In 2003 I turned 50. I had been out for about five years, and I had been writing about that process during that time. I am sure I sounded like a broken record each time I told my coming out story, but each time I told it, a little part of my heart healed. The drama queen in me insisted that I take it to the stage.
The world of 2003 was a much different place for gay people than it is today. Marriage had not been legalized on a national level, and Brokeback Mountain had not made it to the big screen. Fred Phelps was still alive and making America aware ‘GOD HATES FAGS,’ Ellen Degeneres had come out on television but would soon be yanked because of a sudden drop in ratings. My decision to return to my hometown of La Grande Oregon, and perform Coming Home Queer, a one-man show based on my coming out stories, was a little more controversial than it would be today.
When I called Eastern Oregon State University to make arrangements for a performance space, they asked if I would take responsibility for security in case of protesters. The thought of protesters excited me more than frightened; nothing spurs self-righteousness like persecution. I assured them that no one would take time to mount a protest. I was right.
I called David Theroux, the editor La Grande’s newspaper, The Observer, to ask about publicity for the show. It was an interesting call because David and his wife had attended the small Evangelical Methodist Church that my family was a part of, while I was in college. They were both very conservative evangelicals. We chatted as I arranged for a small ad in the paper. He asked if he could have a reporter call me and arrange for an interview in case the paper ran a story.
If you want to read an account of what the experience was like to return to my hometown and perform Coming Home Queer, you can go to my website (www.haircutandhomily.net) and read Haircut and Homily No. 21.
On April 5, 2003, I performed Coming Home Queer on stage at the Coho Theater. I arranged for a student from Mt. Hood Community College to record it. I distributed a few copies of the movie to friends and acquaintances that requested it. It sat gathering dust. Recently, I made the decision to edit it, improve the video quality and add a soundtrack.
The movie contains many of the stories that I have often told — Ding Bust It, the story of my mother letting the air out a policeman’s tire, Up the Mountain, my journey up Mt. Emily in a wheelchair, and Jesus Sleeping, a poem about the healing nature of touch. One of the stories is my favorite, Lions, Tigers, and Bears, but for whatever reason it seldom generates a response. The final story of the movie, Kissing Tony, has never been written down, and in this edited version of the movie, I reveal a fact that has not been known until now: Tony died in England several years ago. I had an opportunity to visit him in the hospital while he was still in the states, and during our conversation he told me something that stunned me.
The movie is long, ninety minutes. I notice that I have a very bad tic of licking my mustache when nervous, and wish I had taken my weight more seriously! If you have seen the movie before or can’t invest an hour and a half, I encourage you to fast forward to the end and watch Kissing Tony. It is that story that underscores for me the importance of intimacy and healing that only takes place when we shed our masks and tell our stories.
Sam and I always sit through all the credits of a movie. If you sit through the credits of Coming Home Queer, you will be rewarded by a hilarious drag performance by Donnie Lonsbrough! Don’t miss it!