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July 12th, 2020

What Bigotry And Hate Did To So Many Hearts

This man’s story came across my Facebook page last month, and I’ve been meaning to write something here about it since but as you can tell by the dates on the posts here I’ve been a little absent. I blame the lockdown…it’s really screwing with my head…

Anyway…here’s a more recent Washington Post version…

Why this 90-year-old man decided to come out as gay during the pandemic

Kenneth Felts spent his entire life in the closet. But at 90 years old, he felt ready to come out.

Since the age of 12, when he first knew he was gay, Felts said, he had been living a double life, battling between dueling identities. There was Ken, his outward-facing straight self, and then there was his alter ego, whom he referred to internally as Larry, a gay man he spent nearly eight decades stifling.

It’s a common story among the before Stonewall generation. Myself, I straddle the divide. When Stonewall happened I was 14…too young to really appreciate it or even know much about it. At that age, had I looked at myself more carefully I’d have seen all the signs. But in 1969 gay people were a dirty secret not talking about in family newspapers or magazines or on TV. And you certainly didn’t tell 14 year old boys anything about homosexuals except that they were dangerous and to keep away. It wasn’t until I was 17, and crushing madly on a classmate, that I finally came out to myself.

But amid the pandemic and the isolation that ensued, Felts started writing about his life to pass the time.

While penning his memoir, Felts said, he “awakened many soul-searing memories of my early life.” Mostly, he wrote about his one true love, Phillip.

Here’s the part of his story that got to me. And it speaks to the pre/post Stonewall divide I have lived with all my life. I came out to myself at the same time I fell in love. But it was 1971 and you couldn’t just declare it to a guy you were crushing on, even if he was gay too. The gay rights movement was suddenly on full blast, but it would be decades before it reached down to the school kids having that first magical crush. In the meantime gay people were being more visible, and that meant gay kids living in unsafe parts of the country, or in homes too risky to even drop a single hairpin in, had to keep their closet doors even more tightly closed.

Despite only recently coming out as gay, Felts said, he’s been searching for Phillip since his divorce 40 years ago.

This was me, but I had no divorce. Love came to me as a revelation. I was like Jack in Titanic, I’d have told him he was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was twitterpated. It was wonderful. I never doubted afterward that there was nothing wrong with me, nothing wrong with being gay. Even so, it wasn’t so simple to just walk up and ask him for a date, let alone to the Prom. And before I could find a way to tell him, get us to some quiet private place were we could at least talk about it, my first crush suddenly moved away. I spent 35 years searching for him before I finally found him.

It was wonderful for about five years. And then it wasn’t. I won’t go into detail about why here, except to say as it turned out, we really weren’t all that compatible to start with. What anti-gay hatred and bigotry took away from my generation…and Felt’s before mine…wasn’t just the ability to have that first magical romance, but more critically the ability to date. That’s how you find out who is good for you, and who is not. Two people can both be good, decent, wonderful persons and still not quite right for specifically each other. Dating is how you find out. 

I found out 40 years later and it was devastating after all that time, all that searching, all that remembering, all those what-ifs. I wanted to reach out to Felt and scream Don’t Do It… But that wouldn’t be fair. Sometimes it probably works out for the best. Sometimes, maybe, you get the happy Disney ever after. But the risks are huge. I did it to myself not once, but twice.

Felt finally found out what happened to his first love…

One of the loving and wonderful people who has been reading my messages on my coming out and search for Phillip undertook to locate him for me. She spent many hours and finally had a report for me. I have summarized that report below.

Phillip Allen Jones was the love of my life. I have a very sad and lonely heart today. My first and greatest love has passed away. He lived a full and happy life I am told by his niece. His partner of many years passed just a few years ago and Phillip remained alone for the rest of his life. I feel I shared with him the best years of his youth and he certainly made mine memorable and I will always remember and appreciate that. I loved him in my heart so much over the years and now he is gone.

It is so terribly frustrating to be so close to and yet not reach my lost love and horribly painful to not be able to say good-by. But the whole world now knows what a loving man he was with me and to me while we were together. My heart has turned to stone and I need my tears to wash away my sorrow. Rest in Peace Phillip.

I feel for him. It’s almost not worth looking for that first love, or any of the other might have beens from back in the day. But I can see why gay people of my generation and before do it despite the risks. Something was taken from us when we were young, some deep and essential part of our humanity was cut out of our lives. So offhandedly. So thoughtlessly. So very righteously. So other people could make their stepping stones to heaven out of the broken pieces of our hearts. It is only natural that we try to reclaim it. All the vocalizing about politics and discrimination in jobs and security in the workplace and in our homes and on the streets and even the right to marry, flows like a bottomless sorrow from the one central fact of our struggle: we were not allowed to love.

