Jamie Brickhouse is the author of Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex, and My Mother.
I’m Jamie Brickhouse. I’m from Beaumont, Texas.
When I was in college my freshman year in 1986 and the AIDS crisis was in full bloom, that’s when I came out to Mama Jean and Daddy Poo. I was in a playwriting class and they were really excited about that because they wanted me to be a writer. I wrote this five-minute scene about a gay guy and his best girlfriend who move in together. They were so excited to to read it and as soon as they did, Mama Jean called me.
And she said, “Oh! We just loved the piece that you wrote! I think it’s just wonderful! I’m telling you, you’re a writer. That’s what you need to be!” And then there was this uncharacteristic hesitancy in her voice.
And then she asks, “But you don’t have tendencies like that do you?”
And I said “Yeah, I do.”
And then she just screamed away from the phone, “Earl! Earl!” – my father’s name – “Pick up the phone! Jamie has something to tell us.”
After that phone call, I went home for the Thanksgiving holidays and Daddy Poo took me out to our first father/gay son lunch.
He sat me down and he said, “Now, I want you know that your mother and I love you no matter what you are.” And then he took a sip of Chardonnay and he looked across the room, not at me, and he said “Just don’t march those parades.”
Now Mama Jean, on the other hand, when I told her not only was I gay but I was seeing a ballet dancer, she looked at me and said, “What ballet dancer?”
And I thought it impressed – I thought I would impress her and I said, “Well, you know, he used to dance with the New York City Ballet.”
“New York? Have you heard of AIDS?”
“Have you heard of safe sex?” I said to her.
Several years later, after I had, you know, been in New York for many years, and she was up here visiting, she almost said out of the blue, “Have really been barebacking lately?”
I just turned to her and looked incredulous and I said, “Do you know a barebacking is?”
She said, “Yeah. I learned it on Oprah.” Apparently, there was a gay guy who was being interviewed on Oprah and he had a crystal meth addiction. And he lost his fabulous life and started barebacking and became HIV positive.
So flash forward to 2012 and that morning where I need to call Daddy Poo. And the reason I need to get him is that my brother is angry with me because I have refused to let him and his very large dog move into my New York apartment that I share with my partner in a very small cat. He’s threatening to tell Daddy Poo my dirty little secret. And my dirty little secret is that, like that gay guy on Oprah, during my alcohol and drug addiction, I had been barebacking and had become HIV positive. And Mama Jean’s not around to have these come-to-Jesus talks anymore.
I was almost paralyzed with fear. And then my fear morphed into anger. And I said out loud like a soap opera diva, “I will not be blackmailed! I will not be made to feel ashamed!” So I pick up the phone and I call Daddy Poo.
“Hey, is this Jamie Poo?”
“How’s that book coming?”
“Oh, it’s coming along.”
“Well, hurry up and finish. I want it to come out before I die. I see on Regis and Kelly y’all are having some bad weather up there.” I cut off this small talk and I asked him if he’d heard from my brother. He hadn’t.
And I said, “Um, I need to tell you something.” And I kinda hemmed and hawed.
And then, I just opened my mouth. “I never wanted to tell you and mom and look, all right, I’ll just say it. I’m HIV positive. I have been for 10 years. And I never told y’all because I didn’t want you to worry and you don’t have to worry. I’ve never been sick and I take one pill a day and I never had any side effects.” And there was just dead silence on the other end of the line.
And then he said, “But you’re gonna be okay, right? You’re going to be okay?”
I said, “Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I mean, I’ll die someday, but it won’t be from this.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been hearing. They got some good medications these days.”
And I said, “Yeah.” I said, “You know, it’s like a chronic condition like diabetes but it’s better than diabetes. I mean, diabetes is a pain in the ass.” And then he started to tell me which celebrities were on Regis and Kelly that morning. Done.
Every now and then he would send me a clipping. He was always sending me clippings in the mail and, you know, there was a clipping in there about some HIV meds. And there was this yellow post it note with his old man spookhouse writing in there and it said, “Is this the drugs you’re taking?”
And then one time, I was down in Beaumont visiting and he just casually mentioned that he was going to the annual Paint the Town Red gala fundraiser. And his unsaid words spoke louder because the fundraiser is for the local AIDS support organization in Beaumont.
And about that memoir that he was so eager for me to hurry up and finish – he died before it came out. But I hand delivered the manuscript to him a year before the book came out, which included my HIV status. He read the whole thing and gave me his total blessing. He died knowing just about everything about me.
Before I told Daddy Poo that I was HIV positive, that I am HIV positive, I was in the closet about it. I had only told my partner and a handful of friends. But telling him liberated me. Now, I don’t give a damn who knows. Yeah, I’m HIV positive. I have red hair. I’m 49 years old. I’m from Beaumont, Texas and I live in New York City. That’s who I am. And I like floral print blazers.