I was born and raised in a small town in northern Indiana, just on the outskirts of Chicago. It was pretty horrible but you know, we all have our family, work and life issues. It didn’t really help that for most of my adolescence, I was out in a very isolated area. It was actually just down the way from where Oprah Winfrey had a house out in the country. It was a very isolated experience. (Isolation)
I realised I was gay when I was getting busy with my older cousin. I was about seven or eight at the time. So that was probably my first clue. When I figured out I was gay, obviously I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone. My mum had very severe religious beliefs so it was something that you just didn't discuss.
My mother was clinically depressed to the point that she went through ECT treatment. I guess my father was just overwhelmed having to deal with her and deal with me so he was very verbally violent and physically violent; primarily with my mother and at least demonstratively violent towards myself. When he wasn’t doing that he had his way of making sure everyone knew he wasn’t happy, dishes flying off the table, steak knives being driven into the table etc. He called me stosh, which is Polish for stupid, often times in front of relatives. Even though he never laid hands on me in the same way as he did my mother, he certainly spanked me, once, pants down in front of my younger brother and sister.
He would grab my mother to the point that my mother needed to run around the house. I’d have to take photographs of the bruise on her arm and that type of shit. My mother was equally violent. I mean she tried to shake my father off a ladder, it was not like it was all my father’s doing. My parents had a very weird way of raising children. They believed that leaving a nine year old home alone with twins, who were still in diapers for a long weekend, was somehow acceptable. So it was just a combination of very weird parenting along with violence. (Family Violence)
When my parents met, my mother was a staunch Catholic and my father a staunch Baptist so that caused friction between the families from the get go. After my father divorced her, my mother firmly believed that being gay was a chosen lifestyle and that you were an abomination in God’s eyes. That type of shit played out until the time I left Chicago and came to San Francisco. My mother would always write things in the holiday cards wishing me well but reminding me again that I and my friend were abominations and that we'll spend eternity in hell. So you know, the whole religious thing was not a good thing. (Religion and Sexuality)
Going to University was wonderful and it was the best thing that ever happened, leaving my family of origin and going away. It was in southern Indiana but it was a huge University. It was Indiana University, and I was exposed to a lot of diversity that I’d never experienced, it gave me opportunities to have gay sex and be in a frat around other guys. So I mean it was undoubtedly the best experience ever.
I was in a frat and the message was given to me early on, even before I went through initiation, that gay is not okay. In fact it was directly asked of me and I just refused to accept it. I said of course I was not. I even got engaged right before I left University. So it may have been going on at the frat, but I was not participating in that as far as being fully out or anything.
This was back in the early eighties and there was still a lot of shaming going on and there was a lot of internalised homophobia that I had already instilled in myself. A prime example was that I was down there for a summer and a woman that I worked with at a library said you should stay the summer with my friend . I figured out that the friend was gay and I freaked out and I had my Dad come down and pick up me and my stuff up. I broke a lease and everything else. I know that there was a gay bar there but I would never have dreamed of going in there. I was completely as they say on the down low. But, I was having sex in bathrooms and stuff. (Homophobia)
I moved to Chicago after I finished law school in 1989. I had a conversation with Mum not long before I left Chicago. I knew she wouldn’t want to accept me and I would be condemned. So I told her about a year before I moved to San Francisco, in 1993.
I also got engaged to be married right before I went into the military. I wanted my life to be like what I saw in the old movies when I was growing up. I wanted what everybody else was getting. You meet somebody, you fall in love and you have 2.5 kids and a station wagon. I wanted that. I wanted it to be easy. I met her working at the undergraduate library and I really loved her. It was like that’s what I thought would make me happy so that’s what I did. When I proposed it was very romantic and I dropped down on one knee and proposed to Lionel Ritchie. Also I didn’t want anything to happen to us while I was away with the military so it was kind of like my way of insuring things.
Joining the military was horrifying. It was not a decision that I made. My plan was to graduate from the Indiana University early and to start law school early. But my parents did some fucked up things and decided to get divorced. Originally my father was going to loan me money for me to go to law school. However he decided not to, I think because of the divorce proceedings. His idea was that going into the military was good enough for him and his father and my uncle so it was good enough for me. He told me at dinner with my fiancé, during my last semester of college, after I missed any opportunity to apply for financial aid. So I was like fuck it, I went and I did it but I was completely closeted there. I had horrifying experiences. One time I overheard my company commander sending away a guy who I served with. The military police found him having sex with a guy, arrested him and he was shipped off. I mean the whole experience was just horrifying, but it wasn’t horrifying enough for me to not engage in sexual relations with a sergeant down the road or with other guys that were on the base.
