Some of my tribe doing a photo shoot, just for the fun of it!
I’ve never wanted to be like everyone else. Maybe that’s because I’ve been blessed with naturally red hair. Whether you want it or not, having red hair makes you stand out. From the time I was a little girl, my family told me I was special because of it. I believed them.
But part of not wanting to be like everyone else, means you don’t exactly fit in. That can be tough on us square pegs. It can leave us feeling isolated. People who are afraid or angry about people who don’t “go along with the program,” can be cruel. I can’t begin to tell you how much I was teased, just for having red hair. Unmercifully. Since I was proud of being “special,” their words didn’t faze me. I knew they were just jealous of my boogie.
Being the social butterfly that I am, isolation doesn’t work for me. So, I started looking around in the corners. By that, I mean paying attention to the people that mill around the periphery. In the Making Connections that Count class, I give the advice that, if you’re shy or introverted, look around the corners and in the kitchen, for the people who feel as awkward as you. They’re usually just as nervous about fitting in as you are. Special bonus: These are often the most interesting people in the room, with thought-provoking perspectives they’ve gained by being observant. For us square pegs, this is a great place to find our tribe.
Unknowingly, this is what I did in high school. I started looking for new friends in the corners. Rather than longing to be one of the “popular,” beautiful people, where I knew I didn’t fit in, I explored other areas. That is where I found my people – the creatives. I connected with the thespians, artists, literati, and musicians. What a magical world! Thanks to my family upbringing, I already loved everything creative and fit in like I’d found my home. Finding the exciting world of the glitterati, made me care even less about conforming to a cookie cutter world. I actively avoided fitting in, and decided to always let my freak flag fly!
Being with my new friends expanded my consciousness, and helped me see the life in a different way – the beauty and splendor, and the ugly realities. People become outsiders for lots of reasons. I’d like to think it was my conscious choice to be there. Other people are outsiders because they didn’t follow societal norms, especially when it comes to who they want to pair up with. In the late 70s, when I was in high school, sexual preference was a stigma that not only got people ostracized, it got them killed. Being gay and “out” was a big risk.
I had never been around anyone w/showho admitted to being gay at that point in my life. Sadly, I knew boys that picked on boys for “being a fag.” Around those boys, I laughed at their jokes making fun of limp-wristed characters. But then, I made a new friend – a friend that changed my life and how I view the world forever. When we met, we recognized the spark we saw in each other. The spiritual connection was instantaneous. We started spending a lot of time together, never running out of things to talk about and explore, and having way too much fun doing it – much to his mother’s chagrin. (I still think, she thinks I’m a bad influence.)
Ready for Rocky Horror Picture Show
It wasn’t long into our friendship that Kevin came out to me, and told me he is gay. We had a long conversation, and I asked him every question I could think of to try and understand why he would make that choice. It seemed like such a drastic thing to do. From this conversation, I started to understand that this was not a conscious choice. He knew who he was and was not attracted to, the same way I did – he just knew. To pretend otherwise, wasn’t an option. I thought about our friendship, deciding whether or not I wanted to continue it, considering this new discovery. Publicly being friends with someone gay instantly makes you an ally, whether that’s your intention or not. There is a risk to that. Being friends with someone gay means you love them and accept them just the way they are, even if that isn’t your preference. It didn’t take me long to decide that it was too late. I loved Kevin, and it didn’t matter to me who else he loved.
I am happy to say, that we’re celebrating 40 years of friendship this year. We stayed close even during a sixteen year long-distance relationship, when Kevin moved to New York not long after we graduated. He moved back several years ago, and we’ve picked up right where we left off – much to his mother’s chagrin. So much more than a brother, Kevin is my heart and soul and I am grateful and fortunate to have such a close, loyal friend. He’s seen me through two husbands and countless boyfriends, and I know this man will be in my life forever. I have never regretted my decision.
Me and my BFF at the 2018 Friends of the Wichita Art Museum Art & Book Fair
The 80s were a hard time to be gay, and to have friends that are gay. The AIDS crisis was like a massacre, watching so many talented, vibrant young men waste away, just as they were beginning to contribute what would have been amazing work. My creative tribe was hit hard and I lost a heart wrenching number of friends. Every time I go to see the AIDS Memorial Quilt, no matter what city I’m in, it feels like a family reunion. I wonder what my friends would be doing today. I wonder what other mind-blowing music Freddy Mercury would have given us.
The Stonewall riots had happened about 10 years earlier, and more brave men and women were choosing to show their true rainbow colors, when AIDS hit – and things changed. People were ignorant and afraid they would catch the disease just be being around someone gay. From this fear, people who are gay were ostracized and demonized more than ever before, being told this disease was their punishment from God. Because of this, little was done to find a cure, or even offer relief to people with this tragic illness. We watched our friends turn into skeletons right before our eyes, while more people showed the signs, knowing that it was really hate that was killing them.
Being an ally became even more important to me during that time, never believing for one minute that God could be as cruel as mortals. Standing up and helping bring awareness about what was going on and trying to get help for people in our community was important to me. I volunteered on the board of ArtAID for 20 years, working with artists, stylists, designers, entertainers and so many other creatives, to help raise over $1.5 million to give people in our community living with HIV and AIDS the support they needed with daily living expenses, housing and food. (Here’s a video of a small part of one of the ArtAID fashion shows.) Although there have been medical breakthroughs that help people manage the disease, and it isn’t quite the death sentence it once was, I still think it’s too important a health risk to ignore.
Poster from the 2009 ArtAID 16 Heroes & Villains fundraising fashion show
I continue to be an ally to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and feel strongly that love is love, and that love is divine. This June, I was planning to start writing an allies column for PRIDE month, for Liberty Press, the longest running LGBTQ publication in Kansas. Unfortunately, my friend and editor of the publication, Kristi Parker, had a stroke and became one with the universe earlier this year. One of the best things Kristi did, was help young people realize they weren’t alone. As a journalist, she saved many lives by being brave enough to put the conversation into print, to let the square pegs and outsiders know that it really does get better; that their tribe is waiting for them. I am sad I can’t be a part of that.
While I won’t be writing a monthly article about my ally PRIDE for Liberty Press, I remember and honor Kristi, and all my friends who’s lives ended too soon, with this article.
Much love to you.