by Eric Ulloa
“So, Mr. Goldstone is married to Uncle Jocko?”
My fellow farm boy, older and wiser by five years, turned to me laughing and said, “Gays can’t get married. They’re partners.”
You see, the actors playing these two roles were the first homosexuals I had really ever encountered, and so the beginning of my crash course in homosexuality via the community theatre production of Gypsy I was performing in, had begun.
Prior to this, I had never been in a show in my entire life, never really even knew much about theatre. My only exposure was hiding out in my high school auditorium after skipping class and watching the second act of Lil’ Abner pretty stoned. That, and going to a small theatre in Hialeah, Miami with my grandparents where they had these odd Cuban sketch shows, entirely in Spanish, where a big breasted wife and her high tempered husband would quarrel like some absurdist Honeymooners influenced novella.
So, I don’t think my parents thought much of my wanting to audition for this production of Gypsy but once it became a reality, I could think of nothing more that I wanted to do with my self other than have a life in the theatre, and they saw that too.
Along with processing an entire shift in what I wanted to do with my life, I was also processing something that had made itself apparent in the last year or so. I didn’t know Mr. Goldstone or Uncle Jocko, but I knew we had a lot more in common than before I ever even said hello to either one of them.
I was gay.
Well, let’s be honest, I didn’t have the courage to say that word even to myself at first. I was using a set of training wheels and was merely “Bi.” An affront to actual bisexuals, but a label that I wasn’t as terrified to acknowledge.
You see, “gay” wasn’t something I could locate within my family. Gay wasn’t something that was taught to me in schools, so I sadly didn’t meet my heroes until much later in life. Gay was my mom’s hairdresser Mike, but we moved before I even knew I was and could perhaps grill him with questions. Gay was outer members of my family equating it with dying from AIDS, so coming out (within their limited and sheltered knowledge) meant a death sentence. Gay was the word they would use when they bullied a kid at school and I sat quietly in the back for fear of being lumped in with them.
All I knew was this, I had very strong feelings for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Brian Austin Green from 90210 and I had recently had sex with a girl and didn’t know why I wasn’t feeling what other guys felt when they talked about it.
So, I decided I needed to do what any teenager on the brink of sexual discovery would do, I would stalk Uncle Jocko and Mr. G at any opportunity that presented itself…but how?
“Eric, you’re tall. Why don’t you jump in so you can lift Mr. Goldstone at the end of the song?”
I don’t think anyone in the history of the theatre was more excited to lift a grown man in a chair than I was at that moment, as I had found my way into some sort of interaction.
In time, I got to know them both, and they were kind and would help me as I found my footing as an actor. I would watch them interact and saw exactly what I needed to see at that moment in my life, they were just like any other couple. They would sit and eat their meals together, they would remind one another about an item to add to the grocery list and they would get in the same car at the end of the night where I knew they would fall asleep under the same roof and in the same bed. And this was normal and just a different shade of love than I had seen around me. A shade that also lived in me and that I was slowly becoming comfortable with.
One day, out of nowhere, I told them both that I was gay, but that no one else knew. They understood exactly the place I was in and offered me the perfect sage advice I so desperately needed.
They also knew I needed to see myself and become okay with who I was, and so they pointed me towards a small independent movie theatre that would show queer cinema on one of their screens.
I would then look in every weekend section of our local newspaper for the movie times and sneak off to catch the latest movie. Edge of Seventeen, The Broken Hearts Club and so many other films began to show me a life outside the limited constraints of what I knew gay to be. They loaned me their copy of Torch Song Trilogy which I carried with me like the nuclear football, in fear of ever allowing it out of my sight, but watched over and over again until I knew the story by heart.
Gay people had relationships. Gay people had children. Gay people were entitled to the same happiness snd self respect and rights as anyone else.
Soon, the production ended and it was the last time I ever saw Mr. Goldstone and Uncle Jocko again. In fact, Mr G passed away a few years later.
In my final two years of high school, I joined the theatre program and met a whole lot more “me’s” all in different phases of their evolution. I went on a secret date with a guy in my theatre program who all the girls were swooning over and who brought me to my first gay club. I had my first sexual encounter with a man (everything finally making sense). I had found my footing to finally take the last step and stop whispering the word gay, and as I entered college, I came out to my family.
Theatre and my homosexuality have always been entwined.
God, or whatever power of the universe you believe in, put those discoveries in my life at the exact same moment for a reason.
I was given a haven in the place where people were naturally empathetic, loving, open and where you could see all their hearts pinned to their sleeves.
No, theatre did not make me gay, as nothing makes anyone, anything.
Theatre gave me something that would define the way I would be gay.
Theatre gave me two men who I watched live a happy existence together.
Theatre taught me that I had a strong voice and could use it to fight for not only what I believed in, but for those who perhaps weren’t as strong as me.
For the one thing I’ve never felt in the 19 years that I’ve been out of the closet is shame, because theatre taught me the very meaning of Pride.
Happy Pride Everyone.
You are beautifully perfect just the way you are.