My Top 11 Favorite “Lip Syncs for your Life”

2020 has been a difficult year, and it’s safe to say we’re all seeking some positivity and things to be happy about in the new year, and I think 2021 will deliver. The first gift 2021 will bring us is a brand new season of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Starting this Friday, New Years Day, 2021 will deliver joy and fun and drag queens on day one! If you follow me on social media or read this blog you  know how big of a drag race fan I am – I proudly consider myself to be a super fan! Though I love the show, I’ve been told I do not make a pretty girl when I dress in drag myself, AT ALL. Maybe I should just stick to reviewing drag queens and not try to be one? Lol.

In honor of Friday’s season 13 premiere I present to you, for your reading and viewing pleasure, my favorite lip syncs for your life from Rupaul’s Drag Race, Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars and Canada’s Drag Race. Before you read the list and start writing nasty comments on how I could leave off so and so, I am basing this list on entertainment value. Specifically, would I rewatch these lip syncs over and over on YouTube? (And trust me, after a few White Claws or Truly lemonades during quarantine I rewatch many of these battles).

So, while you won’t see Latrice Royale’s “Natural Woman,” or Jujubee’s “Black Velvet” on this list, many consider these two of the best performances during a lip sync in the show’s herstory. This writer agrees but for some unknown reason I don’t gravitate towards a rewatch.  

This list is presented in no particular order. SPOILERS AHEAD! 

*MONET XCHANGE vs. DUSTY RAY BOTTOMS “Pound the Alarm” – Season 10

Two powerhouse performances with Rupaul even proclaiming, “For the ladies in the back that is what we call a lip sync for your life.” Miss Congeniality winner Monet stumbled in her looks, but her personality and comedic chops shined through. Her fake out death drop was EPIC! (look for Monet again on this list a little later on)

*BOB THE DRAG QUEEN vs. DERRICK BARRY “Mighty Real” – Season 9 

The judges saw something in Derrick Barry that I did not, keeping her until the Final Five. Her All Stars stint was much shorter as she was eliminated first. No shocker here.  Derrick’s showgirl shtick did not fit with the tone and feel of the song. She was “dead queen walking” against powerhouse, and one of my favorite queens, eventual season winner Bob the Drag Queen. When RuPaul takes out his fan for you, you know you are shantaying. 

*PRIYANKA vs. KIARA “I Drove all Night” – Canada’s Drag Race season 1 

Another lip sync with powerhouse performances from both queens. Two Canadian queens performing to a Celine Dion song, on the first season of Canada’s Drag Race – the pressure was on. And both girls delivered and then some. If I was a judge, I would have saved them both. Eventual season winner Priyanka edged out Kiara to advance in the competition.

*YVIE ODDLY vs. BROOKE LYNN HYTES “Sorry not Sorry” – Season 11

After disastrous Snatch Game performances, season stand-outs Yvie and Brooke Lynn found themselves in the bottom two early on. Once the song started, each tore up the main stage. Wig reveals, flips, cartwheels, you name it they did it. Both fought for their spot in the competition and both deservedly stayed. Weeks later they would be the final two standing and would lip sync for the crowd, with Yvie Oddly winning the title. 

*ALYSSA EDWARDS vs. COCO MONTRESE “Cold Hearted Snake” – Season 5

I don’t love Alyssa Edwards as much as the rest of the Drag Race community seems to, even though she appears on this list THREE times. Hmmm maybe I do like her. Lol.  Bitter rivals Alyssa and Coco each wanted to send the other home, with Coco prevailing. As she said, she was “lip syncing every word as if I was Paula Abdul herself.”

*ALYSSA EDWARDS vs. ROXXXY ANDREWS “Whip my Hair” – Season 5

Alyssa’s final appearance on this list was good enough to earn the first ever double save from RuPaul. But for me, this lip sync belongs to Roxxxy Andrews. Roxxxy will never win Miss Congeniality, but gurl is a performer!  She started the trend – ON DRAG RACE DON’T COME FOR ME IN THE COMMENTS SECTION – of the wig reveal. 

The quickest kiss of death in a lip sync for your life is for a wig to fall off or be taken off purposely. “Do not take your wig off…unless you have another wig underneath!”

*SASHA VELOUR vs. SHEA COULEE “I Get so Emotional” – Season 9 Grand Finale 

Speaking of wig reveals, Sasha Velour cemented her place as Drag Race royalty with this performance. Not only did she eliminate front runner Shea Coulee but she advanced to lip sync for the crown (which she won!). Her wig reveal and rose petal shower is nothing short of legendary. 

*RITA BAGA vs. LEMON “You Oughta Know” – Canada’s Drag Race season 1 

Canada’s Drag Race came out swinging in its first season. Lemon and Rita Baga were my two favorite girls throughout the season. But truth be told, Lemon was my ride or die. That being said, she missed the mark with this performance to this Alanis iconic anthem of revenge. Her background in dance and gymnastics worked against her here. Rita Baga blew the roof off the joint, channelling Morrissette. 

*MONET XCHANGE v. TRINITY THE TUCK “Fighter” – All Stars 4 Grand Finale 

A perfect combination of song choice and performance. From both queens. The performances were so stellar both queens won the title and the crown – a drag race first. Favorite moment – Monet revealing her pussycat wig to reveal – wait for it – another pussycat wig. COME THROUGH MONET! 

*PEPPERMINT vs. TRINITY THE TUCK “Stronger” – Season 9 Grand Finale

Saving my personal favorite performance for last, another case of a queen with loads of charm and personality but maybe stumbling in the lewk department. Peppermint  – the lip sync assassin of the season – took out Alexis Michele to advance to the Final Four. With this performance she eliminated Trinity to lip sync for the crown. Trinity’s fate was sealed when Peppermint executed a double reveal: removing her wig and turning her mini skirt into a dress. YASSSSSS PEPPER!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

*Darienne Lake: another shady queen who can lip sync the house down.

*Shangela: any of her All Stars 3 lip syncs.

*Roxxxy Andrews: “One Last Time” – representing for the thick and juicy girls.

*Alyssa Edwards v. Tatiana “Shut Up and Drive” – All Stars 2. 

*Manila Luzon – “MacArthur Park” – Season 3.

Thanks readers, see you Friday night for Season 13. BRING BACK MY GIRLS! 

(This column was edited by Noah Cohen.)

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

by Vincent Pomilio, guest writer

Thanksgiving with the Three Strippers from “Gypsy”

I met my future husband Bob in 1996.  At the time, Bob worked on Wall Street at the Bank of New York.  He lived in Jersey City and I spent most of my days working in my painting studio on West Houston Street in Manhattan.  I usually arrived back at the apartment, after work, before Bob.  I liked to get a jump start on dinner and avoid the rush hour crowds. 

Vincent and Bob, Ocean Grove, NJ 1998

One night Bob arrived home flush with excitement. “You’re not going to believe this.  The Hudson Civic Players are doing “Gypsy.”  They’re holding auditions this weekend.  I’m going to try out for a part.” 

