Santa Fe, are you there?

“We met back in the days of Gay.Com back in the days of America Online, in the early days of the Internet. It changed everything, back then. Gay men had to go places to meet other gay men back then, parks or clubs or events. Before that, the only way to meet gay men from far away was through correspondence of some kind, a phone service or responding to a letter in a magazine. But they launched gay.com, and you could create a profile about yourself and start chatting with men from around the country. It was revolutionary. That was more than 20 years ago now.”

Ed took a sip from his homemade margarita as his partner, Joe, spoke. They were nestled in the corner of their balcony, two chairs pushed up next to each other. There were seven of us out there, chairs arranged in an abstract circle. We all had drinks, and plates full of tortilla chips and homemade guacamole, perfect for this Santa Fe early evening. I turned to look at the view behind me, the skyline stretching over brown rolling hills and brown adobe-style buildings. I could hear birds all of this city, and I loved it.

“It’s quite a view, isn’t it? We retired here earlier this year. And this is basically paradise for us, sitting out here and watching the sun set. It’s the perfect life.”

“So you started chatting online, and then what?” I asked, eager to hear more.

“Well, it was very apparent we were attracted to each other. But life was complicated. I had a wife, children, and a law practice. And Ed had the same, except hundreds of miles away, and he was a pharmacist. But after a few months, we just decided to go for it. We both told our wives we had a work conference and then we started driving. We met in the middle, in a town on the border of Texas and Colorado, and spent three amazing days together. It was just meant to be, I guess. But it took a few years of secret weekend rendezvous times before we could actually come out and be together. And now we’re married. We’re grandfathers. And we’ve retired to Santa Fe, our dream city.”

The other couple there, Wayne and Jason, told a similar story, reminiscing about meeting years before when they both had families. Though they still spent time in different cities as they pursued their own jobs, and both had children and families, they wanted to settle into Santa Fe themselves one day.

I’d connected with this group of men through a random Facebook connection. While I was visiting Santa Fe, a long-time online friend who I had never met had invited me out for drinks with his friends, and I’d eagerly said yes, always happy to make new friends.

“There seems to be a substantial gay community here.”

“Yeah, there is. There has been for years. Gay couples and eccentric artists, that’s Santa Fe. But it isn’t your typical gay community. There aren’t any gay clubs. The town is big enough to have everything you need or want, and there is always something going on, but it’s usually just local restaurants, comfy normal bars, and a show or movie. It’s quiet here.”

The birds chirped louder suddenly, almost seeming to emphasize the point. I’d noticed that over the past few days. Everywhere seemed to have people, every museum or venue that I’d visited, but the streets and shops were quiet. It was a strange combination.

“Years back, Santa Fe had to choose between putting in a university or a prison. The community chose the prison. They liked the jobs it brought, and the tax incentives, and the university would have brought with it a lot of young people, which would change the entire town. Anyway, you can find what you want here, or not. It’s one of the most romantic cities ever.”

“Well, if you are part of a couple, it’s romantic.” The other single guy on the porch, Gary, took a gulp of water. “I moved here three years ago from Europe for a job, and the entire city is idyllic, but it seems everyone here is older and partnered. It’s a difficult city to date in.”

I tuned out for a bit, my attention moving toward the clouds and the horizon. I felt the breeze and got a bit chilly in my tank top and shorts, wrapping my arms around my own chest for warmth. A few minutes passed as I just lost myself there, feeling the internal pressures of the past few weeks just kind of calm. Life could be so simple, or so complicated. It could be kids, bills, projects, and deadlines. Or it could be sipping margaritas and eating chips on a porch while watch the sunset. I needed this.

Ed talked about volunteering a few days per week at the local AIDS clinic, detailing that with the older generation of gay men living here, many who had survived the deadly AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the clinic was crucial for their ongoing health. Some of these men had been living with AIDS for two or three decades, he explained.

I tuned out again, my thoughts going to the history of everyone here, the various paths we had taken. The birds, the roads, the buildings, the hills, all of it coming from somewhere and moving somewhere else. In hours, this patio and this conversation would be part of the past and I’d be on to a new present, and somehow that felt okay right now. It was a strange sensation, one I’d been getting more accustomed to lately, this idea of dwelling only in the present moment.

