I learned my brother was gay from The Ad­vo­cate

GA Voice - - The Power of Lgbt Media -

It was 1975 and I was 14 years old, all gan­gly limbs and stub­born acne, and I was sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat of his parked car. Splayed across my lap was the mag­a­zine, open to the page he had se­lected. I was star­ing at the photo with some­thing like rev­e­la­tion.

“I wasn’t sure if I should show this to you,” he said. He was a lit­tle ner­vous. “But I think it’s won­der­ful.”

He had the ex­quis­ite name of Per­i­cles Alexan­der, and was once the arts critic for The Shreve­port Times, my home­town pa­per. Now, in his re­tire­ment, he had found a will­ing pupil in me, a teenager that loved work­ing on sum­mer mu­si­cals while se­cretly grap­pling with my own emerg­ing sex­u­al­ity.

Per­i­cles was a kind men­tor, noth­ing more. He drove me to lo­cal plays and re­galed me with sto­ries of Broad­way ac­tors and the­atri­cal gos­sip. We would hud­dle to­gether in the dusty seats of our com­mu­nity the­ater, me hang­ing on to his ev­ery whis­pered word as the house lights dimmed for the lat­est pro­duc­tion.

When he parked his car in front of my fam­ily’s house that night af­ter a show, he qui­etly pulled the mag­a­zine out of a plain brown en­ve­lope. He thumbed through it while I watched, sud­denly ner­vous about what the pages might re­veal, and then he handed it to me. I set the mag­a­zine in my lap and my eyes quickly grew the size of serv­ing plat­ters. Never in my young years had I seen any­thing as star­tling as the im­age be­fore me.

There were men in the midst of a mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion num­ber of some kind, and they were all nearly naked. Among them, the un­mis­tak­able and fa­mil­iar face of a man, grin­ning buoy­antly, with noth­ing but a be­daz­zled but­ter­fly the size of the palm of my hand cov­er­ing his crotch.

That man, the one with the rhine­stone but­ter­fly as a makeshift jock, was my older brother, Richard. And he looked tri­umphant in his grand pose.

I forced my eyes away from Richard and scanned the page for an ex­pla­na­tion. The ar­ti­cle was about “Boy Meets Boy,” an off-Broad­way sen­sa­tion set in the 1930s that adopted the spirit of an old Fred As­taire and Ginger Rogers mu­si­cal. Ex­cept that, in this story, there were two Fred As­taires and no Ginger Rogers.

My brother is in a gay mu­si­cal in New York City, I mar­veled to my­self. My brother is nearly naked. My brother is in a glossy mag­a­zine. My brother is nearly naked. “Are you al­right?” Per­i­cles asked. “Sure,” I said ten­ta­tively, and I flipped the mag­a­zine over to its cover. “The Ad­vo­cate: Mark S. King is an award-win­ning blog­ger and HIV/AIDS ac­tivist. His work has ap­peared in The Ad­vo­cate, which was piv­otal in his com­ing out. The Na­tional Gay News­magazine,” it said.

I had never heard of such a thing. My own strug­gle to ac­cept my­self was purely in­ter­nal, and of­ten in con­flict with nearly ev­ery­thing I wit­nessed or read grow­ing up in Louisiana. My South­ern in­stincts sug­gested the mag­a­zine must be per­verse, but some­thing in­side me knew bet­ter.

And my mind was still try­ing to process that photo of my brother, cap­tured in an out­landish mo­ment, yes, but per­form­ing on stage and do­ing what he loved, even if he had never men­tioned the show to me dur­ing one of his phone calls from New York, much less come out to me.

Richard and I weren’t close, not yet. He was fif­teen years older and had left home to pur­sue his act­ing dreams by the time I was a tod­dler. Many years later we would both find our­selves liv­ing in Los An­ge­les and that gave us the chance, fi­nally, to carve out a lov­ing friend­ship as adults. But in that mo­ment, as I sat in that car in the dark, Richard was sim­ply a happy gay man frozen in an out­ra­geous pose of de­fi­ance and joy.

“I think ap­pear­ing off-Broad­way is re­ally im­pres­sive,” Per­i­cles of­fered. “So I thought you would en­joy this. But… maybe you bet­ter not take this in­side.” He gen­tly slid the mag­a­zine from my grasp. He re­turned it to the brown en­ve­lope and tucked it be­side his seat.

“Sure, okay,” I an­swered, and I reached for the door. My head was swim­ming. “Thanks, Per­i­cles. Yeah. I’m ex­cited for him.” And that much was true.

I trot­ted in­side and gave my par­ents a re­port about the play I had just seen, par­rot­ing the re­view Per­i­cles had of­fered dur­ing the ride home. And then I went up­stairs to bed.

I slept soundly that night, my dreams filled with the­ater and mu­sic, but­ter­flies and rhine­stones, and an un­fa­mil­iar but com­fort­ing emo­tion. It felt like the in­au­gu­ra­tion of a spe­cial kind of pride.

By MARK S. KING “I set the mag­a­zine in my lap and my eyes quickly grew the size of serv­ing plat­ters. Never in my young years had I seen any­thing as star­tling as the im­age be­fore me.”

March 4, 2016

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