Listen to Your Elders – Pt. 1

Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that earlier this month I asked members of the LGBTQIA community who are over 40-years-old to answer 10 interview questions. The response was…incredible.

In my opinion, older members of the LGBTQIA community are not seen as the valuable resources they are. So much of our history is not passed down–and when it is, it’s not listened to by younger queer people. Our older community members should be cherished, listened to, and valued. There is wisdom, history, and lessons we all need.

To remember who we are, where we came from, and how we got here.

Complacency and a feeling of “well, things are fine now” have infiltrated the LGBTQIA community. Many younger queer people don’t have respect for the people who got us to where we are today, nor do they understand why we must keep diligent in making sure the rights we fight for daily are not taken away.

I think reading the thoughts of older LGBTQIA members will help us remember our history and see a clear path to our future.

Having said all of that…I’ve broken this blog post up into three parts. The first one will be today, the second one will be Wednesday, and the third will be Thursday. Not every participant answered every question, and I am providing the names and demographic information as was provided by each interviewee. For the sake of brevity, not every response was used in these blog posts, though I’ve done my best to use the most intriguing and enlightening and made sure every participant had at least one of their responses used in each of the 3 blog posts. If any changes were made, it was for spelling/grammar/clarity. These are THEIR words. So…let’s get started!

Interviewees:

AJ Urbanek – 47yo/Caucasian/Wisconsin, USA/Enby, Demi-Pan
Allen St. Clair (a.k.a. Thomas Allen, author of THE LEGEND OF THE KEEPERS SERIES) – 41yo/White/DFW area Texas, USA/Queer, cis-gender male
Anne Stagg – 50yo/White/Ohio, USA/Pansexual, Genderqueer, Non-binary, Trans
Charlie Dale (author of FREEING MYSELF: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY WITH AIDS) – 55yo/White/Small town near Canton, Ohio, USA/Gay male, pronouns: they/them/her
David Ledain (author of GAY DAD and other gay non-fiction books) – 60yo/White/British, UK/Gay
Dee – 59yo/White/suburb of Dallas, TX, USA/Bisexual
Estebán Q. Mathieus (author of STICKS & STONE) – 44yo/Scottish-Mexican/Los Angeles, CA, USA/Gay
Eugene Galt (pen name) (author of THESE WORDS ARE TRUE AND FAITHFUL) – 59yo/White/Mid-Atlantic, USA/Gay Man
Hadrian Temple (pen name) – 53yo/White/Milwaukee, USA/Gay Man
Jean-Christophe (John) HENEL – 50yo/White-Caucasian/France by the Belgian border/100% Gay
Kevin – 49yo (almost 50)/White/West Virginia, USA/Gay
Lyndizzle – 53yo/Pākeha (New Zealander of European descent)/New Zealand/Gay or Lesbian depending on the day, Demi
Marcus Herzig (author of HEARTMATES and CUPID PAINTED BLIND) – 51yo/White/Germany/Gay Man
Maestro (pseudonym) – “Over 40″/Caucasian/USA/Gay
Matt – 47yo/White-Caucasian/New York State, USA/Gay
Maxime Jaz (pen name) – 44yo/Caucasian/Hungary/Queer, Bi, Genderfluid (it’s a work in progress)
Melissa Power – 49yo/Caucasian/Nova Scotia, Canada/Pansexual-Queer
‘Nathan Burgoine (pen name – apostrophe is intentional) – 46yo/White/Born in Britain, live in Canada, now Canadian/Queer and/or Gay, depending on who I’m talking to
Owen Blacker – 45yo/White/United Kingdom/Queer (or mainly-gay)
Phaeton (pseudonym) – 55yo/Anglo-Saxon/Los Angeles, CA, USA/Gay, cis-gendered Male
Rob Browatzke – 44yo/White/Edmonton, Canada/Gay
Roberta Blablanski (pen name, author of RETURN TO SENDER and ADDICTION) – 41yo/White/New Orleans, Louisiana, USA/Aroace, AFAB, non-binary
S.A. Crow (author of INTO THE FIRE) – 42yo/Native American/North Texas, USA/Bi-sexual
Shai Porter (pen name) – White-Ashkenazi/Denver, CO, USA/Queer, Asexual, Bisexual, Agender
Urban – 54yo/White-Caucasian/Sweden/Gay; he/him
Vince (or “Vince H”) – 56yo/White/Philly Area, PA, USA, born and raised in DelCo/Gay or GayPoly or PolyGay
W.D. Foster-Graham (author of the CHRISTOPHER FAMILY NOVEL SERIES) – 68yo/African American/Minnesota, USA/Gay; he/him

AJ Urbanek: I realized I was queer around the age of 40ish. After figuring it out, the biggest thing I felt was relief that I finally understood why I felt weird and out of place my whole life. Then I just had to figure out how I was going to handle it, which I am still doing.

I just felt really confused for a long time, but also had a sense of fear that it was something that I couldn’t really ask anyone about. ~ Allen

Allen: Pretty young, though I couldn’t give you an exact age. Before puberty, though. I just knew that I was “different” than all the other boys my age (or so it seemed at the time). I just felt really confused for a long time, but also had a sense of fear that it was something that I couldn’t really ask anyone about. I didn’t understand why I felt that way until I realized what being queer meant and started noticing people (especially my family members) making derogatory comments about queer people.

