In a world *before* Google and the world wide web…… my parents still owned a bookcase *full* of those things called 'encyclopedia's*, our telephone still had a 25ft. cord on it so my Mom would have the "freedom" to walk around the house while she talked on the phone and I would stay up late intently listening to the local college radio stations to hear the latest music.
And then there was MTV.
Growing up The Papa had *strict* rules about MTV: I was not allowed to watch 'such trash'. AND THAT was when all it really played was actual music videos…I remember my parents going B.A.N.A.N.A.S about the Janet Jackson video for Nasty….good grief.
As the years went on, The Papa relaxed his rules and Adam Curry and his big hair became a staple of my Dial MTV 4:00pm television diet, and when The Real World started…. I was mesmerized.
I missed most of New York - the first season, but never missed a single episode of Los Angeles - which was the second season. Jon (the Christian Cowboy) was a reflection of so many people around me…. not in a bad way - but in the way that you watch people and how they act and you start to see things you don't like, you recognize traits of behaviors in yourself acted out by these people and if you're paying attention: it can change you.
Hmm….. how to explain.
People tell racist jokes.
People laugh at racist jokes or inappropriate comments.
People do silly things - like chase each other around the hall way and sexually tease each other.
People live in a bubble and never meet a person of race or who are homosexual - and yet have hard and fast opinions about both.
and THEN - in a house with seven strangers you watch them grow and change and *experience* diversity and life experiences…. and I kind of felt like *I* grew with them.
I saw things I did, jokes I might have told or laughed at…. and realized that they were wrong, or that my humor was misplaced and without intending to - it could be offensive. (Don't worry... I'm *clearly* still plenty offensive.)
When Tami (Los Angeles) had her abortion it was MIND. BLOWING. Watching her struggle and cry while her Mom sat at her bedside helpless was *forever* burned into my mind…. how brave that she shared that with an entire country. So brave.
And then after Irene got married (I never understood why they let her on the season if she was leaving halfway through….)- they brought in Beth A. who wore this infamous t-shirt on her first day in the house and it said:
"I'm not GAY, my girlfriend is."
I actually had to *think* about what the hell that meant…… lololol. She wasn't my favorite character on the show, to be honest, but she WAS the first "real life" lesbian that I ever saw. However, coming in halfway through an already tumultuous season - her story line was focused less on her sexuality and more on the seven of them getting along.
THE NEXT YEAR was San Francisco…. with the *infamous* Puck and Rachael and Judd…. and Pedro.
That season changed my life. I believe it changed many lives. Never before had their been such *fighting* and growth and change.... and I'm not sure any other cast became as close or was as affected by their season as the San Fran cast was. Most notable of the seven strangers was Pedro.
Pedro was HIV positive, and gay.
He was also kind and patient - which was required when Puck kept putting this nose-picking-fingers in Pedro's peanut butter jar.
Pedro also fell in love: with Sean Sasser. And we, along with the six other housemates, go to watch Pedro's struggle and journey which ended with the *first* gay commitment ceremony that *ever* appeared on US television. (Oh MTV.... how you have fallen.... lololol).
THIS, watching these two men relate to and love each other…. was life changing. This was *the first* gay relationship that I got to see unfold in real time: unscripted, honest, true and gay. Pedro not only put a face on what being HIV positive meant…. he put a *heart* behind what being gay meant.
In 1994 people were not living "OUT", certainly not outside of San Francisco. Pedro faced all kinds of issues and shared openly his journey as a Cuban gay man, and as an HIV positive person. Pedro was so brave, he had found out he was HIV while still in high school and he used whatever time he had left on the planet to try to educate people - especially younger kids - about the dangers of un-safe sex and how to protect themselves… and about HIV/AIDS.
When Pedro met Sean, he was already getting sick. The stress of camera's and living with the ever unpleasant Puck, seemed to take a toll on Pedro, but he never gave in. Sean & Pedro fell in love while filming for The Real World. All the while, Pedro was getting sicker and sicker… right there in front of our eyes.
You watched these people - like Rachael, raised in a super conservative home (just like me), who initially shied away from Pedro in fear of his gay and HIV status not out of actual 'hate' but out of ignorance….. and then you watch her learn and grow and become friends with Pedro and then you see her own pain as she watches her friend grow weaker and sicker…. that's an amazing journey to be a part of.
Above all else, their love story became a solid story line for the show and Sean's love and support for Pedro was…. amazing.
In a world where the *idea* of an actual 'hate crime' didn't even yet exist…. because it was still kind of okay to beat up some queer in the street just for being queer…… there they were: Pedro and Sean.
All the things I wasn't.
All the things *countless* people like me were afraid to be.
They weren't Hollywood actors, their life and love wasn't scripted… it was real and raw and heartbreaking - because you knew their time together would be marred by illness and eventually death.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, this was a straight kids world. There are a sh*t ton of Disney Princess stories and Cameron Crowe and John Hughe's films that told me how to act if I wanted the perfect boyfriend…. they quiet *literally* defined the qualities I would look for in a future mate - but they predefined that that *mate* should be - *would be* a man…..
These are great movies, I loved them then and still love them now….. but when you look around at a world and you don't see any part of yourself reflected back at you on a regular basis, it's hard to figure out who you are and where you "fit in". Really hard because we tend to define ourselves by our family and friends and the world we see around us. If you identify that you are *not* the same as your family and friends and the world you see….. how do you learn to define who you are?
