I don’t remember exactly when I came out to my friends. I know by 20 that I had come out to some extent, considering I do not think my friend and former boss ever would have believed I was a heterosexual. It was the first summer I worked for him that I began to go out and search for books, movies, or anything that would allow me to know what it was like to be gay. What did it mean to be a homosexual outside of sleeping with men?
Outside of the select few Will & Grace episodes, Xena, and Buffy, I only had a small amount of knowledge what it meant to be part of the community. My friend, Joel, gave me a different type of insight with introducing me to Queer as Folk. I watched the frivolity of sex and relationships. The drug use scared me more than a little bit, and the effeminacy of the men made me feel more than a little uncomfortable. Part of that came from watching people get taunted and harassed for acting outside the proper gender lines within the community.
I read books like The Best Little Boy in the World and Exclusive Embrace. I found a copy of the Greg Louganis biography. Each of these books showed me a very different type of gay man. Andrew Tobias told me a story about a guy who was like everyone else, except he loved men. Louganis showed me a side o the AIDS epidemic that you never got in rural South Dakota. Finally, Mendelsohn showed me New York. Hell, he described it as the gayest place in the world.
He painted this picture of gay New York in the late nineties with gyms, coffee shops, and bookstores that specialized in materials for the everyday gay male. He described these hook-ups with tricks that sounded almost exactly the same kind of hook-ups I had in South Dakota. He made Chelsea sound like the mystical place that only a select few could really understand and be apart of. It’s funny that it took me almost a decade after reading him to read Christopher Isherwood who describes his life in Berlin almost exactly the same.
Isherwood’s Christopher and his Kind mesmerized me. I had oddly seen Cabaret a half dozen times before ever realizing it was based on a book. When I finally read the story, I could not help become as mesmerized as I’m sure people were when it first came out. Isherwood lived his life doing what he wished with the men around him. He lived in this decadence of writing, men, and travel. Granted, he had a benefactor, but he had his ear to the round of the writing community. This was what I wanted. Sex, frivolity, travel, and words.
When I moved to New York half a decade ago, I did not find the Chelsea of Mendelsohn. I did not find the fear of AIDS that came through Louganis’s biography. And, I saw all types of gay men from femmes to more masculine, and people just like me somewhere in the center. It’s taken me a long time to find that all of them are alright, okay, and accepted. There’s no right way to be gay, and honestly, there’s no wrong way. Our culture is what we make it, and that’s always been the case. We make our narrative into whatever we want, and it’s everyone’s right to do so.