Growing up Gay-veston
Everyone has their version of Galveston. I have to be upfront and honest from the onset: I’m an IBC.
For the uncultured swine who are not familiar with Galveston’s island lingo, that means “Islander By Choice.” But I’ve lived here for a decade now and have been visiting on weekends since I was 17 with my 10-foot blue longboard in the back of my red pickup.
Shortly after high school graduation, I told my family I was homosexual. We lived in Pasadena, Texas, just outside Houston and I always knew that it wouldn’t be a place I could stay. I had survived a very closeted puberty in evangelical Texas suburbia but needed somewhere I could thrive. I escaped many weekends to Galveston’s seaweed beaches and fell in love with the funky island town, skinny dipping with friends in the moonlight, drunken first kisses on the sand. The island has always been a refuge for me; a place where I felt comfortable to be myself. Maybe it’s the freedom of the open gulf, the laid-back island time that everyone seems to run on, or maybe it’s the lively, unfaltering queer community who have staked their claim on this coastal vacation hotspot and dared onlookers to tell them otherwise. “We’re here, we’re queer and this island is ours. Visitors beware.”
I started working as an actor at Island ETC Theatre in the spring of 2013. Little did I know I would one day meet my longtime partner in a production of The Rocky Horror Show at this same theatre in 2014.
While the theatre acted as the backdrop to our “meet cute,” I fell in love with Justin Paul Gonzalez in 2015 during a Mardi Gras parade while we ate fried pickles and sat on a green park board bench listening to a zydeco band march by. Justin was a BOI (“Born On Island”, uncultured swine!) and he insisted on taking me to Mardi Gras for our first date. It was my first Galveston Mardi Gras and I was instantly mesmerized. Light up rings caught in the parade illuminated our faces briefly in colorful flashes with every ranch dipped pickle we brought up to our mouths. We were in the middle of a crowd of thousands but it felt like only us in that moment.
Now, we’re fortunate enough to ride in these parades as members of two different krewes and have found a whole new love of the Mardi Gras season. Our first apartment together was located in the historic Ashton Villa carriage house above the (then) Galveston Island Visitor’s Center. We watched weddings happen in the garden below our bedroom windows on hot summer nights and enjoyed walking to Art Walks, Fat Tuesdays, Shrimp Fests, Oktoberfests, Biker Rallys, and more.
I became a gay man in love in Galveston, and still am today. The thriving and boisterous queer community welcomed us with open arms. We explored the gay bars of the island, the drag nightlife. I even used to host karaoke at one of our local gay hotspots. I love those evenings when the gay community comes out to party. Those nights are plentiful in Galveston. It’s a gay Galveston rite of passage to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and watch fireworks on the balcony of a seaside gay bar that has changed names and owners so many times no one can keep count anymore (ticking off as many as you can remember is a favorite past time for long-time locals). Working with local activists to bring back the gay Galveston pride parade with Third Coast Pridefest has been a highlight of my involvement in the queer community these past few years. The community thrives and survives, much like our island itself.
Galveston has become my home, but also part of my identity. I feel most locals share this sense of pride. We’re survivors. Absorbing Galveston’s rich history as a staff member of GHF has opened my eyes to this beauty; this living, breathing, thriving, island that has endured hurricanes, fires, wars, pandemics, and ice storms and yet, still endures. I take tremendous pride in calling myself a Galvestonian — an islander. The very thread of Galveston feels woven into my being.
This is my Galveston.