Recognizing my queerness, seeing myself as a part of a larger community, was informed, in part, by what felt like was the inevitability of HIV and AIDS. ~ Anne

Anne: I was born in 1970, a year and a half after the Stonewall Uprising. The idea of being queer, part of a larger community, wasn’t something I had access to growing up. Sure, I had dizzying crushes on both girls and boys and ached to understand why the word “girl’ felt less like a descriptor and more like a lie. Keeping silent was a means of survival in my family. If you didn’t talk about things, they weren’t real. But I’ve always been a mouthy little shit, and I chaffed against it is the only way I knew how, through writing. I penned stories that centered my hurt, my loneliness, and my queerness and transness. Any creative writing assignment in school became an opportunity to create characters whose gender and sexuality didn’t fit into the social expectations crushing me. By the time I hit high school in 1984, HIV and AIDS had swept across the country. My family lived in a relatively small town in Vermont. The epidemic’s impact wasn’t anywhere near the crises in New York or Chicago. HIV and AIDS weren’t at the forefront of my lived day-to-day experience. The idea of dying of AIDS before I turned 25 ran in the background of my thoughts all the time. It was terrifying, and I spent most of my teens and twenties bouncing between trying to shove away my queerness and embracing it like the world was ending. Because a lot of times, that’s how it felt. Recognizing my queerness, seeing myself as a part of a larger community, was informed, in part, by what felt like the inevitability of HIV and AIDS. Acceptance was something I sought through books and a small circle of friends. Celebrating my queerness and community didn’t become a part of my life until I was in my late twenties.

Charlie: I knew very early on, like 4 or 5, that I was very different from other little boys but didn’t have the language or the exposure to gay people growing up. The closest thing was Paul Lynde in the center square of “Hollywood Squares”, a closeted Rock Hudson, a closeted Jim Bailey who appeared on the “Carol Burnette Show” as Phyllis Diller and Barbra Streisand. Things were very different then growing up; especially for me as the child of Southern Conservative Baptist parents. The language for all that emotion, feeling and angst came in high school when the bullying started, and for me it was severe. But hearing the words, “sissy, faggot, queer, homo, fruit” and others it all made sense in a sad but real way. It was a very lonely, confusing place growing up the way I did. Wanting to play Barbie dolls and not allowed. Playing dress up when my father wasn’t home. Religion, of course, didn’t help in the least, and in many ways, made it so much worse. I was very introverted growing up, very “girly” in my activities helping my mother with her daily housework and such. Even growing knowing at a very early age I too wanted to be a “housewife.” The pain, sadness, confusion, anger, non-acceptance from religion for many years led me to a path of addiction I wrote about in my memoirs, “Freeing Myself: One Man’s Journey with AIDS”

David: Knowing and affirming my sexuality didn’t come for a long time, but I knew I was ‘different’ from everyone else around me from a very early age. I played with dolls and had a lovely handmade dolls’ house. Given that this was the early sixties it seems a very progressive way of bringing up your child. My parents are no longer around to ask, but I did ask my ninety-year-old aunty ‘how was that ever a thing? How did I come to have dolls to play with? Whose idea was it?’ Even my cousin, who is a year younger than me, remembers me having dolls, though I outgrew them and moved on to Lego, cars, and soldiers fairly quickly. The dolls lost their charm. I just don’t understand how my parents, who were otherwise strict disciplinarians and not at all demonstrative in their affections, would have agreed to allow me ‘girls’ toys. It will remain forever a mystery. I knew myself, however, that when I reached school age it was time to give up the last of my girly toys and we gave my dolls’ house to the gardener’s granddaughter. ‘Are you sure you want to let it go?’ I remember my mother asking. I reluctantly agreed. In my head I wanted the dolls’ house but I knew I wasn’t a girl. The dichotomy and turmoil had begun.

Dee: I always felt different even in elementary grades but I was sure around 17. I had a crush on my friend who was completely straight.

I responded with, “I’m gay, too.” It was the first time I had uttered those words out loud. It is a moment that stays with me. ~ Estebán

Estebán: I always knew I was different from the other boys growing up. I had an attraction to the other boys on the playground, that I knew was not accepted. Most of my friends were girls and I was most comfortable around them. It took me a while before I understood what I was and accepted myself like that. I grew up around Spanish gay slurs being thrown around. Even though I didn’t know what they translated into, I knew what they meant. By the time puberty hit, I understood my attraction but did everything I could to try to suppress it. I grew up in a small farm town. People called me gay and other words in school, but I did everything I could to prove them wrong. I feigned interest in girls in junior high school. Then in high school, I dated a lot of girls, but unknown to my friends, between them I was hooking up with boys. Even then, I still wouldn’t admit the words to myself. Looking back there is a lot I missed out on because I wasn’t able to be open with who I was. By the time senior year rolled around, I had a moment of clarity. I knew that once I graduated high school, I would be moving away for college. The hang-ups and issues that I had through my teenage years would be behind me. So, I stopped trying to hide it. I didn’t come out to my friends, but they knew and showed their acceptance in a way that let me know they were cool with it, even if I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I officially came out to both myself and two others when I was 17 years old, 3 days before my 18th birthday. By then I was in college and I was with a group of friends at an event. One of the girls made a joke that I didn’t catch or understand. When I asked for an explanation, she smiled at me and said, “Didn’t you know? I’m bi.” The other friend on the other side of me came out to me as a lesbian. Without giving it a second thought, I responded with, “I’m gay, too.” It was the first time I had uttered those words out loud. It is a moment that stays with me.

I was concerned for my safety. ~ Eugene

Eugene: It became obvious when, once I hit puberty, I started having erotic dreams about my male teachers and other adult men. Living in a blue-collar suburb in the seventies, I was concerned for my safety.

Hadrian: I was attracted to men sexually from the moment I started thinking about sex, which was about 13. I didn’t want to be attracted to men because I was raised in a conservative religion and my father was a minister. I spent about a decade struggling with this before I was able to accept it. Now I’m very happily gay and wouldn’t be straight if I could. I find being gay quite freeing.

