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September 27th, 2020

It’s A Small World After All…But Not That Small…

This came to my doorstep the other day…a happy time capsule from a better time. Or so I’d hoped…

This was my favorite of all the Micky Mouse Club serials back in the day. The Adventures of Spin and Marty was okay, but not nearly as engaging. This one had some real adventure, and a mystery for a young geek kid to solve along with Frank and Joe. Plus, if I was to admit it…which back at that age, at that time, I could not…the two leads were Very attractive. Looking back on it, even then I had a thing for good looking guys. But there was another reason I wanted this for my library. Years later, I would learn how Disney fired Tommy Kirk after he found out Tommy was gay, and I would keep a place for him and his work close to heart. If only we’d both lived in a better world back then. This serial was Tommy’s first appearance in a Disney production. I wanted to watch the episodes, imagining in the back of my mind both of us living in that better world as I watched. Perhaps I should not have watched that full episode of the Micky Mouse Club that had the introduction episode in it to the new Hardy Boys serial.

Mind you, when I was a kid watching the Micky Mouse Club back in the day, I was watching the series when it was in reruns. This was after school fare that I would take in along with one or the other of the local kid’s show hosts. Pick Temple. Captain Tugg. Ranger Hal…but he was in the mornings and I only watched his show when I was home from school. My memories of those times and the Mickey Mouse Club are kinda munged together now, and if anything they tell me at age 67 how good that Hardy Boys serial must have been, because watching those are the clearest memories I have of that TV show. And especially that opening title song. That, and how each day of the week had a different theme. I remember the other serials vaguely. Spin and Marty. Corky and White Shadow. I remember we got a Disney cartoon every episode, and the Mouseketeers would sing a song in front of the doors to a treasure vault to open it. One of the cast would run up to a drawer and take out a card presumably with the title of the cartoon we were about to see on it. But what would happen is that Mouseketeer would look at the camera and say “Today’s cartoon is…” and then the video would cut to a title card and a voice over.

Even at that age I knew what was going on was a canned sequence they just reused over and over again. But I was a kid and I let it slide, along with all the other canned sequences TV shows used back then, and the fact that the characters in them always wore the same clothes every second of every episode, so the same boilerplate footage, like Clark Kent going into that storage room down the hall from his office, would always work wherever they had to splice it in. TV in it’s early years was produced very cheaply. I’ve had this running fantasy of creating an All Car Chase cable TV channel that just runs a continuous stream of boilerplate Quinn Martin car chase sequences with those huge Ford whales squealing tires around street corners. People would tune in at random and start wondering which Quinn Martin show it was they were watching.

There was other stuff stitched into a typical Micky Mouse Club episode that I’d completely forgotten. Lots of boilerplate I only vaguely remembered. And as it turned out, a bunch of stuff I’d completely forgotten. Or more likely suppressed the memory of. And when I popped the first CD of this set into the player and started watching it all came back to me. And I cringed.

Oh…I remember this world…

See…I rediscovered my inner Mouseketeer back in 2008, when I went to Walt Disney World for the first time and it all came back to me. Yes, I’d gone mostly to see my first love again after thirty plus years of searching for him. But I’d forgotten what a little Mouseketeer I was. And almost from the moment I set foot in Epcot, and saw the monorail glide overhead, and heard the music, and it all embraced me like a long lost boy come back to the family, it all came back to me. And for a little while I could be that kid again, and believe in all the things I used to believe about the world, and what the future held. But that was the kid who grew up in an all white protestant suburb, who didn’t yet know he was gay.

The Walt Disney World of today would embrace that gay kid. Walking through those gates in 2008 I felt welcome even then, years before the Pulse nightclub massacre that changed everything in Orlando, and among the Disney crew. Yes, it was a kind of down low embracing. But you had to have grown up in the world I was seeing on that CD to appreciate how Wonderful even that on the down low acceptance felt. We had Gay Days now, but it was unofficial (it still is, but Disney World Paris had an official actual Gay Pride parade last June). And that It’s A Small World After All mindset was everywhere. People from all over the world came to Walt Disney World. You saw people of all nations, all races in the parks, just enjoying themselves. You could hear the languages of the world spoken. Spanish and English announcements alternated. And also, even closer to my heart, that There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Shining At The End Of Every Day mindset. I felt I was back home, back in the world I belonged in.

Watching that full episode of The Micky Mouse Club I saw the old testament world. The world of the red baiting, gay witch hunts, ostentatious flag waving, and suffocating moralizing. But that world was also a world I remembered well. It’s a way too easily remembered world in fact, because so many people keep trying to bring it back.

