What Is Gay Ghetto Rising?

Methodist Church; 2015

Week after week, as she nervously entered the room, Ginny would follow the same routine: a quick motion of hellos around the room with minimal eye contact; but with the intention of making a quick beeline towards the sofa. As she nestled into her own self-created womb, her confession would begin:

“Over the last twenty years, I’ve done everything I could for this marriage; I don’t think I can do much more.”

“I waited for him to be a better father to our kids.”

“Now that he’s sober, he’s dedicated his life to the program…when will it be time for me?”

“When is it going to be my turn?”

As I sat across the room, a breeze from her depleted soul wisped right past me. The air pocket of hope that stood the test of time, for better or worse, through thick and thin…was released and set free from pure exhaustion. All that was left was an emptiness that needed to be felt…and felt…and felt.

***

Although Ginny and I were two different people, we shared a connection. I remember what it’s like to hold onto something so tightly; unaware of an outside perspective. I’ve wrestled with the understanding that if I decided to stay in a situation, it was by choice and my responsibility to do the work. But I couldn’t expect the same in return from someone other than myself. I’ve sat with the frustration of knowing no matter what measures I took, I didn’t have the power to change an event or a person.

As I wait for the next step of inspiration, I’d like to set an intention for my blog: to make connections with those who’ve had to rise from the center of their own depleted soul.

Rising With a Pure Heart

Gay Ghetto Rising

Jim; 2010

Jim was a senior gay who had seen it all — done it all. When we met up in 2010 he was newly retired from a successful career in education and in the process of moving from Long Beach California to the Middle East. Such extreme decisions were not foreign to the man who sat in front of me explaining his latest venture.

“When Dan and I met over thirty years ago it was our dream to retire in the Holy Land; and now that I’ve left Catholicism and converted to Judaism, I believe we’re ready.”

Senior gay Jim was really good at the one – up – you bitchiness game. After his declaration, he looked directly at me and said: “so when do you plan on leaving the gay – ghetto?”

“Gay – ghetto, what’s that?”

“It’s when you first come out of the closet and you spend almost every weekend at the club and have anonymous sex while you drink and drug.”

I was doing about half that at the time.

His persisted: “You just came out right?

“Not just … but recently.”

“Eventually, something else will come along and you’ll move on. We’ve all been there. Just give it some time.”

Two years after Jim and Dan settled into the Holy Land — what was to be their final resting place — they moved back to the states and now reside in Las Vagas, Nevada. They couldn’t handle the regular bomb threats and evacuations.

***

My name is Ed Martin and welcome to Gay Ghetto Rising…Stories From the First Half of Life. To be honest, my legal name is Eduardo Martinez but I swore that when I became a writer, I’d shorten it.

As bitchy as Jim was, his life was an inspiration way before I knew it. I remember glancing through one of his photo albums and witnessing a man who lived many lives. From bell – bottoms to Tommy Bahama; kindergarten teacher to principal; beach cruiser to bomb-threat evacuee…Jim always had the courage to let something go and make way for something new.

As for me? It’s easier said than done. I’m always one inspirational quote away from a nervous breakdown. When life has decided it’s time for me to move on, I don’t move as freely as Jim. I kick and scream my way into a new support group, therapy workshop or the latest self-help book.

Now that I’ve made peace with the past and picked up some wisdom along the way, I’d like to share my stories of stagnation, learning, and change…all under the sweet umbrella of evolution.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

The Ketchup Stain

Fontana High School; 10th grade

Dede’s rage was flaming as high as her hair the moment her friend pointed out the ketchup stain along the back of her white t-shirt. I witnessed the whole conversation take place outside while Denise and I dug into our burgers. By now, Dede had had it…and the look on her face as she swung open the door proved it.

For the longest time, Dede and Denise would exchange dirty looks as each passed the other throughout the day. As her best friend, I never mistook the facial exchange as something threatening. When it would happen, we would stop mid-conversation, laugh nervously and move on without a mention…but that moment in the restaurant everything was about to change.

