Recent Comments

    May My Coming Out Story Never End

    By Patrik Gallineaux–

    When I was almost three years old, my mother tells me she came upon me one day pretending to fish with a toy pole in the creek at the end of our driveway in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. To be completely honest, I think it was really just a ditch—but for vanity’s sake, let’s call it at least a “creek.” I was wearing a light blue knit shirt and outfit she had made, and when she approached, she could see I was also wearing around my neck a string of pearls I had taken from her bedroom. When my mother asked, “Patrik, what are you doing?” I replied in a completely matter-of-fact tone, “Boy’s gone. Girl’s here,” which my mother tells me was so definitive that she was immediately accepting of my proclamation.

    In the broadest picture of coming out as a self-discovery through verbal affirmation of the spectrums of male versus female and gay versus straight and the infinite possibilities those intersections provide, this would have to be the first moment in my coming out story. I can actually remember the string of pearls and a feeling of magical fascination, but the fishing pole was long deleted to the trash bin of storage memory. 

    Were it only that the honesty of our spirits at birth could thrive and evolve without hindrance or obstacle, I would suppose all of our coming out stories could perhaps conclude more rapidly. To be completely honest, I am still not certain enough to come out with a definitive label as to where exactly I fall between gay/straight and man/woman.  

    But I am beyond grateful for an inherent sense of self from a young age that was basically screaming to be seen for whatever I authentically am, and by all means if coming out means a willingness to articulate to society, I was ready at the point I put on my mother’s pearls. For me, I have had ongoing milestones of coming out that are fueled by a beautiful Spirit, and often have sparked passionate reactions by society-at-large.

    While role models were rare, and even parents as enlightened as mine had little point of reference to guide an early coming out story, I am grateful of the fact that they are incredible educators and good people who did their best to give me the cues I needed. I remember hearing the name of Harvey Milk on television as a nine-year-old, and that my father took the time to explain that he was a groundbreaking leader who stood up for what is right and inspired others as an openly gay man, the first time I had ever hear the word “gay” in a beautiful way. I took note, and his name was one anchor for keeping my Inner Spirit alive.

    I experienced a coming out milestone when I was 12 and living in Western New York. In gym class one day I was holding on to a steel pole in the locker room as dozens of boys called me names and cheered the gym teacher on as he tried to rip my clothes off and throw me in the shower because I had been refusing to take my clothes off in front of the other boys stemming from feelings of confusion, excitement, and modesty that to me had no reason to be less than normal at the point of puberty, yet I wanted to be of my own accord respectful to others and to myself. 

    While holding on to that steel pole I heard a voice say as clearly as day, “Hold on, Patrik. Who you are is right and correct. Hold on and all will be ok.” I know I was hearing a strength of spirit of those who have come before, including Harvey.

    I was sent to the guidance counselor and the principal to find out what was wrong with me. When I tried to explain to my father what had happened and the injustice I was feeling, while he may not have had the language to address gender and sexuality, he did suggest I could write to a New York State Senator known as a rare liberal named Stan Lundine, and I promptly did. 

    While I wish I had a copy of the letter today to recall exactly what words sparked the outcome, two weeks later I was summoned to the principal’s office, and was promptly led to a secondary locker room that the school had decided to allocate for me alone for the remainder of the school year. While the bathroom bills of today and the much braver individuals who have had to suffer and stand up for far worse obstacles far eclipse my experience, I believe it is the same Spirit that inspired me to fight for what was at a young age inherently logical (gosh, adults were/are still stupid), even if it required an entire school be mandated to grow up via a 12-year-old’s letter to a state legislator in 1983. From here I know I came out with a massive intolerance for injustice, and after this point would often imagine myself, when facing bullying and adversity, standing on a cliff with long flowing hair and cape facing the wind with androgynous defiance.

    In the face of bullying I studied harder, found safe spaces in my mother’s dance studio, and in theatre and music.  When I graduated third in class from high school, despite considering careers in politics and law, I was told by more than one adult that I was “too different,” and needed to “act more masculine” if I wanted to succeed in a “real job.” So I did what every way too gay kid did in the ‘80s, and pursued a musical theatre degree.

    I suppose the closest thing to a “normal” adult coming out moment was when my mother first visited me in college, and I recall when she arrived and wanted to see my bedroom I was strangely terrified that she would discover the Chippendale’s calendar above my bed. 

    But the reality was that, by that evening, she was with me twirling under the disco ball at Buffalo’s premiere gay destination, Café Rumors. And just a couple years later—after an adventure living in London where I had the chance to perform the hand jive for Princes William and Harry, star in drag as a love-struck princess in an award-winning student film called Hopeless in Heels, and have a slap-fest with Boy George—I was home helping her through her own life change of dating a woman and separating from my father (there’s a lot more to this that will be a chapter in my book). 

    But I find it lovely that perhaps her non-judgment of me as the 3-year-old with the pearls may have permitted me to evolve enough naturally for her to get enough of a glimpse of the potential within herself and to come out to become the most self-actualized version of herself (and today an incredible community leader still running her dance studio in Western New York, Dance Arts, 40 years strong this year).

