Drama Club: Hiding my secrets had its advantages

Inside my new memoirDrama Club  

In 1980, when I was 15 years old, I begged my parents to let me go work on a plantation for six months. Of course I did, I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming where there was snow on the ground for months at a time. The pineapple plantation was located on Maui. What’s the down side?  

My parents said yes and I learned a lot about hard work, leadership, and how hiding my secrets had its advantages.

These photos show us picking and planting pineapple and me participating in one of the many competitive activities they created for us.

Buy the book here.

Drama Club: A kiss that saved my life

Inside my new memoirDrama Club  

During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, Bart and I attended a ballroom dance camp held on the campus of BYU. In our shared dorm room, my life realigned after our first kiss and I no longer had thoughts of killing myself.

Only two months earlier another boy had my heart soaring through joy filled fantasies of a perfect future together. “You look like Superman,” I said looking directly into Bart’s eyes as we lay facing one another on a tiny dorm room bed. We were dressed and ready to head out to dinner with our ballroom dance teammates, but had found we shared more in common than our fashion sense. “Shut up!” He giggled, looking away, and just as quickly turning his face back to mine. Our eyes stayed locked together. I heard the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. The smell of his Polo cologne was intoxicating, and our knees were touching sending bursts of passion through my entire body. 

When he stopped smiling, panic gripped me. Was he going to freak out? And then, as if we were two celestial bodies caught in each other’s gravity, we moved together and kissed. Our lips touched, and a surge of truth and ecstasy rushed into me. The kiss that was supposed to be so wrong simply wasn’t, and if it was wrong, it was worth risking everything.” 

These photos were taken in the wedding reception hall we used for ballroom dance rehearsals in the Pocatello. Bart is in the Micky Mouse shirt and I’ve forgotten the names of two girls. 

The pain many of us elite liberals are ignoring

A Trump presidency has exposed the pain and humiliation of million’s of working people’s unfulfilled American dream. This thought provoking article, written in October 2016, explains how we got here as a nation and suggests some “respectful confrontation” to move us forward. I LOVE that this is not an us vs. them article. The author suggests that Trump’s nomination was a wake-up call to help us face an ugliness of American values, embraced by both the right AND the left, that must be confronted.
In my opinion and maybe the article’s author as well, the ugliness that must be corrected is a shift in American values:
We moved from worshiping love and character to worshiping fame and money.
We moved from being citizens to being consumers (the man with the most toys wins – why isn’t it the man who has provided the most service to his family and community?)
We moved from celebrating character (a man who will help you harvest your crops or stay to true to his word) to celebrating personality (a man who will tell you what you want to hear and be the life of the party)
We moved from identifying with our values to identifying with our possessions.
I’ve used the male pronoun because, as a white man, even if I’m a gay liberal white man, I can empathize with the pain many of us elite liberals are ignoring.

Drama Club: HE WORE A DRESS!

Inside my new memoirDrama Club  
In 1982, a 50s theme school dance was embraced whole heartedly by our crew of high school drama kids. Always looking for ways to push the envelope, we did a couple of things off script.  
First, Michael Marriott wore a dress. HE WORE A DRESS! I was shocked and confused that his offering was received with sustained enthusiasm. It was triumph over Idaho masculine ideals that taught me a lesson about confronting societal norms 
Second, our group didn’t pair off into couples for the standard school dance photo. We were a unit. We expressed our crew camaraderie by crowding every one of us into the little photo op vignette. It was a bit of performance art to celebrate our common otherness 
Michael is bottom left, my high school prom date Angela is perched in the top right hand corner, Kelly Sanders is top center in the red sweater and I’m bottom center in the white t-shirt. Geeta, our class valedictorian and only person of color that I can remember at either Pocatello High or Highland High (a sum total of all schools in our town) is on Kelly’s left. 
Somehow Bart is missing from this photo, but I’m certain he was on my mind.  

Drama Club: He loved and protected me

My stepmom called me from Idaho to give me the news of R.L.’s death from a brain tumor. She didn’t know who R.L. was, or why his mom had called her and asked her to share one of R.L’s dying wishes with me, but my mom obliged the request. Standing next to the phone (they were all land lines in 1985) in San Diego I received the news that my mentor of six years was gone.
When other men would not talk to me, I’m guessing because I was so young and therefore illegalR.L. shed light on the realities of life for gay men in the late 70s and early 80s. The law, STDs, and queer vocabulary were just some of the subjects he coveredHe was a mentor, a lover, a Wikipedia of information. I needed all of it to mitigate the risks of navigating the secret world I’d found by reading the writing on the walls of public bathrooms.

He loved and protected me. I loved him and broke his heart. He continued to love me anyway. He hosted me for a secret three day stay in Cheyenne so that I could attend my first Gay Pride March in Denver Colorado, before rendezvousing with my non-gay friends in Cheyenne. 

This photo was taken then. It shows the hubris of youth; the admiration and concern of experience. I learned about my own selfishness that weekend. With love, R.L. pointed out how unattractive it can be. He softened the lessons I had to learn in the School of Hard Knocks. And for that, I will be forever grateful.  

