Artistry: Inspirations
Coming Out Twice

May 26, 2006 Print version   

I am a 30-year grown ass man. Therefore, I take responsibility for all of my actions - including from when I was a kid. I cannot justify the "bad" decisions that I've made, I can only identify them, own them, and then choose something different for the next opportunity that God presents. The following abbreviated autobiography is not an attempt to excuse certain decisions that I've made, only to make sense of them...

Because of my own personal experiences, I tend to agree with the "nature" argument, in the nature vs. nurture debate about which is responsible for an individual's "gayness". I think I knew I was gay before I even knew what "being gay" meant.

I was... "attracted" to other boys as early as pre-preschool age. I admit that "attraction" sounds like poor word choice to describe a child who hasn't yet reached puberty, but it is the most fitting description.

In the late 70s/early 80s, my brother, Ram, and I were younger than pre-school age, and we spent our days at our babysitter's, Miss Bertha's, house. Miss Bertha watched other kids besides us, so she always had a full house. On nice days, we played outside. "Tag" was the game of choice. I LOVED playing tag, because it justified physical contact. And there was one little boy who was my favorite "Tag" victim. I enjoyed playing so much that I'd actually tackle this boy, placing the entire weight of my body on his. And several times while I had him pinned to the grass, I forced my lips on his, pretending it was an accidental kiss.

Later on, I attended a Montessori school for preschool and kindergarten. In preschool, I coaxed kisses from a boy in my class, Shannon. We were friends, and I convinced him to do some further "exploration". That school year, we fondled and kissed each other with our pants down in the boys' restroom routinely, dubbing our activities the "oochie coochie" game. It wasn't sexual gratification that I wanted, because we were, after all, only 5-years-old, and we didn't get erections. But I do think there was a desire to feel this boy's body next to mine.

One day, our teacher noticed that Shannon and I were not in class at the same time, so she went looking for us. She must've noticed our pattern, because she found us in the boy's room, holding each other's genitalia. She scolded us, and told us what we were doing was dirty and sinful - this WAS a Montessori school, for God's sake (pun intended). We were ashamed and guilt-ridden. I worried that she was going to tell my parents, because if my teacher was scolding us that badly, then my father - a violent man with a short temper - would surely whup my butt. But days - and eventually, weeks - passed, and my parents showed no signs that my teacher had ratted me out. Whew... I had dodged a bullet.

I was in kindergarten in 1982. Even though I wanted to play the "oochie coochie" again, I resisted. I remembered my teacher's disgusted reaction when she found us, so I concluded that it had to be wrong. But something else happened that year to discourage me from playing the game. AIDS was still very primitive as news story at that time, and most folks were misinformed or just didn't know a lot about the disease. My parents were a part of that misinformed majority. I was sitting on the couch with them as they were watching a news story about this new disease. Of course, I didn't know anything about the disease myself, but I was intrigued by their obvious revulsion to the elements of the news story. So after the newscast ended, I asked my Ma about it:

"What is AIDS?"

With much disdain and matter-of-factness, she replied:

"It's a disease that fags get when they have sex. When two men have sex with each other, they catch it, and they die."

Whoa. It took a few minutes for that information to sink in. I thought about Miss Bertha's, Shannon, the "oochie coochie"... and I realized that I... had... AIDS... I... was going... to die. I was shook. My mother had just informed me that I was going to die from this disease that I knew nothing about. And it was my fault, because I'm the one who compelled those boys to do those things with me. For years, I thought I was a carrier of the disease, and that I would drop dead at any moment. It wasn't until I was about 10-years-old when I finally understood that I didn't, in fact, have the disease, and that I was a normal, healthy boy. I dodged a bullet again...

Still, during those pre-pubescent years, I shoved the desirous thoughts for other boys deep inside me, and I didn't think about boys in that way again...well, not until puberty hit, at least.

In 1988, puberty was hard for me - figuratively AND literally. It is for everybody, I suppose.

For me, though, being 12-years-old, and getting hard-ons from Playgirl magazines seemed wrong - and the fact that I stole the mags from bookstore newsstands only compounded my guilt. Not only was I a sexual deviant, but I had resorted to criminal activity to satisfy my sinful urges. So, I'd jackoff to my Playgirl stash as discreetly as possible. But once that nut was spilled, I'd force myself into suppression, rationalizing the desires as a phase, out of which I'd grow. I, had after all, been raised in a Southern Baptist Church in conservative Kansas City, Mo.

