I love what I do. Each and every job-career-hobby, although maybe not all at the same time! I am blessed to have been in the gallery business for over 25 years as well as, had the opportunity to paint and sell my own work. And yes, music is my heart – composing, recording and performing, even if it’s only in the studio or in my home. And then there is the writing. Never, ever, did I dream about being an author or realized that I had so much to say. And finally, design work. Over forty years as an interior designer sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time, but what a joy to be given the opportunity to create beauty.
For the last several months, I’ve worked on a project that has allowed me to use a combination of talent and experience to reimagine and reinvent. It’s a dream job thanks to a childhood friend, who not only believes in what I can do but stands back and lets me work my magic. However, it is not a solo job and it takes a crew to make my ideas come to life. I am surrounded by talented people who have done an excellent job even if at times, it was not on my schedule. Still, the finished project is something that all involved can feel proud.
I realize that you are probably sensing a “but” and yes, there was one thing that was an irritant which finally came to a conclusion.
One day early on, I arrived at the project and thought I heard something that was said by one of the men overseeing the work. As I entered the room, I asked him to repeat what he had just said. Sheepishly, he confessed that he and the guys had a game going – the first one to see me would yell to the other “Your boyfriend’s here.” Since I am the only one in the group who is gay (as far as I know) it felt like a slam – that they were making fun of me.
Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a prude and have a wicked sense of humor, but this did not strike me as being the least bit funny. I regret that I did not let that be known at the time because he continued to taunt me through that project and the next. Sometimes others, not full-time to the project, would have their name called as I arrived. I never saw any of those respond or laugh and now think that they saw it for what it was, degrading. In fact, towards the end of the most recent project, a young man in college, needing a summer job, began to help. He turned out to be more respectful of me than anyone else and yet, his name would also be yelled out when I would come in, telling him that his boyfriend was here. He did not respond or take part in the hazing and seemed embarrassed by it all.
Finally, the project was winding down and the “ringleader” and the young college man were the only ones on site when I stopped by. The instigator gave me a bag saying it was a present and told me to open it as he aimed his phone toward me to record my reaction. Cautious, I looked into the bag and found a pink penis water bottle. It takes a lot to shock me but I was stunned and immediately closed the bag. I was humiliated, embarrassed and angry that it was being recorded. The young man, watching on, was speechless and looked mortified. The one who had presented the gift asked “Don’t you like it?” And I replied with a smart-ass comment and then walked out, got into my car, and drove away. I felt sick to my stomach and immediately called my friend who had brought us all together. He was furious and upset for me and vowed to take care of it.
That night, I tried to take my mind off of what had happened but it still hurt. What I had finally realized was that all through my life, I would react to the sexual abuse, bullying and being made fun of, by trying to laugh it off. I would act as if it didn’t bother me. Then as I got older, I would have a snarky comeback, which is exactly how I reacted that day. I now wonder if by deflecting with humor if I had invited the familiarity that was now being shown to me.
I no longer felt like a 65-year-old adult. Instead,I felt like the scarred teenage boy who at one time had been taunted and made to feel like an outcast. I reverted back to the time when I thought there was something wrong with me. I now know that I should have spoken up when everything started and if not then, at least when I was given the “gift” and made to feel small and powerless. I should have yelled and shouted with the vocabulary that would make hair stand on end. But still, I’m proud that I did the next best thing. I walked away. I distanced myself from the hateful, juvenile behavior and swore that I would never let myself be put in that situation again.
J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.
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