The Gentlemen’s Club

by SLK

I remember so distinctly the love/hate relationship that I had with the men in my middle school classes. I say ‘men’ not because they were adult in any sense of the word, but because that’s what form they took in my mind; it was the masculine standard to which I tried to hold myself.

I can’t say that I was truly ridiculed in my time as a middle-schooler, despite the fact that those ages are ripe for it. I faced the occasional snide remark, a back-handed compliment from the guy sitting next to me who thought it necessary to remark on the hot-pink band-aid adorning my ankle. For the most part my teachers did an effective job of tamping down any sort of serious bullying that might have taken place, but in a bizarre way this seemed to screw with me all the more. I knew I was different; I knew I was an object of both fascination and derision from the more testosterone-inclined individuals of my class; but I never really saw that manifest itself. Instead what I witnessed was an odd deference to my character, a respect that I didn’t feel I deserved. I was, after all, a freak of sorts, and while I wasn’t willing to change who I was in any significant way, I still wholly accepted the idea that I shouldn’t be treated equally. I was less-than, but I took comfort in the idea that my ostracism didn’t upset the gender balance in any real way.

So I did what any sane middle school closet-case does: I turned to the girls. We’d sit together, eat together, socialize together, gossip together. We did the ‘girl’ things, but I justified this to myself by thinking that these girlish predilections were somehow on a higher plane than the mindless video-gaming and football-pummeling of my peers. It helped that I grew up under the influence of two peacenik parent figures, people who instilled the idea in me that my decidedly flowery interests were of the more civilized variety.

However–and this was a revelation that I only had once I had outgrown my adolescent years–my most overwhelming desire at the time was to gain access to this elusive group of boys. It’s hilarious to think back at this period in my life, when my latent sexual desire unconsciously mixed itself up with my concept of manhood. I’d hear lurid tales of the guys in my class skinny dipping at a local lake at night, and immediately my hormones would flare up and I’d tie the sexual excitement I felt with supposed thrill of simply being ‘one of the guys.’ I switched up my wardrobe; I tried out for sports not involving pom poms for once; and for one laughable period of time in 7th grade, I tried with every ounce of my being to appreciate the finer subtleties of heavy metal. Nothing really seemed to stick, at least nothing reasonably within my comfort zone, but a certain intangible despair set in, one that I still feel to this day. It’s a despair that I think every gay individual, male or female, experiences during those formative years, and it’s always unsettling when it rears its head back up later in life.

This isn’t something that a lot of people address, being of the “It Gets Better” generation, but I’ve found that that despair is always there in some form. It certainly does get better, but the best I think anyone can hope for is to turn that despair into a marker for how far you’ve come. To this day I still find myself pining to be an accepted, dues-paying member of the ‘guy’ club, and I can’t say I’ve found a way to fully overcome that. But I take solace in knowing that there are loftier standards out there.

Losing My Religion

from One Gay At A Time, http://onegayatatime.wordpress.com/

Religion is a very important aspect of life for my family. I was raised Catholic and went to mass every Sunday. When I was in high school, I was recruited to be a Eucharistic minister (the person who hands out the communion and the wine at Mass). Ironically, when I was a kid my mother asked if I wanted to be an alter boy, but I happily declined out of slight fear of a pedophiliac priest. In CCD, I was such a religious scholar; others in the class called me “God boy.”

My religious beliefs were part of the reason I struggled with my homosexuality for so long. I had faith in God, and I thought he was testing me. I took it at face value that homosexuality was wrong. The Bible teaches against it, and I have always been taught it was a sin. It was a burden I would have to bear the rest of my life or somehow manage to overcome.

I moved into an apartment my sophomore year of college on a Sunday. I was particularly busy, and I rationalized that as an excuse for not attending Mass. After that, I stopped going to Mass every week and believed that if I had faith in God and was a moral person, I no longer needed a weekly dose of church. I went when I felt I needed the extra help or when I simply missed the ritual. As I became an adult, I began to own my religion. I’m certainly not as devout a Catholic as my grandmother was. I am a cafeteria Catholic. I pick and choose what aspects of the religion I want to follow.

One of my best friends from college is my freshmen year mentor. He is a Marist Brother, a Catholic congregation dedicated to the Christian education of young people. We have shared a strong bond since I met him and continue to do so. I haven’t yet figured out how to break my news to him or how he’ll take it. I’m not afraid he’ll judge me or anything of the sort. He cares a lot about me and always inquires about my mental, physical, and spiritual health. I just need an opportunity to have a heart-to-heart with him. However, he’s like a grandfather to me, so it’s almost as stressful as it was telling my parents.

