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    My Last Column

    Tom Moon

    By Tom Moon, MFT–

    It seems hard to believe, but I’ve been writing this column, twice a month, for more than three decades. While, at 71, I remain healthy and not yet ready to retire, I’ve also come to realize that I’ve said all that is in me to say in this space, and that it’s time to let go.

    Endings can be poignant and wistful times. Today I find myself reflecting on a long and eventful life, with a few regrets, but also with deep gratitude. It was my great good fortune to be born in San Francisco, and to be able to live in this city for almost the whole of my adult life.

    My personal life has mirrored the history that unfolded here. I lived as a hippie in the Haight Ashbury in the late sixties. In the ’70s, inspired by the Stonewall uprising, I came out as a gay man and rode the heady tide of Gay Liberation that swept through the city and the country. It was my honor to vote for Harvey Milk, and I marched to City Hall with my boyfriend and thousands of others in silent grief on the day he was cut down.

    In the early ‘80s I began my practice as a psychotherapist, in an office near the Castro, with a predominantly gay male clientele, at a time when openly gay therapists were still something of a novelty. My practice was just getting off the ground when I came home one evening to find my roommate standing ashen and terrified in the hall. He told me that he’d just been diagnosed with that strange new disease that we’d all just begun hearing about. He was one of the first one hundred people in San Francisco to be diagnosed with AIDS, and suddenly this danger that I’d thought of as remote was in my own home.

    Almost overnight, it seemed, I was working at ground zero. Half of my patients were dying, half were caregivers, and some were in both groups. The plague years were the most desperate and difficult time in my life, a crash course in the best and the worst of human nature, a time of soul-crushing loss, of cruelty and hatred on the one hand, and of amazing love, courage, and heroism on the other.

    It was in this period that I tasked myself with writing a column on the psychological stresses in our community, in those days directed primarily to addressing the many challenges gay men were then facing. The column’s name, The Examined Life, refers to the dictum, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” which Socrates told the rulers in Athens when they condemned him to death for corrupting the youth by teaching them to challenge the dominant ideologies of his time.

    I began to write in a dark time, and I have some misgivings about letting go of my public voice now, in the midst of another dark time in our history. The last three years have brought the seeming triumph of all that is low and destructive in our national character. But paradoxically, that also reminds me of what I am most grateful for—that, forty years ago, I found a family of gay men to belong to, and that this community has been an inexhaustible source of friendship and support from that day to this.

    I have also found that I can rely on my community to be a source of compassion and wisdom, especially during hard times. The current era has been no exception. I’m heartened that LGBTQ+ communities all over the country have seen through the fraud that has been perpetrated on the American people, and have repudiated it. Someday this country will find its way again; and when the history of this disgraceful time is written, it will be remembered that our people had the good sense to resist. The longer I live, the prouder I am of all of us.

    I want to express my gratitude to my husband and best friend, Craig Wenzl, for his unwavering love and support. He was my editor and chief cheerleader, and when my writing wandered off into headiness, he always led me back home to the heart. I also want to thank Betty Sullivan and Jennifer Viegas for giving me a home for my thoughts, for their affection and support, and for the complete editorial freedom I have enjoyed throughout their stewardship of the Bay Times.

    Finally, I want to express my gratitude to the readers who followed my columns. I very much appreciated your words of encouragement, and I never dreamed, when I began, that so many of you would become friends. To all my readers: through the years, your silent presence was always deeply felt. Thank you.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website

    Published on December 19, 2019

    Examining the Extraordinary Life of Tom Moon

    When phone calls and messages expressing gratitude come to the San Francisco Bay Times, most often they mention Tom Moon and his longstanding column “The Examined Life.” The comments are usually very personal, mentioning how the advice and understanding shared by Tom helped them through a rough patch concerning any number of challenging issues: drug abuse, relationship problems, depression, and so much more.

    Like these readers, those of us at the paper have also benefited from Tom’s thoughtful guidance that is backed by his years of experience as a Castro-based psychotherapist. His genuine empathy for others, and particularly for those of us in the LGBTQ community, is always evident. His voice is that of a trusted, nonjudgmental friend, even as he delves deeply into subjects while referencing leading experts.

    From a work standpoint, Tom is a consummate professional who is always ahead of schedule. When we have asked him to take on special projects, he has gone above and beyond the expected call of duty. He has been a treasured colleague and source of inspiration to us. We were therefore very sad to learn of his decision to end the column, which has run in the paper for over three decades.

    But we celebrate both him and the column, which will live on in our archive and digital presence. There is also the possibility that he will return from time to time with special submissions, so please stay tuned! In the meantime, we encourage you to read on to learn more about Tom and his remarkable life. It includes his perceptive thoughts on how the emotional health of gay men has evolved over the past 30 years.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Your formative years sounded extraordinary, mirroring San Francisco’s history. What are some memorable moments from those early years of your life here in the city?

