Year: Summer of 1980
Place: San Diego, California
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.”
– Lewis Carroll
Talking was big in my family. We could never complain that we didn’t communicate. We did. And sometimes at volumes that would shake the rafters, too. So when I first heard this poem by Carroll, it said something to me. The desperate things listed in that stanza sort of represented the randomness of talks that went on in my house.
My childhood was a mixed bag of good and bad, not too far removed, I suspect, from most kids my age. My coming out was a slow meandering process. Oh, there was a moment when I said the words, “I’m gay. I like boys.” I even said it to my father, no less. But you’d have to understand my family. We were not the usual, everyday, hum-drum average Americana family.
And by meandering I mean it took me a long time to get to where I said those words. But it wasn’t like I’d kept it secret, either. Like I wasn’t dropping clues along the way. I mean, even I could see where I was heading. And, to be absolutely clear, it wasn’t from some deep-seated fear that my parents would lose their shit over my saying so, either. My parents were beyond cool and supportive, so much so that our house was the de-facto “Kool-Aid™” house (that’s a reference that perhaps only peeps my age might get, and just the Americans, at that). It meant that every kid in the neighborhood was at your place. We were that house.
And the parents of our friends were just fine with my parents watching over us all. To be clear, it was a gaggle of kids, up to twenty or so at a given time. Not just one or two (though that sometimes happened, too). My parents ran the house with a firm hand that every child has the right to express themselves – and in safety, too. No judgments, other than you better not be hurting someone else while you were busy expressing yourself or there’d be swift action from my parents on that topic. But our friends knew our house was a very safe place. And we could explore anything we wanted to (within reason – though to be honest, that gamut was fairly wide as my father and his twenty-two brothers and sisters always got into trouble on the reservation (in Wisconsin and in Washington state). My dad was full-blown Rez kid. And yeah, you read that one right – twenty-three kids, eighteen of whom found their way to adulthood. My mom, on the other hand, was a cloistered (nearly nun-like) woman. Their marriage was a learning experience for us all – but in the best way possible. It’s a family joke that when we have a family reunion we have to rent Rhode Island. Our family is that big – on both sides.
A lot of kids can’t connect with their parents. But every damned kid who came to our house connected with mine. “Your parents are so cool” was a very common and recurring theme throughout my life. It still is today.
So I was in the MOST supportive environment a burgeoning gay kid could be. So why’d it take me so damned long to say those words? I mean, I’d figured it out fairly well by the time I was eight or nine. Not the sexual aspect so much as that boys were infinitely more interesting to me. I knew it back then. Probably even earlier but I just hadn’t fingered it as a strong theme in my young life. And there were a few girls along the way who totally screwed with my blossoming fabulous gayboy life. So it definitely took me a while to get there.
So why were my parents so accepting and supportive? That had to do with my father.
My dad wasn’t a scholarly man. He’d only made it to the eighth grade on the Rez and then had to find work to help supporting the large family. It was fairly commonplace for guys in his situation. But what made my father mythic in my eyes was that while he wasn’t so book smart, he was one shrewd and savvy man who had the street smarts to see right through people and situations. He even ended up going to night school and got his high school diploma in 1972. As a young boy it was sorta cool to see my dad do the graduation thing (the school had a ceremony for the adults in his class). I got to keep the cheap satin-like robe and hat and wore the shit out of it for YEARS after. I loved to run through the house or outside with it on and it billowed in the breeze.
From that point on, my dad was a voracious reader, whatever he could get his hands on. I saw that words mattered to him. It was a very big influence on me and why, from a very young age, I cultivated words no other kid my age would use. Part of this was helped along by my mother, from around when I was at the age of five when I was already reading and writing quite a bit. Not long essays, mind you, but still had started to find words of great interest to me. I was a very precocious child, especially with the written word. The dictionary was one of my favorite books. It was a catalog of words and ideas for me. My mother recognized this and we played a nightly game where she would find difficult words for a five year old (like facetious or impenetrable … things like that) and would challenge me to find them in the dictionary and to re-write the definition. By the time she came home, I had to spell it and to try to use it in a sentence. This went on for years. It was one of the cool things I did with my mom. My dad was always around when I would “give my report” of what I’d discovered. I had so much love for my super-involved parents.
Yet, through it all, there was always a look in my father’s eye. It had been there all along. For the longest time I never knew what I did that brought it out in him. I knew was never in trouble when I saw him look at me that certain way. My fear was that he was judging something, taking stock of some measure of me, and the jury was still out. It wasn’t until I said those infamous words (well, to me, at any rate) that my mother provided clarity on it.
“It was because your father knew two things when I became pregnant with you. The first was he knew I was pregnant before I did. He told me so. The second was that he knew you were going to be gay.” (Well, she used that word when I was a teenager, but I don’t know if they used that word when I was still a collection of growing cells in my mother’s womb.)
My dad and I had a special relationship, too. From the time I came home with them from the hospital, I preferred contact with my father. Whenever I cried as a baby, I only fell asleep and was comforted if I was in his arms or asleep on his chest. It didn’t help my father and his sleep patterns much. In fact, he said to my mother on more than one occasion that he nearly freaked out when we were both napping together (with me on his chest) and he would wake with a start because he thought I was slipping off of him.
