HIV Testing & Reflections on LGBT Pride Month

As I say good-bye to June 2017 I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what the month has meant to me. For many reasons June is my favorite month of the year and as just about everyone knows June is LGBT Pride Month with celebrations across the US in every major city. I also celebrate my birth on June 25th, that’s another reason the month is extra special to me. The Supreme Court ruled that gay Americans had the right to marry in every state June 26th which issued a great shift in our society and in LGBT culture. There are also two HIV Awareness Days: HIV Long-Term Survivors Day and National HIV Testing Day.

Daniel Ashley Williams, Photo: Facebook

June 5th is HIV Long-Term Survivors Day. An awareness day to celebrate and honor the Long-Term Survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to raise awareness about the needs, issues and journeys of HIV Long-Term Survivors (HLTS).

Why June 5th?

A year after scientists identified AIDS they discovered the cause: HIV. On June 5, 1981, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first warning about a rare form of pneumonia among a small group of young gay men in Los Angeles, which was later determined to be AIDS-related.

Why June 27th?

HIV testing is important for both treatment and prevention efforts. Yet, 13% of those infected with HIV are unaware they are infected. June 27th is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) and it was first observed on June 27, 1995 and that day is meant to encourage everyone to learn their HIV status. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 15 to 65 have a screening test for HIV. People with risky behaviors should be tested regularly. A question I was asked by several college students at the Vincennes Aids Walk in April was “what is an HIV test, do they have to take blood?” There are different type of HIV testing.

There are three main types of HIV tests:
ANTIBODY TESTS

Most HIV tests are antibody tests. Antibody tests check for HIV antibodies in blood or fluids from your mouth. This is usually done by swabbing the inside of a persons cheek. HIV antibodies are disease-fighting proteins that the body produces in response to HIV infection. It can take 3 to 12 weeks for your body to make enough antibodies for an antibody test to detect HIV infection and the results are ready in 30 minutes or less.

COMBINATION TESTS (ANTIBODY/ANTIGEN TESTS)
Combination tests can detect both HIV antibodies and HIV antigens, a part of the virus, in your blood. A combination test can detect HIV infection earlier than a HIV antibody test can. It can take 2 to 6 weeks for your body to make enough antigens and antibodies for a combination test to detect HIV infection. This HIV testing is done a lab.

NUCLEIC ACID TESTS (NATS)
Nucleic Acid Tests (NATs) look for HIV in the blood and can detect HIV infection about 7 to 28 days after you have been infected with HIV. This test is very expensive and not routinely used for HIV screening.

The window period is the time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect the HIV infection. This is based on the level of virus in your body and antibodies to the virus that become detectable over time. In most people, HIV can be detected as early as 2-3 weeks after transmission. In others it can take up to 3 months after somebody acquired HIV for tests to show a positive result. Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not.

Please don’t wait until next Just to get tested, if you are sexually active you should get tested every 90 days, you owe it to yourself and to your sexual partners.

 

Got Your Back

Ever wonder if at that certain moment someone might actually be there to help? I always tell people when I put on my activist hat that I get bail money pre-arranged, three-fold. I just want to be prepared, just in case. I don’t want to wonder if, when I make the call, someone will answer.

The transgender community faces a lot of challenges just to exist. Each of us move along our own journeys without knowing what is up ahead of us on the road. For many of us, being able to live an authentic life is the goal. Certainly, for me, that is the goal. This doesn’t always present itself in a nicely wrapped package. We sometimes have to learn some hard lessons. Well, I guess, that is just life. Unfortunately, sometimes when a transperson puts themselves in harm’s way, they ended up injured, or worse, dead. As of mid-July, there have been 15 confirmed transgender murders in the United States this year. This puts us on pace to exceed last year’s total. This doesn’t begin to represent the number of transgender people who “just” get hurt. Well, when they do get hurt, sometimes this leads them down a path to possibly becoming another disheartening statistic connected to the transgender community.