I had a really great sexual experience while I was in the military, with somebody off base in Boston, and that experience made me think ‘I can’t do this to my fiancé anymore’. So I came clean and we broke off the engagement. It was not good and she didn’t speak to me for a year. We grew beyond all that and I went to her wedding, but at the time I had to come clean and be honest. (Coming Out)
After I got out of the army I immediately went to law school near my home town. When I was in law school I finally felt like I could be myself and I just figured ‘screw it, I’m a law school student, no one can fuck with me’. The University was actually close to Chicago, so I spent many weekends driving into Chicago and having random sex. I was living it up and being gay. So I openly started to date, like really dating guys. I was young and I was in good shape and I had all my hair and everything else and it was awesome. You threw on your tightest shirt, you went out, you danced and you drank and you hooked up and you had fabulous sex. It was all good. So even though I dated, no one in my law school knew and I kept it very separate and apart as it was a very religious school. (Picking up) (Getting Out There)
Halfway through law school I met a guy who was my first true love. So when I left law school I debated about moving to Michigan for him. Then it just didn’t work out so I put in my time at a law firm in Chicago. I met another very nice guy but we had an argument and he threw something in my direction twice and that was very frightening to me. I ended up leaving that relationship as a result. That was right around the time that my friend contracted HIV, in the beginning part of 1993 and at that time it was before antiretroviral medication. (Relationships) (Same Sex Domestic Violence)
He got primary multifocal leukaemia and it went directly to his brain. He went from being really, really smart to not being able to put things together. He asked me to come out (to San Francisco) and be his power of attorney over finances and health care. That was like the biggest scare ever because I dated him while I was in law school and we engaged in unsafe sex. I kind of knew that it was not the right thing to do and for him to then contract HIV, I mean I was totally freaked out by that. I think that was probably the defining point in my life. Not to say I’d never have unsafe sex, but I was going to try to keep it a little bit more sorted out. (HIV/AIDS and Safe Sex)
So I was living with my friend and trying to sort things out. Meanwhile I was just like okay, ‘I’m obviously going to date but I’m not giving people blowjobs’, I was really weirded out. Not that I didn’t have sex. I used condoms but I was very, very prim and proper. My friend eventually moved back to live in Indiana and I just stayed in San Francisco because I was sick of the conservative nature of Chicago and the Mid-West. (Safe Sex)
I ended up getting into politics and was the chair of a state wide group that advocated on behalf of HIV/AIDS and civil rights. I remember distinctly being in a conference room during a meeting when someone announced the development of Protease. It was as if God or Buddha had come into the room. Everybody was like “This is what we’ve been waiting for”. (Treatments Information)
I was also on the board of directors for a gay mens' social club which was good because it sort of provided the gay community a way for men to get together that wasn’t some sex party. We did cultural events. It was a way to sort of escape the epidemic. With the onset of Grinder, Men For Men and all that other shit, gay men started to just hook up on the internet and no one needed these type of social groups. So that sort of died eventually. I was very active in the community on a local level, a state level and then got involved in some national stuff too.
Then I met a significant love and moved to East Bay. He was a clinical psychologist and ironically wrote a book about being HIV negative and surviving the HIV epidemic. I reviewed a lot of chapters before it went to press and before it was published. That was a very defining moment in my life, I recognised that we all want the same intimacy as our heterosexual peers. It’s like we don’t want to have to break the intimacy by putting on a condom, or feel like we have to do that. By reading his research and understanding it more from a psychological point of view, it was affirming. You could meet a man and get tested twice and then dispense with condoms as long as you were monogamous. He also looked at models in the UK, Canada and you guys (Australians) who were always much more advanced than we were. You guys didn’t believe every time you went down on a guy you needed to use a condom to have sex so that was enlightening to learn that. (Negotiated Safety)
My next significant relationship lasted for about four years. We met at a sad point in our lives and we sort of bonded around how we were going to deal with that. I trusted him and he trusted me and we did dispense with condoms and it worked. It worked until it didn’t work. Again there was domestic violence towards me and given my background and growing up with parents who were very violent, that was the end for me. It was not like I was going to stick around, so I separated from him.
