As prepared as I was to embrace my being gay, I didn't immediately come out to everyone, especially not my family. So like most young people I adopted a new family that temporarily replaced my own and provided me with the sanctuary necessary to explore my identity. I certainly knew enough gay people -- I had gay friends after all in high school. Things were a little different then.
It was 1990, and unlike today where every coming-of-age teen-angst drama features a prominent gay character who on a weekly basis swoons for the the high school captain of the football team (and on certain occasions actually lands him), things were a little different then. Our gay role models were still very vague and undecipherable -- we had the obvious supporters: Madonna and the like icons, but the male roles were lost to us. There was no one to really look to and graph onto as the temple of what one imagined a gay man should be. When I developed my first "man crush" I turned to the only gay alpha-male I knew in my adolescence. His name was (is) Mario -- (out of a courtesy to protect the identities of those involved, I'll only use first names -- but everyone knows who he is).
I remember sitting on the floor of my room with Mario's jotted in pencil phone number on a scrap of paper. I had to ask another mutual friend of ours for the number. Mario and I weren't exactly very close during high school, but we ran in the same circles -- we were both artists involved with our theater departments and members of the drama club...and boy was there ever drama! That's what gays were like back then: dramatic. In order to avoid ridicule and prosecution from the rest of the student body, the gays I knew in high school were very cutty and tough! You really didn't want to mess with them even on your best day. But I must be honest, the environment that I was growing up in during the late 90's was fascinatingly tolerable. Which was very surprising considering that I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community in Little Havana, Miami. When I have to think about, it's as if God had lit the lamps on my runway of life and was just waiting for me to guide my plane into the skies!
I sat there rustling up the courage to call Mario sweaty palms and all, thinking about what I was going to say to him exactly. Some how and seemingly not of my own volition my fingers must have done the dialing and I sat there listening to the ring tone. When Mario answered, I remember simply saying hello -- and a long pause. I mean what does one say? Mario decided that there was nothing to say, he simply asked do you wanna head out for a while, and before I knew it two underage young men were making the rounds of all the gay hot spots on South Beach (and back then there were a lot)! And I realized that I wasn't alone.
I didn't have to say anything. I didn't have to rationalize any of it, and I didn't have to judge by it. I was 18 years old and 20 years later, Mario is still one of the lights on my runway, always navigating the mothership home whenever I get off course, but mostly he offers his friendship and support always and from the beginning without any judgement.