So there was no separation, no bad and distant relationship with my father like all those psycho faux doctors used to say back then that distant fathers were the reason why boys like me sought comfort and sexual relations with men/boys because of that missed connection. I was waist deep in love with my father. He was epic in my eyes. He was a fair and honest man. I couldn’t respect him more. And I’d like to think I made him proud as his son. He said so. I wanted to believe that. But the gay thing was a sticking point – not with him. That was all me.
So that occasional (but persistent over the years) look my father would give me was his polling whatever I was up to, probably trying to gauge if he was right about me all along or not. I think he knew well in advance I was before we ever had that talk. And in my family we talked about everything. Nothing was off the table. Well, except for inane gibberish. My parents couldn’t tolerate what they called “stupid talk.” You know, unsupportable positions in conversations. We kids could bring to my parents whatever we wanted to – no judgments. None whatsoever. Total safe zone.
I made sure to take advantage of that at every turn. Like our having “the talk” (about sex and where babies came from) when I was five. Yes, FIVE. My mother only today remarked as we reminisced about this very moment in our past how she inwardly thought ”Oh shit, we’re here already?” My barely three year old brother and two year old sister looked at my parents with wide-eyed amazement. And I didn’t want some kiddie version of the events. When I asked I was rather assertive that I wanted the truth. I always been like that.
So, without going into some long, boring medical harangue, she simply explained that I was what they called a natural birth. My mother said my birth was, relatively speaking, fairly good – even if I liked room service so much I wanted to say an extra month (I was due in July but was born in August).
“You just slid right out.” (Meaning through the birth canal)
To which my brother said, “See B, you slid out and I slid out.” No doubt my brother thought slides were actually involved in the birthing of babies. I don’t recall if my mom corrected him on this point at that age or not.
For the record, my brother was a BIG baby. There was no sliding out for him. He was full on C-Section – eleven pounds, nine ounces of C-Section. I wasn’t tiny either, for that matter: nine pounds, two ounces. So, that part of “the talk” happened when I was five. But nothing was held back from us. If my parents thought we had an honest question, it deserved an honest (if age context aware) answer.
I should point out that there was very little that was sacred or not to be spoken of in our home. Every topic was on the table – and invariably was talked about. Kids who ate dinner at our house got an earful. We even once had a debate on the birth of words (lexicography) and how they came to be. This was encapsulated with the familial classic line from my mother:
“I mean, who got to call a rose a rose? What if they had called it shit? Oooh, this is a lovely smelling shit. I want a bouquet of this shit.”
We laughed for a good five minutes on that one alone. A girl who lived down the street, named Kelly who we’d known all of our lives, was there for that dinner. I’d like to say she was shocked by the subject matter, but she’d been around us since she was like four or five. She was right in the thick of things and laughed right along with us.
“Think how funny it’d be if people wrinkled their nose and said, ’Ew, did you smell this rose? That’s some nasty assed rose.’”
You get the picture.
So why this meandering to get to the point of when I admitted to my father I was gay? Because it’s indicative of how things worked for my young gayboy life. It was all happenstance, with minor milestones along the way. That’s not to say it was boring. My life was definitely not boring. I was keen enough to notice that.
You see I worked up the courage to say those words to my father because of the books I’d been reading of late.
It started after a family visit to the local mall that had sprung up a few years before. It was one of those new indoor malls people were raving about. In a warm weather city like San Diego, anything indoors, in the comfort of air-conditioning, during the oppressively hot summers was a welcomed thing. I went to the mall with my family on a particularly hot afternoon when we were trying to escape the heat.
Once we entered the mall I broke away rather quickly. My family didn’t have any reason to guess where I was off to – the bookstore – where else? It was a home away from home. I was always in there, usually looking through the SciFi and Fantasy section. This time, however, I couldn’t find anything that satisfied. About an hour into perusing the shelves and lightly reading a book here or there I was growing restless that I couldn’t find any resolution to my quest for some new place to mentally escape into.
So I began wandering around elsewhere, going through other shelves. Eventually I happened along the self-help and then onto literature. I had no way of knowing as I fingered books along the literature shelves that I stopped on a book with a salacious title: The Sexual Outlaw by John Rechy.
Within its pages the possibilities of what had been stirring in my mind and body (through intensely avid self-exploration) had been percolating, bubbling up from time to time as my teenaged testosterone practically poured from my pores.
2:25 P.M. The Pier.
Jim twisted his body away from the young man’s spidery touch. Not yet. He wanted more sun …
… He looks into the gutted pier. Years ago it supported a carnival street, brazen in its garish tackiness, a discord of colors and “architecture” waning furiously. …
… A gladiator, Jim stares at the arena under the pier. … He sees shapes of vague geometry. … Jim moves fully into exile country. Just as he knew, there are many other outlaws here. At least six shadows materialize into bodies as they glide closer like hypnotized birds. Against a pole, two men are pasted to each other. Muted sighs and moans blend with the lapping sound of the ocean beyond.
