Paul Boynton: Well, my story is very similar to that of many other gay men of my era. I was married for many years to a wonderful woman, with whom I had three amazing children, and now four grandchildren. As I grew older, however, I realized that I needed to deal with myself in a more authentic and honest way. Consequently, my wife Susan and I eventually separated almost 15 years ago. Happily, we were able to maintain and even expand the best part of our relationship as dear friends and parents, and she and my partner Michael had a wonderful friendship too. Sadly, she passed away three years ago.
Edwards-Stout: What led you to marry Susan?
Boynton: For many years I was somewhat naïve, with no real sense of who I was as a person, let alone a sexual person. After all, I was born in 1948. Growing up today, the world has changed in monumental ways. Back then, I had no role models for how to be gay. There were no resources, as people just didn’t talk about it. Many of us had to do the journey of self-discovery completely on our own, and my journey took a bit longer than most.
Edwards-Stout: Looking back on your life and the challenges you faced, how do you feel now?
Boynton: Life is really an experiment for all of us, isn’t it? We make what we call “mistakes,” we learn, we grow, we make more mistakes, and we continue to evolve. I really have no regrets. We all go through difficult cycles and times, but it is how we react to those that help us evolve.
Edwards-Stout: What inspired your book Begin With Yes?
Boynton: I’ve been speaking and sharing the lessons I’ve learned for a long time, and I eventually realized that there was something of value here. My approach to life was in the spirit of “begin with yes,” even though the phrase hadn’t been coined. And I came to recognize that my lessons, even the difficult ones, might have value to others, in encouraging, hopeful and motivating ways.
Edwards-Stout: For those who haven’t yet read your book, in a nutshell, what is it about?
Boynton: It’s about being hopeful and passionate, even when life seems insurmountable, and it’s about creating your own realities and taking responsibility for what happens next as you find a path forward.
Edwards-Stout: So many books in the self-help genre focus on having a positive attitude. What was interesting to me about your book was that it’s saying that having a positive attitude, though helpful, isn’t essential.
Boynton: As I was writing Begin With Yes, there were several other popular books which were focused on the law of attraction. To me, many of these very popular books were missing what Begin With Yes adds, which is the element of personal responsibility and elbow grease. I’ve come to believe that positive thoughts are helpful, but positive actions are absolutely essential.
Edwards-Stout: Explain what you mean.
Boynton: It can often seem overwhelming, and even discouraging, to get from point 1 to point 2. Sometimes waiting for that positive attitude to show up can mean a lot of waiting. Taking small steps, even when we don’t “feel” it, can help set us in motion, and once we’re in motion, we often actually begin to feel better, and feel more positive too. Take one step each day, and seven days later you will be further along and in an entirely different and better place.
Edwards-Stout: So it is the small steps that matter?
Boynton: Exactly. I also advocate for people rediscovering the things that they are passionate about. One older woman wrote to me that she wanted to be a writer, but that the idea of being “a writer” and actually writing a book seemed overwhelming. Instead of looking at it that way, I suggested that she instead focus on one small action she could take that very day. What if she wrote for just 10 minutes each day? Those 10 minutes add up quickly, and soon she had a couple of chapters under her belt. Honoring our passions is important and gives us the incentive to move forward.
Edwards-Stout: How do you suggest that we deal with roadblocks we encounter?
Boynton: There are a whole host of very real obstacles we may face. It may be loneliness, depression, relationship issues — we’ve all struggled with difficult times. But the trick, again, is taking those small steps anyway. Even if all you can make yourself do is to get out of bed and brush your teeth, do it! Another client I worked with was hoping for a transplant, but she needed to be in better physical health in case she ever had the opportunity to receive it. The idea of “getting in shape” seemed almost impossible, but each day she pushed herself, one small step at a time, and soon she was walking around her block, getting healthy, and getting ready for the successful transplant that eventually came her way.
Edwards-Stout: Your Facebook page Being Gay, Becoming Gray really resonated with me, as I’m approaching 50, and I like the way it celebrates aging, which the gay community in general hasn’t done very well. What was your inspiration for creating that?
Boynton: I was visiting my kids this winter and thinking about what it means to be getting older. My youngest son is gay, and when you look at how very different our experiences were, in such a relatively short time period, it is astonishing. Being older and gay even five years ago is different than it is today, and much different than what I hope it will be five years from now. Ellen DeGeneres and many other heroes took big and bold steps that helped me come out more fully, and with a sense of honor too. And now I am beginning to feel that now, growing older as a gay man is cause for another celebration. Collectively, I believe we have a lot of power, and we need to start using some of it to create a better world for our aging LGBT brothers and sisters, and that belief was the beginning of Being Gay, Becoming Gray.
Edwards-Stout: The Facebook page has a lot of positive messaging.
Boynton: I felt like we need positive images in general, and specifically need more positive messaging about gay men aging happily. People do form opinions and beliefs based on things they see in the media, and we need to expand the vision and the reality of what being an older gay man actually means. I feel like right now is the perfect time to do it!
Edwards-Stout: What’s your take on the many gay retirement communities popping up?
Boynton: I think those made perfect sense 10 years ago; again, this goes back to how quickly things are changing. Will we still have a need for gay bars or retirement centers in the future? I know that for me, being gay is only one aspect of who I am. When the time comes, I would love to be part of retirement community with a great gay/straight mix of interesting people, where all are celebrated, appreciated, and who enjoy growing older together.
Edwards-Stout: You are in relationship yourself. What tips do you have for those desiring a relationship?
Boynton: Often, people have a limiting perspective of what they are looking for, and they feel discouraged when the “perfect” person doesn’t show up. My focus has always been on relationships where partners love each other as they are, and who expand each other’s lives because of the differences. Instead of looking for someone to meet your needs, turn it around and shift the focus to what you can share with others. Shifting the focus from getting to giving actually improves the likelihood you’ll find the kind of relationship you’re looking for. Jane Fonda said something to the effect that Act 3 has the potential to be the best time in your life, where, just like a play, everything begins to come together. We become more comfortable with ourselves and begin to worry less about what others think, and more on who we are as people. For example, I’ve always wanted to learn how to tap dance. Now, I’m not good at tap, but I’m taking lessons and having a blast.
Edwards-Stout: What’s your take on aging in the gay community?
Boynton: I believe that some of the distance and the disconnect between young and old seems to be going away. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how many younger gay men follow Being Gay, Becoming Gray. After all, being young has nothing to do with who we are; it is just a very temporary gift we’ve all been given. Growing old is a privilege which many of our community weren’t afforded, due to AIDS. We now have a responsibility to ask ourselves how we’re treating the older men in our lives, and if it’s not with respect, honor and joy, we need to change that. That’s where the real progress will happen. It happens within us.
Begin With Yes is available for purchase through Amazon and is free to anyone dealing with unemployment or financial challenges via download at beginwithyes.com. (Click on the link for a free download.) Paul Boynton can be found on his website and Twitter, and on the Facebook pages Begin With Yes and Being Gay, Becoming Gray. Author photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.
This post originally appeared on KerganEdwards-Stout.com.