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John's Journey Through The Gay 90s
By Tina Calabrese, LCSW
Originally published by Heart & Soul Community News April 1999

It was 1990 and I was thirteen years old. Junior High was OK I liked being in a bigger school because I could hide more. I wasn't sure exactly what I was hiding from but I knew I couldn't be found. Dad was gearing up for me to play High School football. I was just trying to pass gym. I liked sports because my dad liked sports and I liked my dad. The truth? I liked to cook. I loved food. Food was my favorite past time. Eating it, cooking it, looking at it. Mom said I was a great cook and that she loved the fact that I could cook a great tuna casserole. Dad liked my pot roast.

I wished I could vote. It was 1992 and I liked Clinton. I liked him because he could say a word I couldn't say. And he said it on TV, in the press, to other men and especially to Republicans.

Gay.

He said the word 'gay.'

Mom said that she didn't think any other president ever said it.

I was trying to find the right time, the right day, the right mood, the right line, the right food, the right anything....

to come out to my parents.

I had a feeling mom would be okay with it. I had heard her talking about a gay friend once. Dad, he was the problem. He was still giving me "space" so I could think about it and realize that I NEEDED to play football.

In 1993 the march on Washington happened and I wanted to go so badly. In order to go with my friend Gary I would have to tell my parents. It had been a whole year of contemplating whether or not to tell, how to tell and all the role playing with friends. I was hoping this one Saturday would be the day. I went to the food store the night before to buy dinner to cook for my parents. I went to the 24 hour one after Gary and I had gone out. These guys had followed Gary and I out of the bar. They dragged me past the dumpster to the back of the store. The next thing I remember I was in the dumpster next to a bloody baseball bat. My head had been hit and my top lip was swollen so large it was hard to breathe from my nose.

It was so hard to understand why I was so hated... and feared.

I watched the march on Washington from my bed. It was wonderful, gay people got married, gay people fought for their civil rights, they hugged and kissed on national TV. For a brief instant I actually felt proud to be a gay man.

It was a cool night in September in 1995 when I cooked my dad's favorite, a pot roast. I told them during dessert. Mom wasn't surprised. She said she felt sad that I had to wait so long to tell them. Dad surprised me. He said he didn't understand it, he didn't like it, he didn't approve of it BUT he loved me more than anything and he would support me no matter what. For a gay child that was incredible!

For my 19th birthday in 1996 mom gave me a party and invited all my friends. My dad came later and met everyone. He was really trying. Gary and I broke up and I felt a broken heart for the first time. It was horrible. I couldn' t eat or sleep. I decided to go to therapy and this seemed to help. By the end of the year I had my eye on Bryan who worked for the Human Rights Campaign. He taught me so much about being political and how we had to fight for our rights so that we were not persecuted. I fell in love with him and we decided to live together.

I was so happy.

In 1997 Ellen Degeneres came out! It was incredible! Everyone was watching her show and really learning about the gay experience! I felt as if homophobia was ending that we were really getting somewhere and that...maybe i didn't have to be so afraid. Bryan said no and that there would be a backlash. I began to see that there was. People were saying that there was too much attention on gays and certain religious groups were gaining more power against gay people. Even Clinton stopped saying the word and he did fall short on promises made to the community....twice..each time after he was elected.

It was 1998 and I was 21. I felt older and somewhat wiser. Bryan and I were doing well and my father had grown to respect him...and me. I realized that I needed to help in the campaign for civil rights. We still had no protection against being fired for being gay, being thrown out of an apartment for being gay and were certainly could not get married and adopt children. There was still violence against gay men and women and this was many times unreported.

I wanted to fight for our rights! It was a free country!

My parents and I had come a long way. Society too was being less homophobic.

I had lived through the gay 90s!  ■

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