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.
Yes, 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.
(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.)