Knowing that a loose circle of ghostly figures is focusing on him as he stands in a pocket of dim light, Jim pulls out his cock as if to piss. Quickly, a tall slender young outlaw holds Jim’s cock. … For seconds only, Jim inches farther into the dim-lit cave within the darker cave, so that his gleaming body being adored will be visible like a pornographic photograph.
This was pornographic poetry. There was a carnal cadence to it. My mouth watered, my pits became moist, a flush of blood coursed throughout my body.
My hands were shaking as I read these words. I began to sweat all over. I looked up from the page and glanced around, sure that everyone in the store was staring at the teenage kid discovering his sexual awakening from these bold words about sex between men. It was no longer conceptual in my mind. Here I had in my hands words that completely turned every terrible and horrific word about who and what I was turned on its head. How? Because this man survived. He survived and wrote about our experiences. With furtive glances around I continued to read as Jim (or as he sometimes calls himself Mat, sometimes Jerry, sometimes John) continued his next sexual conquest. One after another. It was gritty, carnal work. I’d never really seen porn, well, definitely not gay porn at this point, but this was somehow more salacious and tantalizing than what I imagined porn being. I knew I had to have this book. Part of me was frightened about what was within its pages; the other part of me couldn’t wait to devour every sexually charged moment. It wasn’t that I wanted to go out and replicate every part of it, but just that I would know the possibilities, of what sex between men could mean, was truly earth shattering.
It was then that my sister showed up and startled the shit out of me. It was as if I’d been in the shower doing my teenage boyhood pleasures and labelling it under the guise of ablutions and my sister suddenly whipped the curtain aside at the height of my pleasures.
I nearly dropped the damned book. It took me about a second or two to realize she would have no idea what I’d been reading.
“C’mon. Mom and Dad said to come get you. We’re going to get something for dinner.”
Shit! I didn’t have any of my money with me (this was before ATM cards and things of that nature). I needed cash to get the book. After shooing my sister out of the bookstore, I scrambled to find a place to hide the fucking book (literally, a ‘fucking’ book). I think, if I remember correctly, I hid it behind some gardening books. I knew I had to come back when I remembered to bring my wallet with me and buy it.
I did, a day or two later. I made a paper bag cover for it so I could read it anywhere I went. I read that damned thing in nearly one sitting – taking a short nap to recoup and then finished it in the early morning hours, only to reread it again the next morning.
After about a week of this, I wanted more of what he had out there. I began to search him out. On one such afternoon scouring the shelves for more of his books, I happened on a title that at first made me recoil (mostly for its religious overtones – which I had started to pull back from) only to find that I kept coming back to it over and over again. Finally, and thankfully, I gave in and pulled it from the shelf. I remember it being just above my head and I leaned to the right as I angled it from its resting place. As soon as I saw the cover I became overwhelmed and quickly pulled it down and began to scour its pages like a parched man to water.
Peter lifted his arms in the air and wriggled his body in closer against Charlie’s, making a deep animal growl of lust and longing in his throat. He dropped his hands on Charlie’s shoulders, still growling, and kneaded his neck with strong fingers and ran them through his hair. “I know,” he said, smiling into Charlie’s eyes. “I love everything about you. Your looks, of course, your huge cock, but lots more than that. I love everything you say, I love your voice, I love the way your lip curls here when you smile.” He put a finger on the spot. “And that’s just the beginning. That’s just the first day. Think of all the other things I’ll find to love. Golly, when I got out of that train this morning and saw you, I knew something tremendous was happening. Darling, dearest love, dearest, beautiful lover, precious love, my champ.” The words poured from him in a gentle croon as if they had been locked away for years, saved up for this occasion.
As I turned the pages I saw that this had a completely different tone. This stirred me in another way. This was the love between those men I’d been religiously rereading about Rechy’s semi-autobiographical exploits (it was label as a sexual documentary) but now it had the romantic leanings. It was set in a time period where there was still a grace in speech and manner in the upper classes.
I’ve mentioned this before both on my blog, and on the podcast: but Rechy satiated my lust while Merrick warmed and filled my heart. Together these men and their words gave me a reprieve from the hurt and loneliness that overwhelmed me at school.
These were words that literally (beyond the figurative “literature” nature of the work) saved me. They saved me from feeling and thinking the worst of myself. I owe these men my young gayboy life. Nothing short of it. When words came my way from nasty, scared-of-anything-that-wasn’t-like-them straight boys (who oddly enough, weren’t always so straight and narrow – but that’s for another time, too), who found it necessary to belittle me, spurn me, cast me out away from them and rattle my world.
You’d think friends, family and a supportive home environment would help that. To a small degree, it did. But only just so. What I needed was connection. What I needed more than anything else was not to feel alone. To feel like I was not the only gay in the village. I didn’t have that. The boys who I thought might be like me kept me at arm’s length as well. So there was an in crowd there that even I couldn’t penetrate.
