How Artistic Setbacks Accidentally Helped Me Become A Gay Journalist

Written by | Columnists and Letters, Gay Voices, Lifestyle

Photo by Levi Saunders

In the course of pursuing a career as an artist, one writer and editor accidentally becomes a professional homosexual.

The Perils of Pursuing Art Professionally

My dad, a professional musician, once warned me about the dangers trying to do what you love for a living.

I think Dad was, in part, engaging in behavior common to parents of enthusiastic high school theater dorks who might aspire to a career on the stage. After all, he spent many years suffering the slings and arrows of bad auditions and stretches of unemployment. He saw performing artists of great talent go unrecognized and others felled by injuries. He fought every step of the way.

But on this particular occasion, he was warning me about a peculiar alchemy that happens when any artistic pursuit is touched by business. No matter how much you love it and no matter how great the art you create, it becomes a product. And if you’re a performing artist, you become the product. “Some days,” he said with a sigh, “it feels I’m stamping out notes like license plates in a factory.”

Trying to Avoid Theatrical License Plates

Subconsciously, I absorbed this as a warning to always be on the lookout for the hidden consequences in any art-making I might pursue professionally. I also began to course correct so as to not end up in license plate factory mode.

When I went to college, I saw friends desperately audition for parts they didn’t particularly want (just for the experience). So, I shifted my focus to writing for the stage instead. After all, why be another actor in need of a part? I could be cranking out parts myself.

After years of writing, directing and producing – only to watch shows lose money or barely break even, I felt license plate grind approaching. Thus, I began pulling away from that world of putting up shows in dingy black box theaters, hoping to reach a “next level” that kept failing to arrive.

Trying to Avoid Writing License Plates

Instead, I decided to diversify. I studied writing comedy in a class that was designed to be much like the writer’s room of a late-night talk show. Unfortunately I had more success cracking witty asides than coming up with the kind of jokes and sketch ideas that gain one access to actual writer’s rooms.

Writing for scripted television was my next endeavor. A mentor advised me to write a spec script. The result was a rather a fabulous one for an episode of Ugly Betty. However, before I could send it to an agent, the show was unceremoniously cancelled. My mentor advised me that it was considered outré to send out scripts for shows no longer on the air. Losing all that work because someone decided America Ferrara and Vanessa Williams were not the ratings draw they once were? That seemed like a raw deal.

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Finding One Thing to Stick With

The experiment continued. I wrote songs and started singing at open mic nights and piano bars. A year and a half of lunch hours went to writing a young-adult fantasy novel. (To this day, I’m still only halfway through transcribing it.)

I made YouTube videos about musical theater. An August per year for seven years, I wrote 31 plays to post to the Internet in 31 days. “Practicing each of these art forms is making me better at all the others,” I told myself. Part of me wondered if I should have stuck with just one.

However, there is one thing I have stuck with. I’ve been working at Metrosource for over 16 years. There are moments when I see people I went to college with acting on TV or writing best-selling books. At those times, I wonder if I should have careers more like theirs.

But there are other times when I consider myself very lucky to have ended up, as I sometimes call it, “professionally gay.” I’ve been part of our cultural conversation all this time. Part of my job has been to chronicle the increase in visibility, acceptance and legal rights among the LGBTQ community. And, as a side benefit, I’ve never have once worried about being accepted as an openly gay man at my place of work.

Yes, my sundry other artistic pursuits may not have earned me the riches and fame I dreamed about as a wide-eyed kid. However, I can say they’ve seldom felt like working in a license plate factory.

Read about how Paul coped with having a birth defect.

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Last modified: March 12, 2019

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