Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

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What Becomes A (Semi) Legend Most

Joan-Rivers-What-Becomes-A-Semi-Legend-Most-CoverI had few friends when I was growing up in Kansas. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a fanciful fantasy life. I had HBO in my bedroom where I watched Harper Valley PTA and Making Love, and the televised stage production of Vanities (starring Shelley Hack, Meredith Baxter and Annette O’Toole) every time they aired. I would read James Baldwin novels in the library because I was too afraid to check them out. I had every issue of Gentlemen’s Quarterly from 1982 on that I kept neatly stacked in the nook under my water bed. And I had a cassette tape of Joan Rivers’ What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most that I listened to regularly on my Sony Walkman. I did not understand at 15 or 16 precisely why I loved Joan Rivers so much, I just knew that I did.

Embarrassing confession: one time I went drinking with some high school classmates. I actually don’t even remember who it was, a group of 3 or 4 other guys. We were not close friends and I felt privileged and nervous to be out drinking Malt Duck at a place called The Spot. (At least I think it was Malt Duck and I think it was a place called The Spot.) I did not drink much when I was a teen, if you can imagine, so I was nervous that if I became drunk I might confess that I was gay. So, I got drunk and thought about how much I loved Joan Rivers. Please forgive me for my momentary departure from my blog’s strict PG-13 rating, but I actually confessed to my new friends at The Spot that I wanted to french kiss and yes, titty-fuck Joan Rivers. My new friends laughed. I laughed too. “See? You’re totally straight,” I silently congratulated myself.

In all honesty, I did think Joan Rivers was beautiful. I know at the time, part of her schtick was to make fun of her looks, but I didn’t get it. I thought she looked glamorous and sophisticated and stylish. She was so different than Kansas, what with her talk about Jews and plastic surgery and how Liberace wanted Tom Selleck to be his proctologist. When Rabbit Test aired on HBO, my Mom told me it was written and directed by Joan Rivers and I thought, my goodness, is there nothing this amazing lady can’t do?!?!

A few years ago, I went to see a screening of the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work with a question and answer session with the film’s subject and star. I went with my friends Traci and Linda, fellow storytellers, who had their own memories of growing up hearing and watching this comic genius, this woman who paved the way for other female comics. I don’t really remember any of the questions or any of the answers, I just sat there thinking, this is so cool, Joan Rivers is 15 feet away from me.

I’m not going to lie, though, there have been several times in the last few years where I’ve heard things that Joan said or did where I’ve thought to myself, oh no, Joan, too far! If something crosses the line and it’s funny, it’s comedy. If something crosses the line and it fails, it’s mean. If you’d asked me what I thought of Joan Rivers on Wednesday, my answer would have been less gracious than had you asked me on Thursday.

Since Thursday, like many people, I have been thinking quite a bit about Joan Rivers. I do an internet search every few hours to glean the latest news on the legend’s health status. Every friend I’ve seen in the last 72 hours, I’ve initiated a Joan conversation. I worry about Melissa, who is my age, and like me, her mother’s only child. I even keeping thinking about that horrible tv movie they did where they played themselves.

But back to me, for just a moment. When I remember that little freak whose best friend was a Joan Rivers cassette tape, I now think, that’s pretty funny, but a little sad. At the time, when I was that little freak, I thought my plight was almost entirely sad, but maybe, just a little bit funny. Malt duck, titty fuck, oh, grow up!

If Robin Williams’ passing reminded us of the fragility of life, Joan Rivers’ recent crisis reminds us of life’s absurdity. Flatlining during a minor procedure that was not even elective? It’s like the set up to a joke. Can we talk? Whatever happens, we know that comics will be riffing on it for years to come. If Joan Rivers survives and one day returns to doing shows, you can easily imagine her making light of the dark. And we hope she does and that she does and that she does. I read somewhere that in her show on Wednesday night, (btw, she’s 81, doing a live comedy show the night before surgery; that is grit.) she joked that she could die at any moment and what a story it would be for the audience members. ““Do you understand you would have something to talk about the rest of your life? You were there! ‘I was there, she just went over!’”