But those words from Merrick and Rechy informed me. They were my light; they were the passion for my own life, for thinking that if I could just get to the other side, I’d be okay. So when days were tough because I was teased, I took refuge in their words. Those paper bag covered words, hidden from everyone, were alive in my head and heart. So their words helped me lick wounds and try to get through another day.
All of this, the discoveries that I found within those pages were what were rolling around in my head when I found myself eating lunch with my father. I don’t know if my mom and dad had worked it out to have her take my brother and sister out to the store so he could talk to me about it, but somehow it was just him and me.
So there we were, eating somewhat silently when he asked those words that would shift things irretrievably from how it was before. A definite milestone.
“So is there something you want to tell me?”
Yeah, that made the bite of sandwich I had just taken suddenly swell to the size of our cat in my throat. And for the record, we had a big fucking cat.
“Uh, like what?”
He sighed. “You know what I’m talking about.”
“What? About my liking boys and not girls?”
“Yeah, I do. I’m gay.”
It was silent as we ate some more. His eyes would search out mine; there was no malice there. No disgust. Inside, I lost my appetite, but I kept eating because it was something to do – eat up nervous energy in the form of a deli sandwich and chips.
After letting me stew in my anxiety for a bit, he finally gave me a release.
“You know, sex with a woman is an amazing thing.” He looked at me and then shrugged as he wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, and said words that totally amazed me: “But I suppose it could be just as amazing with another man, too. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone and no one is hurting you, and you’re happy, that’s all I ask for. It’s all your mother and I want for you. For all you kids.”
That was it. That was my epic coming out. No drama. No rattling and screaming and hurtful words. My parents are truly the coolest parents on the planet. That’s why when people say it now, I get where that’s coming from. Believe me I totally appreciated hearing it and was proud of that each time it came my way.
Despite all of this, despite the love I had from them, from my friends who sort of figured me out, I still felt this disconnectedness from everything around me. Only those books, and the people I held dear, kept me going. Those books said to me one thing that was irrefutable: a life outside of the thirty-seven levels of hell in high school was not only possible, it was a foregone conclusion – if I made it through my final year of high school.
It was the summer of my junior year. I was half-way through my four years of high school. I looked back on the previous two years. It had been tough. I had endured verbal abuse and down-cast eyes from many kids over the years since the third grade. The last two years were the most brutal, because now it had a sexual edge to it. But you see, I knew that I would have a way out. Sure, having family and friends who still loved and cared about me gave me a leg up when I felt the lowest. They helped. It all did.
This was the beginning of my writing career. It would take me several years to actually start to pen something, but the power of those men’s stories planted the seed that words, words that I’d been cultivating since I was a boy, had power. On some level something started to germinate. When I was bullied, I would use words as my weapon. It didn’t always work, but it did often enough to let me know words did have power. I had to learn to master it, harness it, make it something I could truly use to keep me safe.
But I also learned, through my non-scholarly, but infinitely wise, father that how you used them mattered.
His compassion and empathy for my oh fuck me, I’m really gonna do this moment made me realize just how lucky I was. He was the true measure of a man to me. When others questioned my masculinity, I realized just how fucked up their view was. I’d seen the best. I don’t think I always told him that as often as I should. But he was.
Love ya, Pops. I’d give just about anything to have five minutes more with you, just to explain how much your empathy for your eldest son when I needed it most, mattered in ways that have lasted my lifetime. I try to be that guy every damned day. I’m not always so successful, but it gives me something to shoot for, a goal that lights my way. In that, even though you’ve been gone for over seventeen years now, it’s like I still have you here with me.
Moments of what contentment that I can only imagine I felt in my baby boy body napping on his father’s chest. And that’s the most amazing feeling of all.
Place: San Diego, California
I’d like to say that I knew what I was doing once I’d figured out I was gay. But I didn’t. It wasn’t like I had many options to choose from to help me out.
There was no internet; there wasn’t much in the way for a gay teenage boy to find other boys like himself. The best hope you had was to see a gay rag (the local gay newspapers and handouts) while in the gay part of town (in my case, Hillcrest in San Diego) where there would be notices of men looking for other men/boys to meet, or some group meeting somewhere for whatever. There was a whole world out there that I wanted to explore but how I found out about them was pure happenstance.
Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies there wasn’t much to see that said I belonged somewhere.
One of the few images I had for queer representation of my young gayboy life was Billy Crystal’s character, Jodie Campbell, on Soap. Despite the humor of the show, and the great over-the-top performances, Jodie started out as a fiercely proud gay man but was quickly and purposefully migrated to being a gay man gone straight. This only helped underscore that while we had a major win in seeing someone like me represented on TV, I would only find true happiness if I decided to go straight. This served to add more confusion just when I thought I’d begun to find myself.
Other queer oriented characters and stories started to follow, but Soap broke that in a big way in 1977. Up to then if there was a gay character, it was a guest spot which usually ended tragically. Soap dealt with the same issues but did it through over-the-top humor.
