Re-posting. This was first posted 2 years ago… I still miss Palm Springs.
Every member of a minority should spend a year or two living in a place where he or she is part of the majority.
As I’m only days away from moving, I wanted to document some of my thoughts on the past 2 years living in one of the gayest places in the United States. Palm Springs has the highest per capita ratio of gay residents than any other US city, including San Francisco.
What that means is that I can go to the grocery store and flirt with the hot man in the produce department; I can have a gay doctor, a gay dentist & a gay handyman; I can eat in a gay-friendly restaurant and be served by a gay waiter; I can then walk to 4-5 gay bars on any given night; I can hold hands on a date; I could spend a day at a number of clothing option gay resorts if I wanted to. You get the idea.
It’s like living in Provo, Utah if you’re Mormon…Mormons everywhere. Mormonism colors everything and everyone there. In Palm Springs the gay rainbow serves up a pot of gold on everything and everyone. It’s also a mecca for seniors, golfers and the occasional spring break or bachelorete party but above all it’s really gay here.
I was first invited to spend a weekend in Palm Springs back in December 2005 when I was freshly separated and barely out of the closet. My date and I were here on the first weekend of the Brokeback Mountain release and the experience before the movie started in that theater that day was almost more powerful for me than the movie. Being firmly closeted my whole life I’d often felt out of place and misunderstood in groups of men. Before the movie started I recall looking around in awe at a theater full of gay men and for the first time in my life feeling like I was the straightest man in the room!
Palm Springs is such a world unto itself that I also recall one of our Palm Spring hosts commenting after the movie, “Well, I’m certainly glad that the world isn’t like THAT anymore!” I remember my retort that, “Outside Palm Springs it IS still very much like that for many people…people like me for the last 40 years!”
Over the next 4 years I returned to Palm Springs twice for weekend trips with other friends. I loved it each time but I never had any premonition that I’d live here. Then, 2 1/2 years ago the stars aligned as I was looking around southern California for more affordable digs. I was in town in February for business at a tradeshow when I walked out of my hotel room, looked up at the majestic sun-splashed mountain and it hit me, “I could live HERE!”
I checked; rents were indeed cheaper; it was 2 hours closer to my kids; it was gay friendly so maybe I could make gay friends; my job at the time allowed me to live anywhere in the state; it was beautiful. Done and done. A month later I was comfortably lounging on my new patio furniture in my funky mid-century modern condo gazing up at the palm trees framing the San Jacinto Peak. Heaven.
Clearly this is another world.
Soon after moving here I was certain this is where I’d be settling down for good. But life has a way of yanking the rug out from under you. A lost job and no local employment prospects in sight slowly led me to the realization that without a job holding me back I have an opportunity to move to be near my children. When their Mom won the right to move them a state away, I felt angry and trapped but I soon learned to accept our new arrangement and I imagined Palm Springs to be the best compromise. Unemployment has enabled me to change that.
But I still have mixed emotions.
I know, and my kids know, that the only reason I’m moving is to be near them on a more regular basis. Period. That alone weighs the scales enough for me. I had a conversation with my ex-wife to ensure that she’d work with me to re-arrange custody once I’m there. She willingly agreed. I’ll be parenting them twice a week (T/TH) and every other weekend. YEA! I’ll be helping with homework, chauffeuring and enforcing bed-times (Some things they’re not used to me doing since I only had them on weekends and vacations).
I will miss so many aspects my Palm Springs life. I’ve experienced and learned so much here.
The place I’m moving to couldn’t be more polar opposite. It’s a sterile, suburban community heavily populated by Mormons. Why does the phrase, “returning like a dog to his vomit” keep coming to mind?
But gay men are still everywhere, right? I’ll certainly have to revive my gaydar or re-install Grindr because I can no longer assume a single man my age in the grocery store is gay.
