I grew up in South Africa. In 1994, we were promised a new constitution with protected rights and social acceptance for gays. I was out of the closet, but, I was skeptical. South Africa still seemed very backward and homophobic. I was also tired of my boring corporate job and felt like the entire rest of the world was happening without me. I was aching for more than what I was experiencing in Durban, where I was living at the time. After a summer in Greece, I decided to follow the sun and headed to Florida. In 1994, Miami was a city in the midst of a resurgence and was all about Stallone, Madonna and South Beach, derelict Art Deco buildings next to remodeled delights, beautiful people, and fashion models and film crews everywhere. I was now one of them! Perhaps, I could find fame and fortune here, where I knew I’d be accepted, denim shorts and roller blades notwithstanding.
Callum is the youngest of my brother’s three sons. On the surface, he was a shy kid, but, hidden behind that facade was a bold boy who loved to take chances. He was often the one to push limits and act in unpredictable ways. For example, in first grade, when his teacher had to leave the classroom for a few minutes, normally quiet Callum ran to the front, stood on the teacher’s desk, and shouted, “Teacher is gone, it’s time to party!”
“How did I get to this point?” I kept asking myself nervously and guiltily, during the two-hour train ride. I’m a father, provider, protector, moral beacon, and compass. I thought I knew and owned my shit, but clearly, I didn’t!
On the one hand, it felt so wrong to be doing this, a betrayal of my family, my ex-partner—a woman, and our kids. And a betrayal of what I had always thought was right. Yet, something I couldn’t pinpoint was telling me I needed to take this step, that, shockingly, in doing so I might finally find some clarity and truth in my life.
It was one of those days I will never forget. It was the Spring of 1999, probably in late March, just after my birthday. It was on a Saturday afternoon. I walked into the less than crowded gym, and there he stood — a somewhat muscular, attractive, Italian man with a greying buzzed haircut.
As he was dressing to leave, I was changing to work out and our eyes locked. Then, suddenly, he let out a “wolf whistle” while nodding in my direction, which embarrassed me, but also oddly gave me a nice ego boost.
I attended the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation on April 25, 1993, with a group of friends, which turned out to be a powerful experience for me. It’s so hard to put that era and this historic event into a context that anyone not familiar with it will understand, but I can try.
When I first heard the Turkish word sevici, I had no idea what it meant. Though literally translated it means lover, it seems the patriarchal Turkish society adopted it to refer to lesbians, a kinder word for bullying its gay women than the one used against their male counterparts, ibne, which is more similar to the derogatory English term “fags.”
I was a university student when a young girl and her parents moved into our neighborhood in Istanbul. She had green eyes and reddish, short curly hair and was neither skinny nor fat. From the beginning, she stood out, when playing with other children, because she preferred to play with the boys, rather than other girls, and loathed wearing feminine clothes.
In October 1987, at what has become known as “The Great March,” I held Mark’s face in my mind as I held Kenny’s hand—the first time I had held a man’s hand in public—as we walked together in the bright Washington sun. We were headed to the Mall, part of a long line of men—and women—marching, marching. I looked behind me and then in front. I had a brief thought for my military father. I was finally part of an army— not one he would have ever imagined, but an army filled with as much courage, as much resolve, and as much fierce determination as any army God or country had ever ordered into battle. And we were heading into battle.
I wanted to disappear.
“Hi, Paul! What are you doing these days? Where are you working?”
I stared blankly at this acquaintance, struggling to come up with a response that seemed like I wasn’t an ill-prepared fresh graduate. “Um, I have a few things I’m working on, but I’m just figuring things out.”
It was late evening, as just about everything was at Studio 54. I can’t remember who got me the interview, somebody I met in Cahoots, I think, the Upper West Side gay bar where they had little paper pads that said “Who were you in Cahoots with?” so you could write down your number for someone you wanted to meet up with some other time.
BAMMER member Brian Hutchison can be seen in The Boys in the Band, on Netflix, starting Sept 30. We asked Brian to share a few words about being in the show. The Boys in the Band is an important part of LGBT history, and this latest production is truly stunning.