The first thing you notice watching those old Micky Mouse Club episodes, is the unrelenting whiteness of it. There were no black Mouseketeers. And of course, in the 1950s, had Disney put Any black kids on the show as regulars, unless they were strictly for stereotypical comic relief only, ABC would have instantly lost all the southern TV station affiliates for that time slot. I remember watching the TV series I Spy get an Emmy Award back in the mid sixties, and the guy whoever it was receiving it said on the podium that Sheldon Leonard “has a lot of guts”, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Later it dawned on me…he’d cast a black man, Bill Cosby, as one of the leads, and they’d lost southern affiliates over it, and the network didn’t back down. I sat on my sofa watching this Micky Mouse Club episode and wondered how it felt to black kids back in the 1950s, to be invisible on a family oriented TV show that was supposedly for all kids everywhere. 

An other thing you notice was how supposedly all-American it was in just about every minute of it. The patriotic display was as thick as the moralism and it was all thoroughly suffocating. The head Mouseketeer in the series, adult Mouseketeer Jimmy Dodd, would often take to the camera to talk to the kids about making all the right moral choices and how lucky they were to be living in such a great country as ours. These were, so I’m told, called “Doddisms”, and there was one of them on this episode, that ended with Dodd pointing at the camera and saying “someday one of you will be President of the United States.” I’m pretty sure Walt Disney would be spitting nails to know the man who is President now is part of his Hall of the Presidents attraction. But his Micky Mouse Club was exactly the kind of all white constantly moralizing to the common folk world that man and his supporters favor to their own motives and ends. There is not an inch of distance between them. Only, I am convinced, that Walt Disney believed in it himself. I don’t think that man put his name on anything he didn’t actually believe in, just to make a buck.

But in that world, black kids need not apply for any of the lead roles. Not Jewish kids. Asian kids. Boys who don’t fit the Disney mold of what boys should be. Girls who don’t fit the Disney mold of proper ladies. I’m told Disney was shocked, shocked when Annette began appearing in beach movies wearing a bikini. And she remained a very conservative woman to her dying day. It’s a small gated community after all. The rest of us were at best, background scenery. Boilerplate stereotypes. And that only if we were allowed to exist at all:

“I consider my teenage years as being desperately unhappy. I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings. It was very hard to meet people and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize. It wasn’t until the early ’60s that I began to hear of places where gays congregated. The lifestyle was not recognized and I was very, very lonely. Oh, I had some brief, very passionate encounters and as a teenager I had some affairs, but they were always stolen, back alley kind of things. They were desperate and miserable. When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to change. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career. It was all going to come to an end.”

Tommy Kirk.

There’s a well known story about the Disney animator Art Babbitt, who decided to study piano to better understand the relationship between music and animation, and when he told Walt Disney he was taking piano lessons Disney snapped back at him “What are you, some kind of fag or something?” I’ve often wondered if the context of that was finding out the child actor he’d groomed for bigger and better things after the Hardy Boys, and was a big hit with audiences in Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Shaggy Dog  turned out to be gay. But the time frames don’t seem to match up. Disney discarded Tommy over something he was and couldn’t help being and it destroyed him inside. His career plummeted into drugs and crappy movies and he finally had to get out of it and start over. He blames himself for it, but then lots of us do because we’re taught to believe deep down inside that we are damaged goods. We are taught to blame ourselves for the ignorant hatred of others.

So I’m sitting on my sofa watching that episode of the Mickey Mouse Club and that feeling of teenage suffocation came back to me with all the immediacy of that moment in 2008 when I walked into Epcot and remembered how it was to be a Disney Kid, before the suffocation set in. And that was why I stopped being a Disney kid in my late teens. Even before I came out to myself one day in 1971, I’d stopped feeling that I was a part of his world. Like the Baptist culture I was raised in I had to get out and breath. But it wasn’t just Disney, who was both a product of his times and a definer of them. It’s been well said that to understand the counter culture rebellion of the 1960s, you have to first understand the stifling conformity all us 60s kids grew up with in the 1950s. A good place to see it is that Mickey Mouse Club episode of Oct. 1, 1956.

