A few weeks ago, I finally saw the motion picture Moonlight. While I may not agree that it deserved to win Best Picture (in my opinion that should have gone to Lion), it was indeed a memorable film that affected me on many levels. To see a movie tell an LGBT story with such raw honesty was a revelation and long overdue. As I watched it, I realized that with a few minor changes Moonlight could have been my story, which is why I think it has been haunting my thoughts.
Like the lead character Chiron, I too was raised in the poor sections of South Florida. I too was raised by a single mother with demons of her own (although it was mental illness, not drugs) who didn’t understand me. I too had no family or friends to lean on. I too was bad at sports and bullied by classmates. I too was a lonely little boy trying to raise himself while trying to come to terms with, and accept, his homosexuality.
In the 1970’s you did not hear the word “gay” unless it was used in a movie from the 1940’s. More often you heard the word “faggot”. There was nothing worse for a little boy than to be called a sissy or faggot. This usually preceded getting beaten up. I can remember being called these names by kids in the neighborhood, classmates, family members and strangers on the street. I can remember walking to school and being spit on by someone passing by. I can remember being chased through the projects we lived in by a gang of boys throwing rocks. I can remember sitting in a classroom when another student slammed a stack of books on my head. I can remember cars driving by yelling faggot out their windows. I can remember a boy telling me that I was born the wrong sex because I knew how to thread a needle. And I remember being taunted mercilessly by a female classmate day after day until I finally asked the teacher to let me change classrooms. I don’t think of these things very often, but I have never forgotten them and seeing Moonlight has brought these shadows to the forefront of my memories. For good or for bad, this was my life.
Not that it all was bad. At one point I too had an older male who took me under his wing and helped me see that there were some good and caring people in the world. He took me to the beach and tried to teach me to surf. He swam with me, taught me about God and showed me what a family could look like. He treated me as a person to be valued as Juan treated Chiron, not like someone to be used or a piece of trash to be discarded and forgotten.
As Chiron and I grew into adulthood we both learned to accept our situations and make the best of them. We both made our way alone and made the best lives that we could. Did he forgive his mother? You’ll have to see the movie and decide that for yourself. Did I forgive mine? I’m not so sure. But that’s for another time and another story.
In the end, both Chiron and I found someone to love and we’re both working on learning to accept love in return. We may have had lonely solitary childhoods, but I think we both got the “Chefs Special” that we deserve.