This little theatre group managed to put on great shows time after time.  They did it all on a low budget and drew on the wealth of talent that existed in the NY metropolitan area.  An out of work actor/waiter could have a shot playing “Sweeney Todd”, or the baker from “Into the Woods.”  

“Gypsy” is the musical to end all musicals: music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents.   It doesn’t get any better:  the story of the world’s most famous burlesque stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, her sister Dainty June, and their overbearing, larger-than-life stage mother to beat all stage mothers, Rose. 

Okay, some context here.  Bob and I fit most of those stereotypes about gay men when it comes to loving musicals, opera, cooking, design, old movies, etc.  We’ve seen “All About Eve” dozens of times.  But, who would Bob play if he got a part?  Certainly not one of the chorus boys; Bob’s not the Tulsa type (more about him later).  He would make a good Herbie, but can he sing?  Bob is a hunky, six foot two Irishman from Scranton, Pa. (we met at Ty’s Bar on St. Patrick’s Day.)    He and Joe Biden might be the best things ever to come out of Scranton.  Bob always said he would like Ed Harris to play him in “The Bob Bohan Story.”  We will see how that works out.  

Bob and Vincent, 1998.

Back to the story:

Auditions were held the first weekend after Labor Day, 1998.  Opening night is scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and will run for a week.  Bob returned from the auditions a little disappointed.  

“How did it go?” I asked.   

“Well.  I didn’t get a part but they asked me to be the stage manager.” He accepted the job.

The cast was announced.  A local grade-school teacher named Colleen got the part of Momma Rose.  She could belt out a song like Kate Smith.  The guy cast as Herbie came up to her shoulders, but he was bald and sexy and had a beautiful voice and was perfect for the part.  

Bob would return from rehearsals night after night with stories of disaster.  Colleen is impossible; the chorus boys can’t dance.  However, Herbie was professional and the strippers were terrific.

The strippers:  Mazeppa, Electra, and Tessie Tura.  In their show-stopping number, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”, the strippers give advice to the young Gypsy on what it takes to be successful.    

As opening night got closer, Bob would come home with a more hopeful tone.  “It’s really coming together.”  He was getting excited about the show and asked if we should invite our mothers to come see it and then join us for Thanksgiving.  

“Sure,” I said.  “Let’s do it.”  That meant that I would get stuck with cooking, picking up the moms, and all the rest of it.  I’m in.  

Opening Night.  I pick up our mothers, Rita arriving from Philly and Ann from Scranton.  Port Authority the night before Thanksgiving.  Not fun.  

Off to the theatre.  There was only a three piece band, but boy could they play!  Everybody in the show invited their friends and family, so the auditorium is packed.  The house lights dim, the overture ends, and then Momma Rose takes the stage. I have to say Colleen was a hit.  

The show went on without a hitch and a big standing “O”.   The Hudson Civic Players were jubilant as they took their curtain call.  Bob was beaming and the moms and I were very proud.  We took Ann and Rita to a fashionable dive on Hamilton Park for some food and drinks and then off to Bob’s place to get ready for Thanksgiving.  It was not a huge apartment but great for dinner parties with an eat-in kitchen under a big skylight.  The moms were comfy and we played a little poker before bed.  

Thanksgiving Day.   We had to be out of our minds.  We invited so many people.  Good thing our moms were there to help.  

The Guest List.

I’m digging deep into the memory bank here.  We had invited a stellar group of misfits.  Wonderful, talented misfits.  Joyce Mandel was there.  Joyce was a downtown cabaret performer.  At the time of this story, she was appearing in the East Village in a show called “The Miss Cheese of the Week Review”.  She performed with Holly Woodlawn.  Joyce played Miss Velveeta:  “I’m incredible. I’m even spreadable.” You get the picture.   Joyce has joined us every Thanksgiving since.  

Pawel Thulin came. Pawel is originally from Poland and was a computer genius in the early days of the Internet.  He was also a legendary ladies man whose sexual prowess was well known.  His girlfriend Michele was there.  Poor thing was in a constant state of longing and desire.  

We also invited the young actor who played Tulsa in the show.  Tulsa is one of the chorus boys in the act who winds up stealing Dainty June away from Momma Rose to run off and start a dance act on the order of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  The part is usually played by a Gene Kelly-type guy, but in this production, Tulsa was more Cyd Charisse than Gene Kelly.  

The big surprise guests were the three actresses who played the strippers in “Gypsy.”  Rita thought they were the best part of the show.  She was thrilled when she found out they were coming for Thanksgiving.  

A little background here on Rita.  She often entertained at parties.  She would even make costumes for her act.  She would tell jokes that would get raunchier as the night progressed.  “Did I tell you the one about the mouse fucking the elephant?” she would tease.  “As the mouse was fucking the elephant, the elephant let out a thunderous roar from its trunk.  The mouse said, “What’s the matter babe? Am I hurtin’ ya?””   Her delivery was brilliant.  

Guests have arrived and it’s time to eat.  I was compelled to do the whole Italian Thanksgiving meal.  First, an antipasto, then the Holiday Soup (Rita’s mother’s recipe), then homemade manicotti.  And after all that, an entire traditional turkey dinner.  Joyce read her Thanksgiving poem, and sang an Edith Piaf song.   One of the strippers sang a song, too.  Lots of boisterous conversation and joke telling. 

The two mothers started talking about religion.  These were two good, church- going Catholic women although Rita probably spent time in Purgatory for all those filthy jokes.  Ann asks Rita, “What do you think about priests getting married?”  Without delay Rita replies, “I don’t want some priest serving me Holy Communion after he’s had his hand up his wife’s twat the night before.”  Well, that settles the six hundred year old controversy over celibacy.  There was a hush, followed by deafening laughter.  Rita strikes gold again.  Mazeppa asked, “Who is this woman? Where did she come from?”  

“South Philly”, I answered. “If you ever spent time there, you’d understand.”

The evening slowly wound down.  Bob announced he was going to bed.  The moms had a hot poker game going so many of the guests stayed and played well into the night.  The moms cleaned everyone out.  There wasn’t a penny left in the house.  While leaving, the strippers promised Rita that they wouldn’t steal any of her material.  Joyce got a ride back to the city with Pawel and Michele.  Tulsa did a little tap dance while leaving and I played a couple more rounds of poker with our moms.  

Best Thanksgiving Day.  Ever. 

Portrait of Bob.

One. Two. Three Strikes. You’re Out.

Things with me have always been black and white. I rarely live in the grey. No wavering.  Hot and cold people are at the bottom of my most despised list along with Trump supporters. I know immediately if I like someone or not. People do not grow on me. I have never said “OMG we totally hated each other when we met but now we are best friends.” This is true for friends, and it’s true for those who become more than friends.  

When it comes to romantic interests and friendships; never will the two intertwine. Black and white. Told you. Now, like most gay men some of my friends began as a “trick.”  The very first night we met we got horizontal and in the morning light we realized a romantic relationship was not in the cards. But we obviously liked each other’s company, and a friendship formed from there.

