June 23, 2010
My name is Jimmy Mack and I was born gay and an alcoholic. I always knew I was gay, in the same way any heterosexual person will tell you they always knew they were straight. To this day, it offends me when people say "sexual preference" -- as if it was a choice -- to which I always say: "Why in the world would I choose to be part of a group that it is still socially and politically acceptable to discriminate against?"
My sexual identity is gay and although I've had sex with women, I prefer not to. So my sexual preference is not to have sex with women; my sexual identity says I am programmed to have sex with men.
My parents tell a story of me as a 4-year-old, when my mother had three kids in diapers at home and my Dad was away most of the time doing his medical school residency. Mom's only salvation was when she put three kids down for a nap and had an hour to herself. During one of these "nap" sessions, I had asked to sleep in my parents' room. I promptly went through my mother's vanity trying on earring and necklaces until I came across seven beautiful multicolored capsules.
Now, as I said, I was born an alcoholic; but long before my first drink passed my lips, I was obsessed with food, especially sweets. So when I saw those beautiful pills, I figured they had to be candy and I ate one. Not good-tasting at all, but figuring that with all those colors inside that clear capsule they had to be candy, I ate all seven knowing one of them had to taste good. What I didn't know was that they were a one-week sample of prescription amphetamines that were sent to my father.
Needless to say I didn't nap. My mother probably thought I was just extra-hyper that day because it wasn't until dinner that night that my parents began to suspect something was wrong. First, they had a difficult time getting me to sit at the dinner table, then the unthinkable happened: I refused to eat! This was a first. My Dad evidently grabbed me, looked into my dilated pupils and knew something was wrong. Soon the empty Rx was found and since it was too late to pump my stomach, my parents agreed to take turns staying awake with me as I told my life story over and over while redecorating the house and straightening all the rugs.
Now, if that doesn't scream: "Born gay, born alcoholic" -- I don't know what would.
I think I was in second grade when I first remember becoming aroused by men, Tarzan among them. My first sexual experience was with another boy at the age of 13. Having never seen a homosexual, my only references were the negative stereotypes that occasionally showed up in the media and the adamant "You'll burn in hell because Jesus loves all mankind except the kind of man that loves another man" that was the philosophy of the Catholic Church (and still is - unless, of course, you're a priest). So, as a young teenager, my survivor's instinct told me this was something I had to hide because it was wrong.
I desperately wanted to be like everyone else but there's no hiding from middle-school bullies. I was called fem, faggot and gay-boy; I was teased, taunted, pushed and shoved. The continual humiliation made me not want to go to school, and suicidal thoughts were frequent. I sent away for the "Charles Atlas" workout routine and obsessively worked out in my room every day so I could defend myself. Eventually the bullies stopped teasing me, but all along I knew they were right about me.
Through high school I managed, with the help of enormous amount of drugs and alcohol, to have sex with women or to be so messed up that my occassional daliances with men could be easliy forgotten or chalked up to overdoing it the night before. To this day, I have never had sober sex with a woman.
In 1975, I graduated high school and went on to college where I found a girl whose father worked for Hoffman-LaRoche, the manufacturers of Valium. Her endless supply of it made for a decent sex life -- and fueled my denial both that I was gay and that I was an alcoholic/addict.
Summers I would head home to the Hamptons where I would lifeguard by day and waiter by night. The new hot restaurant was the "Club Pierre" -- and not only were both owners gay, but all the waiters were either gay men and gorgeous or women and beautiful. And they all knew I was gay, no matter how hard I denied it!
In my last year of college, I wound up sleeping with my girlfriend's roommate, who was a gay man, and the gig was up. I went home that summer, having broken up with my "fiancé," and Pierre jokingly lined up all the waiters and said: "Pick one." For me it was Frank and only Frank -- the most beautiful Italian-American young man I had ever seen! I pursued him all summer, but it wasn't till August that he finally invited me to his place.
Now, since I was still living in my parents' house and their one rule was to let them know when I wasn't coming home so they wouldn't worry, I told them I was sleeping over at Frank's, a waiter I worked with. After the third time I called to say I was sleeping over at Frank's, my parents called me into my father's den. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous.
Now I should say my parents are enlightened, intelligent people who have shown me and my siblings nothing but unconditional love all our lives. My Dad is a doctor and my mother, an artist. We grew up in a big house where all were welcomed. My Dad was an avid surfer in the '60s, had the first windsurfer on the East Coast of America in the '70s and loved the Beatles from the get-go. Mom went back to college to study art when I was in college and started a guitar-playing folk group at our local Catholic Church back in the '60s. So what they were about to say to me shouldn't have come as a surprise; nevertheless, I didn't fathom the enormity of it or how lucky I was untill years later.
Back in my father's den it was a beautful evening, with the sun setting out of one window and a cool ocean breeze coming through the screen door. The '70s were ending and my world was about to change forever. My father, a man of few words, started off by saying: "Your mother tells me that you've spent several nights at the house of one of the waiters from the Club Pierre?" "Thats right." I said. The rest I will paraphrase: My Dad said that since all the waiters as well as the owners of the restaurant were gay, and since I was spending so much time with, as well as sleeping over with, one of the waiters, that they had concluded that I too may be gay and that, if indeed I was, they wanted to let me know it was perfectly OK, that they would love me no matter what, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.
I think I was speechless, so my father continued on, with my mother beaming and nodding approval, saying that if that was the case that I should be as open as I want about it, that I shouldn't worry about what people thought, that if any of their friends had a problem with it, they wouldn't be their friends, that I shouldn't listen to what the Catholic Church or the media had to say about it ... What was most important to them was that I was happy.
My father said that we were fortunate to live in a place where people were intelligent and enlightened enough not to have a problem with it, but that there were places in the world where people would actually want to harm me because of it and that in those places full of ignorant people, I might want to consider hiding it because they would never want to see me hurt. They finished by saying that if this young man Frank was important to me that I should bring him by as they'd like to meet him.
I don't think I said a thing or I just don't remember but I'm pretty sure I cried.
My parents were true to their word. They embraced Frank like another member of the family during the next four years we were together; and they show the same love for my current partner, Mehdi. They stood by me when I tested HIV positive in 1987 and, with the help of my siblings and their spouses, lovingly convinced me to enter a Drug and Alcohol Rehab in 1992 when my only other option was to die a drunk addict (I've been clean and sober ever since). And in 1995 when I fell in love with another HIV-positive man named Orlando, they threw a "wedding" for us at the house in the Hamptons where I grew up; and they came to Orlando's funeral when he died of AIDS in 2002.
Over the years almost every one of my parents' close friends has had a child that has turned out to be gay (something in the drinking water out there?). When asked for advice my mother would say: "Do you love your child?" Thankfully, the answer was always yes! "Well, love them more; it's not going to be easy for them."
My Dad turned 80 on May 17, and my Mom's 80th is December 14. Thankfully they are in good heath and still the enlightened, intelligent, loving, caring, wonderful parents that 30 years ago had the guts to say to their confused gay son: "If you're gay, it's OK; we will love you no matter what."
Read more of A Long Night's Journey Into Day, Jimmy Mack's blog, at TheBody.com.