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POINT OF VIEW: Back to My Roots

Mom and Scott
Me and My Mom in the early Eighties

This weekend I’ll be releasing a brand new short story – one that’s never been published before anywhere.

It’s called Prolepsis:

the representation of a thing as existing before it actually does or did so, as in he was a dead man when he entered.

It’s a time travel story of sorts (though it’s only the mail that makes the trip back in time) about a sci-fi ‘zine whose editor is gay. The bulk of the story takes place in the fall of 1986, when I was eighteen. Although the protagonist is twenty-six, I drew on a lot of my own life experience in forming Sean’s character and his 80’s surroundings.

I was a shy gay kid in a public high school in the early eighties. I had a terrible case of acne – they used to call kids like me “pizza face.” I was terrible at sports, skinny, awkward, and scared of the school bullies.

I knew what being gay was… sort of. I’d seen a few gay characters on television – most notably the effeminate characters on Soap and Brothers. There was also a movie I watched on TV about a guy who came out to his family in college.

I learned some important lessons from what I saw on TV:

  • If you come out, you’ll become a sissy
  • The disappointment will kill your father
  • Your mother will put you into conversion therapy

There’s nothing wrong with the first one, per se. Many gay men are effeminate, while others are more masculine.

It’s just that I didn’t think I should have to change how I was just to be honest about who I was.

The eighties were a weird time to be gay. On the one hand, they were preceded by the sexual liberation of the sixties and the gay community’s explosion out of the closet in the seventies.

On the other hand, we were living through the conservative era of greed, the years of Ronald Reagan and the Moral Majority, and AIDS was a frightening unknown that was stalking our community. I count myself lucky that I came of age when I did, where I did. If it had been a few years earlier, in a more open place, I might have caught HIV myself before we even knew what it was.

Instead, it was one more cautionary note for gay men in a world rife with them: Stay in the closet. Act normal (whatever that was). Find a girlfriend.

So I did what the world wanted me to. I found a girlfriend, and got a fair way down the road to marriage and kids before a phone call out of the blue changed my life.

Damon was an old friend of mine, the son of my babysitter in elementary school, and later the first boy I was ever with. When I moved away from Tucson for my last two years of high school, we lost track of one another, and I eased into my “straight” life.

Then he called me, and I went to see him. And he was just Damon. The same guy I remembered from high school, but a little older. No more effeminate or masculine than he’d been back then.

His parents were both still alive, he’d never been put in therapy to wish away his “unnatural urges,” and he was living as an openly gay man in Laguna Beach.

It turns out everything I thought I knew about being gay was wrong.

Within two months, I’d come out and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and within a year I’d found Mark, the love of my life, the man with whom I will celebrate thirty years together next year.

So yeah, the eighties were the years of acid-washed jeans, high tops, the Rubik’s Cubes, the Reagan tax cuts, and the cassette tape.

But it was also the decade when I went from being ashamed of being gay to being proud of it. And my mom and dad are both proud of me and love Mark to death.

I came out of those years alive, whole, and (mostly) sane, but I was one of the lucky ones. We lost so many to AIDS, to homophobia, to suicide.

My own friend Damon was killed in his own home almost a decade ago, apparently in a homophobic attack.

Prolepsis asks the question “what if there’d been someone out there in the mainstream media telling me I was normal, way back then?”

Not just normal. Beautiful.

We can do better. We must do better.

And given the chance to rewrite history, I suggest that we did, and the world was a better place for it.

What was growing up queer like for you?

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