I turn inward and realize the song Santa Fe from Newsies is playing there on auto-pilot. It’s been playing in the background of my brain ever since I planned my trip here. My brain always works this way, some random song in the background. I hadn’t seen Newsies in years, but I could still remember Christian Bale dancing through the streets as he dreamed of a better life.

Santa Fe are you there
Do you swear you wont forget me
If I found you would you let me come and stay
I aint getting any younger
And before my dying day
I want space not just air
Let them laugh in my face
I don’t care
Sante Fe
I’ll be there

Advertisements

Ghosts of San Francisco Past: Castro

The Castro SF

The streets of the Castro are covered in Pride flags. The roads roll up and down steep hills and the cars navigate them despite the fact that there seems to be nowhere to park. As I walked along the sidewalks, peeking through the windows of trendy shops, coffee and pastry establishments, bars, and small restaurants, I looked down and noticed small concrete memorials to LGBT celebrities past: Sally Ride, Barbara Jordan, Virginia Woolf, Oskar Wilde, Tennessee Williams. I wondered how many stepped over their memories, their ghosts, without noticing.

There are gay people everywhere. Big beefy men walk the streets, holding hands and and keeping dogs on leashes. Older gay men open store fronts. A lovely black lesbian couple make conversation on the subway. Men sit across from each other at tables sipping coffee, looking up and noticing other men walking by with casual interest. Eyes constantly wander. There are smiles on every face. Asian, Latin, African American, white, men and women of every shape, size, color, and age, in tank tops, jeans, suits, and dresses. And everyone smiling, shopping, eating. The sun shines down on all equally in this moment, another that will soon be passed.

I watch the posters advertising local shows and events. Shirtless men holding beers advertising happy hour; four women in drag as the Golden Girls advertising a holiday special; a drag queen in a cradle advertising a show called ‘A Gay in the Manger’; beautiful men in togas advertising a Bacchanalia festival. I overhear conversations about holiday party plans, see Christmas trees and lights in third story windows, and see bags of wine and booze being rushed up flights of stairs while bags of garbage are being rushed down them.

I stop in the newly established LGBT history museum and look at the two small rooms of displays. I spend most of my time on a computer where a feature allows me to select a ‘random obituary’, and I push the button nearly five dozen times. I see newspaper clippings about funerals from 1989, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2006. Nearly every one I see is a man dead of AIDS. Some have no photos. Some use aliases. One is about an Olympian athlete, one a doctor, one a flight attendant, one a drag queen and performer, one a Viet Nam veteran, all dead from a senseless epidemic. Several of the obituaries close with pleas to donate to local AIDS research organizations to help find a cure. There are only two outliers: an elderly man who had AIDS yet died of cancer, and a black lesbian who was shot in the head in a random drive-by shooting while her partner held her.

I walk a mile in the other direction, up to Corona Heights, and I ascend several flights or old wooden stairs, climbing and climbing. I arrive at the top, then climb on top of a big rock, and I look over the city. The ocean melts into the land on one side, and the Earth curves in the distance. The homes there are beautiful, ornate, enormous. I turn to the left and see rows of homes with no space between them and no yards. An ocean breeze blows against my face, chapping my lips, and I think of the homeless woman in pigtails and childlike makeup who sat on a street corner with a pink blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she made kissing noises at passers-by, and the man who was dressed in a Spongebob Squarepants onesie, the one who held a cardboard sign that said he’d been recently diagnosed with AIDS; he’d written in black marker the web address for his own GoFundMe page.

I climb back down and walk the streets again. I can’t get the obituaries out of my head. I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like back then, to be part of building a community like this. Now, gay neighborhoods are commonplace and have spread through cities. They have gentrified. Now, gay clubs are filled with straight people. But then, to be a part of building a safe place where there were no other safe places. To see these men and women walking the streets, finding jobs and families, building homes and lives. And then to see it all threatened, compromised, and washed away by AIDS, by violent attacks, by oppressive laws. The rushing thoughts inspired me and saddened me at the same time.

