- what the cup means to you. How important it is to you -- and the play. And, of course, that you are supposed to get it. After that, everything gets a lot easier!"

I never did become an actor. But I did become much less shy, and my coach's words have stayed with me for almost thirty years, especially in what we call "gay" settings. Too often gay men, to begin with, are frightened of their own intentions. We cut ourselves off from them as quickly and neatly as possible. We are ashamed of them. We have been made to feel that they are not "legitimate". That realizing them is not "work" but getting away with something that is, at best, "unnatural" and at worst, criminal.

Our intentions are often put down as "just sex", and from childhood we have been made to understand how severely erotic/emotional/sexual intentions will be squashed. We are made to feel -- at the very least -- that they are unnecessary, that they are options we can live without. Or, at the most, we are made to feel that our intentions are so revolting that we will be made to pay for them for the rest of our lives. This revulsion has been drilled further into us by the AIDS crisis. Now sex is not only illegitimate, but highly "risk-laden". So gay men face each other with more fear, and push their intentions farther back. And straight society, even after more than a decade of AIDS education, can still whip up enough anti-gay hostility to put down the warmth and connectiveness of sex between men, whenever it feels threatened.

What many gay men do not understand is that we are paying for our intentions by not realizing them. We are paying for them with our own unhappiness, alienation, and hurt. Our intentions are real, and very important. In fact, they may be among our most real parts.

Among our foremost intentions:

  1. The intention to have authentic emotional involvements.

  2. The intention to have a deeper connection with life.

  3. The intention to allow openness, kindness, and warmth into our lives.

  4. And the intention to show feelings that may not always be welcome -- in other words the intention not to show that smiling little face at all times. This intention is often pushed aside by men who feel that they have to "buy" their gay selves by always being "perfectly" nice, bland, or agreeable. (You probably know some of these men yourself.)

So how can we change this?

Here are some ways to deal with opening up your intentions (instead of clamping down on them) -- and then realizing them.

  1. We can open our intentions by imagining them in a deeper, more personal and satisfying way. This means facing that part of the gay self that we have been rejecting and becoming closer to it.

  2. We can also stop externalizing (and commercializing) our sexuality. It is no longer something that we have to keep buying from a stock set of cardboard images.

Sadly, as homoerotic images -- from Calvin Klein underwear ads to near-naked hunks in sitcoms -- have become more blatant, look-alike, and openly sold, our responses to our own sexuality have become more closed down. (A perfect example of this: going into a gay bookstore and seeing fourteen men glued to gay porno magazines, while ignoring each other.)

At this point I want to suggest an exercise. Stop looking at the men around you -- whether in a bar, in social groups, even men you find interesting in the most casual way -- as "types" or set images. Stop hearing the words inside you that are rejecting the possibility of you with them -- such as, "I don't know them. They can't possibly be interested in me. They can't (this). They won't (that)."

Now, start looking at them as parts of a story (which can be a simple, "everyday" story, or a romantic or erotic one that has special interest to you) that you are telling. Put yourself into that story. In your mind's eye, you are talking to a particular man, interacting, smiling at him. You don't have to act physically on this, but don't be afraid of going into it imaginatively. As you experience this story on a deeper, more imaginative level, you will see how much closer other men will seem to you. They are now part of an imaginative reality that you are allowing yourself to participate in. Instead of starving yourself -- and feeling that you cannot even imagine them being close to you, you are allowing them to become a part of "your story".

They are now a part of your own warmth and feelings, and not completely separate from you. Like I said, don't be afraid of making the story up (after all, you don't know the men), but don't let other people tell the story for you ("They all hate you. How could they find you interesting or desirable?").

An example: "I would like to imagine that man (the one over there; you know, that I've seen on my street or at the gym) talking with me. In my mind, I'm smiling at him. I'd like him to come over and we'd talk. I'd tell him about my day and he can tell me about his. He's been having problems or situations just like I have. I can see him smiling, too, as he recognizes how much we have in common. If I work deeper at this, I can see him wanting to spend time with me. Even deeper, I can see him wanting to hold me, just as I want to hold him. On a deeper level, I can see the two of us making each other happy -- even if I'm only seeing it right now.

Although in reality, none of this may actually happen -- he may not come over to you and you may not, at least yet, go over to him -- you are opening yourself up to the possibility of this happening on a real, imaginative level.

I know this sounds like a contradiction: real and imaginative. How can we have both? But many men cannot even imagine having these things happen. They have starved themselves of the possibility that they can realize their own intentions. Their intentions are, at every moment, off their imaginative maps, maps which are now crowded with "porno" images, but not with real men.

So once you can imagine these things happening, facing someone, smiling at him, and initiating contact becomes much easier -- in fact, it becomes possible. It also means that the real payback for your actions is realizing your intentions. Don't let anyone deny you this: that you have realized your intentions. You have put yourself into the center of action, and that is very rewarding in itself. I know that for many, this seems like only putting yourself in line for rejection. But rejection, as you become more and more the master of your intentions, becomes far less threatening and hurtful than the state you started out in: never beginning to face -- or realize -- an intention.

Finally, another question: how would you get them (or him) to listen to your "story"?

You might be amazed to find out how pleased and fascinated men are to know that you've been thinking about them, that they have figured into your imaginative life. Men are, for the most part, ignored in our society. Just saying, "Hello, I thought about you. You look interesting," is giving something to most men -- your time, involvement, and interest -- that they do not normally get. It is giving them a rare gift in our stressed-out, time-budgeting world.

But would you get them to listen to your story through seduction, flattery -- or simple honesty?

One approach, honestly, would be to be yourself. It is not something that is tried often; but -- often enough -- it does work.

But what about their story? Even though we are making up the story imaginatively -- you might find that their stories and yours are quite similar. So many of us have been through similar experiences -- leaving home, trying to establish lives on our own -- that gay stories have an amazing universality to them. So it is possible that unconsciously, in a similar way, if he attempted this exercise, he would find you fitting easily into his own imaginative story.

This means that in his own way -- if he could honestly realize his intentions -- he would be telling you about his day, his cares, problems, and desires. And, to be honest, his fears. And always, in the story, we would find some of the same themes: trying to love ourselves, and others. Trying to get to know someone else, as difficult as that is. Trying to get over our fears of strangers, rejection, pain, violence, and ridicule.

The object of this exercise then is simple: one thing bringing other men into your story does, is to get you away from your own fears.

How to survive your own gay lifeThis article is excerpted from:

How to survive your own gay life
by Perry Brass.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Belhue Press, 2501 Palisade Ave., #A1, Bronx, NY 10463.

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Perry BrassAbout The Author

Perry Brass edited Come Out!, the first gay liberation newspaper in the world, published by New York's Gay Liberation Front, and with two friends founded the first health clinic for gay men on the East Coast. His 1985 play, Night Chills, won the Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Contest. He has written two poetry books: Sex-charge and The Lover of My Soul, a gay science fiction thriller, Mirage, followed by two sequels, Circles and Albert or The Book of Man. He has also authored a novel, The Harvest, a gay "science/politico" thriller. He is an accomplished public reader and exponent of gender and gay-related topics, and is available for public appearances. The author can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..