What’s the difference between comedy and tragedy? According to Mel Brooks, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Others have said that comedy is tragedy plus time. And I am conforted by that idea, that the pain eases and humor emerges as time passes. It was certainly the case for the 15 year old version of myself.

It is kind of sweet to think of 15 year old me, holed up in my bedroom listening to stories about Heidi Ambromowitz and Marie Osmond making Debby Boone look like a slut and the Queen of England having an affair with her husband Edgar from a woman who made me laugh a lot at a time when I really needed a friend. I don’t know what the future holds for Joan Rivers. But whatever happens, it will be with the passage of time that her family and friends and fans process the outcome. Until then, we have no shortage of Youtube videos of Joan being Joan to make us laugh and ease the sadness. I’ve posted two here, one from The Tonight Show, circa 1982. And also, an episode of her web series In Bed With Joan from just a couple weeks ago where she interviews drag superstar Bianca Del Rio. It makes me a little sad to watch these videos, of course, but also a little happy too. Funny.

Storytelling

179892_142463809146815_2502641_nI had a storytelling show tonight.  I just got home a few minutes ago.  I do these shows every couple of months and some go better than others.  Tonight, I talked about one of my blog posts, The Forgiveness Machine.  The goal with these stories is to be funny, but also share a real experience from your life.  From the beginning, I was a little off my game.  I was more nervous than usual, I didn’t feel like I had a strong opening to the set.  The arc of the set was supposed to be tell something funny (me being drunk at a luau in Hawaii) followed by something sad (talking about my dog Mandy’s last few days) then wrap up with something funny again (me overreacting to some stupid things I did a couple of days ago.)  Halfway through the show, before I hit the stage, a group of drunk people came in to watch their friend perform.  They sat at a table in the main room and talked during their friend’s set.  Then the emcee made a point to tell the room to be respectful of the performers and the people listening when he introduced the next performer.  They talked through his set anyway, despite people around them ssshh-ing them.  Then I got up.  Toward the top of my set, I heard them talking and I said from the stage, “Hey just so you know, there is a room in back where you guys can talk.  You don’t have to be in this room.”  They stayed in the room.  I got into my set, I couldn’t quite hit my groove, but I got a few laughs.  Then I launched into the sad part, talking about dealing with Mandy’s death. I heard that group laughing.   And that’s when I did something I have never done on stage before.  I went off.  I bellowed, “Shut the f@#% up. If you don’t want to be here, go in the back room.”  The ring leader responded, “I thought this was supposed to be a comedy show.”  And then the emcee said, “Actually it’s a storytelling show, it can be funny or serious.”  And then the guy muttered something and then I wrapped up my set, omitting parts of the story that may or may not have paid off anyway.  I got to my closing sentence about how we want forgiveness to be something instantaneous, but in reality it’s a process.  I got off the stage and decompressed while the next and last comic performed.  

Usually, after a show that does not go the way I hope it will, I have a tendency to beat myself up.  I replay all the missed laughs in my head over and over again.  For lack of a better word, I can be unforgiving. Tonight however, I felt exhilerated by what happened.  I’ve had people talk or heckle during my shows before, but it’s the first time I ever addressed it from the stage.  I was giving them the full Julia Sugarbaker and I kind of liked it.  

After the show, several people came up to me and told me how rude they thought that group was.  They were rude, but you, and by you, I mean I, you have to be ready for events like that to occur when you step up on that stage.  It’s what you’re signing up for.  Also after the show, the drunk ring leader came up to me and asked if he could have a minute of my time.  My friend Linda was there and as I stuttered with “uhhh” she told him that whatever he had to say, he could say right there to all of us.  Then he started to launch into something about how my words from the stage made him feel.  And then, Linda cut him off and said, “Minute’s up, you’re done.”  And then his friends pulled him away.  