In my adult life post-graduation, I made every attempt to go to Mass weekly. My friends and I went as a group and cooked dinner for each other following services. Ironically enough, dinner was when the gossip about our sex lives flowed freely (mine was nearly non-existent and still with women). When others started falling off from the group, so did I. Once again, I was responsible for my religion, not a priest.

I started having doubts in the Catholic religion when I began to come to the terms with my homosexuality. After I met Broadway, I had a conversation (one-sided of course) with God. Ironically enough, I never felt so close to God as I did in that moment. I simply lay on my bed and thanked Him aloud for allowing me to finally feel comfortable with my true self. I realized being gay was not a choice, not a sin, and simply a part of who I am. God loves me regardless. I finally stopped resenting that part of me.

While I have come closer to God through that experience, I’ve become more disenfranchised with the Catholic Church. Who wants to be part of an organization that doesn’t accept him or her? Their congregation has evolved over the years, but the Church has not. Any organism that can’t evolve becomes extinct, and the Catholicism is slowly shrinking in numbers.

Some days I think about marriage. I think about the idea of marriage I once had in my head and how that idea has evolved. Sadly, I will never be married in the eyes of the Church, let alone the state. Honestly, that saddens me greatly. I believe strongly in the sanctity of marriage, even if that marriage is not between the traditional husband and wife. When I make that commitment to a man, it will be ironclad, but it will still be incomplete without the recognition of a congregation of believers.

My belief in God will never wane, but my faith in my fellow man is tested every day. One day, I hope all will be accepting of homosexuals as equals, but until then my relationship with God will have to be exclusive.

Don’t Let Them Tell You Who To Love

by Charlotte Zissou

http://livemoreproject.wordpress.com/

I’ve been pondering coming out for some time. I’m not out to my parents, or to any of my family for that matter. I’d rather wait until I’m ready. I’ve never had a girlfriend or anything, but I’m 100% sure of myself. That’s not to say I’m opposed to falling in love with a man; it may happen one day or it may not. I am not in control of my future. I won’t go looking for love in a man, but if it comes to me then fair enough. I’m not against anything (except for hate and prejudice and all that, of course).

In a way, I don’t see the point in coming out. I mean, heterosexuals don’t have to stand up and tell people “I’m straight,” so why should those of other sexual orientations have to? I don’t see how it’s different to bring home a lover of the same sex and introduce them as your partner. I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to declare what I’m into sexually when it wouldn’t be a big deal if I were straight. Homosexuality is only a problem if you make it a problem. I don’t give a fuck if someone is straight, gay, pansexual, asexual, trans, or whatever; we’re all humans and we should bloody well act it. Hate is so unnecessary; it won’t make anything go away. The way forward is to love and accept. I would never go and shout abuse at a straight couple for being different from me.

I just really can’t get my head around how taking away someone’s right to marry the person they love is okay. I don’t understand what it’s going to do. There is no cure for someone’s sexuality and if there were then hate would sure as hell NOT be it. You can hate all you want but guess what? WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. We will keep on fighting and keep on loving. You might as well accept it because there’s nothing you can do to make it go away; it only makes us more determined.

I won’t go on any more because I literally won’t be able to stop myself. Fuck the haters, embrace who you are instead of suppressing your feelings. Just because you’re not out doesn’t mean you’re not proud. I’m proud as hell but I’m not ready for everyone to know just yet. That’s fine, we all move at our own pace. Love yourself: you’re beautiful, whether you’re straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans and so on and so forth. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not worth anything, and certainly don’t let them tell you who to love.

How I Came Out

by Andinho Menezes

http://andinhomenezes.wordpress.com/

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been really sure that I’m gay. I’m from a big family, but my household is small; I am the oldest child, with a younger sister and brother. Today I live with my father and my mother, my brother, and my great-grandaunt.

I’ll start with my childhood. When I was a kid I knew that I was different from many boys, and I was pretty sure my family had known I was gay since I was a baby. I liked drawing, listening to music, and reading, but my family always tried to tell me I couldn’t act like I didn’t want to do “boy” things. I wasn’t effeminate, but there was something about me that my father noticed, something he thought a boy shouldn’t be like. My father always told me, and I always understood, that he wanted a straight son, not a gay son. I played with all my cousins, though this is not what made me see that I was gay. I don’t like soccer, but I played “girl” and “boy” games. My favorite children game was marbles. In school most of my friends were girls–I had male friends, too, but they were always thinking about soccer and women and I would like to talk about music (and arts in general). I remember that in my childhood at the elementary school there was one boy for whom I felt something inside. He was older than me, a teenager, and he always made me happy when he played with me in the school’s playground, I remember him clearly; he made me feel so much better. I think I was about 9 years old.

