Exclusive Interview by Karen Beishuizen
Nick Nolan is 62 years-old (but feels 32); he is the author of “Tales from Ballena Beach” series which has garnered five Book of the Year awards. He recently retired from teaching at public schools. His hobbies are classic cars, walking his dogs, cooking, meeting friends for dinners/brunch, gym, traveling, and writing. His most recent book “No Place Like Home: Coping with the Decline and Death of Toxic Parents” is the self-help/memoir he wrote when his violent father was dying. It’s not a cheerful story, but readers have told Nick how it has helped them to cope with their dying, toxic parents.
KB: Where were you born and how was it growing up?
I was born in Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. My parents were two very damaged people who traumatized their kids while making us feel like it was our imaginations, and the brutal beatings we got from Dad were for our own good (Mom: “Your father doesn’t know his own strength”). There wasn’t a day growing up when I felt safe: Dad was a former bodybuilder/quarterback/boxer and a perpetual bully, and Mom was clinically depressed but wouldn’t seek help; my elder sister and I held onto each other like shipwreck victims at sea grasping a slab of plywood.
Our parents were members of the John Birch Society, a right-wing fringe group that originated conspiracy theories in the 1960’s and ‘70’s; they were also uber-Catholic and believed in white supremacy and segregation, so life was literally divided into black/white, right/wrong, salvation/damnation; there were no grey areas, and as perfect as we kids tried to be, we were never good enough. My parents were also supremely homophobic: Dad called homosexuals ‘Fruits’ and ‘Fairies,’ while Mom referred to gay men as ‘Icky’, so you can imagine their delight when I came out as gay in my twenties. Childhood trauma has a way of tattooing itself on your psyche, and one never wholly recovers, no matter how much therapy you work through. This is one of the reasons I write: To utilize the imagination and fantasy world I escaped to as a terrified/despondent child, and to reframe my trauma into something fun and exciting. Sounds weird, but there it is.
KB: How old were you when you realized you were gay and what made you think this?
Aside from feeling visually attracted to males on TV from a very young age (e.g., The Wild Wild West and Flipper), I was repeatedly sexually assaulted at age 11 by a medical professional. Hence, I was sexualized early on without any guidance, because at our house we just didn’t talk about what’s between our legs; it is my belief that as an abused and overly compliant child, this medical professional ascertained that I was an easy target. I began acting-out with my school chums at 12 and then at 14 I became sexually active with a girlfriend and at 17 was sneaking into gay bars, where I met a DJ and began an affair with him (he was 26).
But I didn’t really come out as ‘gay’ until 1986 when I was 25, because I always wanted a ‘normal married life’ with a wife, and to be the father to my someday-children that my parents had never been to me. It was an agonizing decision to finally come out and face who I was and to head down what looked like a very lonesome road, especially because it was the height of AIDS, my friends were getting sick and dying, and I didn’t yet know my own HIV status. I decided to adhere to celibacy until I met ‘the right man’ who turned out to be my husband J. We have been together since our first date: May of 1987. I was 26 and he was 25.
KB: When did you come out as gay?
Officially in 1986 at 25, as stated. However, ‘coming out’ is a constant process. The first time I admitted a same-sex attraction (to my elder sister) I was 16, but even today using the term ‘my husband’ to strangers takes courage. Probably the biggest ‘coming out’ I did was at my retirement speech during my students’ graduation in 2022 where in front of 400 people I thanked my husband for his decades of support.
KB: How did your family and friends react?
My friends – who are chosen family – were always open and accepting, as were most of my coworkers. But my parents were predictably awful: After telling my mother I was gay, my father surprised me at work saying Mom hadn’t stopped crying in days, and if she suffered a nervous breakdown, it would be my fault. So, I told him that as her husband it was his responsibility to get her the help she needed. That shut him up, as it was the first time, I stood up to him, knowing very well that he might punch me in the face on the street. Later, he told me he’d kill me if I ever told my younger sister I was gay (“You won’t need to wait for AIDS to finish you off, buster, ‘cause I’ll kill you!”), and my mother told me it ‘would’ve been easier’ on her if I’d died of AIDS, so she wouldn’t need to explain to neighbors in the grocery store why her son hadn’t married yet.
Dad died in 2018 and Mom is currently on hospice care with Alzheimer’s. It’s very hard to visit her weekly and to extend compassion to her, but I’ve mustered the courage to do so…so far. My parents were two of the most despicable, unloving, and unsupportive people I’ve ever been forced to deal with. It’s ironic that I spent 30 years being a professional dad to other parents’ children, and my empathy and capacity for love is so deep. I’m very proud – and relieved – that their toxicity didn’t poison my heart.
KB: Did they know at your workplace/School /University you were gay?
At workplaces, always yes. At University, coming out was never taken lightly because I cherish my physical safety, and homophobia was/is rampant on campuses. But because I present as cisgender and am fairly masculine, I seldom got identified as gay unless I disclosed. As a Psychology major, back in the 1980’s and 90’s the subject would come up from time-to-time, but not like it does today; I remember taking a useless class called Minorities in the Media where LGBTQ folks had been completely excluded from the class syllabus and its designated textbook…so I brought this to the professor’s attention (she was clueless) and didn’t change any part of the semester-long class.
