Queer Envy (a lament)

TdanceBSlip Just back from our anniversary long-weekend in Provincetown, it is obvious that I am no longer young, For that I am grateful–for the most part. In my late teens and early twenties it was a struggle dealing with my sexuality. Those times in my life I have never longed to repeat. Much of it was just too damn difficult and painful. It wasn’t that I wanted to be straight, I simply didn’t know how to incorporate gay into my being. My move to NYC on the eve of my twenty-third birthday made accepting my homosexuality easier. Leaving home and my past behind enabled me to embrace it head-on. I jumped in with both feet, and over time grew comfortable in my skin. Lately, just a few days in Ptown serves to recharge my batteries. It’s invigorating to spend time in a place where population percentages are nearly reversed. But since back, I’ve discovered I may be suffering from Queer Envy. I would like the chance to come out–all over again, now in 2015.

It wasn’t exactly the Stone Age when I came out, but in comparison to today’s world, it was truly another era. Queer was a pejorative then, used by ignorant people, that instantly made my skin crawl while my stomach turned inside out. Gay was still a word which fumbled out of my mouth only after an embarrassingly awkward pause–every single time. Now I sort of fancy referring to myself as queer. And like gay, it has lost its original meaning. Nothing odd about me; I’m just as normal as everybody else.

So why then, this sudden urge to revisit my coming out? Because, (in the cinematic terms of five-year-old-me), “We’re just getting to the good part of the movie, and you’re gonna’ make me go to bed?” Selfishly, I want to see how it’s all going to end. A foolish part of me fantasizes that if I came out today, I could buy another thirty or forty years, and be even more amazed than I already am. How my world has changed.

We came back to our guesthouse where we were staying, after a late dinner on Saturday night in Ptown. Two guys in their early thirties were watching Netflix on the flat screen in the TV room. They were streaming Grace and Frankie, the first episode which I had already seen. As all of us laughed at some of the filthiest lines, I flashed back to a young, very brown-haired Martin Sheen the first time he portrayed a gay man in a 1972 made-for-TV movie That Certain Summer. Then I was with a group of friends, all of us nervously anticipating a movie about two homosexual men on network television. I knew it would also be on the TV set of my Mom and Dad–probably most of my family. What would they think? My gay friends and I watched anxiously, speaking during commercials only. What would this mean for us now that America was watching two men in love and committed to one another? The guys in the guesthouse sat un-phased at the flat-screen. And why shouldn’t they be? They’d been weaned on eight seasons of Will and Grace. This was just another TV show that could also be watched on their telephone.

The differences between them and me are much bigger than that. They could have belonged to a Gay/Straight Alliances in their high school, though I doubt even they were able to take a guy to the prom. Their parents’ were Baby Boomers, and a great deal more accepting than mine–although coming out is never easy for most, it seems. I wonder how many commitment ceremonies and same-sex marriages they’ve already attended in their lifetimes. They still go out clubbing, but now in most cities they don’t frequent gay clubs. They opt instead for the trendiest, most popular places, where EVERYBODY is going, because they can dance together just about anywhere they want.

But do they get the same feeling I do, when I use a Harvey Milk stamp? Is Edie Windsor a hero to them too, or just an image they remember from Facebook? Have they read the entire Tales of the City series and do they get a little weepy or have a lump in their throat watching a Pride parade? Are they also holding their breath until the Supreme Court rules? I’d like to hope so, but we do live in different worlds. Maybe it’s better to put my Queer Envy aside, and just see how much longer I can ride this puppy out on my own.




Educating Matthew


My alma mater called last week to update my contact information, and to ask for a contribution to a special scholarship fund. The whole phone conversation hadn’t lasted more than five minutes, yet I got a follow-up video email from the student I spoke with, thanking me for my donation and for taking the time to chat about my experience there. It was one of those truly rare telephone solicitations where I actually felt good afterwards. The call made me realize I’d nearly forgotten an important anniversary that was fast approaching. In May, it will be twenty-five years since I graduated. I was forty-years old before I finally finished my B.A.

Historically speaking, Kent State was where I went to college and did all those wonderful things you were compelled to do as a student in the late 60s/early 70s: drink every kind of booze that comes your way, stay up all night (most nights), smoke pot, have sex–and if there’s any time left, attend the occasional class. This is what I did at Kent for four years, enrolled as a full-time student. Plus I was immersed to the ear lobes in theatre, rehearsing, working tech and performing in no less than two shows each semester. At the end of my four-year stint, I was thirty-plus credits shy of graduation. That would have meant another full year of studies. “I’m going to be an actor,” I told my parents. “Who needs a diploma to be famous?”  I left college and Ohio sans degree. But what I had in hand was the blueprint from which I would live my life for nearly the next two decades.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is the school where adult me earned my diploma, a reward for attending classes, studying and applying myself. After weathering a series of failed careers, I fumbled my way through the transition from New York City wannabe actor to a gay Everyman of sorts, who had re-established himself in New England. In a sort of last-ditch effort, I chose to revisit my high school career plan of becoming an English teacher. All I needed to do was request my KSU transcript from fifteen years prior, apply to UMass, and finish those pesky last thirty or so credits.


My transcript arrived quickly. It was amazing to discover what I hadn’t accomplished in four years. There were courses listed I’d dropped or taken incompletes in that I hadn’t remembered ever registering for. My GPA was below 3.0–well below. I made an appointment with the Admissions office, prepared to show a serious adult face, eager to pick up the pieces, and ready this time to persevere.

The admissions officer was this attractive girl…er…young woman. If I squinted a bit, I possibly could have been her father. Handing over my transcript I began to apologize, explaining it was the Vietnam War–hippy days. “And before you ask, yes I was there then....that Kent State.” Her face registered nothing but puzzlement. “You know, the shootings.” (no reaction)  Finally singing softly: “This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in O-hio.” Even my musical clue elicited no response. I was scoring zero points

She patiently informed me, in order to graduate from UMass I would need to complete at least two years of coursework there. While I began to reason it seemed only fair to get credit for all the hours I had completed at Kent, she hit me with something to the effect of “but it seems your GPA isn’t enough to admit you into any undergraduate program here.” I was certain even the young lady must have heard the loud thud my heart made as it sank to my feet.