Some of you may never have had the type of experience I’ve had here. Upon reflection, here is what I’ve gained and learned over the last 2 1/2 years in Palm Springs, the gay mecca of the world…
It took patience and resolve but I can say that I’m walking away with a small group of lifelong gay friends. Of course, one doesn’t have to live in Palm Springs to get that, but it certainly helped ME. Without this concentrated population of gay men I found it difficult to meet other men in other places. I’ve made friends with other men my age who have completely different backgrounds and yet we’ve connected in a way I had found difficult previously. The best part has been that they accept all of me and have integrated my full life as a father into our friendship. I’ll be returning for “family” holiday get-togethers when I can and I’m sure there are joint vacations and trips in our future.
I’ve also benefited from friendships with gay men in other generations. I have some fantastic older friends who have given me some wise advice over the last couple of years.
As much as we hate to admit it there are some stereotypical aspects of gay life that are true or at least more common. Living in Palm Springs has been my baptism by immersion in all things stereo-typically gay and it has been both fun and frustrating playing catch up with my peers who have been out of the closet since their early 20’s. I now get some of the campy gay jokes that flew over my head years ago. I’ve never felt obligated to make this aspect of the “gay lifestyle” fully my own, but on the other hand it has been rewarding and fun to experience it in such a concentrated fashion like I have.
It’s been fun attending drag shows, showtunes night at the bar, and Halloween parties that happen here like no place else.
Small town with a big city feel
I’m a city boy. I moved here from a downtown city loft. I thrive in tight, crowded environments. Palms Springs at least has a unique vibe of sophistication with a walkability that you usually don’t find in a small town. I can walk to many places from my home and it’s a 3 minute drive downtown to restaurants, clubs and shopping galore. It’s going to be really difficult re-entering the din of the suburbs where everything is a 10-30 minute drive away and every other street corner houses identical-looking big box stores.
I’ll miss recognizing the same cashiers, waiters, baristas at all my regular haunts.My favorite sandwich place starts making my usual as soon as I walk in. I’ve just never experienced that sort of familiarity in the suburbs.
I LOVE the Palm Springs mid-century modern architecture. On my daily walks I’m able to meander by some of the most interesting residential architecture. Not one home is exactly like the other. It was this eye-opening appreciation for structures that led me months ago to reflect on the impact of interesting Mormon architecture and the consequences of it’s recent demise into dull and predicable. I just think the buildings we live in and the structures we stare at all day long matter.
We’re all the same
As much as I’m making a big deal about my pleasant 2 year stay in gay intensive Palm Springs, one of my takeaways is that we’re all just human beings trying to make our way the best we know how. Most of us are figuring it our along the way with all our insecurities, self-doubts, and desires for a good life. That’s all the same no matter where you live and which demographic makes up the majority.
Sometimes I tend to approach life from the vantage point of a curious onlooker as if everyone else has it all figured out. The other day a friend and I were bantering back and forth regarding an attractive man. As he has been out about 20 years longer than I have I said to him, “Go talk to him and show me how it’s done.” He looked at me surprised and said, “Look, I don’t know what I’m doing either!” That shouldn’t have been a profound realization for me but it was.
Mountains Are the Great Equalizer
An ocean view is reserved for the rich. I have friends who pay 3 times the rent that I do for a smaller place a few blocks from Mitt Romney’s San Diego oceanfront home. They can see the ocean from their rooftop and kitchen window. Mountains by contrast are every man’s view. As much as I love the ocean, I’ll probably never afford to live anywhere that I can see it from my bed. But here in Palm Springs I have the same amazing view of the mountains from my condo as they do in the million dollar homes 3 blocks away. At night I see the top of the Palms Springs Tram station lit up as do thousands of other residents.
So, “pride” is an overused word in the gay lexicon, but there’s a certain strength that comes from celebrating a common core. Pride, as opposed to the shame most of us nurtured in ourselves for so long, is more easily self-affirmed when there’s a welcoming community smiling and nodding their heads in agreement. I can now fully understand why ethnic minorities congregate in the same local. It has been affirming to experience this chapter of my life among like-minded men.
Living in Palm Springs for me has facilitated gay conversations with family members and friends. This has helped tremendously with my kids. Their exposure to a gay environment has enabled them to more easily talk with me, joke with me and also shrug off prejudicial comments by others. Living in this environment has enabled my homosexuality to be less invisible, while also reducing the need to be overtly in-your-face.
Goodbye Palm Springs. You’ve been a good friend.