When I was in my 20s I had a much, much, much older lover, the photographer Peter Hujar — he was about 15 years younger than I am today. He changed my life the day I met him by saying, “I am looking for someone who is strong enough to be vulnerable.”
So often, in workshops and therapy sessions, clients express fear that they are being weak by being vulnerable. Peter opened the door to an opposite view. Our authentic selves, our power and being, are expressed in all our emotions. What strength it takes to be open and honest and, yes, vulnerable. Fake strength is mired in machismo and a facade of toughness, an overcompensation for fear. We all experience fear. Big deal.
Our experience of life is always about perception. We are so afraid that someone will not approve or, worse yet, mock our differences. Recently, two friends talked about their issues of masculinity as it relates to their dogs. One friend, a hypermasculine man of 50, admitted that walking his white Pekingese was embarrassing. He felt like he was waving an “I’m gay” banner. Another friend, a striking figure, tattoos, shaved head with a tuft on the back, said that he wouldn’t carry his Jack Russell Terrier because it would feel too gay.
Internalized machismo, once again. These men were talking about walks in the West Village and Soho. And yet I do remember walking that Pekingese and wanting to hold up a sign that said, “ My dog is a yellow Lab.” The persecution of gays is usually tied to the prejudice against perceived "sissies."
A wonderful post on Facebook by a mother proudly defending her 5-year-old son’s choice to be a female cartoon character on Halloween caused so many to yell “Bravo!” And to opine that we need more mothers and fathers like her.
When I was 9, I dressed as a girl for Halloween. My father wouldn’t let me out the door. My mother agreed: “He enjoys it too much.” I never did drag again. I was careful as a boy, then as a young man. to “pass.” In our culture there are rewards for “passing” as white or gentile or younger or straight. What if I slipped and did something feminine? Then it was terrifying. Now it wouldn’t matter: I might receive some odd looks from strangers and prejudiced friends, but I might even be appreciated for it. Maybe next Halloween, I’ll be Krystle Carrington from Dynasty; my big shoulders would be hidden under those ’80s shoulder pads!
Compensation by doing drag is not required. I do, however, salute
the drag queens and the unrepentant sissies out there. They are often
discriminated against by their gay brothers. It saddens me to see men
advertising online that they are “straight-acting.” Let’s not “act.”
Let’s be. Once again, let’s be who we are: flamboyant, conservative,
bourgeois, radical, masculine, feminine, fluid ...
I used to like it
when people assumed that I was a trust fund baby, by virtue of my
privileged lifestyle, education, and speech (thank you, Aunt Gladys, for
the elocution lessons when I was a child). One day a friend who was
really born “with a silver spoon in her mouth” startled me into another
life-shifting truth. I had been saying that my father had quit school
at 14 to support his family and was a New York City cop during the Depression before
going into the restaurant business, that all four of my grandparents
were born in Europe and that my family came here in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, penniless, fleeing persecution. She said, “Who
you are is so much more interesting than what I had thought.”
The most interesting thing we have to offer is the truth of our journey.
culture will attempt to seduce us to abandon ourselves and pretend to
be who someone says we should be. The New 60 is my opportunity to leave
behind inhibitions and made-up fears, and flaunt my unique
qualities — shouting, whispering, giggling — if not now, when?
Peter Hujar died on Thanksgiving Day, 1987. He was 53. Strong and vulnerable.