For those of you who know Tom, he needs no introduction. For those of you who don’t…well, then I guess he kinda does, doesn’t he? I was introduced to this kindhearted gentleman on Facebook. He’s a reviewer, an author and quickly became a favorite to follow and team up with whenever authorette Patricia Logan found the nerve to try and type something in the English language, then actually post it. Not only does he have a wicked sense of humor online, but he’s just as much fun in person.
Tom attended OutlantaCon earlier this year and it was my pleasure and honor to meet him during that weekend. But if he has a weakness, it’s that he doesn’t give himself nearly enough credit. Why do I say that? Because Tom believes his face doesn’t stand out in a crowd. I defy anybody to read what he wrote below and say he doesn’t stand out. Once you meet him and once you see the depth of his soul, you’ll find a great many people start to pale in comparison around him in a crowd.
As always, if you like what you read, please leave a little love in the comments. Also, if you have a story of your own you’d like to share, let me know. In the meantime, here we go…
The Face of Gay 4, featuring Tom
I’m Tom and I’m gay. Not a surprise to most of you guys who know me, and Kage can attest to the fact that I don’t flame the place up when out in public, but yeah, I’m a gay man. Out. I would say proud, but that would imply there’s something to be ashamed of. And I’m not ashamed. Gay is so little of who I am, but some people want to define me as that one thing. Their loss.
Maybe I’m one of the luckier ones you will meet. I was in the closet until I was in my 20s, but I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, so it was a different world then. Here in the suburbs of Atlanta, I was barely out of the age of Whites Only water fountains, and I can remember the ugly signs in Forsyth County that said, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you here”. So yeah, I always knew I was different and had the good common sense to keep it to myself.
But when I was old enough, I didn’t care so much anymore. I’m a big bear guy, so not many people tend to screw around with me. I’m pretty unremarkable, and there are a lot more interesting Faces out there than mine. Trust me, my Face blends into the background.
I’ve worked in non-profits for over twenty years now. At Grady Health System, at AID Atlanta, at The Bridge, a residential treatment center for abused adolescents and now at Living Room, the largest provider for housing services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Let me tell you, you want to be humbled, go volunteer for a day at a non-profit. You’ll never meet a more dedicated bunch of folks, and there are Faces there that will stay with you forever.
And you will meet some beautiful Faces of Gay.
Meet Daniel, a fifteen year old boy, maybe gay, maybe bi, whose parents are in jail for abusing him and his sister. Aunt took her in but told him, sorry, no room, you have to go somewhere else. Only there was nowhere else, except The Bridge. He bonded with my sweet Labrador Samantha. See, we had a pet therapy program and he could love a dog where he couldn’t love a person because dogs? They love you and don’t ask for anything back. Daniel found he could start to trust me, and opened up about how scared he was the other boys would know he liked looking at them, and how he was scared they would turn on him and maybe I would too. I was the Finance guy, not a counselor or therapist or anything like that, so I didn’t ask anything from him either. And he cried on my shoulder more than once, and if I would have been allowed, I would have adopted that kid so fast…
His Aunt wouldn’t allow him to see his sister for Christmas and that was the last straw for him. He ran, and hooked up with his old supplier and turned tricks for fixes. The last time I saw him, I tried to get him to come with me and get help. He was maybe sixteen, stoned out of his mind and thought I was a John. When it got through the haze, he ran and I never saw him again.
Meet Deb. Thirty-something lesbian, working on her Doctorate of Divinity at a prestigious university here in Atlanta. God, such a smart, engaging, funny woman. HIV positive and very close to being homeless. She came in for assistance so she could have a safe roof over her head while she finished her last year of school. The dreams this woman has…makes me believe a little more in God again. The God that made us all in His image as whole and loved. We got her in housing, and helped for a year. She’s doing fine.
Meet Alvin and Tony and other Tom and the dozens of people who work daily to make the world a better place. They come in to work and hear the need and make sure families and kids and man and women get that they need to make it another day. They don’t do it for the paycheck – nobody working in nonprofits gets rich – but they give all they have every single day to make sure the forgotten get a voice at the table.
There’s something about making a difference that draws us – gay men and women – in. We don’t have a monopoly on it, by any stretch of the imagination, but those of us a little older, we remember when nobody spoke up for us. So we try to make the world a better place one person at a time.
Shine a light on THESE faces – Daniel and Deb and my funny love Jim who killed himself rather than face HIV and yeah, even my face. Because when we put a name and a face to “The Gay” and the people in our communities see us every day, working alongside them, it suddenly becomes harder to call us all fags and queers and dykes and hate us as a group. Keep that in the faces of those who would marginalize us and hate us and try to push us back in the closet. Little by little, day by day, we are making progress. We’re not going back.
Sorry. Me and some of my friends, we took the hinges off the closet door and it just won’t fit back into the frame again.
Previous entries in the Face of Gay Series:
Kage Alan is the Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion watching, Jimmy Somerville listening author of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Sexual Orientation,” “Andy Stevenson Vs. the Lord of the Loins” and the first book in a separate series, “Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell.” For just an idea and a desire to tell a few more stories from the mouths of the people living them, he’s really besides himself at the quality the Face of Gay series has become in just four posts. He also hopes it inspires a few more people out there to come forward with what they’d like to say. People read. People remember.