Tuesday, June 8, 2010

For Roy

Because everything we say and do
is the length and shadow of our own souls,
our influence is determined
by the quality of our being.
--Dale Turner

Well, our indomitable Atomic Kitten has covered about 180 miles in her first two days on the road! And we’re helping to cover her with our donations—more than $4,300 now on our main ALC page at the moment, plus additional donations through PayPal!

We’re at 57% of our goal—but we still need to pump up the pimp on this, people! We’d like to see that amount grow and grow until fundraising ends July 31, so we need everyone to please get the word out and encourage others to donate. And even your $1 donation--because these are tough times for a lot of people--is $1 spent to save someone's life.

I’ve been involved with this project for more than a month now, and I just realized a few days before the ride officially began--buried as deeply as I’ve been in the details of getting this thing off the ground--that a specter has been lurking in the back of my mind, a gaunt, shadowy figure of unexpected tragedy who is intrinsically and forever tied, in my head and my heart, to the word “AIDS.”

In 1985, I was living in northern California, about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. At age 23, I had just finished my second year of teaching English at a very small private school run by fundamentalist Pentecostals, and I was seriously thinking of resigning after finishing my stint at handling the summer-school session that year.

It was during those two years, while I was blithely introducing my low-achieving students to Shakespeare and journal-writing and five-paragraph essays, that I became dimly aware of a growing fog of rumors and whispers and whispers of rumors swirling around the northern Bay Area concerning a terrible, death-dealing illness recently dubbed “AIDS” that was striking down homosexual men in San Francisco.

And I remember the smug, arms-crossed, eyes-narrowed, sagely nodding response of the school administrators when those rumors came up in faculty meetings: “Well, if it’s true that there even is such a thing, it’s what they deserve. It’s their punishment for giving themselves so completely over to sin. The wages of sin is death. It’s not our concern. Lead a godly life, and those sorts of things won’t happen to you.”

(Note: All righty then. Although even if you accept that supremely arrogant premise, how that sort of logic applies to things like the Holocaust or being killed by a random drunk driver is still beyond me.)

The appalling ignorance of their loveless response would be laughable if it weren’t so cold and so heartbreakingly prevalent among the “Christian” community at that time—and for a long time to come.

But I was young and clueless and dependent upon these administrators’ goodwill for my job security, so I just listened and did not openly disagree. Although even then, as wrapped up in my failing first marriage and my need to remain employed as I was, Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 pierced my own fog:

“ ‘I was sick and you looked after Me …’

‘When did we see You sick … ?’ ...

‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did
for one … of these brothers of mine,
you did for Me.’ ”

Notice that this passage does NOT read: “I was sick and you asked Me how I got that way and whether or not it was contagious and really, did it involve something sinful on My part? so that you would know whether or not I deserved your care and simple kindness. ”

So even then I knew that whatever this disease was, the administrators’ response was not in any way Christ-like.

But it really wasn’t my concern. I didn’t even know anyone who had this “AIDS.”

And then along came Roy Scherer.

Or as he was more familiarly known: Rock Hudson.

He had long been a matinee idol of my mother’s, and together she and I had enjoyed watching him in the cheerfully cheesy McMillan and Wife TV series in the 1970s.

But in July 1985, Hudson's drastically altered appearance and slurred speech at a news conference with his long-time friend Doris Day stunned the world, and the gossip mills went into overdrive. It was rumored that he had liver cancer, but another rumor soon began to drown that one out—the rumor that he had AIDS.

Roy Scherer--a.k.a. Rock Hudson--in
the 1950s, and in 1985.

About ten days later, the AIDS rumor was confirmed as reality. But his spokespeople insisted that Hudson had contracted the disease from blood transfusions related to previous coronary bypass surgeries.

Less than three months later, Hudson died.

And it was revealed—as Hollywood insiders had known for years—that he was gay.

And that he had likely not contracted AIDS through transfusions.

These two events—first, his admission that he had the disease, and then confirmation that he had been a gay man with the disease—rocked the world back on its heels.

Finally, AIDS had a face—the well-known and widely admired face of an icon often considered to be the quintessential “man’s man.” Ironically, that was indeed the case—he was most definitely a man’s man. A man who loved other men the way some men love women.

And the tragedy of it all was threefold.