Suicide for the transgender community is a big concern. They happen all too often. I dealt with this myself during my self-discovery time. I never really felt then that I had anyone to call. I struggled along the way just trying to avoid getting to that point of hopelessness. I will confide that it may have only taken one event to put me there. I was reminded of this recently as I, along with a friend, sat anxiously on our phones, they with a young trans person and me with their mother, as we tried to get them to drop the knife they held against their own body with the intent of doing self-harm. I sat wrenching inside with flashbacks but not being in a position to allow my emotions to flow freely. I wanted to cry, scream, lash out in pain, anger and frustration. I held it together until we were successful in saving this young life. By that time I was numb. I couldn’t cry, scream or lash out. Well, not until about 3 hours latter when it all came gushing out. I felt better and had thought I had let it all out. But, I hadn’t. I am still feeling the affects of this event. Although the results were favorable, I can’t help but wonder if a life event like this person experienced is right around the corner for me. Am I strong enough to meet it head on? Who do I call? Will I even make the call? These are the questions I am carrying around with me. Well, I guess this is just life. Right?

ps. I am crying as I end this blog post.

Suicide is never the answer, if you are thinking about or going to attempt suicide please call With Help Comes Hope 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. You are not alone.

2:02 a.m.

On June 12, 2016 at 2:02 a.m. we lost our safe space. 49 beautiful people were gunned down at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. As we all know Pulse was a gay club and the gunman a radical Islamic terrorist who as some reports  will confirm was not as ease with his sexuality. So in the name in Islam and shame 49 innocent people had to die in the worst terrorist attack since 9/11 by a single gunman.

On this day a year ago I was sitting at this same desk 1000 miles away. We had nothing but the news on and throughout the day the body count kept rising. Watching this unfold in real time was chilling. Wasn’t it June? Wasn’t it Pride month. Who would do this?

The shooter, who I refuse to name, in this op-ed claimed allegiance to ISIS, yet there are reports that he was a closeted gay man who was angry that he may have been unwittingly exposed to HIV. The reports came from someone who dated him and others who had witnessed him out at Pulse. It was also reported that he was known for being on Grindr and other ‘hook up’ apps. His first wife claimed that he was gay and struggled with his sexuality. He witnessed a gay couple kiss in public and was enraged because his young son witnessed an act of affection by two men. The F.B.I. could find no evidence that he used gay dating apps or was a closeted gay man.

I think of Pulse frequently. I think that could have been me or any one of my friends. It could have happened at any bar at any Pride event over the years that we attended in Boystown. The people who where at Pulse a year ago were there to dance, meet that person they had been talking to on line or go on a date. Maybe some of them had a bad week and just wanted blow off a little steam. The victims had plans afterward. Maybe go out to breakfast before going home or sleeping until one o’clock in the afternoon cradled in the arms of their boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe they had to work that afternoon or had plans to hit the beach. Those plans stopped mattering at 2:02 a.m. when a terrorist born in this country started killing for reasons that in the end are only known to him and all that’s left are the last moments of the victims frozen in time forever.

I pray that this doesn’t ever happen again to any community marginalized or otherwise. The man who did this was a coward and a sick coward at that. From the reports I’ve read and from witnesses who knew him the shooter was angry. He didn’t not like black people, gays, or Jews and his anger and hatred twisted his soul. So today we remember the victims of PULSE, we pray and think of their families. We also think of the survivors especially those who are wrestling with survivor’s guilt. Brandon Wolf went to Pulse that night with his two best friends. They were killed by the gunman and Brandon who survived the assault without a scratch is left plagued with nightmares and survivors guilt. Proving that pain isn’t only skin deep. ‘What Survival Means’-Brandon Wolf.

To the victims and survivors we remember you, people like me who you do not know are today celebrating your lives and in the month of June we will celebrate PRIDE in your name.

  • Stanley Almodovar III, age 23
  • Amanda Alvear, 25
  • Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
  • Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
  • Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
  • Martin Benitez Torres, 33
  • Antonio D. Brown, 30
  • Darryl R. Burt II, 29
  • Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24
  • Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
  • Simon A. Carrillo Fernandez, 31
  • Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
  • Luis D. Conde, 39
  • Cory J. Connell, 21
  • Tevin E. Crosby, 25
  • Franky J. Dejesus Velazquez, 50
  • Deonka D. Drayton, 32
  • Mercedez M. Flores, 26
  • Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
  • Juan R. Guerrero, 22
  • Paul T. Henry, 41
  • Frank Hernandez, 27
  • Miguel A. Honorato, 30
  • Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
  • Jason B. Josaphat, 19
  • Eddie J. Justice, 30
  • Anthony L. Laureano Disla, 25
  • Christopher A. Leinonen, 32
  • Brenda L. Marquez McCool, 49
  • Jean C. Mendez Perez, 35
  • Akyra Monet Murray, 18
  • Kimberly Morris, 37
  • Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27
  • Luis O. Ocasio-Capo, 20
  • Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
  • Eric I. Ortiz-Rivera, 36
  • Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
  • Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
  • Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
  • Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
  • Christopher J. Sanfeliz, 24
  • Xavier E. Serrano Rosado, 35
  • Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, 25
  • Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
  • Shane E. Tomlinson, 33
  • Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
  • Luis S. Vielma, 22
  • Luis D. Wilson-Leon, 37
  • Jerald A. Wright, 31