I like to think if Walt Disney had, given Lots of pixie dust and magic, lived to today he might have grown out of his prejudices and stereotypes. He’d also be over 100 years old but…well okay. What people forget about him was while he was a conservative man, with one foot in Mainstreet U.S.A., he had the other foot in Tomorrowland. He was a man of science and he believed in progress. It wasn’t just cartoon mice and Mary Poppins with him. It was also this…

I like to think that the science regarding sexual orientation, and being exposed to the stories of our lives, told in our own words, would have eventually got through to him. And the stories of all the other kids. Black, yellow, red, brown. It is a small world after all. I like to think in other words, that he would have lived to become the Uncle Walt he presented himself as, and which I’m certain he thought of himself as being. And all the kids of this world would have had a friend and mentor in him. Gay kids too. And that would have been good, because there are much Much worse examples to set for gay kids, than the ones Walt Disney would have. But deeply held prejudices like those die hard. And also that cocoon so many white Americans lived in back then.

I don’t think he ever realized what it did to so many kids back then, that they were invisible in his world, except, sometimes, as stereotypes to dress the stage with. There is a sequence in that Mickey Mouse Club episode, where the Mouseketeers do a song and dance for a Fun With Music segment…a recurring song and dance part of the show…that is a spectacularly cringeworthy moment of white kids dressing up and performing the cultural stereotypes of the 1950s… 

But when it was aired nobody watching would have thought it anything but charming in that Disney way. I don’t recall seeing any Asian Mouseketeers either.

Walt Disney died in 1966. His heirs, the Disney kids who looked up to him, and believed in that great big beautiful tomorrow, set out to make it real in the parks, TV shows and movies that bear his name. Maybe he would be spitting nails to see it now, but he preached the sermon and we all believed and in Walt Disney’s parks, TV shows and movies some of us Disney kids are making it happen. We can all be Disney kids now. And that’s good. Because the more of us there are telling our stories in our own words, instead of sitting passively at the TV watching other people’s stereotypes about us, the closer we all get to that great big beautiful tomorrow Disney promised us.

You too Tommy. And all the kids like you who are watching.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on It’s A Small World After All…But Not That Small…

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…

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on About A Coming Out Story

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

June 15th, 2020

Why Are You Still Single? It Has To Be You Fucked Up Somehow.

This came across my Feedly feed today…from George Takei’s blog…

People Confess Why They Are Still Single

“Why are you single?” –– And just like that, Redditor Uninfectedl got to the point, asking a question that hits a sore point for so many of us.

The poster, Alan Jude Ryland says they’re single because they’re enjoying singleness. Lots of people do. But lots of us feel trapped and beaten down, especially as the usual thinking is you’re just not doing it right and it’s your own damn fault. You looser.

Here are my reasons…

1) I’m gay. We’re a minority. I had a Much smaller pool of potential dates to start with. Strike one.

2) I came of age during a period when gay folk were almost universally hated. So no socializing among gay teens and young adults as arranged by helpful caring adults. No dances, no proms, no anything to help guide us into making the right choices, finding the one that’s right for you. Strike two.

3) No stories about same sex romances, no songs on the radio, no movies or TV, no examples of how to grow up and find love. We were invisible at best, at worst we were dangerous deviants, sissyboy weaklings, psychopaths and predators. Straight kids got the happily ever after, we got the gutter. Strike three.

4) Too many people in my world when I was coming of age, all the way through my twenties and thirties, felt it was their sacred moral duty to break up any budding same sex romances and keep young lovers far, far apart for their own good. That happened to me over and over. Strike four.

5) The sort of guys I was attracted to, the nice boys, the ones I might have met in a better world at a church social or coffee house, were terrified. They didn’t want their families to hate them. They didn’t want god to hate them. Strike five.

6) People who look like that want people who look like that. Strike six and game over.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Why Are You Still Single? It Has To Be You Fucked Up Somehow.

June 10th, 2020

From Our Department Of Imponderable Things

Continuing my Facebook Memories from my Disney World Vacation of 2015…this final snapshot flew by this morning…

At least this blog doesn’t throw the past back in my face unless I go looking for it. How do things go from all warm smiles and cheerful carefree conversation to mutually assured friendship destruction in just under a year?

I appreciate that I can be intense and hard to handle from time to time, but by 2015 he’d already know that and we were still good. I have close friends who know me from our grade school days and they’re all use to me. I get exuberant. I get moody. I get quiet. I will talk your ears off. Yeah I chatted with him a bunch in email. But he always answered back. He seemed to like hearing from me. Like when I passed him technical details of the German diesel emissions scandal, or that Youtube of a couple guys drinking German beer laced with helium. He loved it. I geek out about things that interest me. But they interested him too. We had so many mutual interests. Space. Technology. Current events…we were on the same page there. Sometimes he’d tell me to just get to the point. Everybody tells me that. I don’t just explain things, I tell stories. Discovery is the joy of life. The journey is the point too. I wear my heart on my sleeve. He’d seen all that since high school. He saw sides of me that nobody else sees. He knew me. Either he was faking it, and every smile he ever gave me, or something really got to him that spring in 2016.

