My Inheritance

My gay DNA …not really

When I was younger I really loved to dance. I would get lost in the rhythms, moving with the highs and lows of the music. It allowed me to express myself; it still does. Though, I can no longer move at the level of a professional dancer, I can clear the dance floor when I’m really feeling the groove. Dancing through its various forms, helped establish my physical foundation and I’m still hitting the gym 4-5 days a week to maintain my condition. It’s important for me that I remain committed to a healthy lifestyle. I’ve even been told by other gym members that my dedication inspires them. It’s not easy waking up at “o’dark-thirty” and dragging my groggy and tired ass to the gym, but I do it. 

In 2013, just short of my 50th birthday, I started getting these strange and painful headaches. These weren’t the regular tension headaches or migraines I would occasionally experience from life. These headaches seemed to linger longer and even continued on during my sleeping hours. At times, they were bad enough that they would wake me from a sound sleep. Ibuprofen brought only temporary relief and when the morning came, I felt drained of my energy, and extremely on edge. I thought perhaps that it was the stress of my job, the lack of world peace, or climate change; I really didn’t know. 

It was a Wednesday evening and my partner (Eric) and I were invited over to the neighbors for libations. As the evening went one, my face started to tingle. I didn’t really think much of it until we returned home. While looking in the mirror as we were preparing for bed, it looked like the muscles on one side of my face weren’t working. The timing of this anomaly couldn’t have been worse. The following day Eric and I were fIying to San Jose, California to see his cousin and her family. Luckily, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning to hopefully shine light on this mystery. Since my regular doctor was out of the office, I was assigned to another physician. Blood tests revealed nothing and due to the amount of time I’d been experiencing headaches, I was sent to have a CAT scan to ensure there wasn’t any nerve damage or even a stroke. It was about two hours before our flight when I received a call from the doctor’s office; I had Bell’s Palsy.

This day was not going well for me. Later in the evening after our flight landed in San Jose,  I received an email from the doctor with results that caused me to literally do a double-take. Here is a portion of that email. 

“Nothing huge to report although I did note that you have kidney failure. It’s stage 3 which is in the middle of the road. You need to make sure you follow up with your doctor.”

WTF!!!  First of all, this information is far too casual to share as an email to someone who’s not a regular patient, and second, I’d never heard anything about having kidney failure!  Apparently, I had been walking around with an undiagnosed case of prehypertension. But why wasn’t this information disclosed during other visits? The reason why my assigned doctor didn’t tell me about my potential organ failure was because on previous visits, I was being seen for something else. Really? If there was any indication of organ failure most people would want to know regardless of the time? (As you might imagine, I have found another doctor!)

But the story doesn’t end there. Right before Thanksgiving, I was given the news that no man ever wants to hear from a doctor; you have (prostate) cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early (Stage 1), but getting a cancer diagnosis can be a life changing experience.

So, why am I writing about this? Most men aren’t ever motivated to go to the doctor, but complacency, avoidance, and denial can sometimes be a death sentence. The American Cancer Society recommends prostate checks at age 50. But in reality, men starting at 40 years of age should get their Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels checked twice a year just to make certain their levels are consistently low (4 and under). 

As a gay man, the diagnosis of prostate cancer sent a wave of emotions over me. The one thought that echoed in my head was MY SEX LIFE IS OVER! When the urologist discussed the results and treatment options, he mentioned a procedure called a Prostatectomy , the removal of the prostate. I just wanted the cancer out of my body and decided that the Prostatectomy  was the best course of action. This was a knee jerk reaction. Eric asked about the number of these procedures (300+) the doctor had performed. This was a valid question. We were given a couple of brochures and a DVD detailing the robotic procedure. I was strongly encouraged to take the weekend to think things over; a weekend that was filled with a trip out of town for a family birthday celebration. Celebrating, was the farthest thought from my mind.

I didn’t know how to tell my friends what was happening to me, but it had to be done.  It was difficult enough to say the word, CANCER, aloud so I did something I never thought I’d do,  I shared my news on Facebook. The outpouring of support by friends and the community was beyond anything I could have imagined. Even the local LGBTQI newspaper (PQ Monthly) ran a story on my disclosure. Soon other men disclosed to me that they have either had prostate cancer themselves or knew someone that was currently seeking treatment, which made me feel less alone in my diagnosis. After speaking with others and researching treatment, I was able to think further about my options. Feeling more informed, I decided to forgo an irreversible surgery for external radiation. This treatment option was better suited to my cancer’s progression, my age, and lifestyle to ensure my quality of life.

