This is the full text of my story from the Big Gay Story Slam at the SoHo Playhouse, July 15, 2019. It includes the bits I fucked up and left out.
Hi, I’m John. CIS Gay male He/Him/His. White. Obviously. Neurodivergent. Lapsed Catholic, now Pagan. I’m 58, which is about 200 in gay years. By nature, I’m an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would literally be at home alone with my devices, but I feel events like this matter, so here I am.
In the gay community, I am what’s known as a bear: generally, a furry, chubby gay dude; but there are all sorts of species and sub-species. Once upon a time, I was kind of a “muscle bear.” Now I am sort of a “gummy bear.”
I was born in 1960. I span two centuries. CENTURIES. My immediate family were, and many still are, Republicans—although just before the 2016 election, my mom asked me to help her change political parties. I was so proud.
Cell phones were science fiction. You had a landline at home and payphones in public places. No home computers. No Google, no email, no Amazon, no internet at all. If you wanted porn, you had to leave your house and find it like an animal, pray for underwear catalogs in the mail, or make do with whatever you found in your father’s sock drawer.
Growing up we had FOUR TV Stations that went off the air at 11 PM. Five movie theaters that only showed one movie each, maybe a double-feature on Saturday. Bored? Read a book or listen to the radio.
Parenting meant being told to go play outside. Be home by dark. Don’t get into trouble, and don’t play with those kids from Penn avenue, they have the Scabies.
True story: one of those Penn Avenue kids brushed up against me once, and I instantly burst into tears. I thought I was going to die of Scabies.
So as a queer little kid, I had my family, my friends and extended family, and Catholic School to rely on to sort out my raging/changing hormones.
The nuns were out as a source of help. They didn’t want me touching my own pink parts, much less anyone else’s. Priests, well, dodged a bullet there. Half of the kids at school were already calling me queer and faggot, so no need to ask what they thought. My friends’ parents? No, they’d be on the phone to my mom in a heartbeat. My own parents? Ick, no.
That left my friends. One thing that was as true then as now, kids are awful to each other. Raise your hand if you remember the names of the kids who bullied you in school. Right? Did I want to risk exposing my secret suspicions to them when the odds were, they would just turn on me like the bullies at school? No.
So, when I was about 11 years old, I tried to hang myself. Spoiler, it didn’t work.
The only thing that kept me going after my botched suicide attempt were the few really good friends I had: one Michael, two Toms, a Dawn, the various freaks and geeks of the speech, debate, and drama clubs. I was such a dork.
I’m still friends with an alarming number of them.
Everybody else, the bullies and their enablers [and if you don’t say something when you see something, you’re an enabler], all they did was radicalize me into the outspoken, queer liberating, acting up, fucked up super poof I am today. So, thanks?.
Side note: I realized that every single male friend that helped me survive school, eventually turned out to be gay, even though we didn’t talk about it then. Gaydar is real, kids.
So, here we are IN THE FUTURE.
Aside from a surprising lack of jet packs and flying cars, you would think that with social networks, the internet, easy access porn, representation in the media, and our gains in civil rights, queer kids would have an easier time of it now, but it’s not happening. People still suck. Religion sucks. Our government is actively trying to undo all our hard-won progress, AND they’re throwing children [babies!] into fucking concentration camps on our borders. Imagine how we’re radicalizing them—and if you’re not looking at those camps wondering “when are they coming for my happy homo ass?” you aren’t paying attention.
LGBTQIA+ youth attempt suicide at 3x the rate of straight kids and the rate is climbing. Homeless rates among trans kids are skyrocketing, which makes them susceptible to suicide and a bunch of other horrible ways to die. If you believe the children are our future, that’s fucking depressing.
The Advocate recently reported that just one accepting adult can save the life of a queer kid. I’m sure the numbers are comparable for non-white, non-christian, non-binary, neurodivergent and other-abled kids too. You know, most kids.
I survived because I didn’t know how much weight a stupid ceiling light could hold, and I continued to survive because I found accepting friends and adults. I’m sure you did too.
So, be that for others, whatever their difference. Stand up to the bullies, whether they’re asshole kids, asshole religious leaders, or asshole governments here or abroad. Tell your stories. Live your truth, loud and proud. Be the adult you wish you’d known as a kid. Most of all, get off of the sidewalks and into the streets.