Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer Saved My Husband's Life

Posted by on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Terry wrote about Donna Summer in the Stranger's 2007 Queer Issue. Donna was Terry's "It Gets Better" Project:

The single most important moment in the history of the gay liberation—in my liberation, at least—took place on Christmas morning, 1982.

At my Evangelical Christian middle school we were forced to attend lectures on "Rock 'n' Roll and Satanism." Everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Black Sabbath, we were told, was an agent of Satan. These lectures scared the shit out of me. But at night I would crawl under my Star Wars covers and listen to pop music on my tiny AM/FM radio. I knew if my parents found out they'd freak. It wasn't because they believed popular music would send me to hell, but they were worried about me fitting in at school. I was already a pariah and they didn't want me to become a bigger one by knowing all the words to "The Battle of Evermore." It was a bad time in my life.

But everything changed on Christmas morning, 1982. Donna Summer had released her self-titled album earlier in the year. Produced by Quincy Jones, the album was full of danceable soul and heartfelt ballads. The first single was the vocoder-inflected "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)," a harmless, funky breakdown à la Michael Jackson. It was so cool. I begged my mother for the album. And on Christmas morning it was under the tree.

My parents had no idea what an impact that album would have on me. I memorized all the lyrics. I made up dance moves to every song—even the slow ones. I came up with a story for the album as if it were a musical. (I even wrote a script!) And I came home from school every day and performed my Donna Summer musical alone in my basement.

When I came out years later, I teased my mom about how she "made me gay" that Christmas morning. But it was Donna who gave me the strength to come out. I took lyrics of the "The Woman in Me" to heart ("It's so hard to believe/That I'm feeling so free!"), and when I felt afraid I would just chant the lyrics to "State of Independence" ("Yes, I do know how I survive/Yes, I do know why I'm alive /To love and be with you... This state of independence shall be!").

Donna Summer, whatever her faults, showed me that somehow everything would someday be okay.

Christmas Morning 1982
  • Christmas Morning 1982

 

Comments (58) RSS

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BEG 1
Wonderful story, adorable picture. He's got the same gorgeous grin as always, eh?
Posted by BEG http://twitter.com/#!/browneyedgirl65 on May 17, 2012 at 11:24 AM · Report this
2
That picture makes me cry.
Posted by Dan Savage on May 17, 2012 at 11:25 AM · Report this
pfffter 3
That is so precious and heartwarming. Thanks for sharing that story.
Posted by pfffter on May 17, 2012 at 11:25 AM · Report this
4
what a happy, good-looking kid! the only part of this story that isn't heartwarming is that terry needed donna summer so much in the first place, just to feel ok about himself. but since he did, unfortunately, thank goodness she was there!
Posted by martarose on May 17, 2012 at 11:28 AM · Report this
carriemcc 5
Beautiful picture and story.
Posted by carriemcc on May 17, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Report this
tainte 6
wonder how he would have turned out listening to sabbath
Posted by tainte on May 17, 2012 at 11:30 AM · Report this
7
That's a cute picture of Schmader. And it does seem out of place for a seemingly typical straight boy to be so happily holding a Donna Summer album. Straight boys simply aren't known to idolize disco. If I saw this photo without knowing anything about the boy in it, I would wonder if he's gay - and I'd be right.

(Nothing wrong with any of this, so don't jump on me. I just think there's a little bit of truth in some stereotypes.)
Posted by floater on May 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM · Report this
8
I remember that story! Thanks for reposting it. @6, maybe more Rob Halford-y?
Posted by gloomy gus on May 17, 2012 at 11:33 AM · Report this
9
Oh, Terry, not Schmader. Pay attention, I know. I was too busy thinking about how stereotypically gay that is.

Cute picture, still!
Posted by floater on May 17, 2012 at 11:34 AM · Report this
Lissa 10
@2: Me too! He looks so thrilled!
Posted by Lissa on May 17, 2012 at 11:35 AM · Report this
11
Such a sweet photo. Yeah for Donna Summer!
Posted by Gillian Anderson on May 17, 2012 at 11:36 AM · Report this
12
@7, I'll jump on you for thinking that's a picture of Schmader, for sure. Read the post again, but slooooowly.
Posted by gloomy gus on May 17, 2012 at 11:38 AM · Report this
Vince 13
Good story! Great Diva. You both.
Posted by Vince on May 17, 2012 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 14
Love it.
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 17, 2012 at 11:43 AM · Report this
Renée Krulich (Nay) 15
<3 Aww Terry, that is lovely.
Posted by Renée Krulich (Nay) on May 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
David Schmader 16
Greatest picture ever.
Posted by David Schmader on May 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 17
For good fun, go to the original 2007 article, click on the link to Terry's blog, and see what comes up.
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
18
Hey @7...I'll challenge the notion of straight boys and disco. This very straight, if ever so metro (hate the term) straight boy loves disco. And Donna.

