Story Update: Melissa Driscol on Confronting Bullies and the Politics of Cutting Ties.

by Melissa Driscol

Nathan: Hello and welcome to this week’s Story Update for I’m From Driftwood. Today, we’re going to be speaking with Melissa Driscol, who shared her story with us about close to five years ago. Before we speak to Melissa, let’s take a look at her story.

Melissa: My name’s Melissa Driscol and I’m from Lorain, Ohio.

So growing up, I had a lot of activities that I had to be a part of. And with that, my family in particular had a few friends that we did a lot with. So there’s this one friend, his name was, let’s say, SC. And we did things like swimming and roller skating, music activities, a lot of musicals, we would go see shows, fairs, Cedar Point, all different kinds of things.

So then fast forward to moving to New York. I made a lot of friends very fast. I worked in a piano bar and I was involved in performing, so I made a lot of friends that way as well. And I had one friend, again in particular, that we shared the love of activities. We were on the New York urban volleyball league, we cooked together, we sang together.

So one day, it was gay pride, about a week after gay pride. My best friend and I, we did a show. We called it “Born This Way” and it was here at the Stonewall. And I take a ton of pictures, but I had taken this beautiful picture, or I had someone use my phone and take a beautiful picture of us on stage, wearing our short little dresses. And she in heels, about 6 foot 8. And I’m about 5 foot 4. And it was just the most, it was just, we were vibrant and happy and singing and basically, I instantly posted that picture on Facebook.

The day after the show, I was laying in bed. As I always do, I pick up my phone, I check my email and all the messages. And I had the message pop up from SC back in Ohio. And I was all excited. I was like, “Oh, I love getting messages from my friends at home.”

And to my devastation, it was a message based on that picture I posted from the night before of Chocolatina performing at the Stonewall. It basically said, “Dear Melissa. I always knew you were theatrical. You need to put the lord back into your life. I’m sure your mother is very disappointed in you.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I felt hurt. I felt betrayed. I felt like all those childhood memories were just blown up in smoke in one message. And, of course, I messaged back right away and I said, “You know I have plenty of the lord in my life. My mother is my biggest fan. And I will never speak to you again.”

And then I scrolled on and I deleted his whole family – sisters, cousins, everybody, but I at first wanted to hide. I think I stopped posting for awhile. I think I didn’t tag for myself. I think I just like became a little bit inhibited. And then I have to say, very shortly after that, I was out! Not only I came out of May the next year in 2010, I started dating my girlfriend at time. And I just went out and proud. And I said, you know what, I’m not only performing with drag queens. I am gay, like I’m not even straight! Like what am I doing? It kind of woke me up to say, if someone’s going to judge you that hard, okay, let’s take a closer look and see what am I hiding because of how conservative my upbringing was.

And I decided, no more. And then I really truly think it became myself. Which, I’m a better person, more comfortable in my own skin. I think I’m more real and I think I’m more fun. I think I became more fun because I’m not hiding. If you want a judge, judge silently, judge on your own. Do not send me a message and tell me you don’t like my drag queen. Because to me it doesn’t matter.

Nathan: Okay, Melissa, it’s so good to see you again. How are you doing?

Melissa: I’m good! It’s great to see you too. You look wonderful.

Nathan: Thank you. You do as always. So that was, you know, several years ago that we filmed your story there at Stonewall. And just watching it again, I’m really curious, have you spoken to that person in this story who kind of bullied you and said that you need to find God in your life? Has there been any communication between you and that friend?

Melissa: I have not. I have not. And I go home – I call it home – to Ohio at least four times a year. COVID has made it a little less, but now I have not seen or heard from them in 2000… I believe it was eight that I blocked everybody. They’re still all blocked. I’m still on social media and I have not seen or heard for them. Yeah. It’s pretty remarkable.

Nathan: Yeah. I mean, it’s… who needs that in their life, honestly? And you know, we just had an election here in the US like two weeks ago. And I kinda feel like that kind of stuff happens a lot around these politically charged times. And has there been any other experiences like that where you had to cut some people out of your life?

Melissa: Huh. That’s a very good question, Nathan. You know, we both have some mutual friends, I’ll name Kevin and Bill for an example. And I was at their house, I think it was just before labor day, and I asked Kevin for some advice because I had some people in my life that were publicly supporting 45. And it was very uncomfortable, not just on social media, but just in conversation, you know, trying to be respectful of long-term friendships, family vibes. And I did indeed have to… have to go silent a little bit. And also kind of make it clear, like, I’m married to a woman. I will not be bullied in any way, shape or form, which I made that very clear several years ago. But yeah, unfortunately, there are several people that I’ve had to, again, cut out on social media and not allow myself to be… to be judged or bullied in any way. Yeah. But I definitely sought some advice because it’s not easy as you know.

Nathan: Yeah. And there’s a conversation about that of, do you just cut people out of your life or do you try to change them or have a conversation about it? Or, you know, cause I’m of the mind that there’s no black and white answer. It depends on the person and their relationship to you. And it depends on…  but I think no matter what you have to do what’s… you have to take care of yourself first.  And you can’t always be in the position to educate or bring someone out or lead somewhere. Like, you just got to take care of yourself first. And you know, yeah, like removing that person from your social media life is sometimes a way to go.

And if you’re in a position of, you know, Hey, I think I can get this person to move a certain direction on some issues, go for it. If that’s… if it’s not going to stress you out and if you feel comfortable doing that, go do that, you know? Do you kind of feel that same way? Like there’s some gray area there or is it always just get them out of your life?