Jean-Christophe: I started realizing I was gay when I was around 10 years old. I had met, through the Boy Scouts, a 15-year-old apprentice butcher and the least I can say is that I could not keep my eyes off him when he was around. When he was not, I could not keep myself from asking other scouts who knew him what was going on, if he was delayed or could not make it, even though we were not supposed to have any kind of interaction as I was with the Cubs and he was already a Scout.

Kevin: I was very young when I realized I was different. I live in a very rural, conservative area with a deeply religious family. I grew up thinking I was going to Hell, and I prayed a lot that I would change. I had also experienced sexual assault by a family member, so I was a pretty miserable teenager.

Lyndizzle: Hmm, sometime around about 13. But it was a gradual realization over a few years not a Damascus moment. There was very little information in the olden days pre-internet, and I didn’t know a single out queer person. (Later in my teens there was a gay couple who had a cooking show on TV. They didn’t say so, but they were obviously a couple). Other than that the only information I had was at the public library. Most of the books ended unhappily. Oh, and I remember seeing an Agatha Christie on telly that had a middle-aged lesbian couple as characters. I felt fine within myself, but also isolated, afraid that I was letting people down, afraid of receiving violence, and sad that I wouldn’t get a “normal” life. Even at university, it seemed that the lesbians there were all conforming to a new orthodoxy. I felt strongly that I wasn’t finding my own way just to buy into someone else’s idea of how I should be. And a guy in my class, who I was pretty sure was gay, used to come to class with bruises quite often. I only realized there was a word – demi – for that part of me, when I was about 50. I just thought I was weird before that.

I didn’t think anything was wrong with me until I reached puberty and I realized society expected me to like girls and cars and soccer. ~ Marcus

Marcus: I guess deep down I always knew, even before I knew there was such a thing as being gay. I remember frequently kissing my best friend (on the cheek) when we were seven or eight years old and the older kids would laugh at us and say, “They’re gay!” It was the first time I ever heard that word, and I didn’t know what it meant. But surely, if it meant being affectionate toward other boys, it couldn’t be a bad thing. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me until I reached puberty and I realized society expected me to like girls and cars and soccer. I only liked soccer, but, being gay, I wasn’t very good at it.

Maestro: I first realized I had feelings for other guys in high school. I was already called queer and faggot, so I felt even more isolated—as if they were right by bullying me—that perhaps I was depraved.

Matt: Uh, as a sheltered kid in the 80s, it was a process.  I knew I was different by the time I was 11 or 12, and probably not in a “good” way, it seemed.  I would say I “knew” by age 15 – but with no acceptance of it, I rejected, repressed, and denied, beginning my decades of smoke-screening and doing anything to not appear to others (or myself) as anything other than straight.  I didn’t fully actually accept it myself until 44, telling people starting at 46.

Maxime: This is not easy to remember, as I was raised in a homophobic family, according to Roman Catholic values. I had always wanted to be a boy, though, when I was a kid (I’m AFAB although I’m not even sure this is a correct term anymore?) and got mocked for it too. Family members saying that I should have been born a boy because I was mostly interested in horses, action movies, and playing outside. Anything related to same sex attraction was a crime and a sin, and homosexuals were always mocked in my family. I knew I was different from early on, but it was terrifying and shameful, so I hid it. Around 13-years-old, I had a crush on a girl in my class and we made out in her room, and it was wonderful and terrifying at the same time, because I was convinced that I was going to die because I had sinned. Maybe this is the first moment I sort of realized I was queer (but the only available words for it then were “lesbian” and “gay”). I was always a man though, in role playing games, DnD sessions, and videogames when they came into existence. That was pure freedom. Later, I put the label bisexual on myself, when I realized I was attracted to men and women (in those times, there were no other terms available to describe gender). I might have realized that I was fully bi when I had my first sexual experience with somebody of the same sex, as an adult already. I had no notion of being genderfluid at this stage, just that mild feeling that I had a man’s soul in a female body. At the time in post-communist Hungary, there was no notion of queerness, nothing to cling too, no support, so I was flying blind.

Melissa: I was about 21 when I realized I was queer. It made me really uncomfortable, because I didn’t know any queer people. I had been raised Catholic, so I knew I’d have to hide who I was. I only told my best friend (who said she knew since we were 10), and later my son’s father, who always accepts everyone for exactly who they are without judgement.

‘Nathan: The first inklings hit somewhere around fifth grade, which was for me about age nine, but it was more of an amorphous “something isn’t right, I don’t like the things I’m supposed to like on many levels,’ and realizing I was drawn to, say, superheroes or actors in a different way than my fellow boys were. My home life made it 100% clear that queer was bad—no end of dialog on that front, be it as “jokes” or otherwise—but I didn’t entirely connect that I was one of those people they were talking about right away, until somewhere closer to about twelve-years-old, when it really became clear—the language of attraction was being used pretty commonly all around me—that my attractions were running counter to expectations. By virtue of the family around me, and my “friends,” and school and pretty much every facet of the world around me, the main fact I knew about queer men was they died, so mostly it terrified me.

Phaeton: I was very young, pre-teens. I remember the exact moment well, when I finally put it together that the names other boys were calling each other on the playground applied to me. A boy that I knew showed me and his brother where his father hid his pornographic magazines. It was just a stack of playboys, with one Hustler magazine mixed in. The centerfold had a naked man standing in front of a woman. This was the first time I had seen a grown man nude, much less aroused. One of the two boys saw my shocked look and barked out, “What, are you a fagot or something?” And it all came together at once. My nature, the name-calling, they were one and the same. I’ll never forget it.

Gay was a punchline, and I was the joke. ~ Rob

Rob: I started coming out when I was 15/16. This is the early 90s so there’s no such thing as GSAs in school, no internet. There were no gay role models in entertainment. Gay was a punchline, and I was the joke. My family had a lot of religious people in it and I was terrified of being cut off from my family. None of that really ended up happening, but that was the fear.