But the more I masturbated, the more I fleeced: first from bookstores, and then, eventually, from my father's own collection. Jacking off to pornography evolved into my first demonstration of addiction, and straight mags were the catalyst. My dad had a voluminous stash of Penthouse, Playboy, Trim, and other hetero pubs of that ilk. I'd remove them from his hiding place one or two at a time, hoping the missing issues would go unnoticed.

Of course, it was the men that I was hunting for in my Dad's magazines. Although they were 'ro mags, I'd occasionally find naked men amongst the hordes of female pictorials. It was those token dicks that were my gold mine, and that would be the focus of my... um... attention.

Many of my father's magazines featured interracial couples - which made sense, of course, because he himself was Black, and my Ma was White. So, my initial jackoff fantasies included these brothas.

When I was done "borrowing" his mags, I'd return them as closely as possible to their original spot, in their original positions, attempting to avoid suspicion. Eventually, though, haste and greed thwarted my clandestine activities, and Ma found my hidden stash of Dad's porn. She then promptly made him throw away his entire stockpile.

By this time, it was early '92, and I was 16-years-old. I was working part-time at a Wendy's fast food joint, while attending a private high school. To avoid being my chauffeur, my parents gave me an old, brown Pontiac, which, in turn, gave me more independence than I'd ever known.

Because I was a closer at the restaurant, I wouldn't leave work until 1 or 2 am. And because I was a precocious teen who never successfully repressed those "urges", I made a fateful - and stupid - decision one night on my way home from closing the store: I stopped at an adult video shop.

I figured that SOMEONE would stop me as soon as I walked through the store's door, and then kick me out because they knew I wasn't 21. So, I prepared for the inevitable embarrassment of rejection. To my surprise, that didn't happen.

A round, short, balding, middle-aged white man was behind the counter (think: Divine from "Hairspray" minus the drag). He noticed me, but said nothing. His face was expressionless, almost bored, the way mine is after I've had a long work day, and I'm ready to go home.

I walked around the store, absorbing the melange of smut magazines, videos, and toys that lined the walls and racks. I was excited, and I didn't know where to start. I felt like a kid in candy store. Well, I WAS a kid, and I WAS in a candy store (sort of).

My initial purpose for going into the store was to purchase my old faithfuls: porn magazines. But magazines seemed like small change compared to the thousands of adult videos - both gay and straight - that encompassed my periphery. I was overwhelmed with visual stimulation. Just looking at the video covers gave me an erection. I had never seen a pornographic movie before. In fact, late Friday nights on HBO or Cinemax were the closest thing to X-rated movies that I'd seen, so to be in a room full of Triple X flix seemed surreal.

Soon, I noticed an entranceway that led into a darkly lit room lined with booths, and men roaming about like hyenas circling carrion. I didn't know what glory holes were prior to that night, but after it, my addictions multiplied to include visiting that bookstore for anonymous "sessions".

There were only a few older men of color who frequented that haunt, so most of the men that I met, and "messed around with", were white. My encounters with these men included everything but anal penetration, which was still a taboo in my ever-progressing sex life.

I visited the store so much that I became friends with the round, balding man. "Divine" ignored my underagedness, and even let me sit behind the counter with him during many of my marathon middle-of-the-night visits. We developed a relationship that was... unique. In many ways, he was a mentor for me, introducing me to many of the hallmarks of "the gay life": he was a part-time drag queen, so befriending him obliterated any preconceived notions that I had about trannys - he "normalized" them for me; and, he told me about many of the local gay clubs, which only piqued my interest, because, once again, they were a facet of the gay life about which I knew nothing.

As I was falling deeper into this "black hole of sin", I was able to mask my activities from my parents by lying. I got home late from work anyway, and they were usually asleep, so they didn't notice when I came in an extra couple of hours later, and lied about it. Of course, I felt guilty for lying to my family, but resisting those desires that I had since puberty had created a hormone monster - and I was more miserable from the denying than from the lying.

On one of those late nights, I came home to find that my father had tried to rape my mother. Thankfully, my younger brother, Ram, was home, and he was able to call the police before anything criminal went down. My Ma, Ram, and I moved out, and my parents soon divorced.

The divorce was inevitable - and a relief for us all. My father could be mean and violent, so their separation around the same time that I was beginning to accept my sexuality was a second, sort of, personal liberation.

Around the same time my family experienced our "emancipation", I became curious about the gay clubs that "Divine" had told me about, especially one in particular, "The Edge". And just as I had done when I went to the video store for the first time, I walked into "The Edge", expecting to get turned away because it was a 21 & over club - but, I wasn't. I had no problems getting in.