In my teenage all the kids made fun with me, calling me a “faggot” and a “queer” and so on. I was afraid of my parents figuring out the reason the boys and girls ridiculing me, or letting them know that their taunts brought me down; I made out like I was a strong boy, like I didn’t care about what the kids said. But my soul was crestfallen. They started to respect me when I showed to everyone that I loved to study and that I was a polite and good student at school. I also wanted to do the right things and respected everybody around me. When we had homework I helped anyone who asked, and I never showed disdain or spite for them them, but showed that I’m not selfish. I helped them and they eventually they understood their cruelty. They understood that I was good to them and they weren’t to me. Nowadays I occasionally see some of them and they respect me a lot. My school always had a volleyball championship and I was there with the girls and boys watching the game…though actually I was really watching the boys and their male beauty playing.

I had a friend whom I came out to who was also out to me, and he was with me during one part of the school year. These were the special times: it’s not easy to belong to a school where your classmates shout, “faggot!” When I went to the locker room the boys showed their body to me and I quickly got out, because I was afraid of them doing to me what they did with a lot of closet cases, saying homophobic things and bringing them down in front of everybody. But I had good teachers and a great principal; they didn’t let the school turn upside down. By the time I finishing school everybody knew that I was gay, although they didn’t ask me and I didn’t tell them. I gained respect. In my teenage I was in love with one of my classmates; he was my friend there and he didn’t give me any opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve. (Here’s a piece I wrote about it: http://andinhomenezes.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/prejudice-at-school/).

When I was 16 I knew that I needed to be independent. I wanted to be free. I was reaching a point where I could no longer hide my feelings–and of course, being gay is not a choice, it is a feeling. Plus, the loneliness was coming back to me and I had no one to talk to and get it off my chest. I started looking for a job, and when I found a one I changed–I grew up in my behavior and knowledge. I paid to go to English school, because English would be the first thing I’d like to learn; now that I felt like I was doing everything alone, independent desires came to my mind. The time passed by and I needed to become much more independent. I started to study at college a few miles away from my house. It was a hard time in my life. At work, my workmates (many of whom were closet cases) were homophobic; they tried to make fun with me, and there were moments when I cried a river, because I was in the closet. I was virgin, I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I couldn’t talk to anybody about gay things. It was hard working and studying. My best friend and I worked together, but we only had a professional life. When we both found other jobs, we told came out to each other, and today he is like a brother, he’s my “twin brother, Gil.”

My goal during these times was to finish college and come out to my parents, because they deserved to know everything about me. If they didn’t want to see me anymore, I’d just find a place to live alone, now that I was independent. But how could I do that? I did need a boyfriend to help me face up my parents, but it was hard, the only one I loved forsook me (http://andinhomenezes.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/my-lovelorn/). He was everything that I wanted, but he let me down. But I faced up to my parents anyway, alone, as I knew I should. Before I did, I came out to one of my best friends, my aunt Mabel! She’s like a mother to me, and after I told my sister and her, they supported me fully. Aunt Mabel told me she knew that I was gay; she was just waiting for me to tell her the truth. When my college years were winding down, I saw that the responsibility was coming quickly. I also regretted my lost teenage years: I lost my teenage-hood, because I wasn’t free, because I didn’t go out with friends as I was afraid someone would see me kissing another guy and telling my parents that I was gay. But I can’t complain about it. In my last year of college I met one guy who let me down as well; we started dating and he cheated me on. But I wouldn’t let that wreck my life.

After my commencement, I was afraid to face up to everything, but I did: I faced up to the fact that I was gay, and realized that to be born gay is marvelous. One afternoon I went to the bedroom with my mother. I told her and she was astonished. Another afternoon I told my father his action was completely different. (I wrote about the experience in great detail here: http://andinhomenezes.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/how-did-my-parents-find-out/)My father understood me, but my mother had a different action: she asked me to look for a psychologist and a religious priest. I didn’t. As my mother couldn’t turn me straight, she tried to tell to my whole family that I wasn’t the nephew, the grandson, the cousin they wished me to be. She told this to my aunts and uncles; to my grandparents… she tried to make them talk to me and turn me straight, but it didn’t work. My extended family supported me and they still support me. Nowadays my mother and my father don’t talk about that, but we’ve got a good relationship. Before I came out, when they watched TV with a gay theme, they didn’t like the situation and they said disagreeable things about gays; today they don’t say anything, because they’ve got a gay son. I live my life without promiscuity; I’ve got marvelous friends; I’ve got a job; I’ve got a wonderful family. I can say that I’m a lucky guy–since I was born I knew, I was sure that I was gay and I am gay, and I’ll always be gay forever and ever.

