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. 


Where are our mentors?

I’ve often heard people talk about so many of our mentors being dead. I have to admit that sometimes I’ve dismissed those assertions as hyperbole – people just exaggerating reality to match the pain in our hearts.

I did some Googling and found out that our feelings are – at least in this case – are supported by actual facts. Our mentors and my contemporaries are just gone – wiped out by an incomprehensible plague.

The CDC says that there have been 636,000 US deaths from AIDS – a great majority of them happening over a ten year period.
Factor into that – that nearly all of those deaths were gay men – and you start to get a sense of exactly how devastating this loss is to our sliver of the rainbow.

But really, how many people is that? I looked up the populations of West Hollywood, the Hollywood District, the Silverlake District, Beverly Hills, Culver City, North Hollywood, and Malibu.

Their total populations are 321, 933 – only half the number of people killed by AIDS.

I kept Googling.

According to Wikipedia:World War II = 418,500 US deaths.Vietnam = 58,000 US deaths.Iraq & Afghanistan = 6,717 US deaths.
That’s 483,217 total US deaths from war – still significantly less than the loss we’ve suffered from AIDS.

A paralyzing fact that we as gay men must grapple with, is that many of our gay mentors are dead. It’s not a theory. It’s a reality – a reality that is just one more challenge for us as a people.

Add to that reality another fact we don’t seem to want to talk about – those of us that are still alive are walking wounded. We’re veterans of a plague that killed more people than Vietnam, World War II, and the Gulf wars combined.

And yet we have no VA to tend to our psychological wounds.

Rick, it is heartening to hear your desire for mentorship. We want to do it. And being of use to you will undoubtedly help us heal some very serious wounds we are carrying.
In addition to mentoring the youth, we need to heal the veterans.

We are missing our mentors too. We are missing our contemporaries. We are jealous watching you grow into adulthood with ALL of your friends by your side who will be there twenty years from now. Friends you will be able to talk to over brunch and reminisce about all the crazy times you had together when you were young, divinely stupid, and more beautiful than you knew.
I believe that mentoring the young adults and healing the elders can happen simultaneously.

We already love you. You’ll learn to love us.

You remind us of ourselves and those men we have lost that we wish we could introduce you to. Even though you will never be able to understand what it was like to an AIDS Vets any more than we can understand what it was to be a Gulf War Vet, you can help us help you.

You can help us by listening to our long stories and letting us give you more advice than you want to hear. You’ll help your elders heal our horrifying past. In in that exchange, you’ll learn from your tribal elders how to build on our stellar successes so that you can surpass all our monumental achievements.