As the Christmas holiday season draws closer by the day, I can't help but reflect back 18 years ago to the winter of 1992 when I had little to give. I went from living in a studio-styled guest house on Appian Way in the Laurel Canyon section of the Hollywood Hills to sharing a 1-bedroom apartment on the corner of Taft Street and Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. The apartment faced the street and was on the top floor with magnificent French-styled windows where southern Californian palm trees danced in the breeze and greeted you with the rustling of the palm fronds. Across the street was a small convent of nuns, who during the day ran a daycare for children.
Two weeks before Christmas, that same winter in Los Angeles, I was laid off a second time resulting from a corporate merger. I had been a junior account manager for one of the world's largest insurance brokerage firms, located in the FOX Plaza Building in Century City, that specialized in the needs of the entertainment industry.
Earlier that spring, I was living in Manhattan working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center for the world's largest reinsurance brokerage firm and was a casualty of another merger. In New York, I lived in a fully furnished studio apartment on East 63rd Street between Park and Madison Avenues in Manhattan that once appeared in Architectural Digest. It was the perfect setting to enjoy a bottle of wine and watch Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's where fiction was not far or distant from my reality.
Between March and June of 1992, I traveled to Los Angeles several times, making some great friends and fell in love with the City of Lost Angeles. Los Angeles was 3,000 miles away from my family and I was free to explore a life I denied myself throughout my adolescence, for the brief period as a seminarian with the Archdiocese of Newark and limited exploration as a young adult from the age of 18 in gay bars, despite the legal drinking age of 21. I was raised close to the church and as a youth served as an altar boy and Boy Scout. On the Saturday evening of my last visit to Los Angeles before returning to the east coast, my belated friend Steven Wilder, an Australian designer, who over cocktails said that I needed to stop running and I need to move to Los Angeles, get a job and get grounded. The very next morning, I picked up the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times and within a matter of days I interviewed with 2 prestigious insurance brokerages and received offers from both.
I flew home and packed up my 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix LE completely crammed with whatever I could fit and still be able to close the trunk lid. Never once did I give a thought to my reality of setting out on the road with barely enough cash for the trek across the country and for the two and a half day journey, I slept in my car at rest areas. In my pockets was barely enough money to pay for the first month's rent for the guest house studio high in the Hollywood Hills. Luckily, a handsome man with a devious grin who I met only days before in a New York City gay bar while he was visiting on a business trip, he turned me on to the rental in Laurel Canyon. He also turned me on and is someone I often think of fondly. He was the first person I dated, who made me aware of his living with HIV. After settling into my digs, we dated for a short bit and in that short time, he helped me open my eyes and mind and realize the joy in life I had been denied myself. Los Angeles became both, a playground and a place of discovery far away from a family with many ordained Roman Catholic priests and nuns. It earned its name as the City of Lost Angeles.
It was at the age of 22, when I was penniless and all my credit cards accounts were closed by the banks except a Mobil gas charge card. After a few weeks of unemployment, no money, no credit and no food, I sunk into a deep depression and not knowing where to turn to. When I opened my wallet, I pulled out the Mobil gas card and walked the short block to the Mobil Mart Station and purchased enough frozen meals and other groceries to get me through another week.
With little money, I did not mail holiday cards that year. What I did do was give the greatest gift I was able to realize, the gift of honesty and truth hidden deep in my heart far from the light of day. In a letter to my parents I wrote and shared with them that I have little to give other than to tell them the truth and that I'm gay. For Christmas of '92, I may have been down and out, but I officially came OUT.
As a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people, we have had a horrific with the United States Congress dangling carrots of equality that remain far from our grasp. As a community of people living with HIV/AIDS, so many of us hide in the shadows and live in fear to speak about our daily struggle in an attempt to heal and increase awareness and understanding.
This holiday season; join me in picking up a pen and paper and writing a note to your family and friends and share with them the real you. Share with them the issues you are struggling with and ask them to help by write to their elected officials and urge them to pledge to advance equality for all people. If we can't have these hard conversations in our own homes and with our own families, how can we be effective in our fight for equality?
Many of us continue to struggle daily while we are out there fighting each day for our lives and the lives of others. Lets make certain we break ground and have those hard conversations we've been avoiding.