Dear Young Gay Men

Dear Young Gay Men,

Believe it or not, there those of us over 50 who look at and view you with great pride. Why? Because we know what we marched for, struggled for, were beaten down for and for those we watched die, are the ones who paved the way for the open life you currently get to live. We fought very hard to get to this point in our gay history and you are a proud product of that battle. We are very proud of you.

You know, I can remember going to my first gay bar in 1985. It was a small bar in Cape Girardeau, MO. My first night in a gay bar they had to lock and barricade the front door of the bar because it was being surrounded by angry, straight, redneck, white men who did not want a gay bar in their town and were willing to take whatever steps necessary to make sure it would go away. Southern Missouri is Klan country and it was an eye opening experience and lesson on what it meant to be gay in middle Missouri.

I can remember the heart sinking feeling I felt when I saw the first spot of KS on the leg of a friend and knowing exactly what that meant. I can remember my other friend squeezing my arm and whispering, “Oh my God. He is sick.” In those days, you kept your status as quiet as possible until it was no longer possible to keep it quiet. I was one of the lucky ones who remained and still is negative, but many of my close friends were not that lucky. We saw a whole generation of our friends die because they did have the ability to become undetectable or Prep to help prevent it in the first damn place. You got it and you died. It was that simple. You know, it got to a point where I could hug someone and instantly know if they were sick. There was this heat which would emanate from their bodies. It was also a very sad thing to look into the eyes of someone you knew and knowing they would not be around for long. I learned a lot about bravery and grace in the face of death from my dying friends. Their faces and stories stick with me still today.

The things you would witness and the stories you would hear were truly terrifying. Have you ever driven past a house spray painted with the words, “AIDS FAG DIE,” well I have and within that house was someone very sick and dying. I can remember someone getting hit by a car in front one of the bars and no one wanting to touch the dying boy because of the blood. All gays were considered untouchable just in case you might have it whether you did or not. You were sick until proven otherwise. We even heard stories about hospital workers who would avoid patients completely who were dying. Many times friends would be caring for them under the direction of those who refused. We heard stories of families who could not find funeral homes to handle the remains of their loved ones. Bodies were buried sometimes in secret locations or worse. Many of the times the families did not want to have anything to do with their dead child in much the same way they did when they were alive. Sometimes the only people we could trust or cling to during this time was each other and we did the best we could for those who needed us.

I can remember hearing daily on the nightly news how we were the scourge of the earth and we were dying  because that is what we deserve. We were told daily it was God’s revenge we were dying in mass. God was killing us. Most of you would have no clue who Anita Bryant is or even Jerry Falwell, but for us those names signify the worst forms of hate. Those early years were the worst. Everywhere we turned we were being called deviant, evil, cursed, and unnatural.

Of course, we battled much more than just the plague. The idea we would somehow be able to marry was a dream which none of us saw being a reality. Most of the time a partner could not even be in the room with his dying partner if the family wished to keep him out. May surviving partners had to deal with being less than in the life of their most important relationship. Insurance did not recognize the partnership and you could forget collecting death benefits which left many surviving partners, grieving, alone, and struggling.

The idea of seeing a gay couple in a television commercial was out of the question. Gay film in the most innocent form was considered scandalous and controversial. There were very few out gay celebrities. Most of the times we heard about them being gay after their death from AIDS. We had very little gay examples. But we had our Judy, Liza, Bette, Madonna, and Cher. They are the ones who helped them escape the madness of our reality.

We were not able to have children and if you did have children you had better not let anyone know you were gay because those children would be taken away without question or consideration. So many of us raised our children by ourselves and in silence. We were not able raise our children as out gay men and that means adoption was also out of the question. Those of us who did raise children where the true pioneers. We fought numerous battles to raise our children and we lived in constant fear of them being taken away from us. This means many of us had hidden relationships or simply none at all.

I came out at 29 and now I am 54. I remember those dark days clearly. Then I see you with your partners holding hands, getting married, or playing with your children in the open together and I feel pride because we have come a long way. Bu, sadly the fight is far from over. We have to continue to fight to preserve what we have gained. We have to continue fight for what we still need to achieve. It is not going to be easy. The point here is, you younger guys need to stop and remember what we came through to get here.You cannot take anything for granted because there are forces who would rip it away in a second if they could. Trust me they are trying to do just that.

Now you may say, it is just another Old Queen bitching at us, but honestly that is not the case at all. I am telling you this because it is becoming more apparent that your time to fight could be just ahead when you look at the state of the world and where it is headed. I am afraid for your future and it seems that this struggle is going to continue and you are going to need to fight. The time for our equal marriage celebration could very well be over.

You cannot be silent. You cannot run away and hide. You are going to need to take to the streets and believe me when I tell that can be a very scary place to be. But you would understand this if you had marched or attended a Pride Parade in some of those early years. During those years, Pride was shown on the news as a horror and not something which should or could be celebrated. That is okay because you have us. We will stand beside you and if you will listen, we will help to show you the way. We have been here before. We know how it all works. Activism is a long road and it is tiring road, but it is required of each and every single one of us. It is your ticket to the show. It is the price we must pay as gay men.