Not even to imagine it. Others got the happily ever after. We got the gutter. Other kids got Prom Night, school dances, boy meets girl stories, love songs on the radio, in books and magazines. We got every filthy lie that could be imagined hurled at us, at our deepest most tender feelings of love and desire and hope, and taught to believe them. The part of our lives that makes everything worthwhile was reduced to dirty jokes and sneering obscenities, so they could point at us and call us broken. 

It’s only natural now, so many years after Stonewall, now that we can marry, now that we can be people, that we try to reclaim the parts of our lives we lost to that mindless hate. Even if it means getting cut even more deeply. I don’t think any of us can stop ourselves. We’ve won so many of the battles we never thought we’d live to see won. There is hope. But beneath it, for so many of our generation there is a bottomless sadness that never goes away. Never.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on What Bigotry And Hate Did To So Many Hearts

May 1st, 2020

Sexy Sketching…(continued)

Finished. On to the next one tomorrow. But must mow the lawn first…

 

You can go back through the sequence of these and almost see my desperate hunt and peck, erase, draw, erase, draw, erase, draw technique. I will frequently draw something one evening that I am thoroughly satisfied with, that upon viewing the next morning looks completely wrong. Once I drew a figure seated at a park bench with his legs crossed and I gave him backwards left/right feet by mistake and didn’t see it for a couple days. Luckily I was in the stage of things where I was adding colors to it in the computer and I was able to fix it. But the inks in traditional media still have that mistake in them.

This is why cartoonists don’t always sell or give their originals away.

This is helping me stay sane during quarantine. When the abyss stares back into you, shout beauty back.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Sexy Sketching…(continued)

April 28th, 2020

Quarantine Drawing To Anchor Myself In Life

Well this one’s done…

 

I think I’m really warming now to the advantages of digital media. And I’m actually getting comfortable with the tactile feel of drawing on a glass iPad screen. I didn’t think that would be possible.

Probably start another one tomorrow. That’s a Jackson Pollock bandana he’s sporting. In color while the rest of him is grayscale because I do that mixing up color and grayscale when it works for me. Have I mentioned how much I hate that damn hanky code?

If you were to ask me why I’m doing these just now, and if I was still religious, I’d refer you to the morning headlines and the daily death toll, then point to this one and say that beautiful guys are my proof that, despite everything, God is good. Well I’m not a believer anymore and haven’t been for decades now, but I can still say they’re my proof that life is good and worth living despite everything in it that makes you hurt. Like the daily death toll from COVID-19. Like Trump and his death cult republican base. I very much need these proofs.

In my worst jags of cynicism and pessimism I never expected to see the human depravities I’m seeing now. Not even during the AIDS plague when they were all but openly rejoicing in our suffering and dying. They’ve gotten worse since then. So I draw beauty. When the abyss stares back into you, answer it with beauty.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Quarantine Drawing To Anchor Myself In Life

April 27th, 2020

When Your Own Artwork Makes You Nervous Despite How Tame It Is

Opening banner for something I’ve been working on for well over a year now…

I should try to finish this, since I’ve been working on it for nearly two years now. Thing is I keep seeing panels I hate and I have to do them over again and I get discouraged.

Bear with me here please…

There’s an element of risk in giving the world a glimpse of your libido, which I suppose is why most writers of erotic fiction use pseudonyms. It’s especially true if your libido tacks in a different direction from most. I suffer here from a double penalty of both being gay, and being an American gay male who isn’t all that into guys that look like they model for superhero comics. It makes me nervous even talking about it. Yet I spent my formative adolescence on a diet of underground comix, men and women who were heroically…some might say a little Too heroically…willing to honestly write and draw about human sexuality and their own specifically. Howard Cruse is one of my heros in that regard, but there were so many others that gifted their talents and insights to Gay Comics. Even so I’ve struggled with how transparent to be in A Coming Out Story.

My initial concept of the character that represents my libido was he would simply be…in the underground comix tradition…a naked me. I tried drawing that over and over and was never comfortable with it. I just couldn’t do it. And then I thought…wait…that’s truth. And the first four episodes came immediately to mind, and I knew I had something I could go with. This is why the libido character is always wearing a fig leaf. As he says in that first episode “I’m your libido, not Robert Crumb’s libido.” Truth.