"The Edge" provided me more virgin moments. Seeing two men dance together for the first time made me uncomfortable. Even though I'd been "schooled" by "Divine" and the video store in some ways, I did believe in the inherent "evil" or "sin" of homosexuality. Regardless of my recent "activities", I was still the Christian that my parents raised, and the guilt I was feeling had been steadily increasing throughout my 16th year. The fact that I was uncomfortable watching men dance together only emphasized my self-reproach.

Nevertheless, I soldiered through the awkwardness, and met Corey. Corey was the first black gay dude who I'd met that was close to my age (at 19, he was illegally inside the club too). He was also the first man - black or otherwise - that I dated. Prior to meeting him, I thought young, black, gay men were an urban legend. With my limited exposure to other gays, I absolutely felt that, as a black man, I was... an aberration within the gay community. It hadn't occurred to me that other young, black, gay men were visible, let alone existed within the gay community (at least in a conservative, Midwestern city like KC). I certainly hadn't been exposed to them, because white men were almost exclusively the only men that I'd met at the video store. It was the Cosby era, after all, and Theo Huxtable was one of the few young faces of black men on t.v. - and he certainly wasn't leading any Pride parades. But meeting Corey at the club - and then other brothas there, too - annihilated the feeling of isolation from the black gay community (BGC), which, until then, had consumed me.

Although meeting him helped me to not feel like an "outsider" anymore within the community, Corey was, nonetheless, a flawed individual - like all of us. Probably because he was the first dude I had dated, he became possessive and controlling, which was certainly not a great aphrodisiac. But, I admit, he was attractive: he was tall - about 6'3", brown-skinned, think lips, lanky basketball-player-type arms and legs.... he did have nice physical attributes. But those attributes were balanced, unfortunately, by atrocious hygiene, from which a body odor problem had existed, and for which he was notorious within the KC BGC. Corey also spoke with an almost stereotypical lisp. And because my mother had met him a few times in passing, it was that lisp - and our new "friendship" - that I believe tipped Ma off.

One December evening during my junior year final exam week, my mother asked me THE question:

"Is Corey gay?"

Well, it wasn't THE question, exactly... see, my mother has this furtive - and irritating - method of circumventing an issue in order to extract the REAL info for which she's looking. Historically, she could shock and awe information from me like a military offensive. Therefore, when she asked me about Corey, I knew she didn't really care about his sexuality, because she'd surely draw her own conclusion about mine, depending on my answer. So, I icily replied:

"I don't know, but I am."

There was stunned silence in our living room. I had never been as honest with my mother as I had been at that moment - and I was a mama's boy all my life, so that was some candor for her azz. In an instant, she'd finally seen me the way I wanted her to see me for months - lucid and honest. It felt liberating to not have to lie about my gayness anymore, to embrace what I had previously rejected for years. Her eyes welled red with tears as she incredulously demanded:

"Who molested you?!"

That was a rough night. I didn't get much sleep, if any, because I spent most of the night denying that I was ever inappropriately touched as a kid, denying her assertions that my sexuality was a phase, and then denying that my gayness was her fault because our mother/son relationship was "too close". It's funny how I spent all those years denying the truth to myself, but when I finally accepted that truth, I'd wound up spending all night denying wild accusations that my mother conjured because of that truth.

I was not prepared for my AP Chemistry final exam the next day, and it showed: I got a D. And the rest of the week's exams didn't fare much better either. I was a pretty good student on scholarship to a private college prep high school, so to go from mostly A's and B's to C's & D's was a source of concern for my teachers. My parents, however, weren't as concerned with my falling grades as they were about convincing me that I was hetero. Of course, they'd always been my biggest education advocates in the past. In fact, it was my father who forced me to take the school's admissions test for a scholarship in the first place.

But, it was also my father who gave me the most grief about my truth. My parents had been divorced for several months by then, and Dad was living in Miami. Ma wanted as little interaction with him as possible, because their marriage was, after all, so violent for so many years - especially for her. But she wasted no time getting him on the phone when I told her my truth. She must've thought that he could "punk me out" or "scare me" back into heterosexuality (over the phone). After all, he was such a miserable human being that everyone in my family was scared of him. When I got on the line, he cut to the chase:

"So you think you're a queer, huh?"

