07/31/2014 09:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Being Gay Meant Sadness, Illness, and Death' (VIDEO)


I'm From Driftwood is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit archive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer stories. New stories are posted on the site every Wednesday.

What was your first impression of the gay community? For Tom Wicker it was illness, death, and filth. Tom recalls an advertisement he saw when he was just 5 years old:

[I]t was of a stormy, volcanic landscape with lightning in the background and an enormous tombstone, which, I later learned, had the word "AIDS" written on it. I think for the best part of the first 18 years of my life, that was what "gay" was. It was sadness and illness and death.

As a teenager Tom had an experience that furthered his negative perception of the gay community: He encountered a man masturbating at a urinal:

[H]e reached over and grabbed my arm and then went to move me into one of the cubicles. And it was as if the spell had been broken, and actually then I was terrified. And I pulled away, and I went to leave.

These experiences led to depression and anxiety and a deep fear of contracting HIV, resulting in breakdowns, hospital visits, and obsessive screenings and testings for sexually transmitted infections. Tom was encouraged by friends and family to seek treatment in the form of therapy and medication, which ultimately allowed Tom to find what he had been lacking all along: gay friends and community:

Rather than see men as the things I wanted to have sex with and the things that would kill me, [I needed to] actually go out and see them as people. ... In the end ... the combination of the therapy and just seeing other gay men as people to talk to, to have a laugh with, and to be a part of community with made all the difference.


For more stories, visit I'm From Driftwood, the LGBTQ Story Archive.