THE BLOG

Puberty in the Time of AIDS and Madonna

03/07/2013 12:28 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Editor's note: The petition referenced in the following blog has been removed from the Internet.

This week I came across an item on HuffPost Gay Voices, a petition by Lady Gaga fans against Madonna presenting a GLAAD award to Anderson Cooper, because, as they put it, she was the cause of so many gay men dying of AIDS in the '80s and '90s. I scratched my head a bit and didn't comment on the post, despite the fact that I generally defend anything and all things Madonna-related and would have normally left a comment. (Full disclosure: I have been a Madonna fan since I was 13 years old. Actually, like many gay men of my generation, I was a little obsessed with her.)

Instead, I was transported back to an earlier time. The year was 1983. I was a scared seventh grader starting puberty -- a time when most adolescents are confused -- and I was attending an all-Catholic school in ultra-conservative and religious San Antonio, Texas. My father was a deacon in the church, and my mother made the sign of the cross more times daily than a Real Housewife of New Jersey. Oh, and I was realizing that I'm gay, or at least that I was not like other boys.

It was a scary time for me, not only because I was realizing that I was gay in unfriendly territory, but because I had started seeing news reports of a disease that was killing gay men. The disease was called GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency. Perfect, I thought. I am gay, and I am going to die alone of a horrible disease. Irrational thoughts like these really can mess up a person for life. Believe me.

So I went through all the usual thoughts: Maybe it's a phase! Maybe I can pray it away! Maybe I will have to become a priest! Yes, that crossed my mind. And in the years to come, even suicide crossed my mind. Somehow I got through it, but it wasn't easy.

The funny thing is that around the same time, when there was nobody to look up to as a gay role model, or even any real straight allies, I found someone I could relate to: a beautiful, irreverent and talented artist who sang of dancing and taking holidays, of leaving all your troubles behind, and so I did, as silly as it sounds. Madonna was my generation's beacon of hope. She befriended gays and preached tolerance when it was not the popular thing to do. She rallied to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS when even the president of the United States would not utter the word "AIDS" publicly.

She never had to literally tell me that it was OK that I was "born this way," because I just got it by what she showed me. I must admit that I am also a fan of Lady Gaga, and I'm not one to live in the past (except for every time I go to a Madonna concert; I haven't missed a tour in 20 years), but I felt compelled to write this post because I felt that it had to be said. I felt that this was a Julia Sugarbaker moment for me, and Marjorie is all those "little monsters" who are just too young to know.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-488-7386 for the Trevor Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.