I can’t believe he was faking it. None of my theories add up. He just blew up at me. And I did too because it wasn’t fair. And that was that. I’ll probably never know what it was. Maybe if he’d told me what it was I would have stayed home that time and let it pass and we’d still be talking. Maybe. But it’s probably for the best.

That’s a really small comfort zone you have there.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on From Our Department Of Imponderable Things

June 8th, 2020

Memories Of Standing On The Outside Of The Comfort Zone Looking In

Facebook tossed this memory from today, 2015 in my face just now. I was visiting Walt Disney World and I had to vent…

Some days I visit he’s being a jerk and doesn’t want to talk to me. Others, like last night, he’s all warm smiles and cheerful eyes and just can’t stop talking and we stay long past park closing time and I’m walking on air all the way back to my room. But then it’s always why can’t we spend some time together outside the park and his comfort zone won’t allow it.

So either way I have to struggle to get my vacation started back up again. If he’s grouchy then I’m miserable and just want to go home. I’ve called vacations off early when it’s been that. If he’s full of sunshine and smiles then I feel like I’ve hit the high point of my trip and why bother staying. There’s that back to the reality of things after the visit let-down to climb back out of somehow. I have to remind myself I need the break regardless.

This morning I’ll hit the grocery store for some perishables I couldn’t bring down with me, and more ice tea, and maybe something from the liquor store so I’m not always paying Disney prices for alcohol. Then spend the rest of the week chilling out, maybe working some more on A Coming Out Story (I brought my drawing things). But I’m in a state now I really have no words for, or at any rate words I’m willing to speak. He said something to me that lifted me out of myself in a way only someone who really gets you can. And it took a load off my psyche certain other gay someone’s I know weighed me down with for years.

It was all about how I don’t interact well with people. Too shy, too self absorbed, blah, blah, blah, your photography has no people in it, blah, blah, blah… Biergarten is “Octoberfest” seating, which means you get seated at a table with other random guests and you’re expected to talk and share a good time together. This time I was seated with a group that seemed really stand-offish. They just gave off chilly vibes. But after a while I got them talking about where they’re from and what they do, and of course when they found out I work at Space Telescope and on Hubble and James Webb they got all interested in that. And by the end of the night we were all chatting happily.

And after they left he and I were chatting and he noticed too how chilly that group was initially. He’s worked this line of business for so long now he can probably read a table the second he walks up to it. Then he said he’d always seen me open people up and that I was good at it and that I was always getting everyone talking and having a good time no matter how chilly the table seemed at first.

Well…yeah… One thing is you always know you’re with other Disney people here…so that’s something. It’s not like you’re in some random bar with bad mood people. We’re all Disney people here. And that Disney kid just comes out of me here. It’s a kind of freedom to be that kid I once was I never really appreciated I was missing before I started coming here. But I’m not the hopelessly detached single certain other people somehow managed to convince me I am either. I’m not that…so how did I get to thinking of myself like that? He just pulled that out of me with a few words and the look on his face when he said it.

He does that. It’s when someone shows you things about yourself you didn’t know, but should have known, that makes it serious. And…it’s been like that since we were teenagers. When he’s not in a touchy mood, it’s still like that.

But we never got the chance other kids did. And now he has his comfort zone, and I need to get on with my vacation. Somehow.

It was around this time that I’d figured out that if I told him in advance I was coming down he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, but if I just showed up it was all smiles and happy face and good times. Something just less than a year later we had nuclear war…I’d told him I was coming down and he lied about being on a ski trip and I shouldn’t bother and I came down anyway and he was so stand-offish even the new servers there noticed something was wrong with him. Afterward he sent me a nastygram telling me never to speak to him again and I blew up because I hadn’t done anything wrong or said anything to him I hadn’t said dozens of times before…and it was all over, and with it every memory I ever had about it being good…wonderful even. It’s amazing what tricks memory can play on you. If it wasn’t for these occasional Facebook memories I wouldn’t remember it ever being good with him now, not even back in high school. But it was. I wasn’t twitterpated for no reason. He felt it too. But whereas it lifted me out of myself, erased every shred of guilt or shame I might have had, it must have done the opposite to him.

…which set a pattern for the rest of my life. Because I would always fall for the nice boys…the ones I might have met in a better world at a church social, or coffee house. But in the world I grew up in all those nice boys were terrified. They didn’t want their families to hate them, they didn’t want God to hate them.