Instead of anger, it was this feeling of total defeat overtaking me. Failure once again would conquer me–even before being given this one last chance to save my sorry ass. “There is a special program here for older students you may want to look into”, she offered hopefully. Circling a building on a map of the campus, she slide it towards me, explaining she knew little about it, but that it was worth checking out. “Older students” I muttered to myself as I got back into my car. I wondered if walkers and wheel chairs were included in each semester’s tuition fees.

It was a New England farm-house that I pulled up to, not a typical college institution at all. It was called The University Without Walls. Inside the cluttered home I was greeted by a woman my age at least. Her smile warmed me at once. I was not an OLDER student, she corrected me. I was a NON-TRADITIONAL student. My new friend explained the program over chunky pottery mugs of coffee and loads of positive reinforcement. After a good hour she sent me off with handbooks and application, assuring me we had both just found the perfect fit. I was admitted to the program for fall semester 1988.

The program proved an amazing learning experience.  Each UWW student worked with a mentor who helped us choose coursework to design our own unique degree which would likewise satisfy university requirements. I was fortunate to work with not one, but two ‘guides’ who fostered me along my path. Over the following two years I studied with professors on three different campuses in courses that challenged and nourished me. In one of my first education classes we viewed the movie Educating Rita while focusing on the adult learner. Besides being an incredibly entertaining film, it uncovered parallels with my own life at the time–far beyond the classroom.

Renting a copy from the video store in my town, I must have watched it half a dozen times over that weekend. Rita was twenty-six, married and postponing starting a family against her husband’s wishes. She wanted an education in order to “find me-self first”. I was thirty-eight, partnered for ten years, seeking an education to find a fulfilling career. In the process to change herself “inside”, Rita discovers the strengths of a woman that were there all along, before she came to know the poetry of Blake or understood E. M. Forster. My own learning experience caused me to find the Matthew who’d been lost through the multiple reinventions of myself over the years. Continually fixated on the me I would show on the outside, I had neglected the one living on the inside. It happened so slowly and so silently, I hadn’t even recognized he’d gone missing.

I grew up always sensing I was different from my peers, developing an independence early on. By the time I arrived at Kent State, I’d taught myself to display a fey bravado of sorts. I didn’t care if I didn’t fit in, because I knew there were always people who might be charmed by my flair. The unique appeal, I understood, attracted an equally unique collection of personalities. Moving to New York in search of a career onstage, I was a tiny fish in a sea of bigger than life personas. I’d also signed on as a member of a highly visible gay society. I felt it necessary to ramp myself up several notches to meet this even more spectacular challenge. What I had never prepared for, though, was that point in my New York life when I would realize my actor’s dream was only a pipe dream.

It hit hard, having to admit I was either not talented enough, or worse, simply not strong enough to continue my charade. It seemed more than a lifetime that my focus had been fixated solely on theatre. As the dust settled, I understood I was still a citizen of The City I loved more than anything, and somehow it would all turn out okay. I would refashion a meaningful life here and that would somehow be enough. Soon after, I met Alejandro.

We fell in love at the right time in the right place. Even though we came from totally different cultures, we shared many of the same priorities–love of family, pride in who we were and what we wanted from life, and a need for home where we could live in peace together with our collected family of friends. A significant other had also been a part of my dream. What earthly good would any life be if there weren’t someone to share it with? I had failed miserably in the first half of my dream; I refused to fail in the second.

Shifting my focus immediately to our relationship, there was nothing more important now than ‘us together’ and ‘him’. Like me / like my partner–we were an instant duo. We shared a love for many of the same things, and we taught one another to enjoy some of our own unique flavors. But there were lots of differences and both of us had super-strong personalities. His was stronger than mine. I could stand my ground, but when it came time to caving, I was typically first to give in. Most times it was something so trivial it didn’t merit the energy of an argument.

We left The City after five years to live in the big house in Town Commons. The transition of going from a world capital to a place where the Cumberland Farms closed at 7:00 p.m. was far greater than the initial impact the move had been on our relationship. There were all those distractions and difficulties of living in a big, brassy city. In Town Commons, there was an eight-room Victorian and the two of us–the ultimate downsizing of our lives.

To say that going back to school after nearly two decades was a challenge is understatement. Add to it a forty-hour-a-week job and it becomes arduous. Still, I threw myself into it as I’d never done before, literally possessed to finish that degree. It was as though I went from having nothing to do in my life, to having no time to catch my breath. Alejandro was amazed to see me this driven–it was someone he’d never met before that he was living with now. I was so excited over something I didn’t know how to share with him, and too overwhelmed by all I was discovering to notice IT was becoming a third party in our relationship.

It was not until graduation day, as Alejandro and a small group of our friends celebrated my big moment in a favorite college town bistro, that I had time to stop and recognize what I had accomplished. I looked over at him on the other side of the table. We looked the same, acted the same, laughed at the old jokes, kidded one another like always…but somehow it wasn’t the same. There had been small signs of strangeness the last few months, but I’d been so preoccupied with finishing my last semester, I frankly hadn’t the luxury of time to worry about anything else. I began to see, like Rita, that I hadn’t been changed by my education. I had only rediscovered Matthew, who the guy on the outside–that mediocre actor–had hidden from view, even from myself.

Advice to My 13-Year-Old Queer Self


Earlier this month HuffPost Gay Voices asked for tweets “If you could tell your queer 13-year-old self one thing / advice-what would it be?”. The exercise sounded intriguing, but of course someone like me could never fit it all into the constraints of one lousy little tweet. If people who talk too much are said to run off at the mouth, what is the idiom to describe someone who needs too many words to say the simplest thing? Is it possible to run off at the pen?

