I met Judy while nude modeling for the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1984. If unconditional love was enough to make a relationship work, we would still be married. I used to tell people that if she were a man, we’d still be together. A heterosexual Aquarius female and a gay Aries male may not seem a likely match, but every beat of my heart outweighed all logic. It was a refreshing change of pace to meet a person who loved and accepted me totally.
She had been sketching me for four years before she finally spoke to me. “I bet it gets cold up there sometimes,” she said as an icebreaker, opening up the conversation.
“I have my trusty electric heater -- it’s not so bad,” I replied. “Do you know that outside of the other models and the instructors, you are the first student to actually speak to me?”
“I think most students feel that if they speak directly to you, it breaks some invisible wall that says they’ve been looking at you naked all day!” Judy laughed. “I personally don’t have a problem, looking at you naked all day and speaking to you.”
Judy was a fair-skinned, freckle-faced girl from Washington, D.C., who wore her long, wavy hair styled in a shag cut. She was a full-figured girl, but was shapely. She looked like the kind of girl my mother would have wanted for me if I were straight -- light-skinned with “good” hair. I flirted back.
“Then why did it take you so long to speak? How long you been here?”
“This is my last year at MICA,” Judy answered. “You have a point.”
She was naturally warm and fun. I don’t even remember how we wound up on a date, but by our second outing, I told her I was gay and told her about every man I had ever been with. It had not been long since my breakup with Larry, the closeted politician, and she understood the restraints of that relationship. Judy was a free spirit -- open-minded and uninhibited, the exact opposite of Larry. We felt a connection and bonded quickly. She was dating a guy from D.C. who was seeing both her and another female, and she was torn as to what to do about it. After meeting me, her decision to leave her boyfriend became an easy choice.
Some people may question why I call myself “gay” instead of “bi-sexual,” being that I entered into a relationship with a woman after living years of a strictly gay lifestyle. It’s simple -- on a purely sexual level, I am attracted to men, regardless of their character. I’ve had wonderful sexual encounters with men I’ve despised. With a woman, it is her personality and spirit that motivates me to want to sleep with her, as an expression of my emotional connection to her. Once the emotional connection lacks, so does the lust. This has never been the case with any man I’ve found physically attractive!
Judy had a beautiful spirit. I thought of her as a black hippie, running barefoot and smoking cigarettes -- a total artist who was about total expression. Being with her made it easy to stop seeing guys. Her big smile invited everyone to experience her joy. She was friendly, funny, and real. With Judy, I thought I could live free of rules, restrictions, and stereotypes.
Judy did not pressure me like the previous men in my life, who either abused me or tried to force me to be someone I was not. We enjoyed each other’s company...and we enjoyed having sex. Although I was still sexually attracted to men, I did not always enjoy having sex with them. In fact, I rather detested anal sex. After leaving a relationship where I was a total bottom, I finally felt like a “real man” with Judy. Changing roles was new and exciting! Her breasts fascinated me, and I loved exploring her body and performing oral sex. Her playful naughtiness allowed me to experience the sexual awakening that I had missed during puberty. I had not experienced being with a woman since 1976 when I had been with Shari in high school.
I gradually stopped dating guys, but was attracted to one guy who was also a model at MICA. He was straight, but was involved with a bi-sexual woman who encouraged him to hook up with me to explore his options. Although I was still dating Judy, we had not discussed the issue of exclusivity. The other model and I spent the night together, and even had sex. I was quite satisfied, but he concluded it was not for him. He called his girlfriend from my bedroom to report the experience to her. “What an open relationship,” I thought to myself. I fantasized about Judy and I joining him and his girlfriend, becoming the black version of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a husband/wife swapping film of the 60’s. Judy drew the line on that fantasy.
A few days after my twenty-sixth birthday, I got a call from someone telling me that one of my best friends, Gregory Nicholson, had been murdered. The murder was a brutal one -- Gregory was found suffocated with a pillowcase and drowned in his own bathtub. His car had also been stolen. The police made the assumption that Greg had picked up a man for casual sex, and whomever he had solicited was the murderer. The police don’t usually spend a lot of time investigating gay murders. Gregory’s death is still probably a cold case. But it was a wake-up call for me. A huge part of our social life had been cruising neighborhoods where street hustlers or horny guys hung out on corners. I would always ride shotgun. We called it picking “trade” up off the street. Why didn’t he call me that night to go out with him? Was it because I had been hanging out with Judy? Was his killer someone I had seen before? Did the killer know that Greg and I were buddies? I imagined that the assailant might come after me, thinking I might be able to describe him to the police.
Greg should not have been alone that night -- our pattern was to cruise guys together. If one of us ever got lucky, the other one would hang around to make sure he was safe. Greg had always had my back since my father evicted me from his house in 1976. His family had lived up the street from me and, back in the day, he always made sure I never went hungry. In the days before I learned to drive, Greg took me everywhere.
Suddenly, the gay life didn’t seem all that gay. I was scared, and kept wondering why this homosexual life had offered no true happiness up to that point. The men were abusive or too afraid to be out in the open. Now my best friend was dead. Judy seemed like a sign. There I was, blessed with this wonderful woman who loved me and who was not trying to change me. I figured somebody was trying to tell me something.