I would like to say everyone, don’t give up your feelings; you can’t slip away from who you are. So, face up the fact that you are who you are and you are everything that you are. We all have different situations; perhaps you came from a conservative family, perhaps you came from family with religious bigotry. Regardless if you want to show that you’re different and you deserve respect, do it, go ahead, because you’ll get it. It really does get better. My family had a stereotype that I be something terrible, but I showed them that to be gay is good. Who you are makes a difference. To be homosexual is not a sin or a crime. I don’t care if people won’t accept me the way I am; the most important thing is to be free. I love myself; I love to be myself. Accept yourself and don’t give up. Oscar Wilde once said, “I have no doubt we shall win, but the road is long, and red with monstrous martyrdom.” If you want to be out, find a friend or someone that you trust to reach out to. You don’t need to tell to everyone at work or at school that you are gay. If they ask, you should say, “yes I am! Do you mind?” You don’t owe people anything, but they do owe you something: respect! If you feel alone, find someone who will understand you, and know that you will bounce back. It gets better!

Opening Doors, Come What May

by Erika, creator of Be Gay About It (http://begayaboutit.wordpress.com/)

Original link: http://begayaboutit.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/opening-doors-come-what-may/

(NB: This is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read about the joys and challenges of coming out. Erika’s website, Be Gay About It, is widely read, and for good reason: it’s both a splendid resource of gay/questioning/closeted/curious people, and an overall wonderful blog. I’m honored and thrilled that Erika offered to let me cross-post the article here. -MJS)

*

Opening Doors, Come What May

The server walked briskly away from our table having scribbled our orders onto his pad. The restaurant was airy, bright, filled with the kinds of people who wear rectangle glasses to read alternative newspapers. The friend across the table from me wasn’t one of my closest friends, but we had taken a few honors seminars together in college and liked similar music and dining atmospheres. I had a lot of these dinners in my early twenties, with hip entrees and conversations guided more by imagination than by anything we actually knew.

Because this particular friend held none of my secrets, I thought her reaction, whatever it turned out to be, would impact me far less significantly than when I told my mom or my brother or, really, anyone else. The server deposited our sodas onto tiny square napkins, then left in a lick.

“So, guess what? I like girls.”

Not my most eloquent moment, but it was the best I could do. (I couldn’t say the word ‘lesbian’ above a whisper until my late twenties.) Her response remains as clearly with me today as if she cracked the case yesterday:

“I knew there had to be a reason why you cut your hair so short!”

To be fair, my hair was really, really short. But still.

Coming out, I’ve learned, is not a one-time, one-closet deal. In fact, not a day goes by when I don’t have to decide how to  manage my pronouns. My closet is a factory of doors and I’ve found that with each door I open, the ensuing reaction has far less to do with me than with the person reacting.

One of my favorite coming out stories involved two close friends of mine, a guy and a girl who happened to be dating at the time. I rode with the guy to the restaurant, where we met the girl. We ordered mozzarella sticks. We chatted. When I told them, she said, “Well, we all need all the friends we can get.” He just sat there, stunned. Afterward, she left in her car and he drove me back to mine, which was parked across town. During the ride, he confessed that when I told him I wanted to talk with them both about something important and personal that might affect our friendship, he thought I was going to profess my feelings for him, thereby spiraling us into a cataclysmic  suburban love triangle. It’s been seven years and I still laugh out loud when I think about it.

That I have to declare my sexual orientation in my relationships is one of the weirdest things about my life. I have a hard time sorting it out in my head.

I’m in this closet (or factory of doors) because the culture in which I live built it around me. I didn’t ask to be in the closet, it was imposed upon me. Yet, if I need fresh air, as we all do, it’s my responsibility to open the door. Oh, and by the way, there’s no guarantee that what’s on the other side of that door is fresh air. It might be fresh air, or it might be a three-horned, fire-breathing dragon. Good luck!

There are two coming out stories in my archives, though years old, that haunt me in vivid, breathless dreams. One involved G and one involved H.

G and I had been friends since our days as sophomore reporters for our high school newspaper. We reveled in each others’ brilliance, talking for hours and hours – and hours – about all the Big Ideas. Though we attended separate colleges, we remained close. We spent all our holiday breaks together. We road-tripped cross-country together. We hammered out religion and politics, pop psychology and indie music, never losing interest. I was living in Colorado for a period after college and told her over the phone.

“I’m gay,” I said.
“Okay. Just don’t hit on me,” she said.

In that instant, the unraveling began. A year later, in 2003, she stopped returning my calls. Ultimately, she told me in one final email that it’s because “we grew apart” and “didn’t you see this coming?”.

No. I didn’t. (And don’t flatter yourself.)