His voice had that familiarly controlling "boy-u-know-u-stoopid?" tone to it - I felt like he was right there in front of me. But I didn't retreat. Yes, I was gay, I said. For the next half an hour, I had to endure a barrage of insults and emasculations from a man who was 1,000 miles away, who did not know me, and who never really knew me. In an attempt to convince me that my feelings were only temporary, only a "phase", he disclosed information to me that he had never told me before - and that he would surely deny to this day: he told me that when he was a teenager, he used to "run around with a queer" who made him think that he himself was "a queer" too; they'd had some kind of sex, but that he - emphatically - was not "a queer". But the most hurtful, stinging thing that he said to me in that conversation - that ANYONE'S said to me, ever, in fact - was one of the last things he said:

"Boy, out of all my children, I had the greatest expectations, the highest hopes, the most faith - in you. Instead, you turned out to be my biggest disappointment. You're not my son. Ram is my son".

This sentiment was coming from a man who's had kids by at least three different women. At last count, his children numbered in the double digits, none of whom bother to send him even small tokens of love like birthday or Christmas cards. Nonetheless, his words cut like blade.

Although they were divorced and separated, Dad still had some influence over Ma. He ordered her to confiscate the car keys from me, and to only let me leave the house for school. She complied. I was 17 by then, and could only receive phone calls from females, because she assumed that any males calling for me were gay.

Prior to my "lockdown", I had stopped dating Corey. I wasn't seriously dating anyone in particular, but I had met several dudes, one of whom was named Darrell. Darrell was 24, short, about 5'6", light brown skinned, and because of an undeniable resemblance to the primate family, was nicknamed "Monkey" by the KC BGC. My short dating relationship to "Monkey" was significant only because it was through him that I met Palmer: the first man with whom I had ever caught feelings, and had my first intercourse experience.
"Monkey's" best friend was a guy named Al, and Palmer was Al's live-in lover. "Monkey" and I dated long enough for Palmer and I to meet, and to commence mutual flirting.

Palmer was a great catch for any man, I thought. He was 28, about 5'9", caramel-skinned, and a gifted artist (he was an illustrator and cartoonist). Palmer and I spent more time together, after "Monkey" was out of the picture. Our initial friendship eventually morphed into a more intimate relationship. Al & "Monkey" had their suspicions about us, but never the evidence to prove that we were "messing around".

During that clandestine relationship in early '93, my mother became increasingly neurotic about my whereabouts and activities, so she actively enforced the Totalitarian living conditions that she had imposed on me several weeks earlier. It was ironic, because Ram was usually the family "troublemaker"; however, none of his shenanigans compared to the sinful atrocity of my coming out. Because I had always been the "obedient" son, I don't think Ma really knew how to handle me. She'd resort to extreme disciplinary measures, including screaming and hitting me the way her husband - my father - had done to her for years. She'd even let my brother insult me and fight me for no reason, and with no consequences to him. But living like a North Korean under the rule of Kim Jong Il just made me more rebellious: there were several times when I snuck out of the house via my ground floor bedroom window, and stole the Pontiac to visit Palmer... or to go to the club... or to visit the video store.

Soon, I couldn't take the regime anymore, and became a statistic - I left home as a runaway. I'd recently become friends with a guy named Eugene. Thankfully, he allowed me to stay with him for a couple of weeks. Eugene was about 10 years older than me, so he was like a surrogate older brother. Our relationship was never sexual, but we did become even closer friends during my respite. Ma eventually found out where I was staying, and because she assumed that Eugene was my older lover, sent the police to his house, claiming that he had aided and abetted my runaway scheme. Coincidentally, I had just left Eugene's house to go on a date with Palmer when the police arrived. My mother WAS right about me having an "older" boyfriend, but she was dead wrong about just who that person was. Luckily, a 17-year-old was considered an adult by state law, so Eugene didn't get in trouble. But after all that drama, I did return to the mother's house, with the understanding that she'd try to be more tolerant and less judgmental.

One Spring Friday shortly after I returned to Ma's house, I played hooky from school to spend the day with Palmer. That was a watershed day. We spent the day in bed, and because I liked Palmer so much, I let him fuck me, and he allowed me to reciprocate. Voila - I was a virgin no more. The sex was the best first-time experience with penetration that I could've imagined, so I felt reassured about having delayed intercourse for as long as I had. When Palmer dropped me off at home that late afternoon, I was feeling carefree, and grinning ear to ear. I checked the mailbox, and noticed a handwritten envelope addressed to me - it was from the Kansas City Health Department. Bewildered, I stared at the envelope, and then slowly opened it. The enclosed letter inside was short, but the message was clear: I was instructed to contact the DOH as soon as possible for results of a recent blood test.