Roberta: Roughly 5 or so years ago, I came to realize I’m asexual. I didn’t feel part of the queer community because, at the time, I identified as straight. As I’m married to a person of the opposite gender, most people automatically assume I’m not queer and I was a rider on that bandwagon for quite a while. The more I got to know people in the queer community and discovered different labels, I came to realize that I don’t fit neatly into one box.

There haven’t been a lot of Bisexual role models. ~ S.A.

S.A. Crow: I was in 5th grade when I realized that liking both girls and boys wasn’t the norm for everyone. I remember the moment so clearly. It was gym period and I was sitting on a bench with a bunch of girls that I knew. We were watching the guys play basketball and talking. They all made comments about a cute guy when he walked by. I joined in because he was attractive to my 5th grade sense of attractiveness. Then there was an attractive girl walking by and I started to say she’s pretty and made a comment about her attractiveness and realized that I was the only one saying anything so I quickly commented on her shoes and was quiet the rest of the class period. From that point on until I was 19 I thought I was alone in the world where other women didn’t find both men and women attractive. There haven’t been a lot of Bisexual role models.

Shai: I grew up thinking everyone was bisexual. I think I became aware of this at around 10-years-old when I really didn’t care about anyone’s sexual identity, although it wasn’t a true sexual attraction (I still don’t really have that even now) The kicker was when I realized other people *weren’t* that way. I guess that was around 17 or so when my boyfriend made it perfectly clear he was straight. Absolutely straight. To make it clear, I didn’t expect that everyone was to be out about being bi…I just thought they all secretly were and that they were told by someone it wasn’t okay (parents…church?). I felt smarter than everyone else at first, not gonna lie about that. But then I accepted that there is an infinite range of things people like and don’t like…including sexual attraction.

Urban: For me the coming out took a very long time. Too long in hindsight. I knew I was sexually interested in boys from age 13 I guess, but I never admitted it to be “being gay.” These were other, harsher times for gay people and I didn’t want to be that. All thorough my teenage years I never had any interest in girls, in any way, all my friends and the people I hung out with were boys and I always became friends with the cutest ones when I changed schools, and I was crushing on them, friendship being the only way to be close to them and have them around the whole time. When I started high school I had a short friends with (small) benefits with a guy I was so into. He was straight or maybe bi, but unfortunately, he moved to the US after six months. After high school I became an Army Officer and being gay there at that time was not okay so I buried it deeper again. Not until 2000 when the Armed Forces in Sweden embraced LGBTQ+ officially did I come out. And boy was that a relief! I could finally be open and quickly was to all the people I knew. So back to the real question, how was I feeling. In my teenage years I felt okay, not lonely, but lacking sex like my (straight) friends had. In my twenties I felt quite lonely, though, when everyone else got into serous relationships, getting married and having kids. Like I wrote, coming out was a great relief, like I stopped holding my breath.

Vince: I think I always had a feeling I was, starting around the time I started to understand sexuality but knew I was for sure around 14 or 15. It truly didn’t bother me as I didn’t know how or what it was like to be straight…if that makes any sense.

W.D.: I was aware at a very early age, but I didn’t have a name for it until I was in my teens. All I knew was that I was different from my relatives and classmates, and the fact I was both quiet and a nerd didn’t help matters. It was a lonely space to be occupying.

AJ: I’m not out to my family (only out to a few friends IRL and online friends), and when my sister asked to read my WIP, when I mentioned there were queer characters, she made a disgruntled face and then changed her mind about reading it.

Allen: I was probably 11 or 12-years-old (maybe younger) when my mother told me in an incredibly nonchalant manner that she would rather I brought home an n-word than another man as a partner. The implication being that both Black people and queer people were lesser than and I would basically be disowned if I dated someone who was not white and cis-gender female. I’m married to a white cis-gender female now because that’s who I fell in love with and wanted to be partners with for life, but Mom died before I got married and didn’t get to see her wish fulfilled, so I think we all know who won.

“It’s your own fault. I’ve told you two to tone down the gay or that stuff’s going to keep happening.” ~ Anne

Anne: My first steps in embracing myself as a part of the queer community coincided with the beginning of a serious relationship. I was 27 and fell in love. For the first time in my life, everything seemed possible, including surviving my twenties. It was the first year I celebrated PRIDE. My partner and I had festooned everything with rainbows, including bumper stickers. One evening, early in PRIDE month, we were driving to meet friends for drinks. The night was warm, without sweltering, so we had the windows down and the music up. It was that magical time of day in early summer when the shadows paint the ground with darkness, even as the sun gilds the horizon with fire. We were stopped at a light, chatting about our expectations for the night and listening to ridiculous sappy love songs, when two white men walked into traffic toward our car. The closer they got, the more afraid I became, even though they were smiling. There were cars behind and in front of us. There was nowhere to go to get away. They leaned down, shoving their faces through my open window, yelled “fuck you, dykes,” flicked their lit cigarettes into my lap, and walked away. The entire event took less than a minute. I flew out of my side of the car and shook the cigarettes out of my skirt. I wasn’t physically hurt, but it was a horrifying, helpless experience. No-one stopped to ask if we were okay. What was worse was that when we arrived at the restaurant to meet our friends and told them what happened, a friend shook his head and said, “It’s your own fault. I’ve told you two to tone down the gay or that stuff’s going to keep happening.”

David: Regret is a terrible thing to take with you through life. I don’t regret the course my life has taken; my twenty-year marriage to the woman I still love and my beautiful sons, now grown up and leading their own lives. We are still very much a family. But I do wonder with some sadness what became of the gorgeous model I met in Grannies nightclub in Portsmouth one Wednesday (gay night) in 1982. We spent the night together and he gave me his telephone number, but at that time I was frightened and lacked confidence, and I really didn’t know who I was or how I thought my life was going to be. I let him slip away. With some ceremony and severing of any ties, I burned his phone number and never saw him again. Until a few months later when he appeared in a fashion shoot spread in The Face magazine. I only bought it because Bowie was on the cover. I still have the magazine, of course, and often wonder what became of Simon the model. That memory, and George Michael’s ‘Different Corner’ (about a different boy), fill me with sorrow.