At thirteen, life was pretty grim for scrawny me. Oh sure, puberty is never a day at the beach for anyone, but I was being walloped from every direction. We talk about helicopter parents these days. Imagine the concept of submarine parents. They hide hundreds or thousands of feet in the deepest, darkest recesses of the ocean, playing war games, or simply skulking about, unbeknownst to those of us in the real world above. That was my take on the parenting techniques employed in our household. My father was clinically depressed and living life in a Thorazine cloud. My mother was running defense for him, hiding his illness as best she could. That is, unless they were waging verbal battles to relieve the tension constantly brewing, then spilling over like a too-filled pot of soup on the kitchen stove. Maybe it was best they kept so distant, because I well-understood by thirteen, they would be no help with my real problem–my attraction to men. It ate at me with a gnawing vengeance.

Chronically miserable and knowing there was no one I could discuss my taboo illness with, I felt doomed. I focused on putting it out of my head. The only positive in my life at the time was that Older Brother was away in the Air Force, so I moved into his large attic bedroom above our tiny bungalow. I would retreat there the moment I came home from seventh grade. I went downstairs to eat supper, but ran back up once dishes were done. The only TV shows I came down for were Dick Van Dyke and sometimes Donna Reed. I worked hard as a recluse.

Junior high was one malignant trauma. Everyone looked taller, bigger, stronger than me. Most of them were. Even the girls were into sports. I hadn’t the slightest clue what any of them were so excited about. I clung to the walls of the hallways, pretending I wasn’t there. I would also pretend the taunts and catcalls were not actually being hurled at me. They were meant for some other sissy. There were a few others to be sure, though that was no solace to me. I found it next to impossible to be reclusive at West Buttfok Junior High. It was a death sentence that had to be lived out.

My homeroom teacher provided a brief reprieve. It was her first year too. She taught science. She had just graduated from college–couldn’t have been more than twenty-four. Not particularly pretty, she dressed and wore her hair like most of our forty-something-year-old mothers. The guys were rude and disrespectful to her. The girls were no better, openly making fun as though she was just another one of the chubby chicks they mercilessly mocked. It was sheer cruelty. We formed a silent bond, Miss Trezza and me. She sat me right in front of her desk and we’d chat together each morning, trying to ignore the crude comments hurled at the both of us. She gave me a C in eighth grade General Science, when technically, I barely eked out a D.

Then there was Miss Heston. If you phoned central casting and asked for an old maid English teacher, Amelia Heston would be the gal they’d send for the part. Small in stature, birdlike and a bit too toothy, she dressed in wool skirts and white blouses all year-long. She spoke softly but her big eyes, (not quite bug-like) danced, accentuating her infectious excitement for literature. We were a slightly smaller class than the others, and although untitled, we understood we were the advanced group. It was the only class I could relax and enjoy myself in, because not one of us was popular by any standards. We were the geeks–sans pocket protectors.

Miss Heston introduced us to the short story: O’Henry, Faulkner, Hemingway, de Maupassant and Flannery O’Connor. We read Great Expectations, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Diary of Anne Frank, and an Agatha Christie. I was always a reader, but now Miss Heston had me salivating for the good stuff.

Our class met seventh period–last of the day. A few students always stayed to chat afterwards, and I was most times one of them. She’d recommend things she thought we’d enjoy, often lending copies of her personal books. I remember distinctly her handing me To Kill a Mockingbird,  I believe this small woman was the first to see me–the me even I was unable to see. Once I started doing plays in high school, she came to every show, and lingered to chat afterward.each time.

Amelia Heston gave me the gift of losing myself in other people’s stories, so I wouldn’t focus on my own. It was a distraction which acted like a bandage, protecting all my hurt on the inside. I ran home and up the stairs to my room, and read and read, devouring it all like some wonderful candy. And Anne Frank’s diary inspired to me keep a journal of my own in my private attic. From seventh to tenth grade I pretty regularly wrote down my thoughts. I still have a volume or two. Every few years I reread the words of a me I cannot today recognize. I even hid my queer secret from those pages, fearing that if I wrote it down, it might become real. Imagine being so frightened you try to keep secrets from yourself.

A summer or two after I graduated from West Buttfok High, a woman who was in that same homeroom came out to me and a few others. She told us Miss Trezza was gay and had a partner. Suddenly it all made sense. That got me thinking about dear Miss Heston. She never married, and had always socialized with a group of single ‘spinster’ women–most of them teachers. There is very good chance she was also in ‘the club’ and the reason why we sought one another out all those years before.

So I suppose this brings us to my tweet–my advice to queer 13-year-old-me:

Never hide behind the person you think you should be, because people will like you exactly the way you are.


Celebrate Good Times – or – When Being Gay Was No Longer Gay



Late last year, someone I know was complaining about a persistent fever and feeling like crap for weeks. He was going back to the doctor for more blood work. Now his glands were swollen, and the poor guy was fighting constant nausea. Turns out he just had one of those nasty won’t-let-go bugs. However, in a heartbeat, his well-known series of complaints took me back. The time was the early 80s. I had been in a committed relationship with Alejandro since July of 1977. He worked in the travel industry when we met, and helped me land my first job with a charter tour operator. That led me to Laker Airways, a small British airline where I worked in the accounting department. My title was Refunds USA. I’ve often said, if I could go back to any one job in my life it would be here–this time–this place–that me. That is, until the world collapsed from underneath our feet.

Octave the first: Kool And The Gang

The accounting department was made up of a wonderful conglomeration of unique characters. The count was around twenty-five. Our group had a ball in that office, where each day was celebrated like a gala. We all guzzled coffee by the pot fulls and shared goodies brought from home. Most of us were packs-a-day smokers. Those good old days, when you could puff away anywhere and everywhere, and clean air nazis were silent and uncounted. All types were represented: young marrieds, working moms, college students, swinging singles and gay folk– either partnered, looking, or some only wanting to party. We were all openly OUT, and no one else was in the least bothered by it. I’d never felt so free to be myself, ever before.

Frequently we’d organize a Saturday night when the group expanded, with significant others or dates in tow. We’d meet up at this enormous dance club out on Long Island that boasted an ultra-sophisticated lighting system. There we could really let our hair down. A couple of the straight husbands would dance with us gay guys “just to be silly”, (or so they told their wives). CELEBRATE, by Kool and the Gang was a mega-hit in these days. They’d play it several times a night, and the crowd whooped and screamed and sang along. “So bring your good times, and your laughter too, we’re gonna’ celebrate your party with you”,  all the while strobing bars of multi-colored lights scanned the jumpin’ dance floor. We would share joints in the parking lot and carry on till we closed the place. Then we’d head to one of the well-known all night diners the Island was famous for, and pig out, satisfying our raging munchies.