In shock, I remembered that several weeks earlier I had taken a free HIV/AIDS test at "The Edge" - the tests were sponsored by the Health Department. I hadn't anticipated taking the test, but I had met a man that night, and he was trying to book me. Dude was attractive, so I didn't mind getting booked. Probably in an attempt to politely find out my status, he asked me to take the blood test with him. So, to ease his mind, I did. I listed my name on the registration form, but I included my old phone number and address from my family's former house for the contact information. I gave the incorrect contact info not because I was worried about the results, but because I was still uncomfortable giving out my info to a local government agency, while I was illegally at the club in the first place.

So, if the letter I got that day was about the results of that blood test from weeks ago, the DOH had gone to significant lengths to get my current address, I deduced. That couldn't be good news. I nervously searched the sheet of paper for the DOH's phone number, and called them. It was Friday evening, and they had already closed for the day. I'd have to wait until 8:00 Monday morning after to reach a live person.

So, "WAS I POZ?" I repeatedly asked myself in disbelief.

No. I couldn't be... I had only had intercourse for the first time that very day, so I surely couldn't've contracted the disease prior to that afternoon. But my questions wouldn't be answered that day, or even the next. I had to accept the fact that I'd be in limbo for another 48 hours, which made that weekend transpire slower than any weekend before it.

At one minute after 8 am Monday morning, I called the Health Department again. This time, however, a live, male voice answered the phone. I took a deep breath and explained my story. With noticeable sympathy, he asked me if I would come downtown to the DOH to talk to him. I told him that I was at school, and that I didn't have transportation to get downtown. Next, he asked me where I went to school, and offered to come pick me up in less than ½ hour.

While I was standing outside my high school, waiting for a man I didn't know, and whose car description was his only identifying characteristic, I felt numb. I knew that something had to be wrong, because if everything was alright, then I wouldn't be going through this bureaucratic mess just to retrieve the results of a blood test. The man came as promptly as he said he would, and drove me to the Health Department.

Once we got there, I followed him back to his office. Sensing my fear, he was quite compassionate, yet direct, when he told me:

"Your recent test for the HIV virus came back positive."

The man was a case worker at the DOH, so it was his responsibility to prattle off a rehearsed piece of faux-optimism that he must've given dozens of times a week to people in my situation. But, I don't remember any of his cheerleading rote after the word, "positive." I felt sunk. I felt déjà vu ... like I'd fallen from a platform of hope into a daze of despair... and it's not the temporary kind of surreality that you eventually snap out of; because, to be honest, I still haven't completely "snapped out of it". In a moment, my life had forever changed: this wasn't a bullet that I was fortunate enough to dodge.

After the look-at-the-bright-side portion of his intake, the questions came in a flurry. He asked me about my sexual partners: how many had I had, who were they, what were their phone numbers? In 1993, most local U.S. Health Departments tried to contain the spread of HIV by charting the sexual history of individuals who tested positive for the virus, and then contacting their partners to get tested. I assume that it's because HIV contraction rates have increased so much since then and that it is now virtually impossible to contain the virus, that that method has since become obsolete for many health departments (this is NOT a fact, but merely an observation, because since the millennium, most of the folx that I know who've tested positive haven't endured the guilt-ridden task of cataloging their sex partners for the DOH). So, when the case worker asked me about how many times I'd had intercourse, he was surprised, and skeptical, that I had only had anal sex for the first time on that previous Friday. I was too ashamed to tell him about my trolling nights at a local glory hole - or the risky, non-intercourse behavior that I engaged in with countless anonymous men there.

Once the gathering and disseminating of information was done, the case worker reminded me that physically, I was fine: I had a high t-cell count, a low viral load, and was asymptomatic for AIDS. Then, he took me back to school, which, regardless of my current health, seemed like an exercise in futility to me. "What's the point in attending a college prep high school if I'm not even going to live to enjoy the benefits of a college education?" I reasoned. My grades had been steadily going south since first semester exam week anyway.