Dee: Being told that if I turned out to be gay I could not remain friends with my best friend.

It was as if, to them, being gay meant I was inevitably going to have something horrible happen to me. ~ Estebán

Estebán: Growing up, both my parents were quite homophobic. It was the 70s and 80s. Being gay was very much considered wrong. My mother would refer to gay people as “Those Funny People,” with that offensive wrist wave. My father would get tense around anyone who showed any gay tendencies. I was terrified to come out to them. In my mind, the moment my father knew, I would be kicked out and on my own with no support. Even though, I wasn’t even the first in my family to come out. I had two older cousins from my mother’s generation that were out. One who I only recall meeting once was lesbian, and my cousin Danny, who sadly passed away in 1995 from AIDS complications. What was upsetting about all this was that I was a freshman in college afraid of what my father would do. By this point, my parents had separated and I was living with him. For months I agonized about what to do, I had been out to my friends in college, who were mostly straight. His girlfriend at the time knew I was gay. She had approached me about it and we were on good terms. She had tried to encourage me to come out to him, but she understood my hesitation. After several months of my father asking me over and over again why I wasn’t dating and didn’t have a girlfriend, I came out to him. I hadn’t meant to, but it slipped out in the middle of an argument. I used it as a weapon to try and hurt him. I didn’t give him a chance to respond and left. I spoke with his girlfriend later that evening. That was when she informed me, that she had told my father months beforehand. I had been agonizing about it and he had known. He had been told, she had wanted him to reach out to me and talk to me about it and he didn’t. That hurt and in my mind at the time proved my thoughts about his feelings about it. Later that evening he called me and asked when I was going home. I asked him if I was welcome at home. There was sadness in his voice and he told me yes. He did accept me, but it took him time to accept what being gay meant and what my world was going to be like. He is much better now, has even met a few boyfriends. Some he liked, some not so much. But those are stories for another day. The most frustrating thing that I found when it came to coming out to family members, was every time they would say the same thing, “be careful.” That phrase makes my skin crawl now. Why should I be anymore careful that my straight cousins? It was as if, to them, being gay meant I was inevitably going to have something horrible happen to me.

Eugene: I was fag-bashed in junior high school. I knew that I would have no recourse and that those in charge of school discipline would likely side with my attacker or at best pretend that nothing had happened.

Did my father really think it was necessary to tell me I was going to hell in his funeral sermon, the last thing he ever had to say to me? ~ Hadrian

Hadrian: My father had a medical crisis about a year before he died. When he was in the hospital he was extremely concerned that he outline his funeral sermon before he died. He recovered, and gave Pastor Scott very extensive notes about what he wanted said at his sermon. He built his sermon around St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, using Paul’s structure to lay out an argument that all people have sinned and justly merit God’s wrath, but that salvation is available to all through God’s love and grace. My father was a skilled theologian and from a Biblical perspective it was a very smart sermon. My brothers and I were in the church and Pastor Scott explained that he was preaching a sermon that had largely been written for him, based around 4 passages from Romans. And then he said, “This is a very unusual passage to include in a funeral sermon, but theologically I can’t fault him for this.” And he proceeded to read the second half of the first chapter of Romans. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” So, yeah, my dad’s funeral sermon opened with a passage about homosexuality that was only tangentially related to the message of his sermon and which could have been left out without making a difference. My brother Peter was sitting right next to me, and I remember his body stiffening and his face getting flat with thinly-concealed anger. A decade later, he still hasn’t forgiven my dad. I spent several months trying to understand why my father had done this. Did my father really think it was necessary to tell me I was going to hell in his funeral sermon, the last thing he ever had to say to me? I don’t think so. My father was, for all his faults, a loving man, a man who could only express his emotions through the code of religion. I prefer to think of that sermon as another step in the conversation that we had begun about my sexuality, an effort to express a concern he had and to urge me to think more about the issue. It was, in a rather ham-fisted way, an attempt to tell me he loves me. I just wish he’d found a better way to say that.

Kevin: I was with a guy I was seeing at Walmart. As we left, we briefly held hands. Three young men saw us and began yelling gay slurs at us. They followed us, screaming threats and chases us in their car on the highway to the next red light. They got out of their vehicle and came toward us. My friend got out of our car to face them. He was a large, well-built man, and he intimidated them into back off. I was very shaken up, and it took me a long time to get over it. It brought up memories of my abuse and of the severe bullying I received in school. I don’t think I ever got over it.

Lyndizzle: When I was about 16, my country went into an extended frenzy over gay law reform; that is, to make sex between consenting male adults over 16, legal. The Catholic church and many others put pressure on people to sign a petition against it. There were large “anti” marches and much smaller and braver “pro” marches. AIDS was a thing and the rhetoric was hateful. The (heterosexual female) MP who proposed the legislation in Parliament received death threats. I wore a badge on my school uniform “I support homosexual law reform”. I felt like a coward when I covered it up on the bus or when my friends’ dads were around. They would yell obscenities at the TV when the news covered the issue. It passed, by one vote. The sky stayed up. The Civil Union Act in 2003 was a little better but still brought out the homophobes in force. In the 80s and 90s and even 2000s you never knew when someone was going to say something hideously homophobic even at work. The first 5 people I came out to (all friends) were horrified and thought it was Sinful or Disordered. Gay Marriage in 2013 was all hearts and rainbows and singing in Parliament. Amazing how far we could come in 30 years. I never thought I’d live to see it.