    Yet my coming out process was far from over.  In the world of theatre, hospitality, and ballroom dance I found success and acceptance, but I still always seemed to threaten many who thought I needed to be more masculine, to not wear so much eyeliner, to “tone it down” and “be less noticed.” The next and most important coming out milestone needed to be a move to San Francisco.

    San Francisco was, and will forever be, the most important evolution in my coming out story. This city tests you—I was initially homeless, yet at the same time ended up in my first months in San Francisco in the documentary 24 Hours on Craigslist as I made sure to find a way to look beyond presentable every day as I worked to build my own business as a ballroom and wedding dance teacher who would travel to his students.

    I had the opportunity to participate in the first same-sex ballroom dance competition in North America and become a part of one of the most progressive and beautiful ballroom dance communities in the world. Additionally, I found centers of community in the gay bars and organizations that made me feel accepted, attractive, supported, and healed of the past suffocation of being denied the opportunity to be a “normal kid” who gets to dance and play without judgment.

    I met community leaders who amazed me at how they bridged gaps amongst nightlife and powerful community building and fundraising/awareness such as Donna Sachet and Sister Roma and Gary Virginia, all who inspired me to want to give back more. When I received my HIV diagnosis around this time, I looked in the mirror and promised I would turn it into something far more valuable than any damage it would do to me, and was blessed to join the Board of the Richmond-Ermet Aid (formerly AIDS) Foundation in 2010 and additionally to work with the New York-based Research Foundation to Cure AIDS today. 

    Right this instance, as you read this piece, it is my coming out moment to the public about living with HIV, proudly and as hopefully a role model for others.

    Coming out means using your new San Francisco powers to bring visibility to all people and connect those from far different worlds, and while working with Cheryl Burke Dance I had the opportunity to fuse the oft-conservative worlds of ballroom and oft-outrageous world of drag by bringing both amazing communities onto the same dance floor with Dancing With the Drag Stars. This series from 2009–2011 allowed me to get to play with some of the most talented and dynamic people I have ever met in my life, and showcased the diversity and talent of drag and trans communities while hopefully softening up the at times too conservative ballroom rules.

    Coming out for me further meant sacrificing my dance floor to accept a job with a major brand as LGBTQ+ Ambassador, a role I took far more seriously than I am sure was expected. Despite having no desire to enter any realm of the corporate world, I did have a realization that I had held on long enough for the world to begin to change enough for me to step through a once closed door, which perhaps my coming out milestones had helped to open. I also did not take for granted the opportunity to have a greater platform (and budget) to champion the importance of our LGBTQ+ community around the United States and eventually the world, while eventually raising well over a million dollars for LGBTQ+ nonprofits and developing programs to elevate our hardworking nightlife community and those fighting for equality and those most marginalized. 

    I am coming out right now and acknowledging gratitude for the resources and opportunities given to me—and our community—by a brand called Stoli. But more importantly, when a city like San Francisco gives you your wings, I believe it is then an obligation to take those wings on the winds of one’s heroes and continue to fly. And while at times through this role I found myself feeling challenged, and even once or twice bullied by my own LGBTQ+ community, I realized that I was at last being given the opportunity to learn and demonstrate the skills of law, politics, and Ambassadorship that I was told when graduating from high school I could not possibly achieve.

    Perhaps most full circle and amazingly “pinch-worthy” to me was the opportunity to celebrate Harvey Milk himself through multiple initiatives with Harvey’s nephew Stuart and the incredible Harvey Milk Foundation, and to bring home to the Castro on Harvey Milk Day 2018 a mural of Harvey by artist Oz Montania, including the quote that inspired me from my childhood, “Hope will never be silent.”

    Today I have taken a leave from my Global Ambassador role while the next phase of my coming out has been a move away from the Bay Area as I take some time for health, to return to the dance floor, and to be closer to my genetic family, yet I bring San Francisco (my chosen family) with me wherever I go. I will forever remain an Ambassador for my communities, and for the importance of visibility and acceptance for all good people. Sorry, bad guys: you don’t get my energy or attention.

    A few months ago my first visitors in my new home were my father Tim Gallineau, the man who first introduced me to Harvey Milk and sparked my 12-year,-old early “bathroom activist” campaign; and my San Francisco hero Donna Sachet. It was a joy to see two people who inspired my coming out story to date interact so brilliantly and bless me with their company. 

    Recently I was terribly excited to have been invited to act as judge for the 2021 Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade. If coming out means the privilege to continue such experiences in one’s life—inclusive of the honor to be considered to pen this piece for the San Francisco Bay Times—then may my coming out story never end.

    Patrik Gallineaux is on leave from his role as the National LGBTQ Ambassador at Stoli USA. He is a columnist for “Gloss Magazine” and is a Member of the Board at The Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation (REAF).

    Published on November 18, 2021