 

 

Being Proud

Meghan Buell, Photo: Facebook

As we enter another Pride Month in June, I stop to reflect on what pride, or more correctly, being proud means to me.

In younger days, I was always proud of stuff. I would proudly show off my Lego building skills to my mom. I felt the pride of winning a 1st Place ribbon at a track meet in grade school event though I was not a fast runner (I benefit of being on a relay team with other fast kids). I was proud to tell people I was from The Region even though they called us “Region Rats”. I always stood proudly and supported my sports teams, my schools and my friends. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I had never felt very proud of me.

As I was limping my way through life, feeling very confused, frustrated and lost, I was very much assured that my life was going to end in a moment of complete surrender to these feelings. I wasn’t living because I was proud to be alive. I was living because I was still breathing. This changed when I encountered a word that seemed at the time to be a gateway to self discovery. Late in 1998, I ran smack dab into the word transgender. A word I had been seeking to enter my life for so long. I do recall standing up and raising my arm and saying “I am transgender”.

Looking back I could in no way have predicted where I would be today. I have been described as “one of the most out and proud trans people” someone knew. I do live a very authentic and proud life now. I did have to overcome a big obstacle to get to this place. From the time that I stood up and raised my arm and for the 7 years that followed I studied and researched everything about being transgender. I became very astute on most things related to the trans community. I thought this was going to be enough to carry me into the future. I began to prepare for an eventual transition. Everything seemed to be falling into place, yet, I felt there was a void. There was something I was forgetting. It was bothering me. What could it be?

Meghan Buell, Photo: Facebook

I used to “dress up” and go out when it was convenient for me to get out. This was a very comfortable part-time existence. I was not under any pressure or constraint to be anything other than what I wanted to be at any point of time. I thought this was just my situation given still being mostly in the closet. I kept using job, family or money as the reason I didn’t take my journey any further. Yet, I was getting frustrated that things were not moving along the planned timeline. And then it hit me. My excuses for not advancing forward were not at all related to job, family or money but because I hadn’t really come out to MYSELF and, thus, was not really proud of being ME. All my life I had been proud of my accomplishments but never of me. Once I called my own bluff and finally stood up and said “I AM TRANSGENDER. HEAR ME ROAR” I was able to stop spinning my wheels, gain traction and move forward toward the goal. It took me being proud of being me to open up the pathway to self-acceptance. I stand here today, celebrating Pride Month, truly proud.

POZiversary, Yeah It’s a Thing

Daniel Ashley Williams, Photo: Facebook

POZiversary is the act of celebrating the anniversary of one’s HIV diagnosis. Despite all the progress that has been made in the treatment of HIV and despite the fact that HIV is completely manageable for most people, receiving a positive diagnosis remains a challenge. HIV is not the death sentence it once was in the 80’s and 90’s but the sigma is still there and those newly diagnosed can get scared and that’s okay. Still, why would anyone want to celebrate or even acknowledge the day that they received a positive diagnoses?

It’s been 9 years since I found out that I was HIV Positive. When I found out I was positive there were so many fears. There was the fear of telling my boyfriend, there was the fear of the stigma of HIV/AIDS and there was the fear of the unknown. Later on after telling my then boyfriend about my diagnosis he was tested. We found out that his CD4 counts were lower and that he had HIV longer than me and in fact infected me. I was lulled into a false sense of security because we were in a monogamous relationship.

When I was infected in college all I knew about HIV/AIDS or thought I knew was that it can be transmitted sexually and that gay men were at a higher risk for infection. It’s a common misconception that gay men in relationships are at less risk of HIV and they tend to get tested less frequently then single gay men. There is also a high frequency of gay men in relationships or with their main sexual partner(s) that do not use condoms.

