Gordon Fleming – Spirituality and Religion

“We’re not dying. We’re living.”

Emmanuel MCC Church started up about the same time PFLAG did in the early ‘80s. I started going to those services. As far as I was concerned, the people I knew from the bar were the same people that were going to church, so it was just bar minus booze. [Laughs.] I didn’t find much there. It kind of was hit and miss, since that wasn’t my religion that I was brought up with. I did a couple of years with MCC. Then I was gone for—I don’t know—like three years—until I was [HIV] positive. Then I started going back for about the first nine months. I was freaking out, bouncing off the walls, very scared.

[My own religious community has been] supportive of me. [They’ve asked me not to name them when I do public speaking,] because of the [religious] laws, and the rules that there’s no process for change within the religion. They already have their own little set thing for homosexuality. You’re supposed to try and change. If you can’t change, then you’re supposed to live your life in celibacy to set a shining example for the rest of the world. Sorry, I have an issue with that. [Laughs.] It’s a good thought. I don’t think love is wrong, period. But the community here has always been supportive of me. They’re running up against . . . the church wall [i.e., the hierarchy].

I went to them when I was getting married. I got married to my partner in 2006. We’d been together since 2001. I went to them and told them. I said, “I don’t have to be here. I know that nothing’s really going to happen. You’re not going to condone the marriage, but I’m telling you this is what’s happening.” Basically, what they can do is, if they think I’m such a bad person, they can pull my voting rights. [Laughs.] That’s all that happens—which means I don’t get to vote for the representative who represents the community back when they do a national convention. [But they didn’t do that.] They don’t know how to deal with me.

Away in the Woods, I did all of their retreats—other than I missed the first one. Away in the Woods was an outgrowth of a bunch of different things. County health started a support group way, way back when, called The Gathering. It was a once-a-month potluck. If I’m doing generalizations, I’d say it’s like Native American based-guided meditations, flute music, calming experience. The gal who was doing the support group was the worker from county health. She put together the first Away in the Woods in ’92. That was a three-day weekend thing. That was the only one I missed. The next year, as she was planning that, some upheaval happened to county health. Away in the Woods got anchored in with the Inland Northwest AIDS Coalition—INAC. We were still meeting at county health, but the [INAC] board took that over and started doing the Away in the Woods retreats.

The retreat was very heavily Native American [influenced]. When it first started there was drumming and doing a medicine wheel—a variety of stuff. It clicked really well with me, as far as what I was looking for. The retreat was [at] the first place I went camping when I was a Boy Scout: N-Sid-Sen. I go waaay back for that little chunk of land. It’s a very powerful place. The Native Americans had the name for it. It’s “Point of Inspiration.” There’s been a lot of interesting things that happen out there. I could talk for a long time about just the variety of different things that have happened, but it’s a wonderful place. It’s very calming for me. I always feel real close to dad and any of the other family members that are on the other side, which is most of them now, unfortunately.

One of the things I got from dad, that I brought back from Anchorage . . . He was dealing with shingles for a couple of years before he died. He had this caftan made, so that he could wear it without anything on underneath, so that it was barely touching anything, so that he could actually do something. Well, it’s a wild orange paisley print. I love orange. It was like, “Okay, well, I’m taking this.” That comes out at the retreat. It’s always a conversation starter for people going, “What in the holy hell is that?” [Laughs.] It’s wonderful. It’s easy to wear. I always feel close to dad with that. It’s a fun thing for out there.

I’ve also been involved with the other retreat, Strength for the Journey, since they started here in Spokane in ’93. That’s put on by the Methodist Church. It’s very church oriented. When it first started in the old days, basically it was like planning your party. It was organizing your death. I attended last year, and the year before. They do a survey afterwards. I said, “There’s a whole little tribe of us 20-plus-years people. We’re not dying. We’re living. We’re staying here.” My suggestion is what the community actually needs is stuff about how to get off of the assistance programs and get back into regular mainstream society. You can’t get off the programs without losing your drugs. I mean, the state would have to change that, but as far as I’m concerned, they don’t need to be planning people’s parties anymore. They haven’t done that for years, but I don’t think that they’re necessarily helping either. I wasn’t brought up Catholic, Christian-based. I was always having to ask for translations, or what the hell something meant, because I didn’t have the background.


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