I walked past no less than six shops specializing in sexy underwear, sex toys, lube, and vintage porn, then I came across the Human Rights Campaign’s office, and realized it is based in the original Castro Camera shop, the one where Harvey Milk lived and waged his campaign for election before his assassination. That felt right, felt just somehow. Many may not know the history, but they know the name Harvey Milk. He’s been canonized, he’s become an icon, and to see that structure still standing for equality gave me a sense of hope, of history.

I sit to reflect, with Turkish coffee and a pastry with a name I can’t pronounce, and I think of history, of all who have come before who are only remembered by the lives they touched. I think of the stories I have to tell, and how hard it is to make a living at that yet how it’s the only thing I seem to want to do lately. It overwhelms me sometimes, this need I seem to have to honor ghosts. Yet it fulfills me in ways I never thought possible.

Later, I purchase tickets to see the movie Misery in the Castro, a film decades old about an obsessed crazy woman. Kathy Bates is brilliant in it, fully convincing with her syringes, sledgehammers, and dirty birdies. The theater is nearly 100 years old, with textured walls, old movie posters, carved ornate fixtures, and high ceilings. A man plays a pipe organ where the previews should have been. I look across the crowd and see several dozen people here, in this old building, paying full price to see a movie from the past. The Castro has sing-along nights, silent films, black and whites, and still the people come to see it. They are entertained by the past, in an old space. The love the stories.

And that fact, their joy, that finally quiets the ghosts for a time.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Natalie

Natalie1

Natalie Wood had that dangerous gleam in her eye. The smallest change of intention can be seen there in her movies. With one glance and no words, she could turn from playful to flirtatious, sexual to bored, casually interested to deeply hurt.

And that laugh. That delicious, almost childlike laugh of hers, whole body behind it. And she could definitely turn on the tears.

And, my god, her figure, her small-waisted perfect figure.

Natalie Wood was a powerhouse.

Natalie2

In her movie career, she would play Native Americans and HIspanics and Puerto Ricans, but her ethnicity was actually Soviet. Natalie’s parents both hailed from Russia, and her birth name was Natalia Zakharenko. Her parents (though it is believed the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father) fled from Russia after violent political conflicts that had deadly consequences for both sides of the family, came to America, and started a family, changing their name to Gurdin. Natalie Gurdin had an impossible stage mother, Mara, who pushed, prodded, screamed, and manipulated to get Natalie roles in films in Hollywood.

Blog Art - Natalie Wood child

And so the studios started casting little Natalie in movies, using the last name Wood to make her more accessible. And so she spent her childhood sometimes a regular kid in a regular class, and sometimes on movie lots, working long days alongside Fred MacMurray and Bette Davis and a hundred others, going to school on a lot. She made duds (Tomorrow is Forever and Father Was a Fullback) and she made classics (The Star and the Ghost and Mrs. Muir), but she became immortalized as the practical monkey-faced girl who learned to believe in Santa Claus in the Miracle on 34th Street.

As a teenager, Natalie sought to claim life as her own. She discovered alcohol and sleeping pills, rebellion against her overbearing mother, and how to use sex, even to get roles if needed. She made films that were iconic for her time but that have been nearly forgotten now, like Marjorie Morningstar, and she made sure she would never be forgotten when she played the female lead in Rebel Without a Cause at the age of 16. The following years were hard. She lost friends to tragic deaths, fell in and out of love, struggled through medcical emergencies, had her heart broken and broke hearts, dabbled with substances, even attempted suicide.

But those eyes… those eyes just kept showing up in role after role. And that laugh. That smile. That figure. That soft voice that could carry weight. Bob and Carol and Alice and Ted. West Side Story, yet another iconic role. Splendor in the Grass. The Great Race. Gypsy. They wouldn’t let her sing in West Side Story, she just wasn’t ready for that, but she did her own songs in Gypsy. Various moments in her adult life were immortalized in Hollywood as you watched her grow from child to mother.