Man up guys! Prostate cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or be embarrassed about. Having a conversation within one’s circle of friends can also be a great way to gain peace of mind during a very personal illness. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from health issues that are embedded in our DNA no matter how fit we may appear on the outside. But when we share our stories, we can empower and engage the community in ways no one can imagine. It can be a very humbling experience if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable!

You’re What?!

By all American standards, my family was pretty was normal. Dad was a Master Sergeant in the US Army and Ma was the obedient wife, cook, and caretaker of my older sister and me; we even had a dog. My father and I did all the stereotypical activities expected with society’s male bonding rituals; fishing, playing sports together, and I even had my first sip of beer. One of my favorite activities however was our time at the base swimming pool. It wasn’t the refreshing waters that I enjoyed most, but viewing all the naked male frames in the locker room. Every size and every shade of man was presented before my young wide eyes.

From a very early age I’ve known that I was gay. I just didn’t know what to call it. Maybe the feeling stemmed from my expulsion from nursery school for biting? This wasn’t my finest of pre-scholastic moments, but it’s true! Was this a future sign of rainbows, glitter, and red dresses? Probably not, but I did have an issue with biting. I chewed on everything from my headboard and footboard of my bed, to the aluminum blinds in my bedroom window. Once, I even bit my mother. This was a HUGE mistake. She bit me back, forever curing me from any future behavioral nibbling…at least as a child.

In grade school I was shy and kind of different. Not outer worldly different like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with his pointed ears and amazing intellect, just different. From all outward appearances, I looked like any other African American boy my age at John Tyler Elementary School in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was only when I was around certain male classmates that I would feel anxious and strangely giddy. Jeff was one of those classmates. He had strawberry red hair, freckles, and an infectious laugh. My little heart ached when we weren’t together. Movie time was my favorite part of class because it gave me a chance to sit next to my favorite classmate. In the dark we felt free and didn’t have to worry about judgment or opinion. I don’t ever remember what films were shown, but I do remember holding hands with my special friend!

With my parents divorced, my mother moved my two sisters and me to San Diego, California. I was a teenager and my feelings for guys remained the same. This wasn’t “just a phase” as some people then and now still might suggest. I attempted to conform to the “norms” of the hetero world and even had a girlfriend but that relationship felt awkward and made me more aware of my sexual identity. I was also now old enough to be aware of the cruelties, and horrific names that were being psychologically branded on guys like me. Being a young black male was difficult enough, and in our conservative suburban neighborhood of Rancho Penãsquitos, this “queer” nuance I was experiencing was something I had to keep to myself for the time being.

My mother was and still is a very social person. She used to love to go dancing and would frequent a gay disco called Dillion’s. Here she made friends with several gay men and women; many would later become family friends. One such friend, Mark B., was in his early 20s and was just adorable. He had blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and a big mustache (think Magnum PI). Mark was always invited over to celebrate birthdays and holiday meals. I don’t think he had any family of his own in town so my mother sort of adopted him into our family. He was a sweetheart and my older sister and I secretly had a crush on him. I think my mother knew it too but then one day Mark stopped coming around. We later found out he moved to San Francisco and was never heard from again.

So at sixteen I decided it was time to come out. It was early in the evening and my mother was in the kitchen doing dishes. I slowly approached her and quietly told her that I thought that I might be gay. In my mind, time stopped and I could hear my heart literally pounding in my chest. She continued to wash dishes and without missing a beat, asked me to explain why I thought I was gay. I think my words to her were something like,’ because I really, really, like guys. That answer wasn’t sufficient enough so she asked me to write her an essay entitled, “Why I Think I’m Gay”. In my essay, I explained to her that I had been aware of my sexuality since I was in grade school and though I had had a girlfriend, it just didn’t feel right and I remained infatuated with guys.

I was the only male in an all-female household. My mother thought the lack of a masculine influence or her gay friends may have contributed to my admission. So she suggested I speak to her church friend Wayne. Wayne was gay and about 15 years older than I. Finally I could speak to someone who could understand my situation. Wayne allowed me to speak freely and in depth about my awareness and the occasional physical confirmations that my dreams would produce; things I couldn’t tell my mother. Wayne confirmed to my mother that I was indeed gay and the rest is history.

I was fortunate to come out to someone that embraced me with love and compassion. Many young gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered children are sometimes abandoned for living or disclosing their truth. Luckily, there are amazing LGBTQ role models such as Michael Sam, Lavern Cox, Ellen Degeneres, and George Takei that have broken down barriers of race, transphobia, and homophobia by living their truth.

