I have thus far avoided the topic of politics on Half Classic Six. Mostly because I believe politics and a renovation and decorating blog don’t mix well. However, in light of recent events, I cannot help but feel the need to at least acknowledge the impact of what I believe to be the biggest election of my life. I also want to be very clear that this post is not about who you did or didn’t vote for, that is your choice. But it is about how the current state of affairs has impacted me in a profound way. Things are just different now.
Is should come as no surprise which side of the proverbial political fence (wall?) that a man married to a man living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan falls on. To say that the outcome of the election has had a profound impact on us is an understatement. I have been confronted with thoughts and emotions long since tucked away in my comfortable life. This is a bit of my story and why those emotions have become so strong.
As a gay man born in the 1960s, I spent many years living in suspicion and total fear of the government as one typically does when they live in a society where your rights to be true to yourself are called into question on a constant basis and you are left with nothing but feelings of shame for your existence. It has only been in the past fifteen or so years that the fear subsided to the point where I felt a sense of freedom and the ability to live my life with minimal concerns for being myself.
This past eight years have for me been the most amazing time in my life with regards to my being able to live my life without fear and to have the government actually embrace my existence and convey to me that it is ok to be who you were born to be. But even now, just by my writing this blog post, there is a feeling of unease roiling inside. As I look back, those fears from my youth were grounded in a very dark reality.
From my earliest memories, I always felt I was different and it turns out I am! I have never ben one to blend. When I walk into a crowded room, I always stand out, I can’t help it, this is who I am. For the majority of my life, I have always done my best to embrace my quirkiness on the outside. But inside I was always living in fear and shame because of it. It wasn’t until well into my 40s (with a few years of therapy) that I was able to truly embrace my status as an oddball, an outlier, a dork, someone who thrives on being different and happily maintains a view on life that is not often like the majority.
As for being gay… I knew I was not like the other boys in the first grade when I had an inexplicable fondness for a specific classmate. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood why. I didn’t even know about homosexuality until about the fifth grade, and even then I had no idea what two guys did together. It was when I was in sixth grade that I finally started to put two and two together and realized I was one of them. But of course by then I knew well that to be gay was to hide it, live in secrecy, fear, and shame.
I told my parents I was gay at the age of 16 in 1982. I had no idea how brave that was. I was extremely lucky in fact… I imagine it was difficult for my parents to know their only child was a homo back in those days, and I am grateful that they allowed me to be truthful about my sexuality. They did the very best they could to love and accept me, even when they didn’t understand it themselves. For too many of my friends (fellow “Mo’s”) it wasn’t so simple. They were disowned and thrown out of their homes as teenagers or young adults by narrow-minded bigoted parents who could not and would not accept their child as they were. I had a friend who was legally emancipated at 16 because he had to fend for himself. And other friends who were run-aways, forced into prostitution to survive, they had to just just figure it out. Some of them didn’t.
In high school, I hung out with the stoners because they accepted me, but I still had to remain in the closet out of self-preservation. Only a very few people knew about me, although my “Being Weird Isn’t Enough” button on my book bag should have been a solid giveaway. Outside of high school I found an outlet for my outsider-ness. On January 14th, 1978 several members of our church youth group (12-17) went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Showcase Cinema on 4th and L Streets in glamorous Sacrament0 (our parents had no idea). I was only 12 years old, but that night changed my life.
A few short years later, I was a regular at Friday and Saturday midnight showings, and by the time I was in high school, I was part of the local cast (I played Dr. Everett Scott). It was the hard-core fans of RHPS that I fell in with and became part of. These fans were mostly made up of outsiders like myself. They ranged in age from mid-teens to mid-twenties, but most of us were juniors and seniors in high school. I may not have had but two or three friends at my high school, but I had lots of friends in the deliciously subversive world of RHPS. These people didn’t care that I was gay; half of them were too. We were all social outcasts, being weird was totally enough. Over the couple of years I was involved with cast, we got kicked out of every coffee shop in center city Sacramento. These wonderfully bizarre people became my tribe, but even then we dealt with fear and shame about being gay. To regular people, we were just freaks. [I must add that I have seen the movie in excess of 180 times in a theater over the years.]
When I became an adult a few years later and started going to bars, the real dangers of being gay became more real in my life. There was always an element of danger when walking from your car to the entrance of the bar, and then back to your car at two in the morning. I had friends bashed as they headed out after last call. Bartenders had a switch behind the bar to allow them to flash the lights to alert patrons when there were police raids where people were shaken down for bribes or arrested for immoral behavior (like holding your boyfriend’s hand or dancing together). I was never personally involved in raids, but even in the mid-1980s they still happened, I was just lucky to not be there on those nights (raids went on in other parts of the US for several more years).