“Friends with benefits” do NOT work for me either. Blurring the lines often leads to hurt feelings on one or both ends. (Mostly mine!)

One specific time I tried blurring those lines did not end well.  (Shocking, I know!) A few years ago on a sunny warm July afternoon in Asbury Park, I met Roger through a very good friend of mine. Immediately there was a connection. Roger was with his boyfriend Juan at the time, so this connection was strictly platonic. We bonded through a variety of shared interests, and his West Coast roots.  Roger had lived in San Francisco, with me being a part of AIDS LIFECYCLE, we had dozens of very good friends in common. As time went on, Roger and I grew very close. From there a core group of six friends was formed.

While Roger and I had some things in common, we were very different. We communicated differently, we treated people differently and we handled stressful situations differently. To say that Roger was passionate would be putting things lightly…and nicely. Sometimes his temper got the better of him. When backed into a corner, he often reacted quickly and with venom. Hey, we’re all different! No judgments! Luckily at this point in time, I was never on the receiving end of these exchanges. Before he moved out of NYC, he told me in an email that I was a “really good person who will make a difference someday,” give or take a few words. 

However, just a week before that a discussion about Prep and Truvada got SO heated between him and a dinner guest that I removed Roger from the dining room and told him to cool off in one of the bedrooms. 

Roger didn’t move that far away and visited NYC often, so we still saw each other. There was an obvious mutual attraction. With him single now, more than once that attraction led to “something more.”  We fell into an odd routine, one that wasn’t very sexual but more PG-13. Lots of hand holding and make out sessions. We also fell into a routine of arguing. These arguments were over pretty minor issues yet they almost always turned into blowouts. Roger went from zero to ten on the flip of a dime. Actually I don’t think he had a zero. Or a seven. 

I didn’t know how to calm him down, and I never really approached a level ten in an argument. I tried to see his point of view but failed. As I mentioned above, we were different, especially in how we handled conflict. Looking back now it seems Roger thrived on conflict, almost reveling in it. I try to avoid conflict at all costs, ignoring issues, burying grievances almost to the point of catastrophe.  I realized, probably too late, this was not a healthy relationship for me, and Roger and I grew apart.  

We did still have a best friend in common and when Roger was temporarily back in NYC for work for a few months, we found ourselves together in random social situations.  Roger asked if we could be friends again assuring me that in the months prior he had changed and wasn’t the same person anymore, “things would be different this time around,” he promised. 

People are flawed. I am flawed. People fuck up. I fuck up. People can change. I can change. I have been given more chances than I deserve.  So yes I did forgive him and yes we fell back into our old patterns, minus the arguments!  

Things were going so well we began planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta over the Christmas holiday. I was tasked with finding our Airbnb. I sent him a few (10) choices, none meeting up to his high standards. My “instructions” became more detailed, “by the blue chairs.” I was told. Sent another group of choices, also none acceptable. (Truth be told, my standards of appropriate vacation housing are probably considerably lower than the average gay!) With me nearing my boiling point, I texted him telling him that this can go two ways.

One – when you ask someone to do something you let them do it and dont complain/find fault etc. or two you find and book our Airbnb.  Two solid great choices! From what I have described about Roger, you can guess this did not go over well.  Tee up a HUGE argument. The final text he sent me read that he decided this trip wasn’t going to work for him and he was cancelling it. No discussion. No trying to decide on a compromise. Nothing.

Relationship over for me. Time to move on. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, you get the idea. I knew at this point I was done, no more chances would be given. It was over. My ‘second chances’ limit for Roger had runneth over. We have not had any contact since his last text. 

I really wasn’t all that angry with Roger. I was hella pissed at myself. People show you who they are immediately. I chose to not see what was right in front of me. Mutual friends insisted Roger and I would be friends again, “you will forgive him like you always do,” they said. I assured them that was not possible and they, like I, should move on.  

This decision was cemented in stone, when the day after Christmas, a friend sent me a text. It was a picture of Roger. In Puerto Vallarta!  SON OF A BITCH! 

1976

GUEST WRITER VINCENT POMILIO

During the hot Bicentennial Summer of 1976 I had been happily living in Philadelphia, my hometown. Philly was a great town to be young and gay. So many bars and clubs – all within walking distance of each other.  I was teaching art in an elementary school in South Philly and working at night as a sous chef at a hot spot restaurant called Lickety Split.  

The restaurant was owned and operated by gay men and women; the head chef was a lesbian of great culinary skills. The wait staff consisted of gorgeous men and women, and one glamorous transsexual, Georgia.  Georgia was very famous in Philly and actually appeared in a couple of major movies: “Mississippi Burning” was one. 

Lickety Split was a party place of the first degree.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll with steak tartare thrown in.  The restaurant was a favorite hangout for many celebs that happened to be in town:  Halston, Lily Tomlin, and John Waters, just to name a few. Philly’s most famous transsexual, Harlow, was a regular.

After the kitchen closed and the doors were locked, the staff and clientele partied all night.  I tried to behave myself, having a boyfriend at the time, Tim, and a teaching job, but sometimes it didn’t work out.  

I thought I would stay in Philly forever.  However, things were about to change.

Vincent, circa 1976.

The spring of 1976 presented some serious challenges and events that would alter the course of my life.  I was an art teacher at a rough South Philly elementary school with a couple hundred students from K-6th grade and no art room.  I would put all my supplies in a shopping cart and go from class to class.  It was a nightmare.  

Two days a week they would send me to a home for emotionally disturbed kids to teach an art lesson.   One day I attempted to teach a lesson in industrial drawing since they were teenagers and I thought something practical would be good for them.  I gave them all compass needles and drafting tools to work with.  The only girl in the class was really tough and would often beat up the boys in the school yard.  The boys began to tease her and a fight broke out and the compass needles became weapons.  Trying to intercept the fight, I got a compass needle through my hand and off to the hospital I went.  A week later I gave the school my resignation notice.  

At the time, I visited New York City often as many of my friends had moved there.  I became infatuated with the city and decided to apply to graduate school there.  I was accepted to NYU grad department in Painting and planned to move in the fall.

During that summer, I made frequent trips to NY and went to the Pride Parade of ‘76.  The parade was much smaller then, but there were still people from all over the country that would come.  It was so important to be out and part of it.  This was going to be my new town. 

The city was in terrible economic straits, but who cared?  I found a great apartment on Jane Street.  It had a fireplace, and a bathroom that was the biggest room in the apartment.  But it was in the Village and the rent was only $210.00 a month.  

Being the big bi-centennial year, the parade took on special relevance.  Afterwards, the crowd headed down to Christopher Street to begin what turned out to be an all-night bacchanal.  West Street was the place to be. At the time, it was okay to hang out on the street with drinks and party into the wee hours of the morning.  It was a sparkling, hot, summer Sunday and the tall ships for the Bicentennial were in the harbor.  

One of the great West Street bars at the time was Keller’s Bar. The bar was an old dock workers hangout with saw dust on the tiled floor.  Outside the bar was a gigantic block party.  The mood was jubilant.  I was hanging out in front with my Philly friends, feeling no pain, and having the time of my life.  

