Portrait of a Gay Adolescent

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I’ve just come in from coffee at my downtown spot, the Zoot Cafe—downtown being all of two blocks long in the quintessential coastal Maine town that is my home. The sun is out. My place is warm and full of light. Lucky for me, it’s even like that on gloomy days, but today it is really full of light.

My home is filled with artwork. At one point, I owned a very nice fine art gallery here. Although it wasn’t around for long, I was smart enough to collect a number of wonderful, beautiful, expressive pieces, all of which bring me great joy. In many ways, I’m like my parents. They had a wonderful collection of artwork that influenced me more than they’ll ever know.

In 1968, when I was 14, the Democratic National Convention took place in Chicago. Following in the footsteps of my parents, by then, I was already a bit of a political activist. I had been volunteering downtown at Democratic Presidential candidate Gene McCarthy’s headquarters, where I did the usual: stuffed, sealed, and licked envelopes, answered the phones, etc. It was a busy time and place. I was happy to be part of it all, though at a certain point I began to feel McCarthy was unlikely to prevail, and, as the summer progressed, I got more depressed.

As the convention neared, my parents sent me out of town, so that I could feel better. I don’t think I was having a breakdown, but I remember being pretty depressed. I ended up out in California with my aunt, and uncle, Jerry and Joy, and their kids, my cousins Nick, Alex, and Nancy. I was lucky, as they had taken a summer house at the beach in Aptos, near Soquel and Santa Cruz. It was a wonderful beach house. Even today, I can picture it in my mind’s eye. Kind of weather-beaten in a beachy way, very comfortable, with a nice swimming pool.

We went to a beautiful beach nearby that I truly loved—Manrea State Beach. I stayed a week, maybe longer, at this house with them.

While there, Jerry did a painting of me. It took a number of sessions to complete. I remember trying to sit still and not move and trying to do that well. My folks ended up with this painting, as a gift, and it hung in the center of their living room. Around the same time, Jerry also did a painting of my brother, Jim, which was also given to my parents. I always liked mine best.

To put things in perspective, I feel that I was born gay. That was a hard thing for both my mother and father to accept, which made it hard for me. Jerry captured me in his painting really well. It reveals a sweet, soft, pretty fourteen-year-old boy, with intense hazel eyes. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I liked it, because he got me so well, but, in another way, I guess I always loved the painting because he got me so well. I really felt he captured the gay young man I was.

The fact that this painting was hung in the most prominent spot in my parents living room has always represented something that was hard for me to believe, that they truly loved me. It often seemed my parents didn’t want to be near me or couldn’t be close to me because I was gay. Yet, I understood they knew who I was because it was apparent in Jerry’s painting, which they hung in such a prominent place. That was how I knew they saw the real me and loved me.

The painting is now mine. It was given to me by my mother and hangs in a special place in my house. I’m now an aging gay man. I come into this warm sun-lit house near the end of a long winter and this painting gives me hope. It makes me feel good about my life and my family, which isn’t often an easy thing to do.