After attaining my bachelor’s degree, I went to work for the Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS), a cutting-edge Los Angeles social service agency launched by LGBTQ+ pioneer Teresa DeCrescenzo LCSW that provided residential care in a therapeutic milieu to homeless and recently incarcerated LGBTQ+ youth, so being gay was a professional asset.
But after 4 years I burned-out and pivoted to public education, where I taught grades 4-7 (ages 9-14) in Los Angeles Public Schools for 26 years, including most summer vacations. Being a gay man working daily around children is like walking a tightrope, because there’s always a target on your back. But my training at GLASS prepped me to maintain firm, fair, and consistent boundaries, and I left my tenure there with nary a complaint or incident, which isn’t easy for anyone who works for three decades with children.
KB: Where did you meet your husband and when did you get married?
Strange coincidences: In 1986 I briefly dated a guy named Jon who lived in Santa Monica near the LA beaches. One Saturday, I was working at the store I managed in Sherman Oaks (about 30 minutes’ drive from Santa Monica) when a young, attractive man came in: He was looking for a type of bookcase we didn’t carry, so I told him where he could buy what he wanted. That night I went crosstown to Jon’s for a small dinner party; I was there for an hour when that same young man walked in the door! I learned his name was Jaime and he’d arrived solo due to an argument with his then-boyfriend. We had a nice chat, but since he was attached and I was dating Jon, nothing happened.
A year later, when I’d gone back to college and was working at a different store in Sherman Oaks, Jaime walked in again! “Oh, you’re Jon’s friend!” We had a lively conversation, went on a date two weeks later, and we’ve been together now for 36 years…and we still have that bookcase he bought from the exact store I’d sent him to. We were finally able to marry in 2013 when the laws changed here in the USA, but we consider September of 1987 as our official wedding month, because that’s when we began building our life together.
KB: What do you think of all the religions out there who still see being gay as a sin?
I know many religious people who are fine human beings; they live their beliefs and are generous, empathic, intelligent, and introspective. But certain religions – in my opinion – are about control, power, and money. I’m terrified about what’s happened to the USA due to specific religions and politicians erasing that constitutional wall between church and state, and I consider people who condemn LGBTQ+ folks under the guise of their religion culpable for all the homophobia and bashings and LGBTQ+ misery and family estrangements and suicides. Homosexuality exists in 1500 animal species including 450 vertebrates, so what’s unnatural about it? And can you imagine culture and society without the contributions of Michelangelo, DaVinci, Bernstein, Copeland, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Cukor, Alan Turing, Elton John, and Josephine Baker……?
KB: Did you ever have any anti-gay incidents or experiences?
The worst homophobia/bullying I ever experienced was inside the house where I grew up. The second was in high school. But yeah, I’ve been called ‘faggot’ on the streets by insecure men in passing cars. As I mentioned earlier, I’m cisgender and relatively masculine, so I can ‘pass’ when I need to; it’s a survival technique I mastered as a young man, especially growing up with a violent, homophobic father and later during the AIDS crisis when gay bashings were commonplace. But now as a pair of ‘older gays,’ my husband and I are becoming increasingly visible, and we are acutely aware of cities, states, and countries where we would never visit or live. Survival and safety are of utmost importance to us, as it is to most LGBTQ+ folks. That’s why Gay Ghettos like Palm Springs, California and Provincetown, Massachusetts are havens for our tribe: Safety in numbers.
KB: Homosexuality is still a crime in many countries around the world. How do you feel about this?
It’s terrifying, and I shudder to think of what other LGBTQ+ people live and cope with every hour of each day in those countries. I’ve seen news stories that have turned my stomach and made me cry. It’s so unfair. Legislating homosexuality is like legislating hunger; ask anyone who’s tried to wish/pray/train/convert themselves into becoming heterosexual: It’s like telling someone to only eat food that disgusts them, otherwise they will starve to death (and go to Hell).
KB: What would you like to say to all the homophobes out there?
I’m certain my parents never imagined their only son would be homosexual, but here I am despite their threats, guilt, indoctrination, violence, and grooming. Yes, grooming. I was mercilessly groomed to be a heterosexual, Republican, conservative, bigoted, xenophobic, Christian, American man. And it didn’t work; I became who I was destined and designed by God to be. And if “I” can happen to my oppressive and demanding parents, dear homophobes, you might also have a queer child or grandchild. So, how might you handle it? Will you allow your religious and political and cultural views to obliterate the love you feel for your own flesh and blood?
Will you and your child become permanently estranged? Will you fail so miserably in your duties as a parent to be supportive, loving, understanding, and accepting? If so, you deserve the lifetime of heartache and misery coming your way. Too bad your offspring deserves better.
Check out Nick’s website: HERE
Find Nick on Facebook: HERE