Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Equal Rights Blog Hop: What LGBT Community Means to Me

Equal Rights Blog Hop: What LGBT Community Means to Me

(Update: I forgot to mention you should leave an e-mail address in the comments, too...or some way I can get in touch with you. I think most did so far. But I wanted to add this just in case. You can also e-mail me in private here:

Before I get into the post about what it means to me to be a member of the LGBT community. I'd like to link to the main blog hop page at Queer Town Abbey, and this is a link to the prizes I will be giving away at the end of the hop. Please leave your comment on this post, not on the post I've linked to that talks about the prizes. This is the post where I will be drawing the names of the winners.

This is an interesting subject, and more complicated than I thought it would be, because for me being a member of the LGBT community has changed and evolved over the years. Although I always knew I was gay, I didn't fully accept it until I was in college. This was around 1990 and the world was a very different place then for gay people. It was post Stonewall, and the discrimination wasn't as intense, but it was still there lurking in the background all the time, especially with a new brand of discrimination due to the AIDS epidemic.
When I was a senior in college, I started going out to gay bars and night clubs to meet other gay men. I went to Fairleigh Dickinson U in Madison, NJ, and discovered the small town of New Hope in Bucks County, Pa, just a mile away from Lambertville, NJ, in a magazine article I'd read somewhere. It took me an hour and a half to get there from Madison, but I felt more comfortable in the small down setting than I did in NJ, and it was well worth the drive. I was totally unfamiliar with anything in the gay community, and I wanted to learn.

At first I sat in my Cougar outside a gay bar in New Hope that was called The Prelude, which was a ramshackle, flat-roofed monstrosity with a lean-to on the side. The entire building had been painted from roof to foundation in bright purple. I was too nervous to actually go inside alone that first time, so I watched other gay men file into the bar in groups, wondering where...and how...they actually met each other. I never did go in that first time, but I returned a week later and I didn't remain in the car that night. And the most profound memory I have of that first time in a gay bar was the feeling of absolute freedom to finally, for once in my life, be myself without having to hide. So in those early days, being part of the LGBT community meant safety and freedom.

After that first night, I returned to gay bars regularly because of that safe feeling. I wound up experiencing a late puberty in the span of two short years, where I dated almost every guy who asked me to dance. Then I met my partner of twenty years, Tony. We met in a gay bar similar to The Prelude because that was the only viable place gay men met in those pre-Internet days, and we slowly started to build our lives as a couple.

We were not allowed the usual dating or engagement experience because only the bravest and most flamboyant gay men did things like that in those days. And as we began to build our lives on our terms, we met other gay couples who became our surrogate family. At that point the LGBT community transitioned for me and it meant a sense of family Tony and I couldn't get from our own families at the time.

We didn't have a wedding and we didn't have any celebrations or parties like straight couples. We bought our own furniture and drapes and there were no shower gifts or tokens of any kind. We basically started with nothing but an empty town house and a bed. And one of the most interesting things I discovered about the gay community we were part of was that we would give to each other what we didn't get from families. In other words, at Christmas and on birthdays we gave and received gifts that could have been wedding gifts or shower gifts, like that crystal bowl or the vase you get from someone's aunt. It's why we still, to this day, celebrate our birthdays together and we give each other birthday gifts. It's not really the material things that matter. It's more the thought that matters. To know that you belong, too, and that there are people who care about you like family.

The first ten years went spent working hard, investing in real estate, and socializing with our gay friends who were all living the same circumstances we were living. Tony and I weren't on bad terms with our families, but we weren't out yet to our families. And then in 2002 Tony's mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that took her away six months later. I didn't go to the funeral in spite of the fact that we had been together for ten years. Our gay family, our friends, helped us through that terrible time, too. And through this experience I decided that I wanted my family to know my life, and my partner, and I invited them to our home for dinner one night not long after Tony's mom passed. One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never knew Tony's mom, and I didn't want that to happen with my own mom and Tony. By watching how other gay couples did things with their families, I learned, I asked for advice, and they supported me/us through that period, too.

When you reach a certain point in life, things begin to change. You start to experience life and its challenges, and losing good friends happens when you least expect it. I had a best friend who was older than I was and I depended on him a great deal. I owned an art gallery in New Hope and worked in publishing part time, and Tony had a corporate job that required a lot of travel. For seven years, not a day went by when I didn't speak to my friend at least three times. And then one Sunday in March 1999, after a great evening we'd spent with other friends, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack. His sudden death devastated me beyond words and I went into all the classic stages of grief. The one thing that kept me grounded was the sense of community I found within the gay community, because they were grieving for my friend almost as badly as I was.