…and I'd say that the gay boys simply have no ability to truly appreciate the full Donna Summers. Just looking at the album cover and art for Bad Girls catapulted me into a better understanding of my own sexuality. :-)
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on May 17, 2012 at 11:45 AM · Report this
Bauhaus I 19
I think the album Bad Girls was when I started appreciating Donna the most. I was a serious devotee to just about everything after that. "I Feel Love" was music to 'lude up and screw to. This album was made for people who loved to dance - and it wasn't just more silly/fun disco. When the album started getting airplay, I can't tell you how excited nearly everyone was about it.

Does anyone remember Donna doing "Poppa Can You Hear Me?" at the Oscars. It was the same year Jennifer Holliday sang "The Way He Makes Me Feel." Two exquisite moments in Oscar history.

Thanks for everything, Ms. Donna. Little Terry. Happy at last.
Posted by Bauhaus I on May 17, 2012 at 11:46 AM · Report this
20
P.S. My mom had that couch too, the sofabed model. Many many naugas gave up their hyde in its construction....
Posted by gloomy gus on May 17, 2012 at 11:46 AM · Report this
Zebes 21
D'awwwww!
Posted by Zebes http://www.badrap.org/rescue/index.html on May 17, 2012 at 11:48 AM · Report this
22
I also loved Summers' "She Works Hard for the Money" -- not many (or any other) pop tunes (or videos) celebrate women's work.
Posted by judybrowni on May 17, 2012 at 11:48 AM · Report this
23
My wife, the same age as Terry, is also huge Donna Summer fan. At eight she used to shamelessly roller-dance to Hot Stuff in her parents Florida driveway.

So today in our office we are in mourning.

MOURNING WITH AN ALL-DAY SEXY DANCE PARTY!
Posted by tkc on May 17, 2012 at 11:49 AM · Report this
24
So glad Terry found the lifeline he needed to escape the crap he had to deal with every day. My hope for everyone is that someday we won't be so shitty to each other that those kinds of lifelines are needed.

Adorable pic BTW. RIP Donna.
Posted by SeattleKim on May 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 25
god that's the cutest picture...
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on May 17, 2012 at 11:57 AM · Report this
26
I love this story, and someday Dan will have to admit that at heart, he's really a sweet, nice, caring guy...
Posted by Merchant Seaman on May 17, 2012 at 11:58 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 27
Outstanding story!
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on May 17, 2012 at 12:04 PM · Report this
28
Wow, look at that plastic on the couch. It seems super uncomfortable.
Posted by DRF on May 17, 2012 at 12:06 PM · Report this
29
Oh, and... Terry still has that album, the very one in the picture. When I get home from work today I expect to find Terry sprawled out on the floor, headphones on, listening to it over and over again.
Posted by Dan Savage on May 17, 2012 at 12:17 PM · Report this
pfffter 30
@17 I wish I could read spanish. Google translate is only helping so much today.
Posted by pfffter on May 17, 2012 at 12:20 PM · Report this
31
That really is the sweetest picture ever.
Posted by MLM on May 17, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Report this
GlamB0t 32
Thank you for reposting. The picture is adorable.
Posted by GlamB0t on May 17, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Report this
33
This was so touching. I remember thinking that when I first read it, too.

The listening to pop music while hiding under the sheets at night resonated so much with me (mine were Raggedy Ann, by the way). My parents weren't evangelical, but they were older (when I was born, my dad was 45 and my mom was 36, and I was the first child for both of them), and 70s and 80s music kind of scared them, so I wasn't allowed to listen to it.

