I am finally back in Toronto. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of events and emotions.
I started December with one of my most ambitious endeavors to date. I put together an awards show to honor ten people from the community who either helped raise awareness or money in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I am happy to say that the POZ-TO Awards at Crews & Tangos were a success on World AIDS Day. It was amazing to see so many people come out from our diverse gay community to celebrate and help raise just under $1,200 for Toronto's People With AIDS Foundation. What a way to close out the year!
Then it was the mad rush to get everything ready for probably one of the most important trips for myself and my husband, John. Earlier this year I wrote about reconnecting with my family in Florida. I told you about not being in contact with my family for almost 24 years. I wrote about my strained relationship with my father and a Thanksgiving dinner back in 1991 that would change the course of all our lives.
Well, after spending the better part of the spring, summer and fall of 2013 writing and calling my step-mother (Teresa), my uncle (Rudolph), my brothers (Anthony & Anton) I decided that I really wanted to go see them around Christmas. I had some gigs scheduled in New York City and Asbury Park. So, I booked a couple of cheap airline tickets to Tampa, Florida. I was taking my husband home for the holidays! Wow….I never thought I would be uttering that phrase in my life. This would be a trip back to two of my homes of the past. John had been to the New York area with me before, but going to a family reunion at my Uncle Rudolph's house in Florida was a big deal.
So, let's start with the trip to The Big Apple and New Jersey. Arriving in New York City felt like home. Seeing my friends like Marshall, Andrew, Adrian, Neil, Jermaine and Kale was a real nice way to start off. Tried to go to some of my old haunts like The Monster and The Hangar, but I'm afraid too much time has passed. Both places were just mere shells of themselves. I didn't recognize any of the small number of attendees (except for maybe a couple of die-hard regulars sprinkled here and there). Those places of old employment didn't feel like home anymore.
I called a few of my old friends but their lives seemed to have moved on in different directions. As I explained to my husband, the longer I stay away the further I am in most's memories. But oddly enough, a theme for our trip was starting in New York and New Jersey. And the theme was "circles and old habits". From friends repeating old patterns in relationships to others not recognizing that they have addiction problems……some things never change.
Somehow, Asbury Park always seems to be the same. I guess it is because it is a little smaller than NYC. Spinning at Georgies Bar is always a treat. The reputation and legacy of DJ Relentless still holds up there. Unfortunately, the cold weather kept a lot of folks in (and truthfully….I don't blame 'em). If I didn't have to be out, I wouldn't have been either. And no visit to Asbury Park is complete without the late night after the bar talk to catch up with David Hoffman..He and Marshall White are probably my oldest friends (not meaning in age, but as in longest time knowing each other) in the Tri-State area.
So, then it was off to Atlantic City to fly out to Florida. To tell the truth, I was a little nervous. Talking to someone over the phone or through Facebook is one thing, but seeing them face to face is another. Memories of the reasons I left Tampa came flooding back. And that insecure kid who so desperately wanted acceptance reared his head on the plane ride down. But as soon as I saw my Uncle Rudolph waiting for us at the airport, a sense of accomplishment rushed over me. The look in his eyes told me that I had done the right thing by coming home.
Finally, I could show my husband where I came from, the places I grew up in and the food I always brag about. As we drove through the city, tons of memories that I had not thought about in years came back. Stories of my youth poured from my mouth. I'm sure John was sick of it by the second day. And finally, I was going to find out what had happened over the past two decades in my family.
First, I have to say that my Uncle Rudolph and my Aunt Ruth are the glue that holds what's left of my family together. I applaud them for putting "Family First" regardless what happens. After some of the things they shared with me, I don't know if I could do what they have done. My father's side of my family is a big bundle of "circles and old habits". And the expression of "history repeating itself" is so fitting. My father, his mother, my Aunt Kathy and even the man who got me into DJ-ing (Uncle Herb) were not nice people. And the disfunction that they wallowed in has ruled the development of their off-spring. My brothers, Vaughn, Adrian, Anton, and Anthony are all following in my father’s foot-steps. All with kids too early in life, all consumed with sex and all making mistakes that are going to haunt them later in life. Except for the kids, I am guilty of these things too. But fortunately, I stopped and changed my cycle. I have a different perspective about my life. In a way I kind of feel like Uncle Rudolph's approach rubbed off on me. We both have the ability to see the bigger picture and what's important in life.
