Twenty five years ago today I came out of the closet. Yes, it was April Fool's Day but I was so set on coming out after deliberating for so many days that I took no notice of the actual day. This of course led to repeated "no, it's not a joke" responses. I have now spent more of my life out of the closet than in and I am proud of that. In fact, I could not imagine what my life would be like if I weren't a gay man. I knew from an early age that I was different from the other boys, I just didn't know what it was called. Twenty five years is a milestone and I feel like it merits a bit of reflection; but here is my issue: I am happy with the man I have become even if I am not always proud of the things that I have done. If I were to change any of those things would I still be who I am today? So let's not discuss regrets, let's talk about a little wisdom I would impart to myself in 1992.
Coming out is a rebirth, and that means that when you come out, you are re-entering the world as a kid again. Everything is fresh. Everything looks new. Everything is exciting. Everything is terrifying. I was a quiet but mischievous child but damn, when I came out; the hell raiser of a teen in me came out...big time! I went from zero to hero. What people made fun of me in the straight world became my currency on the scene: babyface, skinny and an inability to say no. To quote Prince in Little Red Corvette, "baby you got to slow down." That is probably the biggest advice I would tell myself in 1992 when I pushed the accelerator to the floor. Oh and, you'll never stop coming out but you will become creative in your responses as the years go on. "Only during happy hour" is a fun response to being asked if you are gay.
I remember being told by a friend shortly after coming out that as a gay man I would always know someone who was HIV+. That is true but it wasn't new to me. My father died of an AIDS related illness before Reagan could even say those words on TV and he wasn't a gay man. HIV has and always will be to me a disease. It needs to be treated as a disease not a stigma. I have lost close friends and still have close friends who have beaten the odds. It hasn't gone away and things are better but we still need to remember that it's not over yet. I think because of my father's death, I have never allowed HIV to define gay or vice versa and it is something I actively challenge people on.
Uncle Charlie's was the first gay bar I ever snuck into. I was fifteen and with some friends who were only just a little older than me but with better fake ID's. I remember nervously walking up to the bar to order a screwdriver because I hated the taste of alcohol; and orange juice was the only thing that could make me stomach vodka in those days. Oh how the times have changed. There was a drag queen at the bar who took one look at me. She scanned me up and down as if she was silently reading me. With her cigarette she motioned to me and said, "honey you better work on that (pointing to my head) because that (pointing to the rest of me), won't last." She then laughed. How true those words have rung. It is no secret that looks are prized in the gay community but if there is something I have learned in my twenty five years is that looks are certainly not everything. Seriously. Repeat after me, looks are not everything. Relying solely on them is like carrying a designer bag for the world to see when you can't afford to put food on your table. If that doesn't convince you, buy something "gorgeous" for your home and watch how in three months time, you forget it's there. Nourish your soul and mind equally. I thought being educated and looking good was enough; it took my world falling apart by my own bad decisions to make me realise how important nourishing my soul was.
Looking back at the last twenty five years, I can say with full certainty that one of the things I did not always show enough of, and did not always see on the scene is an abundance of kindness and compassion. Truth is, there is a lot of criticism and negativity on the scene. There is also a lot of insecurity covered up by arrogance masquerading as confidence on the scene. From LA to Prague to Vancouver to Buenos Aires, I have seen the same behaivour. It's not cute, it's boring and it is toxic to all of us. That said, I have also seen those shining little stars of kindness and compassion whose light shines like a beacon in the darkness around them. Those people who step in and help you when you are about to make a bad decision. Those people who sit and talk to you when they can sense you need a sympathetic ear. Those people who can turn your evening around just by extending a hand of friendship or a smile. We need so many bright stars in every gay bar or club in the world that it feels like they are lit up by nothing but disco balls. The more compassion and kindness we show one another, the stronger we are. If I can impart some harsh truths here: We will all face rejection. We will all end up in a room where we are not the cutest, not the smartest, or not the funniest. We will all question what is wrong with us when those things happen. We will all face loneliness. I know for myself that if I had come to these conclusions years before, perhaps I would not have spent so many years feeling lonely in a crowded room. That's the irony of loneliness, you're usually not alone in feeling it. If I could rewind, I'd definitely be kinder.
Speaking of kindness John; one thing I would ask you is how the hell can you expect people to be kind with your heart when you are not kind with theirs? The answer is you can't. People will tell you that gay relationships aren't real. That gay relationships are easy because you are both the same gender. Let me tell you the simple response to those statements: Bullshit! My mother always said the problem with relationships is that they involve two people. That is truth. Relationships are work and they take both sides working together to make it work. A lesson I learned by not putting in the work, so I know. A lesson that nearly cost me the love of my life. Let me tell you something else, it don't matter what genders are involved. At some point you are going to have an argument about the washing up; that too is part of a relationship and it don't get more real than that. My advice is a get a dishwasher though you'll still argue about the right way to load it. But all joking aside if I could talk to John in 1992; I would tell him to be honest and careful with the hearts he will meet. Nothing will haunt you more in life than the hurt you have caused someone you love.
I don't think I can stress enough to my younger self the importance of choosing happiness and not just being happy. I wasn't a happy teenager. I was confused about the world, angry at my station in life, and insecure. That unhappy teenager became a young man who often did what he wanted with no thought to the consequences. I tried to find happiness in men, in places, in drugs and situations. The one thing I never tried was finding happiness in me (cue, Charlene track). That unfortunately took my world collapsing; to hit home. It was when I started looking inward that I became aware of how much I was loved by my husband, by the true friends and family that remained by my side and eventually by the man looking back at me in the mirror. 1992 John, take a few moments each day to tell yourself good things. Stop repeating the bad things you hear out there and believing that they won't get to you. Tell yourself every single day that you are a good person, that you are loved, that you matter! Because when the world is telling you that you don't matter, You can stand up and say with pride: "Oh yes I fucking do!"
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.