“Friends are God’s apology for family” has more meaning, deeper meaning for Gay men than for most people. And despite what some may insist, I can’t help but believe that the word has a very different meaning for Gay people than for anyone else. For us, the nuance of meaning when we refer to someone as “my friend” often means we’re covering a deeper relationship. That person might also be my lover, but circumstances demand a lighter deception. Churches have long forbidden “special friends” for the same reason.
For many of us our “family of choice” is our circle of friends, or as Harry Hay called them, our “circle of loving companions.” Friends are those people who we want to be around for those special occasions in our lives, the celebrations as well as the small, intimate moments. The ones we’ve all gossiped with, confided in, consoled and for too many of us, buried. For a generation of Gay men, “friends” is inextricably connected, now, to death and dying. For some of us, every friend we had at some point in our lives is now gone.
There are so many kinds of friends: best friends, work friends, workout buddies, fuck buddies, close friends, casual friends, friends of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends, new friends, false friends and lost friends…
For many years I was on a search to find my “best friend” from high school, the one with whom I lost touch when I came out. Concurrent with that, I always wanted to find, and confess to, my girlfriend from that same period. Oddly, I was in love with both of them, and never had sex with or made love to either of them. I looked and looked for Mike, and finally he found me! Thirty years missing between us, and the phone rings, I pick up, a voice asks for me, and I know in an instant that it’s Mike. The first thing out of his mouth was an apology for how he had treated me, the mean things he had said to me, thirty years before. Nothing ever felt so good…and I demurred and we moved on, into a renewed friendship that felt like we had never stopped. He died last year of cancer. An old friend…one who I would have died for at one point in my life…gone now. A hole in my own life that I am reminded of every day.
I needed to find Carol because when I broke up with her, I didn’t have much in the way of self awareness. I just knew I wasn’t ever going to want to have sex, make love…and I loved her. So I had to leave. She even asked me, point blank at one point in the conversation, “Are you gay?” This was 1969! And, oddly, I think she even said “gay.” At least that’s how I remember it. I denied it, of course. And that’s why I needed to find her. I needed to confess…let her know she was right, not crazy. I was gay. The old “It’s not you, it’s me.” It’s not you…I’m gay. But I didn’t have the guts. Or the knowledge, or probably even the word, at that time, to own up. When I first found her (because of Mike’s help, I might add) she was understandably wary (and married). She said she’d have to tell her husband I had contacted her. I said fine. I told her the reason I had looked for her for thirty years…and I think she got to finally have a release in some way. She wasn’t crazy. In fact she was as aware as anyone could have hoped to be at that time. I wanted…what? Not to apologize. I wasn’t sorry I was gay. I was sorry I didn’t have the courage to tell her the truth even when she asked for it. We’re both close, again, now. We speak almost daily, on line or by phone. I will attend her daughter’s wedding this fall. The richness of having this old friend in my life…all the more poignant now with Mike gone…is beyond my ability to convey. I love this woman, and I know she loves me.
These are the things you go through with, for, friends. This is what “friends” means. These are the people with whom it is necessary to go through all the universe of feelings and to find your way back home; there’s no place like friends.
White Crane got its beginnings in friendships. Bob Barzan circulated the first edition of the Journal to a few of his friends who had been gathering in his home for months in talking circles. In many ways, while we are attempting to grow it and ensure its survival, it remains a labor of love among friends, passed from hand to hand, from Bob to Toby to Bo to Dan over the past eighteen years. To this day no one is paid for the work involved. If I could offer one more definition of the term, “friends” are the people who do the work whether you can pay them for it or not.
We have sociologist Peter Nardi in this issue. Sociologists like to categorize and sort…and Dr. Nardi is no exception. Dr. Nardi offers a chart of friendships, but I wonder just how quantifiable, much less chartable “friends” can be beyond a certain point? How many of us have circles of friends that began in bed? How can that not be different from the friends our heterosexual brethren make? Not better, but different. How can a friend with whom you have made love, not be a different thing? How does that get reflected adequately in a flow chart?
“Friends” has a special meaning, of course, for me, now. When Toby told me he was ready to step down as publisher, I knew that if I was going to carry this project forward and grow it into what I knew it could be I would need help. I was going to need a friend. I met Dan in Harry Hay’s workshops, as anyone who has been reading this magazine for any length of time would remember, and I had a hunch. He had come to visit, in his capacity of doing the Reconciliation work with the United Methodist Church, and without trying to seem too anxious, I suggested that maybe he might find working on White Crane of some interest. I couldn’t pay him anything, of course, but given his background and his interests, I thought maybe…and I was just this side of begging him, because, man, I knew I was going to need someone.
And of course, as anyone who has been reading this journal in the past three years has noticed, that someone was probably one of the best, if not the best decision I ever made with respect to this magazine and White Crane as an idea. That’s usually what I tell people when I talk about Dan. That and the fact that the friendship that grew out of this shared project has become almost like having a second husband. It is like a marriage in a way. It is surely one of the profound and primary relationships of my life, and, I would hazard to venture, Dan’s too. And it isn’t very often you get to hold something tangible in your hands that is a symbol, an emblem of an idea, in this case, “friends,” but that’s what this magazine in your hands is…a tangible result of a friendship. Work and schedules conspired to make the usual “Editor’s Chat” un-doable for this issue, which is strange, as our friendship is at the heart of this. But if anything, it gives me the opportunity to say these things in print. Chart that.
Over the years we’ve continued to grow the magazine, and create White Crane Institute and none of it would have been possible without friends, old ones, and new ones.
There are some truly beautiful pieces in this issue. We hope, as always, and as we have from the start, that you share it with a friend.
This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane. We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going. So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!
Bo Young and Dan Vera are editorials mid-wives and co-conspirators in creating each issue of White Crane.
Bo lives in Brooklyn, NY a few blocks from a museum and Dan lives in Washington, DC a few blocks from a Shrine.
Bo is the author of First Touch: A Passion for Men and Day Trilogy and Other Poems.
Dan is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, Crespuscalario and Seven Steps Up.
If they sometimes seem interchangeable in the minds of White Crane readers it’s because they talk on the phone each day and bask under the shade of the same growing tree, the watering of which they consider their contribution to the continued flowering of gaiety.
You can write them at firstname.lastname@example.org