It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing this column, twice a month, for more than three decades. While at 71 I remain healthy and not quite ready to retire, I’ve also come to realize that I have said all that is in me to say, and that it’s time to let go.
Endings can be poignant and wistful times. Inevitably, 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, in the Mission District in 1948; and, after a childhood spent in exile in the suburbs, to return and 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’70’s I came out as a gay man and rode the heady tide of Gay Liberation that swept through the city and the country after the Stonewall uprising. 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 ‘80’s 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 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 in the news. He was one of the first one hundred people in San Francisco to be diagnosed with AIDS, and suddenly the thing 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 mental health issues in our community, in those days directed primarily to addressing the many emotional stresses 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 dogmas and ideologies of his time. My column appeared, first, in the Sentinel, then in Frontiers, and found its final home in the SF Bay Times.
I have some misgivings about letting go of my public voice now, in the midst of another dark and desperate 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 community of gay men and that this community has been an inexhaustible source of friendship and support. I have also found that, for all its faults, I have been able to rely on my community as a source of compassion and wisdom, especially in the hard times. These times have been no exception. I am heartened and proud that LGBTQ communities here and all over the country have seen through the fraud that has been perpetrated on the American people, and have repudiated it. I live in the faith that the country will one day find its way again; and that when the history of this disgraceful time is written, it will be remembered that our people were in the thick of the resistance.
I especially want to thank my husband and lover Craig Wenzl, for his unwavering love and support. He was my editor and chief cheerleader, and when my writing wandered off into theories and 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 thoughts over the years. I very much appreciate your words of encouragement and support, as well as your willingness to offer helpful criticism when it was needed. Your silent presence has been invisible, but always deeply felt. Thank you.