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June 7th, 2011

My Surprising Lack of Gay Pride

For most of my life I’ve been judgmental and a little impatient with gay people who didn’t just come out. Are the risks really that dire? I suspected they were just chicken shit, or unwilling to stand up to their family or to whatever screwed up religious upbringing they had.



Growing up on Air Force bases
wasn’t exactly the Castro, but I didn’t know any better than to walk and talk however I pleased (I was in full sashay mode by the age of twelve). I was sexually active soon thereafter, and stunned my Louisiana high school with an older boyfriend in my senior year.

MarkInRepose - CopyYes, I grappled with my Methodist teachings and suffered through some brutal rounds of dodge ball (affectionately known as “Smear the Queer” where I come from), but making it though my teens was mercifully uneventful.

The bullies were too freaked out by my jumpsuits and platform shoes to approach me, though I must credit my perpetually embarrassed, varsity jock brother for helping keep them at bay. The result of this rather fortunate gay adolescence was my ignorance of the perils of being out, and that arrogance suited me just fine for most of my young adulthood.

And then, years after my own coming of age, Matthew Shepard tried to live openly as a young gay man, too — until he was beaten and left to die tied to a fence in Wyoming. The images and details of his horrific final hours were like blunt force trauma directly to my heart. How could I have been so cavalier about what the real costs of coming out could be?

Today, I never downplay the societal risks of being gay, but I focus my writing on two things that added shameful layers to my identity: HIV and drug addiction. How ironic that the kid who believed there were no dangers to growing up gay would fall victim to two of the most common health risks among gay men: being infected with HIV and using drugs.

I’m still a sashaying, gay stereotype representing the most fabulous social ills, it would appear.

My sense of pride emerged not in response to being gay, but in my response to HIV and my drug addiction, in that order. I found personal self worth by helping my community face AIDS in the 1980’s, and I have rediscovered my self esteem while on the treacherous road back from crystal meth addiction.

Being gay isn’t something I have been proud of, in and of itself. But I take pride in how I have handled what I consider the fallout of being gay.

During this gay pride month of June, I hope we’ll all take some time to assess what we’re so damn proud of. I’ve made that list, and “being gay” isn’t anywhere on it. Do I take my sexuality for granted, or am I ungrateful?

I’m proud of Mark, the man as he is today. I’m proud of my brother for keeping the bullies away. And I’m proud at my success, day by day, of recovering from addiction and having a purpose.

With that, I’ll sashay out of here.

Mark

(The video above is a gay pride message I produced last year, and I would encourage you to watch it. What begins as a funny take on public service announcements becomes something surprisingly different and emotional. As always, my friends, feel free to share my content, and please be well.)

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12 Responses to “My Surprising Lack of Gay Pride”

  1. Flash Says:

    June 7th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Bravo, Mark,
    Another one “out of the park”…xx

  2. JasonSabio Says:

    June 7th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    I’m proud of being gay if for no other reason than to reduce the fallout of being gay for those who come out after me. The more we are both out and proud the less stigma there is around being gay, which will make it easier for the next generation to come out and might even reduce their attraction to risky behavior. If Matthew Shepard’s attackers knew more gay people growing up, lived in a society where gay people were accepted, had relatives who were out, and yes proud, then perhaps they wouldn’t have attacked and Matthew wouldn’t have had to face any fallout at all. Being proud isn’t a self-indulgent congratulations for merely being who we are, it’s a message to the larger society that all we are doing is being who we are and that that shouldn’t be a problem or such a big deal.

    (Thanks, Jason. I’d like you to please write my posts in the future. You make a lot of sense. — Mark)

  3. David King Says:

    June 7th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Very well written as usual but a few corrections if I may. First of all, “Smear the Queer” was not a game of dodge ball. It was a game in which a football was thrown into the air and whoever caught it would run while the rest of the kids tried to tackle him. After being piled on by everyone in the neighborhood, he would then throw the ball into the air. Secondly, I was not about to allow anyone to hurt you. After all, you were my brother and I loved you even if you were a little different. Okay… a lot different. I wasn’t as proud of you then as I am now because I simply didn’t recognize how unique and special you were. Today I know. I’ve said several times to people when trying to describe you that if I can’t think of anyone I would rather spend time with. I love you and I’m proud of you.

    Your “Varsity Jock Bro” (forever)
    David

    (When *I* was involved in dodge ball in gym class, it became Smear The Queer. But hey, you’re the jock, big brother. Whatever. — xoxo Mark)

  4. Oliver H. Says:

    June 7th, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Gay pride… I always wonder how you can be “proud” of something you didn’t accomplice. Here’s some things I’m proud of:
    I’m proud of myself for leaving half the pizza in the box. (this time)
    I’m proud that I haven’t choked my dingbat co-worker. (yet)
    I’m proud that I sat through “Drive Angry” without demanding a refund or dozing off.
    I’m proud of my partner of 17 years. (yikes)
    I’m proud of the kids that go to school each day even though they get picked on for being “different”
    I’m happy with my life and happy being gay. Maybe we should call it “Gay Happy” instead of gay pride.
    Or maybe Gay + Happy = Pride

  5. Nelson Vergel Says:

    June 7th, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    You go, Mark! You should be proud of how many people are being touched by your writings and videos!

