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I have no agenda. I have no real purpose. Another writer said, “I should be able to find the words to find the things I want to say.” I find myself echoing her sentiment. I have no words to describe my feelings right now. This has touched far too close to home.

For those who know me now, it’s hard to believe, but I grew up in the clubs.

When I moved to Massachusetts for college, I had no friends. It was a fresh start. A break. A return to civilization, turning my back on my small town in the center of Maine. My roommates were a psychopath and a cocaine dealer. I was more isolated than I had ever been in my life. Thanks to the internet, my first local friend was an older gentleman named Mark. Our friendship revolved around chocolate ice cream and Gilmore Girls. It was late one evening when he said, “We’re going to the bar.” To my 19-year-old self, I was nervous. I was young. I was insecure. My knowledge of such things was nil.

The bouncer knew I was under age. He simply said, “Don’t drink.” To this day, I remember the rugby shirt he wore. On the other side of the door was something incredible. There were at least a hundred men, talking, embracing, flirting, laughing, and simply existing. They were like me, hefty, hairy, and bit rough around the edges. I was stared at, examined, and measured from afar. I blushed a lot that night, but at no moment did I feel like I didn’t belong. I discovered a community that night. Within the world of gays, I belong to a subset known as the bears. They’re no better, no worse, just different. Like me.

I spent my weekends with Mark going to the bear bar and meeting people. I don’t recall a single name, but I do remember feeling like I had a home. There were adventures. There was dating. There was heartbreak. The weekends gave me a sense of belonging. Without it, I have no idea what may have happened in that tiny bedroom where I hid myself away.

I joined the GSA in college and at some point somebody mentioned going to the club. I had a car. In front of a dorm, with two straight girls and a lesbian, we were introduced and we started an adventure. Though time and space have separated us, two of those adventures have yet to conclude. One I moved to New York in the pursuit of dreams and the other I stood at her wedding celebrating the love between two women.

Axis. A club just off the side of Fenway opened its doors for the “gays.” But it wasn’t just the gays that took up residency. Each person walked through the doors like they belonged. We had the punkers, the tweekers, the drunks, the dancers, the bystanders, the elite, the yet-to-be-lovers, the straight, the gay, the transgender, the no gender, the fluid gender and more. They weren’t the bears I was used to, but there was something amazing about the diversity strewn across the dance floor. For three hours on a Monday night, we moved with the music and let it work through us. We partied like rock stars and each night, in a car speeding away from Boston, we feel a bit of tranquility. It recharged our beaten self-esteem and mended broken spirits.

Friends. Frans. Axis. Vapor. Jaques. 119. The Alley. Ramrod. The Underground. Blackstone’s. Spectrum. Malebox.

I spent five years of my life asking the question, “Where are we going tonight?” Even as the world around me changed and started to accept these differences we celebrate, these bastions became no less significant. As thousands pour into the streets for a Pride Parade, I think, for a few hours each night, we celebrated the only way we knew how. Somewhere between 9 and 1, I celebrated my youth. Between Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, and Madonna remixes, I came out of the closet to the only person who mattered: myself.

There is a bit of this in every book I write. I’m learning to come out again. Those in my inner circle, I have no difficulty using the terms, “gay,” “bear,” or “partner.” In front of my students every day I try to be the role model that makes even the bigots question their beliefs. However, it is coming out as a writer that has been most difficult, coming out to people who I will never interact with, nor speak, nor shake their hands. Instead of these exchanges I leave a little bit of myself in every book I write, hoping some young person out there will pick it up and think, “He’s speaking to me.”

I have no agenda. I have no real purpose. I still do not have the words to explain the sudden weight tugging at my heart. I want to be an angry gay man who is furious that a bastion for those needing to find themselves has been desecrated. Tomorrow I will be angry, for now, I mourn. Hug the ones you love and accept them whatever their differences.