Octave the second: Boy from way Uptown

Freddie was one of my Laker gay work friends. He was Cuban-American. His name was actually Federico, but he was very Americanized, and spoke English with no accent…well…except maybe a slight New York one. I was studying Spanish then, so I usually called him Federico when we spoke together, as I practiced habla-ing in my mixture of Spanish and English. He wasn’t a particularly handsome man, but he was constantly on the make. We could count on Monday mornings in the office beginning with Freddie recounting his dating stories from the weekend. Often there was a different man Friday and Saturday night. Too many Mondays he would sail in the door, throw himself into his seat, and announce that he’d found his husband at last. Typically it was one of the working moms who would remind him we’d heard that claim two weeks before. Somehow though, there was a naive charm to his trashy behavior.

He was in his early thirties like me, but had a penchant for younger Latino guys–mucho younger–typically early twenties. When he met Felix, he’d really pushed the envelope. Felix was only eighteen or nineteen. He lived way uptown near Harlem with his mother and many siblings in a cramped apartment. They were poor, like most in their neighborhood. Freddie fell fast and hard for this boy. There were no more Monday stories about new guys. Now it was Felix this and Felix that. He always managed to work his way to my desk before lunch to fill me in on their sexcapades.  

There was a Monday, I’m guessing a month or so after their meeting, that a very sullen Freddie dragged into the office. Felix was sick, raging with fever. He had mono, they suspected. Felix had a similar bout a few months before. “Freddie, you be careful too”, we all cautioned. As the week progressed, his boy grew sicker. The family had no insurance of any kind. They used the free clinic. Freddie worked the phones, advocating for him, calling all sorts of city agencies. That weekend an ambulance took Felix to the hospital.

I remember Freddie telling us how the fever continued to spike. They were packing Felix in ice, trying to bring it down. His glands were swollen everywhere. He was getting worse, not better. I don’t believe it was many days later that Felix died. Freddie was a wreck. We all were. The office was quieter. We still drank coffee and smoked and ate and carried on, but it was a very sobering thing to learn a nineteen-year-old could get sick and die from mono in less than two weeks time. Freddie came back to work. If memory serves, he’d given the mother some money to help bury poor little Felix, who none of us had ever even met. They performed an autopsy, but it would be months before they might have any results–if at all.

Octave the third: The Gay Cancer

The tragedy of Felix had to have happened in early summer, because it was July of 1981 that the New York Times first published an article about ‘the gay cancer’ that had already killed men in New York City and San Francisco. It had been gossiped about in gay circles for months. My friend Perry, who I’d known since my Kent State days, was working for a physician in Manhattan who saw primarily gay patients in his practice. There were several of these offices scattered throughout The City. We called them ‘gay doctors’. Men who typically had come to their MD for cases of the clap, hepatitis, or at the very worst, syphilis, were now showing up extremely ill, with odd symptoms. Still so recent, we whispered in our office that maybe this is what happened to Freddie’s boyfriend. We had no real name for what had begun killing our population.

All of us gay men were frightened by each bit of news heard through a gay bar grapevine. They were horrific tales of handsome, hunky young men getting sick and wasting away with purple sores and pneumonia–like geriatric patients, but all in a period of a few months. For a short time we enjoyed a reprieve of sorts, when those working on the disease believed it might be spread by Haitians. All of us who’d never known a Haitian breathed a sigh of relief. Then maybe a week or so later, those same researchers feared it might be caused by the recreational use of amyl nitrite–poppers. It was a liquid sold in every head shop and adult book store around the city. Poppers cause the heart to pound and bring on a pulsating euphoria. I’d inhaled gallons of the stuff since first arriving in 1972.

At some point they announced the possible window on contracting the disease could be as wide as ten years. That was as long as I’d lived in The City. I had lost count of my sexual partners before I met Alejandro. It didn’t seem to matter now that we’d been monogamous from the start. Five years was only half of that ten-year window. The more people who became ill, the more Gay Cancer was in the papers and talked about on TV, the more I was certain it was only a matter of time for all of us. Everybody was gonna die from whatever this was. Our celebration was turning into a raging funeral pyre.

Octave the fourth: Say goodbye

We were getting ready for work in early February of the following year, when Alejandro heard on the radio as he shaved, that Laker Airways had filed for bankruptcy. It came as a complete shock. None of us knew a thing about it, and we were the friggin’ Accounting Department! Our manager let us into the building to gather our personal things. There was no formal farewell, no last time gathering ’round the coffee pot. The party was over–full stop.

In the spring, our colleague Sheila, a lovely British lady and one of my very best buddies, died suddenly of a massive stroke. She left two young children behind. Her funeral served as a makeshift reunion for a handful of the old guard, getting together one last time. Freddie was there. He looked terrible. He said he’d been sick. Our eyes met briefly, and I guessed the worst. Not one year later, another gay friend from accounting who’d kept in touch, would call to tell me Freddie was dead. And so it began–the litany of gay men falling by the wayside.

Perry, my doctor’s assistant friend, would fill me in on the throngs of men who came through his office. “Remember the tall guy with the crew cut and biker boots we used to see at Ty’s?” or “This week we saw that cute trainer from our old gym. He’s sick now too.” And that was the code, or the euphemism we used–sick now too. It took a while to admit AIDS into our personal lexicon. That four letter word seemed too insignificant to stand for something so huge and so heinous. Luckily my circle of close friends remained untouched. Death was stalking all around us, but had not yet penetrated our little world. Anyone who thought we might somehow be immune was foolishly naïve. We all sensed it was only a matter of time before it would strike.

