From Raul's perspective...he already was.
He was one of the youngest out gay people I had met. And for that he was incredible. In his youth, because of his rather irreverent manner, Raul really couldn't hide his nature -- but for him, that was a badge of honor than one of shame. I always admired that about him, that he had even in his youth that courage and sense of identity. He met only briefly during our high school years, but would cross paths again in our early 20's. By then I had already come out, and was much fodder for Raul and his click of relentless queens to make fun of. You see, just because high school ended it didn't mean the bullying stopped and although I wasn't bullied in high school, I had entered into a world that had a clear pecking order. As a newbie, I was way low on the totem pole.
Not that it mattered to me. I had my own rather impressive circle and friends that held their own, and didn't prescribe to all the drama. Truth be told, I was having too much fun for the distraction. Eventually, I just came to accept that Raul was one of those things that for one reason or another was set in my path.
I learned later that it would be as one of my life long friends. But as this story is meant to have some sense of relation as to give one comfort in their own self-awareness, bare with me -- I'm almost there.
Socially Raul and kept crossing paths to the eventuality that we realized, we just enjoyed each other's company and were fast becoming friends. What was (and is) most wonderful about Raul is his unabashed joy of life -- he always approached things with a fearlessness and excitement, a naivete that to me was unfounded. As we get older and become young adults with responsibility, we can become jaded. Not Raul. Of all my friends at the time, I was the first to move out and one my own. I had my own apartment and not one but several jobs to make ends meet. I was still trying to figure things out -- my place in the world and what I was meant to do -- but I chose to begin to do this for myself.
In all of that distraction, I was building a fast friendship with Raul that as also a learning experience. Raul and I had a friend in common, although I use that term loosely as this individual had a rather interesting way at manipulating and truly controlling the people around him, kind of like a "mean girl" did. If you didn't follow his rules you just weren't part of his click, and often times he challenged Raul and his masculinity. Among Raul's greatest charms there is his impish personality, his coy and simplistic approach that belies his wonderfully astute sense of curiosity and intelligence. But if he was to be a part of the "mean girls" he had to curb certain behavior, which I just didn't tolerate.
Raul was among the first of my gay friends that I comfortably hugged and displayed affection to in public. I was always genuinely happy to see him and we'd hug. In the beginning he would ask for permission, as opposed to following his nature and authenticity. He soon learned that I wouldn't have anything less than his entire authentic self. He has always been inspiring to me, in that of anyone I know he embraces his identity and expresses himself honestly. Something that very few people would dare to do.
For a young gay man to see that in a friend, to have that as part of his process, it made a huge impact on who I was and the pursue of my own acceptance. By his example, Raul encouraged me to be my genuine self and still today teaches me lessons of great depths. When we me, some 20 years ago, we were unstoppable and invulnerable quickly becoming fixtures among the South Beach club elite -- there really wasn't a velvet rope Raul and I couldn't cross. In our youth, during those times -- there was nothing more important. And now 20 years later, I can say that although the priorities have changed, the party hasn't. And although the velvet ropes are fewer, I think my friend and I are more comfortable with the ones that we've created for ourselves -- Raul will always be among one of my VIPs.
To be continued...