I’ve made my allegiances, I have to stay in my comfort zone…

So it goes. I reckon. I should get back to work on A Coming Out Story now that Facebook gave me that. But everything from back in the day is bad now. I finally found the guy I wrote about in this blog post (link) and he didn’t win his race. His life took a really bad turn through no fault of his and discovering that is really heartbreaking. And now this Facebook memory is something else to tap me on the shoulder, and whisper in my ear that everything is pointless.

In my senior years I’m basically just walking forward on auto pilot, going through the motions because what else is there to do…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Memories Of Standing On The Outside Of The Comfort Zone Looking In

May 2nd, 2020

Gay Country Music Is Finally A Thing…

…and it’s cutting me to ribbons.

 

 

No offence to the singer here, Ty Herndon, who came out last year and changed the pronouns of this song, which was a hit in its previous incarnation. It’s wonderful in so many ways. That he found the courage to come out and live an honest life. That he updated this song with the pronouns that reflect how his heart saw the song when it first came to him. That gay kids and adults can hear music that speaks directly to us. So long have I mentally flipped a pronoun or two while listening to pop music, to at least imagine it speaking to me.

But for reasons I won’t go into now…or maybe ever…this particular song is both wonderful and devastating. Now I need a drink…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Gay Country Music Is Finally A Thing…

April 18th, 2020

When The Abyss Looks Back Into You And Speaks A Name

The people I let into my life, become friends with, hang out with, enjoy the company of, get the very rare crush on, are broadly folks who are smart, have big hearts, are curious and imaginative, and…just don’t quite fit in. These tend to take two very different paths through life. I have walked them both.

Some make their way up the economic ladder. They eventually snuggle into some small nitch where they can use their minds in ways they either enjoy or at any rate are very good at, and in which their odd little quirks, as seen from the herd, either don’t matter or add decoration and color to the workplace. Many of my own group of friends eventually found work in Information Technologies where we’re kept safely away from the public, behind our computer screens where we can can geek out to our heart’s content. But some I know are lawyers, musicians, cartoonists, theater people…

For a while I was earning a bare bones living as an architectural modelmaker. It was as basic a lifestyle as could be, but I was enjoying myself. At various points in my life I’ve tried earning a living as a photographer, an illustrator, a political cartoonist. It wasn’t until I got work as a computer programmer that I could breath economically. That’s typically how it goes. The arts kids I know generally don’t make a lot of money, some of them live hand to mouth. But if you’ve ever tried to make a living as an artist you really have to respect anyone who has managed the trick, regardless of how low income their lives are. Most have their “day jobs”. Work they hate but which allows them time and money to do the work they love.

But there’s another, darker path some of these take: they go down the economic rabbit hole. Then they find themselves living on the edge of society. They never get the break they need, never find the good nitch to occupy. They become drifters economically, then eventually if they can’t find their nitch, transients with no fixed roof over their heads.

Invariably these attract the attention of the police, too many of which seem to thoroughly enjoy harassing them. And one minor offense snowballs into another and another and late in life they’re in and out of jails and/or halfway houses. If not sleeping on the streets. 

That is how the economic system in this country works. Oh, you don’t have a bank account? Oh, you haven’t held a job longer than a few months? Oh you don’t have a mailing address? An automobile? A phone? Good people. Smart, decent, big hearted, beautiful souls who could make their contribution to civilization if they could just catch that one lucky break. But not only are they a bit odd, they’re in pain. The kind of pain doctors can’t cure. They may not even know they’re in pain because they’ve just lived with it for so long. Hemingway knew the risks of having that big heart inside of you:

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

I have seen the system get hold of one of these and grind them down just for the shear pleasure of doing it. Because they can. These are not violent predatory people but they are easy marks for bullies. Because the inner beauty still there within the destitute man in front of them is a rebuke. 

As I said, I’ve walked both these paths, though luckily not to the degree I’ve had repeated run-ins with the law, or been homeless. A classmate gave me a place to live when I had nowhere else to go and I was mowing lawns and doing Manpower jobs to make ends meet. Then I got my lucky break and now I’ve a nice little Baltimore rowhouse and a wonderful job and a very good income. But it could have been lots different. Within I am no different from a bunch of people I know, who are living hand to mouth and just couldn’t catch that break. We’re all just a bit odd. If you can’t make your oddness work for you the culture tosses you into the garbage heap without a second thought. Well, he shouldn’t be so odd, he needs to straighten up and make something of himself. But he was something. And now his contribution is lost to all of us.

