1986 by Jeffrey Porter

I have stories, lots of them. Gathered and carried, tucked away quietly, safely. The one you are about to read has been following me, bumping into me constantly, refusing to stay put. It clearly needs some air, so here goes.

Recently, I joined the Heartland Men’s Chorus Kansas City. At our first meeting for new members, we were asked to share our motivation for joining. Slowly, as each person shared their story, the enormity of the moment started to come into focus. One of the longest chapters in my life was about to be revealed. When it was my turn, I stumbled through the first draft, my truth, but certainly not the whole truth.

“You’re going to get on a stage with a bunch of gay guys and sing about being GAY?!” It was 1986 and I was living in Kansas City, 20 years old, closeted. One of my good friends had just told me he joined the Heartland Men’s Chorus and wanted me to attend his concert. I was living with my first “roommate” and was terrified my family would find me out. Nevertheless, I went. My mind was blown as I watched the men onstage living out loud, authentically, freely. Living openly was not something I felt I was afforded at the time. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that living openly was a gift I wasn’t yet willing to give myself. In any event, the concert was a glorious experience.

The fear of being “Queer” is hard to describe in brief, yet it is real and has followed me my entire life. It is, at its core, a way of navigating the world grounded in a lie. I was exhausted living that lie. Thankfully, the stigma and shame I felt have been tempered by meaningful connections to a supportive family and life-long friends. It has been reduced substantially by my own growing courage and decades of personal and professional success. And, it has been diminished by society’s more recent willingness to value, rather than shun, differences.

“Honey I’ve known that since you were a boy, I’ve just been waiting for you this whole time. . .” It was 1988 and I was sitting in a piano bar with my mother, choking on what I believed would be the most disappointing news of her life. I’m never getting married, never giving you grandchildren, it’s just me Mom, I’m so sorry, but I’m GAY. She always was and forever will be my biggest fan.

Recently, thirty-five years after I attended that first concert, I auditioned for the Kansas City Heartland Men’s Chorus. Thinking it clever, I worked up a version of “The Rainbow Connection.”

Unfortunately, my audition followed a baritone from the KC Lyric Opera, which made my squeaky Kermit rendition a little less enchanting. Nevertheless, I was invited to join and placed in the Tenor section. I am happy to share that I am now living my best Glee life, surrounded by more than 80 enthusiastic Gay, Bi, and Trans folks. I’m having an absolute ball!

Our director Shawn (brilliant, slightly terrifying) shared something early on that has stayed with me and shaped my experience. “If even one person is moved to take the next smallest step, that is why you’re here. Bring all of you. What are you saving it for?” Shawn’s words completed the circle for me as I reached back in time to put my arm around my younger self. “It’s time, Jeffrey. They’re all waiting for you.”