Octave the fifth: A self-examination

It got so that after a while, I couldn’t stop searching my body for signs of IT. Any bruise that turned remotely purple was something I studied and watched until it disappeared completely. I couldn’t wash my armpits, my neck or my crotch in the shower without feeling for glands that felt swollen or slightly tender to the touch. Probably I was making them sore with my guilty prodding. And the summer nights I awoke in a sweat, fearing these were the symptomatic deadly night sweats that often heralded IT’s arrival, would send me into a frightened tailspin.

Poor Perry. I badgered him every time we saw one another, or spoke on the phone. Does this look like something I should be concerned about? You know…I wake up nauseous a couple of mornings almost every week. Just what is considered a low-grade fever? My annoying anxieties usually would cease with a subtle rolling of his eyeballs. Sometimes it took him saying “Just stop. Please”, without even raising his voice. It made me remember the real horror he witnessed every day he went to work. He often said the frustration was, they weren’t curing anybody, just waiting with them while they died.

“Had all those indiscriminate encounters been as exciting as I thought they were? Was all that wasted passion and risk taking really anything more than the few minutes of orgasm it gave in return? Was any of it worth dying for?” These were the thoughts that accompanied my obsessive-compulsive behavior–another form of the disease called AIDS.

Octave the sixth: Right in my own backyard

It wasn’t the plague that prompted me to flee The City, but rather the opportunity to live in a house in New England with my partner Alejandro. The deregulation of the airlines was devastating the travel industry, and I needed to find a new career. Although I must admit, by late 1983, the effects of the disease had noticeably altered the face of The City. Even though we rarely went out to clubs anymore, the West Village especially had become another place. There were still people in bars. There were still guys meeting other guys, and exchanging phone numbers. But there was also an oppresive heaviness draped over the Christopher Street neighborhood, and Chelsea, and the Upper Westside and all the gayborhoods. Gay men were dying every day, and the fabulously fun world of pretty men was growing harder to find.

I can’t remember if it was while we were preparing to move, or once we were settling into the Victorian house in Town Commons Massachusetts, when we got word that Bruce, our sweet friend Bruce, was HIV positive. A boy from Ohio–from Kent State, who came to New York some years after me–still in his late twenties, had begun fighting for his life. Bruce was a gentle guy, tall and thin and long-limbed. He moved languidly, but at the same time with a burning passion for life. He was all heart, extremely witty, never sharp-tongued or judgemental. He’d found this great guy, and was living the life he dreamed of having, in a place where he could be himself. Bruce put a face on this insidious disease. Bruce wasn’t a work acquaintance or some guy at my gym, or one of those handsome lads you recognized from the neighborhood. Bruce wasn’t the friend of a friend. Bruce was my friend–our friend. And in what seemed for me no time at all, he was dead.

Octave the seventh: The cavalcade

After he was gone it hit me–Bruce became the herald, trumpeting the roll-call of names of those who fell victim to the monstrous death: Men I knew from Kent State, Old Boyfriends, Buddies we’d made in New York, Partners and Lovers of our friends we had welcomed into the fold. Many of them were intimates who had grown closer than our own siblings. All of these people had names and faces, and a piece of my heart that died along with them.

In those first years living in New England, we traveled back to The City frequently. Each visit we would get together, and the living would tally the newest numbers of the sick and the dead since the last time we’d gathered. On some visits I wanted to close my eyes and block my ears because I begged to play Pollyanna. The reality of our situation, like the disease itself, was simply too painful and too ugly to ignore. Throughout the latter half of the 1980s, each year was sadder than the one that had come before.

When I thought the mounting death count had already shriveled my senses, we received a phone call telling us Perry had AIDS. My longtime buddy who was battling the killer on the front lines had fallen victim himself. Perry had to have known for a long time, and kept it secret–at least from some of us. He must have been sick the summer before, when he brought his partner, their black Cocker Spaniel ‘Snickers’ and several other KSU/NYC transplants to our big house in Massachusetts. One member of the group still describes it today as our Big Chill weekend.

Perry had offered his Kent apartment floor for me to crash on, the semester I lived in my car, soon after we’d first met. We shared a hotel room on the New York theatre tour–both of our first times in The City. I moved there in ’72, then a few years after he followed, making us Chelsea neighbors. We watched every episode of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman as if it were some sacred worship service. Together we cruised Manhattan from the upper Eastside down to the Bowery, until each of us found partners. Losing Perry made we realize what a huge slice of our lives we’d shared together. I was angry as hell that he left so quickly.

1988 brought my twenty year high school reunion. There were only four classmates I wanted to see. Two of them were guys I grew up with, literally and figuratively. All five of us made the trip back to West Buttfok. It was a long weekend I treasure like no other. Eddy I knew since elementary school. We sang in 5th and 6th grade chorus and played percussion in band. In junior high we were joined by Billy and we were the Drama Club. I think the three of us guessed we were gay from the start. We just needed to understand it was okay to be that way. Later, Billy became my first boyfriend while in college.

Just before flying back to Los Angeles, Billy told me his partner of many years was sick. We’d gotten together in LA on two different occasions. They were a beautiful couple, living the life in West Hollywood. He didn’t want to get tested himself for fear that if he was positive too, he might not be strong enough to see his companion through the ordeal. Eddy had been in San Francisco for over a decade. He already knew his HIV status. He didn’t want to spoil our good time. Eddy phoned one of the girls once we’d all got home from the reunion. She delivered the news to the rest of us. This became a sobering slap to end the Decade from Hell.

Billy buried his life partner in 1990. Eddy died about a year later. His sister called me from his hospital room and held the phone for him. I told Eddy to keep fighting. What else could you say? I remember the hissing sound the oxygen made, being forced into his nostrils. He was completely lucid, which made it even harder. Eddy didn’t last two days more.

Of course Billy tested positive shortly thereafter. The good thing was, now there was this thing called ‘the cocktail’. Billy was going to ride the wave every bit as far as he could. He was one of the most driven individuals I have ever known. He refused to take no for an answer–from anybody–in any situation.That’s how he got accepted into acting school in London. And how, without an agent, he pushed his way into his first minor movie job. Eventually, he landed a very nice role in an early, extremely popular TV miniseries. He gave up acting for screen writing, then knocked around Hollywood for many years, living off options on three of his screen plays. None of those ever made it to production. There was one that did, however, and it was a biggie which made lots of money for the star, the studio and Billy. He got to realize true success. He just didn’t get enough time to go for his second hit.