HIV can be transmitted between sexual partners and if condoms are not used there maybe a false sense of security. It’s assumed that everyone in the relationship or the sexual encounter knows his own HIV status and everyone should know their HIV status whether they are in a relationship or not. I recommend getting tested every three months.

After a positive diagnosis the health department will show up at your door and it can be a very scary thing to have a person from the government come knocking on your door asking a great many personal questions that you may not feel like anwsering. I mean who really wants to talk with complete strangers about their sex life? “How many sex partners have you had?” “How many times have you been tested for HIV and when was it?” “Do you have a phone number for any of the people you have had sex with?” It’s the Health Departments job to contact the people that have had sexual contact with a person that is HIV positive and it’s their job to get those people tested, but the health department will not disclose how they received that contact information. This is so you keep your privacy and there is no telling how someone may react so it keeps you safe as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated Lifetime Risk of HIV Diagnosis in Indiana is 1 in 183. Overall, an American has a 1 in 99 chance of being diagnosed with HIV at some point in his or her life. But that lifetime risk is greater for people living in the South than in other regions of the country. Linking people to care within 3 months after an HIV diagnosis improves their health and reduces the risk of transmission. In 2014, the majority of states with the lowest levels of linkage to care were in the South. According to the CDC in 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States. More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV, and about 1 in 8 don’t know it. Make the informed decisions about your health and get tested.

I’m not proud to be HIV positive but I’m proud that I can be open about my status and stand up to the faces of adversity. There are many reasons why a person cannot be open about their status, yet I am one of those people who can and that is why I celebrate my “POZiversary.” It’s like celebrating LGBT PRIDE every year. You are not only celebrating who you are you are celebrating your life and the lives of the people in your community, you are also educating and living by example. You are showing someone else the way out of darkness and ignorance you are shining the light on misconception and sigma. You are showing people who might be afraid, whether they are afraid of their sexuality or their HIV status that there is still light and life at the end of the tunnel, least that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to educate and maybe if I do it right I can give that young kid in college who was just like me, who just got told that he was HIV positive hope, maybe I can let them know that it will be okay. Life will be different but it will be okay. So that’s why I celebrate my POZiversary.

Matthew 25 AIDS Services, INC. is a non-profit healthcare clinic that specializes in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. They are only one of two comprehensive HIV/AIDS Service clinics in Southern Indiana and Western Kentucky. 

 

They Can Turn Off the Lights but They Can’t Turn Off Our PRIDE

It’s June and it’s Gay PRIDE month and more then ever we need our PRIDE. For the first time in eight years there will be no PRIDE celebrations in the White House, don’t expect the people’s house to be lit up in rainbow colors or Vice President Mike Pence to be running the halls carrying a PRIDE Flag the way former Vice President Joe Biden did. The only things that are running in The White House this year are the PRIDE Colors, running like they were hit with bleach spray and all we are left with is bland and angry white. Transgender protections have been rolled back. HIV/AIDS funding is being cut. Violence and harassment of all marginalized communities is on the rise. Even on a local level I experienced a disrespect from my employer in regards to my sexuality and my marriage. That disrespect from someone I trusted led me to leave my job, a final straw that not just broke the camels back but left him paralyzed and angry.

This blog was originally going to be the story of what happened to me and what led up to me leaving the employ of a well known local attorney. After two weeks of writer’s bloc and apathy, after two weeks of not knowing what to do with my newly unemployed self and not knowing where to start I’m continuing with the work I’m most proud of, this web-site and our own LGBT Community right here in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana.   “The Beacon” and our sister page OUT in Michigan City & NWIN on Facebook have been a little lite on content these last few weeks, for that I am sorry, I was licking my wounds so to speak. I had put my all into a job and a boss that who was so disorganized, so socially awkward that I thought I could “fix” him. I just thought that maybe he didn’t have the right kind of help in the past, maybe wasn’t the right kind of help. Who knows? I do know this, there are just some things that can’t be fixed. The end came when he not only insulted me, a proud gay man but worse he insulted the integrity of my marriage and made light of my husband.

So I’m done moping, I’m done morning for a job I liked but the baggage that came with it made it not even worth it, especially at the end. It’s PRIDE month and it’s time for us to shout, fight, and let Northwest Indiana, the Statehouse, the Governor’s Mansion and the nation, especially the Trump administration know that we are still here.