I felt less caught off guard when H rejected me. Her family was deeply religious, fundamentalist Presbyterian. We had ridiculous, silly fun together and denial came easily in the day-to-day. I always knew, however, that my secret would end our friendship. It wasn’t so much the length of our friendship as the depth that mattered to me. When she told me she’d been raped, my world stopped. I immersed myself in her family, sleeping over five nights a week, playing Army Guys with her little brother, bridging the chasm between her and her parents, sitting close to her as she filled out paperwork at the counselor’s office, reminding her where she was when she woke up screaming with tight fists in the night. Eventually, she healed. Her family healed. Our friendship resumed its lightness, but with an unspoken reverence for what we’d weathered together. It was on this that I placed my bet. We met at a coffee shop one gray December day. I dove right in.

“This is really hard for me to say, but I’m gay.”

I could see the conflict play out on her face. She told me about the two gay guys at work and how nice they were; she told me what Scripture said. Finally, she said “I love you as God made you, but I’m afraid I can’t talk with you about that part of your life.” “What do you mean?” I asked.  “If you’re dating someone, you can’t talk to me about it.”

I’ll never forget what I felt in that moment, the stillbirth of an impasse.

We made small talk for fifteen minutes, walked outside, and hugged goodbye. I never saw her again.

My greeting whenever I open a door remains unchanged:

I come as I am. I come in peace. I trust you.

The responses, on the other hand,  are never, ever the same.

When I told my roommate, Nancy, she clapped her hands excitedly and declared that she would march in the next parade with me. ( I so wasn’t ready for a parade.)

When I told my Grandma Clare, she worried for my safety before coming around to reiterate her unconditional love.

When I told my mom, it took her a millisecond to determine that my news had no bearing on her future status as grandmother. Then she told me that sexual orientation exists on a spectrum, love is fluid, and I deserve to find someone who makes me happy.

When I told my Grandma Connie, we cried and cried. She hugged me to her chest where we shook and shook, maybe from her Parkinson’s, maybe from the honesty. She told me that Grandpa and some of the aunts and uncles might have a hard time understanding it, but that nothing would change her love for me. (Both she and Grandpa, along with half the aunts and uncles, attended our commitment ceremony.)

When I told my friend Rachel, I worried that her lifelong membership in the Lutheran church would cause her to respond like G or H. Instead, she smiled warmly and said, “So?” — and then proceeded to taunt me for months about my inability to say ‘lezzzzzz-beean’.

The best of these stories – the one time I opened the door to be enveloped by air so fresh it felt ethereal — happened on April 13, 2002.

I had flown home from Colorado for the weekend. My family had a reservation for dinner that Saturday night to celebrate my future stepdad’s birthday. This was my cover. Really, I had flown home to tell them, the most important people in my life, that I’m gay.

Understandably, I felt tense, alone, and extremely worried about how they would react. Nevermind that they’d never given me any indication one way or the other how they felt about gay people. That morning, some combination of us got into an argument about something trivial. It didn’t matter that it was trivial; my stress boiled over. Feeling caged, I leapt out of the car at the next stop sign and walked a mile to the nearest payphone where I called my brother.

He picked me up in his black Dodge Ram.

“Just drive me somewhere!”

We pulled into one of his favorite parks, near one of our old houses. In the foreground of the park, there are swingsets, a teeter totter, a slide. Behind the playground is a wooded, terraced area with trails. We unbuckled without saying a word and walked. I remember the sun twinkled through the leaves that day. It calmed me. We walked for almost an hour, not saying much of anything. Finally, we wound up back at the Ram. Before he turned the key in the ignition, I said:

“I have to tell you, I came home to tell you …I’m not like … I’m not ….I’m …”

I couldn’t finish the sentence.

Somehow, though, my little brother intuited what I needed so desperately to share and he made space for it.

He scooted closer to me, placed his arm gently around my shoulders, and said in that jolly, yogi-esque way of his –

“Well, this just makes you more interesting.”

After I slobbered all over his dress shirt, he turned the key in the ignition. The radio was on and, like kismet, Sheryl Crow crooned:

“It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you got.”

And so it is with each door I open, each bet I place, me, wanting what I got, being who I am.

I live in a factory of doors, opening one after another after another. I open the doors because I need air; those on the other side already have it.

I open the doors because I deserve to breathe.

 

 

Growing Up Gay: Thoughts on Pride

by Jeremy Andrews

When I was a young boy, growing up in my home, I was very well versed on what my parents abhorred and what was unacceptable. My parents were homophobic, they were also racist and to a degree they believed that they had ‘arrived’ and became elitist. I don’t know how middle class American folk become elitist and better than others, but that is what my father thought.

I knew enough about sexuality before I had even hit puberty and in that time, I became aware of what my parents thought about homosexuality. When I hit puberty, my father took me on the all important ‘birds and the bees dinner’ to talk about any questions or concerns that I might have. But by then I had already done enough ‘homework’ and I had begin to explore those needs myself.