But I wasn’t completely in the dark about the possibilities. I’d been devouring the works of John Rechy (The Sexual Outlaw, Numbers, etc – more on him and what he meant to me in another post) that fiercely detailed what sex between men could be like. I was a teenage boy. My hormones were raging. But it was more than that. Rechy satisfied my growing queer awareness of what my body could do, but not my heart.
And it wasn’t like I didn’t have gay men around me at that time. My tia (aunt) had been going to gay clubs and had even married a gay man and lived in San Francisco for a time. So, queer men were around me growing up, especially when she was around. Tia was a connection to where I was going to go in life. She was a bridge into that world that I wanted to be a part of, but eyed it from afar. Though at this point in time, I wasn’t ready for that just yet.
But her being in my life gave me my love for dance music. My very first album was Thelma Houston’s Any Way You Like It, which featured the Grammy award winning dance classic, Don’t Leave Me This Way. That song title would prove pretty damned prophetic at this stage in my life.
You see, high school is crushing for a gayboy. And I use the term “gayboy” purposefully, as a noun, because I think that encapsulates how we aren’t just any other boy. It demonstrates the division and isolation we feel from the rest of the world moving about us. I always mentally used it that way. I knew I was separate. It wasn’t that I was leading a lonely existence, either. I had numerous friends in school, well, more like good acquaintances that I got along and spent time with. But there was always a veil of separation. Whether I was causing that feeling isolation or not, didn’t matter. I just knew I wasn’t part of them.
I know most teens go through the trauma of trying to find themselves sexually. That’s part of the game; I get that. But for gayboys (and girls, I imagined as well) it is doubly hard because the most you have to go on that there are others like you (at least back then) was the barest of whispers about someone being a fag, queer, whatever. Your gayboy radar was working overtime just to pick up any random signal that there was at least one other person in the 600+ kids at your high school who was like you. Then you had to hope they didn’t spurn you because an association with your gayboy status on campus might make them sink to another level of social hell.
Choir wasn’t an option for me. Not really. It was run by a devout Mormon musical director who peopled the guys in the choir from within the members of his church. So there was a whole lot of magical-underwear-wearing boys in that class. A good collection of them were jocks in various sports as well. The local Mormon church sits right next to my high school. I was told by one of them that their church does that purposefully. There are church related things that they are required to do before school, so the church often establishes a location very close to the local high school. Ours just happened to be next door.
So why go on about the Mormon boys? Well, here’s the thing: they were nice guys. They were solidly into the music we did – mostly of a classical nature (one of the few high schools I knew of that annually performed Handel’s Messiah at Christmas every year – I knew that score backwards and forwards by the time I graduated). But I digress. I only mention it because they were nice to me, despite the gayboy aura that followed me around. Some of them were hotties, too, and I’ll admit to a lingering eye during rehearsals or prolonged conversations I really didn’t want to have, but did, just so I could be near them.
But choir was emphatically for the straight kids – there was no escaping it, either. It just reeked of boy/girl shit. So, while it was a haven of sorts, allowing me to feel I was in a safe environment, it left me feeling quite bereft of any happiness I could find in having some boy for me. Relationships were springing up all around me in that class. I was the lone salmon swimming downstream while they all went the other way to get their spawn on.
Drama, on the other hand, well, that was another story entirely. There were whispers of gayboys there. There was a clique in my drama class of stoner kids who all did the midnight shows of Rocky Horror Picture Show. I became enamored with one boy in particular.
His name was Tim.
It wasn’t that he was over-the-top male model material, but that was totally part of the appeal. He was kind, for the most part. He was just like every other boy out there, except I heard about his sexual exploits through the drama rumor mill of his being with this boy or that one. He never really talked about it himself. But he never denied it, either. That was more than enough for me. Hell, he could’ve been straight or just queer-questioning at that time. I was just removed from him enough that I couldn’t get the 411 on him to make sure of anything. It was maddening. But I had to try get closer, if anything, just out of friendship.
There was just one problem. And it was insurmountable, too. He was of that collection of kids that were just starting to make itself known. It would become better defined in the late eighties and nineties as being alternative. But he was a stoner, a full on rock n’ roll sort of guy. I admired him from a distance.
It all started two years before. We did a show together – Any Number Can Die. It was a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie or Hercule Poirot. Somehow, I was magically cast in it. I was a freshman; I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean, I’d been in shows before but this had a whole new level in that it was with kids I saw every day. That was a new experience for me. I stumbled, a lot. But, hands down, it was one of the best times I’d ever had in school. That play brings back many memories, mostly because it was riddled with so many production problems (at some point I’ll detail them because this play, more than any other, colored my professional life in so many ways, but I’ll save that for another posting). If I remember it right, he played Chuck and I was Carter Forstman (you can read about the play from the link above).
This play was when my path first crossed Tim’s. He was in the play as well. We only had one scene together. But it was an ensemble scene so I was one of many in it. Not really any way to be as near to him as I’d’ve liked. Best part? I got to see him change into his costume every night. And you can bet I looked. Without fail. He was a tanned, lithe but toned boy. His dark hair only emphasized his brilliantly vibrant eyes with long lashes. Radiant eyes. He was about four inches taller than my 5’7″ height. Easily 6’1″ or 2″. He wasn’t a homely boy, far from it; but he wasn’t drop-your-shit-and-follow-him-off-the-end-of-the-planet gorgeous, either. I liked his normal, average, good-looking, well, look about him. I desperately needed normalcy where my heart was concerned. Tim fit the bill. I only got to interact with him before or after rehearsal whenever we all hung out.