So I’m not the most brazen of cartoonists (my mild mannered fig leafed libido is a running gag in the story), which means I get nervous whenever I venture into this territory. Whenever I attempt something like You Can Leave Your Hat On (it’s a riff on a song by Randy Newman…the banner here is a riff on R. Crumb’s Keep On Trucking comic (which he now hates) which was itself a riff on a blues song Truckin My Blues Away by Blind Boy Fuller) I have to get the artwork as right as I can. That way if it provokes jeers I can shrug them off because I’m satisfied I got it right.

Some years ago I showed a cuteness I’d drawn to a gay guy I no longer hang out with, who cracked that he looked like he was one estrogen shot away from a job at Hooters…

Which only goes to show that even gay guys can be sexist jackasses. People like that are why males blessed with that beautiful angelic face often have a bad attitude about it.

Thing is, even allowing for the misogyny of it, there is still the coarseness by which people draw their lines around what is male and what is female. You’d think gay folk of all people would know better, yet I have been asked repeatedly (by that those same guys I no longer hang out with) if I’m really gay because the guys my libido alerts on just aren’t ripped enough, look too feminine, just aren’t manly enough.

Much of this is gay guys reclaiming their masculinity from a culture that blasts a torrent of abuse at gay males over gender conformity. So I get that pushing back thing. But I’m a solid Kinsey 6 regardless of what you think of my tastes in men. In A Coming Out Story episode 20, I have this argument with my libido who assures me that “You like Y chromosomes, just not the big overly muscled ones.” The punchline is when he asks me about photographing the next swim team meet. Even in some gay circles that kind of thing makes me weird. Hey guys…we’re gay…we’re all weird by the majority’s reckoning. Get effin over it!

So…anyway…I was struggling with this one because while I knew exactly what I want it to be I could not get comfortable with making it as sexy as I needed it to be to get my point across. For a while I was going to really go for it on this one and make it completely not safe for work…and I just couldn’t. But I think I know now how to walk right up to that line and still get my point across.

And yes..that’s Mr. Short-Shorts and Go-Go Boots. I first drew him around the same time as I heard You Can Leave Your Hat On played at a club in Laurel where I went to see classmate Rev. Billy Wirtz play. I assumed it was about a straight guy talking his girlfriend into dancing naked for him, but there was a lyric that jumped out at me…

Suspicious minds are talking
Trying to tear us apart
They say that my love is wrong
They don’t know what love is
I know what love is…

That spoke to me, obviously, as a gay man. And then this entire cartoon…mostly…came to mind. When it happens like that I know it’s something I have to get out of me. But this one’s been a struggle. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Your Own Artwork Makes You Nervous Despite How Tame It Is

December 5th, 2019

The Other Side Of The Door Is A Place Called Freedom

“It felt like a dirty little secret, it felt like I had chains wrapped around me, I couldn’t be who I was, I felt alone and trapped. Just telling one person made me feel so much better, just that one person took a weight off my shoulder. I told Sophie my best friend first as I knew she’d be really accepting of it. She’s been so supportive and there for me. Now that everyone knows, I have nothing to hide, those chains that I felt wrapped around me are gone and I can carry on with my life as normal and be happy. I felt like there was something wrong with me, I didn’t know other people out there felt that way, I felt so alone, so locked away and couldn’t say anything. Tell one person. Tell your story, how you feel. Everything is all pretty new so I don’t see any point in putting a label on it – gay, bi, straight, any of those kind of labels. All that I feel happy about at the moment is that I’m dating a guy and couldn’t be happier, it shouldn’t matter who I’m dating and I hope people can be happy for me.”

-British Olympic diver Tom Daley.

What makes me sad reading this: it was 2013 when he told the world this during an interview. I could see reading this as a message in a bottle from someone back in 1971 when I came out to myself. But…2013. Why was this still happening to young people in love in 2013?
 
Why is it still happening? To any of us in love?
 
 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Other Side Of The Door Is A Place Called Freedom

April 9th, 2018

The Healing Power Of Love…At Least If You’re Gay…

This comes across my Google news feed today…

How romance can protect gay and lesbian youths from emotional distress

A recent study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds that being in a romantic relationship can help gay and lesbian youth like Pegues feel less mental distress — even more so if they are black or Latino. This contrasts with the fact that, in heterosexual teens’ lives, romance is generally found to cause distress rather than alleviate it.

In fact the study seems to suggest that being in a romantic relationship causes stress for Everyone but gay folk. I’ve no idea why that would be so, unless it’s we have to work harder for it and cherish it more because so many people want to take it away from us.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. -Lao Tzu

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Healing Power Of Love…At Least If You’re Gay…

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