To The Boys Who Twirled Before Me
I can't stop watching this video on YouTube of George Michael and Elton John singing a duet of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". George in a royal blue blazer with a hoop earring dangling from his left lobe and Elton with chunky rings and gold pants. They stand at either sides of the stage and sing effortlessly as the crowd goes wild. Watching them fills me with a sense of pride. The same way I feel when I see old videos of Boy George with his painted face staring out from gigantic hats.
"That's Me!" would echo inside my head.
These gay men who shot into the pop stratosphere before I was even born call out to me like ghosts from my past taunting me to connect the dots. I watch them in awe and feel embarrassed to admit that there was a time in my life I thought the world was void of gay role models. I was young and ambitious. I thought my sexuality gave me an edge. Little did I know I was pulling inspiration from a long line of flamboyance that has been pulsating in mainstream media to various degrees for as long as I've been alive. As I go down the rabbit hole of personal recovery I can't help but feel connected to all the boys who twirled before me.
Growing up there was no one around to teach me my queer lineage. Even though gay people technically existed in Hollywood, they weren't on my radar. You don't exactly go looking for gay role models when you're in the midst of figuring out your own sexuality. It's more like a game of hide and seek than it is capture the flag. That's something the hetero world is blessed with: never ending examples of what it means to be straight.
Since I didn't see anyone like me picked out parts of pop culture that I liked most and embodied them. I became my own ancestor and architect of my destiny. Everyone in the media I looked up to was influenced by the stars that came before them and so I became a patch work of celebrity images that embraced my campy nature but ignored my sexual interests.
The first time I experienced a Pride festival was in Vancouver in 2006. I couldn’t believe how big it was. My friends and I stumbled down the street, drunk off of slurpees overflowing with vodka. Booze spilt out of our cups as we linked arms and made our way towards the throbbing music in and around Davie Village. The entire city came alive and felt like a warm, boozy embrace.
Being gay was a statement I enjoyed making. When I got to Vancouver my only thoughts regarding the actual pride festival was that it was an excuse to get really fucked up. I didn't even know what Stone Wall was until a famous Vancouver drag queen took me aside and, over shots of whiskey and lines of cocaine, told me about a time when gay bars were raided and most of her friends died from a “gay cancer”.
"Just imagine," She said. " That one weekend you all went out dancing and the next weekend one of you dies. That's how it was. It happened so fast. It was really scary."
That kind of harsh reality seemed a million miles away from the life I was living. It was hard to imagine myself sneaking into unmarked doors and meeting a lover in the bushes for a blow job. By the time I made it to the club scene there were endless opportunities to jump on top of a bar in daisy dukes and twirl through town without a second thought. I wasn't scared, I was excited! I held the world in the palm of my hands with chipped nail polish and celebrity perfume sprayed on my wrists.
Like a lot of young gay guys I really wanted to be famous. When I got into the thick of the club scene in Vancouver my dreams manifested quickly. I came in, took over and consumed everything and everyone I could. I started to meet other people like me. Kids who wanted to be famous, who gave themselves to the night. Excess was an art, partying was a platform, being seen and getting talked about was what we did.
Now, in recovery I hear the story from a different perspective. I’m discovering myself all over again in people who have been there and done that, honey. I’m getting used to hearing my journey in the stories of strangers and every time I do I realize I’m nothing more than a manifestation of a long line of queer men who desperately wanted to be seen and heard. We crave the spotlight because we’re scared without it we’ll disappear. A dark abyss of nothingness is not the place for hard partying twinks and tweaked out drag queens.
More than wanting to understand our obsession with fame, I want to know where I came from. When I think of my queer lineage I think of hundreds of men dancing under flashing lights, worshiping divas, wearing tight clothes and clapping back at each other in a language only we can understand. I think of the boys who dominated the decades before me and all the nights they would have stayed up late with their friends drinking, doing drugs and making plans to take over the world. My life was built on the back of my brothers and sisters who suffered so that I could swish down the street, sit on dicks and flirt with handsome men in broad daylight. Thank God I'm femme, I don't want to pass as straight! That's not what we fought for.
To the boys who twirled before me, thank you. I still get scared sometimes but it doesn’t stop me. I know you understand my big dreams and that somewhere in the sky you’re cheering me on. I’m sorry for all the awful things you’ve endured and I promise it will be worth it. I have a man that loves me. He calls me beautiful everyday. We hold hands and kiss on the street corner. Every time we do I think of you.
There must be an island somewhere floating in the sky where its always sunset during the best part of summer. Music rolls in from the ocean and keeps a million bodies dancing under a fuchsia sky. Drag Queens hover above the crowd with bright white wings, finally becoming what we always knew they were. We move into the forest and sleep in giant beds that hang from the canopy. We teach each-other how to hunt and garden and grow fresh vegetables. Everybody has a lover and every night we take turns celebrating a different brother, lifting them up to the stars letting our angels smother them with light.
I can see it in my mind and it's shores call to me. I don't know when I get there but I know I will. One final flash of light, I'll look back over my life and sink into the warm waters of eternity. The sun flickers on the surface and I rise. The beat gets louder and I remember a time in a city and it's warm embrace. I can see them on the shore, jumping up and down, excited to see me. I get out of the water and into the sun and the greet me with applause and wet, sparkling eyes.
These are my people. I am home.