I first met Doug in 1974. He was a childhood friend of the woman that became my 1st wife, Cheryl. She was like a shining angel of truth to me, a messenger sent to guide my path into a future I had no idea existed.
Doug had a lot of trouble with his parents. They wanted a baby girl so badly that his mother dressed him as one all through his infancy and then until he began to go to school. Dad hated that shit, but Doug loved it, thriving in the freedom to play with dolls, dishes, trucks and toy-planes.
Make no mistake, however: Doug was all man. Whatever gender crap we all obsess over didn’t seem to be there in him. He didn’t identify at all as “female,” but he sure understood what it meant to be different.
He was one of those gay men that had effeminate affectation. His voice, his body language, what he loved to wear and the music he chose were all what we called men like him back then: fag.
Looking back, Doug was one brave motherfucker. Early on he took an apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill which at the time was a rapidly evolving urban neighborhood filling with the rejected souls of tens of thousands of angry families. A refuge for what we call folks today: LGBT.
I had never before EVER associated with such a person as Doug. This story isn’t about me at all, though. Whatever horror-show of childhood abuse I lived through has nothing to do with Doug or Cheryl other than to provide a platform from which I myself changed. I was an angry, judgmental man-child, and Doug and Cheryl loved that shit right out of me.
Cheryl introduced me to feminism as a walking-talking way of life. My own pain cracked open as I learned to walk in her shoes, to see what she saw, to understand how it felt to be “me” and live in a world of physical danger and precious few life-options other than mother-wife.
All the while, Doug was becoming himself in the heady atmosphere of Seattle’s 70’s social revolution. I met his guys sometimes and we all went out together to these AMAZING gay disco’s. I spent my 21st birthday at Shelley’s Leg, a bar owned by a cranky lesbian whose leg had been blown off by an errant cannon-shell at an Army base. She cashed in BIG and opened the bar. 3 levels of insane shit amidst flashing lights and a world of folks that a few years before would never have made it down the street dressed as they were.
And I, your straight-poster-boy.
Doug was one brave motherfucker. His parents freaked, he lost all his straight friends and his family became an entire community.
I think being dressed as a little girl had nothing to do with who he was. NOTHING. Doug was a man, in every sense of the word. He was kind and protective of his people, deeply generous and very quick to laugh. Also, he wasn’t afraid to show need.
Doug was also a beautiful man, and he taught me that I too could be that.
Cheryl and I divorced and lost touch. On facebook 10 years ago we reconnected and I asked about Doug.
“He got a degree in civil engineering and moved to Dallas in the 80’s. He and his guy were kinda married, but you know Doug. Such a slut. But they made it work” Cheryl told me.
Then she paused a second and her voice lowered: “Doug died in 1992.”
I choked. “What happened?” was all I could squeak out.
So when people all want to pretend like they never tortured or bullied a gay person or opposed marriage equality, I laugh at them. Such bullshit. We all said HORRIBLE things that shame us if we have that capacity. So many want to pretend they’ve ALWAYS been for equal rights, but lets not be dicks here, k?
Doug Sisson changed me. Cheryl M did too. While I have a lot to learn about life, I am grateful for the knowledge that I really don’t fully understand everything and never will.
Doug taught me the beauty of men. And I will not fucking qualify that with some defensive bullshit about being “straight.”
Cheryl taught me about the power of women. Don’t ever mock feminism in front of me. Ever.
My maleness is a cloak of many colors, each brightly colored thread part of a weave threaded in pain and wonder and the possibility that love can make the strongest glue of all. Fear is like bleach, don’t spill that shit. Inside the cloak a torrid wind and scattered paper flitting about like seagulls at a dump, on each scrap terribly important messages written to a future me.
Real men are strong because they’re afraid, but like Doug, we fucking do our lives anyway. To live a true life, and be who you want to be in the face of hatred and discrimination and misunderstanding?