I was very surprised because he knew about the guy I was with in Chicago and my upbringing. So for him to understand my history of being subjected to domestic violence and then still grab me hard enough to leave a huge bruise and to hit me hard on the back of the head, I was completely triggered. I knew alcohol was a factor and I tried to give him a chance to provide an explanation but there was nothing that made sense to me and he didn’t do what I wanted him to do. He didn’t promise that it would never happen again and so I was like I’m done, I’m out. (Same Sex Domestic Violence)
It was like with both of them all the stuff I had shared about what had happened to me as a child they didn’t quite get. It was very alarming to me that they didn’t get it and that they could not have just said “Okay, I’m mad at you and I’ve got to go take a walk around the block”. It was somehow not important to them.
When it happened I needed to make decisions. It was ironic that I was already in therapy because of the stress of work and it was helpful to talk to the therapist. Therapists never tell you what to do, they just say “based upon everything that you’ve been telling me you probably know what you need to do”. That was affirming enough for me to move all of my stuff out of his apartment. It wasn’t easy because we also owned a house together, so we had to unravel all that. I also hadn't handled our fiscal understanding related to the house at all well. It wasn’t a great process either but it was one that needed to be done. (Counselling)
The guy I met in Boston, the one that caused me to reflect on why I was even engaged to be married, that was the very first time that I’d ever had full blown sex. Like I was horizontal with a guy and he fucked me and he came in me. It could have worked out very differently for me because he could have been positive and I could have gotten infected. However afterwards, for some reason, he said “There’s something that’s still going around out there and you need to be more mindful of what you do if you are going to be passive and for sure if somebody comes in you”. So I think the universe just sort of protected me in that respect. So my strategy became ‘I just won’t get fucked and if I get fucked then they will for sure have a condom on and I will for sure not be drunk or under the influence of any other drugs. I’ll make sure I know where the condom is and I’ll make sure it doesn’t have a hole in it and I will be very 'present’. My other strategy was that I would tell the guy that it would be very hot if he pulled out and came on me. Part of that is true but the other part of it was that I didn’t have to worry; I would know where his cum went. It’s interesting to think about it and talk about it now, but that was my strategy. After my friend got HIV I was even more careful about making sure that if I got fucked that the guy used a condom. I made sure he pulled out and then he came on me and I knew where his cum was. I had a towel and I showered and all that stuff as well. (Bottoming) (Drugs and Alcohol) (Pulling Out Before Cumming)
I would probably say that we all come through certain challenges and not all of them will be pleasant. It probably is a good idea to take time to reflect on how those challenges shaped you and the way that you interact with the world. If you need help in sorting that out then you should definitely seek mental health counselling and not be embarrassed or ashamed to do it. It can really provide a good sounding board to help sort through various decisions and sort out the best way to keep yourself safe, not just physically. You can discuss things like how many nights you are spending out at a bar and how many drinks you have before you go off and have sex with some stranger. It can help you prioritise what you really want out of life which is a career and meeting a nice guy and hopefully settling down and maybe getting married and having kids and that type of stuff. So I guess the takeaway message is just to be mindful of how your family issues continue to play out in your whole life. (Counselling)
My political activism sort of ended when I became a public defender position in 2000 and that was just all very all-encompassing. I didn’t really mind sacrificing it because I was very fortunate to get a position where I was able to represent our youth, which was a very longstanding passion of mine. So I sort of put everything on the backburner for that but that ended when a decision was made that I would go back to representing adults. So I started to look back out into politics. I was still on the steering committee of the last national queer march for equality back in 2009. So I’m kind of more back into the political realm now although the time that I dedicate back to the community is more like as a Board member for a not for profit that does advocacy on behalf of children. So it seems that my focus is more balanced towards philanthropist/non-profit rather than strictly politics but that’s kind of where the balance is now.
I also met a lovely guy at a bar called The Midnight Sun, which is a bar in the Castro. He’s very smart and handsome and definitely not easily rattled. I feel very fortunate. He knows everything, the good, the bad and the ugly and the whole childhood and some things that I’ve done that I’m not necessarily proud of, we share things equally and it’s quite good. It will be our two year anniversary at the end of April.
We’re monogamous because we had a long discussion about HIV and everything else. We got tested and then we just entered into that same oral agreement that if one of us goes outside the relationship that we would tell the other and if it was a significant risk then we would get tested again. That’s what we both agreed to. (Monogomous Relationships)
My mother had cancer and she decided not to do anything about it, not to take medical treatment for it. The last time I went out to see her we were standing in a parking lot where she decided to continue to tell me that my lifestyle was something that I chose and I would continue being an abomination in God's eyes. I was like “Mum, you just signed your power of attorney over to me, meaning that you know you are dying and this is still the final thing you are going to tell me?” And that was the final thing that she told me.