OK so today a famous conservative asked what have happened if gay men were treated as pariahs during the early days of the AIDS crisis as some feel anti-vaxers are being treated today. And my head almost exploded.
Look, people. I was born in 1973, which meant most of my formative years were spent in the 80’s, the beginning of the AIDS crisis. And you could not get away from the demonization of gay people during that time. It was literally the only story you heard about gay men. It was so intense that I, who was very gay even then, rejected that identity so hard that I ended up married to a woman for twenty years.
I knew I was attracted to other guys when I was twelve, but I would not say the words “I am gay” to myself, even in my head, until I was thirty-five.
I grew up in a homophobic town in Indiana, and I knew no out gay people. There was no representation in the media of happy gay people. The closest we got was Elton John, and I wanted nothing to do with him (which was, of course, my own internalized homophobia). So, yeah, when I realized what I was attracted to, I fought hard against it. I hated myself so much that I nearly committed suicide. If I had seen just one example of a happy gay person, who wasn’t also dying of AIDS, it might have changed things for me.
I had a lot of things to sort through, some of which was supplied by my religious upbringing, which was constantly telling me that God wanted me to be stoned if I ever slept with a man, so that was a large part of it. But there was no narrative for me to latch onto competing with that. I wanted a marriage and a family, and there was only one way to make that happen, so I convinced myself that I wasn’t really gay and that it would be ok.
I was really gay and it was not ok. It was a horrible thing I did to her, too. I kept her from finding a man who would have appreciated her for who she was. I have to live with that.
So, a few weeks ago, DC announced that their new Superman, Jon Kent, was going to have a boyfriend. If that had happened when I was fifteen it might have changed my life. If I had read Red, White, and Royal Blue when I was a teenager, it also could have changed me, let me know there was a place for me in society besides AIDS victim.
The world has changed, and I’ve changed with it. I eventually came to terms with who I was and what I really wanted. But these days it feels like my coming out might have come too late for me to ever find a happy relationship for myself. But I live in hope.
So, bringing this back around to the work. Incarnate, my new series, is about a young guy who doesn’t know who and what he is. It’s obvious to the reader that he’s gay, but he’s living in a theocracy where that’s unthinkable. Relatable, I know.
But I’m giving him better choices than I had. He’s going to meet someone, and all the pieces are going to fall together. But he’s going to do some damage to himself and other people in the process, the same way I did. But there will be a happy ever after.
I want these characters to exist for every gay kid who hates himself. I know things are better these days, in many ways, but somewhere in a small rural town there’s a kid ruled by a religion that teaches him he should be stoned for something he cannot control. I’m writing Jack and Griffin’s story for that kid, who was me. Is still me, in a lot of ways.