My Own Personal Stonewall
This week we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of The Stonewall Uprising, the designated birth of the gay-rights movement in America.
At the time of this event, I was only 11 years old, living in a small town in Indiana -- miles away from New York City where I now live and light years away from understanding how significant and important this event would be to me.
At 11, I guess I felt my orientation in the world was not like that of my friends and family, but it didn’t seem to matter much to me at the time. It’s probably more accurate to say I didn’t really think much about it. A gay world didn’t really exist to me. No queer culture. No role models. And certainly, no discussions about homosexuality, aloud or in “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” whispers. Let’s call it sheltered, innocent, altar-boy Catholic or a bargain I made with myself that I just was not “going there.”
Fast track and glossing over a whole lot, I moved to New York some 30-plus years later on a job transfer, probably still a little sheltered and innocent and now a soon-to-be-single father. This town was going to be my opportunity to come out, but until now I had zero –- well maybe close to zero -- conversations with anyone about it.
Enter the movie Ed Wood. Yup, that’s right, the two-time Oscar winner about the low-budget filmmaker starring Johnny Depp. So this part of the coming-out story is not about Mr. Wood but instead the supporting character Bela Lugosi, a once-famous actor who lives in near seclusion until Mr. Wood aims to resurrect his career. That guy on the screen, Mr. Lugosi (who was played by Martin Landau and by the way, the movie also included a very young SJP) would be me one day if I did not buck up, be honest with myself and with anyone in my world who really mattered. If I did not come out as a gay man, who at the time was in his 40s, I would always be that supporting character at best in a city and a time when homosexuality was gaining acceptance with everyone but me.
In fact, the feeling for the need for the big gay reveal was so strong in that theatre on the corner of 19th and Broadway that I left before the movie ended, ran to a payphone and outted myself to my son’s mother, a few close friends and started to make plans to go home to tell my own mother and family in person -- all complete before the credits rolled on Ed Wood (the drama!).
The tell-all journey lasted through the year with varying degrees of “success,” which to me was some sort of acceptance. A sense of relief, yes. Joyous and free, not at all. Why? That answer rests with one simple lesson learned that has carried me through many difficult moments. Just because I was ready to reveal, open up and expose myself did not mean everyone was ready to hear it. Most were not surprised (probably no big surprise there), but enough needed time and a lot of it to process the news. I realized quickly that if it took me more than four decades to come clean with myself, then I needed to give others time and space to understand or at least accept it. And everyone did, on a much shorter timeline than mine.
That fight back at The Stonewall 50 years ago has certainly been a catalyst for wider acceptance and those in the bar that day were role models I never knew I had when I was just 11 years old. And acceptance for me -- about me -- surfaced I guess more out of fear of isolation, sparked by a little movie released on September 23, 1994, to a theatre not too far from The Stonewall. So, my personal celebration might only be 25 years old, but I plan to make a detour during the parade with my husband on Sunday to the corner of 19th and Broadway for a bit of personal reflection.