You see, I knew even then, despite how much I liked him, it would never be. For starters, it was rumored that he was into another boy in drama who liked to do the production work. His name was Mike. I did my best to be cordial to him, but inwardly, I hated the guy. He wasn’t good enough for Tim. This despite my knowing that they were always around one another. Mike wasn’t even remotely agreeable looks-wise. Well, not to me, at any rate. I am sure now, looking back on it, it was colored by my liking Tim so much that I emotively made Mike ugly. I think I put that on him. I took delight in taking him apart, seeing every flaw and mentally exploiting it. It’s just how it worked out in my head and heart.
I loved to hear Tim laugh. It was the sweetest thing to my ears. He was affable, got along with everyone, and he was a decent actor. All wins in my book. So when Any Number Can Die closed, I slid into a funk that I wouldn’t see him after school as much unless I got cast in another show. He was a year ahead of me so I knew I had three years to try to become his friend. I worked tirelessly to get into shows, especially if he was cast – which he invariably was. Most times I didn’t make the grade for what the director was looking for. So, on those shows I did production, just so I could be there. It’s amazing how motivated a teenage boy can be when a spark of sexual interest was there.
Tim never really saw me. Not really. Not in all of the years we were in school together. If he ever did, it was because we had to do something together to put the show on. But it was at arm’s length. Pleasant, but never close. Not like I wanted. I was an oddity to him, that was for sure. I was sure he knew about me, about my being gay, but he never gave me any indication that we clicked on that level.
To be honest, I never really stood a chance. That clique of Rocky Horror kids was pretty fucking unbreakable. They were in, and I was most definitely out. I suppose I could’ve gone with them, sorta weaseled my way in, but I knew that would’ve been seen as extreme by them and would’ve made any real chance very awkward.
While a teen’s life is often steeped in pools of awkward, you did everything you could to avoid it.
You see, I was doing everything cliché that a fag boy should do – only for older fags, gays who were already out in the world and going clubbing. I wasn’t there, yet. So for me, it was just awkward and misplaced.
I wasn’t into sports, I sang and danced, and horror of horrors, I liked disco. And everyone was shitting on disco when I was in high school. There were stadium events that brought in crowds of people to burn disco records for fuck sake. I knew that wouldn’t make me popular with the kids my age. And I knew how to dance. I got my groove thing on early in life. I’m half Latino; it’s sort of the law. But those Rocky kids, they couldn’t keep a beat in dancing if their lives depended on it. That was evident every year when the drama department did its annual musical show. I got the dancing; I could move easily on stage. But even though we were all striving to learn our performing craft, that clique was comfortable in their barely able to get through it dance skills. Just one more way I was out of it.
Thinking back on it now, I sort of wish they were mean to me. At least that would’ve given me an out. I could ignore them instead of spending those three fucking years pining to be one of them so I could get closer to Tim. But they were nice, though they mercilessly teased me about my liking disco.
I even tried in my junior year to get into what they were listening to: Blondie was big. And Blondie had provided me with a way to get closer – Heart of Glass – their bona fide disco hit. That band became my gateway. It was the lone spot where I could connect with them. I bought Blondie because Debbie Harry and crew were going to give me access to that clique once and for all and then I’d show Tim what a great guy I was. That was the plan at any rate. I had no way of seeing just how horribly I would embarrass myself before Christmas was over.
They would still tease me about disco, but they let me peripherally hang out with them. I went to a few of their houses to woodshed stuff we were doing in class. Sometimes Tim was there; other times, not. I even started hanging out with a couple of girls in school my brother called the rocker chicks because I figured listening to it more, I’d have a broader understanding of what Tim and his friends were into. So my musical tastes began to evolve and change. I didn’t give up on my R&B, soul, jazz or disco; I just expanded my musical tastes to include other music. Queen, Heart, Led Zep, Stevie Nicks, they were all added to the mix now.
My gayboy heart and mind exploded. He was so fucking hot and aside from his burgeoning rock n’ roll career, he did musical theater! (His performance in Pirates of Penzance on Broadway (and the subsequent film during the early 80s only solidified this in my mind). He was every gayboy’s wet dream. Well, to me, at any rate. I began to see the draw to these men, these rock gods. The slick, highly polished, synthetic fabric era of disco began to crack and crumble for me. Things were breaking through. Rex was a big part of that.
My celebrity crush of Rex Smith aside, you see, I pined for Tim because he represented what I thought I needed at that point in my life: someone who was kind, someone who laughed a lot, someone who everyone else thought was cool and liked to be around. I was drawn like the proverbial moth to the light he carried just because he was so confident without being cocky. I realize now that perhaps he wasn’t so confident in everything he did, but that’s the way it appeared to me back then. His gayboy rumor oddly didn’t follow him around campus; he got along with everyone. He was never bullied or teased like I was. He had a magic that I desperately wanted to understand. Actually, I needed to understand. My safety in my senior year might depend on just that.
