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    Homosexualization 101: Baby Gay … at 35

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    No, I am not going to write yet another article about the origins of Pride! Much has been written about the beginnings of gay pride starting with the Stonewall Riots in NYC in 1969. We San Franciscans mark it three years earlier with the Compton Cafeteria Riots in 1966. There are comprehensive articles, movies, books, and even Wikipedia pages on every facet of Pride. I won’t attempt to add to that amazing collection. It is all a part of Homosexualization 101. When you have completed 101, you get your gay card. When you move on to HS 201, you get a stamp—a rainbow or a unicorn—your choice. Just so you know, while you may complete a course or two, you never truly graduate!

    This article is about Tim, the 1980s baby gay. I gotta say that when I came out, pride was a very foreign, if not off-putting, concept. I was confused. I mean, seriously. One of the top-ten all-time hits in the church was “At Calvary.” I must have sung these words a thousand times, “Years I spent in vanity and pride.” And in a flash of glitter, I was supposed to embrace and rejoice in this thing called pride (with a pinch of vanity thrown in). I was yelling, “It’s not a choice!” in a very loud adult choir voice as I exited the Baptist womb. For me, saying I was proud of my newfound gayness implied it was indeed something I had done—a choice—of which I was proud. We have almost gotten over that messaging hurdle 35 years later. We now rarely say we’re proud to be gay, but proud of who we are and how far we’ve come as an LGBTQ community.

    Let’s start at the very beginning. I came out as a (make sure to whisper this next word) “homosexual” in the year of our Lord, 1986. Whispering it somehow made it less horrifying; it felt like insider trading. It also ensured that all those within earshot would lean in to hear the news that they would then shout from the mountaintops. It was whispered in prayer circles across the Southern Baptist world. “Dearly beloved, please pray for precious John and Virginia Seelig. Their son, Tim, has come out as a (whisper, please) homosexual.” There was no need to whisper since I came out to a church of 22,000 members, but somehow the thought was that speaking the word in the hallowed confines of prayer closets, fellowship suppers, and more might crack the stained glass. Whispering is effective, though, and does add an extra element of shame.

    It was the 80s. I had dwelt in the sepia tones of Kansas, longingly looking across the fence at technicolor Oz. That is not exactly what happened when I came out in October 1986 in Houston, Texas. I was lost and distraught. Broke and broken. My world had very little fabulosity in it. Still shades of sepia.

    The real entrance of technicolor was just around the corner. In May 1987, I found out there was such a thing as a gay chorus—in Dallas, Texas. I auditioned to be its conductor in July. I got the job. So, 10 months after coming out, knowing literally nothing about the gays and their fabulous lifestyle, I found myself standing in front of my first gay chorus, called not just to wave my arms at the gays, but actually to lead them on every level.

    Allow me a little background. The chorus was only 6 years old. In 1981, when it started, the founders felt the chorus would never make it with the “g” word in its name, living as they did in the buckle of the Bible belt. When I began as Artistic Director of the chorus, I thought, “I’ll do this for one year in order to pay child support while looking for another job.” I did it for that first year, absolutely fell in love with LGBTQ+ choral music, and kept at it for another 19 more! Interesting aside: Dallas was the very first stop when the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus took its legendary 1981 national tour hosted by the brand spanking new Turtle Creek Chorale!

    Back to me. I was so green. I knew nothing. Little did I know I was embarking on a 34-year education that is still continuing today. What I didn’t know about being gay could have filled books. I’ve already shared my confusion at the concept of pride. In some of my very first rehearsals with the Turtle Creek Chorale, I displayed my ignorance in 72-point font.  I actually used the term “Sexual Preference.” One time. Only. Ever. One of the members read me the riot act. I would learn over time there is a language I would trip over and sometimes still do. 

    The next gaffe happened when I misspelled Aids (sic) in a newsletter to the singers. Begin Riot Act 2.  That was understandable, kind of sort of. I don’t believe I had ever seen it written down. I had known 2 people who, at 20 and 26 respectively, had died of “natural causes.” The church folk wouldn’t even whisper AIDS, much less spell it. Furthermore, I had literally grown up with HUSKY emblazoned on my blue jeans and eating AYDS appetite suppressant candies. If you have not seen the commercials on YouTube, they are horrifying, given what we know now. They were popular throughout the 70s and 80s and were shared like the candy they were among my husky family.

    In my first year of gay choral “out-dom,” much changed with me and the chorus. I soon discovered two distinct factions in the chorus. There was a faction still guided by fear of what it might do to the chorus if they were more openly gay in the public eye. There was a faction that really wanted to be more open and out. I definitely leaned toward the latter. I didn’t know there were levels of “gay.” Oh boy, would I learn. It was just like today when we deal with levels of “woke.” That’s a different article.

    I gotta say, we started right out with some “adventurous” (read: gay) program content. There were a few eyebrows that went askance in my first spring when we were given permission to perform PDQ Bach’s oratorio Oedipus Tex. Everyone was excited. PDQ is a genius and hilarious. We put it on the season’s plan. When it came time to start rehearsals, I announced we would be wearing togas and cowboy boots. Quelle horreur. Most of them joined in the fun. A few just couldn’t possibly denigrate their massive talent to lower themselves to such tomfoolery. Their loss. We had a blast. The audience went nuts over the whole experience. The die was cast as was the concept that would become a part of our chorus Bible. Every concert had to have TLC: a tear, a laugh, and a chill bump (or goosie!). This became our secret sauce and I’ve been pouring it on gay choruses ever since. Sing really well and then have an “oh no they didn’t” moment.

    For years, there were those who would say, while shaking their head in a disparaging manner as if something terrible had happened, “Tim Seelig dragged the chorus out of the closet against its will.”

    You’re welcome.

    And I, on the other hand, simply told them that my own coming out had been so traumatic, I was not going back in the closet—not even one tiny toe—for them or anyone.

    Oh, that baby gay Tim was a mess. Some of you all will remember being gay before the internet, or cell phones, or access to the massive amount of information we now have. We stumbled. We crawled. We learned tough lessons. We did the best we could. Still are.

    Baby Tim grew up quickly in many regards. At my first rehearsal with the chorale in 1987, I faced a 2nd tenor on the front row covered with sores. We lost scores of singers in the years that would follow. The lessons continued. I co-founded a women’s chorus in 1989 and learned so much—becoming an honorary lesbian. Moving to San Francisco was another huge learning lesson. There was not that big Texas cloud hanging over life. All of a sudden, the fight was not about defying the conservative stronghold. Without that, we are able to spend our energy on Homosexualization graduate school. We are at the forefront of learning and changing and adapting.

    I am so very happy to say that my “former” chorus, the Turtle Creek Chorale, is doing incredible things right there in Dallas, Texas. I’m also very happy to say my “current” chorus just kicks ass at every turn!

    OK, the article was about Pride after all. I am proud. It is with a huge sense of pride that I share in leading the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. As a person living with HIV, I am so proud that the chorus created the Artists Portal at the National AIDS Memorial Grove. As a gay artist, I am thrilled to look at the future of The Chan National Queer Arts Center as we begin to open again.

    We continue to learn. That makes me proud.

    HAPPY PRIDE (with a little vanity thrown in!).

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Published on June 24, 2021