Around 6 o’clock, a huge flatbed truck with live music pulled up in front of the bar.  This gorgeous, blonde, Marilyn Monroe-looking woman gets up and begins to sing.  The sound was mellow and unique, and it cooled down the hot crowd of hundreds of gay men.  No one knew who they were.  We asked around.  Turns out it was Deborah Harry and the band, Blondie.  They were just starting out, but what could be a better audience than a throng of gay men?  She finished her set to huge fanfare and made a memorable exit worthy of the diva she would become.  

After enough time to get another beer, a group of hunky men in costumes came onto the flatbed truck: an Indian chief, a leather man, a construction worker, a cop, and a cowboy.  The crowd went wild. Yes, it was The Village People.  It was about six months before the release of their first hit single and album, but here they were, in the Village, post Pride Parade, in that all so important Bicentennial Summer singing their hearts out for a crowd so pre-programmed to love them.  It was insanity. None of us knew then who they were, but they were amazing.  

As day turned to night, and the live music stopped, I went back into the bar.  This sexy dark haired man caught my eye and approached me.  Before even saying anything, we kissed.  We couldn’t detach ourselves from one another.  After coming up for air, he introduced himself in a beautiful, exotic accent.

“I’m Gus, who are you?”  

Gus was from Greece and came to NYC to become a pharmacist.  He was a champion diver in Greece.  This beautiful Greek Adonis, wearing a white wife-beater tank top, swept me off my feet.  We left the bar together to go to his apartment on the Upper West Side.  Even on the subway going uptown, we couldn’t keep our hands from each other.  Of course with hundreds of post-pride parade revelers, it hardly mattered.  I woke up the next morning with my face in his hairy armpit. After a while, we got out of bed.  Gus asked if I was hungry.  Of course I was hungry.  He made me a feta cheese omelet.  I learned how to say please and thank you in Greek. 

As it turned out, I never saw Gus again, but I knew then that I was going to love living in this city… 

A painting from Vincent’s first exhibit. It was painted after a dream of visiting his grandfathers town in Italy.
The author, hiking in Arcadia National Park, Maine. 1976.

KIDS CHICKEN FINGERS. THREE VODKA SODAS.

Quick recap, in the last column I explained how I am a New Yorker in Delaware for the summer, happily engaged in a monogamous relationship with my new boyfriend – Rehoboth Beach.

It’s been a month and we are still gloriously happy together. Mornings we bike to Rise gym, to get our sweat on – or to sweat out the two or six spiked seltzers consumed during our afternoons at Poodle Beach. Nights we usually chill at home netflixing.

On the rare night out in town (ok, maybe not so rare), I have enjoyed Aqua, The Pines, Arenas, Diegos. Drag Bingo at the Moon was fun and I know the theme was “old lady” but the energy was too low for me. Drag Brunch at 251? Yes! I do love me a drag show. Brunch was OFF THE CHARTS fun. Performances were amaze: “Escapade,” “Part of Your World.” YES! The drinks were flowing, the food was – well, let’s just say I left hungry. Then again, who goes to drag brunch for the food?

As happy as my new BF and I are, it is time to get back out there. Riding out a pandemic, single, in NYC? We need a new word for celibacy.  As the country moves into new phases of opening up, it’s time for Robby to move into phase two. Hooking up! 

A major impediment to this hooking up is cockblock Covid. I am not great at the apps, even though I did set up a Scruff account my first week here. I’m old school. Go to a bar, meet someone, flirt, pick them up, take them home.  No muss no fuss. Covid has all but made that impossible. Stay at your table, no mingling, no socializing with strangers. F U COVID.

I haven’t even been able to use my new pick up line. “My name is Robert, I have the antibodies.” Yes, that is true. Back in February I was pretty sick for a weekend. Felt fluish, in bed for two days, unable to read a book or watch a movie. But it was only two days. The cough did linger for a week. I think I was exposed at a Super Bowl party. When my friend Mike and I are poolside here and I shout, “Don’t worry I have the antibodies,” he loves to counter it with, “The antibodies don’t last forever.” Buzzkill!

Back to the apps, as mentioned, not great on them. It’s hard for me to pull the trigger. I wind up telling people they’re hot and never meeting face-to-face. So, conundrum! Can’t pick up a stranger in a bar, can’t pick them up online. What is Robby to do? I’m youngish, not a troll, I should be hooking up. The other night a housemate knocked on my door asking to borrow lube. I didn’t even have any to give him. And not because I ran out. Because I have no reason to buy any. If that is not the saddest sentence I ever wrote.

Enough is enough. Time to get back on the horse. 

Leaving Poodle beach one afternoon, I decided to bike through town and walk around. Bought a book and decided I was thirsty and hungry. I sat in the Biergarten at Purple Parrot and discovered it’s their happy hour! My favorite hours! I ordered a drink and my bartender asked if I wanted food. I was craving chicken fingers (a Robby fave), so I asked for them and he said they aren’t on the menu but they have them. I then notice another bartender, very cute – well, cute with a mask on – mask cute. 

While the other bartender was taking care of me, “new hot bartender” asked how my day was. He was being nice, personable – a bartender. I, living in my own rom-com, wondered if this was flirting. Throughout my meal,  I needed to get some water so I went up to the bar and he asked me what I was reading. Do I need to go buy lube?

At the end of my meal, with some liquid courage, I felt like I might ask him his name as I asked for my check. “Which table are you at again?” he asked. I point to the table, he brings up my check. “Kid’s chicken fingers, three vodka sodas? Is this you?” 

Yep, that is me. Kid’s chicken fingers. Three vodka sodas. Good title for my memoir.

“Dude. Best check ever,” Hot Bartender laughed and smiled, “Have a good one.”

And with that, dude (me) and my antibodies paid the bill and biked home. No one is hooking up with kid’s chicken fingers. Hey Netflix, you ready for some Robby time tonight?

(this column was edited by Debbie Rech)

REHOBOTH BEACH. MY SUMMER BOYFRIEND.

Driving into Rehoboth Beach on July 15, I was bursting with excitement. There I was arriving in one of my favorite places, a place I have visited a few weekends a year for over 20 years. Actually in 2003, I lived here for the summer. I was teaching high school at the time, and spent my summer lifeguarding, teaching swimming lessons at the Y and bartending at the Renegade. But this time was different. Two months at the beach – a tiny escape from Covids unknown, present and future.

Riding out the Covid lockdown in my Brooklyn apartment from March through June was rough. NYC was a scary place to be. There’s no sugar coating it. I went days, weeks without leaving my apartment. Even as June began and things and bars and restaurants reopened, many friends were not ready to dine out. ‘Social’ life in NYC meant picnics in parks. Blankets, food, drinks, all while socially distancing. Many parks painted large white circles on the grass to show where everyone can sit safely.

