“What does it mean to be gay?” A seemingly simple question, but one that's not often asked. With Los Angeles Gay Pride starting this Friday, various gay folks give us their answers in a weeklong series.
Doug Spearman is a Los Angeles-based actor, writer, producer, and activist — he sat on the board of Equality California and was a cast member of the TV show Noah's Arc. He shares his story and his thoughts:
I'm black. African American, if you must. My boyfriend John is white. He's really, really big on holding hands, especially in public. He has no agenda on it, no issue, he's not making a statement to anyone, really…
But, then again, John was raised in Ireland and being able to keep me next to him, twine his fingers in to mine, after growing up in severely anti-gay Ireland of the 1970's and 80's, he's having a holiday.
For me, who was raised here in the states, it still feels like a political statement every time we walk in to a restaurant, through a mall, or on a city street.
We travel a lot together and he's just recently become aware of the looks we get, or rather I get, as a black man from other black people when we're holding hands. I, of course, am hyper-vigilant to it all.
I'm always scanning back and forth across the room, patio, sidewalk, wherever to see how we're being taken in. Black people tend to try and blank their faces to hide what they're thinking – it's a survival mechanism that probably goes back to our days on plantations when we dare not show our judgments to Massah.
White people, especially middle-easterners (yes, I consider middle easterners white) tend to immediately go in to conversation with one-another about us, sometimes with hand gestures and chin nods.
When I was 18 and working as a clerk at a law firm on Dupont Circle during summer break — this was the summer of 1981 in Washington, D.C. — one lunch time I stood on the sidewalk in front of our building eating a hot-dog and saw the bravest act ever committed by two men.
It was a Thursday. It was one o'clock in the afternoon. The day was bright hot and clear and I had an orange soda in one hand. I looked up and heading down M Street away from the circle were two tall, model-thin men, dressed in various things from a New Wave wardrobe. Think Flock of Seagulls. They looked to be in their mid-twenties.
One was white and he was slightly in front of his black friend. The white guy's hair was bleached blond. Traffic halted. The sound on the block seemed to quiet as they passed. Everyone stopped and stared. I remember looking at them as though I were seeing a couple of deer in the forest you didn't want to disturb. I remember making eye contact with a cab driver who was sitting at the curb and he and I both looked back at the two men.
On the weekends, Dupont Circle was called the Fruit Loop, or Bouffant Circle. It was the gay epicenter of D.C., but during the week, certainly during the day it belonged to lawyers, lobbyists, bums, secretaries and messengers. You did not see gay men walking down the street, certainly not holding hands. On a Thursday. In broad day light. It was remarkable and amazing.
You could tell they were scared. But you could also see above the fear and in spite of it, was a fierce determination and a compulsion to be who they were. To be authentic. To be strong and to be free – and not live within the confines of what other people expected as the norm.
I mean, come on, these guys were dressed for a Go-Go's concert surrounded by Navy Blue worsted wool and Laura Ashley prints. Again, I have to say, it was amazing.
To this day, I don't think I've ever seen anything so brave and courageous. Two men, going I know not where or why, taught me an indelible lesson of what it means to be a proud gay man.
At times now during gay pride when the floats are going by with the dancers and the drag queens and the news cameras are capturing what is most extreme about who we are as a group of men and women, I think how a simple act can be so much more powerful.
So, when John wants to hold my hand at The Grove or LAX, walking through the car show at the Convention Center or at a Springsteen concert, I do it. I grip him tight and love him fiercely. Bravely, authentically, completely. Because it means something.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.