My parents owned a tavern on the southwest side of Chicago. My father was a violent alcoholic and my mother drank to cope with my father, so I had to grow up quickly.
When I was fourteen I fell in love with a man who was twenty-eight. I know most people would view our relationship as child abuse, but he was the only person in my life that showed up and was always there for me. He became my rescuer and my lover and he cared for me.
When I was seventeen we decided we’d run away together. I was on my parent’s porch waiting for him to pick me up when I heard ambulances. A few minutes later a passerby told me that he’d just been hit on his motorcycle and was dead. So there I was waiting for the love of my life to pick me up so we could run away together, and then he was gone. There was nobody I could even remotely talk to about it. It created a downward spiral in my life.
I decided to enroll in an Augustinian seminary outside of Chicago. I thought I wanted to be in an environment with other like-minded individuals but eventually I realized why I had entered the seminary – I wanted to be around other men. About half the men in the seminary were gay. Because it was 1970, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue around sexuality – especially in the Catholic world – so there wasn’t a container within the seminary that would afford conversations.
Being there allowed me to step into the exploration of my sexuality but eventually I left because it was not an emotionally safe environment. I witnessed some sexual situations that took place and also watched people being ‘outed’ in uncompassionate ways. But the experience was a trigger for stepping into ownership of who I was – I realized I couldn’t hide anymore. I ‘came out’ to my parents when I was twenty-one but my father never accepted my sexuality – he saw it as a failure of parenting.
After I dropped out of the seminary I hitchhiked from Chicago to Saugatuck, Michigan with a man from the seminary who was also gay. We went to a bar and the bartender came up to me.
“You’d make a great bartender.” He said. “Would you like to work here for the summer?”
I said yes and I spent the next ten years working as a bartender in gay bars.
In 1985 I moved to the Russian River area of San Francisco with my partner Glen. I worked at a high-end restaurant and Glen owned a call answering service for physicians. It was in the mid-eighties and the AIDS crisis was really kicking into high gear at that time.
One day Glen and I were at the beach when I noticed lesions on the back of his neck and ears. The next day a doctor diagnosed him with AIDS and Kaposi’s sarcoma. They did an interferon treatment but nothing worked. Glen died sixteen days later.
I always get outraged when young gay men talk about ‘bareback sex’ because none of them know what it’s like to watch your best friend and partner waste away from an excruciatingly horrific disease. The whole AIDS epidemic was catastrophic. At least when a solider is on a battlefield he understands who the enemy is, but at that time nobody knew anything. There was nobody guiding the ship and trying to figure out how to navigate through everything. Hospitals didn’t know what the heck was going on. The government wasn’t dealing with the situation – I remember me and my friends wondering if the government created the AIDS virus to do away with gay people. We had no heroes – that was for sure. Nobody rallied around us to let us know this wasn’t okay. All the ‘righteous rights’ of the United States, like Anita Bryant, were jumping in and demonizing us.
There was a mentality that we deserved this because we were gay. How insane that people thought you deserved a death sentence – a horrific death sentence – because of your sexual orientation? There was a point where we thought the entire gay population was going to succumb to this disease. It was amazing to see the vigilance of the gay community to keep moving forward…
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“What advice would you give to a thirty-year old? Why?”
“I would tell thirty-year-olds about the essential relationship between the youth and elders. In east the elders are revered as the most sacred, but in west we physically emotionally and spiritually run away from elders and the aging process. I would suggest to thirty year olds that they should pay attention to their elders, don’t think you have all the answers. The elders need the young as much as the young need the elders. We’re all here to love and support each other as we travel along. Open your hearts, open your minds and connect with elders.”
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