Reflections of a Year

The end of the year always makes me a tad melancholy. Eric always diligently decorates the Christmas tree. I look at him and smile with adoration because he really gets into decorating the tree. This year we have a one ladder tree. Meaning, the tree is only about 9 feet in comparison to our previous trees which have been as tall as 12 feet and requiring two ladders to coordinate the lights and other embellishments. I’m not sure if the task of decorating or the holiday that prompts the decorating he enjoys more. I was helping out earlier in the process with hanging the colorful and delicate orbs but was quickly directed to do something else. Eric knows that I consider decorating the tree to be more labor than love. I just didn’t get that gay gene which includes the flair for decking the halls this time of year.

As each new year arrives, I’m normally more upbeat and optimistic about what may lie ahead for the future. The potential excitement, the multitude of well wishes for good health, and a time filled with prosperity. Who doesn’t appreciate that? This year however, I find myself thinking more about the past events that have occurred over the course of the 11 and soon to be 12 months, rather than looking forward. I can’t complain about my life. There have been some wonderful adventures with friends, several weddings; including my own, and an amazing honeymoon/vacation in Spain to round out the year. What does make me sad are the continual challenges that to plague my city houselessness (homeless, unsheltered), the never-ending denial of racial inequities, and the ignored pleas of gun control in this country.

These things run in the back of my mind and it’s been increasingly more difficult for me to see the sunnier side of the calendar because of it. In my youth, my mother taught my sisters and me that we can accomplish anything when we put our minds to it. This was really solid advice not just for me and my siblings, but also for anyone who is committed to change and for anyone who aspires to grow. I personally took those words one step further and believed (still do) that we’re supposed to learn from our past missteps in order to move forward in life. If this doesn’t happen, we are destined to continually repeat the same or similar mistakes and there will be no change or growth. This is the cycle I feel we are caught in.

As I look around my community, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one who isn’t so chipper about what lies ahead in the new year. Just now glancing at my Facebook feed, I saw a post from a friend that read, “Just Not Feeling It”. And before any doubt is cast about my “mental” stability, I don’t suffer from seasonal depression or have emotional issues the holidays may trigger. Though I will say, I am very much in tune with my surroundings and always have. I guess I’m an idealist at heart. Not like that’s a bad thing, it allows for insight and an opportunity to typify what could be or should be possible; forward thinking! In my opinion, we possess the tools to repair all that we have miscreated; through intent and by mischance. So why haven’t we used these tools to mend the ills of the people who need it most?

Someone lives here

Here in Portland, it is often asserted that the solution to the houseless problem is affordable housing paired with increased services to treat addictive and other mental health issues. This may be a possible option for solving the problem, but this solution has become slow in engagement as the number of houseless persons continue to grow and the related costs increase. Two weeks ago while at the gym I met a young man with a gorilla tattoo on each of his arms. I cautiously asked about their significance and he explained that he had been caught up with a gang and was incarcerated. He admitted to making bad decisions and was now on the streets. As we chatted, he also acknowledged a drug history but wants to stay clean and change his life. Who will, or should, pay is frequently asked and the answer is we all do, either in tourist dollars or rising property taxes. In my idealist world, a fund set up by pharmaceutical companies and developers would provide the resources for this fund since most houseless have been impacted by addictive opioids and gentrification.  

The idea that “all men are created equal” as it was written into the Constitution really is a ruse. I think Thomas Jefferson had great intentions, but he didn’t denounce slavery, or stop him from siring children with Sally Hemmings. For those who aren’t of a marginalized community it’s time to accept and admit that the founding principles of this country were intentionally created to oppress anyone who is not a white male. The power of the pen has created policy and rule to keep those of a certain pedigree in control. If you do nothing to change this narrative, or you feel that the criminal justice system is fair to all, then you are a racist. If you believe that it’s okay for the police to stop a man of color (profiling) because he fit a certain description, then you are a racist. If you feel that native or indigenous communities should have no voice in American politics, you are a racist. This is a far too familiar story that usually doesn’t have a happy ending.

Send your thoughts and prayers is another phrase that has been stuck in repeat mode. How many more people must die before we can say enough? I’m not a gun owner but I have used the weapons for recreation and education during my young scouting years. I understand people have the right to bear arms, but why do military assault weapons continue to be available to a mostly untrained public. I look at our foreign neighbors and often wonder why can’t we have a civil existence as they do.

I’m not bitter about my own life and know that change doesn’t happen overnight or in 12 months. So many of us in our communities want to move forward but there are governmental forces in place that are preventing this from happening and greed and fear are two powerful enemies to progress.

I look in the mirror and peer deep into my reflection and this is what I see.