  6. jeremy Says:

    June 8th, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Hey Mark,
    I had my two coming out sagas. Once at 21 and the second time at 25 when I was diagnosed. I think I handled the second time around well, for what it was worth. Being faced with ones mortality at such a young age did not bode well for me at the time. if it weren’t for the tireless work of my Master and my friends, I surely would have died many years ago.

    You know, I haven’t attended one pride festival here in Montreal in a number of years. It may be age and the fact that I am not connected to either the gay or HIV community here. I seem to be a solitary gay at my Home Group of AA. Not too many gay folks in active recovery here – that would make socializing a little more fun. I rarely go to the “village” if only to browse my favorite porn store Priape. I think I am somewhat jaded over the whole political scene. I’m not political, but I can be if you want me to be in certain situations.

    I don’t know but AIDS at 43 having faced my death numerous times over the last 17 years has done me in socially. I don’t have many gay friends, I can count them all on one hand. All have careers and husbands – but I am lacking in certain areas. I don’t feel connected to any one social grouping aside from the rooms of AA, and even there I am a minority. People in recovery don’t pay me much mind any more, that scene has changed as well over the last 10 years.

    This year Pride falls the first week of August. Having only checked that website over the last few days. Pride at 43 is a lot different than Pride at 21 or 25 was. The men who mattered the most to me are long since dead. The one man who matters today I am married to. We’ve not celebrated a pride OUT in community since our wedding 7 years ago.

    Being sober has its drawbacks when it comes to all out party puke and make an ass of yourself at pride celebrations. Being disconnected from the gay community for so long has jaded me as well. That community has its share of ills here in the city. That’s a long standing issue for me and always has been since I moved here more than 10 years ago. I am proud that I stayed alive. And in few months I will celebrate 10 years clean and sober which is quite an achievement in sober terms. I write on my blog, not that many people read any more, with the world of social networking changing by the day, blogs have become old news. If you can’t tweet it then why bother with you right?

    But for those of us who survived that holocaust of humanity of the 80’s and 90’s we should be proud that we lived to speak, teach and work with others who don’t know aids from a hole in the wall. These young gay boys today don’t know what it was like having been born in a new century. That’s why pride falls to us men who lived to keep that candle burning even if nobody’s listening. If one young man comes back to thank us later on it will have been well worth the time we spent writing on blogs like this.

    If they ever unfurled the quilt here in Montreal I could tell a thousand stories that would never bore… I lament the past and I genuinely miss it. It was the worst of times, but it was the best of times too.

    Jeremy

  7. Dr. David Morris Says:

    June 8th, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Great Job Mark.
    Another funny-enlightening-painfully truthful-educational video and blog. You always make me sit back and think about issues from another perspective. And laugh a little bit. Keep up the magic.
    Admiring you from Atlanta,
    Dr. Morris
    (Ladies and gentlemen, my former physician when I lived in Atlanta! You could not ask for a more caring and thorough doctor, and that’s the truth. I added a link to his website where his name is. — Mark)

  8. Jackson Says:

    June 8th, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I’m proud of you, Mark.

  9. Sam Says:

    June 8th, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Hey Mark…good thoughts in blog and on video. For me to get more open with discussing my HIV status is my goal. I like how you mention that toward end of video. Coming out for me as a devout Mormon was not a walk in the park, but I did it when I was 16. So I am proud of that. Getting my college degree at 42 is something else I’m proud of. Being able to discuss childhood sexual abuse is relatively easy for me. So I am doing ok there as far as accepting my truth. But in the end I am the most proud of my degree. I never thought I could pull that bad boy off. But after all the remedial classes, etc., I did at last get my BA. Getting a good job is my next goal. I’d actually like to wear that suit and tie. Enough with the paper hats. Peace and thanks.

  10. Graham Says:

    June 9th, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Thanks for being genuine.

    We all can get caught up in the mainstream media image of what it means to be a gay man, that image marginalizes all of us.

  11. Donna Gore Says:

    June 9th, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Great ad, Mark!! I’m straight so I can’t say that I’m proud to be gay. But I am proud to be a friend/supporter of the LGBT community. And I am proud to be sober (THAT part I can definitely relate to). 2010 was my 20th year without a drink. I’ve been through a HELLUVALOT in the past few years. I’m proud of ME for dealing with it all sober instead of reaching for liquid obliteration. Cause when the booze wears off, the shit’s till there!!!! There’s nothing life can throw at you that drinking doesn’t make it ten times WORSE.

  12. Sean McShee Says:

    June 9th, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    In the 70’s it wasn’t called a LGBT Pride day. It was called Gay Freedom Day. While we had endless debates about adding the L, B, and T, Freedom was exchanged for Pride in its title. At about the same time it became less of a political demonstration that people on the sidelines were encouraged to join (and then to go contingent hopping) and more of a parade that you watched.

    The substitution of Pride for Freedom involved the transformation of a collective political event into a personal private quality and I want Freedom back.

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