On Monday night I hosted the first ever live episode of my long running MikeyPod podcast. I had a great line up of guests, including Eve Beglarian, Victoria Libertore, Duncan Pflaster, Will Shishmanian and Sugar Vendil. The podcast of the event will go up in the feed at mikeypod.com on July 4th, but in the meantime I wanted to post this story I shared at the show. I’m pretty proud of this piece and it’s perfect for Pride.
In the summer of 1980 my mom sent my sister and me to California to spend some time with our cousins John and Beth. It was a great trip for a few reasons, included, but not limited to seeing my first pair of onscreen boobies via a misguided trip to see the movie Airplane! In stark contrast to my complete non-reaction to this sighting of a pair of naked, jiggling breasts was my complete mega-reaction to my cousin Beth’s record collection. I feel pretty confident that queerness is nature and not nurture, but if it were nurtured, my queerness was pretty deftly shepherded by Donna Summer’s concept double album “Once Upon a Time.” I hadn’t really been introduced to disco yet, but those funky bass lines, lush strings and double handclaps resonated deeply in my soul and awakened something fabulous.
I can’t remember why, but Beth actually gave me her “Once Upon A Time” double album AND “On The Radio: Greatest Hits volumes I & II” AND the 12” single to “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. It was tough to get all that vinyl packed and home safely to Houston, but I did. On my next visit to my friend Andy’s house, I arrived with Donna Summer records in tow. He, too, was transfixed by its relentless grooves and beguiling lyrics like:
It’s a nightmare – A daymare
A badmare no matter which
Of course, we had no choice but to stage an interpretive dance piece to perform on the second floor street-facing balcony that extended the width of his pretty big house. And yes, there were plenty of high-kicks and fists-full of glitter.
We were young enough then that this sort of flamboyance wasn’t really all that eyebrow raising, even for Texas. I feel certain that our performance didn’t draw much of a crowd, but this is one of those moments I look back on in my life where I felt — oh…. this is right.
Those moments became more infrequent the older I got, but they still happened. In high school I was in the choir and did some theater, so there were plenty of opportunities to have some queer moments without having to acknowledge the truth about my sexuality. Many of those kids came out after high school like I did, but one friend, Walt – he came out in high school. Walt drove a pick-up truck like many of the kids in Tyler, Texas and we hung out sometimes, even though he was a couple years older than me. I always liked the way he drove with his umbrella in the gun rack of his truck.
Walt and I were parked outside the choir room late one afternoon just shooting the shit. He got a little weird all of the sudden. He said he had something to tell me and hoped we could still be friends:
He just blurted it out like that. Kind of calm. I was shocked, but not really, but really and I had to decide what to do with that really fast. Even though it would be a few years before I could accept that I was gay, I did perceive myself to be someone who was very open to my new gay friend. I explained that it didn’t bother me at all and of course we could still be friends. Then he looked right at me and said,
“Oh. Well I told you because I thought you were too.”
And that last sentence ended like a question, even though it wasn’t really.
“No! But I really don’t mind that you are.”
The thing is, I don’t remember hanging out with Walt after that. Maybe I got freaked out that he had me pegged for a fellow homo, or maybe my being so closeted freaked him out. I do feel like a betrayed him in a way, even while acknowledging that I did the best I could as a gay teenager in East Texas.
I remained closeted for a while, but on my return to Houston after graduation, I started running with a pretty queer circle of friends, but that’s the kind of open minded and tolerant heterosexual I was. One night a group of us had plans to see Bronski Beat at Heaven night club – a gay bar. I was underage still, but my friend David actually knew Steve Bronski and we were on the guest list. Just like I hoped, they didn’t check my ID, but just ushered us straight back to the storage closet turned green room. It’s funny thinking of myself there now: this closeted 19 year old with a strong aversion to alcohol, who was embarrassed at any mention of sex, hanging out with my gay friends in the gay alcohol closet of a gay bar WITH a GAY dance music icon who was making gay moves on all these cute young gay boys.
It was pretty gay.
And then it got gayer.
When the show started, my friends and I went into the club itself. I don’t know if I can express accurately what I saw and what I felt being in this place. There were go-go boys in g-strings with bodies like the ones in the International Male catalogs I had pilfered from my dad and then this sea of men dancing together, kissing, holding hands, hugging… No one seemed to be ashamed of who they were and I found that beautiful and revolting in a way I don’t think I can ever explain. I was so confused further by the fact that these were just regular looking people. I remember for years thinking that if I was gay…. I mean literally thinking that I would also be a child molester, or a flasher, or generally sexually deviant in some way. But these guys here, they looked pretty happy. And content. It was another one of those moments when I felt like I had found my home…and it scared the piss out of me.
And, I liked it.
This night propped itself up in my memory a couple of weeks ago as I tried to get my head around what happened at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. How many of the people in that club were kids like me, who had just found the first place in their lives where they were safe and could begin to discover who they were? Who had they been ushered in by, if not Donna Summer, Walt from High School, Steve Bronski, David…
Something about their new cast of characters: Lady Gaga, Tyler Oakley, their family members and friends – I don’t even know who else to name in their lists but I thought this space between my queer awakening and theirs made me different, or separate somehow. Maybe I thought they were less than because it’s so much easier to come out now. Or I thought I was inferior because of my age. But, no. This is still our fight and our experience.
So, to my own personal queer Jesus’s, I thank you. You helped me through the airwaves, on the dance floor, on the streets AND in the sheets to be who I am. Breeders, dykes, faggots, drag queens, trans and cis – queers. As an adult I see you on the internet, on the race course, from the pulpit… You all help me to learn who I am and I so hope I am returning the favor.