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.

Mr. Patron

Sequoia Jr. High; 7th grade

“REMEMBER…WHEN YOU GET HOME FROM SCHOOL, WASH YOUR T-SHIRT AND SHORTS, PLACE THEM IMMEDIATELY INTO YOUR BACKPACK SO YOU DON’T FORGET THEM MONDAY MORNING!

As always, anyone who didn’t show up dressed for P.E ready to play received a full-on humiliation yell from Mr. Patron our 7th-grade P.E teacher.

Today was my turn. I forgot my clothes over the weekend and all morning my stomach twisted in knots knowing I’d have to face him later that day. I had two options: get to the locker room first and ask for loner clothes…or face humiliation in front of the other students while I received a tongue lashing. Anyone who feared Patron as much as I did made sure to get on his good side. It was the only choice available for not having shown enough responsibility.

“AT LEAST YOU WERE HERE FIRST!” Those were the only words I wanted to hear him say as he compared me to all the other students who had forgotten as well. Although dressing out meant I’d have to play some organized sport — which I hated — acceptance was the one thing I wanted the most.

Later that day, as the last few students meandered around the lunch counter, the first bell rang. I ran into the locker room as fast as I could. The smell of old plumbing and cologne filled the air as I made my way down the hall, past the lockers. I may have been overreacting but my desperation to please him was all that mattered. With no one else in sight, I could see the white fluorescent lights shining past the door of his office.

As I approached the last few steps, I could hear Mr. Patron clearing his throat along with some ruffle of activity. As I neared the door, I noticed his hands were clearing the wrinkles out from under his shirt, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. Like my P.E clothes, Mr. Patron had forgotten to wear underwear that day…or maybe he just didn’t wear underwear. His shorts were down to his knees as he cleaned himself for the next class. He wasn’t doing anything inappropriate or questionable, I just walked in at the wrong time. He immediately began to yell at the top of his lungs, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN HERE…GO WAIT ON YOUR NUMBER!”

I ran out as quickly as I came in…not only having been yelled at — which I was trying to avoid — but feeling worse than ever before.

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.   

The Grubb Twins

Redwood Elementary; 1985

I collected and played with action figures.  He-Man action figures. While all the other boys and girls my age were sneaking into the bathroom, discovering the next phase in life, I stalled, regressed and chased the 4th-grade boys who played with the latest toys. We’d all meet at lunch by the big tree aligned with bushes which served as a backdrop for all the dramas we created.

Of all the kids I played with that year, I remember the Grubb twins. I remember them not because of their ability to be in two places at once, or their academic achievements. The Grubb twins possessed the original He-Man action figure. The hard to find, search all over town, don’t supply but demand He-Man action figure. This made them the official leaders of the group.

The Grubb twins had interesting features: they were identical, rough and tumble boys, down to the dirt in the insides of their shoes. They had oval faces with perfect bowl cuts and matching bangs. While one’s face was a little more symmetrical than the other I could always tell who was who: by their teeth.

David’s teeth were positioned in a way where when he spoke, his tongue would close at the edge of his front molars and act as a dam. Although he didn’t have a speech impediment, the collection of saliva in his cheeks and eventual overflow onto the faces of a captivated crowd made it sound as if he did.

Daniel on the other hand was a bit more refined…and he did have a speech impediment. But what I remember most about Daniel was his soul. While David was gruff and tumble, Daniel was lite and airy. He was submissive compared to David’s tough exterior. When I spoke with Daniel, our souls connected…we shared a collaborative connection. So when I needed to sway the vote, I’d always hit up Daniel first in order to get what I wanted.

On one occasion, David brought the coveted action doll to school. He showed it to us during first recess and said, “bring out your henchmen for lunch…we’re going to play.” We were all amazed. The figure came with a sword, battle-ax, and shield…and when all three props were placed on the action figure it was like a shot of heroin to the body. The anticipation of holding it would get me through the two hour period before lunch.

By lunchtime, while still in the cafeteria, David made the announcement:

“I have a better idea, we’re going play He-Man and Stellator inthtead of the action figures,”

“I’m He – Man and Daniel’s Stellator.”

The rest of us were left to choose who we wanted to play.

“Where’s He – Man?”, I asked disappointingly.

“Heths inthide my pocket but leths play real life instead.”

I needed to sway the vote.

As we went round and round, pretending to knife each other with our swords; picking each other up and throwing each other to the ground I double teamed with Daniel. My plan was that if we rouged each other up hard enough, we’d rethink the idea of play fighting.

After all, I didn’t wait half the day only to be told no.

Stelletor and I were making good headway, tearing everybody up until He-Man went into a manic state:

“eeeeeeee-yaaaaaaaah!’ screeched David at the top of his lungs. He raised his fists and clenched his teeth.

As for me, I was in the middle of a death grip when I noticed what all the excitement was about. He-Man had a fixed target. Me. I readied myself for battle as any normal henchman would: I bent my knees, crouched down just a little and waited for the enemy to attack…and attack he did.

David’s fist had tunneled its way towards my stomach.  He sucker punched me right in the gut; a direct hit right above my navel. Each second after was sheer panic.  Panic from the hit; panic from the instant pain; panic from having the wind knocked out of me.

Panic. From. The panic.

All I could do was fall to the ground with my arms wrapped around my stomach.  All I could think of was how to find my next breath.

“…just try and breathe”, I told myself.

“…just try and breathe.”

***

Thirty years later, I felt the same way after the break up with John.  My mind was frozen, my emotions were out of control and I couldn’t breathe.

It would take therapy and a support group to help me start breathing again.

That Pink, Wavy, Elongated Tongue

Beech House: 1982

Eyes open automatically. 2:30 in the morning. 

That tongue; that pink…wavy…elongated tongue.

At any moment, as I pushed my head deeper into the hood blanket, I knew that tongue would creep its way between the sliver of the open curtain that hung steadily over the living room window.  To everyone else, the patterned providers of security guaranteed privacy from the outside world. But at night…when everybody finally gave in to the darkness outside and after the deafening silence of rebirth had settled in, that pink, wavy, elongated tongue would eventually reveal the man behind it.

It all began one evening when mom yelled across the room “Es satanas!” as she feverishly crocheted yet another completed square onto the growing quilt.

“What are you doing?”, my brother complained after I snapped his concentration from what was playing out on television.

“I’m trying to keep the porch light out” I grumbled, “it keeps shining in my eyes; I can’t sleep.”

Mom continued her rant, “Mira que fueo el Diablo!” as she knitted together her words of fear and spread them throughout the room.

The truth was, I had seen the devil that night. He had long platform boots that resembled a dragon straight out of hell.

That night, and every other night after, no matter how hard I tried, a sliver from the curtain would eventually find its way back to the default position. A long, thinly shaped triangle would slip in and out of sight and allow the porch light in. The anxiety and fear of what was behind those draped vertical folds only heightened after I had gone to bed and a wayward draft would create a succession of waves that set the stage for what I fought so hard to avoid.

Sometimes, in the height of summer, the linen fabric shades would appear as overgrown tendrils of murky moss that quietly held the heavy, recycled air emitted from the swamp cooler.  As the dank smell of mold rose from the ground like dry ice. No matter what the season, as the night wore on and the tension built, the late night concert was sure to begin.

At any moment those tendrils would open up and reveal an active world of ongoing performances that ranged from slick 80s hair bands to dark shadows conspiring to find a way into the safety of my bed.  My imagination (my runaway imagination) had already joined the shower of beaming light the moment I woke up.

I was nine years old, it was 2:30 in the morning and I was trying my hardest to avoid Gene Simmons’ signature tongue waiting for me on the other side of the window.