I will fully admit that it was a little hard to be open and gay and live in Allegany County during the time that I was coming to terms with my own self. And looking back, it really was not that long ago. So much has changed. In me and in the world.
I found it difficult to be “me” in different areas of life in Western Maryland. And that – at least for me – included the City of Frostburg where I was living at the time. However, on campus – the university was a different story. The college was very inclusive of the gay community but even then – in my 20s -- it was more of a secluded and even controlled environment.
In Cumberland, I could be little more open and accepting. That would have been moreso had there been an actual meeting place for gays to assemble and be welcome. There was no Cumberland Pride for me when I was living there. But there was pride – in the community.
I had an added dilemma of sorts when I was living in Allegany County. Partly because it’s how I was raised and what I thought was expected of me, I had married to a woman. Even after our marriage ended, I still very much remained “in the closet.” That woman today, I might add, is my best friend.
While I was living in Allegany County, however, just outside Frostburg, I met a man and fell in love with him. And I realized this was the soul I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And then my life changed completely.
That was nearly twelve years ago. And last fall, that man – George – had a massive stroke.
And I have learned more about relationships and commitment in this last year than in any other time of my life. I know what “sticking it out” means and I know what true love is.
Contrary to what people might want to think – outside and inside the gay community – being gay is not about sex, nonstop partying, and a carefree life. It’s about love – in my case, it’s about two men who love each other enough to fight and protect each other even when some uncontrollable and horrible thing happens. It means putting your life on hold to take care of the other. It means perspective and selflessness. It means loving that person more than you love changing your social media status.
I will be honest. The appeal of the gay community was what I saw portrayed on TV shows and from bigger cities – the glitter, the parades, the disco music, the clubs, even the drag shows. It all seemed like one nonstop picnic with rainbows and unicorns. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And being gay is that and can be that – but like life – it is so much more real.
Never ever did I think that not quite 12 years into meeting George – this funny, loving, and caring man who once worked as Reba McEntire’s stage double – that I would be having to take complete care of my partner who had a major health crisis.
There are many people that I talked to – both straight and gay – who have told me they would not have stayed in this situation. George and I are not legally married (yet – but I keep threatening him with it) and so “leaving” would be a matter of simply disappearing. And actually people have told me I “could.” Oh, could I? Really? What kind of love would that be?
I promised George, I promised myself, and I promised God that I would stay and be there for George and do what's best for him and do the best that I can do.
I just look at all of these young kids so happy and proud that that are in a relationship and they can post it all over social media. Social media didn’t realize exist the way it does now when I first came out. And by the time it did, I was with George. And so I look at these posts today and I see these young gay kids “so much in love” and then a week later they are crying their pretty young eyes out because they broke up with the love of their life. Then a month later doing the same exact thing.
I have to wonder -- do these kids – straight and gay that I see -- really look toward the future and ask themselves that if they find the love of their life and God forbid that love gets sick or disabled are they prepared to be a loving caring adult and stop everything to take care of him or her? I think some young people would run as far as they can and not look back because God forbid they become inconvenienced.
So my advice to any gay “kid” that says they want to be in a committed serious relationship – You better make sure that you understand the meaning of the word committed and make sure that you are willing to do what it takes to truly love that person – through good times and bad, through sickness and health, for better or for worse – because, yes, being in a relationship can be fun but it can also be difficult and downright scary.
I am blessed and thankful that George is still here with me. It may be extremely difficult taking care of him but we will get there and we will get it done.
This experience – and also dealing with a worldwide pandemic this year at the same time (George was in a rehabilitation center for months at one time and my only visits with him were over the phone and eventually through a glass door or window) – has brought us much closer and made us much stronger as a couple. I feel like we have been through the worst the world can throw at our relationship –maybe a little bit more than a lot of couples I know.
But this experience has also brought so many wonderful people into our life – some people we didn’t even know before all of this happened. We have reconnected with amazing friends who heard about what was going on and showed up to help or just to visit And people George hadn’t heard from in 20 years came to check in on us. It has helped us to figure out who our true friends are. There are people I thought would definitely reach out but didn’t and there are people who have come forward with big open hearts.
We have taken this time and this experience to rid ourselves of the bad influences and the negative thoughts so George and I are only surrounding ourselves with good, positive, caring friends. And loving people with no drama. Those people who tried to tear us apart are no longer allowed any contact.
We are indeed blessed to still have so many amazing people -- new and old – in our life. George’s and mine.
Photographs in this story courtesy of Blain Coleman and George Cooper.
Allegany Magazine wishes George a speedy recovery. As of press time, he was back home in Pennsylvania with Blain and doing much better.