President Trump can keep the colored lights turned off, he can refuse to acknowledge PRIDE month. He can refuse to issue the LGBT PRIDE proclamations that have been issued in the month of June for the last eight years, and he can cow tow to Mike Pence and the religious right all we wants but WE ARE STILL HERE. OUR VOICES WILL BE HEARD and WE WILL BE RESPECTED and WE WILL NOT BE IGNORED and WE WILL RISE again and again so long as our lives, our marriages, and our families are being disrespected by an administration that lives in darkness and lies. I encourage you all to go to PRIDE events. Little ones, big ones. Hold them in your back yard or your living room. Invite friends over. Go to the PRIDE events in the park or in the streets of Chicago or Indianapolis. BE PROUD and BE LOUD because the fight is not over and it’s not going to be over until we say it is.

That my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this June 1, 2017 Gay PRIDE month. Be Proud.

 

 

I’m Harvey Milk and I’m Here to Recruit You!

San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk

1960s San Francisco became well known as a mecca for the “counterculture,” hippies, musicians, artists, and those of the LGBT community and for a time it worked. As the years rolled on and the 1970’s arrived a much more conservative attitude took over. Gay men coming from around the nation that wanted to make a home in the city’s Castro District found themselves being discriminated against by not only the the city of San Francisco but by the police who were sworn to serve and protect everyone living in the city by the bay. Gay men often times were subjected to brutal police violence. Yet, as the decade wore on gay men kept moving to The Castro. One of those men was a New Yorker named Harvey Milk. In his 40s equipped nothing but a bull horn Harvey brought together the gay community living not only in the Castro, but in the city itself. Harvey would bring along change that is still felt today.

Harvey used not only his voice to unite the LGBT Community, he used their economic power as well. It was not easy for Harvey to bring about change, he ran three unsuccessful campaigns for city supervisor, finally in 1977 he won. He won by shifting peoples perceptions, he won by becoming a leader and uniting the LGBT community of that time. He won by standing up for the abused and disenfranchised. In a time before social media and instant communication news trickeled out to the mid-west of the gay man who won political office in a major city. The news of Harvey’s success reached those living in the closet afraid of their sexuality afraid that there might be something wrong with them. Harvey Milk gave gay people all over this nation the one thing that was very scarce in the 1970’s, he would give them hope.

Harvey Milk at a rally in San Francisco

“MY NAME IS HARVEY MILK AND I AM HERE TO RECRUIT YOU!” was the rallying cry he used to get not only the attention of the city government. It also got the attention of anti-LGBT conservatives by turning their own false rhetoric against them. Conservative Christians would often claim, and some still do that gays and lesbians recruit children and “confused” adults into becoming gay. Harvey took their lies and propaganda and made it his own and by doing so he united a city. The only thing Harvey and his followers were trying to recruit was equality. Harvey Milk served only 11 months in office until he was assassinated by Dan White a fellow city supervisor. Anne Kronenberg, Harvey’s campaign manager said of him, “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He Imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.”

Harvey Milk: photo by Jerry Pritikin

I’d like to think if Harvey were alive today he would be amazed of how far we’ve came in such a short time. I also think that in today’s uncertain political climate Harvey would continue to rally our community. He would want us to not give up or get too comfortable in our own skin because despite our successes we still have a long way to go, we still have a fight on our hands.

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake, Harvey Milk Day 2017.

‘Liberal Outrage’ and Knowing When to Pick Your Battles

Stephen Colbert, Photo: Rolling Stone Magazine.

On Monday May 1st, 2017 “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert’s monologue  was a well thought out continuous ‘take down’ of President Donald Trump. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert May 1, 2017, It was laugh out loud funny and on point. Mr. Colbert called out the President’s (bad) behavior on the Sunday Morning Program “Face the Nation” and how during the interview with host John Dickerson Mr. Trump not only insulted Mr. Dickerson but the show as well calling it “Deface the Nation.” The President abruptly and rudely ended the interview when asked about his false wire tapping claims against former President Barack Obama. In his monologue Mr. Colbert referred to Mr. Trump’s mouth as Vladimir Putin’s “Cock Holster.”

