Valentine’s Day was always troubling for me as a gay grade schooler.
I was expected to share giggly little messages of love with my classmates—that is, of course, girl classmates.
The messages were corny puns and all about the boy-meets-girl romances of the 1950s and ’60s.
It was indeed a confusing exercise in futility.
I have wondered what it would have been like to hand a valentine to a boy I had liked back then, or even now in this brave new world where children are supported by loving parents who encourage them to express their feelings.
The first little paint stroke of Mercurochrome to my upper lip seemed like an interesting idea at the time. I, after all, had grown my first mustache and beard over the summer of 1972, between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school. To my adolescent mind, it was a badge of maturity that went with leaving behind Catholic grade school and the redneck bullies I had endured for eight years. The next day would be my first day at Rockhurst High School, Kansas City’s Jesuit high school, several miles and mindsets away from the Hickman Mills area where my family lived just at the edge of where the suburbs met the cornfields and hunting woods. Grateful to be moving on, I had spent the summer gearing up for what I hoped, if not was almost certain, maybe, would be a new life, and part of the passage included not shaving for three months just to see what kind of beard I could grow.
Several friends and news organizations posted what seemed to be a startlingly positive quote from Pope Francis I on Facebook and other media today.
From most reports, it appears Francis’ statement was made in reference to gay priests, not LGBT people in general. When asked about “how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active,” he responded in Italian, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? …You can’t marginalize these people.” His response, of course, presumes that a gay priest “of goodwill” is keeping his vow of celibacy, and therefore living the life the Vatican expects all gay Catholics to live.
It’s hard to believe I met Bob in a pervious century, but when I think about our lives then and now, I realize how much the world has changed. In 1989 when we met, there was no Ellen, no Modern Family, no discussion whatsoever of marriage equality. The biggest gay rights issue in any of the big cities around the country was legislation for AIDS services and research. Despite that Bob lived in the Village and I in Chelsea (the only real gay enclaves in the City at the time), we did not feel comfortable holding hands just anywhere around our neighborhoods. Even though we often did.
I once had a therapist ask me what was the one thing I would want to say to all the tall people in the world, if I could.
“Trim your nose hair,” I said, which was the first thing that came into my head.
I had indeed, just that morning, stood beneath the looming presence of my six-foot-something Jesuit superior, distracted from whatever platitude he recited for my own good by the several long gray tentacles curling out of the dark cavity of his nostrils like some underwater creature.
I posted the following note on Facebook on November 4, 2012, just before the presidential elections, knowing I had a few family members and friends whose votes could affect my civil rights. As the Supreme Court takes up Marriage Equality today and tomorrow, I thought I’d repost it here.
A few years ago, I thought I was having a heart attack on the Garden State Parkway. Right in the middle of discussing a particularly stressful work situation with Bob, my arms and my face went numb. I could barely move my mouth. It was as if someone had administered a giant syringe of novocain into my jaw, my torso and my arms. We were both terrified. In a mumble, hauntingly similar to that of a stroke victim, I asked Bob to pull off into the rest area, while I fumbled with my tingling fingers to dial 911 on his cell phone.
The interesting thing for me about this story is how often public responses have included the word “empathy,” raising issue with many conservative leaders’ inability to empathize with anyone who is considered “other” to them.
The handsome Italian flight attendant unfolded the cloth napkin and rested it across my lap, with big smiling Caravaggio eyes that toyed with me for the moment. Bob and I had left Verona at 4 a.m. to race through the foggy Northern Italian countryside in our rental car and arrive at Milano’s Malpensa airport just short of two hours ahead of departure, only to find that Alitalia had overbooked our flight and we might not have seats.
Bob was miserable. He had picked up a cold in Verona, or Modena, or possibly even in my favorite Bologna. So driving through the dark and the fog to arrive at an airport that seemed to be accessible only by a series of farm roads with foreign names like “la deviazione” and “non accessibile” had been stressful, to say the least, and multiplied when we learned at the ticket counter that we might not get on the plane at all.
I had the honor of offering reflections at the memorial service for our dear friend Ruth Van Erp a year ago today. I first read the following reflections from Bob (who to our surprise had known Ruth longer than anyone else in the room other than her family) and then followed them with a poem I’d composed over the three days since we’d received the news of Ruth’s death.
The day I first met Bob at NYU 23 years ago, he was excited for me to meet his friend Ruth. He spoke of her like they had known each other forever, a year or two already. Turned out it had only been a week. But the first day they met they had spent seven hours together talking and had became instant friends.