I didn’t care that other kids in school classified him as a stoner first – and some days he came to school with eyes clearly bloodshot from it (he had beautiful eyes, too). He was golden to me. He was comfortable in his own skin. Not many kids knew how to exude that. Fuck, I aspired to do that. I figured if I got close, I could learn it, too. Be a cool kid by the time I graduated, and Tim would show me how.
By this time I had a driver’s license, and I had a car. It was a fucked up Opel Kadet piece-of-shit, painted boat blue (no, really, it was painted with marine quality boat paint – it was so blue it practically glowed and had the oddest texture to it if you touched it) but it was mine. It got me to and from my part-time job at a gift store in a newly opened indoor mega-mall. Sometimes my parents would even let me take the family car, which was infinitely more respectable. So I could get around. This was the winter of my junior year, and I knew I only had a few more months to get Tim to see me. I don’t know why I was obsessing as much as I was. But it just was.
As Christmas drew near I thought, why don’t I buy him something that said, hey, I sort of like you and would you be my friend (and not just some passing drama student acquaintance)? At this point, I’d take friendship if it couldn’t be anything else. I’d heard that Tim had moved out of his parents’ house. It was said that he had an apartment just down the street from the high school. I didn’t have any confirmation of why Tim had suddenly moved out of his parents’ home, but there were whispers that he had to get out. I guessed that his relationship with Mike had gotten their attention. That was what I’d overheard, but never was able to confirm. There were some terse conversations between Mike and Tim that I’d observed. Something was up. But anyway, I found out where he lived. And miraculously, I found out what apartment number, too, though I can’t recall with any clarity how I did that. Necessity being the mother and all that rot, I suppose. But find out, I did.
So there I was, working in a gift shop and making new friends outside of school. They were all twenty and thirty somethings who worked there and to my great surprise, they treated me like I belonged, even if I was only seventeen. That was a cool thing and very new to me. I began to see my way out of the social hell that was high school – even if it was somewhat in the distance yet for me. I was often in charge of unboxing shipments and checking inventory on lines either being discontinued or added to the current lines. I had responsibilities now, well, as meager as they were at seventeen. But my life outside of school had started, and yet, my affections for Tim only grew more desperate as the winter break edged ever closer.
Just after the thanksgiving holiday a new shipment arrived that my boss was eager to get out onto the floor. They were large rock n’ roll artwork images that were inspired by the Frank Frazetta style.
They were mounted on highly polished wood with a layer of lacquer on it that had to be at least a half-inch thick.
Tim was a hard core rocker boy. So I hatched a plan to buy one of them for him and give it to him for Christmas. And that’s what I did. I spent the $40 or $50 bucks on the fucking thing, which for a teenage boy at that time was a lot of money. It was massively huge, too, just larger than a movie poster one-sheet (2’x3′). And it was sort of heavy.
It sat in my room for like a week. I’d wrapped the damned thing and had it facing the wall at the foot of my full-size waterbed (it was the era where those were still in fashion and I had one). I kept asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing? He is so going to see through your shit and know that you’re letting him know you like him.” Well, that’s what I kept telling myself. But the heart wants what the heart wants, ya know?
So three days before Christmas I finally decided I was going to do it. School was out. He’d probably be working any way. I sat in his apartment’s parking lot with the thing in my back seat for like an hour or so. I was beginning to worry that someone might let management know someone was loitering in the parking lot.
“Fuck it.” I was going in.
I pulled the fucking thing from my car, trying desperately to come up with some sort of excuse on why I was giving him something when I never had before. So while I lugged the damned thing down the walkway to his apartment, I finally came up with something.
There I was. 21B. I stood outside the door for like two or three minutes, debating if I was really going to do this. I rang the doorbell. Just as I was about to chicken out, the door opened and there he was, standing barefooted in jeans and a loose fitting black Ramones t-shirt, surprised as shit to see me. I just stood there, this big fucking present in my hands (I hadn’t even had the smarts to set it onto the ground – I was holding it (it weighed about 25 to 30lbs)).
“Hey, (he said my name), whassup?” Still taken aback on why I was there and what was I doing with this big fucking present in my hands.
I spied over his shoulder just beyond him and everyone of those members of his clique was there. Mike was there, too. Damn him.
I stuttered out my reply. I wasn’t as cool or as collected as I thought I’d be. I’d fucked up; this was wrong. I was doing it all wrong but the spotlight was on me. No way out, now.
“Uh, well, you see, every year I put my friends’ names in a hat and I draw one out and buy something for them for Christmas. This year it was you. So, uh, yeah, here.” I handed it over to him. He had it in his hands for just a second before Mike took it from him and into their apartment. I could hear them all whispering about it. It may have been innocent enough, but it felt like they were all making fun of me and what I’d done. I wanted to leave. I wanted to get in that fucking car and drive and drive – maybe right off into the ocean.