When I hit junior high school, everything changed. I knew on the first day of school that I was different. The first day I set foot in the boy’s locker room, I knew that something was different. Over the next three years I would have many friends and I would participate in sports like soccer, wrestling, and swimming. My fascination with boys had begun. But I had to play the game. I know that today–I didn’t know that then. I had a girlfriend and I dated girls throughout school. But I remained a virgin because Catholic boys followed the church teachings, and my family was staunchly Catholic and feared God.

My mother was working in the pharmaceutical field and also in home health care services for patients who were discharged from hospital yet were still on medical supervision at home. Some of my mother’s patients, on her daily run, were gay and had AIDS. Many nights after work, she would come home with her boss and coworkers and they would sit and drink beer and talk about the ‘faggots’ and that she hated serving them and that she wished they would die already and stop wasting her time and money.

It was comments like these during my formative years that dictated how I was going to make my way into the world and just what I was going to disclose and when. My step-mother had gay friends whom she would invite to dinner. And when my family attended dinners at my step-mom’s house, my father would get crazy because his son was getting along better with the ‘fags’ than he did with his own father.

For 21 years my father beat me and told me that I was a mistake and said that I should never have been born, so can you blame me? Those gay men I had met became my teachers and my mentors into the world of ‘gay.’ I loved these men because they treated me with dignity and respect, far better treatment than my father had ever given me. When we would come home from these dinners my father would decide that beating the experience with them out of me was far better than allowing anything these men said to me to take root within me.

My step mother knew that I had issues and today I know that these dinner parties were her way of giving me access to people who she knew would help me, as my father would never allow me to expand my life to the places I wanted to go.

In Miami circa the 1980s there was a dedicated locale where the gay community lived, Coconut Grove. It was a specific locale where one could go to meet other gays, bar hop, and shop in gay stores in a local community setting. I don’t remember ever hearing about gay rights then, maybe because I was too young to understand what that meant. I didn’t start bar hopping until I was old enough to drink.

My first gay experience happened during the summer of my 19th year. My mother had been feuding with her sister, yet I was still on good terms with all of my family. I always believed that blood was thicker than water; this is where my parents failed miserably to rise to the challenge of maintaining family and, an extended family, as well.

I met a man at my aunt’s house; we got ripped on alcohol and I hid his keys so that he would not drive home that night, because we were all sauced beyond comprehension. Not to mention I wanted him…like I knew what that was at 19. Although I guess I did, because my little plan worked and we had sex that night. I never told a soul that secret after it happened. I sat on that secret for two years, when amid a discussion with some women who had made remarks about wanting to have sex with the very same man, I offered that I had! It was such a revelation for me…

I never came out to my parents. And I started seeing a shrink – who happened to be one of the men who attended my step-mom’s dinners. I was getting to the age of consent and I was urged to begin the exploration into gay life, but to do that I would have to find a way in. That was through a bar, Uncle Charlie’s. I was told to go to the bar, sit at the bar and have a drink and see what happened.

I was a teenage alcoholic. This order later in my life only fostered the need to drink more alcohol, because what does a 21 year old boy with cheek of tan do with his spare time? Drink, have his cake and eat it too…

The Christmas after my 21st birthday, I was on a cruise to the Bahamas with my best friend Matt. There was another gay couple sitting near us at dinner on the ship who thought “we” were a couple and they propositioned Matt. He wasn’t gay, but he thought I was. So they conspired to get me out of the closet that weekend. Well, after a night of debauchery I proposed my undying love and adoration to my best friend. That changed everything.

We never spoke again after that vacation, until much later in life.

In 1989, I moved away from home that following spring. I followed the couple who were on that cruise to Orlando, where I officially came out at the Parliament House on Orange Blossom Trail. If you are a gay boy in Florida, the place to come out was AT the Parliament House, and you worked at the “Tragic Queendom!” I did both.

I moved away to be gay, to explore all that I could be. I was a pretty young gay boy; I loved drag queens; and in fact, they became the most important people in my life and would remain guideposts in my life through most of my adult life.

Being gay was all you could do in the community that I lived in. We all slept around, we drank until we were all unconscious. We did terribly stupid things as kids. I moved away without any street smarts. I didn’t have ANY idea what responsibility to take care of house,  home, and car meant. I couldn’t pay bills or my rent or, even worse, my car payments, because I was too wrapped up in drinking and partying. Who knew about responsibility? I sure as hell didn’t. I was a mess. And I ended up in some serious jackpots with serious losers.

I was a gay boy on a destructive path that led me on an odyssey of pain and heartache for over a decade. There were several severe mistakes I made as a young gay boy, because nobody knew how to help me, nor wanted to take the time to give a shit that I was in self destruct mode. My parent’s did not want to know me because by then they knew about me, though I had never told them.

