I went to the theater tonight to see David Strickland and Caleb Clark in Terrific New Theater’s production of ‘The Story of My Life’. It’s a two person chamber musical about which I knew next to nothing but I always enjoy watching both of them on stage (and I’ve been sharing the stage with David since he was twelve) so I knew I couldn’t miss it. It’s the story of Tom and Alvin, childhood friends who grow up, eventually grow apart but who always remain part of each other’s lives and stories. Tom, the more traditional one, becomes a famous author. Alvin, the more eccentric one, stays in the small town running his father’s bookstore. The book and the lyrics are structured around the stories of their time together, and separate and how their young lives cast long shadows on their maturity. It ended up being very moving for me as it rang all sorts of personal chords. How do you compose an obituary for someone who is the other half of your story? (I’ve had to do that twice). Why is it necessary to tell our stories and what do they mean to us? (Which is I suppose what I’ve been doing with my infamous long posts over the last eighteen months). What is the process of writing and what do books mean? (A big question for me who has always been affected by tsondoku (google it if you don’t already know what it means)).
The performances were superb. (I could never handle a two person musical. We’ll see if I can handle a two person play this spring). Tam DeBolt‘s direction and Sam Tumminello‘s music direction were both spot on. I just wish the score had been a bit stronger. Way too much was cribbed from better pieces – mainly Sondheim (a lot of Sunday in the Park and Pacific Overtures) but also Stephen Schwartz (with a big ballad straight out of Meadowlark). It will have a long shelf life as it’s a showcase for two strong male talents that has minimal technical requirements. If you’re in town and free either this weekend or next, by all means go.
I kept tearing up at odd times, not at the moments that script and score was telegraphing, but at quiet things where two male characters were just comfortable with each other and enjoying each others company. I think it’s because it would bring on flashes of times spent with Steve or Tommy or maybe with a number of other close platonic male friends I’ve had over the years. I don’t really have one of those at the moment and really haven’t since Thurston Howell III moved to South Carolina and I think my psyche misses having someone around to fill that role.
Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. The first one was in 1988, just before I officially came out. I think I was aware that it was happening and I was, at the time, grappling mightily with whom I was. I had moved to Sacramento to start my internship the previous June and, with being, in a new city, was dabbling with dating men. At the time, I was hopelessly smitten with a man I had met in New York City a year or so earlier but whom I had recognized as a pathologic personality. I had sent him packing, but we had corresponded some by mail and then, in that October, he had suddenly turned up in Sacramento on a Greyhound bus. When i did not welcome him with open arms, he immediately joined the navy, washed out of basic training within a month,and then turned up on my doorstep again around Thanksgiving. I ultimately bought him a bus ticket back to NYC after his pathologies continued to rear their ugly heads and never saw him again. (He did pop back into my life briefly several decades later looking for money. To date, I think he’s the only person I’ve ever had to block from my Facebook. Some things never change.)
By the new year, after that whole experience, I was emotionally exhausted, confused, starting to come out socially but still firmly closeted at work, and in the middle of internship in an era before the rules on work hours took effect. Not a good combination. In short, I was a mess. That is how Steve found me when we met in February and his force of nature personality helped free my emotional self and allowed me to put all the pieces in place to live an authentic life as an out gay man. By the second national coming out day on October 11, 1989, we were a couple, I was out in every facet of my life and finally on my way to becoming a whole adult. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had not met Steve and I shudder.
One of my biggest problems regarding my coming out process was a significant lack of role models. In the late 70s disco era of my high school years, I was aware of gay society in Seattle and where to find it on Capitol Hill but it was full of, to me, much older men who were only interested in superficial things. There was no one, to my knowledge, at my high school or in my group of friends who was LGBTQ or whom I could confide my confused feelings about such things. College wasn’t much better – there were gay men involved in theater but I had this studious double science major side to me that didn’t gibe with them particularly and then, being in the SF Bay area at the beginnings of the HIV epidemic, really clamped down my feelings further.
Medical education comes with an enormous unwritten curriculum about what a doctor is and should be. Everything you do is scrutinized as the system tries to mold you into a certain type. I don’t cotton well to such treatment and rebelled in lots of little ways. This led me to a lot of unhappiness (and the worst depression of my adult life – there was a time in my third year when I could barely get out of bed) med school sponsored therapy sessions with a very nice counselor (with whom I never mentioned my sexuality – I wonder if he guessed that was the elephant in the room), and a feeling that if I wanted to be a success in my chosen career field, I would need to remain closeted. Or, if I should happen to come out, I would have to go into HIV medicine – that was seen in the late 80s as the only really acceptable choice for openly gay men. Residency, when I got there, wasn’t much better. There were a few faculty I suspected were LGBTQ but they were firmly closeted.
Then, everything changed. The early 90s brought new visibility. I came out. Several med students arrived who were open from the get go. A faculty member friend came out. I wasn’t alone. I had Steve at home who believed in me. I fell into the correct career path. I no longer hid who I was, I decided to live a complete and authentic life and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve lost out on career opportunities as a gay man that a straight man would have been offered and, especially early in my career, I realized I would have to be twice as good to receive half the credit, but the ability to live and breathe and just be one flawed but striving human being has more than made up for that. These days, when I am lecturing to med students, I’ll usually casually drop in a reference to the fact that I’m a gay man. I think it’s important for them to hear that. And I know there’s a student out there who needs to know he or she will be successful despite what they are feeling about themselves. If I’d had role models and encouragement in my early training, life might have turned out different but it’s meant that in a lot of ways I am one of the pioneers of out gay medical faculty and maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.