Twinkletoes, Sex, and Abomination: Finding My Pride

Contributing Editor
Sanchez: Rick Guidotti; Background: Berezka_Klo via iStock

It's pride, y'all! The 50th anniversary of Stonewall. We as a queer community have so much to celebrate.

One of the definitions of the word pride is "consciousness of one's own dignity." For me, claiming and owning that dignity on a personal level has been a hard-won, lifelong struggle.

I went to Cortez High School (home of the mighty Colts) in Phoenix, Arizona in the '80s. I was short, chubby, and awkward. I was in drama club, marching band, concert choir, and speech club. Therefore, I was called a lot of names as I walked down the halls: "Homo," "Sissy," "Fag," "Faggoty-Ass Faggot." But of all the mean, snarky names, being called "Twinkletoes" stung the most.

A trombone player named Gary coined the nickname my freshman year (what an asshole, right?). I didn't understand it. Why "Twinkletoes"? I wasn't a dancer or anything like that, and these were days before we used the word "twink" as a term for a young, cute gay. This nerdy white dude called me "Twinkletoes"! This skinny doofus! I mean, it's not like guys in marching band are known to be particularly cool or macho to begin with. It's hard to look studly in a marching-band uniform topped with a musketeer hat and a red plume sticking out of your head.

A lot of guys were called "fag," etc., in high school. It wasn't original. But "Twinkletoes" was specific; it was meant just for me. Although I wasn't out as gay even to myself in high school, there was something in that juvenile smear that hit just a little too close to home.

I always knew that I was not like the other boys. I didn't understand sports, and because I was allergic to everything green that grows in Arizona, I hated being outside. I wasn't into cars or camping or anything else that the "normal" boys liked.

I also grew up Catholic, in a proud, Mexican-American household. When I was in junior high, my eldest brother and my sister both became born again. Catholic guilt plus Christian judgment. I prayed a lot and listened to a lot of Amy Grant records.

As puberty took hold of me, I started to recognize my attraction to men. It was confusing and frightening. I didn't know what a gay person was; the only non-normies I saw on television were crossdressers on All in the Family or Paul Lynde. I was told by my church and my sister that homosexuality was an abomination, and I believed it. Anita Bryant had poisoned my childhood brain on television with her special brand of wholesome, All-American homophobia. Then the AIDS crisis hit in 1981, which suddenly made being gay deadly.

I also never got "the talk" about sex with my dad. What knowledge I got was from listening to other boys talk. I certainly didn't understand the power of my sex drive. At 16, while straight boys my age were bonding over boobies and heavy petting at parties (everything I know about hetero teenage sex I learned from movies, so I assume it's like Can't Buy Me Love or Pretty in Pink), I was fighting my Christian guilt to try and find any sneaky connection to men I could. I bought Playgirl magazines from convenience stores far away from my house. I hung around mall bathrooms that had naughty graffiti advertising "a good time." I would crawl out my bedroom window at night (why didn't I just walk out the door?) and drive to adult bookstores, in hopes of finding out what to do with my bulging bulge.

It was at one of these late-night outings that I met Scott, in the parking lot of the Paradise Adult Boutique. Scott was a really nice guy in his early 20s, devastatingly cute, with dark hair and big green eyes. I was probably 17, braces fresh off my teeth (I told him I was 18, a few-month fib). He was in from out of town, and he asked me back to his hotel room. Sex drive won out over Catholicism, and I went. Although I'd fumbled around a little once or twice with a high-school boy, this was the first time that sex was intentional. I wanted Scott and he wanted me.

MTV blared Duran Duran and Madonna on the TV in the background as Scott and I enjoyed each other for hours. It was amazing, exhilarating, juicy, passionate! The experience left me breathless, and I couldn't eat for two days out of sheer delight. It wasn't love, it was the discovery of the joy of sex. Pure, carnal pleasure. It was wonderful.

It was also forbidden, abominable, shameful. For most straight people, I imagine that when they have their first sexual experience, they share it with their brother or sister or their best friend (90210 is my reference point here). I had no one. I told no one. I thought that I was going to burn in eternal hell.

God, that was a long time ago! I just want to take that scared kid I was and hold him tight, tell him that everything is going to be OK, there's nothing to be ashamed of. And that if there is such a thing as hell, honey, you're not going there because of sex.

In the 30-plus years since, I've come to terms with myself. I've had great sex, awful sex, and everything in between. I've been in love, and I've had my heart broken more times than is reasonable. I came out to my family when I was 30. I was diagnosed with AIDS and lived to tell the tale. I've partied my ass off and found it again through recovery. I've even made peace with a Higher Power that I know is crazy about me.

Celebrating LGBTQ Pride is a time to do the reverse of hiding in shame or keeping my sexuality a secret; it's a time for me to show up and stand up, saying out loud that I am what I am: GAY and living with HIV, with no apologies. Maybe some young person, or older person who's been too afraid thus far, will see me among the us, and realize that wherever they are on the sexual and/or gender spectrum, they're OK. More than OK. They're fabulous.

And just for that extra oomph, when I get my pre-parade pedicure, I'm going to make sure and get rainbow glitter. At New York City Pride, I want my toes to literally twinkle.