Dropping the Soap (and grabbing the tissue) for Lillie McCloud

soapI cry. I know – you’re probably thinking, “Dude, you’re gay. Odds are you eat quiche, love musicals, and watch The Bachelor too. You cry? Duh. What kind of a confession is that?” If that was indeed your thought – to you I say, “Damn your pathetically stereotypical and frightfully accurate response!”


Not only do I eat quiche, I bake it. I love musicals so much that I have even performed in them from time to time – my Deaf Jesus in Stephen Sondheim’s Godspell being an especially memorable turn. And the only thing that strokes my romantically bent gay bone more than The Bachelor – is The Bachelorette. Twenty-five, drunk, half-naked, “straight” guys all holed up in a beautifully appointed, palatial estate chasing after one lovesick female? Yes. Yes, I do count myself as a proud citizen of Bachelor Nation. Now, I suppose all of that queerness confessed makes me something even beyond your average soundtrack humming, six-pack loving, quiche-eating cliché. Uh-huh. It probably qualifies me as super gay.

All of that embarrassingly said, I would like to clarify. Yes, I cry. But I am not at all convinced that it was my impressively off-the-charts Q factor that made me tear up during last week’s season premier of The X Factor.

Crap. Did I just confess that I watch The X Factor too? Fagnabbit! Is there no end to my humiliating stream of revelations?

Forgive me. I digress. Allow me to get back to the tracks of my tears. I believe that it is an ever-strengthening connection to my true sense of a whole self – not just my gay self – that makes me more prone lately to unexpected bouts of emotionality. Lately, trying to live as I do – that is, in a perpetual state of self-reflection – I have been excessively aware and extremely analytical regarding the sometimes surprisingly tumultuous ebb and flow of my emotional tide. As a child, I learned that appearing overwrought in front of others put me squarely at odds with normal behavioral expectations. Along the way I was also taught that public emoting could make others uncomfortable, so naturally – like the vast majority of us I’m guessing – I fought it. I also know that as a product of a “boys don’t cry” culture, I was expected to avoid behavior that would cause the world to perceive me as anything other than boyish. In addition to these clearly implied and generally accepted societal constraints, the philosophical stoicism that formed the moral foundations of my Christian upbringing, also held their sway. Although seldom blatantly stated, the idea that there was something fundamentally weak, unattractive, or even dangerous in giving over to certain natural human impulses – emotion for example – was covertly and repeatedly sermonized to me as a Catholic youngster. The result of all this blather being – that I long have considered myself to be exceptionally proficient when it comes to maintaining my emotional composure.

Since the birth of my son, however, I am keenly aware of an undeniable decline in my ability to control the floodgates; that is, I notice that many things seem to be markedly more emotionally affecting than they were pre-propagation. I know that part of the flux in my emotional barometer is simply due to the increased investment that I have. I now hold a precious living stake in the outcome of all things human. I freely admit that now – more than ever – I want to believe. I do. Especially in things like love, God, and an underlying inherent goodness – even if it sometimes seems misguided – in the motives of mankind.

So – while sitting in front of the television the other night – all of this psychological self-dissection began, because I guiltily started to feel a rush of emotion in response to what I was seeing. It was a stunningly beautiful, fifty-four-year-old woman, named Lillie McCloud (A.K.A. Nicole McCloud), gifting Simon Cowell and the rest of The X Factor judges with her glorious rendition of CeCe Winans’ “Alabaster Box.”

To make matters worse, while I was busy severely scrutinizing my emotional reaction – my inner, elitist, artistic critic was also lashing out at me, “Buck up, Whiny McWhimperstein! This is reality TV. What the heck are you crying at? It’s nothing but a bunch of over-produced, emotionally manipulative, product placement driven, boob tube tripe!”

Yeah well, so much for mindless television.

Honestly Ms. McCloud’s performance was not the only one that packed an emotional punch that evening. For some reason, however, for me hers was by far and away the most heart wrenchingly punchiest. Perhaps it was the touching account of her dreams long deferred. Maybe it was the fact that she is seven times a grandmother. It could have been the simple act of her singing with unabashed passion about a great love for the Son of God. It might have been the lyrics, “She stumbles through the tears that made her blind. She felt such pain. Some spoke in anger. Heard folks whisper. There’s no place here for her kind. Still on she came.” Or maybe I was touched by her sincere surprise at the thunderous applause, and her graciously modest reception of the effusive accolades that followed. Of course a well-founded argument might also be made that – as a gay man – I’m just a sucker for a jaw-droppingly gorgeous cross between Eartha Kitt and Whitney Houston. Especially one sporting a skintight, black vinyl catsuit; saucer-sized, hoop earrings; and a beautiful, Pam Grier Afro high enough to tickle the toes of Jesus.

My guess is that it was probably all of those things; perhaps coupled with me missing my out-of-town boyfriend, along with an unusually stressful stretch of days at the office, and who knows what all else.

Whatever the case, I am hoping that as the years go on I will learn how to permit myself a little more latitude when it comes to allowing the free flow of emotion – sans the self-inflicted head game and the trifling sense of shame. But for now, I am still mostly that guy – that guy who quickly wipes his eyes before the lights come up in the movie theater; that guy who wears his sunglasses at weddings and funerals; and that guy who rushes back to the privacy of his car after dropping his toddler at daycare – all so no one sees his tears.

As strong as my impulse ever is to cry – I seem to have an equally strong response to halt or hide it.

And yes, even when it’s just one very compassionate Chihuahua and me alone on the couch, I am still that guy who beats himself up a little when he needs to grab a few squares of Charmin to blow his nose while watching The X Factor – becuse something caught him of gaurd – something surprising, smething spritual, something jouyous, something…who knows?  And he cried.


Grab some Charmin, click here, and have a listen.