(Photo: Can you find me in this picture? It took me almost 20 years.)
Last week, I was at a loss for words. Try as I might to blog, nothing came. Nothing could. I was preoccupied with an unfolding miracle–one that continues to reveal its happy countenance, its joyous contours. Just where does one begin to describe the feeling of finding long-lost family?
In short, I have returned to the alumni fold of Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York (GLYNY). GLYNY was the first peer-run, gay-youth support group in America. Founded in the 1970s, until the late 1990s GLYNY helped thousands of young gays and lesbians discover themselves–and their self-worth–through weekly meetings, Saturdays from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., at New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center at 208 W. 13th Street. For most of its decades-long existence, GLYNY never made recourse to adult or “official” guidance. “GLYNYites”, on their own, created a safe haven for gay teens to let go of all artifice and be themselves, vulnerable, and without fear.
We were something.
I attended GLYNY from 1986 through 1990 (ages 16 through 20), most of that time as a Steering Committee member. I forged many close friendships at the group, not the least of which was my budding friendship with myself and my acceptance of my sexuality. We were from all parts of the NYC metropolitan area, all races, creeds, and colors, all incomes. All levels of sanity and snap-happy fierceness. And, as I explained last week, except for a very few of us (unfortunately not including me), as we aged out of the group we scattered and lost touch. We forgot what we had, forgot what we meant to each other, and never expected to see each other again.
Two weeks ago, one intrepid former GLYNYite, Andrew Martin (“Miss Andrew” back in the day), decided to find out how many GLYNYites could be found, almost 20 years later. he started a reunion website and set about to do web searches for us all. He hedged his bets on whether anyone would still care.
In the past two weeks, four dozen GLYNYites and me along with them have flocked to that site. At first, we didn’t know what to expect of each other, as adults in our late 30s and early 40s. What relevancy would be left for us? Why, at this point, would we want to connect and what would we have to say?
But almost immediately, we remembered. We remembered how many of us we kept from suicide–and from sickness, by demonstrating, periodically over the course of four years, how to put very many condoms on very many bananas. We remembered how many times the press came to cover our meetings. We remembered finding homes for runaways, reporting abusive parents, holding each other until the world stopped hurting.
We remembered the dangerous truth-or-dare we played at James Ming’s party in Flushing (makes the sound of a flushing toilet), Queens.
We remembered standing on the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 13th Street after meetings at the old phone booths (long gone now), deciding which local diner we wanted to take over for the evening (“table for 50 please–yes the party room will be fine”).
We remembered that, for a very brief but intense moment, we were all we had. And that, perhaps, we knew each other better than anyone else who knew us, family included.
And as we reconnected, suddenly and unexpectedly, it happened. More than 40 people, spontaneously, remembered ourselves. Like a piece of us had slipped away, slowly, so slowly, that we never even realized it was gone, until we got the email invitation from Andrew. And we came to the website, and we spoke for a day, and we felt unmistakably whole again.
Some in our lives have likened this to nothing more than a high school reunion without the high school. Not by a longshot. No teen attends high school by choice. Yet by choice, we came together against high odds and, for some of us, at great risk, and we were inseparable.
Perhaps the greatest surprise in all of this is the reaction we’re all experiencing. We’re more than 40 people now all pushing or past 40, an age at which you might expect us to be a bit stodgier and circumspect. Yet every doctor and lawyer and waiter and writer among us has been brought to the verge of 17 again by finding each other again. We’ve all sat in our places of work, ignored our patients/clients/customers, participated in the website, and cried.
At first we privately thought the tears of joy that kept coming up for each of us were a singular affliction. They haven’t been. Many metaphors have flown among us to try and capture this feeling to communicate it to others, our friends and loved ones of today who cannot help but be outsiders in this experience. Simply, it’s like riding a miracle, one that keeps rolling along and getting better with every alum who finds the reunion website.
My experience has been life changing. I’ve found my former best friend again, Peter Morley, a fundamental part of my youth who was gone to me for ten years. I’ve found the man instrumental in my coming out to my mother and joining GLYNY in the first place, Jonathan Leff, whom I hadn’t known in 17 years. And old dear friends whose close amity I had forgotten, Tom and Andrew and Barbara and Jennifer and Mark. And, of course, the phone has not stopped ringing in two weeks.
And in the middle of all of this, I’m going home. For work, anyway. I’ll be running a focus group in New York later this week. I mentioned this on the website. I accidentally instigated a mass reunion dinner. Well color my face red. I thought maybe one or two former compadres would want to step out for a drink. I never expected half of my adolescence to want to go out to eat with me. I cannot explain how touched I am in that.
And I cannot believe that, for the first time in four years, I have begun to reconsider my decision to leave New York. Of course, I deeply love Chicago. But I wonder whether I would have left NYC if these wonderful, (on the same level as) familial connections had still been available to me in 2003. I am not saying I intend to return to Gotham, and even if I did, it wouldn’t be for a couple of years anyway. I am Devyn‘s partner, and Devyn–and his under-construction new condo–both live here. But New York is Devyn’s other center of the universe…
All I can say is I have been so utterly moved by the experience of the past two weeks that all bets are off for me now. My world-view has changed–expanded really–and I’m thrilled at the way that’s happened. And the only explanation that seems to fit for the multiplicity of ways things have come together for so many former friends to become whole again is, quite simply, something higher than we are (and, boy, is there a 1980s club-scene joke in there somewhere).
As for that above photo? For about 10 years I’ve seen that photo on the Internet, posted by a former GLYNY alum. I knew that photo would go down in the history of the gay-youth movement. I was happy that my old friends would be noted among the captions. I was deeply saddened that I would not. This week, it was my former friends, back again, who quite adamantly pointed me out, second from the left, right behind the banner. I felt left out for so long. Yet as it turned out, I never, ever was. And I owe that discovery to my brothers and sisters from GLYNY.
God is in this. I’m sure of it. As sure as I am that, unlike before, at certain miraculous times, indeed, you can go home again.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.