More experiences with R.L. are in my book new book Drama Club. 

Drama Club: Message in a bottle

Why do I write? The question becomes really important now that three copies of my memoir are setting on my parent’s porch. One for mom, one for dad, and one for my sister Candra. A book cover with two boys kissing in front of the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple. All the details I’d hidden from my family during high school – details about love and sex that have been only half-explained over the years are now in print ready for them to peruse 

How will they react? Will it embarrass them, make them proud, or some mixture of each? Since they are in it, I wanted them to see it before the rest of the world starts reading it.  

As if the rest of the world is going to read it. There’s that too. More fear. The fear that no one will want to read it.   

So why do I write? One word: survival.  

It was a solace when I was a teenager and continued through the tough years of my young adulthood. Putting pen to paper (that’s what we did back then) conjured magic. The angst inside my heart became lighter as words fell from my pen onto the paper. I felt legitimized and relevant. It was a message in a bottle to a distant future, a place where people were allowed to love who they love and be honored for expressing their passions for art and beauty. 

The message made it. I’m here. And after a phone call to my parents letting them know the books are waiting for them – even as they drive back from their time working in their local Temple – I know, and more importantly, I feel the unconditional love I had hoped against hope would be found if I just wrote it all down. Let’s hope they feel the same way after they’ve read it.  

Trump is President – We’ve Been Through Worse

For my LGBT family and allies:

Like the chaos created by the Kennedy assassinations, 9/11, and AIDS, the world around us has fundamentally changed because of this election. We will forever talk about the way life was like before the Trump Presidency. Years from now you’ll most likely be telling the young gays in your life what life was like before Trump, what you did to fight the right wing attacks on our community during his presidency, and how we prevailed in the end. 

Yes, I really believe that. 

I’m a 51 year old gay man, so I’ve seen a lot of stuff. If you’re lucky enough to be LGBT, or an ally, you can rest assured that your queer DNA has the strength, intelligence, and resources to face whatever is coming our way. 

Read that again. It’s fucking true. 

Your queer family tree is bursting with wonderful examples of strength. Let the history of your forbearers fortify your confidence

Under fire, our diversity bonds together elements to give us superhero-like capabilities. Back in the 90’s one of our religious enemies lamented, “If we do nothing they come out. When we fight them they come out screaming.” Pressure has a great way of helping us make good choices for our gay selves. 

For those of you who have never had to fight for your LGBT rights, I’m sorry for what is most likely coming your way. Really, it saddens and angers me. Your elder gays did not want you to be faced with the threat of legitimized bigotry, hate, and violence. We were hoping you’d be spending all your time doing something other than fighting the government. 

We thought maybe you’d be hosting fabulous brunches, choosing the perfect outfit to wear to a party, and growing old with your husband. Or maybe you’d be curating queer history, building community centers for queer youth and queer seniors, or maybe you’d be running for President. 

But we’re here instead. Who says we can’t do it all? In fact, fighting the fight has led us to where we are today.

If it wasn’t for gay men dying horrible AIDS deaths while the world watched, the consciousness of the nation most likely would not have expanded as rapidly as it did. Queers would not have invested as heavily in our political organizations and our LGBT centers. We most likely would not have same sex marriage, beds for homeless youth, or the respect we actually do enjoy, even if it’s given begrudgingly. 

Take a look. Here are some pictures I took when we were pissed about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993. We were some pissed off queens! And rallies like this became a regular occurrence. This was after we rallied for ten days straight, both here in in San Francisco, against Governor Pete Wilson for equal protection at work. All the rallies in this intersection are the reason Councilmember John Duran has often suggested we mark this intersection a historical monument. Perhaps it will become active once again and we can revisit that thought?

Here’s what they almost never tell you about what it’s like fighting for your liberty: It can be scary, but it’s often really fun and centering. You meet good people, many of whom are sexy as hell, and you make the world, YOUR world, a better place for you and those who come behind you. 

Check out the boy in the “Fight Back Mary” t-shirt carrying the “ANGRY FAG” sign. I always wondered what happened to him…

Today we are sad, angry, and grieving the outcome of this election. But we are even stronger today than we were when we took on AIDS, Regan, Jerry Farwell, the CDC, the FDA, and many others. We have the experience of our elders and the energy of our youth to draw upon. We are uniquely qualified and naturally inclined to face this. 

Take all the time you need to honor your grief, feel your anger, and release your sadness. There is work to do. It will be hard, but you will also cherish the experience. And when it’s over, and we no longer fighting, you may long for a young gay who is willing to hear the story of how you fought and won.