Uncle Rudolph, me and Aunt Ruth
My Uncle Rudolph and Aunt Ruth invited everyone over to their house for a barbecue. They spent two days preparing all the food for that day. Chicken, beef ribs, pork ribs, potato salad, collard greens….hell, there was so much food I couldn't sample it all! Oh….and the best macaroni & cheese I've had in a long time! Seeing my brothers, cousins (Takeisha, Tula, Cookie and Cornell), nieces and nephews was such a treat. We laughed and reminisced all day. It was a shame that everyone didn't make it over at the same time. It would have been great to get a group photo. And John had such a great time meeting everyone. As a Canadian, John was really enjoying my family's accents and sensibilities. I think Aunt Ruth was his favorite. It was wonderful being respected and accepted. Too bad, Teresa (my step-mother) was not well enough to make IT over that day. So, we went to see her the next day.
But I guess the one brother that I was most disappointed with was Vaughn. He did not want to see me at all. I found out that his first born son is also gay. In some strange way he blames me. He treats his son exactly like my father treated me. He has nothing to do with him. I hope that he does not have the same fate as my father. I am a firm believer that God puts people and situations in your life to teach you how to love. It's just a shame that not everyone gets that lesson. Perhaps Vaughn thinks because I was so "out" about being gay so young that I set a bad example. But from my mother's side of the family, I was taught to just be me. That's all I can be. So, if that meant that I wanted o wear a wig and lip-sync songs for the family at Christmas….so be it. No one told me that I was wrong. My grandmother (Carrie-Mae) just let me be who I was and loved me unconditionally.
It was really heartbreaking to hear the demise of my Uncle Herbert. He went blind as a teenager, but was always talented in music. My Uncle Rudolph told me that he graduated from college with degrees in child psychology. I never knew that. I only knew him as a DJ and musician. It was terrible to know that he was robbed and beaten up so badly that he had to be put on life support. And basically it was my father's fault for leaving him alone with a stranger in the house. He was a brilliant man and he taught me so much about music. It's hard to believe that he is gone.
And on that Sunday the disturbing thing to finally see was the last mother-figure in my life being mistreated by her sons. Teresa was a very important part of my life when I was trying to know my father back in the early 80's. She recognized that I was gay and tried to get him to accept it. I witnessed her taking mental and physical abuse from this man. I watched her get up and go to work to feed me, Adrian, Anton, Zuberi (my mother's other child) and Anthony while my father would lay around drinking some days. So, to see her not well and her own sons not making sure that she is comfortable and living better was just upsetting! This is what I meant about "circles and old habits". My brothers are doing the same things my father did and don't even realize it. The dysfunction continues with no end in sight. These lives are going round and round in circles.
Now, some would say…..why are you putting your family out there on "front street" like this? Well, I am hoping they read this and do something about it. I know that I am risking alienating myself all over again, but something also occurred to me while I was visiting. I am the oldest. After my Uncle Rudolph, I am the oldest male on my father's side of the family. It is my responsibility to step up to the plate and do what I can. I cannot be a father to my brothers. Too much time has passed. Attitudes and habits have been formed. I can only set an example and lend my experiences to the fabric of what is our family.
Another interesting thing that my aunt and uncle shared with me was the last monarch of the family was also gay. My Great Uncle Luther was a closeted homosexual. So, it is so funny to me that some of the men in my family have issues with gay people. There are plenty of us in the family and have been for years.
So, I shall return to Tampa more often. There was a time that I was not interested in ever seeing Florida again. Now, I think I have to spend some more time there…..for my family and most importantly for me. Plus, I also found out that I have a couple of gay relatives who I think could benefit from having me around. I want to make sure that they don't have to grow up with all the baggage that my father put on me. One of my cousins just finally told the family that he is HIV+. Perhaps I could tell him what to expect. After all, I have lived with this disease for 24 years at this point. There's plenty of decisions to be made about his life.
The long weekend in Tampa seemed to have flown by. I did get to reconnect with probably one of my longest running friends, Rossie. It's hard to believe that I met him back in the late 70's. It is great to know that some friends may come and go, but others are there for life. Hopefully, LaKiria & Ashley (girlfriends of my brothers) will be added to that list of life long friends.
So, we rushed backed to NYC for my last gig this trip. I was spinning at an East Village landmark, The Cock. I never really had a huge following in the East Village. I built my reputation on the Westside of Manhattan (Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, Harlem). But thanks to another good friend, Shameless I think I am beginning to lay the foundation in other circles. New work relationships and new followings are being forged. I like it!
This trip really showed me that I made the right decisions in my life. I'm glad that I left Tampa when I did. That circle of dysfunction had to be broken. I would not be the person I am today if I had not stepped out on faith and took a chance to change my life. And now I have a completely new life. I have continued to be blessed.