Marcus: My brother, a homophobic and generally unpleasant POS, always discouraged close contact between me and my nephew because he thought I was out to molest him. Because, in my brother’s opinion, that’s what gay people do.

In my first week in San Francisco, I was pelted with eggs. I was crushed. ~ Maestro

Maestro: Getting bullied in high school was a great fear of mine. But I suppose a memory that sticks with me is from adulthood. I moved thousands of miles from family and friends to San Francisco because I didn’t have to courage to come out back home. I felt free at last as I walked down Castro Street believing I had finally arrived in Mecca. Then a carload of high school boys drove by screaming faggot and queer while throwing eggs. In my first week in San Francisco, I was pelted with eggs. I was crushed.

Matt: The biggest to me is a general – deep regret that at the time I was realizing I’m gay I didn’t get anything I needed to know and be myself.  No role models, no (positive) representation, no one noticing anything and speaking to me.  I can look back now and see all those times I could have been ok, if only there was something/someone to give me an indication it was and would be ok.

Maxime: Probably that awful feeling of guilt whilst living in religion, that you are flawed and a sinner. It was suffocating during all my youth. Having to listen to homophobic rants during family reunions were deeply hurtful. Thinking that I would burn in Hell.

Melissa: When I came out to my parents at the age of 37, my mother drew back from me as if I was contagious and called me “disgusting.” I’ve never really recovered from that.

That story is perhaps not as impactful or immediately distressing as the time I was beaten by bigots, but in many ways, it’s closer to the daily reality: small reminders, over and over, of how we are “lesser than,” and how it erodes joy. ~ ‘Nathan

‘Nathan: Canada has three major parties, politically speaking: the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the NDP. Mostly, the government has been made up of Conservatives or Liberals, and the NDP are the more socialist/left-leaning party (the Liberals are honestly pretty darn moderate at best, and the Conservatives, well, they waited ten years after marriage equality to decide their platform shouldn’t refer to marriage as “a man and a woman.”) I’d love to vote NDP, but for years, the candidate who would come to my door, when I asked her about queer issues, would tell me that given her faith, she’d abstain from voting/taking part, but her party was pro-queer. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t a single-issue voter where my single issue wasn’t “does this person/party think I’m a human being and have a better chance of beating the party that outright admits they do not”? That story is perhaps not as impactful or immediately distressing as the time I was beaten by bigots, but in many ways, it’s closer to the daily reality: small reminders, over and over, of how we are “lesser than,” and how it erodes joy.

Phaeton: When my mother found out I was gay at fourteen, having read notes I had passed to a young lesbian friend, she placed me into a Mormon church-sponsored program that was basically reparative therapy. The head of the program was a man that was abusing the boys under his care. This led me down a destructive mental path, culminating in my trying to take my own life. When my family turned on me I realized that, unlike any other minorities, gay people can find themselves completely alone, with nowhere to turn. It is most often a trait not shared by your family, the closest people in your life.

Rob: The year was 1996 and friends and I were walking along the seawall in Vancouver. I had zero worries, Vancouver was some gay destination for a gay boy from the prairies. But that just made the sudden appearance of a group of drunken straight boys, hurling bottles and yelling “faggots,” all the more troubling. It could happen anywhere.

Roberta: I get criticized a lot for being in a straight-presenting relationship and for having a kid. Some people discount my attraction to people of all genders and asexuality because of these two things.

Shai: When I came out to my now ex, I thought it was no big deal (because i thought nearly everyone was bi). He didn’t take it well and assumed I would cheat on him and gave me “permission” to so long as I never told him about it. I was horrified he would think our relationship (always monogamous) meant so little to me. He was constantly telling me my definitions were wrong because they weren’t in line with what most people thought, so I should change to meet their expectations or use different words because they were right and I was wrong (ie: bisexuals sleep with more than one sex and aren’t faithful and can’t be and everyone knows that, so if you are with me you are straight).

Urban: When I was dating a younger guy in the early ’00s we were clubbing but went outside for air and started to make jokes about me being an older perv and him being a poor innocent boy. This was overheard by a gang of guys who came over and started to push me around telling me to leave him alone. He assured them we were only joking but they were probably just looking for a reason, hanging around outside a gay club so I was beat up by them, I fought back as hard as I could but they were three so…

Vince: Other than the endless, horrific bullying, I think just the hateful humiliation was probably the worst. I was physically beaten and hurt countless times but the degradation in public in front of peers and teachers was by far the most unbearable!!

As one who stood at the intersectionality of Black and gay, I felt like an outsider. ~ W.D.

W.D.: My freshman year of college was in the fall of 1970, a time when all the movements of social change were happening simultaneously—civil rights, Vietnam, Wounded Knee, women’s rights. The Stonewall riots had only occurred the previous year, and homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. As one who stood at the intersectionality of Black and gay, I felt like an outsider since 1) the liberal arts college I attended had a majority white student population whose exposure to African Americans was limited to television 2) the small Black student population was distant to me once I came out that year.

Allen: My grandfather (mother’s father) telling me a year or two after my mom made horribly homophobic and racist remarks that he knew of a few men who were queer in the Navy during WWII. They were incredibly discreet then, but he knew they were queer. He “didn’t understand it,” but they were “good men” and “people should just be allowed to love who they love” because they “weren’t hurting nobody.” It let me know that all hope was not lost as a queer man.

