Bursting Through – April 11,2024 

Welcome to Bursting Through’s Love Stories.

Love Stories come from Bursting Through members like you. Each Love Story reveals a personal journey that resulted in an expansion of love—how it is defined and how it is lived. Bursting Through Love Stories are not romantic love stories, they are stories about love.

To kick off this new feature, I revisited “I Love You, Anyway” (originally published in 2021), which is my first-hand experience with the meaning of love and the power of words.

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Queer people of my generation were raised to be straight. I have to believe it wasn’t done out of malice but a lack of knowledge. That didn’t make it any less damaging or the journey to self-acceptance any less brutal.

As a gay man, I have spent a lot of time seeking validation. Sadly, in my community that does not make me special, but all too ordinary. A while back my therapist suggested I read the book The Velvet Rage.

The book, by psychologist Alan Downs, describes the gay man’s journey from shame and anger to searching for validation to finding one’s authentic self. When I started therapy I was emotionally exhausted and struggling to find a connection between my heart and head. Reading The Velvet Rage gave me some clarity.

I had put shame and fear behind me and moved past my search for validation but I had not quite reached authenticity. The book helped get me moving toward my authentic self again but also forced me to revisit something heavy I was carrying around.

When I came out in the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a phrase gay men like me heard regularly. It was “I love you, anyway.” It was meant to comfort and reassure me that nothing had changed for whoever said it, but it always weighed heavy on my heart.

“Anyway” made it worse. It gave love a qualifier. A qualifier that unknowingly implied I was unlovable, but they were able to rise above it all. It also dismissed an arduous journey of self-discovery.

At best, the coming out process for me was rough. It came with a lot of self-acceptance and reconciling that I would not and could not have the only type of life I had ever known.

At the time, it meant letting go of the idea of ever being married or having a family. Once the words “I’m gay” came up from my heart and out through my mouth, everything changed.

I told myself “I love you, anyway,” came from a good place and I believe it did. I tried to focus on the words “I love you” but I couldn’t hear them anymore without “anyway”. It didn’t matter if that word was there or not, it was in my internal dialogue and imprinted on my heart.

I learned to accept “I love you, anyway” even though it didn’t feel right. I didn’t think I had much choice. I wasn’t aware enough or emotionally strong enough to reject any sort of acceptance at the time, conditional or not, but “anyway” was now linked to love.

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“Anyway” resurfaced through the years but I always kept it at a distance until one night while living in New York City. I was dating a man named Mike and he surprised me with theater tickets to Sam Harris’s one-man show, HAM: A Musical Memoir

Sam Harris was the grand champion singer of Star Search in 1983. Star Search was a talent competition that laid the foundation for shows like America’s Got Talent.

Sam was famous for his dramatic version of “Over the Rainbow”, his powerful voice, his style, and his great hair. He was as openly gay without being openly gay as anyone could be on 1983 network television.

HAM: A Musical Memoir told his very real, very raw, and very vulnerable life story. He spoke about his painful journey of coming out and searching for self-acceptance. He was roughly the same age as Mike and I so his story was very familiar.

As Sam shared his story I found a tear or two trickling down my face. I reached for Mike’s hand and looked at him. His tears were not trickling down his face, they were streaming like rain down a window. As our eyes met he said through his tears, “They fucked all of us up so bad!”

Mike and I talked about it later over dinner. We shared similar stories of qualified acceptance and love. He had also heard “I love you, anyway” more than once. It was both heartbreaking and helpful to know that the man I loved and I had a shared experience that was rooted in qualified love.

Mike and I didn’t make it as a couple. I realize there are a lot of factors that contribute to a failed relationship but in retrospect, I can’t help but think that the damage of qualified love, of “I love you, anyway” contributed to our inability to connect the way we needed to.

I put up a lot of emotional walls as I came of age. Many of them are only now beginning to slowly come down. The walls became necessary when I realized that my normal was different and that being different could and would cause me emotional and physical pain.

I’m 55 now. I don’t know if the walls that are slowly coming down will ever be all down. I don’t know if there is a wrecking ball strong enough to demolish them or if they will just decay and crumble as more time passes.

What I do know is the wall that is the strongest, hardest to get over, and likely impossible to get under is the one built on the foundation of “I love you, anyway.”

If you have a love story you would like to share, please send me a message.

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