Gordon Fleming – Discrimination

“I didn’t stop until I had my knife up to my chest.”

I was raised out in the Valley—went to school at Central Valley system. It was horrible growing up in the Valley. It was horrible. I was sexually active at 11, which is not one of my high points in my life, but that’s the truth. There would’ve been some serious shit had the little old lady who was running the library gone back into the sixth grade section to see what we were doing down on the floor. [Laughs.] We didn’t actually have sex, but there was some really heavy petting going on for grade school. So, I started really early. I outed myself while I was still in grade school.

Junior high and high school was just hell. It was just nuts. I was popular before I came out, then I was on the other end of the spectrum. I just got physically beat on. Shoved into lockers, thrown down stairs, punched in the arm, locked in lockers. P. E. was horrible. It was not good.

The school systems weren’t doing anything to help at that point. I talked to the counselors in junior high and what he told me was to fight back. [Laughs.] That was his official response: “Punch them.” It was like, “Really? Okay. Well, that’s not terribly helpful.” I’m tall, but I don’t have much muscle mass. I’ve never been real strong. I’ve always been [a] skinny, lanky little kid. So fighting to me didn’t seem really plausible. I think junior high was worse than high school. There was one kid I was having a relationship with from fifth grade until we graduated high school. He was big enough that he could basically take care of himself. When anybody said anything to him, he’d just punch them or laid them out. That was pretty much the end of that.

[At] high school reunions, a lot of the people are just like this. [Holds up hands to mimic blinders.] The kids who did the majority of the physical abuse, the torture, they don’t talk to me. One actually had the balls to come up and say “Hello” once, but none of those kids come up and say anything. One way or the other. There’s a few people who talk to me because I’m HIV positive, and [they’re] dealing with their family members or whatever. The reverse is having somebody come up and talking to me really loud about AIDS,  how I’m doing, and “I’m so glad you’re feeling alright.” And “The drugs are working for you.” [Whispers] “And we have somebody in our family who’s also HIV positive.” I was like, “Huh. At least they’re talking.”

I’m one of these people who has been involved with “Glee” since it started on Fox. When they had the [episode about] gay bashing and the attempted suicide, [that] was something I had written about on Facebook.[1] I don’t do diary on Facebook. I like making entries like every month or so, so I don’t have a big diatribe out there. But that was probably my longest entry. Not one person from my school years said anything about my suicide attempt and the “Glee” episode that I wrote about. Not one word! I talked about being pushed to the point to where my first—and luckily only—suicide attempt was when I was 12. That was the summer between sixth grade and junior high. I had just been tormented for a year in grade school. I cleaned my room, I wrote up a will, I left it where they could find it. I decided I was going to stab myself in the heart with my Boy Scout knife. That’s what I was planning. I didn’t stop until I had my knife up to my chest. That’s when I finally stopped. It was just like, “Well. Now, is there anything I can think of that would give me enough reason to keep going on with this shit?” I decided I was going to see how horribly Boy Scout’s summer camp went, let junior high school start, and see how that went. But that was at age 12. I didn’t tell anybody. I don’t even think I told my best friend at that point, which was the guy that I was having sex with. I didn’t tell anybody until I was an adult.

I’d told mom probably about two years before she’d died, after she’d been involved with PFLAG for quite some time. I said, “I don’t know how to really frame this: there’s something I need to tell you that happened eons ago. But, you know, just to give you some perspective on where I was at that point.” I told her, and there’s absolute silence. Then we talked about it quite a bit after that. And she said, “Well, why didn’t you ever come to me or somebody in the family?” I was like, “Well, we didn’t really . . .” I mean, we talked as a family at dinnertime, during television, and that sort of stuff. We didn’t get below the superficial stuff. So, it wasn’t about how you were feeling and what was actually going on. Nothing on a deep level. As a family, we were typical, fucked up, American family. [Laughs.] We didn’t communicate very well. I don’t know if I didn’t think that they could help, but I didn’t have any reference points as far as, being able to bring this up at dinner. [Laughs.]  “Mom, my friend that keeps coming over here and spending the night. We keep screwing.” [My family] knew that I was getting beat on at school. They didn’t know why.

***

I was terrified about going to jail. I figured anyone with half a sense of gay-dar could clock me walking in. Nothing happened while I was in the jail system. I was in for 60 days, when I did my time and changed my life around. But I was terrified in jail. I saw one guy get pantsed in jail, which made my eyes get really big. [They] yanked his pants down around his ankles, while people were restraining his hands. Then they were going to pretend to have anal sex with him. They grabbed some butter that they had saved and, you know . . . By that point everybody’s roaring and laughing. They finally let him go.

***

[After I tested positive for HIV,] I started doing massage therapy. Acupuncture came really quickly after that. I’m so glad my first negative experience with acupuncture did not turn me off from the process. God, when was that?  That was ’88. Washington state’s one of the few states, at least back then, that certified acupuncturists. You could actually get a list of people and go that way. The first guy I went to see–this little guy on Argonne. He comes in the room pushing a stainless steel cart full of stuff. Comes in and basically asks me why I’m here. I told him I was HIV positive and I was trying to find alternative therapies to start working on it. He turned around and started pushing his cart out. [Laughs.] That was the end of that appointment. He said he couldn’t help me and left. That was my first experience with an acupuncturist here in town.

***

[Discrimination against people who are HIV positive is] kind of like racism and anti-gay stuff here in Spokane. If [people are] going to do something, they don’t have enough balls to do it right to your face. You’ll walk by and someone will yell it out as they’ve passed. But they won’t get right in your face to do it.

I was involved with the World AIDS Day—I was on the planning committee for that here—I’d put flyers up in the shop [where I work] and around the area for what was going on. Well, they’d keep getting ripped down. They were getting “decorated,” [i.e., defaced] turned back in to H. R. I saw a couple of them that came back. I was pissed. I had just started the front office work. That week was the first time I’d had an anxiety attack at work. That was on one of the days when I went out and saw that it had been ripped down again. So, I stuck it back up there again. Then, red ink in a fat pen I wrote: “Before you rip this down, you might want to consider that six other families have already lost people from AIDS, here at work.” Well, then the question, “Well, who are those people?” I was like, “This is exactly why I can’t tell you! But there is people here that have come to me, because they can’t talk to anyone else, because of this bullshit here!”

 

[1]Season 3, Episode 14, “On My Way,” first aired in 2012.

***

Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman, 16 March 2013.