After A Fire & Brimstone Warning, Queer Man Finds Solace In Lauryn Hill and An Ice Cream Shop. “We All Need Angels. Keep a Lookout for Yours.”

by Dusty Childers

I’m Dusty Childers and I’m from Gaffney, South Carolina.

I went to a church called Blue Branch Baptist Church. And there were a lot of women there, most of them I was related to. Every so often we would get someone new in church, which was kind of exciting ‘cause it was such a small little community. And one day Gloria showed up.

Gloria wore linen and cotton blend dresses as opposed to polyester dresses. And she would wear these beautiful muted tones. Very sweet, very soft-spoken, opinionated, very with it.

And one night, we were in what’s called Training Union, which is like Sunday school, but in the PM. She walked into Training Union at the request of two of my relatives, who were my Training Union teachers.

And it’s just me and four or five of my cousins and then, like, some other kids from the neighborhood. We’re all around 10, 12 years old. And Gloria starts talking about being a hospice care nurse. And she starts telling the story about a young man that she was giving hospice care for. And this young man was dying of AIDS.

And she told this horrific story of being in the room with this young man. He was, like, in his early thirties and he was all alone. She was the only one that was there. And so like a good Christian woman, she sat down with him and started talking to him about the Lord. He’s dying and all they can talk about is how he’s made these mistakes and how he feels like he can’t be accepted by the Lord in the end of his life.

And so as he’s passing away, she recalls him screaming that he’s hot and that he’s… and he’s… he’s upset that his life turned out this way. And she parlayed to us – this is a woman who went to school to be a nurse, you know, knows science – that he was screaming that he was entering hell as he was passing from this life.

So around the room are little boys and girls. I don’t think that this story was for them. This story was for me. I knew that my gig was up, right? It was… this was them attempting to get me to change my life. I didn’t sleep that night. I didn’t sleep a lot of nights because I was like, if I die in my sleep, I’m going to go to hell.

But at 14, I was able to get a job. There was a new outlet mall. There was an ice cream store. And I filled out my application and they asked what days you’re available. And I said that I was available open to close on Sunday. And so she started scheduling me every single Sunday.

And I went in, I put on Britney Spears and I was like, this is all I care about in the world, right? I’m… I’m – I will clean turds off the sidewalk if it means I don’t have to go to church.

There was a woman that I met named Debs. Deb… Debs was what we called her. And she was this very skinny, even more metropolitan woman. And she would come in to use our yogurt machine. She, like, lived off of yogurt. But she would bring me stacks of fashion magazines. And so there were things that I didn’t have subscriptions to. And so –  and she would regale me with stories of living in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And so she’s like, “Oh honey, just like, wait till you get to the city. Wait till you get to the city. You’re really gonna love it. You’re going to love it.”

And I was like, “Well, I really, I really want to shoot a little bit bigger than Charlotte and get to New York.”

And she’s like, “Oh, absolutely. It’s totally plausible.”

So, you know, I’m… I’m finishing high school and the year that I’m about to graduate, Lauryn Hill, who was like my North star as an artist came out with this unplugged album. And so I would literally drive around the country and listen to that album. There was a song called “I Get Out.” And so I’d listened to this song.  She’s like, I get out of all your boxes.

And I listened to the song and as the song was sort of over, I would just repeat to myself, I’d be like, “Hey. My name’s Dusty,” you know, like, and shake this invisible person’s hand. And then there’s a pause. And then, “Yeah, I’m gay.” And just sort of do that over and over and over again.

So I ended up in school in Virginia, so removing myself from South Carolina, making my way up North. I met this kid named Trent – Trent, And  Trent had a crush on my roommate and so he sort of ended up camping out in our room as a way to, like, get our roommate to – my roommate to like him.

And so one morning he’s been sleeping in the floor for days and he just sort of leans on the edge of my bed and he goes, “So you’re gay, right?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I think maybe I’m asexual.”

And then at the end of it, him being like, “But you’re gay. Right?”

And I was like, “Yes, I’m gay.” The only other person that I knew that knew a gay person was Gloria, right? And that did not turn out so great. And so here I was with this person, and I sort of went under their tutelage.

Fairly recently, I ended up being home for a funeral, which took place at Blue Branch Church. And I realized that sitting in that pew of the church that, like, it didn’t have that same hold on me anymore. You know, I didn’t – I no longer believed that what they had taught me was true.

There are so many Glorias in the world. There are people that are spreading misinformation. You know, people need people, as Barbra said. And so find your people and cling to those folks and ask them for their help. We all need angels. And so, you know, keep a lookout for yours.

Thank you, Trent. Thank you, Lauryn Hill and thank you, Deb and the ice cream shop, because it definitely got me to the fantasy of my queer life that I always –  I never even thought was possible as a child.

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