It takes a real man to admit he’s a homosexual!
Yup. That’s the phrase I yelled from my friend Terry G’s Datsun as we sped past a group of jocks from Ygnacio Valley High School. I believe Terry went quite flush and stopped the car. Apparently my new rallying cry was going to taint his high school experience, too (oops). One might say this is where I began fighting back at bullies through the precision arts of sarcastic humor and running away really freakin’ fast! (Now officially called Tweaked Nipple Productions.)
But the seeds of my “intolerance of intolerance” go back to the 5th grade. It was the late 70’s and the evening news no longer shied away from reports about homosexuals – usually about either gay demonstrations or gay beatings.
I wasn’t well versed in the labels and insults of the time, but I knew “gay” had a dual meaning (Bambi sang about a “gay spring” in the movie and the 6 o’clock news erroneously said Bob Crane from “Hogan’s Heroes” was allegedly beaten to death for being gay). As the new kid at Cupertino Elementary in San Jose, I was always looking for ways to ingratiate myself. So, when the bully of the school dared me 75 cents to run around the school yard yelling “I’m gay,” it just seemed like an awesome opportunity.
Of course, being the actor that I am, I took off around the yard, throwing in grand leaps and tugging on the yard duty’s sleeve, emphatically insisting to her that I was gay! It was a brilliant performance. The kids were in stitches! I retrieved my 75 cents and then spent the rest of the year being chased, punched and spat on. In retrospect, not a good acting gig.
It got so bad that I transferred out of the district to attend junior high. But the taunts continued because, apparently, being skinny and sensitive was really all that was needed to be called a faggot. No need to pull a Yul Brynner.
The upside? Oh yes, there’s a big upside! I took refuge in the drama department and community theatre where I was surrounded by the dreaded (or, as I would say, talented) “gay people” and girls who wanted to try french kissing with any straight boys who showed up. So, not only did I get some wonderful tongue technique, I also had intelligent, funny, compassionate male friendships.
I’m astonished how high schools are more open now (though still difficult to endure if you’re gay, I’m sure). But when I got my ear pierced (the left, non-George Michael way — very important then) I was given so much grief. There was one guy, Marco, who made PE so horrible that I cut the class for a year and a half. He would take every opportunity to kick or hit me and tell me to go back to San Francisco (we were in the East Bay).
A year after I took the GED and got the hell out, I ran into Marco again. I was a prep cook at Soup Or Salads. The day chef was a great lady who was married to the night chef. She was a lesbian and he was a gay man. It was a marriage of friendship and convenience — entered into prior to Gay Liberation and the Stonewall Riots of 1969. He would flirt with me, but I did what many macho men find very difficult to do. I used my “inside” voice and told him I was straight… I even thanked him for the compliment. God, I’m so brave. (Actually, it was this night chef who told me that the definition of “machismo” was “insecurity in action.”)
Anyway, one day, in comes Marco with the night chef. When Marco saw me, he froze. In that moment, I saw every one of his kicks and punches he thew at me… And it just made me sad for him. Lord knows what he had to endure at home. Something awful enough to make him fight his own nature with blind cruelty. We shook hands and they left.
When I think of Marco, the phrase I created as a taunt and a joke takes on a much more simple and precise meaning.
Last Sunday I went to a NOH8 photo shoot and fundraiser for their AIDS Walk team. I took my camera thinking I’d maybe put a little video together. I grabbed so many amazing shots. Moments that I was lucky to have caught… or so I thought. You see, the RED light means it’s recording and the GREEN light means it’s not. Not the other way around. Got it? Because I still forget!
But I did grab some nice shots afterwards. When I got home to edit it, the idea morphed a little bit and this video is the result. No jokes or nipple tweaks. Just a solemn meditation. I hope it moves you. But more importantly, I hope it moves someone who’s still resisting the age of cultural enlightenment that we are entering into.
The song is by the Queen of boogie-woogie, Doña Oxford.
The video is dedicated to my great, late friend Rob Consoli and to fellow voiceover artist, Trev Broudy, a gentle soul and better man than most.