Straighten up and fly right. Yes. Quite. It’s a double whammy if you not only happen to be a bit…different…but also gay. Particularly my generation, or older, or a bit younger. Maybe you clawed your way out of the closet. Maybe you accept yourself, as the old song goes, just as you are. But growing up under a torrent of social fear, hate and loathing does it’s work on you all the same. And especially so if your own family has abandoned you. You avoid confrontation, stay hunkered down lest you step on yet another social landmine. Risk aversion is wired into you. You accept being less than you could be, because good enough carries with it less personal and emotional risk, then being all you can be does.

It is the ball and chain you wear every moment of your day, and maybe you don’t even know it’s there anymore it feels so familiar. It degrades your economic life, and for certain it impacts your love life. How can damaged goods see themselves, present themselves, as a worthy lover?

Why am I telling you all this? Maybe in a day or two I’ll explain. Or maybe not. It isn’t about me. Mostly. I am however, very much afraid.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

February 16th, 2020

A Coming Out Story…Intermission 2…(continued)

Continuing with the Intermission, wherein I’ve sought answers about my sexual orientation in the bookstore, and purchased Doctor Pompous J. Fraudquack’s The TRUTH About Homosexuality…and I begin to read…

Intermission – What I Learned About Homosexuality. . . And Myself (Part 2)

I’m going to interleave this little story arc with the one I’m currently presenting, so if it gets a tad confusing blame my poorly developed storytelling skills. But this is where it’s all been building to. The subtitle of the cartoon is after all, The first person you come out to, is yourself. For some gay kids that isn’t easy, and it especially was not back in 1971.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story…Intermission 2…(continued)

February 8th, 2020

Here Comes Valentine’s Day Again

This is for all the Valentine’s Days I missed out on. Because it’s hard to date when you’re growing up in a world that throws a torrent of abuse at people like you. Because all the nice boys I was attracted to were too terrified to be out, let alone proud. Because righteous people needed our hopes and dreams for their stepping stones to heaven. And because “people who look like that want people who look like that.”

My entire purpose in doing A Coming Out Story is it’s a message in a bottle to whom it may concern, that gay kids need a break. Let them have that magical first crush. Let them have their prom nights. Be the one who tells them “you’re alright kid.”

—-
“No, Mama, I wasn’t “recruited.” No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, “You’re all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You’re not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends — all kinds of friends — who don’t give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it.”

“But no one ever said that to me, Mama. I had to find it out on my own, with the help of the city that has become my home. I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don’t consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being.

“These aren’t radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it’s all right for you to like me, too…”

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Here Comes Valentine’s Day Again

February 5th, 2020

A Coming Out Story – Episode 29. . .

In which our hero discovers zipper anxiety…

A Coming Out Story…Episode 29 “Are You Serious?”

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story – Episode 29. . .

February 3rd, 2020

A Coming Out Story…Please Stand By…

A Coming Out Story, episode 29, is…er…coming out slowly. So I’ve been putting up the strips as I’ve finished them, if you want to take a pre-release peak. This is why I’ve been a bit lax in posted to the blog here. I’ve been spending all my free time in the art room.

I have the last two panels up now, but they’re unfinished as yet. As I add details and such I’ll update them. When it’s all finished I’ll post a link, but anyone who’s been following this story already knows where to go.

I don’t know if I’ll continue doing this posting the unfinished strips as I go along. This particular episode is where the story takes an important turn, and soon the kid I once was will have to deal with a wee bit of self discovery…or more specifically the end of denial. After the heart attack last October I’m feeling some pressure to get this thing finished while I still have time to finish it. And there is still a lot of it left to go. This one has been so time consuming. I’m gonna try to make the episodes a bit smaller in size from now on. This one I could have easily split into two separate ones.

The last two strips in episode 29 involve…boots. 60s, early 70s boots guys wore, with a zipper down the side for getting in and out of them. The ones in question were black leather, and before I started work on this episode I had an idea of how to do them in the monochrome/cross hatching technique I’ve been using throughout the series, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Getting a three dimensional lighting effect off a material that’s dark and unreflective to begin with isn’t something I was sure I could do.

This is where my utter lack of formal training really bites me. But I’ve been working with this stuff for decades now, and I had a hunch about how to go about representing it. Plus, and this was a big help, I had a photograph of the incident in question to work from for reference. So I could see what the end result was that I had to get to, I just wasn’t sure I knew how to get there. But I just now gave it a shot and I’m really happy with the outcome. Looks better than I’d hoped. This is how untrained hunt and peck artists get their self respect points.