I had to return to my father’s house after ending up on the street and I went out one night and brought someone home to my father’s house and the next morning, my father went ballistic. (Note to you: Never bring a boy home to your parent’s house to have sex!)

That was the one of the nails I drove into my father’s proverbial casket.

I moved in with a friend whom I abused emotionally and monetarily. I was a raging alcoholic and I abused the gifts given to me – like the roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. I hurt one of the most important people in my life at that time. That I regret to this day.

Geographical cures were the norm to try and stop the cycles of self-abuse that I had been in as a young gay man. I didn’t have anyone who took the time to talk to me or teach me the ways of the world – this is why we write to you today, so that you know where to find us.

I made another geographic move for supposed love. This theme repeats itself over and over again. I met a boy and fell in love. He was a con artist and I fell for his lies, until he told one too many and I caught on. He became suicidal and eventually killed himself. A year later I was diagnosed with AIDS and given 18 months to live. That was in 1994.

I had been hooked into a gay community, the leather community of Ft. Lauderdale. I was working at a bar. I met my master, my mentor, my guide and my father, the man who would save me. It is by the grace of God and the love of that man that I am alive today and writing to you in this community.

I learned what gay pride was, because I was part of a selective and marginalized community. That community was the leather community, the AIDS community, and gays in general. I was attending funerals because all of my friends were dropping like flies. People were being thrown out of their houses by families and lovers. The gay community was trying to build infrastructure to take care of our own. In South Florida, gay communities had begun to find themselves. We ‘found’ specific communities like Ft. Lauderdale proper and the Five Corners area, in Miami areas like South Beach and all points north.

Gay pride was important because men, women, and children were dying from AIDS and this disease was no longer a gay disease, but a world disease. It wasn’t a localized issue but a world-wide epidemic. I started attending Gay pride Festivals in Ft. Lauderdale after my diagnosis, because life became important and staying alive was the goal.

Gay pride is an important time in all of our lives. Gay pride has changed over the decades, because the AIDS epidemic has changed. The festival of living was an honoring of the dead. We came together to celebrate life, for our friends who were dead. The atmosphere was so different than it is today, probably because I live in Canada now and my observations and my life have changed so much since 1994.

I lived, when hundreds of people I knew, friends whom I loved and drag queens who were my rock, have died since then. The gay rights issues in the United States had begun to grow. The call for equal rights and treatment of people with AIDS was growing. I was barely surviving on the disability that I was on. I had to decide monthly on paying for my medications, paying rent, or buying food. Life was terribly difficult as a man with AIDS living in Miami in 2000 and 2001.

I got sober in December of 2001. And the gay community where I was living was falling apart. The safe club scene became a dog-eat-dog world. The world I came out into had changed so drastically in six short years that I could not rely on anyone like I had been doing for the last six years prior.

I had been sober for a few months and I decided to make a move out of the country. And I did that and a new chapter in my life had begun. I was 34 years old when I got sober this second time; I had been living with AIDS for seven years. I moved to Montreal and began to build a home. Gay life in a foreign country is very different from gay life in the United States because Canada has grown in many ways where other countries have not.

Since 2002 when I moved, I got situated and became a Canadian citizen because of my birthright, because my mother was still a Canadian when I was born in 1967. I met a boy, I fell in love and I got married. From the time that hubby and I met, the gay marriage and gay rights legislation made its way through Parliament and received assent. I remember the night that the news reported that the gay marriage legislation had been passed into law. That was a few months before hubby and I eventually got married in 2004.

Over the years gay pride has changed. The weekly end of July escapade has been changed to the beginning of August 5 day event. We attended Gay pride events here in Montreal for years. But as of the last two years, we did not attend any functions. Gay pride has become more political and divisive to the point that we don’t participate because the spirit of Pride has changed drastically from what it used to mean, and has become a point of political and community contention.

When hubby and I first met, we used to do the ‘gay things’ because we had not settled into married and university life yet, so we did all those party events and bar hopped week in and week out. But once he had his nervous breakdown and I started University in 2003, everything changed. Our priorities changed. Life changed, we changed. We grew up.

Today at age 44, I have certain views on living with AIDS and pride and sobriety. Not to mention being married and having learned all those lessons that took an entire lifetime to collect and now we teach those lessons to others.

Gay pride is important. It is important because many men and women went to their deaths fighting for the privileges that some of you have today. Millions of men, women and children went to their deaths from the scourge of AIDS since the 1980s. Many gay rights activists were jailed and persecuted and some were killed for their convictions and their lives. Gay pride should be celebrated to make sure we remember those who came and went before us. Gay pride should be celebrated as a “life celebration” and to remember those words,

“We are here, we are queer, Get used to it!”