First, that it took a movie star dying of the disease to get people to even begin to stop dismissing it as “gay men’s cancer,” as if gay men were somehow more expendable than other people, like so many dollar-store pencils.

Secondly, that when people like my parents heard this news, they were far more horrified by the fact that Hudson was gay than by his terrible death. And dying of AIDS was just that: A travesty of a death.

And finally, the deepest tragedy of all, which took me years to recognize: That this man had had to spend his entire life hiding who he really was. That it was never safe for a single public moment during his entire 59 years on this planet to just be a man who loved other men. That if he had ever revealed his homosexuality to the world at large, it would have destroyed his life just as surely as AIDS destroyed it.

And so Rock Hudson became the first famous person to die of AIDS. And finally, the world started to pay attention.

Some months later, I learned through friends about a small group of people in the area who had quietly begun ministering to AIDS patients in San Francisco. There was no cure, and really very little in the way of treatment in those days—but there was certainly an overabundance of fear, which left the dying shunned and isolated.

No one wanted to help them. Or even come near them.

No one.

And so it was essentially a call to a hospice mission that this group answered, with humility and compassion. All these people did, really, was touch the patients—hold their hands, wipe their brows, bring them something to drink, help them to eat whatever tiny amount of food they could keep down. And also gently listen to their ravings as the disease consumed their brains.

They were among the first hetero soldiers to join the front lines of the battle, these few who willingly responded to the cries of the stricken. Those cries were poignantly summed up by tireless AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor—Hudson’s staunch friend and also the first celebrity to stand up and declare, “We’ve got to do something!”—in recounting one of her visits to AIDS sufferers: “One beautiful-looking young man said, ‘I would like someone to come in here and just put his arms around me and make me feel like a human being.’”

Dear God.

And so all these recent weeks, Rock Hudson has shadowed my thoughts. Twenty-five years ago he made AIDS shockingly real to me and to millions of others outside the gay community. He opened the doors, and his friend Elizabeth led the way, and an unsung group of people whose names I’ll never know quietly streamed in to help.

And others followed.

Much has changed since Hudson’s death, and yet we still have no cure for AIDS, though treatment options are light-years ahead of what they were in the early 1980s. And Johnny Weir--who was a beautiful one-year-old baby boy the same July that Hudson's AIDS diagnosis was first revealed--is now among those leading the way for his generation, by lending his name, his celebrity, and his support to AIDS causes.

And it couldn’t be more fitting that a man like Johnny—a man who knows exactly who he is, who owns who he is, and who is so comfortable in his own maleness and gender-transcendant sexuality that he can happily and publicly wear heels and sparkly headbands and giant ostrich-feathered coats, and dye parts of his hair pink, and evoke an “unf” response in men and women alike because one of the most sexually magnetic qualities in a person is truth—that this man picks up the baton first held so loosely and reluctantly in the ravaged hands of the deeply, forcibly closeted Rock Hudson.

And runs with it.

And in running alongside him and all his thousands of fans, with Atomic Kitten pedaling furiously ahead of us, I realize that my efforts for this project are not only in support of the fabulous Johnny Weir.

This is also for you, Mr. Hudson. For the real Roy Scherer behind the Hollywood image.

I never knew you personally, but you affected me profoundly and I will always be grateful. Please forgive us the ignorant, evil, fear-based prejudice that made your life and death so horribly, unbearably difficult.

And to those school officials from another lifetime, wherever you are—because yes, I did quit that summer and never saw any of you again--may I offer this thought written by the man who is now my husband:

God does not command us to judge each other
because of our brokenness.

He commands us to love each other
because of our brokenness.

We will not be judged
by how well we have judged--

only by how well
we have loved.

Please keep pimping out our official ALC donation page
and our Ride for Life PayPal donation page
to everyone everywhere!
the 2010 Readers' Choice Skater of the Year Award
(voting ends July 15)!

Thanks to Facebook fan Deborah Johnson
for the phrase, "pump up the pimp!"

copyright 2010 / Binky and the Misfit Mimes / Lynn V. Ingogly / all rights reserved


WheresMyKoppy said...

Oh, I remember those early days of AIDS myself so well! Though I don't have the experiences you did that were so personal. Of course I remember Rock Hudson and his struggle, and so many people since and before him. I remember AIDS being referred to as 'the gay cancer' among other things, and I remember one dumb ass comedian (Sam Kinison) making the joke 'Name one AIDS patient who isn't gay' (or whatever his exact words were), and someone from the audience yelling 'Ryan White' at him!