Obviously conservatives are ‘out raged’ and are demanding that CBS fire Mr. Colbert over these comments. That’s to be expected. Most conservatives I know do not have a sense of humor about anything or more typically they can dish it out but can’t take it. I mean it’s apparently within acceptable social norms for radio host and sleaze bag at large Alex Jones to claim that the former President Barack Obama was gay and former First Lady Michelle Obama was transgendered and in an attempt to look ‘normal’ kidnapped the Obama children since they could not reproduce naturally. Really? Real people believe this, real dumb people.

What is surprising is the some in the LGBT community and some liberals are “outraged.” Some are even calling Mr. Colbert’s monologue homophobic.  Seriously people? You are outraged by a liberal, straight, late night talk show host whose always been an alley to our community calling him homophobe, just because he used the term “cock holster.” I say this with love in my my big queer heart, GET OVER YOURSELVES.

Speaking as a practicing homosexual I’ll just say this, when Mr. Colbert said that I laughed my ass off. To quote Karen Walker from “Will & Grace,” “It’s funny because it’s true.” There is nothing wrong with using that term, it was funny. Just so you know I’m not a self loathing homosexual, I don’t hate myself, I’m not a cutter. In fact I’m into being gay so much so that on National Coming OUT Day I posted on Facebook that “I love the cock.” As you can imagine my mother was very proud. What I am is a humorist which means I have a sense of humor and if we are going to survive the next 4 years of this administration may I suggest that the rest of you bitches get a sense of humor too. If we do not learn to laugh, especially at our self’s then people like Donald Trump and Mike Pence have won already.

May I suggest that the”fake liberal outrage” or any other outrage that you are harboring, you channel into doing everything you can to resist, educate others, and fight this administration all the way to the polls in 2018 and 2020. Hold on the your anger because you are going to need it. If we get pissed off at every little thing that we think harms us we not only run the risk of burning ourselves out but we leave ourselves open to ridicule from the right. As members of the LGBT community we don’t need it. It’s not easy being gay we’ve already proved that we’re tough, we are not ‘snowflakes,’ so let’s stop acting like it. We need to pick our battles and those battles need to be important ones like the one we will be facing on May 4 when President Trump, using his mouth to holster Vice-President Mike Pence’s penis as he signs the “religious freedom” executive order that will basically give anyone the right to discriminate against our community so long as they invoke the mighty ‘right’ of religious freedom. Or how about being angry and horrified for the gay men in Chechnya that are being murdered in concentration camps by their own families. As a gay man and a Jew this not only outrages me but scares me to my very core. Or let’s get pissed about the lawsuit going on right now against the Picayune Funeral Home in Picayune Mississippi that refused to cremate the remains of 86 year old Robert Huskey when they found out he was gay and married to his partner of 52 years.

I’m just saying that there is a lot to be pissed off at folks, but Stephen Colbert ain’t it. We need to stay focused on the big picture and not get mad at the people who are in our corner because of some imagined slight.

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake this 3rd day of May 2017.

The More You Drink, the Prettier I Get, Reflections on 5 Years of ‘Welcome to the Other Side’

Wilma Fingerdo and her partner in crime Jayda Pill, Photo by Christopher M. Voorhees

I recall distinctly placing a bet with the other WTTOS cast members shortly before our first show regarding the projected longevity of our shows. I believe the estimates averaged about a year, at that time. The local gay bars were in a slump, and Encompass had just closed. We weren’t sure that there was a market for drag shows. Regardless, EJ Marx had been approached by the owners of the Warehouse in Portage about putting together a show, and performing at their venue. I was initially hesitant about the idea, but thought we could give it a try. I had always blamed the recent onset of gay dating apps, like Grindr, for the closure of our local hangouts. There’s no reason to “go out”, I would say, when a “blow job is just a click away”. Looking back, I was short sighted, and didn’t take into account the camaraderie that was such a huge part of meeting at those gay establishments.

Dena Richards, Photo: Facebook

I was absolutely amazed that our reception for our first show! There were hundreds of attendees, and, of course, Welcome to the Other Side was born. We decided at the time, that we would host shows every other month, and we did that for the next few months, eventually working other venues into our schedule. Please understand that then, and now, I love a lazy weekend, without heels, eyelashes, wigs and girdles, and there was no way that I would strap my ass in a dress every weekend. We decided to take offers from what we considered to be the best venues. I still believe that we work with the best venues. There are many things that are important to me when we work with a partner, now, and into the future. First, and foremost, don’t screw

E. J. Marx, Photo by Christopher M. Voorhees

our patrons. I expect reasonable drink and food prices. Second, a reasonable level of service. Third, their acceptance of the gay and trans community. When Indiana proposed their religious freedom amendment, and gays weren’t able to buy pizzas in Shit hole, Indiana, I called each of our partners, and personally confirmed that they were open for everyone.

