(Exactly one year ago I was on Fire Island for the first time, at the invitation of my friend Kate McCamy. Why I never got there during the ten years I lived in NYC is another story for another time. Kate’s first visit was somewhat more eventful than mine, and I’m pleased to have her tell the tale herself as my first Guest Blogger.)
No summer is complete without a few days of toes in sand and hopelessly tangled salty hair. My beach of choice is Fire Island, Cherry Grove to be specific. My older brother from another mother and upstairs neighbor has rented a house in August for nine years. I’m fortunate enough to stay in his good graces and get invited for birthday fun in the sun a few days every summer. There is nothing like the crackle of anticipation as the ferry slows to approach the dock, rainbow flags flapping in the breeze.
The stress of life falls off me as I roll my suitcase along the bumpy boardwalk. I pass homes with fantastic names like House of Orange, Over The Rainbow, festooned colorful decorations ranging from baby doll heads to a cornucopia of all things sexual. Such is life on the Grove, a different country with it’s own customs and language. The queen of the island is the Belvedere, a Venetian castle built in the ‘50s out of former stage sets. It sports more statues of David than a Florence souvenir shop and trompe l’oiel everything. The first hotel in the country exclusively for gay men, their website states no woman has ever crossed its threshold. This is not true.
In September 1986 I died of AIDS. That’s me – center in the photo – playing one last game of Scrabble. An hour later, handsome Tony in the white shirt died in the arms of Steve, who left the hospice soon after to spend his final days with his family. I passed quietly, offstage. Five nights a week, above a gay bar in Amsterdam.
I’m from a generation when librarians raised a disapproving finger to their lips to shush even the quietest whispers. So it felt odd (but liberating) to sit with a group of some fifty people in the Amsterdam Public Library and be encouraged – by a teacher, no less – to raise our voices in a resounding chant. “Gender is like a banana! Gender is like a banana!” Continue reading →