I never said that there was no hell, only that I didn’t believe in it.
The place I grew up in was a world of hunters, fishermen and people who aspired to the simplicity of life. Living there was like being in a flower pot that was too small to accommodate a bloom. I might have just withered away if it hadn’t been for that restaurant on the side of the dirty bayou that cut through the midsection of the town.
There was a park across from it, and every night as I cleared tables, I would watch the small crowd of people gather under the huge oak trees. Some were just the Main Street drunks. But there were others, who stayed in the shadows and I wondered who they were.
One night a waitress sent me across the street with a bag of leftover food to give to the poor men who had nothing to eat. Reluctantly I did so, and that night I had my first conversation with a homosexual.
Soon after, I would leave work, only to return to the park, to sit on the benches and wait to meet other people, like myself. These were joyous moments, filled with the sensation of exploration and temptations of being caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to.
Some nights I would sit and watch the cruising cars, endlessly circling the block, until I could identify which one was coming around the corner by the creaks and whistles it emitted.
But at the end of each escapade, I would head home and shower away my disgust and the wrongness that I felt about what I had done. When really, all I was trying to do was find someone who understood what I was feeling.
Time passed, and I journeyed towards my self-acceptance. I won’t rehash events already covered in my post from April 2010 “a lifetime in bloom and the advice of a small spirit”.
Eventually I decided the moment had arrived to sit down and have the talk with my mother. This was 1987, before Ellen, before Will and Grace, before the club kids were making regular appearances on Geraldo.
I went to visit her in the building she lived in. We had sandwiches from the store across the street. While watching the television I turned to her and said:
“Mamma, I’m gay.”
She didn’t say anything. Never even looked at me. I thought she might not have heard me, but she said she had.
Perhaps she wasn't familiar with the word, so I used the term‘homosexual'. And then she turned to face me.
I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she told me that she did, after all, she watched Oprah.
“Mama, are you upset with me?”
“Should I be? Are you happy?”
Then she smiled, took my hand and asked me to get her a glass of water.
Between rejection and confrontation, I had landed amidst indifference. My mother only cared about my well being. She was worried about the who, and not the what.
That lesson is what I carry with me in how I live my life now. I’ve had moments of being loud and proud, broadcasting that piece of myself to any who would listen and even those who didn’t.
I’ve marched in parades, carried signs of protest, and written manifestos of revolution. Yet the most radical thing I have ever done is to allow people to see the completeness of myself and never forget that it is my own personal joy that matters the most.
And I am happy to be gay, which is a slightly redundant statement when you think about it.