So don’t roll your eyes at the older person who might say hello or try to discuss things with you because the truth is if it were not for them your life would be very, very different today. Oh, and by the way, not all of us want to date younger guys. Most of us are way over the drama and chaos which comes with the younger crowd. Seriously, we do not want to have to explain the beauty of Chaka Kahn and Sylvester over and over again. If you do not know how Sylvester makes you feel then chances are you are wrong for one of us. We like our men mighty real.

The point is, we older gay men are settled in who we are and our relationships. We can be your friend. In fact, would be happy to call your friend. BUT, don’t assume we want more from you than friendship because in most cases we really don’t. We have had enough to deal with in life not to have to deal with your daddy issues. Oh, and by the way, take a good hard look at us because this is exactly how you are going to look in 30 or more years. That is right. Like it or not you are going to age too. So show us some fucking respect. Besides, most of us bitchy old queens could run circles around your muscle bound asses in the gym because at this age we have learned the importance of cardio. Why do you think we are still alive?

Take care of yourselves and understand we are all in this together. We are here for you if you need us and always remember silence does equal death. Never forget those who came before.

 

Today We Remember

Today is World Aids Day. This is one of the most somber and reflective days of the year for those of us who are LBGTQ. It is hard not to think of all the people we lost through the years to this horrible scourge and plague.

It was not easy coming of age in the early years of the plague. There was a sense of anger at the world which would turn their heads away and those who used the disease as an excuse to further their agendas of hate against us. I can remember feeling as if some way I was not as valuable as my straight counterparts. I found myself being afraid to love and awfully guilty at those times when I did.  I can remember standing and watching in horror as my friends died one by one for nothing more than doing what was natural and what they were wired to do and be.

Working in the entertainment industry at the time it felt as if I was standing within the epicenter of death. There was this sense we had all been given a death sentence as we watched those close to us die one by one. It is hard to relive those memories. We witnessed the death of a whole generation of gay men from the front lines. I can remember hugging someone and feeling the heat radiating from their bodies and you just knew at that moment something horrible was brewing within them. I can remember looking at a very close friend and seeing the large purple mark they were trying to hide which was forming on their thigh. I understood what that mark meant because I had seen it many times before. I watched as a friend of mine wasted away in high school. A high school kid who at one moment who was healthy and happy. Very quickly that changed and I watched as they withered away to nothing and died.

It was hard not to feel some type of survivor’s guilt at the time. It was no different than feeling guilty for being the one to survive  some type of disaster. The guilt of survival and the nagging question of why you were surviving and they were not ate slowly away at your soul. I had a friend dying of Aids once tell me, “It is true that I am dying, but the person I feel the most sorry for is you. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. But you, I feel sorry for you because your curse is going to be standing by and watching all of us die. You are the one cursed for outliving us all.” The honesty and the horror of the statement still haunts me and on this day it haunts me even more when I remember all of those young beautiful people who are no longer with us for doing nothing more than loving one another.

The other day, I had posted something about Aids on my social media. Like with anything on social media you are subjected to the thoughts of others even when they differ from your own. It is a heavy price at times to pay for participation and at times it is helps your own ideas grow. However, someone decided to post something which disgusted me completely. Once again it reminded me of the ignorance and discrimination which still, after all of these years, continues to revolve around HIV. They said, “Aids was not real. It was nothing more than a made up story to further a gay political agenda.” I was furious when I saw it because for something which was supposedly fabricated that fabrication took a whole lot of my friends way before their time. I found not only the ignorance of the statement unbelievable but it also struck me just how dangerous this thinking was. I have to tell you that it felt like an attack. It amazes me that still this type of thinking is out there. The idea that it is not real or just a gay thing. Dammit is not just a gay thing. HIV is one thing which has never discriminated. It is a mutually transmitted disease among all races and sexual preferences.

Can you imagine what it was like in those early years hearing every time you turned on the television and radio the one thing you could not control was a damnation from God? I use to think how was it possible for my God to damn me for being who I was and just wanting to find someone to love and to be loved in return? Day after day we were told by the world we were not worth the concern and this was nature’s way of eliminating our sinful souls. I can remember watching in horror as people in our government stated the most vile and hateful things about us. I would secretly hide in the bathroom searching for any sign of the plague getting ready to end my sinful existence because I just watched a new horrifying report on television depicting the dying. They would refuse to bury us when we died.   We would walk into our clubs and you would see the infected hiding in the dark corners because we were even afraid of those like us. To see them up close meant we had to deal with the reality that it could actually happen to each of us. Those were truly the nightmare days. Those days were riddled with fear and this feeling like any moment it all was going to fall apart on a very personal level.

This past week, I saw an article stating there might finally be a vaccine which would put the final nail in the HIV coffin. The memory of the final scene of the film, Longtime Companion, came to mind. The scene was a fantasy scene depicting a time when a cure was found and the characters basically were able to walk away hand in hand leaving the disease and death behind them. If the human actually worked that way. I would love to live to see the day where there is no more HIV in this world, but the horrors of it will always be part of our hearts and memories. Nothing will erase that sadness.  Until the cure finally happens, we must continue to march on to fight this together. No one can really explain why some  of us survived while others didn’t.  However,  the one thing which remains is we have a right and responsibility to those we lost. We must tell their stories and to continue this fight in their memory. Their strength and bravery is something which should never be lost or forgotten.

Today I remember them and I would hope you would do the same. I miss them and I loved them all.