But then I got an AM/FM radio for my birthday. It was from Radio Shack, and it was stuck into the stomach of a stuffed racoon. The racooon provided just enough muffling that, if I laid my head on it, I could keep the volume low enough that my dad wouldn't hear it when he walked by my room on the way to the bathroom at night.
Posted by Sheryl on May 17, 2012 at 12:30 PM · Report this
kim in portland 34
Great picture of a beautiful boy. His sweet face defines joy.

Thanks for sharing!

And, good to know that someone else performs their own musicals. The world could use more people like us.
Posted by kim in portland http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/11/fast-paced_video_provides_a_fu.html on May 17, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Sir Vic 35
@29 Dammit, Dan. Stop talking about Terry being sprawled out on the floor when you get home. You're making even the straight guys jealous, you lucky fucker.

"At my Evangelical Christian middle school we were forced to attend lectures on "Rock 'n' Roll and Satanism"."
I remember those. It led my older brother to shoot up dad's KISS album with a BB gun. It led me to collecting records and musicology, and much laughter later in life over the paranoia about AC/DC. (Turns out they were a bad-ass rock band, not a bisexual conspiracy!)
Posted by Sir Vic on May 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM · Report this
More, I Say! 36
@30, dat ain't Spanish. Looks more Italian or Portuguese.
Posted by More, I Say! on May 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM · Report this
bedipped 37
Aww, teh sweetest, ya'all made me cry with that.
Posted by bedipped on May 17, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
More, I Say! 38
@30 ok, I obviously have no idea what I'm talking about. The internet says it's Romanian.
Posted by More, I Say! on May 17, 2012 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Fnarf 39
@20, we never had that couch but my relatives did. Oh, the creaking! Oh, the ripping flesh when you stood up after sitting down wearing shorts!
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on May 17, 2012 at 12:59 PM · Report this
briantrice 40
Ahh, "Rock 'n' Roll and Satanism". Those were the days when an Evangelical but not quite normal kid could be induced into a vision of evil so entrancing that it warps him for life...
Posted by briantrice http://www.briantrice.com on May 17, 2012 at 1:00 PM · Report this
very bad homo 41
I love this picture and story so much.
Posted by very bad homo on May 17, 2012 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 42
Thanks Dan & Terry. I love stories about the power of music!
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on May 17, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
despicable me 43
I love that Donna began Terry's It Gets Better project. I think many, many people would like to thank her for being their own early personal saviour.

Rest In Peace, Donna Summer

Hugs to Terry today.
Posted by despicable me on May 17, 2012 at 2:36 PM · Report this
brian 44
I'd forgotten about Terry's old blog. I got some great stuff off there. I think one was the twenty minute long Patrick Cowley remix of "I Feel Love."
Posted by brian on May 17, 2012 at 3:04 PM · Report this
Katty 45
Thank you for sharing that, Terry.
Posted by Katty on May 17, 2012 at 6:07 PM · Report this
46
"My parents had no idea what an impact that album would have on me. I memorized all the lyrics. I made up dance moves to every song—even the slow ones. I came up with a story for the album as if it were a musical. (I even wrote a script!) And I came home from school every day and performed my Donna Summer musical alone in my basement."

This makes me cry. The thought that anyone would have all this joy, and no one to share it with. I'm glad Terry's not alone now.
Posted by ColinB on May 17, 2012 at 8:13 PM · Report this
47
Cute kid, great little story. "I feel love" and the various remixes remains one of my all time favorites dance songs, that can still bring a tingle to my spine. And I recall, State of Independance, last song on this album blew me away when I heard it from my friend, Benoit. I was more into punk, back then, but Ms. Summer's music transcended all music types and made friend of us all on the dance floor. May her strong spirit move on and continue to carry light....
Posted by bagel on May 17, 2012 at 8:28 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 48
Just a little dust in my eyes... nothing to worry about. Sniffling must be because of the dust, too.

Such a wonderful photo and story. Thanks.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on May 17, 2012 at 9:06 PM · Report this
49
Love the photo, love the story. I've got a kid that age now... just starting to develop her own taste in music...and in other things, I guess. The look on Terry's face - it just gets right in you.
Posted by EricaP on May 17, 2012 at 10:48 PM · Report this
geoz 50
Great story. Love disco... still not gay (@7). ")
Posted by geoz on May 18, 2012 at 6:44 AM · Report this
51
I can't believe you are rehabilitating this person. She was utterly hateful to gay people -- who made her career. Another homophobe bites the dust. Enjoy Hell.
Posted by brutalcdeadatlast on May 18, 2012 at 12:23 PM · Report this
52
Dan, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Summers, during the 80s, denounce gays after she became all jesusy? I remember reading an interview with her back then saying she also didn't like singing Bad Girls anymore because it dealt with prostitution. She may have later recanted those statements but I remember thinking it was still a slap to a community that made her a star.
Posted by marc01 on May 18, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
53
Nice story. Hope you and Terry keep diaries. Such interesting lives.

