Prelude: I'm a freshman in high school at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. I'm class president and a bully, targeting one boy in particular. Barry [not his real name] has a soft voice and delicate mannerisms that make me deeply uncomfortable. “Barry Fairy Faggot,” I say to him at several points over the year, enjoying the wounded look on his face as I wave a limp wrist in his direction.
At Bible study, Calvary's pastor, Chuck Smith, delivers a sermon on the friendship of David and Jonathan, growling during an angry rant about how “blasphemous” it is that scholars believe the relationship is a homosexual one. I don't make eye contact with anyone around me because I don't want them to know that I am one of the gay people the pastor clearly hates.
I'm holding my left wrist over a sink and scratching away at it with a razor blade. I'm 19, closeted and depressed, high as fuck and completely inept at suicide. A knock at the front door interrupts both the action and train of thought.
It's my girlfriend.
In a relationship with a boy, I decide to come out to my parents. They don't talk to me for two weeks.
* * *
1988: Volunteering at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Garden Grove (now the Center OC in Santa Ana), I field a litany of depressing calls on the counseling hot line. Working the front desk, I meet Kevin Farrell and Jeff LeTourneau of the pioneering gay-activist group the Orange County Visibility League (OCVL). I like them and start going to protests.
* * *
1989: I lose my management position at B. Dalton Bookseller when a picture of me protesting homophobic local minister Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) appears in a local newspaper. Upper management tells me, “I don't like your politics.” When I ask what she means, she looks me in the eye and says, “You know what I'm talking about.”
* * *
1990: Several of us from OCVL found ACT UP/OC in my living room. My evangelical Mom approves “because you're helping people” and naively allows us to use her home phone as a contact number. We hand out condoms and safe-sex information at El Modena High School. The press goes crazy, and we're on every TV station and in every newspaper.
Hate calls fill up the answering machine.
* * *
1991: Protesting the TVC's “Preservation of the Heterosexual Ethic” symposium at a local church, I get arrested. As part of my probation, I can't get within 50 feet of Congressman William Dannemeyer or Lou Sheldon or I'll serve time. My street-activist career ends.
* * *
1994: Back in school, I'm acting in a stage production of The Grapes of Wrath at Orange Coast College and fall in love with another actor, Peter Balgoyen.
* * *
1999: I direct the West Coast premiere of Terrence McNally's gay Jesus parable Corpus Christi for Rude Guerrilla Theater Co. Riots are threatened by local right-wing religious nuts, and we get bomb/death threats. Only two protesters show up.
2008: In June, San Francisco starts issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Pete and I decide there's no rush. Proposition 8 passes, and the marriage licenses cease.
* * *
2009: I write an article about how closeted gay activism is. Younger OC activists furiously call me a has-been and ask what I've done for them lately. Good point.
Pete has a hemorrhagic stroke and is in rehab for six months. At St. Joseph's Hospital, when I identify myself as his partner, one of the doctors turns his back on me in front of my friends and talks to his sisters because I'm not family. I'm embarrassed and angry, but I don't say anything because I need to make sure Pete gets the care he needs.
* * *
2013: Pete and I sit and watch MSNBC announce the Supreme Court has dismissed the Prop. 8 appeal. We decide to get married.
My parents are coming to the wedding.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.