James Fell watched The Normal Heart and was transported to a painful place in his history, and reminded of a lot of things he regrets.
Editor’s note: TW for violent hate speech
His name was Brian, and he died of AIDS. He was my friend.
I watched HBO’s The Normal Heart last night, and aside from the glee I achieved from watching “Sheldon Cooper” of The Big Bang Theory drop F bombs and punch a guy out, it brought back a lot of bad memories.
Mostly, it made me feel shame.
Brian had a Tom Selleck moustache and hair like a lion’s mane. He lit up every room he walked into with his flamboyant speeches and loud proclamations. Truthfully, he was more my mom’s friend, but I liked him. Everyone in my family loved Brian. He did my sister’s hair for her wedding. The woman who would become my wife thought Brian was a terrific human being.
I visited Brian in the hospital as he lay dying in the early 90s. I held his hand, even though he could barely remember me. Dementia had taken hold. I held my mother’s hand at Brian’s funeral, and we both cried. Twenty years later, we still talk about him.
But I was a hypocrite. The person who loved Brian is the real me. (In addition to being friends with Brian, our family had also become like an adoptive family to a young gay man rejected by his parents and brothers.) This was the 80s, however, and homophobia ran rampant. Shamefully, beyond the view of my progressive family, I participated.
The other boys in my high school called people fags and homos, and so did I. A friend had a baseball cap that was a play on the tagline of the insecticide product Raid that proclaimed: “AIDS — Kills Fags Dead,” and it was okay for him to wear that in public. I quoted alternate meanings for the AIDS acronym like “anally injected death sentence” and “adios ignorant dick sucker.”
After Magic Johnson’s diagnosis, someone told me Magic stood for: “My ass got infected coach,” and I burst out laughing.
I participated in the anti-gay hysteria of the time. I was part of what the gay community had to do battle against as so eloquently told in The Normal Heart. Although my own heart felt one thing, my actions and speech were out of alignment with my emotions.
Tough work, being human. I wish I hadn’t been so terrible at it in my younger years. I wish I’d outwardly displayed the compassion I felt, instead of jumping on the anti-homosexual bandwagon like so many of my friends did. And it makes me wonder, were they similarly conflicted? Did they display toxic bravado outwardly, but on the inside, were their hearts normal? Or were they filled with the same hate that made people say that AIDS was a good thing because it was going to wipe out all the homosexuals?
My wife played an important role in my development as a human being. She helped me cast aside the silly shell of false masculinity and encouraged me to outwardly display my inward self. Recently, the publisher of my book, Random House Canada, got in touch because they were writing about their authors’ proudest moments as Canadians. It didn’t take long for me to think of mine.
In 2005, Canada became the fourth nation in the world, and the first outside Europe, to legalize same-sex marriage. I was thrilled both on the inside and the outside. Yes, there were vocal opponents, but the government of the time knew that history would vindicate the decision. Like with the civil rights movement of decades past, the U.S. government had to enforce some decisions that went against the will of the people, but sometimes, elected officials have to do that when the people are wrong. Governments aren’t always incompetent. Sometimes, they realize that when you make a decision based on inclusiveness, caring and compassion, that even if the citizens of the day are against it, eventually, the majority will come around.
As a fitness writer, I have a lot of young men who I influence. And so, I don’t just talk about developing physiological strength, but strength of character. I know what it’s like to be young and tormented, and to turn to fitness as a way to enhance one’s masculinity, and so I don’t hide my opinions from readers on subjects beyond lifting heavy things up and putting them back down again.
And I know I lose some of them as a result, but as a writing mentor of mine said, “If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.” And since the reaction to newly NFL drafted Michael Sam’s kiss of his partner Vito Cammisano can still result in vitriol against the gay community in 2014, I think more and more men should speak up against hatred in all its forms.
It time for us to show the world we are capable of tolerance, understanding and embracing diversity.
It’s time to reveal our normal hearts.
This article originally appeared on Six Pack Abs.
Photo credit: Doug88888/flickr