Kane Richards, Photo by Christopher M. Voorhees

My goal, now and into the future is to provide entertainment and a welcome environment for our gay, straight, trans, and questioning guest. I love an environment where everyone can feel comfortable in their own skin, and I sincerely hope that we have provided this for you. We have the best job in the world. We can to meet up with our friends, have some drinks and some laughs, and provide a little refuge from society’s judgement. Will you see us in 5 more years? I don’t know, but I can speak for all of us at Welcome to the Other Side…. We appreciate you, and thank you for the fun that we’ve had thus far. Hope to see you Friday.

XOXO
Wilma

Wilma Fingerdo and the entire cast of ‘Welcome to the Other Side’ will be performing at the Uptown Center for Performing Arts in Michigan City’s historic Uptown Arts District for their 5 years anniversary show Friday May 5th, 2017. 

“I’m Gay,” How Two Simple Words Changed Television & Lives

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine.

This weekend marks the “milestone” of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office as P.O.T.U.S. There is also a another milestone happening this weekend, a more helpful more tangible milestone. The milestone I’m talking about continues to influence peoples lives and it changed the face of American television forever. A milestone that continues to empower the LGBT community of this country. A milestone that set the stage for not only TV characters but real life celebrities and everyday people to ‘come out of the closet.’ 20 years ago today, April 30, 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out not only in real life but in her sitcom “Ellen.” Ellen’s TV personality on her show, the character Ellen Morgan was the first main character of a TV show to come out. A show that was about her and named for her, during a time when there was no “Will & Grace” or “Modern Families” Cameron and Mitchell. This was a first for American television.

To commemorate the occasion I watched the episode in it’s entirety on You Tube. In quirky Ellen fashion it was entitled “The Puppy Episode” “The Puppy Episode” part one“The Puppy Episode” part 2 and it brought back bittersweet memories and emotions. Emotions and memories that I thought buried long ago. As with a lot of people my own coming out was not easy, but whose ever is?

Some of what made coming out so difficult was my own doing. I’m famously known for my procrastination or just simply not dealing with things that I don’t want too. I didn’t want to ‘deal’ with being gay and as Ellen put it when her character came out on the show, she thought these feelings “would just go away.” My “gayness” for lack of a better word didn’t just go away and neither did Ellen’s. In the show her character  couldn’t even say the word “gay,” but as the show progressed she said it and the world was listening. This was one of first times that I realized that art can imitate life. I couldn’t say the word either, until I did. At some point I came out to a close friend. I said, “I think I’m gay.” My friend looked me dead in the eyes and said to me “That’s okay, YOU ARE OKAY.” Amazingly lighting didn’t come from the heavens to strike me down and at that point that’s when I really knew that I would be okay.

The cast of “Ellen.”

 

“I’m gay.” Those two simple words uttered on a sitcom, simple words that changed the world of television forever. Simple words that have changed and will continue to change the world of the person saying them no matter who they are. After I said those words my world changed. I’m not going to lie and say it’s always been easy but it hasn’t always been hard. I’ve had my ups and my downs, but doesn’t everybody go through ups and downs in life, gay or straight? I will say this, the victories in life are a lot sweeter when you are living out of the closet, living your authentic life. At the same time life’s journey can be a lot harder to navigate if your are continuously watching over your shoulder worried that someone might figure out your secret. Carrying a secret burden can keep you just two little words away from the chance of happiness.

I don’t know if in 20 years anyone will remember what Donald Trump did in his first 100 day milestone, but I do know that on this same day 20 years from now we will be once again be looking back at how Ellen came into our living rooms via our televisions and told us all what most of us already knew about her and ourselves. She gave us the “OK” to say “I’m gay.”

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this 30th day of April 2017.

John M. Livelsberger will be talking about his own coming out on the podcast “The Coming OUT Lounge” airing on May 10th, 2017.