Gay Political Empathy

TRIBE Thoughts

Once the room is organized and a sign is posted on the sliding glass entry door inviting men to “come in”, the room we meet in for the monthly TRIBE Gay Men’s Discussion Group always feels to me like sacred space. We come in from the common world, a culture that generally is not focused on our interests and come into an uncommon space, one where most of the people in the room mirror our identity back to us.
It’s like a ship at sea ferrying us from point A to point B where, for an ephemeral span of time we enjoy being the dominant culture, speaking in our own idioms of shared humor, hopes, and fears.
Fifteen men started watching the live debate at 6pm and by the time the discussion started ninety minutes later we had nearly thirty men in the room.  
This group was decidedly pro Hillary. No surprise. And everyone was fairly happy with their favorite’s performance in the debate. The tenor of the TRIBE discussion regarding Trump was not simply against his policies, it was seriously fearful of the country’s ability to survive his presidency and their own personal safety as gay men should he be elected president.
While no one in the room admitted to being a republican or pro-Trump, one man did share his dilemma of meeting a sexy guy with a great ass that he’d like to see again even though Sexy Ass was voting for Trump. He asked for advice on reaching this guy. Not only did he think this guy was hot, but he also thought we should find a way to reach people on the other side rather than mark them as unredeemable and cut them out of our lives.
Sex, or even just the promise of it, obviously has the capacity to open people minds. I think this is one of the reasons why gay men are generally more empathetic than our heterosexual counterparts. Since gay men are born into every demographic conceivable, and we eventually look for connection in a relatively small pool of options, we need to become amenable to men of different class, race, religion, and maybe even political background. Or go without sex. What do you think most men do in that situation?
We also talked about the political “gay agenda”. To some it seems to have evaporated. “I went to a big fundraiser and all of the focus is was on transgender rights, which I support, but no one seems to have a vision for gay Americans after we’ve achieved legal equality.” Our institutions that once championed “gay rights” now maintain a self-conscious silence regarding the future of gay men’s culture.
I was just happy to be in a room full with men who get me. Even the ones I’d just met that night understand me in a way my non-gay friends and non-gay family ever can. We laughed, we listened, and we took each other’s fears seriously. Much was discussed. Many hugs were shared. And when we departed our sacred space, we went back into the larger world a little bit stronger and a little more at peace than when we’d arrived. 

Group Thoughts on Intimacy

Last night, twenty-five gay men gathered for the monthly TRIBE Gay Men’s Discussion group to discussion intimacy. Enthusiasm was high in the room and several discussions started on their own before the meeting even started. Maybe it was the fact that we were back from a two month break so we could attend the two Pride meetings held next door during our regular time slot. But I think it was the topic. Many regulars who have been coming for years and some brand new faces were all very eager to dive into a topic men are often accused of avoiding. 

TRIBE is more of a passionate think tank than anything else. It’s decidedly not a therapy group and we do not bring in “experts” to lead the discussion. My role as facilitator (along with my co-facilitator Brendan Rome) is to offer a space where these men can transform experience into wisdom, share differing lifestyle choices as options for other men to try on, and open up to each other so they might solidify their internal dignity and confidently lead a joyful existence. That’s a tall order. Why not aim high? Time and time again these men have met the challenge. They have taken the risk of exposing their vulnerabilities, doubts, and observations. They have vigorously, but respectfully, disagreed. Over the years and particularly last night, these man have grown both individually and as a tribe. 

Identifying what intimacy means was a slippery bugger to pin down. After listening and sharing a bit, I came to the conclusion that intimacy is about lowering barriers between me and the person I want to become intimate with. It’s about me making a commitment to another person to be there for them when they show me who they really are. It’s way of being in the world that can be antithetical to the Hollywood and consumer culture we find ourselves in today. But if we make a conscious decision to focus on our what we really want, it’s still possible. 

What I heard, were stories of successful and failed attempts to get closer to other people, how intimacy extends to many kinds of people in our lives and not just the ones we have sex with. That in gay culture, sex can lead to intimacy, and on rarer occasions intimacy can lead to sex. 

What I felt in the room was an open and honest desire to dive deeper, to honor our desire for connection and take the risks necessary to get there. With that intention was set, something wonderful happened. I had a feeling. 

I’m not sure if it was intimate, but I do know love was in the air.

Side note: We’ve been calling our gay men’s gathering “TRIBE” long before we knew another local organization was using a similar name. 

Dad no longer on death’s door

At least we know he’s out of immediate danger. Dad is looking and sounding much better. 

Or have I just gotten too immersed in the sterile and ill environment of the hospital fugue? Has my objectivity been compromised by sitting in his hospital room with my mom for three days?

No. It’s true. He’s better and no longer flirting with the keeper of death’s door. He’s with us and will likely be leaving the hospital soon. 

How did this happen? What caused my father’s lung to collapse and thoracic cavity to fill with so much fluid that it needed to be drained with tubes inserted into his chest and his back for more than a week? The four doctors working on his case don’t know. They only know that he’s getting better and doesn’t need emergency surgery. That he will most likely be home soon. 

I board the airplane home to West Hollywood in the morning twilight with guarded optimism. I’m grateful for this time with my dad and the wonderful demeanor of my mom and my sister and her wonderful family. The Gerle and Grider tribe is one I’m resolutely proud to be a member of. 

Hello LA. Hello home. I know you’ll understand when I tell you that a big part of my heart is anchored here in the green rain drenched floor of the fly over states.