Melissa: I do. I do. I… like, give an example, my dad’s friend’s son, whom I don’t have, like, a deep intellectual relationship, but we do have a social media relationship and I just quickly asked based on some posts, like, who are you going to vote for? And then he answered, I’m not going to vote. And so I did take the liberty and kind of, you know, indulge in a conversation or trying to get him to talk about it a little bit and just explain, like, you message me every day. Like whether it’s a cat photo or how are you or you know, he has some health problems. So I’ve been a cheerleader for that. I’ve been his friend and I’ve known him since I was a child. And, you know, I think… I think I may have, may have done some good work there.

When it comes to my dad, it’s very touchy cause he’s 84 and it’s so difficult. So I don’t cut my dad out of my life, but I definitely… Oh, I bought the Bob Woodruff “Rage” book for an early birthday present and he said he’s reading it. And when I… when he asked me what my main beef was with Trump and I said, well, the way he handled COVID. Like beyond all my, you know, personal beliefs with, you know, pro-choice, pro-life and the LGBT community and tax evasion – all of those., COVID was my number one. And I had words, like, I put my words together wisely, and it’s so hard to speak to an elder that you respect. Well, we are having better conversations, which I think, back when I spoke to you five years ago, you know, my dad was the friend of this family that was so rude to me.

And he still never really, really believed it. You know, he didn’t really think it was that bad, but it was. And so now at this age, I think we’re having better conversations, smarter conversations,  which is a good thing. And in terms of anyone I’ve kind of cut out speaking to or I’ve blocked, or I just don’t want to see it, there are a few of those that I have chosen to… for instance, you know, tying back in Chocolatina, I have a friend who is very pro-gun and shows pictures of guns and even Leoni was like, “So-and-so is… did you see that today?” And I said, you know, I just… I don’t want to see it anymore. And then next time we do go home. Leoni said, you know, we’re not going to see so-and-so. And so it’s just a lot more paying attention to, if you believe that, then you really aren’t my friend, like you don’t really support me. And that’s… that’s fine, ‘cause I… plenty of people do, but I am just now at this age being even more forthright in who I will allow to just be in my life, be in the orbit being I’m very positive and I project positivity around anyone I’m around, which you know, ‘cause you and I around each other a lot. So yeah, it never gets easy, but it’s definitely gotten easier putting more tools in the toolbox of how to speak to people and when to just bow out gracefully, if that answers your question.

Nathan: Absolutely. Yeah, really, it’s about the value of who you choose to surround yourself with, and you know, you want that support and you want that… that positivity and you know, and it’s harder, of course, as you laid out very specifically about, you can’t really do that with family. But there is some ways to… to navigate that. Whereas, you know, they’re your family and you have to figure out how to have those conversations, you know, or learn how to not have those conversations. If you know, they’re not going to go well.

Melissa: Right. Absolutely.

Nathan: So what else is going on in your life these days?

Melissa: Well, luckily in COVID, during COVID, Leoni and I have stayed healthy. We’ve been tested several times and neither of us have antibodies nor did we contract COVID. I’m very grateful. We have stayed safe. Lea only just recently went back to work at Apple and I am still working from home for Estee Lauder. And since I… we had our interview, I bopped around a little bit in the company. I’m currently with travel retail. I’ve been with them a year and a half and it’s really fun. And I like it a lot. It’s global. So we have a lot of dealings with Europe and Asia and duty-free stores, the airport stores, which surprisingly are doing quite well. My team is really great, really strong, very inclusive people all across the gamut. So it’s really nice to work with, like, in a diverse group, smart group of people.

And then I still work at Stonewall. I’m the manager of the events. And although there are no events this year, obviously when we can, we will go back to them. They are open seven days a week from, I think some days it’s 12 to 10 and some days it’s 2 to 10, but they are open, limited capacity. And in New York, some streets Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio have allowed the streets to close. I’m not sure exactly how many but Christopher can close on the weekends. So they’re able to utilize the street and they have a tent that’s really cool. And so, so yeah, so I’m still there. And for now I’m just going in once a week, just to stay fresh and keep up with the team.

And other than that, I think I told you, because I asked you to be a guest, I’ve been doing a series on Saturday nights called original artists series. We’ve had everybody from painters to singers, comedians, storytellers and activists such as yourself. So you’re going to come on and talk to us. And that’s been really fun. It’s not for profit as of now. I’m just doing it for awareness. Arts are essential. People are essential. And people’s stories, as you know, as a storyteller of many, many hundreds of stories is very important. Whatever your story is to get it out there when people are listening, what I’m finding, people are listening, that’s really fun.

So that’s been my quarantine project, like to… to just become a better public speaker and also storytell, and not my story, but other people’s stories, which I think as you know, that’s your platform, it’s just so fun to support people. And I do miss performing full-time, but I really… I really like how in my forties I’ve segwayed into more corporate and even with Stonewall, like, although it’s not officially corporate is very much run. It’s very organized. It’s… especially the nonprofit, like between the owners of the actual bar and the nonprofit, it may as well be corporate because it’s just so organized and they’re so… the mission for the LGBTQIA+ community is just an everyday affair and they really care about people’s wellbeing. So between the two, I feel very lucky to have landed in a spot if I’m not going to be performing on cruise ships and around the world, I’m very happy with landing in an inclusive environment at Estee Lauder, ‘cause they’re very inclusive and diverse. And also with Stonewall, you can obviously get more… more inclusive there.

Nathan: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. If anyone has any questions for Melissa, just leave them in the YouTube comments and Melissa, maybe you can check back sometime and respond to some. So thanks again. And we’ll see you all next week for our next Story Update.

Melissa: Thank you. Mwah! Thank you.

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