The chaos began while Dede waited for her order. Denise’s eyeballs quickly began to wander towards her direction. As the seconds ticked by, I could see the rage between them growing. When the pick-up order bell rang, Dede came out swinging. On her way out, with food in hand, she grabbed a fist full of Denise’s french fries and threw them in her face.

That’s when Denise picked up the ketchup bottle.

With no time left to react, she squeezed the contents in Dede’s direction.

“You fucking bitch!” was all I heard as she swung open the door, aiming right towards our table.

The next thing I knew both girls had each other by the hair…pulling and socking one another to the ground. I had no idea what to do. I stood there frozen as two tables, three tables, four tables went down. With no end in sight, I tried to help Denise by grabbing her shoulder and pulling her away…which left me planted in a pile of uneaten food. By then, the owners came, broke up the fight and all that was left were the dreams of an empty stomach.

Father Gay

Serra House Seminary; 1992

The waiting room of the local Catholic seminary was a little chilly for four o’clock in the afternoon. As I was waiting, I could hear seminarians down the hall discussing the day’s events with a quick declaration of:

“I’m freezing my ass off in here!”

Not something I expected to hear in a place I thought was supposed to be silent or filled with chants of prayer and singing. From where I sat I had a view of the outdoor patio which lay motionless in the ever increasing, enveloping tightness of the night sky.

I wanted to be here; I insisted my mom drive me across town during the middle of rush hour traffic so that I could visit the seminary. But as much as I wanted this experience, I still felt the all too familiar pangs of anxiety within my stomach.

As I waited, I thought about the last two years since that night of the N.E.T retreat. My life had definitely changed since then: I became an obedient son, purchased a gold crucifix to wear around my neck, joined the Christian club at school and volunteered at every parish event. I did everything necessary, I believed a baptism by Spirit required. I had become so focused on achieving high standards in my new life in Christ – the seminary was the next step in my impulsive evolutionary process.

At eighteen, I’m not quite sure what I expected to find in the seminary on those first few visits but one thing I did know: I wanted to become a Roman Catholic priest.

***

The head rector had already passed by once to greet me but was a bit put off by the fact that I had arrived an hour earlier than scheduled. I could have sworn he said four but then again, he was a priest so who was I to argue? He didn’t know what to do with me since most of the seminarians were still at school and he was busy handling the business of the day so I just sat until dinner was ready.

Before we sat down to eat, Fr. Tony said, “please have a seat where ever you like and please, feel free to ask the seminarians any questions you might have.”

The dining room was very simple with only a large square tan wooden table in the middle that sat twelve. The walls were bare with only an eggshell color to cover them. As everyone sat down to eat, I felt invisible. The seminarians were occupied either vying for the opportunity to speak louder than the other or finish their salad so as to get on with the main course. I tried my best to hone in on one of the many conversations that were being had but it was hard to try to talk and eat at the same time.

I was comfortable yet a little nervous as I focused on eating one leaf at a time all the while I tried to insert a forced laugh or “is that right” statement in between pauses. After a couple of bites, and finally winning a spot in an engaging conversation with a seminarian from Vietnam, I started to feel my body take over. The all too familiar process and subsequent fight that followed completely distracted me from where I was and could only be avoided by excusing myself from the dining room table. This overpowering feeling had happened before in restaurants and the dining room tables of people I barely knew – I was going to throw up.

“Could you please tell me where the bathroom is?!” I hurriedly asked my startled companion.

Once I made it inside the bathroom, my mouth stopped its unrelenting production of saliva. I was safe. After a couple of minutes in complete stillness, and after the storm had passed, I was able to regain control and start to move around a little. The little bits of salad I had eaten before the attack ensured that I wasn’t going to throw up but I knew that going back, I wouldn’t be able to take another bite.

As I made my way back, my friend from Vietnam was already on to a new conversation No one else seemed to notice that I was gone. The one person who did was Fr. Tony, he asked if I was okay as I sat down. Yes, was my cautious response as I carefully sat down trying to control everything around me.