“Wow, okay, uh, thanks? You uh, wanna come in?” (It was cold and sort of damp out – which was unusual for sunny San Diego).
I knew I couldn’t. I couldn’t take the stares, the whispers and glances that would go on around me.
“Uh, no. That’s okay. I see you have people over. I didn’t mean to intrude. I just, um, wanted to make sure you got it before the holiday.”
He smiled softly. On some level I think he saw past everything I’d said. But he didn’t say or do anything to let me know that, just a small twinkle in his eye, imaginary or not, that I desperately clung to.
“Have a nice Christmas.” And I turned and left. He stood there for a moment before closing the door.
I sat in the car for well over five minutes just letting the tears of embarrassment pour out of me. It was a silent cry, an angry cry. I bared my heart and put what I felt out there. In true Tim fashion, he was kind about it. I don’t know if they had a good laugh at my expense after he closed that door. I don’t know what he thought about it. No one ever said another word about it when school began in the New Year. It was like it never happened. Hell, he could’ve taken one look at the damned thing and chucked it.
I don’t know.
I never will, I suppose.
He was still kind to me, if a bit more distant. He was moving on. Something happened between him and Mike and I heard he was living alone now. Maybe it was nothing more than roommates and I’d dreamt up the rest? I didn’t think so. But even I had to admit I didn’t have all the facts, just hearsay and some small gossip. Fragments, really. The group, his little clique had started to break up. They were all there but seemed to unplug as a cohesive group. They stopped going to the midnight showings of Rocky Horror, or if they did, it was separately. That was my impression anyway. Hell, maybe I had it wrong. The end of school year came. I heard that Tim was going into the Air Force and would be moving to Washington.
That light he had was going somewhere else. The end was drawing near like a bullet train and I knew he’d be gone, off to the world as I would be the year after – flung far and wide.
The pay-off? When it came time to pass around annuals to have our friends sign, I came up to him in drama and asked if he’d sign my book. He smiled softly, took my book and penned something while I wrote something in his. I didn’t repeat my blunder of being mushy in what I wrote. It was something innocuous like Best of luck in life or something equally inane and uninventive. He handed me my book and I returned his to him.
I didn’t read it just then, too afraid of what he wrote. I figured it didn’t mean anything to him. I’d convinced myself this was all me. I was making this into something it wasn’t. I think he knew how I felt about him on some level. Maybe not to the extent it was, but somehow he did.
I walked away from that class. It was the end the school year and I had several friends graduating. Most of my friends in school were upper-classmen. It’d always been that way. I had a few people in my current year who I as on friendly terms with, but a good chunk of them were graduating that year.
I got to the far side of the campus and scrambled like mad through the book to find what he wrote.
It was two lines:
Have a great summer.
I’ll probably regret saying this but – disco rules!
I smiled. We never were close. We never shared any real special moments – other than my awkward and embarrassing Christmas offering – but in that moment, he saw me, and he was kind enough to give me something. It was small, almost nothing really, but it meant so much. In that he gave me something I carry to this day. It doesn’t hurt to be kind. It doesn’t hurt to give something back. In that moment, when his book was exchanged with mine, he saw me. And it mattered. I’ve always tried to do that moment justice.
It is something that I really needed when another moment of unrequited love reared its awkward head.
But that’s for another time.
– SA Collins
So, you found my blog.
It’s not quite ready yet. But soon.
Say, first day of 2016?
I’m throwing back the veil, gonna tell my tale. This is going to be a balls-to-the-wall, no-holds-barred, unapologetic look at what it’s like to grow up queer. Not just gay, not just homosexual, but looking at life through a solidly queer lens – warts and all, from my earliest childhood memories forward.
What would make this different from any other gay man out there? Well, we all have our own journey. Mine just took a very colorful and diverse road to get where I am today.
I plan on exploring not just my personal story, but the culture around me at the time I lived it, how it influenced me, how I connected or didn’t connect with it. I don’t plan on answering any questions of why I did what I did, but rather, just simply tell the tale of where I’ve been, why I made (sometimes epically stupid) the choices I made and the outcomes from them.
Strap yourselves in, kids. It’s about to get a bit bumpy as I meander the over fifty years I’ve wandered the planet trying to find my place in it. I have to say, I am excited as I am fucking scared out of my mind doing this. We’ll see if I’ve got the courage that I think I do to pull this off.
I am calling this blog site Violet Quill Redux, because it is my humble homage to other queer men, authors whose words quite literally saved me. This is my attempt to record yet another gay man’s voice, a voice of color, an unapologetic voice – defiantly staring myself down in the mirror. I want to be as brave as those authors before me who wrote about our lives as we are.
Masters of prose like Gordon Merrick, John Rechy, Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran, Paul Monette, Armistead Maupin and others – all the way back to Langston Hughes, EM Forster and Oscar Wilde. My brilliant, brave, queer brothers. Their words warm my heart and feed my soul to this very day. I want to add my voice to theirs. A record of one boy’s journey into manhood – albeit with a decidedly queer slant.
A truly contrarian life.
Let’s see what happens next …