Local libraries are doing a decent job of housing all types of publications for folks to peruse at their leisure but for an atmosphere of community I’d be hard pressed to find a better collection of literature than at my local LGBTQ community center. The Center here in Las Vegas has a specialized collection of literature for and by LGBTQI+ authors and a few days ago I found myself walking along the shelves looking for something to read.
Several covers later, one caught my eye because of its unusual title: Finding the Boyfriend Within—A Practical Guide for Tapping into Your Own Source of Love, Happiness, and Respect by Brad Gooch. Written in the late 1990s, the book served as an answer to gay cis men’s seemingly restless and unsatisfying search for the perfect boyfriend. Using the age-old advice that loving another requires loving oneself first, Gooch paints a detailed picture of what self-care looks like and how it thinks, as well as the tools to give you a better life of your own creation.
I can relate directly to this book, being gay myself, but his advice and perspective is universal. Just insert “girlfriend” or some other title in its place and you’ll see what I mean. Despite how hokey this title may seem to those who aren’t as in touch with their emotions, Finding the Boyfriend Within has plenty of insights that are worth reflecting on no matter who you are and whether you decide to use his many awareness exercises.
More Than Your Relationship Status
Gooch recounts an experience where, after losing his partner of eleven years to AIDS, he chats with the new boyfriend of an invited guest at a neighbor’s house party. The new boyfriend tells Gooch how much he’s heard of him, seeming to congratulate him for his current success. However, when he finds out Gooch’s relationship status, the guy decides that being single makes Gooch’s work “all worth nothing.” This person, a film agent from L.A., seemed to include his relationship status as an indicator of self-worth.
As a single person who sought distraction by tailoring my life around relationships, the thin rap sheet of personal success and demonstrated self-respect left me with little to turn to outside of a relationship. Gooch also disagrees with this “no boyfriend, no worth” logic when he writes, “If you believe your happiness is dependent on someone else, you are going to give that person a lot of control over you—power to make you happy, power to frustrate you, and power to destroy you emotionally. A prospective mate can suddenly have license to behave in ways unacceptable for anyone else in your life.” This includes dictating your level of worth in the world.
We’re told that all the riches in the world can’t compare to having someone love you, and, while there is truth in the sentiment, what could be more rewarding than a prospective partner seeing all that you’ve accomplished and honoring your path in life? As transmen, our insecurities and fears are at times a looming shadow over our lives. In the wrong hands it is used against us for reasons we may not understand. However, no matter what the words or who says them, recognizing your worth and believing in your abilities is the difference between allowing others to write your story and discovering the true heart of the matter.
Who You Want is What You Want
Similar to the way you might admire a movie celebrity because of the characters they portray, “The Boyfriend Within” personifies traits you value, ones you already have and ones you wish you had. The care, sensitivity, strength, or attentiveness you may want in a potential partner, Gooch says, is something that you can experience today with “The Boyfriend Within” because he is there as a model of what you can give to yourself.
Think of times that going to the movies was a bust because no one would join you, looking for an outfit at the store was daunting and you needed support, or needing to cool down after a bad dream was hard without a distraction. Sometimes when you’re on your own, these situations remind you of how alone you are, and it can make your days or nights gloomy. However, asking yourself what your “Boyfriend Within” would do can call to mind what builds you up, makes you feel loved, and helps you grow.
Even in a relationship—whether it’s marriage, dating, or otherwise—you can use “The Boyfriend Within” as a buffer in difficult situations where you otherwise felt abandoned, marginalized, or disrespected. Learning about what you can do and what you believe in is of little help if these techniques can’t serve to pull you out of your lowest moments. Gooch writes that “those [are] bad feelings, or dubious actions, which can actually be understood as tugs for attention by The Boyfriend Within, as symptoms calling for a cure.”
The awareness exercises ask the reader to find patterns of behavior that aren’t suiting their needs, analyze the meaning of each symptom, and offer a healthier solution. It is important to emphasize that all his examples encourage the reader to arrive at a plan of action. To give an example, the angry rants and self-defeating language you read Facebook posts are the marks of internal discord without an outlet. The act of telling others “I’m upset” comes with responses asking for more information or reassurance, but how far does this go towards fixing the problem at hand?
Obsessively partying to forget their pain or acting out the persona of a unlovable villain are just distractions they might use to ignore their deeper dysphoria, feelings of helplessness, and anger at their circumstances. A self-deprecating cycle might be holding back their progress towards getting the help they need but too ashamed to ask for and thus need some sort of interruption to break from it.
Self-reliance is the skill and trust necessary to move yourself towards your true desires. It isn’t birth-given invincibility, everyone has their low moments, but the solidarity and initiative needed to get results. The Boyfriend Within culminates all the things you’ve noticed give you joy and hope—whether he is a model of your highest potential or your motivating opposite—he can remind you that even if your top-surgery fund is near non-existent that if you go take a walk around the park or talk to friend who knows what you’re going through you might just feel a little less anxious and ready to tackle the challenge once again.
Independence is Strength, Interdependence is Self-Love
Learning about yourself, without fear or damnable judgement, is a blessing that can extend to your loved ones and even strangers. The logic of transmen in the media has commonly been expressed as showing other trans* people that they are not alone. They often have told of a past of insecurity, self-hate, or hopelessness but that their journey invited results that started to change this perception. I’m here to tell anyone who focuses just on transition as a catalyst for self-worth this: the turning point of their rise out of the dark was due largely in part to the power of choice.
They chose to live differently, from lifting weights to speaking up about social issues; to think differently, discussing the philosophy of privilege and what being a man means; and to find what they can do to help themselves and others live their truth. Once you start looking at yourself differently, Gooch says, you start to look at others differently too. How you treat yourself will always translate somehow into how you treat others. Whether it’s becoming the solid source of strength for your family or your community, Gooch posits that service is a selfish act.
If you feel good about your day helping a lost child find their parents again, picking up groceries for your roommates, or taking your friend to work, a reward is irrelevant. “Loving is how you feel loved,” Gooch writes, because you feel something significant enough to do or treat another with kindness. Someone giving you money might feel a gratitude which compels them to do so. The fact that you happily expect nothing in return is a blessing because you are not inherently self-serving.
There is power in giving to others the way that a good king serves the subjects by offering his protection and leadership. The same goes for being a strong person with or without a partner. The difference is that you do not wish to benefit from your acts at the cost others but instead find fulfillment in a way that does not depend on others (or their compensation). Fair, after all is what you can mutually agree upon and there is no way to feel taken advantage of if charity is your intent.
Toil the Earth and Enjoy the Fruits of Labor
Learning to live happily alone but not lonely is something challenging anyone who longs for a relationship will need to face. Jumping from relationship to relationship, with varying degrees of success or disaster, is not what will ultimately feed the need for deep personal satisfaction, love, and contentment. It will obviously take time and commitment to unearth the unique ways that you feel and do your best but those are the exciting parts about someone else’s journey, right? Through pain and struggle the hero emerges, not impervious to the next hardship but able to overcome them with more trust and self-reliance than ever before.
The more tiny steps you take forward, the further you will find yourself from your starting point. Your commitment to healing your wounds, encouraging your unique self-expression, and living your truth is worth facing your demons head-on.
If you enjoyed my analysis of Finding the Boyfriend Within by Brad Gooch, you can read it for yourself at your local lending library or buy it from Amazon.com using this affiliate link.