“Honey, I love you. This has always been a part of you, and I’ve loved this part of you, too.” ~ Anne

Anne: Finding the language to describe my experience of my gender was a journey. I didn’t come out as genderqueer (trans/nonbinary) until I was 49, and at the time, I’d been married to my spouse for 13 years. He’s a fantastic person, open, sweet, and he’s loved and seen me since the day we met. Still, coming out to a long-term partner is terrifying, mainly because, for as many lovely stories of acceptance as there are, there are also stories in which the other person can’t reconcile their sexuality and gender with their partner’s revelation. I was scared he’d think I’d been lying to him or that I was just a blithering idiot for not coming out sooner. We have a daily practice we call a family meeting. It’s a daily check-in. Each day when he came home from work, we’d hang out in our bedroom, no phones, no TV, no music, just us, reconnecting. We talk about anything and everything, including using the time to discuss issues that may have come up between us. How’s this marriage working out for you? is a common question we ask each other regularly. I chose our family meeting to broach the subject. We were cuddled up, and I just dove in feet first, saying, “Hey, so, you know, I think I’m, I mean I know I’m, I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past year, I’ve felt like this for most of my life, and yeah, so I’m genderqueer.” When I was finally trailed off into a mumbling nervous mess, he smiled at me, this loving, beautiful smile full of all the warmth and acceptance, and said, “Honey, I love you. This has always been a part of you, and I’ve loved this part of you, too.”

Charlie: My mother use to tell this story that in 1970, at the tender age of like 3 and ½ years old Judy Garland’s variety show was in re-runs, as of course she had died the year before, but she had Barbara Streisand on her show with their iconic “Happy Days” duet. Later in the show Ethel Merman joined them and my mother said I was RIVETED to the TV the entire show. My mother said then she knew I was very different than little boys. It’s also my favorite memory as a little boy.

My sons were instantly accepting and had no qualms about what was just a part of who their dad was. ~ David

David: This has to be the love and support my two sons have given me. Telling your children that their dad is not the person they thought, is an excruciatingly difficult moment and one that can only be done when you and they are ready. My sons were instantly accepting and had no qualms about what was just a part of who their dad was. They have been brought up to be accepting of other people. They are well-travelled and have experienced many different cultures around the world. Deep down I knew they would not be anything other than understanding, but still, it is a very difficult thing to do. As for heartwarming and realizing that living authentically is the right way, I took my youngest son along with me to an event hosted by Queer Britain Museum, and I heard him talking to a group saying that he was there supporting his dad. That is Pride. I almost burst.

Estebán: Not sure if this would qualify as heartwarming, but it is amusing. It is one of my favorite stories to tell from when I was a pretty young gay boy in college. Freshman year of college, I knew very little of what it meant to be gay. This was in the mid-90s. I literally went to a gay bookstore and found books on gay history to even try to understand what it meant. That was when I learned about Stonewall, Harvey Milk, and tons of other gay history. By my sophomore year, I had joined an LGBTQ club on campus. It was simply called the Rainbow Club. It was the first time I had felt emerged with a group of other LGBTQ people. Everyone was welcoming and I finally felt like I had found my people. There was going to be a stand-up comedy show in town and we decided to go as a group. Now I loved standup, I would stay up late at night as a teenager to watch Evening at the Improv. So, I had a rough idea of what it would be like at a live show. We got there and one of the people in our group insisted we sit in the front row. Now, having seen comedy standup on TV, I knew that was the worst idea. But I went along with it. Between the acts, the emcee would come out and entertain the crowd. He was older, probably close to my parents’ age at the time. He kept glancing down at me, the pretty wide-eyed gay boy. During one of the mini-sets, he pauses and looks down at me. “Aren’t you the cutest little thing? How old are you?” I respond, “19” He does this pose and sound and then says, “Aww, I have cockrings older than you.” I was mortified. I seriously thought I was going to die on the spot. Looking back, I find the whole thing hilarious, and I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything.

Eugene: The acceptance that I found in my spouse’s family as his significant other and later as his spouse.

Hadrian: After I came out to my father, we spent 20+ years not talking about it. But when he was in his 80s, he came to visit me and I finally decided that we needed to have a discussion about it. So I brought up the subject and he rather predictably threw the story of Sodom and Gomorrah at me. But I was prepared for that. I gave him a very in-depth analysis of the passage and what it says in the Hebrew. After several minutes of that, he three Leviticus at me. And I did the same thing. We slowly worked our way through all the Bible verses, and for each one I was prepared for him, and he couldn’t really respond to my analyses because I was going into way more depth than he was. Finally, he said, “I can see I have to do some more thinking about this.” I replied, “I don’t expect you to say you think I’m right. But I hope you can see that I’m approaching this as a serious and faithful Christian, the way you raised me to.” “Yes, I can see that.” And that was my win condition, the best outcome I had been able to picture. The next morning I dropped him off at the airport. As I was getting his suitcase of the car, he said, “At my age, I’m not going to be traveling any more. So if you don’t come out to Oregon, this is the last time I’ll see you.” That sounds manipulative, but he was just being a good pragmatic Scandinavian Lutheran. And then he shook my hand and said, “The Lord be with you.” It felt like he was an Old Testament patriarch giving me his blessing. It was his way of saying “I don’t agree with your choices, but you’re doing ok.” I cried all the way home. And he was right. That was the last time he ever saw me. The next time I saw him, he was comatose in a hospital bed from a heart attack and the nurse was preparing to turn off his life support. My father was normally a very emotionally obtuse man—growing up among Scandinavian Lutherans in rural Minnesota during the Great Depression will do that to you—and I have no idea how he knew exactly what to say in that moment at the airport. But it was one of the most healing moments of my life.

