This being my first article, I thought that I would talk about Growing up Gay – and My Thoughts on Pride. Much has changed over the last 40 years, in terms of ‘LGBT Rights’ and how we as ‘LGBT peoples’ live our lives. This is the first post for the Evolution According to Jeremiah. From the perspective of an almost 40, Gay, clean and sober man living with HIV some 13 years now.
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 they 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 that 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 was her way of giving me access to people who she knew would help me because my father would never allow me to expand my life to the places I wanted to go.
In Miami circa the 1980’s there was a dedicated locale where the gay community lived, and that was Coconut Grove. It was a specific locale that one could go to, to meet other gays, and go bar hopping 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 parent failed miserably to rise to the challenge of maintaining family and as well, extended family.
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); 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 that were there who had made remarks about wanting to have sex with the 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 “Uncle Charlie’s” a bar that I later became one lost valuable customers. 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, yet 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 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 Gay’s 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 became a world disease. It wasn’t a localized issue but a world wide epidemic. I stared 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 that I loved and drag queens who were my rock have also 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, pay rent or buy 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 than 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 40, 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 1980’s. 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 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 13 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.