I’m done with Photoshop and anything basically to do with Adobe. I paid full price for a Windows copy of Photoshop so I could run it on my Windows laptop if my art room Mac crapped out on me in the middle of something I was working on. Some months ago Adobe bricked my copy on the basis that I’d bought a bulk license copy from the reseller and that license had expired…several months before I bought the copy. This despite the fact that Adobe went ahead and activated my copy anyway, and let me keep on using it for two more years. So one morning I start Photoshop and instead if getting my desktop I got a HUGE popup telling me my copy was invalid and demanding I fix the problem. And of course the fix would have been to start renting the product instead of buying a new perpetual license since they don’t sell those anymore. Now it’s all rental software. And I am not the only one by far who isn’t taking that bait. But that’s obviously why they bricked my copy.  It wasn’t a problem when I activated it, and I’ve spent thousands over the years on Adobe software and before now considered myself a loyal customer. But their software rental policy isn’t working out very well for them, judging by the static they’re constantly getting on the social media forums, so they started looking for excuses to turn off anyone’s copies they could, to try and force those of us who were standing pat on CS6, the last perpetual license they sold, to become renters. 

When I called support and complained that I’d paid full price for that copy the corporate droid at the other end told me to feel sorry for all the money Adobe has lost to piracy. At some point I need to make a Sorry For Your Loss sympathy card to send to Adobe for all the money they’ve lost to artists who’ve gone elsewhere due to their software rental scheme. I’ll make it with GIMP.

The current version of GIMP is working out very nicely for my online artwork. In some ways it’s even better than Photoshop. At some point I need to find alternatives to Lightroom. mark my words, sooner or later they will turn off everyone’s perpetual licensed copies because they can. Somewhere buried in all those license agreements you have to agree to, is a clause allowing Adobe to unilaterally change the terms of the agreement whenever they want. When you buy software that can be turned off remotely whenever the maker wants you have bought nothing.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story…Please Stand By…

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

November 27th, 2019

Howard Cruse Has Passed The Torch…Pick It Up…Carry On…

Last September I posted a link to the most recent episode of A Coming Out Story, that I’d managed to get out while vacationing at Walt Disney World. It’s part of a story arc I’m interleaving with the point in the story where I finally, Finally, come out to myself. The last frame has a shout-out to Howard Cruse in it…something I’d remembered from a one off cartoon he did for The Village Voice titled “Sometimes I get so mad…” It’s about all the static gay folk get from all directions in American culture and how that makes you blow your stack from time to time. You just want to live your life and people who don’t know you from Adam feel free to harass you and it takes its toll. At the end of it is a young Howard, sensing his emerging sexuality, trying desperately to find some facts about homosexuality, nervously looking through the pages of a paperback titled “A Pocket Guide To Loathsome Diseases” by one Doctor Pompous J. Fraudquack, and thinking maybe he’d finally get some facts there.

I knew the feeling all too well, even though I was nine years younger and in 1971 coming out to myself in a theoretically post Stonewall world. It would be decades before the effects of Stonewall and the first ever Pride march a year later would make themselves felt much beyond the confines of the big urban gay zones. For years after I came out to myself, everything I knew about homosexuality and what it was to be homosexual were things I’d been taught by the heterosexual majority. A lot of it was hostile and damaging to a gay teen’s self image. It wouldn’t be until the advent of the personal computer and those first amature computer bulletin boards that we didn’t have to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes anymore and liberation came to the suburbs and the rural zones.

The main theme of A Coming Out Story isn’t so much about what happened to me back then, or the guy I was crushing on at the time, and what happened to us both, but the context in which it happened. I’m trying to tell it in a humorous way, because looking back on it there is a lot there that I can laugh about, thankfully, with an older man’s perspective. But it wasn’t funny then while it was happening to me, and if I’m trying to say anything with this story it’s that the world needs to give sexual minority kids a break. It’s difficult enough at that age to navigate your way through the dating thing with all those emerging hormones percolating through your body. Being the outliers in that dance is harder still. Beating up on the gay kids, damaging their ability to love and accept love from another, only serves the hate filled worst among us…all the little Dr. Fraudquacks who taught us to hate ourselves, or at minimum, distrust our hearts, believe ourselves to be damaged goods, unworthy, never to be loved. It snowballs, all the love that could have been given, and now will never be, on and on and on. And so the world gets smaller, and angrier, and darker. That is what the Dr. Fraudquacks are doing to all of us.

