On April 15, 1993, I left College Station TX in the dead of night in a souped-up-lowered-blacked-out-windows-Flowmaster-exhaust 1989 Mustang GT. In the car with me was $5,000 cash and 100 CDs. I was headed to Canada to go to sleep, permanently. At the age of 38, I had lost any incentive to try to reconcile gay Russel with my Mormon (mom) and Catholic (dad) upbringing, not to mention the extremely conservative friends I had made during my four years at Texas A&M University.
It only took two days to get to Canada, but suddenly I was having fun. Not a care in the world and over $4,800 left to spend anyway, anyhow, anywhere.
I was having so much fun that I wound up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Spend 2½ days there having fun with openly gay people, two of whom were from Houston, had moved to San Diego in 1988 in order to do the same thing I couldn’t do, and were in Vancouver celebrating their fifth anniversary. They convinced me to give a chance to any big city on the West Coast. San Diego was my last stop, but here I am.
I managed to find the “Coming Out Support Group” and “The Center for Social Services.” That was a code name for “The Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Services.” In 1993 still, the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender were forbidden words, so much so that the phone company would not provide phone services to any company with those words in the name.
My office managers at my two businesses in College Station, and a long-time friend from Houston, sold my Texas assets, allowing me to consider myself retired at the age of 38. On to more important things.
I spent my days at San Diego’s gay beach (Blacks Beach), slept and ate in San Diego’s gay neighborhood (Hillcrest), and spent the rest of my time at The Center reading anything and everything about being gay in the United States in the 1990s. Being gay in San Diego at that time wasn’t easy but it was a lot easier than in Texas.
I remember one night I had partied at a gay bar in Hillcrest, believing that it was quite safe to be gay there. Sadly, it wasn’t. Seven rednecks had piled into a truck and driven to Hillcrest from East San Diego County specifically “to beat up some fags.” They chose a male couple who were walking home, hand in hand, from the same bar I had been at. I always thought that it could have been me because I was alone.
Although they were caught, I no longer felt safe. It took me several years before I would feel safe again. Society seemed to be making progress.
I came out to everyone, family and friends. Very few of my Mormon and Catholic relatives were accepting—der. The most accepting was my wise old grandmother, the same one who had adopted one of Utah’s greatest juvenile delinquents and gave him eight years of her life when she didn’t have to. My favorite aunt and uncle were absolutely despicable in voicing their hatred in letters to me.
Interestingly, my friends were much more accepting than my family. My new San Diego friends still were having difficulty believing that I was gay because I liked sports, had a Virago 1100 motorcyle, had a customized Mustang GT…. I seemed to be everything except the gay stereotype.
On the other hand, my Texas friends were like, “Uh, you didn’t know? We knew. You were always the most effeminate of our friends…. We didn’t care but we’re glad you’re still alive.”
I spent 11 months working on sexual orientation issues to the exclusion of everything else. In March 1994, I re-entered the work force through a temp agency. My intent was to work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday while continuing to work on sexual orientation issues the other four days.
The temp agency sent me to a company working as consultants in the cell phone industry, an industry that was booming in the mid-1990s. Somehow I wound up as a consultant working in Detroit, flying home to San Diego once a month. It was my first trip home, on May 26, 1994, that I met my soon-to-be lifelong partner, Jim, at the Coming Out Support Group.
We moved in together in 1995, commingling our lives in every respect—money, music, sports, life…. Well, I still don’t like the Lakers (Go Celtics!) or Dodgers (Go A’s!)….
We got domestic partnered (such an ugly term for love) when that became legal in 2003, and got married (gay married!) in 2008 when that was legal for a short six months. When the California Supreme Court ruled that our marriage would remain legal, we celebrated in Hillcrest. Then in 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality would be the law of the land. We celebrated again, in Hillcrest.
Society had come a long way. Little did we know that the hatred was still there. After the presidential election on November 8, I’m back to no longer feeling safe. I’m much older, can’t run anymore, and probably still look too effeminate for some people.
When Jim and I went out to eat Friday night for our Thanksgiving meal, I saw this little corner coffee shop:
That’s the Meshuggah Shack in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood. It was too dark on Friday to take a picture so I got up with the sun on Saturday and headed over there. After taking my pictures, and noticing that many people were watching me, perhaps thinking that I was a red-person-domestic terrorist, I walked up to the counter. A guy and gal both asked if they could help me. I said that I didn’t want anything other than to thank them for putting up the welcome signs. Then I put $20 into their tip jar and walked back to my car. I was crying, but I felt so good.
I keep thinking of a dystopian future where every commercial enterprise has to put signs on their businesses telling the public which people they will serve and which they will not. Those signs make it easy for hateful people to target specific businesses. Stephen King, are you reading me here?
While I currently work from home, much of the clientele for my business enterprises live in other states. Red states. And I know from internet message boards that they are only too happy to espouse the hatred and violence for others that our president-elect did so well. In order to make my business enterprises work, I need to meet people on a personal level. I am afraid to do that because I don’t want to visit those red states and those red people.
I really don’t know what to do. I’m trying to hang on, but as the number of hate crimes spikes in all states, it’s becoming more and more difficult to enjoy life, and I’m not 100% sure that I want to go back in time and live in a hateful society again.
If this is our president-elect’s idea of making America great again, I’m not all in.
Need a unique gift for a special occasion?
Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos at Fine Art America