Even with Covid still waging war on our country, life for me felt like night and day when I arrived in Rehoboth. Within 30 minutes of getting to the house in Canal Point where I rented a bedroom, I was sitting on Poodle Beach staring out into the glorious Atlantic. Unpacking could wait! Later that first day, I biked out to US1 and joined RISE gym, a massive two story complex that is unlike any gym I have ever been. That first night ended with dinner at Jam. Beach! Gym! Outdoor dining with the mandatory mask requirement! I am going to like it here. Strike that, love it.

The next day, as I was biking home from Poodle Beach, thinking how lucky I am to be here, an SUV driving down the street swerved into my lane. I instinctively pressed my brakes hard, too hard, causing me to flip over the handlebars. Would you believe the SUV driver didn’t even stop to see if I was ok?! Thankfully a few other drivers did and apart from some bad abrasions, bruises and a sprained right wrist, I wasn’t seriously hurt. How is that for a welcome to Rehoboth Beach! 

After taking the night to ice my wrist and get some rest, I woke up Friday ready for my first weekend! All of my friends here are still working from home full time, so once Friday evening comes around, game on! We spent the night sampling flavored crushes on the patio at Aqua Bar and Grill. I already see many of those in my future. Watermelon is my favorite… this week.

Saturday and Sunday afternoon were spent at a friend’s pool catching up with DC and Philly friends I haven’t seen in far too long. It was also spent playing rounds of pool beer Pong! Or, with us gays, pool White Claw Pong. I am happy to report that my teammate Noah and I are undefeated, and humble brag, I was throwing left handed because of the sprained wrist.

Sunday night my friends surprised me by taking me to see Pamela Stanley at The Pines. I have ended many a weekend here singing and dancing along with Pamela Stanley. I was excited to see her at her new venue. I did wonder if I would have fun this time around with the new guidelines restricting seating at your table and only your table. My fears were alleviated in the first few minutes as the sold out crowd cheered when Pamela entered the room. As the show continued and the drinks flowed my adoration for Pamela Stanley might have exceeded normal levels as I repeatedly shouted, “We love you Pam Stan.” My friends have jokingly told me Pam Stan has banned me from all future shows. They are joking, right?

The next day laying out hungover on Poodle Beach, eating a sandwich from Coho’s (my new favorite sandwich shop tied with Lori’s, my first favorite), I reflected on my first days here. It’s hard to put into words how grateful I feel to be healthy and financially stable enough to be in such a beautiful place spending time with friends and making new “friends.” I already have two beach crushes and two gym crushes, one more spot to be filled. Robert’s rule – one can only have five crushes. I am not a crush whore!  

Maybe I will just make Rehoboth my boyfriend this summer. Every day I wake up and decide where I am going to bike, what new restaurant or bar to try out. One night after a few White Claws, if you hear “I love you Rehoboth Beach” you know it’s Robby from Brooklyn 🙂 

PS PAM STAN, I STILL LOVE YOU, TOO.

(this column was originally published in the August 14, 2020 edition of LETTERS FROM CAMP REHOBOTH)

“THE THREE RITAS”

GUEST WRITER – VINCENT POMILIO

It’s June 2020, Gay Pride Month. While it’s beautiful outside, the Pandemic looms large. Still. Along with social unrest. 

I have lately been asked to write descriptions of what I have been working on during the lockdown.  I am a visual artist/painter and have used this time to create a new body of work for a couple of upcoming exhibitions.  I am often asked to write about my art and the process of making it but I have other stories to tell.   While cleaning out my studio, I unearthed many photos and paintings from years past, so a trip or two down memory lane was inevitable.  Having read a few coming out stories recently, I have begun to recall my own experiences of coming out.  Was there an official time and place?  Was it some eureka moment of self-revelation or was it a series of moments and events leading up to self-awareness, acceptance and need to tell those who are important in my life?

When was it really? There were moments spent with family that gave me some clues to my own feelings of otherness.  Moments that even as a young boy gave me reason to think I was different and life would be challenging from here on in.

Vincent, 2nd grade.

I think I was about ten years old.  I’m in my Aunt Rita’s kitchen in South Philly.  The three Ritas were there.  My father and two of his brothers married women named Rita. One brother married a Marie.  She was there too.  All of them larger than life Italian-American matriarchs.  All of them knockouts.  There was Bob’s Rita (my mother), John’s Rita, and Stanley’s Rita.  Whenever any of us talked of them we used these names: Bob’s Rita, John’s Rita and Stanley’s Rita.  Uncle Stan’s Rita was also referred to as Blonde Rita.  

Blonde Rita. 1997.

Blonde Rita was a dead ringer for the English actress Julie Christie.  John’s Rita was the baker and looked like Rosalind Russell.  Aunt Marie was a red-haired beauty who resembled Hedy Lamar.  Aunt Marie’s father was the head of the Communist Party in Philadelphia but no one ever talked about that.  Bob’s Rita, my mom, was a cross between Liz Taylor and Anna Magnani, the fabled Italian movie star.  Her personality, however, was more like Phyllis Diller.  My mother, Bob’s Rita, was affectionately referred to as Crazy Rita.  She did have bouts with mental illness; I will save those stories for another time.  At ten, I was very aware of all of these actresses and how fascinating these aunts were. 

So here is the setting:  Back to Aunt Rita’s (John’s Rita’s) kitchen.  Italian women are no strangers to unwanted facial hair.  John’s Rita would have a pot of wax melting on the stove along with espresso and a pizza or two in the oven.  The three Ritas and Marie would take turns applying the hot wax to their unwanted mustaches and sideburns and pull off the unwanted hair amidst screams and laughter.  This was a regular social event that John’s Rita always hosted.  The men would all be in the finished basement watching a game, any game.  If it wasn’t baseball, football or basketball, they would watch golf. These were all really good men, and good looking too, but boring to me compared with the women.  During the hair removal tortures there would be gossip about everything.  Recipes would be exchanged, even stories of who was having an affair.  “Now Vincent, close your ears”, they would say, as the jokes and the stories got dirtier and racier as the night progressed.  Long story short (hard for me to do), is that I knew these women. Loved them and their stories and never wanted to be in the basement watching the game.  This all made me a little different than my other male cousins, although a couple on my mother’s side turned out to be gay.  

Coming out happens later of course but not all at once, at least for me.  While in college, I was outed.  I would frequent a gay bar/restaurant in Reading, Pa. called the Green Door.  A school mate happened to be a waitress there on the night I was there.  I was shocked and embarrassed but the cat was out of the bag.  By Monday morning half the campus of Kutztown State University knew I was at the gay bar.  Friends dropped off.  My college roommate was asked to leave our house we shared by his parents.  Other gay guys on campus started coming on to me.  That was the good part.  I denied nothing and started that long journey to self-acceptance.  

That summer of 1972, between junior and senior year of college, I decided to go to Cape May, NJ to find a summer job.  Having learned to cook from my grandmother and the three Ritas, I got a job as a cook in a restaurant.  That was really the summer of my coming out.  I met a local guy just out of the Navy who I had a brief affair with but became my buddy and gay mentor.  One night he drove us to the bars in Philly.  Wow.  The floodgates opened.  Hundreds of guys under one roof drinking, dancing, and cruising.  I passed these places a million times during the daytime and never knew what was going on inside.   I went from self- loathing to loving my new gay life and the people I met along the way.  