Judy had recently graduated from MICA and we had been taking a small break from each other. Her apartment lease was about to expire and if she could not find a job in Baltimore, she was planning to move back to D.C. Something inside of me told me not to lose a good thing. She had begun interviewing to be an assistant to an important graphic design artist in New York and was spending a weekend with her family in D.C. when I stopped by one evening to see her.
“Judy, we have been through a lot this year,” I said.
“Yes we have, Mr. Madison.” She liked calling me “Mr. Madison.”
“I know I fucked up and got scared when we talked about us before.”
She gave me an all-knowing smile. “You mean when you broke up with me to ‘find yourself’? Because one of those no good ex-boyfriends of yours showed up in town?”
“He was never a boyfriend,” I insisted. “He was someone I had feelings for, but he never had feelings for me. I learned my lesson, Judy. Why am I chasing after what I think is love when love is right here, waiting around the corner?”
“So, what are you saying?” she asked.
“I’m saying let’s get married. We can keep it simple. Neither of us has a lot of money, but together we can build a wonderful life.”
“Mr. Madison, I will consider it. But you have to make me one promise.”
“Do not ask me to have anal sex.”
I burst out laughing. “Judy, trust me -- the one thing you won’t have to worry about is me asking you to have anal sex. I have been in that position and I didn’t enjoy it!”
Judy laughed with me. “Well, now that it is settled, do you want to go to Gay Pride?” she asked. “It’s going on this weekend, here in D.C.”
“No,” I answered. “I’m fine here with you.”
We were married the following week. We had a small ceremony at a minister’s home in Baltimore, then hosted a cook-out reception a few weeks later for our families. My mom was upset that she was not present at my wedding ceremony. But Judy’s mom was in a wheelchair and Judy felt that if her mom could not attend the wedding, it would not be fair for my mom to attend. So, we agreed to have only one person stand up for each of us. My brother was my best man and her best friend was her maid of honor.
When I signed that marriage license, I did not know I would assume all of her previous debt, once she secured credit cards in my name. Once again, I allowed a lover to drive me into debt. But bad credit was far from my mind at the time. After a short stay in the house that I shared with Ricky and my mother, we moved into a beautiful exposed brick apartment in midtown Baltimore, across the street from the Walters Art Gallery.
I used to secretly wish that Judy were bi-sexual, to eliminate my guilt of having this other side of me that was being suppressed. Although I did not sleep with men during our marriage, I thought that having a bisexual wife would have placed us on an even playing field. But Judy told me that the only woman she would “go gay” for was Chaka Khan.
Judy loved Diana Ross, too. We both shared a passion for Supremes music. I used to play one particular tune whenever I felt romantic with her. The song “Everything is Good About You” seemed to describe our early days.
It was Judy’s idea to have all my Diana Ross memorabilia framed for display, instead of thumb tacking my posters. She had a wonderful sense of design and our artistic tastes matched perfectly. It was my first time living with a female in an intimate situation. I learned about menstrual cycles and PMS; Judy suffered badly during her periods. I was so completely fascinated by the female experience. I am sure a lot of guys would have been grossed out, but when she demonstrated to me how her tampon worked, I was like a student absorbing a new subject. She had only one kidney and that was another health issue we dealt with. All of it was new territory for me.
Judy was like a twin sister to me, and I would dress us in matching clothes that I designed myself. There was nothing too outrageous for us to wear. I was producing fashion shows at that time and had also formed an erotic dance troupe called “M Squad.” With the touch of fame I was acquiring, both men and women were throwing themselves at me. Although some of the guys were tempting, I resisted. However, like the “ho” my father was, I did have a brief sexual encounter with a female admirer. I was fascinated by the straight life because most of my sexual experiences up to that time had been with men. I enjoyed the attention that women gave me. To offset my limited skills in heterosexual intercourse, I became an expert in female oral satisfaction. Ten years of not having sex with a woman made me feel pressured to live up to the image I’d heard of heterosexual men. My nervousness had me climaxing too quickly at times. But Judy was always a sensitive partner and never made me feel inadequate.
I had fun hanging out with straight people. My social lifestyle during the previous years had been almost exclusively gay. Outside of work, I usually went to gay bars or gay night clubs. My gay friends and I used to call straight people “breeders.” I soon learned that yes, breeders have kids, but breeders have fun too! My wife and I gave parties and attended every art opening in town.
We cooked and we traveled. It felt great to express our affection in public. I miss that freedom most, because I am really big on PDA, (public displays of affection), but most of the men I’ve dated don’t feel comfortable with it.
Judy and I appeared on a live version of The Newlywed Game. At that time, Bob Eubanks was hosting live shows in various cities, although they weren’t aired on television. We ended up on the front page of The Baltimore Sun newspaper, not because we were the winners but because our answers were so silly and funny.
“What is the most unusual place you and your wife have ever made ‘whoopee’?” Bob asked.