Since Rock we've had people like Greg Louganis come out and not only admit they were gay, but also that they were positive for AIDS. The list of celebrities that have succumbed to AIDS related illnesses is long, though not nearly as long as the list of regular people.

From the very beginning of the AIDS crisis my parents thought differently from the people at the school where you taught. I'm grateful for that, though I have always been free to form my own opinions anyway.

It's wonderful, as you said here, to have someone like Johnny Weir lend his name, celebrity and support to a cause like this, especially when at this time in his life he could probably be cashing in more on his celebrity to his own benefit. As you said it is indeed fitting that Johnny Weir is a man who knows exactly who he is, who owns who he is, and is comfortable with his maleness and sexuality. He is indeed amazing, and he has amazing fans like Atomic Kitten, like you MM, and like all the others who tirelessly donate and promote to the extent that they do.

mimi dzyacky said...

Once again I am moved to tears! You speak of the heart, from the heart, and to the heart! Ride for Life Atomic Kitten!

bsontwit said...

beautiful words! love what your husband said...i also remember years ago my parents telling me about gay people and aids and explaining the catholic view on homosexuals. I always somehow knew, even as a child, that this was wrong, that is was judging someone unfairly. My parents have since changes their minds and are not judgemental anymore but i do remember when people openly thought that way. Obviously, there is still alot of prejudice out there, but it has come a long way and i hope people continue to judge less and accept and love more...

Nico said...

Binky! This was worth the wait...thank you. I hope that everyone can feel the fearlessness in your writing. It's a lot like the fearlessness in Johnny's skating. And I "know" you both just well enough to know that you live your life from that same place. I love the courage I see in both of you, and in so many of the fans that gather here and on FB.

I also find it ironic that your post today starts the quote about "the length and shadow of our own souls." My 5 year-old son and I were reading books last night and I asked him if he had a shadow. According to him, he doesn't. We had a bit of a talk about how that would make him unique and how he feels about that. He said, "it's okay, Mom. It doesn't break my heart." And I think that's a little of what you're hoping for here: a whole generation of people who are courageously unique and a world with the balls to accept them and value them, as they are.

Anonymous said...

thank you for a lovely post, MM.

Robin :-)

Amanda Shank said...

Thank you so much for writing this! As a film junkie I grew to know and love all the old Hollywood stars. Rock was one of my favorites along with James Dean, Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, William Holden, and Joseph Cotton. I even own the Rock Hudson collection and "Giant" and "Pillow Talk" are among my favorite films. I read the Rock Hudson autobiography as a teenager and it deeply moved me more than any biography I've read. What he went through battling AIDS was so horrible and heartbreaking (I still can't look at the picture of him in his last days). He was a wonderful person who was loved by everyone he met and a very talented actor in both comedy and drama, not to mention he was probably the hottest man who ever lived. In his tragedy he made it possible for people to start the conversation about HIV/AIDS. There should be a Rock Hudson day.

Donna said...

Johnny Weir was lucky to have parents who 'allowed' him to be himself. If he'd lived in my house, my father would've never tolerated him doing something as 'sissy' as ice skating; it would've been baseball, football, basketball, or nothing. He probably would've been hit for even suggesting such a thing.

If he'd shown any inclination towards feminine styles, or liking other boys, my father would've beaten him and kept beating him till he surrendered to being masculine and dating girls. And, if today, he was an emotional wreck, living a sham with four children and a loveless marriage, my dad would credit himself for having 'straightened him out' and would believe his son should be 'thankful' to him for having 'done the right thing' in FORCING him to be 'normal' through pain and threats.

There were, and still are, a lot of people who view sexuality matters the same way as my father. Organizatons like Focus on the Family, Family Reasearch Council, and others, are at this very moment working hard to keep this 'gay disgrace' philosophy alive and predominant, so that new generations of parents will also strive to forcibly change any gay children they might have.

It makes you wonder. How many brilliant people like Johnny Weir have we been deprived of because they were never 'allowed' to be themselves and fulfill their potential in fields they would've liked to pursue. My guess is it's probably MANY. Perhaps the guy who would've beaten even Evan Lysacek at the Olympics is working on a telephone pole wire right now with a wife at home who's nervously wondering why he hasn't touched her in bed for a month.