About Me

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Jim Croteau lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with his partner of 31 years, Darryl, and their two Labrador retrievers. He grew up gay and Catholic and white in the southern United States in the 1960’s and 70’s and has spent his adult life in small non-coastal cities, mostly in the Midwest. He loved his mother very much. He began writing poetry in May 2012 at first to cope with life in times of aging and then, well, he sorta caught the poetry bug. He is still working as a professor in Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology at Western Michigan University.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What if . . .?

Homophobia ruined my life. These words were spoken to me by another gay man who was in his late sixties and had been a leader in the gay community. He was a retired professor with what seemed like a good life and he was certainly well-liked and well-respected.  His words shook me.

Through my own therapy and other self-reflection I am discovering how deeply I was injured, certainly psychologically, probably spiritually, by having grown up in a time and place that was pervasively homophobic.

I often think “what if”—what if I had made some kind of connection with the gay community when I was younger and had been able to come out as an adolescent or young adult. How much less haunted by what I will simply call “internal demons” would I be now?

I had been trying to write a poem about the UpStairs Lounge fire in New Orleans in 1973. The lounge was a gay bar in New Orleans that was destroyed in an arson's fire on June 24, 1973. It was the deadliest fire in the city's history and the largest mass killing of LGBT people in the United States.

New Orleans holds a special place in my heart.  I moved to New Orleans in 1975 for college, still very closeted, even in some ways even to myself, as I would remain for a while. I never heard of the fire then, and in fact, did not know about it at all till 4 or 5 years ago. It has received little attention. Oppression is assisted through the concealing of history. 

I had down good description of the fire and its aftermath, but I needed something more.  Then at a writing conference this past summer I started thinking again about those words that my friend had said to me as well as the pain of my own youth. I started hearing in my head What if, what if I had heard, what if I knew, what if  . . . ?

And the poem fell into place.  Please go the link and give it a read.  (And while you are there look around the issue of The About Place Journal, you will be impressed by its passion for justice.)