Self portrait. 1972.

During that summer in Cape May I had a cousin who was a lifeguard there. I was very fond of him.  He was older and very hunky.  He looked like a young Tom Selleck.  I would avoid his lifeguard post so he wouldn’t see who I was hanging with but one day I went for a walk with a few of my new gay friends and there he was, on a different lifeguard stand.  He knew the guys I was with were gay.  Soon enough my gayness was leaked to a few cousins, then aunts and uncles.  It was a little weird but I wasn’t shunned.  I knew they knew and took comfort in the fact that it really didn’t matter to them.  That summer I had my first serious love affair with a fellow artist, a bit older, and he lived on the waterfront on the bay of Cape May.  He worked at a candy factory there.  I would ride my bike to his place every night.  Life was wonderful and I was so happy and in love.  In love with Bill, my new life, and this new brotherhood that I felt such a kinship with.  

Several months later I was visiting my parents’ house for my birthday in the Philadelphia suburbs.  It was a Saturday morning and as was a custom in our house, my father would drive to the Jewish Deli in nearby West Philly and buy bagels and lox.  Although Italian, we ate like Jews on Saturday morning.   While my father was gone, my mother looked me square in the eye and said, “I have something to ask you”.  I gulped down my coffee and said, “What?”   She stammered a bit but said, “Are you a little AC/DC?”  Where the hell did she get this expression?  I said, “What do you mean, Mom, am I gay?”  “Yes”, she replied.  With great feelings of self-assuredness I said, enthusiastically, “Yes.”  She pretended to be surprised for a total of three seconds and the next out of her mouth was “Well, at least now I know I won’t have to share you with any other women.”  We laughed, and hugged, and cried a little. As she added, “You can’t tell your father, he can’t handle it”.  “Okay”, I replied.    She then wanted to know who else in the family was gay.   “How about cousin Bobby?”  “Yes, Mom”.  “Cousin Brian?”  “Yes. Mom.”   This went on for a while until the bagels arrived and you could cut the uneasy energy floating around in the room with a knife.   Bagels, lox and coming out to Mom.   By the following summer Mom, Bob’s Rita, would like to go dancing with us at the gay bars in Atlantic City.  We had a summer place in nearby Brigantine.  She was a hit on the dance floor.  “What is everyone sniffing in those little bottles?” she would ask.  She began to make her own gay friends and invite them to have dinner with us at our summer place.  My father was so naïve or wanted to be.  This went on for more years than I care to remember and is a story in itself, but maybe later. Mom blossomed and was more popular with the boys than I.  

Mom and I. Niagra Falls. 1995.

There are so many events that encompass Coming Out.   I have so many of these moments that I could recall while sharing just a few.   One of the Rita’s is still alive and now 90 years old, still gorgeous and still a blonde.

Family portrait at my Dad’s 70th birthday party.

PRIDE IN THE TIME OF CORONA!

GUEST WRITER, CHAUNCEY DANDRIDGE

One of the things heavily lamented by members of the LGBTQ community currently, is that this will be the first time in fifty years that there will actually be no organized Pride March conjured up to light up The Big Apple in rainbow colors. Considering that last year, New York City celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of The Stonewall Riots as well as played gracious host to World Pride festivities, the void left in the wake of coronavirus will be wildly ominous and felt around the world. Pride season in Gotham City promises to be peculiar, painfully anticlimactic and disorienting. It will be a stark contrast to joyous, countless celebrations that stretched throughout every corner and borough of the city that never sleeps. Luckily, some of the positively resounding traits of the LGBTQ community are defiance, ingenuity and resilience. There have been too many successes, too much progress, too much climbing and resisting and reconciliation to stop. Like the members of a church say, from the priest to the parishioner, you don’t have to be in church to experience God, because God is everywhere. This year, we will be reassured that Pride doesn’t need a parade to exist. Pride is everywhere, in everyone and every day. 

Nostalgia is usually reserved as an emotion one feels about moments in their life that happened many years ago. In 2020, we will be forced to feel nostalgic about all the magic and madness that occurred simply one year ago. The entire month of June is usually chock full of events from rallies to fundraisers to circuit parties to outdoor concerts and everything in-between. It is a magical time for tourism, as people from around the world plan to spend their Pride in the city where Pride began and most revelers make sure their itinerary includes a journey to Mecca: The Stonewall Inn. I have the luxury and honor of being one of the resident DJs and event producers at the bar, and when I was hired back in 2013, I had no idea the sheer magnitude of excitement and glory that would reverberate within those walls and outside the front door when the anniversary of the riots grew closer in 2019. 

Fast forward to March of this year, and New York City nightlife has been completely upended, the proverbial rug quickly and carelessly ripped out from under us. The static and chaos of uncertainty has filled the blank space where the music once played and has left dance floors barren and barstools vacant. Remembering their inner divinity, the drag queens, the DJs, the musicians, the dancers, the artists, the activists and the audiences have not stopped creating, fighting, surviving or watching. Instead of the arts and nightlife community going underground, we have simply gone digital! 

Immediately after the initial shutdown, drag shows and talk shows and dj sets popped up everywhere and filled the vacuum. Fans adjusted and assimilated to this new way of experiencing queer art and performance as technophobes learned their way around a Zoom dance party and learned how to Venmo someone a tip. It has been quite remarkable to witness and participate in as well. I have found that I and many fellow artists are finding newer ways to express ourselves while discovering talents we were aware of but had never fostered before. Activists are leading by example, volunteering at food drives and soup kitchens, using the captive audiences glued to their phones to valiantly preach their political messages and somehow, despite the obvious physical and social distance, make stronger connections.

This ‘pause’, as they have dubbed it, has been obviously life changing, revealing much more about ourselves and others than we would have ever expected. It has been accompanied with great loss and death, financial uncertainty, hardship and resounding fear and anxiety, but perhaps it was necessary to stand still and regroup, and reinvent and reclaim our own Pride. We needed to reassess our value and values. We needed to relearn respect. We needed to remember our history and prepare for our future. 

We still do not have any understanding of how and when and if the nightlife community will rebound after this crisis and threat is over. Will our favorite watering holes survive? Will dance floor capacities be cut in half? Will plexiglass stand between you and your bartender? Will your handshakes be rationed out? Will your hugs be looser or tighter? Will you have to find a dark corner in a dive bar to remove your masks and experience your first kiss? So, so many unknowns. This community has won many battles, survived many attacks, climbed many mountains and still continues to morph and master its techniques. And we do it in one of the greatest classrooms in the world, New York City. We have a current administration that is certainly not in our best interest, and as the letters in our acronym multiply so do our enemies. In solidarity, please remember that in November on Election Day. And this June, remember that, like God, Pride is everywhere, in everyone and every day.