I posted a link to the episode when I finished it and got it out on my website. Then in a comment, I gave Howard a shout-out, as to say Thank You…I remember this little one off you did and it spoke to me and I just want you to know you made a difference. Over the years I’d told him this often. But you can’t thank people like him enough. Trying to make a living at art is a hard, hard path. Doubly so if you dare to be an out and proud gay cartoonist. He never got the commercial success and respect he deserved and I’m convinced that was why, because as a storyteller and draftsman he had very few peers. Seriously…look at his lines. They’re perfect. Every one. Compare his draftsmanship to Any commercial cartoonist you like. The polish he put into everything he did, no matter how small or trivial, is intense.

He was at the top of the art form. And as a storyteller he was among the best. There’s his magnum opus, Stuck Rubber Baby, of course. But look at some of the amazing work he did in Gay Comix. Billy Goes Out for instance. At its surface it’s the story of a young gay man hitting the backrooms for some quick anonymous sex. But look deeper and there’s a heartbreaking story of love found, and lost to hate, and the struggle to go on with life, somehow, after the worst has happened. There’s one panel in it that is I think quintessential Howard Cruse in its surreality while looking life’s bad moments right in the eye and not flinching. Earlier on in the story we’ve seen one of Billy’s older relatives instructing him to keep the gay thing in the closet for the sake of his career, and in another panel telling him off handedly that homosexual love was just mutual masturbation. Billy explodes on him while his boyfriend Brad tries to calm him down. Who are You to tell us how we feel!  Then toward the end of the story we find ourselves looking down on that older relative’s grave site from above, the coffin in the ground being shovelled over by a graveyard worker. But the coffin is open and the relative is looking back up at us as his grave is being filled in, saying that his married life was horrible and he hated every moment of it but at least he has someone to cry over his grave. And, one supposes, he knows Billy won’t. Because homosexual love is just mutual masturbation, and his marriage however much he hated it, was more real than Billy’s love for Brad. The scene creeps you out. Howard gave the chillingly heartless mindset of the bigot its perfect representation in that one single amazingly and meticulously drawn panel.  

So when I posted a link to my newest ACOS episode I waved at Howard, because his example is a big part of why I keep working on it. And as he always did, because he had a big heart, he waved back, and encouraged me to keep at it, that I was making a difference too, just by putting my story out there. You get encouragement from one of your heroes and it really lifts you up.

And now I am more determined than ever. I’m going to miss him. But looking through the tributes he’s getting from the community…cartoonists, activists, family and friends…it does my heart good to know he Was successful at the most important thing of all. By coming out and telling his stories, he made a difference, a real substantial difference, in people’s lives. He was loved. He touched so many lives. And he showed us that we could make a difference too…all of us…whether by art or activism or however…by being our authentic selves, and telling our stories. That is how you defeat hate.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Howard Cruse Has Passed The Torch…Pick It Up…Carry On…

October 30th, 2019

Throwback Thursday Only Wednesday

Facebook tossed this memory back at me earlier today…

This is the winter of 1971. I’m 17. The artist at work. 

I love this one, unruly hair, oversized canvas jacket that I thought was oh so stylish, and mismatched shirt collar though it is. It was taken by a friend with my camera for possible inclusion into the yearbook. In my senior year I was staff cartoonist for the student newspaper (The Advocate…really) and was also made staff photographer after the previous one had a tiff with the editors and quit. What I like about this shot is my friend actually managed a snap when, for an instant, I got into the drawing I was working on and was actually concentrating on it there for a moment. It’s not often I get to see my concentration face.

I’m posing at one of the art room desks, not pretending to draw but actually drawing one of my newspaper cartoons. Even though the shot had to be posed I insisted I would be working on something for real, not faking it. That has always been my photographic style. In this shot you can’t see my hand with the pen in it, but that’s the drawing on the board and paper in front of me. The tackle box also in front of me is typical. The artist’s tool boxes they sold in art stores were Expensive and I noticed they looked a lot like the tackle boxes they sold in the sporting goods section of most department stores, which were a lot cheaper. To this day I have a tackle box full of drawing stuff on my drafting table.

And this by the way is why to this day I draw on a horizontal surface and not with the drafting table top tilted at an angle like I see a lot of other artists do. All my grade school art rooms had tables like these and I just got used to drawing that way. And see the board I have the paper on. I still cut Masonite boards to use for drawing and tape the paper on them. Then I have the paper on a nice smooth solid surface I can turn this way and that while I’m working on it and even tilt if I really need to.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Throwback Thursday Only Wednesday

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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This page and all original content copyright © 2015 by Bruce Garrett. All rights reserved. Send questions, comments and hysterical outbursts to: bruce@brucegarrett.com

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