Both at school and at home, I felt more alone and lonely than ever. Aside from Palmer and my two closest friends, Eugene and Somilia, no one knew that I was living with HIV, and that I was desperate for relief from the omnipresent feeling of impending doom. One of the unforeseen consequences of my newly realized "status" was the overwhelming sense of déjà vu from when I was closeted about my sexuality, because now I was closeted about my HIV. I had only been "out" for a few months before, once again, I felt like an outsider - first, from the hetero community as a whole, but second, from the gay community, in particular. I especially felt ostracized from the BGC in Kansas City. Since becoming a club regular, my social network within the KC BGC was multiplying. Within a few months, I learned just how thick the stigma of HIV existed within the black gay community. POZ folx were not referred to as HIV positive; no, they were "sick" - pronounced with a distinctly hostile inflection. Friends warned each other about having sex with POZ people the way folx warn smokers about lung cancer. And then, many of them refused to get tested or even use condoms during sex, acting like they were exempt to the throes of the disease. The idea that black men who sleep with other men are weaker or less masculine had created a reticence to acknowledge HIV within the BGC. HIV had, after all, been more closely linked to homosexuality than heterosexuality. And with this guilty by association illusion prevailing our collective mindset, it's clear to me why our BGC community has been disproportionately affected. Nevertheless, I was afraid to "come out" again.

So, one weekday a few weeks I later, I devised a plan. I told my Ma that I was sick (which, if ya let the gays tell it, was quite true) so I wouldn't have to go to school. Of course, I was physically ok - I was just too depressed to continue the status quo. After my Ma left for work, and Ram left for school, I began swallowing four or five over-the-counter painkillers every hour. By 4:00 that afternoon, I had ingested over 30 pills, and was quickly drifting off to unconsciousness. By God's grace, Palmer stopped by the house to visit me. He didn't call me to tell me that he wanted to stop by - he just made an arbitrary decision to check on me. I was lucid enough to open the front door for him, but I was fading quickly, so I laid down on my bed, with my eyes alternating between open and closed. He could tell that something wasn't right, and that I wasn't sleep deprived. Puzzled, he asked:

"What's wrong with you?"

I gave him the almost empty bottle of pills that I had consumed throughout the day, and mumbled enough for him to realize what I'd done. Frantic, he called my mother at work and told her what happened, and where he was taking me. He grabbed the bottle, picked me up from my bed, dragged me to his car, and rushed me to the ER of the same hospital I was born in. I was admitted immediately, and Ma and Ram arrived soon after.

They rushed up to me while I was lying on the gurney, and they were both crying like I'd never seen them cry before.

"WHY would you do this?" my mother angrily sobbed.

"Because I'm HIV +, and I'm going to die anyway!" I spat out from behind a drugged haze.

She grabbed my fist and stroked my arm, trying to comfort me. Seeing her cry made me cry, because for the first time in several months, she was displaying that she did, in fact, love me. And I hadn't felt any demonstration of love from her since before I outted myself. In a twisted way, I felt a flash of joy because I realized that I wasn't alone in dealing with all that despair. And it was only then that I was finally awash in shame and embarrassment for my overdose.

Then, the doctors quickly wheeled me into the operating room. They shoved an approximately four-foot long tube about 2 inches in diameter down my throat, past my esophagus, and into the pit of my stomach, forcing me to only breathe through a nose clogged from heavy sobbing. It was the most uncomfortable feeling. Repeatedly, I regurgitated the contents of my stomach until I was gagging because there was only air in my gut to heave. After the doctors removed the tube, I couldn't talk for a while, because my throat was rubbed raw from the tubing's friction.

I stayed in the hospital for about 4 days, while the doctors monitored the damage that the lethal dose had inflicted upon my internal organs, especially my liver. Luckily, the injuries were minimal and reversible, so I experienced no permanent physical consequences from the overdose. Because suicide is considered a crime, I was on "suicide watch" the entire hospital stay. A nurse had to observe me at all times, even when I had to use the bathroom. Ugh.

Ironically, though, there was a blessing from the attempt to take my own life: it probably saved my relationship with my Ma. Prior to OD'ing, Ma was still not tolerant about my gayness. Even though I'd moved back home from Eugene's, things hadn't changed much. She was a Christian, and I still had to endure her postulations that my life was steeped in sin, and that my sexuality could be "corrected" with the right amount of prayer. So when I found out that I was POZ during that period of time, I had sunk more low - emotionally - than ever. It took an OD attempt for her to make a genuine attempt at tolerance. Sure, she was still devout in her faith, but she finally (better) understood that my "choice" to be gay was as mutable as my eye color. And that was a huge step in repairing our broken relationship.

To this day, Ma & I still don't see eye-to-eye about such potentially divisive issues as sexuality or religion. But, almost 14 years after I came out to her about both my sexuality and my status, we're more honest with - and respectful to - each other than ever.

So, thanks be to her more than to anyone, that I can claim my life as an imperfect example of truth telling, rather than as an image-conscious model of lies.