Chauncey Dandridge is a DJ, event producer, multidisciplinary artist, author and activist in NYC. Currently enjoying a residency at The Stonewall Inn, Chauncey helps produce the annual Dance Parade and Urban Bear NYC Weekend as well as a weekly radio show and monthly variety show “Freak Out” which showcases local queer talent. He has lent his time and talents to countless fundraisers over the years. Follow him on Instagram @houseofdandridge and @djchaunceyd

THE BIGGEST LOSER!

I am super competitive. I play to win. All. The. Time. It doesn’t matter whether the prize is a lollipop or a thousand dollars. I am in it to win it.

Competition reality shows like “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” “Top Chef,” and “America’s Next Top Model” were made for people like me. Someone goes home at the end of every episode. Thanks for playing. Bye. Sorry not sorry, those are the rules. 

I grew up on game shows like “The Price is Right,” “Card Sharks,” and “Press Your Luck.”  If I was a contestant in the “Miss USA” (ok Mr. USA) pageant and I didnt make the Top 15 there would be HELL. TO. PAY!

Don’t get the wrong idea. Well, get the wrong idea but come peek inside my head for a quick visit.

I am not some crazed hypersensitive sore loser or bad winner. I realize not everyone can win all the time. There is something about the adrenaline during a competition that motivates me. The fastest 5k times I have posted have come during TRIathlons. The run is the final leg of this three part race – AFTER swimming and biking. If you’re hearing the Rocky soundtrack or Chariots of Fire, welcome to my world.

At game night in my apartment, prizes were given to the winners of each game. Think “Cards Against Humanity” and “Taboo.” Teams switched up for each game so essentially one could win 3 prizes in a night. On the flip side, someone could walk away empty-handed. Which has happened. My roommate at the time was adamant we should give Mr. Empty-handed Friend a prize. I asked him if he understood the rules of winning a prize.

Are you feeling sad for Mr. Empty-handed? Calm down. And, before you take out your pitchforks, know that everyone gets a “door prize” for attending. PLUS, we are talking about prizes from the DOLLAR TREE.

BUT, why play the game if not to win?

I’ve never understood those who say, “Let’s just play for fun and not keep score.” SAY WHAT? EXCUSE ME?

Which brings me to this story. 

Last week I attended a Zoom Social Happy Hour. It was a trivia night sponsored by “Gays Against Guns” (GAG) – a group I am proud to be a part of with kind, socially conscious, great people trying to make a difference. As with the climate today, GAG moved their social events to Zoom. An hour of fun, laughs, and prizes. This last trivia event was Mother’s Day themed. Attendees were encouraged to dress as a woman who inspired them.  I threw together a lewk paying homage to a stripper from Tampa named “Bubbles.”  Apparently Bubbles missed the mark because Bubbles was asked if her most inspiring woman was Gilda Radner! A pregame Zoom session with friends beforehand might not have been the best idea. Mistake #1. 

The host of the evening, the lovely and witty Bryce, explained the rules and directions, specifically how to use the app Kahoot. The question would appear on the screen, then the next screen would be the four multiple choice answers. Using another device, Bryce suggested a mobile phone would be easiest, you would choose the answer. Simple, right? Since Bubbles was chatting with friends on her phone, she decided to open another window on her laptop. Mistake #2. 

So, the games begin – and Bubbles’ internal competitive hourglass is now flipped over and counting down to her win… because she wins. Usually.

The first question appears – seeing as the theme was Mother’s Day, all the questions were women centric. Internal thought – does that give the lesbians on the Zoom an unfair advantage, who can really say, ok I say yes!  We’ll put a pin in that for next Mother’s Day. LOL. Bubbles answers correctly AND – importantly – quickly, so we are off to a good start. The players in the top 5 appear on screen, Bubbles sees her name, smiles, and in her head belts out the EYE OF THE TIGER and ROAR!  This would be the first and only time this occurred. 

As the game progressed, the questions got harder AND the spiked seltzers kept flowing. More questions were answered incorrectly than correctly. Sensing this playing out, Bubbles pivoted and began to answer as quickly as she could. New mission! YES! Rack up more points for the quicker response!

BUT, insert deflating helium balloon visual here – the quicker response mission was never realized because Bubbles kept hitting the wrong color button. Ooops. Fucking Spiked Seltzers. Why are you so delicious and easy to drink! We call this Mistake #3

So, now well into this “fun” social evening, we are talking some hard ass questions here, like Nobel Prize winners, Margaret Sanger… not a Jennifer Lawrence, Kelly Clarkson, “Pitch Perfect,” question in the bunch! Be still my (losing) beating heart!

Bryce announced the winner – my friend Antonius dressed as Janet Reno! He was also a contender for “best costume” – some people always winning. I used to be one of them!

Then there is another announcement – “and the prize for LAST PLACE goes to” – wait for it – “Bubbles!” SHUT THE FUCK UP! Are you kidding me? 

Not only did I come in LAST PLACE but it was broadcasted loudly for THE entire Zoom world to hear! Ok maybe just the 25 people playing GAG Trivia heard but still! The scarlet “L” was now burned on my wig forever.

To add serious insult to injury, a few people sensing they were losing started intentionally answering wrong to win the last place prize! Yes… Bubbles unintentionally did worse than people actively competing to come in last. Remember besides being a Tampa stripper Bubbles was also an English teacher!  

Wait a second, did you say prize? I do like prizes. And if I am going to lose, I might as well lose spectacularly. To quote another one of my favorite shows tonight I was in fact THE BIGGEST LOSER!

When all was said and done, it was an epic fun night with people I like and miss. It provided a much needed escape from everything Covid. So even though I came in last place, I had a blast. Besides, I adopted a new life mantra, “Winning isn’t everything!” It’s so true. But if anyone asks about Bubbles my answer is, “I don’t know her.”

Wanna see Bubbles redeem herself at the next GAG social hour? Hint: she probably won’t. But, come to the next event anyway!! – BINGO! Saturday June 13th. Sign up on the “Gays Against Guns NY” Facebook page!

What a fun night! Bubbles is in the top right living her biggest loser life!

“The Biggest Loser” was edited by Debbie Rech.

I’M COMING OUT!

“I’m coming out, I want the world to know, Got to let it show…” Diana Ross belted out these lyrics in 1980, but when I was a college student and just coming to terms with my sexuality and just realizing that I was gay, I didn’t want the world to know and I definitely did not try to let it show.

My name is Robert and I’m gay. Today I can proudly, comfortably say those words. But 25 years ago things were very different – in the world and in my tiny corner of the world. “Queer Eye,” “Rupaul’s Drag Race” were years away from debuting on television. For a short, Catholic Italian boy growing up in Queens New York, the gay mecca of Chelsea and 8th avenue in Manhattan might as well have been 3,000 miles away.

June 2017. Honoring Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow flag, holding one of the first flags he handmade.

Before I expand on how and when I came out, it needs to be said that I had a very happy childhood. I loved both my Catholic high school and Jesuit college. While I remember once or twice being called “gay” in the hallways, most of, if not all my memories of my teen and young adult years are good ones. That being said, I knew that something was “different,” but I didn’t quite understand what it was and what it meant, let alone how to act on it.