In the six or seven years he lived with the disease, he spent a great deal of time being sick–very sick. He got a serious brain infection early on which nearly did him in. He battled illnesses I’d never heard of, in places in your body you never knew existed. The same medicine which kept him alive often made him violently ill. He would suffer disgusting indignities, yet refused to accept defeat.

Living at coastal extremes, we corresponded through cards and letters. Several times a year we enjoyed long, long-distance chats. We always had too much to say, no matter how much time we’d spend talking. In what would be his final year, he made the last trip east. We enjoyed an afternoon high tea in his Boston hotel on a rainy autumn Sunday. It was shocking to see this always vital, bigger than life man, hollow-eyed and already ghostlike.

It was an impossible time for me when our communication was no more.

Octave the eighth: The Grand Silence

Eventually, after all of them had gone, there was a great hush that descended over our Neighborhood. It was unlike the silence that comes with a truce at the end of a traditional war. We who had miraculously escaped the plague looked around to see who else was still among the living. The numbers of those we lost to the disease seemed uncountable. And they were, because so many had died in silence or worse, in hiding. Not only had they suffered unthinkable pain, they had endured it in shame. Many of them had never come out to their families back home. These boys understood that the stigma of being gay for them, was far worse than the unfairness of dying long before their time. There are still old friends and acquaintances I think I left behind somewhere, yet I’ll never know for certain…

And if there could be anything more sorrowful than this whole terrible tale, it is the vacuum that was left in the wake of the blight. The creative world was decimated by the loss of talent. I’m not talking about the obvious, like Nureyev, Maplethorpe, Freddie Mercury, or Anthony Perkins. It was the young talent, robbed of a future before they had the chance to do something with their lives. People who had once dreamed the dreams of so many, lost even the ability to ever dream again. Think of all the movies never written, or acted, the sets never designed. Somewhere still are blank canvases, empty sketch pads, reams of paper left unused. Floating in the ether are dances never danced, and songs left unsung.

There were thousands and thousands of regular guys too, with simpler dreams. The guy next door types–men not in search of fame or glory. The guys people might have sat next to on a bus, never imagining they could possibly be gay. Guys who just wanted what most people anywhere want–to love and be loved. Tons of these wonderful men were taken from the world too.

Epilogue: My personal ‘in memoriam’

Billy          Eddy          Guy          Bruce          Bob R          Perry          Joe C          Brandon          Jay (lu boy)          Curtis

Bob J          Jimmy V          Louie          Joe L          Mark L          Tony          Julio          Otis          Jimmy D          Adam

Leonard          Mark A          Ed & Joe          Freddie          Bob B          Charles          Jim B          Gerry          Cees          John

I never dreamed something so awful would happen in my life, let alone that I would ever need to write about it.


Do Not, I Repeat, Do NOT Read This Blog!


It is the start of a new year, yet still I persist in writing this blog. In a little more than six months I will be celebrating the four-year anniversary of GayDinosaurTales. What earthly reason would anyone have to continue reading these postings? As Montserrat Caballe, opera diva, questioned in her charming Spanish accent, just before singing her third or fourth encore at a concert I was privileged to attend years ago, “Dun’t you peepole haff a bus to catch?”

I can save you mucho trouble and possible eyestrain by giving here a brief heads up. David and I will be going to Montreal again during my spring break. We will do all the same things I’ve written about countless times. We’ll be in Provincetown to celebrate our ‘sort of anniversary’ as in the previous eleven years this coming May, following up with our full week in August. I’ve already put the deposit check in the mail for that one. I’m hoping to find a few days to visit NYC at some point. Maybe see a show. Catch up with the few cronies still there from my KSU days.

Besides the above usual diversions, I am taking time off to have cataract surgery on my left eye (a little earlier than the ophthalmologist anticipated), and my obligatory five-year date with the colonoscopy doctor. No offense Katie Couric, but for me there are still a few things I do not feel obliged to share here.

And of course it is impossible for me to not write about an old boyfriend or two or three–most of whom are all pushing up daisies due to AIDS–or more alarming these days–natural causes, i.e. old age. My suggestion would be rather than reading GayDinosaurTales, why not do a bit of charitable work and visit your local nursing home. There are so many lonely folks who would love to visit with a kind face who’d lend an ear to listening to stories of their high school antics, their first job in 1961, or perhaps a recounting of the day their eldest was born. All of these stories clearer than the day of the week, or whether the meal their stomach is currently digesting is breakfast or dinner.

Think of the time you would save by not reading this drivel. You could be freed up for more Grindr, Ok Cupid or Craig’s List. Is there ever too much Facebook in anybody’s day? Not only will you be able to rant more about your favorite political cause, you’ll have time to LIKE pictures of not just your FB friends’ cute kitties and puppies, but also those viral animal videos from Italy or Montenegro, or the exotic Philippines!

I believe it must have been some well-intentioned blogger in the not too distant past, who attempted to breathe new meaning into the word ‘musings’. Instead, it is perhaps only a hollow excuse for the rambling memories of one who in truth, is no longer relevant in the real world. Now go catch that bus.

Take 12 Grapes at Midnight and Call Me in the New Year


I’ve never been much for celebrating New Years. As a youngster I thought it was sheer magic that the number of the year changed. The concept of time wasn’t tracked by months or years for little me, but rather by my own particular age. “I’m gonna’ be eight this year.” And right around that time my parents allowed me to stay up past midnight to ring in the new. We watched Guy Lombardo, who for those of you under forty I should probably explain, was the Dick Clark of my parents’ generation. Dad toasted with ‘a shot and a beer’, Mom with her Highball, Older Brother his watered-down Coke Highball, and me–my drink of choice for many a year–a Tom and Jerry…neat.

It was not until I escaped to New York City that I truly began to celebrate. My first month there was in December of 1972, and I went to this incredibly grown-up party, packed with working theatre people. The hosts had a great apartment on West 8th Street in the heart of The Village. Almost everybody was thirty or forty something, except half a dozen of us. I had graduated to Scotch on the rocks and pot which I consumed in tandem the entire evening.