Natalie4

Natalie ha one great love, the actor Robert Wagner. But after her marriage to him failed, she tried again with actor Richard Gregson, and had a daughter, Natasha. She married Wagner again and had little Courtney. And she loved being a mother. She had years off screen when she wasn’t acting. She traveled the world. She had lovers and friends, straight and gay, in Hollywood and around the world.

Natalie died far more tragically than many realize. She grew up deathly frightened of dark water. Her mother had received a warning from a fortune teller about dark water, and Natalie herself had had a frightening experience as a child, nearly drowning in dark water on a movie set. She told friends about her fear her entire adult life, refusing to swim unless the area was well lit. So when she boarded a boat in her early 40s with her husband Robert and her movie costar Christopher Walken, and had far too much to drink, mixing it with sleeping pills, and argued with her husband that night… well, her body was found the next day, drowned, floating in dark water. Controversy and opinions about Natalie’s death still make tabloid headlines, and the investigation into her death is still ongoing, even 31 years later.

Were she still alive, Natalie would be in her 70s now. Her life would undoubtedly have had more heartbreak, losing friends through the AIDS crisis, struggling to find roles in her older life, likely struggling with alcohol and depression still. But she would have seen her daughters grow, and she would have met her grandchildren. And she would have definitely made at least a few more classics to be remembered alongside the others for hundreds of years to come.

And she still would have had those dangerous and alluring eyes. Those eyes…

48aa4bdaf5812133_oscars-natalie-wood

Rock Hudson liked blonde boys

wpid-376

Rock Hudson grew up when men were men.

And he liked men who were men.

Masculine men. Blonde, blue-eyed military men. Men with strong chests and big shoulders, big biceps and strong backs, thick legs and firm butts. Men who could drink themselves under the table, who liked steak and potatoes, and who looked incredible without ever having to set foot in the gym. Men who could hack down a tree with an axe. Men who pursued women, yet still liked men on the side. Men with power and ambition, and who knew how to get ahead. Men who held a cigarette between their index finger and thumb and smoked the masculine way. The straighter and more masculine the man, the more Rock Hudson wanted them to be gay.

When Roy Fitzgerald first became Rock Hudson, the stage name slected for him by an older gay Hollywood agent Henry Willson who knew good looks when he saw them, he was a fish out of water. He had fooled around with boys in the Navy, but it was all very hush-hush, and Hollywood was full of gay men. He realized he turned heads. Even with his ill-fitting clothing (he was 6 foot 5) and his body odor (he refused to wear deodorant, considering it effeminate), he approached Hollywood with a wonder. How had he gone from small-town America with a doting mother and an abusive stepfather to a world like this?

And after he became an international movie star and sex symbol, he had a big house on a hill and a fast car and the men were suddenly everywhere. But he realized rather quickly that being a movie star can be intimidating to others. Men were shocked that Rock Hudson actually wanted to be with him, and they got shy when things turned sexual.

Though he may not have started with one, Rock Hudson developed an ego. He expected people to take notice when he walked by, wanted their attention and applause. He settled down a few times with a few different blonde boys, men who were the right balance of physically perfect, driven, masculine, playful, and devoted to him. Men who were discreet in public, and affectionate in private.

He even married a woman once, Phyllis, just to see if he could. And he loved her, he did, but there were men out there, so many men.

Ego seems to come at a price, however, for when someone feels they are the most important person in the room, those someones tend to doom themselves to quite a bit of loneliness. No one can match the ego, and so no one can feel the void. And so there was the sex, and the alcohol, and the nicotine, and the cocaine, and the trips around the world. But the void just kept screaming.

A few years into making movies, Rock Hudson had to realize that there was always a next day. After months of being paid a million dollars to laugh with Elizabeth Taylor or to strong-arm Doris Day, there were the quiet months at home before the next movie came along. In the 1940s and 1950s, there were the sex symbol movie stars, and the character actors who supported them. And then a new era came along, when the character actors who weren’t sex symbols started getting the top billing. The public suddenly wanted to see Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino, not Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.

And the void got louder and still couldn’t be filled.

And like any human, Rock Hudson was complicated. He was giving and kind, young at heart, insatiable. He didn’t trust easily, and when he did he trusted well, yet broken trust could be impossible to regain. After a few years in the business, he could brilliantly convey emotion on the big screen, yet he couldn’t share his feelings even with his lovers and closest friends.