I answered, “Hmm, let me see…. There was that time we did it under water in the hot tub at the Downtown Athletic Club, with people walking around above us.”
“That’s pretty unusual!” Bob exclaimed. “But your wife said, ‘In the bathroom at the Eubie Blake art gallery, with people knocking on the door trying to get in.’” The audience was in hysterics.
About a year into our marriage, things started turning sour. Judy started having back problems, which limited her ability to lean over an easel. She started seeing a chiropractor and was forced to quit her design job that she loved. I started feeling the financial responsibility. It hit me that I would have to be responsible for another person for the rest of their life. That felt scary, and I didn’t know if I could handle it. We argued because she was jealous of other women, and I hounded her about her chain smoking.
Once, we thought she was pregnant, but then the doctors told us that her body had undergone a spontaneous abortion. We wanted to have children with each other so badly. We had discussed it a lot while we were dating and she told me she would never have any child out of wedlock. I wanted to have a child by her and I am sure her refusal to have an illegitimate baby was a factor that made me walk down the aisle. We had already agreed to name the girl “Tiffany Diana,” and to name the boy “Donald Ross.” We later learned that conceiving would be difficult because of cysts on her ovaries. I was disappointed.
She started feeling insecure. Every time she would see my former politician lover on television or read about him in the papers, she feared that I would go back to him. She allowed her girlfriends to convince her that one of my co-workers and I were having an affair. The “straight husband” experiment was losing its appeal as the novelty faded. I was starting to get over Gregory’s death and the fear of going into gay bars. I had finally stopped worrying about running into Gregory’s murderer.
I knew in my heart that I could never return the kind of love Judy felt for me, but I just sucked it up. Then my sister came to visit over the Christmas holiday with a man who was not her husband. Judy hit the roof. She was outraged that I could condone such behavior and not pass judgment on my sister. It was the final straw for me. As soon as my sister left, right after New Year’s Day, I pulled the rug out from under our marriage. She reminded me of my vows and desperately wanted to save our marriage, so we went to marriage counseling. We actually saw two counselors, one from her church and another who was a clinical therapist. The church counselor told us to stay together. The clinical therapist suggested that we separate.
Although we were still living in the same apartment, I had started sleeping on the living room couch. One night, I woke up to find Judy standing over me, holding a cigarette with a long ash trail itching to fall. I could feel her tears on my face. I knew she had been standing there for a while, because ashes were scattered on my covers.
“You can’t do this to us,” she sobbed.
“Don’t you understand I’m doing this for us?” I said. “If I stay, one day you are going to wake up and hate me for all the years you’ve wasted.”
Our arguing escalated into a screaming match. I pulled a phone out of the wall and threw it across the room. I left that night to cool off. Judy’s friends convinced her to have the locks changed and to have court papers served on me at work, requiring that I could not be within a certain distance of her. She then withdrew all the money in our joint accounts. This only added fuel to the fire of what turned out to be an ugly separation.
The day I had to go in and sign the separation papers, I was such an emotional wreck that my hands shook; my signature was unrecognizable. I walked outside the lawyer’s office and ran into an old friend. I collapsed into his arms, in tears.
It seems funny now, but Judy and I even fought over the proper division of the Diana Ross memorabilia. She also fought to keep a credit card in her married name. I got most of the Ross stuff in exchange for letting her keep the credit card, but I paid dearly for the trade off because Judy’s bad credit would mess up my own for years to come.
We were still separated but legally married when I got a call from Judy’s sister that she had been admitted to an emergency room. Between her back trouble, having ovarian cysts and one kidney, I did not know what to expect. The stress of everything had her experiencing chest pains.
We were hearing a lot around the late 80’s about AIDS, and she called me later on and said, “You better not have left me with any kind of disease I can’t get rid of.” That comment left me with a chill, because at that point I had never taken an HIV test.
After a few months, we finally grew civil with each other. She had seen a doctor who had corrected the problem with her cysts. Whatever my actors’ union insurance had not paid for, she charged with our credit card. Although we agreed on the fact that the marriage was over, she still offered to carry a child for me and give me custody. I felt that was unconditional love.
My mother, who seldom gave advice to me after I became an adult, felt the need to speak up when she learned of Judy’s offer. She explained that having a child with Judy would tie me to her in a serious way for a very long time, even if she gave up custody. There was too much feeling involved on her side. If I was going to make a break from the marriage, it should be a clean one. I took my mother’s advice.
Years later, when I was involved in a long-term, male relationship, my partner and I attended a concert of Diana Ross’ “Take Me Higher” tour. We ran into Judy with her new husband, sitting a few rows from us. After the concert we all had drinks and dessert, laughing and reminiscing like old friends who had not seen each other in a few years. It’s interesting how time heals and how music holds people together. Judy had met a wonderful man and had given birth to two wonderful boys. I met her entire family during an arts festival later that year. Her children were so loving and beautiful, like I had always imagined our children would be. Funny when you think of what could have been. But maybe astrology had charted our destiny.
“Don’t feed off of someone else’s love. You’ll starve them and you’ll starve yourself.”