In this exclusive excerpt from his new book Gay Like Me, Richie Jackson writes to his son about what it takes to be a gay man in America. He addresses the gift of being gay as well as the guard the gay community must always have up.
I am so excited for you -- and filled with anxiety -- that you are leaving our home to live as a gay man in New York City. High school is over and you are college-bound. You are kind, responsible, and hardworking. You are ready for college -- but are you ready to be a gay man living in America?
You were 15 when I watched with joy as you began to spend time with another young, free boy. All those first courtship steps, your adolescent fervor, your singular focus, your trying on how to be part of a couple. I was thrilled not only because you had a friend with whom you were partaking of all the teenage rites of passage of first blush, but specifically because the object of your affections was a boy. My greatest wish for you was for you to be gay, for you to have a gay life, for us to have that central part of ourselves in common. Being gay is a gift. It's the world revealing itself in all its glorious otherness, saying go it your own way, make it yours. The revelations are endless. There are no expectations of what you need to be or to do. It is the blankest of canvases. It's freedom. It's the gift of possibility.
I am so happy you are gay. There is so much about being gay that I am eager for you to experience. The amazingly diverse community that you are now a part of and that is now a part of you -- the brilliant, funny, creative, inventive, courageous, wicked, strong, heroic lives you are among. The chance to love and to be loved by an extraordinary individual. The creativity that will permeate your day because there is no set course you must follow. I am thrilled for the flight ahead of you; I am wary of the fight ahead of you.
When I rejoiced that you were gay, I was really wishing for the good parts -- the community, the camaraderie, the creativity. The incredible beings who populate our community, who against all odds are themselves. But you can't be gay with just the good parts: Your life daily will be touched by all the difficult parts, too. The fight, the struggle, the challenges, will make it even more valuable, even more worthy. And as you set out on your gay adulthood, I know you have mistakes to make, lessons to learn, and that you will seek your nourishment your own way. As one of the people responsible for bringing you into this world, and for your well-being, I have to share what I know as a gay man, to provide you some tools that I didn't have, and to prepare you for what may lie ahead.
One of the confounding things about being gay in America is what the sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois described as double consciousness. He was referring to Black Americans when he wrote: "One ever feels his two-ness -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." You are an American; you do all the things Americans do; you even have the dream. But America doesn't want you, doesn't accept you, is systematically attempting to erase you. Schools don't teach about you; laws don't fully protect you. The America you think you are a part of is a mirage. You must every day keep a certain clarity about yourself yet remain keenly aware of America's vision of you. You need that dogged strength that is partly the spirit of protest and partly the shoring up of your gayness so that your gay line of vision is clear, beautiful, strong. Living as a gay man means holding this double vision, and I have to attempt to show you how to make both your visions strong.
As you prepare to go to college as a gay man facing the world, a gay man in America, it is critical that I tell you everything I know -- everything that I have learned, every rise and every depression, so much that I have kept to myself so that you would feel safe. All of that I have to tell you now. How else will you survive? I need to show you how to keep your body safe, your heart strong. I need to get you angry, and even scare you a bit. And though it may seem that I am clipping your wings just as you are about to set off, I am merely watching out for you from my vantage point, ensuring that you take flight safely, to soar freely.
Editor's Note: Gay Like Me is available in stores and on Amazon. You can order the book here.
Richie Jackson is an award-winning Broadway, television, and film producer who most recently produced the Tony Award-nominated Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song on Broadway. He executive produced Showtime's Nurse Jackie for seven seasons and co-executive produced the film Shortbus, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. He and his husband, Jordan Roth, were honored with The Trevor Project's 2016 Trevor Hero Award. They live in New York City with their two sons.