Tuesday, December 01, 2015

On World Aids Day revisiting an article I wrote in 2014 for Huffington Post on the subject of coming out amid punk and the onset of AIDS. So many friends and peers are still missed.

On World Aids Day revisiting an article I wrote in 2014 for Huffington Post on the subject of coming out amid punk and the onset of AIDS. So many friends and peers are still missed. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kid-congo/how-i-came-out-of-the-clo_b_4891947.html
Ever since I can remember, I have loved rock and roll music. I loved it even before I knew that rock and roll was all about sex. After all, I was three-years-old. I did know that "Who Wears Short Shorts" by The Royal Teens and "Blue Moon" by The Marcels tickled my funny bone and made me laugh even barely out of babyhood. My sisters would play the 45s on our parents' Hi-fi console stereo, and I loved watching them spin around, the colors of the labels as hypnotic as the songs themselves. Then, a few years later, as a preteen, I watched my teenage sisters and cousins getting dressed and ready to go out dancing to an East L.A. Chicano band called Thee Midniters. 
Their excitement about the night's event was palpable -- chattering, dancing and primping in front of the mirror. I didn't know who or what Thee Midniters were, but I knew that the teens excitement was what I wanted, and that music was the conduit. It's a 1967 snapshot seared in my brain so strongly, but I didn't equate this picture with sex. After all, I was 8-years-old. A year or so later, my older cousins listened to Jimi Hendrix's "Axis Bold As Love" LP and I sang along and marveled that a guitar could sound like a spaceship taking off. I had an artist neighbor, Steve Escandon, that took on a mentor role and introduced me to The Mothers of Invention's Freak Outalbum, and R. Crumb comics like The Furry Freak Brothers. My mom would buy me copies of my beloved Mad Magazine when she went grocery shopping. I was scared of Santa Claus, and loved having my photo taken with Frankenstein at the Movieland Wax Museum. At grade school, I knew I liked dancing, sharp clothes and things the other kids didn't like. I was outside my peer group. I was not at all cynical; I just thought these things were boss!
It was a few years later when sex, or sexuality, came into play for me; David Bowie and glam rock was all the rage in 1973. I was 14, and I read in Creem magazine about a place called Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, where all the glam stars hung out. Plus, there were great looking teenage groupies! I couldn't bear the thought of being left out, so I would sneak out of my parents' house at night in my homemade satin outfit and catch the bus to Hollywood to make the scene. Luckily, once there, I found a group of other teenagers drinking Ranier Ale in the back alley, because we were too young to get in the club. Somehow, later in the evening, we all ended up inside the club bumping, grinding and posing on the mirrored dance floor. All the men in the place were flamboyant and rock star femme. However, I noticed all the older men were trying to get girls, while the younger boys were just there to be gay, fashionable and dancing around music and musicians and excitement. The girls were all necking with each other. I was in heaven. I had found a home.
David Bowie was the perfect fantasy and foil for the teenage gay kid at the time. He was a rock star, androgynous, hedonistic and an alien from outer space, typifying exactly what a gay teenager experienced. We felt like aliens growing into our bodies and experimenting with alcohol and drugs. I could relate to the Bowie image -- hook, line and sinker. I soon had my first anonymous oral sex in a back alley, and got to know the enjoyment and thrill of clandestine fear -- feeling good, scared and so grown up. Now I knew that sexuality was part of rock and roll!
After a brief detour into disco music and the discothèque (hey, I was young and it's where the gay glammers went), Punk Rock emerged in 1976. By this time, I was the respectable age of 17 and had another outsider movement I could claim as my own. The androgyny of Patti Smith was perfect, and her same sex version of "Gloria," which starts with the line: "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," was all I needed to hear at that juncture. Despite the macho aggro stance of punk, many gay men and women spearheaded the L.A. scene. Musicians, fashion designers, artists, photographers and street sex workers were all attracted to create this enduring community. The glam rock space aliens turned into monsters. We were the Blank Generation that wanted to scare the hell out of you and shake up the status quo. For the gay kids, that included the homosexual status quo. We did not fit into the "clone" or "disco" mentality of the late 70s. For us, first wave punk rock gays, we weren't interested in being "out" because to us, labels were strictly taboo. We believed we were a subculture that was not seeking acceptance from the outside world. It was a pretty separatist attitude. Fuck the system, or stay away. That didn't mean we couldn't fuck or had to hide. However, in our insular, hedonistic world, our homosexuality was rarely discussed, making a strange dichotomy. We were fine with it.
It wasn't until the early 1980s when the AIDS epidemic hit our community that we had to stand up and start shouting. Personally, I lost several punk rock music friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York in the first wave of the epidemic. Louie Beeson, our soundman, Jef Miller, a huge presence and music fan, singer Klaus Nomi in New York, and Butch, the leather boot collector in Los Angeles. These friends were the tip of the iceberg. I hardly knew what hit me. We didn't know what hit us. The "gay cancer" baffled, was mutating and scared the hell out of those affected directly or indirectly. President Ronald Reagan would not acknowledge, or utter one word about AIDS as an emergency situation. It got worse and my close punk artist community was pissed off, frantic and in deep emotional pain. 
If we, and our counterparts in other major cities, were still space aliens or monsters, we knew how to get attention. Act Up sprung up with civil disobedience and a strong message that we must be seen. It was at this time, a new generation of punks erupted with the Queercore scene. Punk left behind the "labels are taboo" credo in favor of being loud support for the GLBT community, and empowering us from the pain and ignorance towards AIDS. It was the grass roots organizations that supported. Years went by, many more friends in the arts died. More support and more awareness are at hand. It's still sad and the pain and loss of those friends is still with me. For me, AIDS was the defining moment for this punk rocker to "come out of the closet and into the streets."