I realized as he was standing there, that I wasn’t mad at him at all.  He hadn’t ruined my set, it wasn’t great to begin with.  Also, as I said, I was proud of myself for shouting out, in essence, “I don’t want to be treated like that.”  My daily life is filled with experiences where I have to nod and say yes when I want to say no, where the person I’m talking to deserves to be told no.  But tonight, it went a little differently. And somewhere in the midst there is a lesson in forgiveness, forgiving myself and forgiving others. Sometimes, usually, it’s a process, and every once in a while, it is instantaneous.

Lucy

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A couple days ago, we recognized the four year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.  Whenever I think about MJ’s passing, I think about my dog Lucy who passed away a couple days after Michael.  This video I’ve posted was filmed two weeks after Lucy’s passing.  I remember talking to my friend Traci, the show’s producer, that morning, saying I didn’t know if I had it in me to go on stage and be funny. But sometimes grief can lend itself to comedy and the laughs get us through the sadness. Doing this piece helped me heal and move forward.    

Morning Swim

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If I’m lucky, every morning I start my day with a swim.  About four years ago, I joined a gym with access to an outdoor pool and ever since, swimming has been a regular part of my life. Because I swim, I tend to have a bit of a tan year round and at least once a day, someone will ask me where I got my tan.  I’ll tell them I swim regularly and they will always respond, “Oh, I loooove swimming.”  It amazes me how every time I start my first lap, I instantly feel like a child again.  I’m not a doctor or scientist, (insert best joke here) but I believe we love to swim because it subconciously reminds us of swimming in our mother’s bellies as fetuses.  Feel free to quote me on that.

The other reason I think we love swimming is that it’s sensual.  This blog adheres to a strict PG-13 guideline so I won’t elaborate too much further, but swimming is sexy.  People with attractive bodies look hot in swimsuits. 

I’ve compiled an album of swimming pools, please peruse, comment, if you feel compelled.  Summer’s here, it’s time to dive into the pool!

Who Am I Anyway, Part 2

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I found a few more Black and White headshots.  Looking at these pictures made me think about the times I had my pictures taken. My first headshot shoot was a photographer I found in Backstage. I had been in NY a few months, fretting about not having a headshot. He lived in Stuyvesant Town and took pictures out of his living room. I picked him because, even though I was very closeted at the time, I thought he was cute. He kept telling me to imagine the camera was a pretty girl that I liked. My second headshot shoot was with a fashion photographer my friend Tania knew. I worked as his assistant for a day and he gave me a discount rate on the session. I actually enjoyed working as his assistant, being on set for a catalog shoot at a loft in Chelsea. I don’t know where that picture is, but I do have the requisite jean shirt that was de rigueur for every 1994 actor headshot. When I moved to LA, I had to get new LA headshots. My favorite photographer was a guy named Sandy Spear. He lived near Sycamore and 4th and he’d take his pictures in the neighborhood. I think he charged something ridiculously affordable like $80/ roll and all you needed was one roll, because he was a great photographer. Also, his wife had been in the Off-Broadway production of the Real Live Brady Bunch as Marsha. I just looked him up and it looks like he lives in San Diego and is still taking pictures. I also had a photo shoot with a maitre d’ at one of the restaurants where I worked. He insisted on taking every actor’s picture. The one thing I most remember about the guy is that he kept slices of brisket in his suit jacket pocket so he could snack when he got hungry. The pictures aren’t too bad, but the Olin Mills type back drop blending with the Lance Bass frosted tips I had at the time make it look like there are fireworks coming out of my head. My last black and white photo shoot was a guy named Timothy Fielding in 2002. He asked me if I wanted to do half b & w and half color, I said no, I didn’t think the color trend would last very long.

Who Am I, Anyway?

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A few years ago, I started collecting old black and white headshots. I love them. I like color headshots, too, but I think there is something so romantic and dramatic about the b & w’s. When I look at my old headshots, I want to start singing, “I really need this job, please God, I need this job…” Here are a few pics from my collection. Every one of them tells a story. Also, if you’re reading this and you want to send me YOUR old b & w headshot, please do.