My group left about 4:00 a.m. to get some breakfast in an all-night diner off Sixth Avenue. There were people partying everywhere, even in the streets, due to some unseasonably warm weather that year. We just missed being struck by a huge upholstered wing chair that a rowdy group had shoved out of an apartment several floors above the sidewalk on which we’d been walking. Peering up at the window, there were three or four of the loonies still hanging out over the sill. They waved madly and screamed “Happy 1973″. We roared our greeting back up at them. Shaking my head, I muttered under my breath, “this NEVER would happen in Ohio”.

New Year’s 1976 I was madly in love with my Cuban-American boyfriend Julio. We’d been dating for only a few weeks. An actor-waiter, of course he had to work New Year’s Eve. His mom was visiting from Miami, and he’d put me in charge of looking after her at the restaurant. It was a big place right below the steps of Lincoln Center–still for me, one of the most romantic locations in The City. Think MOONSTRUCK. Mamacita was only in her late forties and looked younger. She was a hottie, chicly dressed with perfect make-up, nails and hair. She smoked unfiltered cigarettes, and cruised every guy in the restaurant, whether gay, married, young or old. She might have been the first mother I knew who was totally cool with having a gay son. Julio had introduced me as his boyfriend, which made me blush with pride. She remarked that her son always chose ‘the skinny gringos’. Me and Mama hit it off from the get-go.

About 11:45, she opened her purse and pulled out a plastic baggie. It was filled with loose, seedless red grapes. She had me open my hand while she carefully doled them out. Thinking this was a curious gift, I went to taste one and she shouted “No! Not yet!” Julio’s mom explained that just before midnight, as they counted down the last seconds, it was tradition to pop one grape starting from the count of 12 down to 1. With each grape, you were to make a wish for the New Year. We flagged down Julio at five minutes before the magic hour. She had me count twelve grapes, placing them into his palm. I loved his beautiful, big warm hands.

The three of us stood huddled in a corner by the bar. They’d passed out those silly cardboard hats–red, white and blue of course, for the Bicentennial year to come–emblazoned with 1976. This was the first time I passed the New Year in a public place. Everyone was on their feet shoulder to shoulder now. The excitement of the crowd in the restaurant anticipating the countdown was palpable, filling the big room with electricity. I tried to keep my twelve wishes clear in my head, fearing I’d forget and waste a precious one or two. Some people began counting down at TWENTY. Fruit was already poised in my fingertips. The moment of grape-popping began. “Julio’s the one / Happiness / He loves me /Forever /A Mother-in-law / More happiness / ….”

At exactly midnight, my mouth filled with grape mush, Julio came in for the kiss. I didn’t care that my soon-to-be mother-in-law was squashed up next to me. Unable to wait, she began kissing us both, covering the available parts of our faces with her lipstick rich smooches. Happy New Year! Julio and I made it through most of the winter, but I know we didn’t celebrate the Vernal Equinox together. So much for that Cuban New Year tradition.

Alejandro and I had been together for six months, but he’d only recently started staying in my studio in Chelsea just before New Year’s 1978. He was a firm believer that the way you spent New Year’s Eve, was the way you’d spend the entire year. I was just content with the two of us being together. Most of my friends were back in Ohio with their families, and those who remained had plans. At the last minute, maybe a day or two before, Alejandro decided we needed to host a small New Year’s Eve party. It ended up being the sort of invitation…”if you’re not doing anything / if you don’t already have other plans / drop in if you want for a drink and some nosh…” One of those invitations you extend that is often interpreted as only being polite, and not very definite.

I don’t know what food we prepared, but Alejandro is a born entertainer–not on stage, but as a party-giver. He is a phenomenal cook, and is never happier than when he can provide a lavish spread to wow everybody’s taste buds. He only knows how to cook for a crowd. Whatever the recipe, it is always made in mass quantities. My apartment was tiny. We couldn’t have invited more than a dozen guests.

At 7:30 p.m. the place was immaculate, food and drinks ready, the two of us bathed, scented and beautiful. By 8:00 we poured our first glasses of wine, sipping, listening to records, guessing who would show up first. The wood-burning fireplace was crackling and dancing, filling the room with its warmth. We waited. And waited. Then we waited some more. I think it was around 10:00 when we realized no one was going to show up. We started picking at the food, giggling at how stupid we’d been to throw this last-minute party and then expecting anybody to take our invitation seriously. We weren’t pissed or hurt–just feeling extremely foolish. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we would welcome our first New Year alone together by the fire, with enough food and drink to take us to at least the end of January.

Just before 11:00, the downstairs buzzer sounded. By this time we’d almost forgotten we had actually invited anyone. “It’s HARVEY”, the voice informed us over the speaker. It was one of Alejandro’s work colleagues I’d never met. He’d just gotten off work. He moonlighted at several jobs. He brought a bottle of something, asked for a glass, and parked his ass in the tiny loveseat in the corner. He didn’t seem at all concerned that no one else had shown up. It was weirder to us that only one person had come, rather than no one at all. Like ‘the man who came to dinner’, Harvey stayed well into the wee hours telling us stories about fellow work colleagues even Alejandro never knew. It was hands down the most boring party I’d ever been to–let alone hosted. Alejandro and I have laughed about that night for decades.

David and I began the tradition of spending New Year’s Eve at the casino once they’d built the first one in Connecticut in the late 90s. That is the only night of the year when the gambling folk are actually aware of the time. Typically there are never clocks in casinos, or windows in the gaming rooms to give you any indication of how long you’ve been feeding the slot machines with your hard-earned money.

I particularly recall 1999–the Millenium New Year. We’d been duly alarmed by all the Y2K hype, anticipating the demise of the world as we once knew it. The media had prepared us. After the crashing of the internet, world banking system, power grid, et cetera, et cetera, we might well be spending our last moments on this earth at Foxwoods Indian Casino. Outside would reign bedlam and chaos. I figured, what better place to witness The End of Days than the Sodom and Gomorrah that is the busy casino floor.

