“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.”
~~ Frank Lloyd Wright
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
~~ C.S. Lewis
Today is my birthday and someone said something to me yesterday. She told me to be glad. That I am a Gay Elder. And that, “There aren’t as many as there should be in our generation.”
Gosh. An “elder.” Already? Really?
But yes. And I am proud of that fact. And blessed. That I am one of the living.
There are a lot of gay men from my generation who aren’t around. The late seventies and early eighties saw AIDS take thousands upon thousands of men. By the end of 1984, there had been 3,665 AIDS deaths in the USA alone. According to the movie We Were Hear, by 1997 there were 15,548 deaths in San Francisco.
What would the world be like today if those men were still alive? Those teachers and artists and dancers and actors and chorographers and sculptors and designers and playwrights and authors and athletes and activists and musicians? If they’re lives had not ended and they were all still creating today? And what about the fathers and brothers and uncles and lovers and sons? Men simply living their lives? What would they be teaching us by their very existence?
Gone. So many gone.
I do not know how I am sitting here today typing these words—alive and relatively healthy and HIV negative.
I suppose in part it is because I went back into the closet (more or less) in about 1983 and stayed there for six years. I was out of the pool where I could get infected. But the thing is, I was pretty darned active from about 1979 until 1983 or so. Being a sexually active gay man was a part of the revolution. It was thumbing our noses up to a society that said we weren’t supposed to love other men, let alone have sex with them. It was a joyous time and sex was easy to get. It was easy to fall into hedonism.
I never got crazy. I soon found out that anonymous sex left me feeling more lonely and empty than I was before I hooked up. Never the less, to be frightfully honest, there were quite a few hook ups and dates and hopeful boyfriends in those years. Books like And The Band Played On theorize the spread of HIV began in 1976. Therefore I had to have been exposed.
How do I know that?
Because when I came out the second time and considered leaving Kansas City and moving back to Chicago, I made some calls. Only to find out almost everyone I knew in those days were dead.
When I came out the second time I was no longer shielded from AIDS and AIDS related deaths. As I rejoined the gay community, a time that should have been joyous, I saw friend after friend after friend die before my eyes. One day we’d be hanging out and having dinner—these gorgeous and robust and healthy-seeming men—and they next they’d look like concentration camp victims and then…they were gone!
I remember a guy named Mark raising his hand at church (it was a Metropolitan Community Church that embraced the GLBT community) to ask for prayers because he had just found out he had HIV. He looked great physically. No lesions. No cold. A couple months later he was gone. A. Couple. Of. Months! Gone….
How am I alive? Do I deserve to be alive when so many wonderful men died?
I wonder what this world would be like if those men were still alive…?
When I split up with my first long-term gay relationship I considered once again moving back to Chicago. I strove to see if any of my friends were still alive. And yes. A handful were!
But then there was David….
David was the first gay guy I ever “dated.” He was very young. Eighteen. We met when I was working for Walden Books and he sneaking a look at Playgirl. I went to him and told him if he would give me the money I would buy it for him. Soon we were going on some wonderful sweet dates.
But David was eighteen and I was about twenty-two and he wanted all that sex that I had learned wasn’t all that fulfilling. He wanted to get out there and sow his wild oats. It broke my heart, but who was I to argue?
David had a very long Greek name and when I was single again, I looked up his name in the Chicago phone directory. There were two names. The first I called hung up on me. Slammed the phone down in fact. The second was a woman. She gasped and asked me who I was. I told her that I had dated David a decade and a half before. She told me, crying now, that she wished I had called a month before.
David had just recently died of complications due to AIDS in the hospital—alone. His family had rejected him, including his beloved brother. God. I remember him telling me how much I reminded him of his brother! This woman I was speaking to was his aunt, the only person who hadn’t rejected him…..
And here I sit.
Needing to KNOW that I am lucky that I am alive….
And I have wisdom to impart, especially with young gay men. I am a walking talking history book. I can tell them about how it used to be. Show them that it not only gets better, but it is better. When I was first realizing I was gay there was no dream outside a science fiction novel that I would be married—to a man—in my lifetime! I am a witness to my time. I bear the lives of men like David in my head and heart. I am a living testimony to those men and friends and lovers. I am proof that “We Were Here” and that we somehow made it and are still here and will always be here, despite what some conservatives might wish. We are here, were are queer, and not only that, but a lot of the world is used to it!
And I can be “Daddy” and guide to young gay men. When they say how lonely they are and they’ve lived “so long” hurting or lonely, I am proof that it gets better! That they can and will find love and life. I can’t even remember what 95% of my high school classmates even looked like! Those guys that gave me hell? I can’t remember their faces!
I love that I am a testemant to something else!
And this is incredible!
No matter how bad it gets, it gets better. No matter how dark the tunnel, it comes to an end. No matter how bleak, the sun rises.
I look back at my life and I see some horrible lows. And now? Now I am married and have a sweet dog and a house and a career as a writer and will soon be ditching my day job!
In all those years there were so LOW times…and I always always came through. Operations. The deaths of friends. For decades those deaths weren’t AIDS related but life related. I have come through relationships. I have come through being cheated on and a year of fear that I would find out I had been infected with HIV—and I wasn’t. I have gotten and lost jobs (some that I loved). I have had friendships that I figured would last all of my life until I was sitting on a rocking chair in an old folk’s home come to a very sudden an abrupt end. And I am still here and I am rocking all right!
A young gay man burst into tears and said, “Then what’s the point? I don’t want lows…. I want highs. I don’t want three relationships until I find the right one. I want ‘him’ now and until I die.”
But what I have come to see is just because the fairy tale we were trained to think we would have and mattered most might not come true most of the time—what we can have instead is actually something much better, much richer, much more powerful.
It has come to be corny, that old line about how all these life events shaped me into the man I am and I like that guy. But it’s true! If not for highs and lows, relationships and deaths and change change change, I would not be the Wise Elder Gay Man I am today! It was all those things that inspired me and taught me and changed me and molded me.
And without them, I couldn’t be the writer I am today, offering hope and inspiration through my words.
Today I turned fifty-five years old. Damn! Wow! I don’t feel it in many ways, and in others I do.
Today I am alive when so many others fell in life and in war.
I am a living testimony for all those times and all those lives.
And I am proud.
Thank you Universe for every single day I have lived. And I thank you for all those I have left. May I hold my head up, be proud, keep learning, and keep loving every single day.
PS: You might be reading a rough copy of this. Writing this was a rollercoaster. I’m waiting to edit it. Namasté indeed….