“The spaghetti has been served so please feel free to help
yourself.” I slowly started to pick at my salad and engage Father in a conversation. I felt that if I distracted him, he wouldn’t notice I wasn’t eating.

After dinner, we went on a tour of the house. I was a bit more relaxed after dinner and was able to think more clearly. It was then that I started to feel like this was something I could be a part of; that is until Fr. Tony started the informal interview.

“Are you currently dating anyone right now Eddie?” Fr. Tony asked as he looked pensively at me and waited for an answer.

“Yeah, I’ve had a couple of girlfriends in school,” was my short response as I anxiously awaited for his approval.

“But are you currently dating someone right now?” he proceeded. “No” I quickly replied. I wanted him to get off the subject so that I wouldn’t have to face the answer. He shook his head lightly and went on to say: “The reason I ask is because your hand gestures seem a bit feminine?”

There’s that question again, I anxiously thought to myself.

“I use my hands a lot when talking and sometimes I get excited,” was my last second, unrehearsed reply.

The Loneliness Cold

St. Joseph Catholic Church; 1981

As I stared blankly out the living room window that afternoon in 1981, I had no idea what I was going to do.  

“What am I supposed to say?” I thought to myself accusingly.

I was on my third glass of water as I nervously tried to hydrate my body one gulp at a time.  The anticipation and waiting of the evening’s event kept me obsessing about the same question all day.  

My concentration was broken when dad shouted, “Let’s go!”  

I swallowed my last thoughts of anxiety and ran out the door.

***

“Everyone line up outside the hallway – single file.“

As we entered the side corridor. thin wisps of frigid air circled around me and found its way among the families in the pews.  It was the same cold I always felt throughout the building. The dark orange carpet below did nothing to warm up the experience waiting at the other end of the altar.  

I shared a brief history with the newly renovated church.  It was the place of my baptism and for the first eight years of life — like home.  Which is why it should have felt different…instead it felt very lonely.

While the first group of kids lined up along the wall I was still obsessing, “what am I going to say?” As a distraction, I looked up and saw the deeply recessed stained glass windows that blocked out the sun.  The dark paneled walls that held them up created ample space between me and the outside world.

As we were called to line up, I felt the iciness of the air even more…my body’s warmth no match for the cold around me.  It was a mild Spring day but inside I felt the quiet, isolating fear of winter.

“When it’s your turn, your row will get up and make its way to the right side of the church.”

With only one person in line ahead of me, I noticed the effects of all the water I nervously drank before my first confession.  The release waiting for me at the edge of my bladder. “You’re next,” whispered the lady with sandy blond hair and pare shaped body.  “After her, you’ll walk to the end of the hallway and enter the confessional…father will be waiting.”

I could feel the edge of my bladder becoming weaker and weaker after each word.  

“Once you’re inside, you can either kneel behind the curtain or sit face to face…it’s up to you.”

Then with a sudden break, I could feel the first trickles of heat covering the right side of my hip.  The warmth I had searched for when entering the church — the warmth I so desperately wanted but couldn’t find – had found me as it was leaving my body.

I looked helplessly at the lady in front of me.  While she emitted the last bit of direction, I released all the built-up anxiety and nerves from the last few hours.  

I wanted to run across the altar.  Across all the waiting families and into the room reserved for crying babies.  Once there I’d find the restroom, the one place — at the time — I felt I belonged.  But instead, I stood there. I stood there trying to stop the flow that cascaded down to my knees and spread throughout the floor around me.  Although my insides had warmed the outside of my body, I stood there frozen in sheer panic.

With a sudden jerk to my shoulder, the lady with sandy blonde hair and pare shaped body directed me towards the confessional.  

“Did she know?” I whispered to myself.  “Could she smell it?”

“Father’s going to know I peed my pants…he’s going to smell it.”  

As I walked through the small hallway, I could feel the sponginess of my saturated tube socks press up against the soles of my shoes.  

Squish – squish, squish – squish.