Equal Rights Blog Hop: What LGBT Community Means to Me
(Update: I forgot to mention you should leave an e-mail address in the comments, too…or some way I can get in touch with you. I think most did so far. But I wanted to add this just in case. You can also e-mail me in private here: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Before I get into the post about what it means to me to be a member of the LGBT community. I’d like to link to the main blog hop page at Queer Town Abbey, and this is a link to the prizes I will be giving away at the end of the hop. Please leave your comment on this post, not on the post I’ve linked to that talks about the prizes. This is the post where I will be drawing the names of the winners.
This is an interesting subject, and more complicated than I thought it would be, because for me being a member of the LGBT community has changed and evolved over the years. Although I always knew I was gay, I didn’t fully accept it until I was in college. This was around 1990 and the world was a very different place then for gay people. It was post Stonewall, and the discrimination wasn’t as intense, but it was still there lurking in the background all the time, especially with a new brand of discrimination due to the AIDS epidemic.
When I was a senior in college, I started going out to gay bars and night clubs to meet other gay men. I went to Fairleigh Dickinson U in Madison, NJ, and discovered the small town of New Hope in Bucks County, Pa, just a mile away from Lambertville, NJ, in a magazine article I’d read somewhere. It took me an hour and a half to get there from Madison, but I felt more comfortable in the small down setting than I did in NJ, and it was well worth the drive. I was totally unfamiliar with anything in the gay community, and I wanted to learn.
At first I sat in my Cougar outside a gay bar in New Hope that was called The Prelude, which was a ramshackle, flat-roofed monstrosity with a lean-to on the side. The entire building had been painted from roof to foundation in bright purple. I was too nervous to actually go inside alone that first time, so I watched other gay men file into the bar in groups, wondering where…and how…they actually met each other. I never did go in that first time, but I returned a week later and I didn’t remain in the car that night. And the most profound memory I have of that first time in a gay bar was the feeling of absolute freedom to finally, for once in my life, be myself without having to hide. So in those early days, being part of the LGBT community meant safety and freedom.
After that first night, I returned to gay bars regularly because of that safe feeling. I wound up experiencing a late puberty in the span of two short years, where I dated almost every guy who asked me to dance. Then I met my partner of twenty years, Tony. We met in a gay bar similar to The Prelude because that was the only viable place gay men met in those pre-Internet days, and we slowly started to build our lives as a couple.
We were not allowed the usual dating or engagement experience because only the bravest and most flamboyant gay men did things like that in those days. And as we began to build our lives on our terms, we met other gay couples who became our surrogate family. At that point the LGBT community transitioned for me and it meant a sense of family Tony and I couldn’t get from our own families at the time.
We didn’t have a wedding and we didn’t have any celebrations or parties like straight couples. We bought our own furniture and drapes and there were no shower gifts or tokens of any kind. We basically started with nothing but an empty town house and a bed. And one of the most interesting things I discovered about the gay community we were part of was that we would give to each other what we didn’t get from families. In other words, at Christmas and on birthdays we gave and received gifts that could have been wedding gifts or shower gifts, like that crystal bowl or the vase you get from someone’s aunt. It’s why we still, to this day, celebrate our birthdays together and we give each other birthday gifts. It’s not really the material things that matter. It’s more the thought that matters. To know that you belong, too, and that there are people who care about you like family.
The first ten years went spent working hard, investing in real estate, and socializing with our gay friends who were all living the same circumstances we were living. Tony and I weren’t on bad terms with our families, but we weren’t out yet to our families. And then in 2002 Tony’s mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that took her away six months later. I didn’t go to the funeral in spite of the fact that we had been together for ten years. Our gay family, our friends, helped us through that terrible time, too. And through this experience I decided that I wanted my family to know my life, and my partner, and I invited them to our home for dinner one night not long after Tony’s mom passed. One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never knew Tony’s mom, and I didn’t want that to happen with my own mom and Tony. By watching how other gay couples did things with their families, I learned, I asked for advice, and they supported me/us through that period, too.
When you reach a certain point in life, things begin to change. You start to experience life and its challenges, and losing good friends happens when you least expect it. I had a best friend who was older than I was and I depended on him a great deal. I owned an art gallery in New Hope and worked in publishing part time, and Tony had a corporate job that required a lot of travel. For seven years, not a day went by when I didn’t speak to my friend at least three times. And then one Sunday in March 1999, after a great evening we’d spent with other friends, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack. His sudden death devastated me beyond words and I went into all the classic stages of grief. The one thing that kept me grounded was the sense of community I found within the gay community, because they were grieving for my friend almost as badly as I was.
A lot has changed for Tony and I since we first met. In 2007 Tony became deathly ill with viral pneumonia and almost died. He spent three months in the hospital on life support. Up until then I’d never met his family, but didn’t have a choice anymore. Thankfully, they accepted us and there was never an issue. My family came and supported us during that time, too. But once again, it was the LGBT community who came to my side and got me through most of it. And as I grow older and I meet younger gay men who are just starting out, I feel the need to show them that sense of community. I want them to know that in spite of all the problems that go along with being gay, there’s always that strong sense of community within the LGBT community they can fall back on no matter how bad it gets.
It doesn’t end there either. My experiences with the gay community continues to evolve as I move into middle age. A lot of the people I was friendly with twenty years ago are now seniors and they need my help more now than I needed theirs twenty years ago. They don’t have kids to help them with medical issues or take them to doctors appointments. They don’t have families close by they can depend on. So Tony and I are prepared for whatever comes along in the future, and we’re prepared to keep that sense of loyalty within the LGBT community alive and well.