Of course nothing happened. The damn lights didn’t as much as flicker. Just a multitude of strange gamblers, hesitating for only nanoseconds, their coins hovering at the slot long enough to shout “Happy New Year”, then commencing to feed their hungry machines again, just like the century before.

It seems I’ve come full circle. My parents’ living room in Cleveland has been replaced by our TV room in New England. The black and white television in the blond wooden cabinet has been replaced with a 42 inch flatscreen. David and I have morphed into my Dad and Mom. Instead of High Balls and Boiler Makers, he’s California Riesling and I’m French Rose. At least my Mom put on lipstick and my Dad changed into a nice pair of slacks. David is in sweats and I’m in my favorite worn jeans. Not only is Guy Lombardo dead, but so is Dick Clark! We’ve taken to tuning into Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin–the hottest gay guy on TV and a very funny fag hag. I suppose we could do worse. There was a year, not too long ago, where we both passed out sometime around 10:00. It’s just another year anyway, right? The important thing is, we’ve got each other. And we’ve made it to another year.








Singing Harmony


A visit to a small music store in Provincetown this holiday season helped to jump-start my spirit. The postage-stamp sized shop sells an eclectic selection of CDs, specializing in used rare and obscure artists. While I was looking through my favorite section of movie soundtracks and Broadway tunes, the owner began to play a new Christmas album which filled her store with two lovely soprano voices singing one of my favorite carols. There is not much of Christmas left in me any more. I still enjoy decorating a tree, baking cookies and shopping for trinkets for family and friends. But music…how could I ever forget about Christmas music? It is my direct connect to everything wonderful about the season of Good Cheer.

My mother was a singer. Not a professional singer, but she sang in choral groups as a child in Cleveland and seriously studied voice as a young woman.  She performed with a Slovenian-American cultural group in operas and operettas. She sang on local radio. Mom had a lovely soprano voice. She would remind us that she sang on stage from age five until she was six-months pregnant with my older brother. My mother sang when she was happy, when she was melancholy, when she was cleaning, when our family celebrated anything.

Some of my only warm memories of family togetherness are when we were riding in the car–me, Mom, Dad and Older Brother. In the 1950s every car ride was a long one. There were no freeways or inner belts. You drove on city streets to get anywhere and it didn’t matter where you were going, it always took forever. So we would sing to pass the time. Even Dad sang in his hearty baritone. I learned a few Slovenian folk songs before I was even five. Of course I just parroted the weird sounds, having no idea what the hell we were all singing about. Older Brother sang quietly, always distanced from the rest of us. I sang out loudly but on pitch, competing with my mother and father to dominate the tune.

In 1953 there was a song that was number one on the hit parade for eleven weeks, (thank you Wikipedia). It was called Vaya Con Dios by Les Paul and Mary Ford. They played it on the radio all day and all night forever. Mary Ford sang harmony with herself–many singers were doing it at the time. My mother would belt the harmony with Mary every time she heard it. We’d sing it in the car, and the not quite five-year old me would get tripped up, because I would try following Mom, and she’d switched to singing harmony during the choruses. She explained she was singing harmony to the melody and that I should just continue singing.

I remember sticking my fingers in my ears, so as not to get confused. Removing my little fingers gently with her hands, she instructed me to listen to what she was singing, so that I could figure out the harmony on my own. It was painfully fun, but after a few days of morning noon and night Vaya Con Dios, I got the hang of it. Soon Mom and I were singing harmony for just about every song we knew, and each new one that came our way.

By the time I got to elementary school, I loved music and had cultivated a decent singing voice. I was a boy soprano. We had music weekly with Mrs. Ermine, a pretty lady who sang like my mother. I enjoyed singing in our class, and adored our teacher. In second grade there was a girl named Marjorie Dusenbury (I swear to God I didn’t make-up this name). Margie and I were Mrs. Ermine’s favorites. She picked the two of us for a musical at the high school. It was about toys coming to life in a department store. Margie played the baby doll and I was a stuffed dog. I only had a few lines, crawling around and sniffing the ground. Margie had a solo. I remember being envious.

That same year, for the Christmas concert, the two of us did a duet with the entire sixth grade chorus. There were probably fifty of them arranged on risers. Maybe halfway through, Mrs. Ermine stepped up to the microphone introducing Margie and me. We came out in short white choir robes with humongous red bows tied beneath our little chins. Mrs. Ermine lowered the microphone to second-grader level, and Margie and I stepped up to sing Silent Night in the high school auditorium. The theatre seated several hundred, and the place was nearly packed with mothers and fathers and grandparents. I remember being nervous, but not scared. Once we started singing, we both relaxed, singing like two tiny cherubs with the six-graders crooning a celestial back up. Our two soprano voices were a sweet and innocent blend. Oh for a video! There were rarely reel-to-reel tape recorders in schools at that time.

There would be many more Christmas programs, ending with sixth grade. Margie had moved from West Buttfok long before. I finally got a solo. Soon after my voice changed. Not until the final years of high school did my adult guy voice finally find its way in musicals. But my mother continued singing. She sang with Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Pat Boone and all the Champagne Ladies on Lawrence Welk. There wasn’t a Christmas special on TV that she didn’t lend her harmonies to–Andy Williams, right up to Tony Orlando.

Even though I am not really celebrating Christmas anymore, I still find this season a sacred one. It continues to be a time for reflecting on the past, the good and the bad memories. It is still a season for giving, of warmth and good cheer. Cookies and sweets of all kinds–special foods that may not be good for anybody, but taste so sinfully wonderful, especially this time of year. Over indulging in every way, we spoil ourselves and those we love and care about. Putting a pine tree in a corner of our home somewhere with lights and baubles, we try to be artful, yet manage instead to be gaudy and over-the-top.

And yes, I still sing those Christmas songs, now to the accompaniment of my iPod or phone, connected through the car radio or on my sound dock. A little Nat Cole, Judy Garland or Streisand, then some Brenda Lee or Elvis, and maybe finishing with Mariah Cary. Amazing how they don’t seem to mind me struggling as I sing those harmonies.

SILVER BELLS Renee Fleming