In the early 90s, gay role models were few and far between. Obviously they were there. I just didn’t know how to find them or even where to look for them. There was no one I thought I could confide in, so I just pushed those feelings aside, and tucked away – anywhere but out. I joined the swim team, the Drama Club, volunteered, and went on school trips. Dated a girl, maybe two. Okay, probably just the one.

Many gay people will tell you the different ways they “dealt” with their secret. Some banged every girl they could. Some drank too much, ate too much, smoked too much. Some embraced it and came out as teenagers. I threw myself into every club and sport I could participate in. It also helped that I really enjoyed being a part of all these clubs and didn’t read my participation as a distraction or avoidance of a truth. In high school I won “most school spirit” in the Senior Superlatives. In college I was President of the Senior Class. My housemates would joke I joined all these clubs just for the t-shirts. To this day I still have dozens of event t-shirts from college buried in a closet somewhere. Better than me being the one still buried in the closet!

My “secret” was still there. I buried it and never let it see the light of day, never gave it air to breathe. In college, I definitely started becoming aware of how hot I thought my female friends’ boyfriends were, definitely had a crush on a few of them but that is as far as it went – crushes from afar… not much has changed in 20 years as I still have a few crushes not yet acted upon.

After graduation I moved to Hoboken with three friends from college, and got a job in event planning in Times Square. Now 23, I was working in Manhattan and exposed to people from different cultures, different backgrounds, different lifestyles. When you went to a suburban Jesuit college in Northeast PA, 95% of the students looked just like you. White, middle-class, from NY, NJ or PA. Everyone wore pajamas with a Scranton sweatshirt to 8am classes. Everyone went to Kegs and Eggs on Saturday mornings. It was a safe and sheltered environment. It was the perfect college for me at this time in my life. I don’t know if I would have thrived at a huge state school with 20,000 people and a vibrant gay community. 

In NYC I began living my best life. I worked at a company where most of the men, if not all of them, were gay.  I listened to them tell me stories of their lives, their weekends, their partners, all the time feeling inside that I was just like them. I am certain they knew it too.  They were extremely patient, letting me know that it was ok to be gay but never outright asking or pressuring me. 

Halloween Parade. 2018

Living in Hoboken – with three straight males – and working in an environment of all gay men was quite the culture shock. I felt like 2 different people. The secret weighed inside me more and more, getting heavier day by day. 

This all came to a head one drunken night out with my cousins – twins Monica and Rachel* – a year older than me. Earlier in the evening we watched an episode of “Party of Five” where Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character went on a date with a guy who came out to her and they formed a friendship. Watching the show with them I just knew that tonight was the night. So, after a lot of liquid courage, at 2 am on the floor of their laundry room (I was there because it was cold and I had just vomited, or was about to vomit, the specific details are hazy.), I said the three words. Out Loud. To Them.

When we all got to waking up that day, all of us were hungover and silent. It was awkward, but not for the reason you might think. The two of them silently wondered if I remembered what I had dropped on them. And I, remembering, silently wondered why they were not saying anything.  After breakfast sandwiches and gatorade they gently asked me if I remembered the details of the night.  I told them I remembered everything and they told me they were honored that I confided in them and they were proud of me. Then they went right to the “Do you have a boyfriend” question. Lol.

Now, the secret was out. There was no going back for me. I continued to tell people. I called one of my best friends from college Phoebe*, told her I needed her 911 now. We met at a diner halfway between my house and hers. I told her, there were tears – all mine. And like the twins said hours earlier Phoebe* said she loved and supported me and only wanted me to be happy.

My coming out wasn’t one episode. It was a miniseries. I decided to tell friends one at a time over a span of a few weeks – straight males friends were told last. Again, all were extremely supportive and assured me nothing had changed, and that they had known for a long time. Everyone pretty much knew so my reveal wasn’t as big and grand as I had imagined it was going to be!

NYC Gay Pride. June 2011

Coming out only intensified the double life I was living. Gay in Manhattan. Not gay in Hoboken. Since I was newly out and testing the waters, being gay to me meant going to a gay bar, alone, meeting someone, hooking up and then never seeing or talking to him again. Healthy, said no one ever. I know. I needed gay friends. I just wasn’t having any luck finding them. When I found a gay person I thought could be a friend, I held on tight, even if we didn’t have much in common, even if I didn’t love spending time with them, but they were all I had at the moment. For me any gay friends were better than no gay friends.

It took some time but I did eventually find my “gay group,” and my life became a whole lot more gay. Instead of a shore house in Manasquan, NJ, I took a summer share in Fire Island Pines. I moved from Hoboken to the Upper East Side. While before if it was 90% hanging out with college friends 10% hanging out with gay friends, the numbers had now switched. I was exploring this new identity in every facet of my life.

A year later – after I first came out to my cousins and after essentially coming out to everyone in my life, it was time to tell my parents. They came over often to take my roommates and I out to lunch or dinner. I had told the girls that tonight was the night. They had felt it was beyond time but supported my delay. I wasn’t comfortable lying to my parents anymore. They didn’t really know me anymore, didn’t know my friends and I couldn’t include them in my life like I always had before. On the way to dinner, my mom remarked, “I wonder why the girls aren’t coming with us tonight, they are so sweet and nice. And they drink wine with me.” 

Once I dropped the bomb at dinner, things went downhill from there. My mom cried visibly and loudly at the table – so much so that our waiter came over to make sure we were all ok. Through her tears she expressed that, “We love you no matter what, but I just think that your life is going to be harder, and that breaks my heart.”

Remember this was 2000. Not 2020. After trying to calm her down, my dad felt it was best that I head home and we would talk soon. It did take some time, as things do, but once I included them in my life, introduced them to friends, boyfriends, Mom’s tears stopped. She even joined the local PFLAG chapter! A few years later tipsy at a family wedding I made sure to assuage her fears by letting her know that “being gay is the best thing EVER!” 

Univision Float. NYC Pride. June 2017

My coming out was disjointed, long, messy but it was MINE.  My heart broke for Simon in the 2018 rom-com “Love, Simon,” as he screamed to his blackmailer how he took that away from him, outing him in an email to his whole high school. Gay icon Barry Manilow recently “officially” came out on the cover of People magazine stating he has been out his whole life, everyone who knew him knew he was gay and he didn’t feel the need to officially come out to the public. Same for Anderson Cooper.  Sean Hayes regrets not coming out when “Will and Grace” was on the air, the first time. The list of out celebrities continues to grow – Ellen Page, Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson, Gus Kenworthy and their careers for the most part thrived instead of floundered. 

Celebrity or not coming out should be on your terms and when you are ready. No one deserves to be outed or forced to come out. Coming out is still important. Coming out still matters. For me, it felt like a huge weight was lifted. I was essentially lighter. No more secrets, no more shame, no more fear. Being openly gay and proud takes balls and takes guts. Be proud of how far you’ve come and all the great things ahead for you. Congrats and welcome to the team. #rainbowpride

World Pride. June 2020.