If we forget those who laid the foundations for Gay pride so many years and decades ago, then pride is a waste of time. We should not be arguing over politics within our own ranks. We should not be fractioned by language or religion, creed or political affiliation. Pride should be a gathering of the many celebrating the one important fact of life, that we are here and that we survived, because so many did not.

*

What do I know at age 40 that you need to know? You can come by my blog (www.jeremiahaandrews.com) and read my pages and participate in our community. Do not be afraid of the spiritual slant of my blog. I am still a gay man who has wisdom to share with anyone who wants to learn. There is more to being gay today for me than looking twenty one and bar hopping and drinking until I fall down or do something stupid. That’s why today I am sober and clean and I am alive. It has been 17 years since I was diagnosed with AIDS – and I have lived to tell the tale.

I remind you all, as you celebrate pride that you celebrate for the right reasons and not the wrong reasons. That you remember why we celebrate pride and why ‘Stonewall’ is so incredibly important to us as LGBT peoples.

Be proud. Be visible and FIGHT for what is right – for the right reasons.

Blessings on your heads.

 

On Loneliness and Prop 8

Within weeks of coming out, I began to feel lonely again. Lonely like I had not felt in ages–lonely in the most concrete terms possible–lonely like it could be fixed. And for the first time in a long time, I wanted to fix it. Before I came out to myself, I had some vague notion that I should searching for someone to share the misery of life with (however tawdry that sounds). Yet the idea of finding a girl for a long-term relationship was, obviously, utterly terrifying, and thus I suppressed my desire for romantic companionship and fashioned myself a Bogart-esque loner.

After I came out, the renewed desire for a companion brought with it the renewed glaze of loneliness from not having one. Yet lurking at the back of all this was the thrilling realization that I might, in fact, have been closer to a real relationship than ever before. This must be put in perspective, though–the thrill of romance really only joined a long procession of suddenly surfaced emotions which had flooded forth since I’d realized (or, in some ways, remembered) that I was gay. It was a veritable bouquet of feelings I was faced with in those days, and each color was a thousand shades brighter than it was before. I had thought that the gradual deadening of emotions was a necessary part of leaving one’s youth, and perhaps in a sense it is: maybe I was merely recovering the feelings which I had purposely stifled while still in the closet. Regardless, now I had opened the floodgates and allowed the emotions to return at their previous level of burning intensity; now they could run their natural course and force a few agitated, beautiful beats into my formerly flatlined heart.

Yes, I am tending toward melodrama. But it is impossible to overstate the magnificence of the newly expanded color palette of my life after coming out. So many moments were infused with so much beauty, the kind of simple, stunning beauty which I’d thoroughly believed I would never again witness. All from this, from coming out? I had asked myself, and though I was incredulous, I had to admit that the answer was: yes. For in muffling my sexuality, I had not merely killed my libido–I had killed that part of me which lives and breathes life, which turns a bright sun and a cool breeze into something that somehow makes it all worthwhile. Something, as they say, divine. 

Or at least that’s how I felt walking through the gorgeous, bustling, gay-friendly streets of Montreal a few weeks after coming out, allowing the perfect weather to melt my healthy skepticism and well-deserved weariness. Coincidentally, on that merry day of contentment, the 9th circuit had just put gay marriage in California on indefinite hold until Prop 8 could make its way through the courts. I didn’t–and still don’t–like to talk about Prop 8 or its proponents; I don’t even like to think about them. I can’t say I know any of them, or can grasp what types of people they are, those who would want to take my newfound sense of wonderment and beauty and drown it with hate and fear.

Still, the news of Prop 8‘s continuance did not bring me down: that it was received with an angry popular outcry was heartening enough to buoy back to my bliss. I don’t think that most casual proponents of gay marriage today have a good conception of what things used to be like. It was not on their radars back in the days of (Democrat-complicit) DoMA and DADT and the dark, dark Clinton/Bush years.

I do–it was certainly on my radar.

I remember when Vermont got civil unions and it seemed like a big deal. Or at least I remember when civil unions in general seemed like a big deal. I remember when Massachusetts got gay marriage and everyone either sneered (because it was so weird and Massachusetts-y) or fretted (because elections were nigh and we were at the height of the culture wars). I remember when California got gay marriage for a brief, blessed moment and people sneered and fretted a little less, when Iowa did it and they shrugged, when Connecticut did it and they didn’t even notice. I didn’t even notice with New Hampshire or Vermont, and with DC–well, I live there, but outside the District I’m not confident people even know we can make those kinds of laws for ourselves.

And yes, I remember Prop 8. What else needs to be said about it, really, except that no matter if and when it is overturned completely, it will forever symbolize the ignorance, stupidity, and hatred of a sizable contingent of humanity? A contingent which will never disappear completely?

One day it will be dead, nothing more than a bad dream. But the shame it taught so many young people to feel will never be completely erased.

-MJS