RIP Donna.
Posted by Patricia Kayden on May 18, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
54
Great story.......and Terry, what a doll!
Posted by Rustyklein on May 21, 2012 at 6:06 AM · Report this
55
Donna Summer saved my life many times. It was her music and voice that kept me going in my darkest days. Amazing how a performer and their music can be so powerful. My Mom bought me a Donna Summer album once too for my birthday. It was On The Radio, Greatest Hits. I was in shear joy and was totally floored when it also came with that amazing poster of Donna sitting on the radio.
Posted by FrankBr on January 20, 2014 at 7:23 AM · Report this
56
I will ALWAYS love Donna Summer's music !!! Her story is not black and white, rarely are things so. But I recently came across this interview with Giorgio Moroder ;
"Divergent personal beliefs turned that professional fissure into a fault. "Donna became quite religious," says Moroder, as he strides past a wall of gold and platinum records. "She made me record a dance song about Jesus, dear God. And she really did not like gays — her attitude was sometimes difficult in the '80s." (Summer has denied ever making anti-gay statements.) "We were never 'estranged,' but for a long time we did not have the relationship we once did." I'm very sorry she passed away way too soon.
I got the chance to see her in concert three times and when she sang "Heaven's Just A Whisper Away", I felt like she was singing to me, there was no one else but us. It's the only time that's ever happened to me at a concert. I'm extremely grateful she graced the world with her BEAUTIFUL music.
P.S. People, please, it's "Donna Summer", not Donna Summers". I'm just saying is all.
Peace to all.
Posted by ariesdragon on January 20, 2014 at 3:03 PM · Report this
57
I will ALWAYS love Donna Summer's music !!! Her story is not black and white, rarely are things so. But I recently came across this interview with Giorgio Moroder ;
"Divergent personal beliefs turned that professional fissure into a fault. "Donna became quite religious," says Moroder, as he strides past a wall of gold and platinum records. "She made me record a dance song about Jesus, dear God. And she really did not like gays — her attitude was sometimes difficult in the '80s." (Summer has denied ever making anti-gay statements.) "We were never 'estranged,' but for a long time we did not have the relationship we once did." I'm very sorry she passed away way too soon.
I got the chance to see her in concert three times and when she sang "Heaven's Just A Whisper Away", I felt like she was singing to me, there was no one else but us. It's the only time that's ever happened to me at a concert. I'm extremely grateful she graced the world with her BEAUTIFUL music.
P.S. People, please, it's "Donna Summer", not Donna Summers". I'm just saying is all.
Peace to all.
Posted by ariesdragon on January 20, 2014 at 3:05 PM · Report this
58
I first heard her singing when I was next door, visiting my neighbors, who had just moved in, from Jamaica. She really moved me, with the power of her big voice, which she held out in those iconic, famous notes. But she was also vulnerable. I think she really knew how to work those qualities, but they were genuinely hers. As I became a fan, and read more about her, I think, as a ten year old, I felt her maternal quality, I wasn't sure what the hell LTLYB was all about, but her essence, that her performances were this vulnerable person, who was really very shy and awkward, at heart, but she engaged herself in her art, and created, what I believe to be, a transcendence of self-doubt, ordinariness, the mundane, when she sang. I guess to her, it was a religious transcendence, but to me her performance was very cathartic, and gave me hope, as I had experienced, and felt, the abuse that my own sweet mother experienced daily. My mother, who was a year older than Donna, and an artist, stayed in a bad situation, and ultimately lost her life for it. Unnoticed by many, but unforgettable by myself. Donna really showed us the art in the make-up and the fake up, and with the inseparable theme of love, that just saturates all the colors of her work, she showed us love, and just how beautiful she could make life be. She saved me too. I feel for her.
Posted by SubjectiveMedia on January 20, 2014 at 3:07 PM · Report this

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