During my first pride march, I wore a “breeder” T-shirt…as in I literally painted the word “breeder” on a fucking white undershirt and donned that fucking thing while accompanying my bisexual girlfriend down 5th Avenue on the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. I walked down 5th Avenue, proud of my latest artistic creation, as no one gave the fucking thing a second glance, staring instead at my girlfriends’ naked tits…I mean, they were lovely tits after all. She said she felt empowered, which makes me wonder what the fuck I felt, having to label my fragile hetero-ness for some fucking reason. Now don’t get me wrong, that fucking T-shirt was a work of fucking art, but Jesus, what a douchebag I was. Forgive me, LBGTQ community.
I think a bit of perspective might be in order, you see. I grew up in Nebraska. As much as it pains me to admit it, I voted for fucking Ronald Reagan and the first Shrub before coming to my senses – although truth be told, in comparison to the current state of the GOP, those idiotic votes against-the-self strike me as mere misdemeanors in retrospect. Anyway, what I’m getting at is I was a conservative little shit from Omaha, somehow bamboozled by fake patriotism, moralizing hypocrisy, and god knows what… probably my Belfast-born old man’s penchant for the American marching band.
During my time as an ex-conservative, I never thought of myself as a Republican, and I certainly didn’t espouse their homophobia, misogyny, or racist rhetoric. I don’t know when the indoctrination started or even took hold, that I should vote for “America” – as if voting Democrat was anti-American because let’s face it, that was what was viewed as their strength in the heartland where I grew up. Fundamentalists are experts at making you feel ashamed of any idea that would challenge America’s superior capitalism, assumed morality, and military strength.
While I don’t remember the exact origins of my Republican voting spree, I remember the day the wall finally cracked. When I graduated from NYU, I thought of joining the Peace Corps. That probably would have been cool and life-changing, but I wasn’t ready to leave Manhattan, not having made any mark, not having creatively pissed on my tree as it were. I answered an ad for caseworker from the City of New York, counseling people with AIDS. It was the late 1980’s and we still didn’t know all the transmission avenues at the time. The creative heart of New York was being decimated. I thought that was as close as I’d come to the Peace Corps while still living in NYC. I guess my interest in the gig proves that I still had a big heart, even if my voting record suggested I was a little prick.
One of my clients, let’s call him “Bill”, lived on 9th Avenue. Very close to where I live now — only this was the pre-gentrification, crack epidemic 9th Avenue. He lived in a slumlord’s dream: a disaster of an apartment with roaches that raced from the furniture as you sat down. Like all my clients in the pre-cocktail early era, Bill was dying, and his lover was near death as well. His lover was a ballet dancer whose beautiful body was being ravaged by wasting syndrome and horrific Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions. For some reason, both men took a liking to me, so much so that they decided to make it their mission to challenge my conservative leanings.
Flag burning was the big fake patriotism issue of the day, the kneeling black athlete of its time. Bill quietly said to me, “Frank, do you want to live in a country where burning the flag is a crime?” I must admit I was immediately taken aback and had no answer ready, how unlike me really. In the pregnant silence, he continued, “I’ve been to those countries, several of them, and don’t get me wrong, the people are lovely, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
It would take me decades before I really traveled, but only a couple of years to start reading alternate points of view and begin realizing that my common decency, my inability to give a fuck who you slept with or what color your skin happened to be, or how you defined or expressed your gender made me a Democrat, not a Republican. When I transferred out of the AIDS division into foster care, believing somehow that ripping children away from parents would be less depressing than people dying (it wasn’t) I saw how little conservatism cared for real children, especially poor black and brown and white ones living on the brink, as opposed to their supposed support for the unborn.
I began to honestly hate my former politics, beginning to despise all those closeted “Christian” zealots decrying the sins of homosexuality and gender fluidity, the Chuck Norrises’ who clung to their marriages as proof of their heterosexuality. I believed they saw marriage equality as a threat to their carefully constructed self-lies, their slapdash facial hair attempting to masculinize their soft features, because you know, God forbid they looked remotely like a woman. That’s how fragile their masculinity was.
I’m guessing I wore the damn breeder shirt because I was still clinging to the last vestiges of conservatism, worrying people might think I was gay, again, God forbid. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to realize that God forbids a lot of my favorite shit, which is one of the many reasons I never believed in that sanctimonious, judgmental wanker. Why would anyone believe in someone or something whose sole purpose is to make us feel bad about ourselves? I can do that shit all by my self.
I keep the damn shirt to this day. Why? Maybe because it reminds me of my artistic dabbling, perhaps as a token of my former self, knowing very well that our selves can never really be former. The shirt represents something inside me, something that understands the adolescent attraction to mock righteousness, an adolescence I see on display throughout the Republican party and their platform. And oh how I despise it, knowing it as well as I do.
Also published on Medium.