Jean-Christophe: It was the “year” (around 7-8 months in fact) I spent with the AIDS-Hilfe Frankfurt e.v. volunteering in the needle exchange program (yes a needle exchange program in 1987-88!). At the very beginning I just made coffee and was doing mainly menial chores. But rapidly I took a real interest in talking with some of the “patrons” who came thrice a week to exchange their used needle and syringe, take a coffee made for 40% of sugar and milk (as heroin makes you crave for sugar) and was so strong that if anyone but the addicts had drank it they would have not slept for a week!, and/or meet with one of the social workers who were also part of the team. I had a crush on one of the recovering addict. He was turning his life around (I could tell that as he was always clean and wearing clean clothes when he came to the bus) and had plans. We spent one bizarre night, just walking in central Frankfurt, he told me everything about heroin, the market!, the price of the different sorts of heroins and where it came from … I guess when you’re 17/18 you don’t really care you are walking with a junkie in some of the most dangerous parts of a city (known then as the European Heroin Mecca), saying hello to armed dealers, prostitutes and their pimps, talking freely about being not interested because you are gay and the prostitute or the pimp giving you some advice as to where to go to find someone interesting or exciting whether free of charge or on a paying basis!

He told me he wished my life wouldn’t have to be harder because I was gay, but it didn’t change the way he felt about me. ~ Kevin

Kevin: When I came out to my late father, he was very supportive. He told me he wished my life wouldn’t have to be harder because I was gay, but it didn’t change the way he felt about me. He passed away in 2012, but this memory always makes me feel loved.

Lyndizzle: The first affirming straight person I came out to was a nun at the Catholic chaplaincy at university. She was awesome about it. The feeling of being accepted without judgment by someone I respected was stupendous.

Marcus: I had pretty much come to terms with staying single for the rest of my life and stopped looking for The One when fate brought me and my boyfriend together. We’ve been a happy couple for 13 years now and I will never love anyone the way I love him.

She said it made her feel so sad because I had been struggling with being gay all alone~ Maestro

Maestro: When I came out to my immigrant Italian mother, I rambled on not letting her speak. I was afraid of what she would say. The first question was whether I had AIDS. Then she said it made her feel so sad because I had been struggling with being gay all alone—that I was afraid she’s stop loving me. She worried for my struggle, loneliness, pain. I’ll never forget her tight embrace following that conversation.

Maxime: When I came out to my husband as genderfluid/genderqueer, I had to explain to him, the best I could, what it meant. But my husband is a pragmatic French, so he just said, “Should I call you George from now on?” It had made us laugh. Then a couple of days ago, we had a chat about trans people and being trans, and I just sort of told him my thoughts, and of not being sure if I were trans somehow, maybe… He just said that he would love me no matter what. To me, having his acceptance means more than anything.

Melissa: My father was looking at a picture on my wall that was hanging crooked. He said: “It’s not straight.” My reply was: “That’s okay, neither am I.” He stood with his back to me for a solid minute, his shoulders shaking with laughter. Then he turned around, grabbed me in one of his trademark bear hugs, kissed me and asked if he could tell people because it was one of the funniest things he’d ever heard.

She whispered into my ear, “I was never that brave,” and that was how I learned she was a nonagenarian queer woman. When we speak up, we find each other. ~ ‘Nathan

‘Nathan: When I worked at a bookstore, I had a repeat customer who was a lovely, older woman in her nineties who was an absolute treasure. She was originally from Eastern Europe, and we became good friends partly over her assumption that my name, ‘Nathan, meant I was Jewish (I’m not), and she would often tell me about some of the terrible things she survived, though rarely with any specific details. She’d followed me from store to store when I got transferred and promoted, and we even gave each other small presents (she’d give me a gift at Christmas, I’d pass her a gift at Hannukah). When the laws changed, and I proposed, she saw my ring and gasped. “You’re married?” I explained I was engaged, starting to worry how this might go, and she asked, “you found a lovely woman?” and I just… couldn’t. I’d promised myself that unless my safety was involved, I wasn’t going to lie about my impending marriage. So I said, “A lovely man, actually.” She burst into tears. I wrapped her in a hug, with no idea what else to do, and she whispered into my ear, “I was never that brave,” and that was how I learned she was a nonagenarian queer woman. When we speak up, we find each other.

Phaeton: When I came to terms with being gay, it was a grand epiphany. As a young man, I could be right and the whole world could be wrong! Stunning. It freed my mind and gave me confidence that has been like a suit of armor I have worn my whole life serving me well. The fire that springs up in my eyes when I defend not only my rights but more importantly to me, other people’s rights, is an all but physical force. I know in the deepest part of me that queer people really are special because they come to this understanding on their own. I have seen the empathy this realization has generated in queer people over and over again. I truly am proud to be gay, on a fundamental, indescribable level.

Rob: I have found a great group of friends and family. We celebrate together, we grieve together, we’ve laughed, we’ve lost, we’ve loved.

Roberta: Finding out a friend from high school (whom I still keep in touch with) is also ace was nice.

Shai: My son is Ace, just like me. We bought a big Ace Pride flag for our apartment window. We joke that he was a product of asexual reproduction.

“I have always held the conviction that we all should love the people we love, regardless of who they are, so that’s something you shouldn’t even have to ask.” ~ Urban

Urban: When I came out and had a new Commanding Officer I told him I was gay and asked him if that would be a problem between us. His only response was “I have always held the conviction that we all should love the people we love, regardless of whom they are, so that’s something you shouldn’t even have to ask.”

Vince: I have several but probably the one that’s most special would be on my wedding day…outside on a beautiful patio at a popular local restaurant, gorgeous sunny day. When people realized it was a wedding ceremony taking place and a gay one at that, there were OOOO’s and AAAHHH’s and people cheered (quietly of course) It really touched my heart as I was terrified of hecklers ruining the entire day.

W.D.: Growing up in my church as a teenager of the 1960s and a young adult in the early 1970s, I felt invisible, which has often happened in Black churches in regard to its LGBTQ members. I moved away from my hometown and stayed away for 26 years. I am back at that same church now with a husband and a son, serving God in authenticity as a Black gay man, with the respect and support of my congregants, my fellow church officers, and our pastor.

Parts 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase


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