A lot has changed for Tony and I since we first met. In 2007 Tony became deathly ill with viral pneumonia and almost died. He spent three months in the hospital on life support. Up until then I'd never met his family, but didn't have a choice anymore. Thankfully, they accepted us and there was never an issue. My family came and supported us during that time, too. But once again, it was the LGBT community who came to my side and got me through most of it. And as I grow older and I meet younger gay men who are just starting out, I feel the need to show them that sense of community. I want them to know that in spite of all the problems that go along with being gay, there's always that strong sense of community within the LGBT community they can fall back on no matter how bad it gets.

It doesn't end there either. My experiences with the gay community continues to evolve as I move into middle age. A lot of the people I was friendly with twenty years ago are now seniors and they need my help more now than I needed theirs twenty years ago. They don't have kids to help them with medical issues or take them to doctors appointments. They don't have families close by they can depend on. So Tony and I are prepared for whatever comes along in the future, and we're prepared to keep that sense of loyalty within the LGBT community alive and well.


Tara Lain said...

Hi Ryan-- I loved your post. I used to go to New Hope when i was a very young woman also. What a great town. I'm so happy for all the support the community has given you and Tony. : )

laurie said...

you are so lucky to have such a support system :) and that is a shame about your partners mom and never getting a chance to know her

Molly Church said...

I've been looking through the various blog on the hop on and off all day, and I think this might be the most poignant. There's just so much packed into a fairly small entry.

I wish I had a more eloquent reply, but all I can really say is that you've given us a lot to reflect on.

Starry Diadem said...

Thank you for sharing this. I hope you and Tony have many more happy years together.


Anonymous said...

Very touching post!


ryan field said...

Thanks for commenting everyone. We've been lucky with the support we've received, and it really has always been like family. And I didn't add this in the post, but there have always been a few straight couples mixed in, too.

Sherry said...

I really enjoyed reading about your life. This was such a great post. I find friends can understand and stand by you better than family lots of times.
sstrode at scrtc dot com

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your 20 years - hubby & I hit the 26 year mark this year. Sad to say - I never did find a good support community to fall back on. I am a little envious.
thank you for participating in this hop.

H.B. said...

Thank you for sharing your own personal story with us. It's a wonderful post and very thought provoking. Congrats for making it to the 20 year mark with your special guy, I wish you both a lot more wonderful years together.

humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

Cornelia said...

Thank you for a wonderful post.

Jon Michaelsen said...

Ryan, I've known you for years, but I don't "know" you - in other words, we've never met but have shared many emails together, stories of our writing, you sharing your incredible knowledge and experience of the publishing industry, not to mention your incredible support for my writing. I could you as one of my gay friends and I hope one day, my partner and I can meet you and Tony. We celebrated 28 years this year and much of what you wrote about we have experienced as well. Our GLBT family is very important to us, especially as we head into our golden years. Thanks for such an honest, thoughtful posting.

ryan field said...

I hope we meet, too. Tony and I will be taking a road trip eventually down south. That I can promise. I lived in Spartanburg, SC for a short time and took grad courses there. And I got to know Atlanta while I was living there. We usually go north to places like Maine, but I've been getting a craving for Stucky's ;)

Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Congrats on 20 years with Tony.


wulf said...

That was an amazing compressed life story post. I love it when a person finds the one for them :)


Allison said...

Thank you for sharing this. Family doesn't have to mean the group you were born into and I think your experience showcases that perfectly.

aahickman at

Lena Grey said...

Hi Ryan! Thanks for the bio. It was quite enlightening.

awindandbooks said...

Thank you for your blog post and for participating in the hop. It was lovely to hear part of your life story.

awindandbooks at gmail dot com

Carolyn said...

That was beautiful, Ryan. It's wonderful to see how much being part of the community has meant to you and Tony, and so many for whom your story would be their story. I think it's more important than ever, as things change, to remember what it's been like. How great that you've expanded the definition of family, and can give and take as needed.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, and I hope Tony continues to be well and that you celebrate many, many, many more years together.

caroaz [at] ymail [dot] com

Cathy Romanczuk said...

Thanks for your blog post--it was very moving. I am glad that you were able to support and be supported by the gay community.


Anonymous said...

Jiminy Crickets, you practically had me in tears by the end of this post. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with us--thank you.


ryan field said...

Thanks, Sarah. I'm actually glad that I can write about these things now and feel okay about it. It took a long time to reach that point.

Emily said...

I love hearing your story Ryan. Thanks for sharing and participating!