1985. UCLA. Sophomore year. I fell into the swell of anti-apartheid protests that engulfed the campus that year and began to live the life of the “activist student.” My mother made a suggestion.
“You should start writing a journal.”
I agreed with her, but it took another year before I began in earnest. She knew I was a writer before I did. She was often right about those sorts of things.
The journal started as a chronicle of my burgeoning career as a student protester. I was studying the life and ways of Mahatma Gandhi at the time, and it showed. Yikes! I cringe at some of my early entries. I sound like a bloody Gandhian puppet. My voice, my real voice, was deeply buried, yet to be discovered.
1987 should have been the journal’s first watershed year, but it was a test I failed miserably. I barely wrote in it at all. I still look back at that period with much regret and sadness, because I would love to now be able to reread an accurate chronicle of what I truly thought and felt at that time. I even remember erasing one of the few honest entries I had made. I wrote them in pencil in those days, so tenuous I was, so afraid to speak too loudly, even as I shouted slogan after slogan at protest after protest. My journal had (and has) no audience apart from myself, though I fancied it an open book for all to see, again, mimicking the Gandhian model. A facade, and a sad one, which kept me from having conversations with myself, conversations I desperately needed to have. I suspect my whole pretense about the open journal was to keep me from having those conversations. I remember taking an intro to psychology course at that time. I failed because I never went to class.
In any case, the cracks to my facade began to appear by the end of ’87. First was the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, an event woefully underreported at the time and now a date observed internationally as Coming Out Day because of this event’s importance to queer history. I knew a couple of folks at UCLA who went. Their stories intrigued me, even if I was not able or willing to admit it. They gave me hope. Then something else happened. In late November, I had my first true sexual experience, and it was with a man. Until that point, I had never had sex of any kind with a man or a woman — as closeted as I was with myself, it never felt right to me to date women so I never did. I wrote about this great episode obliquely in the journal, scribbling some gibberish about getting it out of my system and expressing relief that I could finally “move on.” Ha. Move on to the next man, no doubt.
Flash forward to April 1988. I finally admitted to myself, in my journal, that I’m a gay man. That broke the dam and the flood has continued, in one way or another, ever since. So in the end the journal became a tool to help me come to terms with, and accept and embrace, my sexuality. I came out to my family by writing them a letter entitled “What James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, and Gregory Russell have in common.” I made a special trip to the family house — I had moved out by that point — and gave the letter to my mother and sister, who were home at the time. My mother put down the letter after reading the title and stood to give me a hug. My sister joined her. It was all good with them and later with my father and three older brothers, too. I exhaled.
It’s impossible to write without honesty. It’s impossible, I continue to learn, to write well without the courage to say what needs to be said. As I continue to write fiction, largely about things black and gay, I continue to find new challenges for myself to say what I really want to say, to say it clearly, to say it well. the gar spot is just another evolution of this process. Forces in my life have often advised me to start blogging. (“Fool! Start a blog!” my sister often said.) I resisted because I didn’t think I’d have enough to say to maintain a proper blog. Who knows, maybe I don’t. I leave that for you and the fates to decide. But at least now, finally, I’m willing to give it a go.