When I was a little boy I wanted to play with the girls, not the boys. I preferred playing house to cars and kickball. In elementary school when we lined up to choose teams for basketball I was always picked last. My baseball coach screamed at me for closing my eyes when the ball came at me. I bit my fingernails so badly that when the other boys through me the ball, during passing drills at basketball practice, my fingers bled. Many days just the knowing that basketball practice was looming made me so anxious that I’d get sick and end up in the nurse’s office – and with any luck, sent home.
On the farm I preferred to stay at the house and help Grandma to being out with Grandpa and my uncles in the fields. I’d do whatever I could to make that seem like the logical choice. My uncles would call me “little Suzy homemaker”.
When I was 11 years old I saw a naked boy (that wasn’t one of my brothers) for the first time and my gaze was transfixed. I remember being paranoid that someone might have seen my looking. I didn’t mean to look, but I couldn’t seem to stop the urge to do so. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want to do it. I was so confused and yet there was some part of me that felt happy, excited and wanted to talk about it. Of course that was not an option. Pretty much from that day forward I knew I was somehow different.
At 13 I had my first, and only, hunting experience. My grandpa took me out into the woods with a rifle and a bird dog. The dog scared up a bunch of quail and my grandpa yelled “shoot!”, so I raised the rifle and pulled the trigger. The kickback knocked me to the ground – flat out on my back and nearly took my chin and shoulder off in the process. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my young life. The one saving grace is that I didn’t hit anything. (I haven’t touched a gun since and never will – I don’t see a need for anyone to have one anywhere, anytime for any reason, ever. Done.)
From about 13 to 18, I would frequently use the bathroom in my parent’s bedroom because my Dad kept his Bible on the back of the toilet. I knew the location of all the verses that condemn what I knew I was – a homosexual – an abomination, damned to hell. I would read them and berate myself – I didn’t know what flogging was at the time, but it was the equivalent of emotional flogging. I would swear that I would change. I would ask Jesus to help me change. And then I’d walk out of the bathroom hoping to be changed. It never happened.
As if my fascination with figure skating, The Sound of Music, and International Male magazine weren’t enough, at 16 Molly Ringwald became my great hope. “Sixteen Candles” rocked my world. I was crazy attracted to Jake Ryan and I’d rewind the last couple minutes and watch them over and over again dreaming of being Molly Ringwald (only still me, a boy). I pretended to be nuts about her to try and make my behavior acceptable, which wasn’t an easy sell because a pale freckly red head was not all the rage with my friends or brothers.
Growing up I had absolutely NO reference point. The only gay exposure I had was a brief flash of the New York City Pride Parade, on a channel that was promptly changed. What I saw, mostly drag queens, scared me big time and didn’t seem like me. And then there was Greg Louganis busting his head during a dive at the Olympics and the accompanying HIV/AIDS paranoia, but I was 16 and that seemed remote – and again scary. It wasn’t talked about in our Southern Indiana community and if it was it was something like “faggot deserves to die, it’s God’s will”.
I went through periods of disliking myself to the point of contemplating suicide, constantly wondering if anyone could “tell”, hating my big red hair and my skinny body so much that I was afraid to go outside. There was a time when it would take me hours to convince myself to leave my home just to go for groceries and when I did constantly feeling like everyone was looking at me and thinking how gay and ugly I was.
At Purdue – one of the straightest places in America in the early ‘90s – I rewrote the narrative. I told myself that I’d find my Molly Ringwald there and for more than three years, I thought I did. I worked hard to push the “perverse” thoughts out of my head and do what was expected of me – and nearly hurt someone I love very much in the process. But, I thought I was saved, for a while I actually thought the “phase” was behind me.
My mind control rewrite had one major flaw – it was a big fat lie. I have been gay since the day I was born, I’d say even before that. For at least 12 years I had been stuck inside my head with no one to talk to, no one to share what was really happening, no one to hold me when I hurt.
At 23 I laid eyes on a man that sent a thunderbolt through me. Then and there, on the spot, I knew it meant there was no going back. I wrecked my car twice that week….
The ten years that followed were filled with discovery, new experiences, love, heartache, love again, more heartache, New York City, world travel, drugs, physical and emotional abuse, recovery, Buddhism, healing, celebration, yoga, meeting the one who would stick by me, and the beginning of being able to accept myself for what I AM. You know, life.
So, as I settled into the backseat of a Marati sedan to be driven from Mysore to Bangalore earlier this month, I put on my headphones, brought up Spotify and began to listen to music that my good friend Michael Joel Hall had sent me the night before. Music created by a mutual friend and all around badass – Pamela Xing. It starts off with a sample of our illustrious President (insert facetiousness), Donald Trump, talking about trying to fuck a married woman and grabbing her pussy – you know the one (yes, that’s right, the President of the United States of America – you know, the one the “Christians” voted for – give me a break, this man is the furthest thing from Christian on the planet). Then comes samples of amazing women – Ashley Judd and Hillary Clinton – inspiring with their words and resisting his, and that of all men and their long history of oppression.
I kept listening, goosebumps on goosebumps. Then, the 3rd track came on and I heard:
I’ve been silent in this tower locked away
I’m so sick of playing good boy with this forced smile on my face
Now, I’m a fucking soldier, marching through these streets
I’m a flame that keeps on burning putting out the weak that shut me down
No, you will never keep me down
NO, you can’t stop me!
I’m fighting for my generation!
I’m not a fault of God’s creation!
I’m not some group they’re rioting for…
NO, you can’t stop me!
I’m not a blight upon the nation!
I’m not some sick abomination!
I’m not the demon in your head!
*(Leather + Sushi – “You Can’t Stop Me” – from the EP “She Persisted”)
I was blown away! WOKE! I felt like she was speaking for me. To me. I felt like ripping my clothes off, jumping on the back of a motorcycle and driving around the world with this song wailing as loud as it will go!
You see, we’re ALL fucked up in our own special way — and that’s OK. Deep down each and every one of us carries this flame that keeps on burning – and it is PERFECT. It is Buddha nature. It is Krishna consciousness. It is Jesus’ love. It is Muhammad’s wisdom. It is cosmic consciousness. It is all those things. We just need to remember, accept and RESPECT.
In the words of Ashley Judd, “WE ARE HERE TO BE RESPECTED! WE ARE HERE TO BE NASTY!” (In the best way possible).
Thank you Pam. Thank you.
There were ups and downs, but almost always, the ups were supported by the strength and encouragement of a woman. For that – Regina, Johnna, Missy, Tracie, Erika, Lora, Nancy, Kelly, Amy, Beth, Lucy, Stover, Quick, Michelle, Rebecca, Sabrina, Sarah, Carolyn, Shannon, Kelly, Sharon, Becky, Jill, Alanna, Jessica, Andrea, Kendyll, Brit, Deb, Marni, Liz, Lizandra, Joanna and Jen and my Lola – you’re always with me and I am grateful. If it weren’t for your unconditional support at various points in my life, I might not be here today.
Even today, I’m struggling with sharing this, afraid that I will hurt some that I love very much. If you’re in that category, please know, I’m not sharing this to hurt anyone. I’m sharing it because it’s my truth and in some way I’m hoping it will open up conversations that would benefit us, maybe even bring a bit more love and understanding into the world and maybe somehow sharing my struggle will help lessen someone elses. And I’m sharing this in tribute to the strength of women everywhere.