Different paths, common journey shared by former male porn star

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by Cynthia L. Abel
Special to O&AN

[Editor’s note: Rich Merritt, author of the upcoming book, “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star,” will be at the Nashville Pride Festival on June 4 at the OutLoud! Department Store booth signing books.]

I used to think I was the only one. The only one who had grown up in a fundamentalist home, rejecting supposedly Biblical notions of what it meant to be a woman or a man. The only one who struggled with the confines of what I had been told my life was going to be like. What it should be like.

For a long time, what a psychologist friend of mine refers to as “terminal uniqueness” kept me isolated and lonely. The term makes me smile now, having survived the traumas brought on by the despair of feeling alone. Eventually, I came to recognize similar themes in other people’s lives.

After all, most of us in the GLBT community have embarked on similar journeys, whether or not the exact paths were discernibly similar. For instance, the road I took meandered through overachievement, anorexia, emotional and physical abuse, the agony of thinking I had to choose between spirituality and sexuality – and a host of other things that could have cost me my job, my sanity and even my life.

Being able to recognize the milestones and pitfalls of my own journey is why I was a bit surprised but not shocked to find out I have a good bit in common with a (gay male) former porn star. I made this discovery after reconnecting with a colleague I had worked alongside during a political campaign. I learned he is the author of a book, “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star,” and he gave me an advance copy.

On the surface, we’d have little in common except a penchant for the political and advocacy for the gay community. Still, our souls seemed very similar. After all, the author – Rich Merritt’s – formative years were spent inside the "fortress of fundamentalism," and it shaped his early perceptions of who he was and how he was to live, and warped the way he approached decisions later in life.

Instead of spiritual insight and a helpful roadmap for life, Rich developed self-doubt and a naïve and narrow view of the world. He tells the story of attending Bob Jones Academy and Bob Jones University, where he heard message after message that “different” is bad. Especially if that differentness was same-gender attraction.

Beyond the obvious commonalities of the religion in which we were raised, the book reminded me of how gays and lesbians too often embrace the vicious cycles fostered by supposedly well-meaning institutions. I’ve seen too many repeat the pattern of trying nearly anything to gain validation, only to be ripped apart internally by the charade.

In Rich’s case, he wrestles with stringent religious dogma, flouts military policies in semi-secrecy and, nearly always, feels a sharp degree of self-hatred. As you might guess, Rich ultimately explodes into self-destructive behavior and jeopardizes his most cherished relationships. For instance, he finds temporary solace from body-image issues as a go-go dancer, as an escort and, eventually, as a porn actor.

The rage he feels at the increasing dichotomy between who he was “supposed” to be and who he actually was sounded and felt too much like my own story – and those of many others. What the now-former porn star figures out is that there aren’t enough good grades, medals, law school accolades, sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, parties or even relationships to make him feel whole. Something I eventually learned as well.

The paths we stumble down while pushing through the mind-numbing, heart-wrenching fog of someone else’s dreams or wishes may differ, but I hope more and more of my gay sisters and brothers more quickly differentiate between the life we were meant to live and the life we’ve been told we should live and embrace the one of our own creation.

Many have gone before us and can shed light on our unique courses to feeling whole and connected. In the meantime, recognizing and remembering that we share a common experience can give us hope when we aren’t sure we can find our way and fill us with the compassion to reach out to others who are struggling.

In a time of rampant, divide-and-conquer fundamentalism, it’s crucial that we remember we’re more alike than we sometimes want to admit. After all, if I identify with a gay Marine porn star, who knows whose story just might parallel your own?

Cynthia L. Abel is president of BizVox Marketing Communications and an active leader in the Atlanta GLBT community. She can be reached by email at cabel@bizvox.cc.