Rock Hudson lived his life in the closet, denying rumors of his attractions to men right up until the very end. In the last months of his life, as he lay weak and dying from AIDS, he wanted his story to be told. He hired a biographer, he encouraged his friends to be open with their hearts and stories, he came out publicly as homosexual, though he had denied the same claim for decades before it.

And at the end, at the age of 59, he was weak and small, though still 6 foot 5, and he went out of the world as quietly as he had entered.

In the end, like so many stars, he got what he wanted… he made sure the world would remember Rock Hudson, the identity created for himself.

But I would much rather remember Roy Fitzgerald.

homosexuals on Nickelodean

bewitched-cartoon-opening

When I was 13 years old, I watched Nick at Nite nearly every night. Classic television shows, hilarious and entertaining. And I sought out other classic shows, watching them wherever I could. The Jeffersons. The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Brady Bunch. Bewitched. My Three Sons. The Donna Reed Show. Hollywood Squares. I Dream of Jeannie. The F Troop. Get Smart. The Carol Burnett Show. I Love Lucy. 

I didn’t watch a lot of modern television at the time. I was a good little Mormon kid who tried to keep things clean in my head and heart, and shows like Blossom and Friends were just too racy.

It must have been obvious to at least  few people that I was gay. I hated sports and was excessively creative, writing stories and planning parties, designing family activities and making treasure hunts for friends. Looking back, the signs were so clear. I looked longingly at boys in my class that I had a crush on quietly while the straight guys were cracking sex jokes about the girls they liked. In my mind, I had plans for a happy little Mormon home growing up, where I would have a wife and kids and pictures of Jesus and the temple on the wall.

And then Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet, and the world went nuts. Then Rosie O’Donnell. There must have been more, but the public controversy surrounding these two was enormous, they were names known in my household, and the world around me, in my small Mormon community, acted with disgust. I heard rumors about Ricky Martin, but no he couldn’t be gay.

More stars started coming out of the closet, and there was a general feeling of ‘ew, gross’ from everyone around. My ears perked up, and I began to associate, even more, with homosexuality being something disgusting, which meant I was disgusting. There were rumors about a couple down the street being gay, two women who lived together, and the kids in my high school scoffed. There was talk from people at church about God creating AIDS to help wipe out the gay population.

And adults longed for the morality of Hollywood years ago, with wholesome movies and movie stars who promoted family values. Only, some of these famous stars began dying of AIDS, and their attractions to men were being revealed. Rock Hudson. Liberace. Anthony Perkins. Freddie Mercury. And Robert Reed.

I had felt like I was the only one in the entire world. I had no idea my sister one bedroom over was also gay. I had no idea friends in my high school were gay. I had no idea that the world estimated 10 per cent of the population was gay.

But Robert Reed? Mike Brady, the father on the Brady Bunch, was gay. The epic father figure of the family that showed up in everyone’s households for decades, he was gay. I filed that away in my brain, unable to process it, for a very long time.

And it was only this past year that I dusted it off, and I began researching. Turns out I wasn’t alone at all. All those shows I grew up watching? They were full of gay people, and I had no idea.

Dick Sargent, who played Darren Stevens on Bewitched, was gay. Richard Deacon, who played Mel Cooley on the Dick Van Dyke Show, was gay. Paul Lynde, who played Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, was gay. Sherman Helmsley, who played George Jefferson on the Jeffersons, was gay. George Maharis of Route 66, Charles Nelson Reilly of What’s My Line?, Richard Chamberlain of Dr. Kildare, Maurice Evans of Bewitched, Edward Mulhare of the Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Nancy Kulp of the Beverly Hillbillies, Alan Sues on Laugh-In, Hayden Rorke on I Dream of Jeannie, George Takei on Star Trek, Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle. And more and more and more.

The list of Hollywood stars grows even longer.

Somehow it brings me comfort, looking back to those days a lonely teenager and feeling all alone, realizing that the old television shows I found comfort in were full of gay people. I wasn’t quite so alone after all.