Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Surely Doris Day Knew
Rock Hudson died the day I turned 15. Seeing as how I really didn’t know who he was, it didn’t make that much of an impression at first. What I came to find out, via the Enquirer at the 7-11 next door to the motel my mother managed, was that he was an old movie star and he had died of AIDS. This being a time before we bought our first VCR out of the trunk of some guy’s car at the Paris, Texas Wal-Mart, I was not familiar with his movies that I would later come to love, like ‘Pillow Talk’ or ‘That Touch of Mink’. As far as I was concerned, he was simply that old looking dude who kissed Linda Evans in the barn on Dynasty and she had FREAKED OUT when he died. And not just because of the hay he left in her coiffure.
Living just to the left of the buckle of the Bible Belt, I didn’t have much information about AIDS other than it was bad, it had killed him and he got it because he was gay. Thanks to the Reagan White House and the rest of the country’s seemingly mutual agreement to not educate people about this disease, I thought you could get AIDS just by being gay; like black people and Sickle Cell Anemia. What did I know, I was newly 15 and encased in a family so far inside our Southern Baptist bubble that to this day, my parents have never actually had “that talk” with me.
So I suffered in silence terrified that I would get AIDS and die based solely on the fact that I knew I was gay, but in title only. I hadn’t kissed or even held hands with anyone at that point. My family is Southern Baptist, but much more "19 Kids and Counting" than "Preacher's Daughters". The most daring thing I did in 1985 was watch 14 of the 17 hours of LiveAid, including both of Phil Collins’ performances. Remember, he sang in London and then flew across the Atlantic and sang in Philadelphia? On the same day? Partying like a rock star, receding hairline and all, y’all. Kanye wishes he had that much swagger.
Quite honestly I never knew, and could not find, much information about AIDS until I did a research paper in my Senior Honors English class in 1988. I asked my teacher to “assign” me homosexuality for my topic so I could find out something about it, me; whatever, I didn’t care. In an era before the internet, our only research options were in the local library. And can you guess how many books there were on homosexuality in the Tyler-Vegas High School Library? Exactly zero, unless you count Encyclopedia Brittanica. I was forced, do you hear me, forced to do this “stupid paper, on this crazy topic by that darn Miss Boyd; what’s her problem” and finally realized that I really wasn’t the only oddball in the world; just the only oddball in Mississippi. And God bless her way-ahead-of-the-curve thinking, she gave me a 96 instead of 100 because “you spent a lot of time focusing on equating homosexuality with AIDS and that’s not accurate”. I will forever be thankful for Nola Faye Boyd, God rest her beautiful soul. I wonder if she knew she was the first person I came out to, unofficially or not.
And the reason this is even on my mind was an article in Vanity Fair magazine about the remake of Larry Kramer's “The Normal Heart”. The author asked why this piece? Why now? And as a member of the Board of Directors of Academy of Friends and living about 26 feet from San Francisco, I can tell you the average person simply doesn’t think the AIDS is a real threat anymore; that drugs and treatments have essentially the problem of HIV and AIDS. And that’s not accurate.
My organization raises money to award grants to groups who provide services or education for those living with HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area and this year’s beneficiaries are doing wonderful work: PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support), Project Open Hand (meals for the critically ill), Shanti (HIV/AIDS support and counseling), LGBTQ Connection (Napa Valley Youth Program), Maitri (residential end of life care) and Clinica Esperanza (HIV/AIDS services for the Latino Community). And I’m glad I can do my part to support a community that I’ve never really embraced. Outside of the way I dress, I’ve never been very good at being gay and never been that interested or supportive of gays in general.
I’ve been reading Philip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace” and I’ve realized that I haven’t offered much grace to my fellow LGBTQers and I am not proud of that. At various points in my life, I was, for all practical purposes, a homophobic homosexual. I was taught to hate gays and since I was gay, I was taught to hate myself; at home, at church, at school, at work. And as someone who tried to do everything to the best of my ability I was hating on an Olympic level, y’all.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a phrase that’s been used a lot by some self-professed Christians professing to “not hate ANYbody”. And I believe that’s true. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it is indifference. And it has felt to me that the Church has been, at best, indifferent toward the LGBTQ community. I’d like to believe they have love for all, but I wonder if some say the beginning of that phrase solely to allow them to say the ending. Why can’t we just say “Love the sinner” and then actually do it; we’re all sinners. And as a Christian I try to do that and many of my friends and family do, too. Not all Christians are like Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson.
Let’s just all agree to try to love each other in this broken world, okay? I’ll be the first one to try. But could you people get to dressing a bit cuter, for pity’s sakes? Especially the gays; y’all have no excuse. If y'all just got that together we could love, love, love each other in color-coordinated happiness. Jesus would want it that way, right?