Oh, Mary

Me and Pride, Part One: I Have Confidence

June 17, 2019
Patrick McGuire

This week, Action Mary Managing Partner Patrick McGuire presents a two-part recounting of his relationship with Pride.

Once upon a time, and a very good time it was.  

Living in the past is not, and never has been, a successful way to live. But taking a quick look at the past, just a glance back in time can often lift the soul. Life is a continuum. The person I am now is a result of the boy and man I was.

June is Pride month. So I looked back and found my own path to pride. Here are some pictures of a revolution. Names have been changed to save me from lawyers.

Climb Every Mountain

The Sound of Music changed my childhood singing aspirations forever. Mary Poppins had become Maria von Trapp and she was now a singing nun just like Debbie Reynolds.

Even my father belted out “Climb Every Mountain” while shopping for groceries at the A&P. It was more than my gay siblings and I could take. We hid in the produce aisle. Maria’s voice was everywhere that year. My musical gay brother and I practiced The Sound of Music stealthily in our basement. 

My father, a tipsy Irishman of the family quartet variety, sang in the church choir. He was our inspiration. My brother and I were natural devotees of singing nuns, initiated in Catholic grade school by the inimitable Sister Yvonne la Blanc, who in the early years taught us scales on the piano, and later, inducted us into grade school musicals. Ultimately, we graduated to TV sitcoms and vinyl record sing-alongs. Our neighbors decided that there was no fighting it. So they joined.

One of our best grade school musical co-stars and childhood friends—also gay—sang Karen Carpenter on his brother’s guitar amplifier for the whole neighborhood to hear while we sang backup. We longed to be close to you.

We took organ lessons mastering Disney musicals and the Cole Porter fake book (You’re the Top!). We sang mock opera. But once we realized the social liability of such flagrantly gay behavior, it was back into the closet until the better part of identity prevailed.

Today, of course, children of all persuasions are increasingly supported by a far more evolved parenting community. But in those days, singing along with Maria von Trapp was a recipe for shame and ridicule. But I never forgot that fledgling nun.

As anthems go, “Climb Every Mountain” achieves greater levels of human inspiration than perhaps any other musical composition. What could be more proactively gay than, “follow every rainbow, till you find your dream?” And who could ever out-perform the great Peggy Wood as mother superior? 

Just a few years after The Sound of Music was released to an adoring public, riots broke out in New York City at the Stonewall Inn. I was barely a teenager.

Gay Vegetarian Collective

Life entering Berkeley started when I answered a classified ad at the campus housing office. Gay Vegetarian Collective radiated from the bulletin board like glitter. I was about to officially come out. 

You had to audition to get into the Collective. It was 1976, disco and punk had overpowered Patchouli and flannel, and Berkeley was stuck in a radical time warp. I decided to play up my Italian afro and downplay my Calvin Klein sheets. In short, I went hippie gay not metro gay. No modern furniture. No culinary flair (which never mattered since most reasonable foods in The Collective were banned).

To my delight, I was chosen from a raft of contenders, and my four-year boot camp in sexual liberation began. Our house became a gathering place for loud mouth feminists and gays, and an incubator for art and design thanks to a few of us who were committed to chasing trends (and using deodorant). 

We took turns shopping at the local co-op and making vegan meals for each other, long before it was fashionable. We studied our asses off, hoping to graduate from one of America’s great universities. 

Naturally, I was more interested in picking up the latest trick. I signed up for yoga, modern dance, master’s swim team, and weight training, to meet young gay coeds just like me. Three part-time jobs didn’t deter me from finding time for dating.

Entertaining a new boyfriend in the basement of a childcare facility I’d been hired to clean turned to debauchery late one evening. I was dismissed by the Childcare Director the next day. She described a large crowd outside the facility peering through a downstairs window. They were watching Chip and I mop the floors, drunk and undressed, tossing beer cans as we went, and performing various forms of gymnastics.

I was living a dream. Sexual liberation and the right to be left alone thrived in a decade that celebrated newfound civil rights for gay men. None of us had the capacity or imagination to forecast the coming storm.

Read Part Two here.