    Tom Moon: San Francisco in the ‘60s was a magical place for a young person to live. First of all, it was affordable. My first apartment was in the Haight Ashbury. My roommate and I had our own rooms, and we also had a dining room and a small back yard. We paid $300 each per month, and we were able to pay for it while going to school full-time, working part-time jobs and taking out student loans. The struggle for existence here wasn’t anything like it is today. Young people weren’t always exhausted then, and had time to play and enjoy life.

    Also, San Francisco seemed to be the epicenter for every intellectual and social movement in the country. In the ‘50s it all seemed centered in North Beach with the Beat writers and poets, and as I was starting to come to political consciousness, the center seemed to switch to the Haight Ashbury district. I lived as a hippie near the Panhandle, and I can remember dancing naked in the Park on LSD, and convincing myself that we were going to bring a new era of peace and love to the world.

    Unfortunately, the legendary sexual freedom of the hippies was strictly heterosexual. I could have lots of sex, as long as it wasn’t with boys. Hippies were really just about as homophobic as the rest of society at that time, and despite the long hair, gender roles were still pretty rigid. At our anti-war meetings, the boys made the decisions and the girls made the coffee.

    The cloud that hung over all of us throughout that time was the Vietnam War. Young men like me were radicalized by the fact that there was a draft, and we were all in direct danger of being inducted by the government to be used as fodder. We thought the justifications offered for the war were completely crackpot and irrational, yet we were expected to be willing to put our lives on the line to prosecute it. I started going to anti-war marches when I was still in high school, as did many of my friends, and once I was in college, I really threw myself into the anti-war movement.

    I remember congregating in Sproul Hall Plaza in 1967 with thousands of other college students, with the goal of marching to the Oakland Induction Center and blocking the access roads so that the buses couldn’t take the new draftees to boot camp. We succeeded for about half an hour, chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go!” before the Tac Squad came in and cracked a lot of skulls to drive us out of the streets.

    My faith that it was going to be easy for us to change the direction of the country was shattered in 1968. In the space of a few months, both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy (whom we were going to elect as President to stop the war) were gunned down. That summer, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, thousands of people like me were beaten in the streets by the police and the National Guard as they tried to demonstrate against the war and force the Democratic Party to adopt a plank opposing it.

    The party rejected our “peace plank” and nominated Johnson’s milquetoast vice president Hubert Humphrey. The Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, won the election. The war continued to escalate and the death toll continued to rise for years thereafter. By the end of 1968, it seemed to me that all hope was lost. I was in deep despair, and have never felt that despairing again until Trump’s election in 2016.

    After that, I transferred up to Sonoma State, and spent the rest of my undergraduate years living in the country, getting stoned, and turning inward. Then I went up to Oregon to do my post-graduate work. It was years before I again saw any point in trying to participate in American politics.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Who were some of your role models at that early time in your life?

    Tom Moon: I was a pretty serious kid, a total nerd who read voraciously, and I had almost no interest in popular culture, so my heroes and role models were all people whom I encountered in books. My number one role model and hero was the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. I learned from him to respect the importance of basing my opinions on reason and factual evidence, a habit that isn’t all that popular in America these days.

    He also taught me what humanism is. He wrote that “the good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge,” and I’ve tried to make that maxim the ethical foundation for my own conduct since then. When he said knowledge, he was referring mostly to scientific knowledge, but I would enlarge his idea to include the practice of mindfulness as well, a practice that wasn’t a part of his world. I also loved him during the Vietnam War because of his lifelong opposition to war, and his commitment to pacifism and nonviolence.

    My other heroes, for the same reason, were Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi. My gay heroes were James Baldwin, Christopher Isherwood, and the social critic Paul Goodman (author of Growing Up Absurd), who is now largely forgotten. My spiritual heroes were Alan Watts and Ram Dass, whose efforts to bring Eastern mysticism into the culture were widely popular in the ‘60s. I had an intense mystical experience when I was twenty years old, and they helped me understand it and ground it in yoga and meditative practice.

    San Francisco Bay Times: When and why did you decide to become a psychotherapist?  

    Tom Moon: I was twenty years old when I decided to become a psychotherapist, and my decision was a direct result of my internalized homophobia.

    I realized that I was gay on a spring day when I was fourteen years old, and, thinking I needed more information, I went to the library and looked myself up. That was my first mistake. The card catalogue said it all: “Homosexuality: See also perversion, psychopathic deviance.” I started delving into the psychoanalytic theory of homosexuality, which I was way too young to understand, but I bought it all, hook, line, and sinker. The message I internalized was that I had a serious emotional illness, and that there was only a small chance I could ever recover from it.