There were police sting operations to catch “perverts” searching for companionship (sex) in secluded semi-public places. Never mind that the majority of them were closeted married men with families living in a society which told them they couldn’t be who they are, forcing them to keep their real selves in secret and seek a human connection through such high-risk activities. Like the bar raids, I was never involved in a sting operation, but I knew people who were, and I knew the shame forced upon them because of who they were. (In many cities, men who were arrested in bar raids and sting operations frequently had their names published in local papers under the guise of community protection, resulting in them losing their jobs and homes.)
I remember a friend being fired from a large family owned video store when they found out that he was gay. The crazy part of it was that the store was located in the epicenter of the gay community in Seattle and they were quick to take our money, but they also called us faggots and dykes among the staff when they were not within earshot of customers.
I won’t even begin to go into the painful memories of more than two dozen friends I lost to AIDS during the 1980s and 90s, all the while the government proactively ignoring the problem hoping the fags would just go away. There was so much overt fear and ignorance propagated by government during those years. I remember going for HIV testing at clinics in the late 1980s and well into the 1990s and using a code name for my medical records because I couldn’t trust the government with my real identity. There was so much fear and distrust that your name may get out on a list of some sort and your future could be ruined if an employer found out. I don’t think I used my real name for an HIV test until after I moved to New York City.
Fast forward a few decades when age and wisdom have settle in, along with reason (I hope). A time when government openly acknowledged my existence and actually invited LGBT people to the table (okay, more L and G and not so much the B and T). When the Supreme Court legalized marriage, I felt that for the very first time I mattered, I was relevant, I existed and I had value in the eyes of the government. I was finally a full-fledged citizen of my country. Amazing really. This feeling that we have finally reached a point in our society that we can accept others for who they are was catching on. I was so optimistic for the future. Of course, I am no fool. I know all too well that while the majority may hold this sentiment, the opposite anti-gay views are still held by a frighteningly large portion of our population.
Why all the personal gay history on my apartment renovation blog? It is because of this… The results of this past election have thrown me deep into my past, filled me with profound fears, newly heightened levels of distrust, and reignited anxiety around those who will be in charge of my future. As a gay man, my name is now very publicly on our marriage license, our mortgage and home ownership documentation, and on our taxes we have now filed with the IRS. Yes, I realize I am not likely to be hauled into an interrogation room because I am gay, and I know that my risks for overt oppression are probably low, but the fear and anxiety are very real. And deep down, I am not convinced my being open about myself will not come back to haunt me.
But beyond myself, I cannot help but wonder how this will impact my gay brothers and sisters who are not as fortunate as I am. I cannot help but wonder about other minority groups, be it ethnic or religious, and how they will fair in this new divisive and acidic environment. And I cannot help but feel that life is just different now that some of the people now being put in charge of our country’s future are blatant adversaries. I cannot help but have fear, anxiety, and distrust for anyone who has a history of white nationalism, anti Semitism, or homophobia. Especially reports of hate crimes are already rapidly increasing and we haven’t even gotten to inauguration day. I also feel as though we are entering a time in which we cannot criticize the government for fear of retribution. A time when we need to remain vigilant about our surroundings.
And purely for selfish reasons, I cannot help but have newfound fears about my future and whether or not I will encounter harassment or be gay bashed for being who I am. I can no longer feel comfortable showing any kind of public affection towards my husband, hugging him, a brief goodbye kiss, or holding hands in view of the public, anywhere. I also cannot help but have fear about posting this publicly on my blog. Things are just different now…
What next? I’m not entirely sure. The aftershock of the past two weeks is still settling in. I have felt so many scary thoughts and emotions, like really scary. I feel tremendous sadness for those who like myself are different, and I hope and pray that it will not turn out to be as horrible as I fear. And although I don’t publicly speak of my personal spirituality much, I have an absolute belief that I (we) will be taken care of no matter what, and I continue to pray for my fellow outsiders. I also have been actively seeking clarity and guidance from my God.
The only thing I do know is… Things are just different now.
As a final note; you are welcome to leave your thoughts and comments below. First time commenters are moderated. I will gladly allow any comment that is reasonable in nature, adds to the conversation and is not an attack on me. I will also remove any comments, which I deem as not contributing to the conversation. Not fair? Sorry…. It is my blog.