How do you find the courage to *be* who you are?
Just yesterday I was talking to someone who knew El Capitan and I since we got married and we were discussing my lesbian status and they even said…. "Why on earth *would* you have come out in 1990s? I wouldn't have….. the world is different and much more accepting now."
and thank f*ck for that as well. lololol
Pedro and Sean were the first people who defined, for me, what an actual 'gay relationship' could look like…. and to *everyone's* surprise around the world: it was the same.
Pedro and Sean showed us all that gay love was the same as everyone else's love. To a world FULL of social media and visual input - this information seems commonplace. However, to those of us living among corn fields and tractors and pick-up trucks.... this was a f*cking *newsflash*. lololol
Sadly.... Pedro passed away in November 1994.
You know they say there are those days you never forget - like when John F. Kennedy was killed, you never forget the place you were when you heard the news…. or John Lennon or Elvis. For me, it was the day I found out Pedro had died. It felt like a part of me was gone because ….. hmm…. how to describe this without seeming like I'm trying to attach myself to such a huge loss in an inappropriate way…..
With so *few* (actually ZERO) ties to the gay community, Pedro was - in a bizarre way -my only connection to that part of myself….. and when he died, that part of me died, too. It was a choice - I let it die. I stuffed it down, locked it away, stopped looking in the mirror.... until I didn't see it anymore. I was already living in London and working and dating Drew.
I was happy …. or rather, I was as happy as I thought I could be and didn't question anything else. I didn't *want* to be gay….. who the f*ck would in 1993/1994? lolol. Well… people braver than me. Stronger than me. People who had a better, fuller understanding of who they were……
But not me.
The truth is, if you tell yourself a lie - *any* lie -long enough... eventually you'll believe it.
Eventually it becomes your truth for as long as you're willing to keep repeating it.
For me.... the lie was that I was straight.
Two days ago It was announced that Sean Sasser passed away from Cancer at only 44. He had married again and actually ended up living in Portland for the last couple of years with his husband and continued to be active in AIDS/HIV education.
I never met him, never had the chance to tell him what his love for Pedro taught a 19 year old girl sooooo much about who she was…….. about who she was *meant* to be, even if she took a really long (and crazy) road to get there. I know I'm one of *thousands* of people - male and female - who feel this way about him.... I hope he knew that impact he had just by being who he was.
It's part of the reason why I was willing to come out on The Blog, part of the reason why I'm trying to Blog about the changes I've made and have been making and trying to put a *face* on what it means to grow up gay in a straight world and come to terms with who you are *very* late in life..... because I know deep down I'm not the only one who feels (has felt) this way. My journey is *not* as unique and rare as some might think.... I've gotten several email from men and women asking for help as they go on their own similar journey.
I also know that there are some Moms out there *right now* raising kids who are gay.... born that way and staying that way..... I figure if I am willing to share what might have helped me accept who I was as a child, then may be I can help a Mom or two understand their own child better..... may be not, but it's worth a shot.
Above all, I've come to realize that being OUT, being VISIBLE is incredibly important for myself and for my entire community.... a lesson I *should* have better learned 20 years ago......
Just tonight I was out with Keebler and some other great friends - Macks and Atty and Coach and Hail Mary and I cannot *tell* you how like totally proud I am to be OUT with Hail Mary.... I'm so proud to be her girlfriend.
Anyhow.... it's Keebler's last week in PDX, and Hail Mary and I went down to VooDoo Donuts to get her a special treat to remember Portland by and walking back to the bar (which is a gay bar) - there was a couple a few steps behind us.
The man was a good looking man with sparkly green eyes and a short hair cut: very cute. He was holding hands with a girl who had long hair, wearing tight black mini-dress and carrying a rose.... they were *clearly* on a date - and one they were enjoying.
The man asked us if we knew where [the club we were going to] was located - and we told him it was on the next block and they could walk with us there.... and then the girl - clearly feeling nervous - timidly said, "We're from Bellingham...... is this club LGBTQ friendly.......?"
I looked a little closer and realized that the girl was a transgender person.
You see... we *still* live in a world where transgender people have to *ask* if they are going to be SAFE in a nightclub because of who they are..... sigh. That's just f*cking heartbreaking.
Immediately Hail Mary and I reassure them *both* that not only is Portland *very* supportive of it's LGBTQ community, but that at this club in particular not only will they feel *safe* there, but they will find *many* transgender people enjoying themselves - freely.
They both seemed so relieved..... and you know what - because Hail May and I were out, holding hands and being who *we* are - these people knew they could ask a question like that on the sidewalk. It's a teeny-tiny small thing.... but then again, it isn't.
It isn't *nearly* on the level of Sean and Pedro or countless other people who *inspire* me to be who I am.... but just by BEING WHO I AM - and being out with the person who I .... have incredibly strong feelings for and am *very proud* to be with.... we were able to help two strangers feel just a little more .... confident? safe in their new surroundings.....? Like I said... it's a little bit of something... and I'll take it. lolololol
I hope that couple danced the night away.
****** I stopped writing this post this morning and spent the afternoon writing a few key people who have (and continue) to inspire me in my life. I think too many times we don't tell people - especially people we don't really know - how much of a positive affect they have on our lives, and in light of Sean's passing, I didn't want to let that an opportunity to share with certain people pass me by……
God bless those who inspire us to be who we are, to be better people…