    I kept my gayness a secret from everyone, but I promised myself that the first thing I would do when I was old enough to leave home was to get a psychiatrist and try to get myself cured. And that’s what I did. In my first week as a freshman at San Francisco State, I went to the Student Health Center and got referred for city-subsidized therapy with a psychiatrist. So, at age 18, in 1966, I went into reparative therapy—right here in San Francisco.

    Fortunately, the therapy was all just conversation, so I was spared the worst barbarities, such as electric shock, but the experience was damaging enough nonetheless. It confirmed for me that my lust and my most tender feelings were “perversions”—symptoms of an all-but-hopeless emotional illness. I decided to become a psychotherapist because I thought my only hope of ever being “normal” would be to become an expert in mental health.

    When the Stonewall uprising happened, I was confronted with the realization that there were people out there who thought I was perfectly fine just the way I was, and that I had every right to live the life that was in me to live. But it took me several more years to unlearn all the bad psychology that, by then, had become a part of my identity.

    When I went up to the University of Oregon for graduate school, I was finally old enough and educated enough to be able to assess all the theory I’d learned with a more critical eye. I was shocked to realize that there was no actual science in anything I had learned—it was all mumbo jumbo based on deep cultural prejudices.

    At that point I was finally able to come out. I couldn’t wait to get back to San Francisco! I dropped out of school and moved back here just as soon as I got my degree. Back in San Francisco, I had my own personal “Summer of Love.” I went to the End Up and fell in love while dancing with a blond hottie to Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.” I rode home with him on the back of his motorcycle, and stayed with him for a week. That was my first sexual and romantic relationship with a man. I was finally out.

    I was still on track to become a psychotherapist, but now I had a different reason for doing it. I decided that I would be an openly gay psychotherapist (a rarity in those days), that I’d work primarily with other gay men, and that I would do all in my power to help other gay guys avoid or overcome the years of self-torment that I had endured. So, my decision to become a psychotherapist began with internalized homophobia, and in the end became an expression of my gay emancipation.

    And here’s the cliché ending to this story. After I came out, I looked up my old psychiatrist, and to my surprise he invited me to visit him and catch up. He got us both drunk—on sherry, no less—and, as you have probably already guessed, he tried to have sex with me. When I turned him down, he went to a corner of the room, stood with his back to me, and cried.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What do you remember from your earlier days at the San Francisco Bay Times, in terms of fellow writers, topics that dominated the pages then, and more?

    Tom Moon: I never miss the columns of Ann Rostow, whose articles on LGBTQ politics and American politics have always been informative. She also writes in a very humorous style. In the early ‘90s she created a character named Nan Parks, and wrote a column called “Straight Talk.” Nan was a “gay friendly” straight woman who lived in Noe Valley with her husband Doug and their two sons, and was “gay-friendly” because she had a lesbian sister. Nan was impossibly clueless and was always on the wrong side of every issue. Here, for instance, is what she wrote about getting rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: “ … my only suggestion would be that you openly gay soldiers take your showers when none of the straight soldiers are around because otherwise it would be like straight men and women taking showers together and I don’t think any of us would approve of that!”

    Part of the fun was that every week there were outraged letters from people who didn’t realize that it was all satire, demanding that she apologize or be fired. I miss her, and I would love it if Ann would bring her back. I also always read Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis’ columns on marriage equality. They have been marriage equality activists for many years, and their columns are always informative.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Can you share with us some of your future plans? What goals would you like to achieve, both personally and professionally, which you have not yet met?

    Tom Moon: Not much is going to change in my life. I will continue seeing patients on a part-time basis. My plans are basically to love my husband more, travel more, and meditate more. I will also probably continue to write, and maybe the Bay Times will be kind enough to publish topical articles now and then.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How has your work changed over the years? 

    Tom Moon: About 25 years ago I discovered the immense value for human well-being of Buddhist mindfulness practices, and over the years I have been working to incorporate those practices into my work. Awareness, all by itself, has amazing, and somewhat mysterious, powers to heal our wounds. I’m happy to see how many of our people have discovered this fact, and have developed regular mindfulness practices.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How do you think the emotional health of gay men has evolved over the past thirty years? 

    Tom Moon: In general, it’s easier to be queer in America now than it was when I was growing up, but I’m very much aware of how much hasn’t basically changed. One of the myths we like to tell ourselves is that—now that we have more visibility and social acceptance, now that there are effective treatments for HIV, and now that we have same-sex marriage—all our problems are behind us.

    But we are still reviled and stigmatized in many parts of the country, and thousands of queer people in San Francisco are essentially refugees from that oppression. Many older gay men still live with the trauma of overwhelming loss in the epidemic. Young people still grow up feeling like outsiders, and still struggle with loneliness and internalized shame. We talk about community, but the experience of real community still eludes too many of us. We still struggle to find satisfying lives, genuine intimacy, and authenticity in today’s world. What gives me hope is that more of us do succeed in doing these things than in previous decades. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still a work in progress.

    Published on December 19, 2019