In 1978, when I was 10-years-old, I met Harold.
I wrote about Harold several years ago, but I'll write him again because he was a great man and I want people to know it.
We were living in Brentwood, California and my mother was interviewing potential roommates. There was a huge walk-in closet off of the living room and somehow I ended up in there as my mother and Harold talked about sharing an apartment. As they conversed I heard Harold say, "You should know I'm gay."
I distinctly remember my (over) reaction. I'd been walking around in the closet eavesdropping and when he said he was gay, I literally froze in the most dramatic fashion. Years earlier I'd asked my mother what being gay meant and she explained it to me with no frills or judgement--she always explained complicated issues to me with no judgement or emotion. She did the same when I asked her about sex. She never offered more than what I would ask, she simply answered that question and waited for me to ask any follow-up questions. Anything having to do with sex embarassed me. It didn't stop me from asking, but when I did, I was always embarrassed and usually shocked.
I must've learned from society that being gay was scandalous because neither one of my parents said anything negative about the LGBT community to me. I wasn't raised in a religious environment, so I am left to assume my reaction came from cultural biases that I'd picked up along the way.
My mother told him she wasn't bothered by his sexuality and Harold became our roommate. It didn't take long for me to like him. He was very sweet and he was always kind to me.
Harold was a single man who, I assume, enjoyed an active sex life. I say "assume" because whatever he did, he did it outside of our home. I never met anyone he dated. Never. Not once. Neither my mother nor I would've minded if a date stopped by to pick him up, or hung out with us, but Harold decided that his dating life was private and separate. He never mentioned anything about it. Looking back, I think he practiced caution in case his sexuality was upsetting to me. I wouldn't have had a problem meeting men he dated as long as they were friendly and respectful, but I now appreciate that he considered my feelings and made the effort. He cared about me and wanted me to feel comfortable.
Meeting Harold had a positive effect on how I viewed gay people. Even though I was jolted when I first heard him say he was gay, I quickly learned he was just like anyone else. He was simply another human seeking happiness, and I considered him to be my friend.
There was a French restaurant on Sunset Boulevard my mother and I loved and they offered an out-of-this-world dessert called a "Dr. Sydney Smith." It consisted of three large scoops of vanilla ice cream wrapped in a crepe with almond paste and topped with hot fudge. OMG, it was a mouthgasm on a plate.
One evening, Harold, my mother and I all had dinner at said eatery and decided to split the dessert. We all moaned with delight as we savored each delicious bite. And when our plates were clean, we sat there looking at each other waiting for the other to make the inevitable suggestion to order another one. Harold was the one who broke. We couldn't summon the waiter fast enough and then devoured the second serving with glee.
Another fond memory I have is when Harold took me to work with him one Saturday. He showed me off to his co-workers and let me see what he did for a living. We spent the entire day together and I had a blast. I felt safe with Harold because he made me feel safe. I don't recall ever discussing his sexuality with him, but I imagine if I had questions, he would've been mindful about my young age and likely would've asked my mother for guidance in how to respond. He didn't try to be a good man, he was a good man. It showed, and I grew to love and trust him.
Harold taught me that being gay has nothing to do with who you are. He taught me that one's sexuality has no bearing on what kind of a person you are--that's determined by how you treat others. He treated me with respect--like I was his little friend.
I was fortunate to know Harold. Because I got to live with him, I grew up understanding that gay people are people. Period. It was a priceless education in tolerance and I'll never forget him.
It's a shame that some adults are so blinded by their own biases and bigotry they're unable to accept others for who they are. Never once did a gay person say or do anything to upset me as a child, but there were plenty of straight, white adults who showed me that fear of the different, or unknown, can lead to ugliness, misery and self-hatred. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many of those bigots hate that they have a sexual attraction to their own gender and take that hatred out on openly gay people as a way to avoid facing the truth of who they really are.
I've looked Harold up online and it appears he had a very successful career in his chosen profession--which I will not disclose--and he is now retired. I've tried to connect with him but have been thwarted at every turn. It doesn't appear he hangs out on social media.
If you happen to read this, Harold,✋🏻hi!!! Thank you for being such a cool person and friend. You had a very positive impact on my life and I'll never forget you! ❤️
This article was originally posted on my Patreon page.