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August 23rd, 2020

About A Coming Out Story

I’ve arrived at a critical point in my story…the part where I finally come out to myself. But it begins with a crucial bit of it I haven’t scripted yet, and which I am still having difficulty scripting to my satisfaction. Thus, the delay. Again.

I’ve bumped up to the part of my story where I and the object of my affections take things to the next level (so to speak) and actually begin talking to each other, as opposed to just gawking at each other. They say the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense. In this case, I’m telling a story about true events, but in a cartoon form that’s hopefully humorous enough that all the gay teen angst and pain and sorrow is easier to digest. It was a hostile world I came of age into. You got a torrent of abuse hurled at you from every direction. And even when some corner of the culture was trying to be sympathetic to you, it was a rancid sort of pity you got. I hope by now anyone following my story isn’t wondering why we just didn’t start talking to each other about our feelings. As it turns out, we were both scared. His way of handling that and mine were different enough, and the cultures we were born to different enough, to make reading each other nearly impossible. So we drug it out for months and months.

But just in case anyone is still wondering, I hit on the idea of intermingling this part of the story with flash forwards of something that really did happen after the fact of my coming out to myself. As I’ve said repeatedly, the story I’m telling is one part things that really happened, one part artistic license, and one part fantasy. In this case, the thing that really happened was I was listening to a radio program where some self styled expert was talking about “the homosexual problem”. I wish I could remember the man’s name, or the title of the show, but it is too deeply buried in memory now. But I clearly recall the impact it had on me at that moment. Audiences nowadays might be repulsed at the shear ignorant bigotry of what the man was saying about homosexuals, but it was pretty standard fare for that period in America. Somewhere toward the end of his presentation, he said that the absolute worst thing a man could admit to, was being a homosexual.

That hit my stubborn nerve…ask anyone who knows me about my stubborn nerve…and I did something immediately afterward that lifted me up, and has sustained me ever since. At some point I really want to get the story to that moment because it’s actually the climax of the entire story, although there is still a lot that comes after it.

I decided to frame it as a series of passages from a book that I’m reading, authored by a self styled expert on “the homosexual problem”. I stole the author’s name from a panel in a cartoon the great underground cartoonist Howard Cruse did, titled Sometimes I Get So Mad… (You can find a copy of it in his collection Dancing Nekkid With The Angels). I emailed him a link to the finished first episode in the story arc, not knowing how ill he had become, and to my everlasting gratitude he once again complimented me on the story, and encouraged me to keep at it because of how important it is for us to tell our stories, because that is how we defeat hate. A few weeks later he was gone. I was, and still am, stunned. I cannot begin to tell you how big an influence he was on me. In a world where even underground cartoonists, sexually liberated though they regarded themselves, were often ignorant, bigoted and hostile toward gay readers, most of whom were either teens or young adults, Howard’s cartoons were lifesavers for many of us. 

I was hoping to push through a bunch of episodes using the device of flashing forward to my reading this book, with passages in it taken from actual publications by both homophobic and mainstream media. Alas, I’m bumping up against the reality of what happened, which is not a simple straightforward timeline of moving from gawking at each other to talking to the moment he put an arm around my shoulders and I went into the stratosphere. That was several months in the making and it was a very convoluted process that played out in our school hallways, the cafeteria, the gym, the Spring Fair (I’ve already flashed forward to that), and the library. It was fearful baby steps forward, then back again, then forward again, and then to some strange only in the early 1970s landscape where we could talk about everything but the lavender elephant in the room. Somehow I have to make a simple cartoon story out of it and I’m still not sure how to. But I’m working on it now.

Because this is such a critical part of the story I need to have a clear picture in my head of how I’m going to tell it, and that clear picture isn’t coming easily. I need to buckle down to it…just push everything else off the table until I get this right. When you see the next episode appear, hopefully in the next few weeks, you’ll know I’ve got it.

Then I need to just keep drawing it…

 

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