are several impediments to living a fully human life:
anger, fear, deception, low self-esteem, greed, and envy,
to name just a few. As I list them, though, it comes to
mind that not every emotion, not every thought, not every
action that may be listed as negative is always that way.
There may be, for example, times when anger is both justified
suppose that qualities such as greed or envy are hard
to defend, but they may be necessary at times. Fear, surely,
can be a healthy and helpful feeling. I don't walk across
the "El" tracks because I'm afraid of getting
electrocuted by the "third rail." There's nothing
wrong with that feeling and I have no need to walk across
high voltage rails anyway.
on the other hand, there were an emergency across the
tracks I might overcome my fear and rise to the occasion,
leaping in a single bound (ha, ha) to do my heroic deed.
get the idea. We're not talking about a black and white
clear-cut situation. On the other hand, I think that fear
is the greatest bug-a-boo of all.
muddles clear thinking. Fear paralyzes action. Fear robs
us of energy that could be used for more productive endeavors.
My dictionary defines fear as "an emotion of alarm
and agitation caused by the expectation or realization
of danger." In that context, I would say that fear
in the face of real danger is healthy. The same response
in the face of expected or imagined danger is futile.
doesn't mean that such fears aren't real. Our emotions
are real and have real effects on our actions and our
thoughts. Emotions are a necessary part of being human.
We need to accept them, own them, and recognize them as
part of our very nature. What we need not do is make them
the sole basis for our actions.
isn't to say that emotions should be ignored. Instead,
reason, intuition, research, advice, wisdom, faith, and
hope ought to join with our emotions to present us with
the wide range of possible human responses. There is nothing
wrong with an emotional response. I'm only saying that
an emotional response needs to be lived within the context
of a fully human response.
that I've meandered about the necessity of recognizing
fears as valid and part of the solution, let me assert
that fear can also be part of the problem.
than one reader has written or called in to talk about
his or her wanting to get involved in leather but being
afraid of doing so. At worse it is the "How do I
avoid going home with Dahmer?" question. More often
it is the fear of the unknown, the fear of rejection,
or the fear of black leather and dark corners.
are fears about injury, about disease, about failure and
disappointment. We are human and those feelings are part
of the human condition.
recently had conversations with several different men
who were afraid of contracting HIV. That is a rational
and very acceptable fear. HIV is much more prevalent than
we think and it seems to be a bit more easily acquired
than we'd like. I've heard estimates that as many as 50%
of the men in a gay bar are infected, most without knowing
any case, HIV is hard, though not impossible, to avoid.
It is hard to avoid because we are all affected by it.
It is a plague that is devastating our planet. Even if
we never succumb to the virus itself, we can't help but
be touched by the lives that it does infect.
HIV isn't the only thing we fear. I have found that fear
of failure is rampant among many of us. Fear of rejection
certainly paralyzes a great number of us. Fear of discovery,
of recognition, of ridicule are prevalent as well.
was a time, when I first began to frequent gay bars that
I feared rejection. I would sit or stand in the bar for
hours wanting to speak to this or that hot-looking man.
Like many others, though, I hesitated, ham-strung by the
fear that he would tell me no.
day a man approached me in whom I had no interest. We
had a polite conversation and I told him "No".
I did it in terms as gentle and as friendly as possible.
he walked away I reminded myself that this was my body
and I had every right to share it or not share it as I
pleased. It was OK for me to say "No".
was then that I realized that it was just as permissible
for someone else to tell me the same thing. The person
I approached had the same rights that I had. His or her
exercise of those rights were not meant to be a statement
about me, but about their preferences and their pleasures.
I would be rejected, but it was no longer any big deal.
It was nothing to take personally and it certainly didn't
mean that I was bad person. Life would go on after I got
the "no". The real truth, hidden by fear, was
that the number of no's is very small.
AIDS isn't a matter of simple rejection, you say? You're
right about that. It is here that fear has to be overcome,
not for the reason of running head-long into HIV, but
rather that our actions be fully human.
months ago, a young and very attractive man came over
to become my slave. We talked about it for a good while.
Needless to say, I was hot to trot.
push came to shove, though, he was paralyzed by his fear
of AIDS. In discussing his very obvious feelings, he shared
that he had broken up with a lover who had tested positive.
As much as he had cared for this guy, his fear of HIV
had gotten the better of the situation.
real tragedy was that this young man hadn't gotten the
right information about HIV, its transmission, and its
prognosis. He saw HIV as an immediate death sentence and
so cut himself off from the joy of a meaningful relationship.
know that I fall squarely in the "better to have
loved and lost than never to have loved at all" camp.
I do so because I have acquired a balanced (I hope) view
of life and death. I am going to live now, for now, in
such a way as to insure that there will be a tomorrow
for me in this here and now.
won't allow myself to become paralyzed by expectations
and dreads that are groundless. Just as rejection in a
bar isn't a matter of life and death, there are ways to
relate to HIV without becoming infected.
young friend's problem wasn't his fear of HIV. Instead
it was his lack of information about HIV. He had never
sought competent counsel about it from an AIDS activist
or his doctor. His lack or information let his fear run
rampant and robbed him of his ability to make a fully
fears are real but they can be really overcome. Be honest
with yourself about your fears and find ways to develop
a balanced, human view of life --- and death. Life is
too valuable, and, even for those of us who live to be
a hundred, too short to be wasted by fear.
1995 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied
in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay,
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