LGBTQIA Human Rights Coalition

 

 

April 2, 2015

Interviewed By Meghan Chavalier

 

 

 

In our lives we often meet people who will become such an intrical part of our being that they go from being a friend to feeling like family. That person for me is Dave Pollard. I've known him for almost 25 years and at one point we were inseperable. Young, wild and free if you will. Now that we've grown older, and our lives have changed we still remain best friends, but more like family still.

I was very happy when he agreed to do this interview for the Stopping The Hate website because I feel his story can help so many young people in the community.

I am honored to bring Dave's interview to you today in hopes that his real life story will touch your heart the way knowing him in life has touched mine. He is and will always remain one of the best friends I've ever had.

 

 

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in January 1973 to teenage parents.

Can you tell our readers about your upbringing?


My 19 year old father was in the Marine Corps, and my 16 year old mother had left high school after facing the difficulties a pregnant girl in the early 70's dealt with. I am the oldest of 5 children, 1 brother and 4 sisters. 
     Soon after my 5th birthday my parents separated, and my mother took me, my brother and sister to live at my grandparent's resort in Northern Wisconsin. Though marked by poverty and divorce, I remember my early childhood as happy, largely due to a loving mother and extended family involvement. Poor employment opportunities in Northern Wisconsin finally convinced my Mom to move the family to live with my Dad's mother for a short period, and then Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to live with my aunt and her 3 daughters. Soon after, my Mom started dating the man she would marry the following year.


     The first few years after my Mom remarried were fairly wonderful. The family felt secure, we lived in a nice home in West Milwaukee, I was an excellent student, a cellist, an all city choir member, cadet, member of The National Society for the Gifted and Talented, and a paper boy. My Mom used to jokingly refer to me as, "A parent's wet dream". The dream, though, wasn't destined to last.


     I had a difficult relationship with my step-father, an unexpected visit from my birth father, and my burgeoning sexuality during puberty were all factors that would lead me down a terribly difficult path during my teenage years. I left home, and moved in with my paternal grandmother, who had very serious addiction issues, stopped going to school to avoid bullying, and was placed in a treatment center the day before my 14th birthday. I'm still unclear what really drove my Mom to make that decision. 


     After 4 months in the treatment center, I went to live with my 20 year old aunt, her husband, and my toddler aged cousin in the same town my family had lived after my parent's divorce. The bullying continued, as teenagers everywhere can tend to be cruel to those they find different, and have no understanding about. Once again, school was avoided, I fell in with an older, trouble making crowd, my aunt's financial situation couldn't include my support and still be viable, so it was back to Milwaukee to return to my mother and step-father's home.


     Immediately it was obvious the situation at my Mom's hadn't changed, and so it would never work. My birth father and his wife had returned to Milwaukee from California, and wanted to take the opportunity to build a relationship with me and my younger brother. We lived there for the summer, but the distance between my Dad and us just couldn't be closed. My brother ended up committing a slew of petty crimes that lead him to juvenile detention and eventually a prison for boys until he was 18. I returned to my Mom's, started high school, had nothing but troubles there and at home, so back to grandma's it was.

I decided to avoid school again, and fell into a deep depression.
     I was sure I'd never find my place in the world. I felt nothing would ever work out. Once again, I tried to make it work at my Dad's house. I went to a new high school, got a job as a bag boy in a local grocery store, and began to learn the art of deception. As I saw it, the less people knew my true self, the easier life would be. To others, I seemed back on track, a parent's dream again, but inside I was slowly losing any sense of self I'd ever had.


     High school, once again, became a place for me to be terrorized, my relationship with my Dad, Step-Mom, and half sisters hit the skids, and doing what I'd learned to be the best defense mechanism, I fled the situation. I quit school, worked two jobs, moved back in and helped support my grandma and her addictions, and maintained my, "Everything is fine" persona. I was only 16 years old.


     As with all situations up until then, grandma's house became overwhelming to me, and once again I was off. I kept my jobs, but ended up staying in a series of places where I was taken advantage of, financially, physically, and emotionally. Eventually I just gave up, became homeless, and would go to my two jobs, but now from an abandoned van behind a middle aged man's home who had more in mind than helping me.


     After a long cold winter and spring, I was discovered in the van, and the authorities remanded me to the juvenile system in Milwaukee. I was placed in group homes, but ran away when abuse from other residents became too much to bear, and would be put back in the system when caught.

Finally, a suitable home for boys from 13-17 years old was found. I returned to high school, got a job at a local retail store, and tried to mend family relationships especially with my father. School and work went extremely well, but my relationship with my Dad did not. When that relationship went sour, again, my Dad cleared out the $4000 I'd been saving in a joint custodial savings account we had opened together, from my retail job to start my own life when I aged out of the juvenile system in Milwaukee. That happened just shy of my 18th birthday. A brief stint with my Grandma up north and a short time living with my newly divorced Mom, her boyfriend, and my sister were my only options until I discovered Milwaukee's gay community.

At what age did you know you were gay?

As a young child I never knew differently. I never realized that people were grouped by sexual orientation, gender identity, race, etc. What i did know was there were boys and girls, adults and children. Slurs like fag, lesbo, retard, the N word weren't used around us. For the most part my mom tried to teach us that everyone was lovable. It wasnt until I was a bit older that i realized I'd live with a label for who I was and would have to come to terms with that. When you come from a single parent home in a small town, and suddenly live in the city with a racist, homophobic step-parent, and fellow students who could be reflections of such parents, that you begin to say to yourself, "Oh geez, I'm the fag they're talking about." So i suppose around 9 or 10 years old I realized that I was that kid.

How did you family react when they realized you were gay?

I think they always knew at some level. Homosexuality wasn't a hot topic in the 80's unless you were discussing AIDS or Boy George, and even those subjects were taboo in my house. I remember being a paper boy, and the last stop on my route was home.

In Milwaukee we had an entertainment section, The Green Sheet, and any articles about Culture Club in that section were quickly commandeered by my step-father who would take a pen and cross out the Boys in Boy George and write Fag George, I'm sure to get under my skin. One day, I took my own pen, crossed out Fag, and wrote Boy again.I was grounded for the next two weeks. I chuckle now, but it was just another realization that my life was going to be a constant battle.

My mom pretty much always had an inkling about me, but it didn't really become a conversation until I decided to run away in full tilt drag at the age of 13. I'd met a 17 year old guy on a teen phone line, told him my name was Laura, put on my sister's clothes and mom's cosmetics, got on the bus, and was staying at his family's home until I was tracked down four days later. I'd been sexually assaulted, humiliated by the police, and was returned home. The reaction I received was, "If you're gay, or want to be a girl, we'll get you a sex change and give you up for adoption."

Those moments hurt. They also drove me emotionally inside and away from everyone I loved. The first people to ever outright ask me were my favorite uncle, and my granny. I wasn't honest with them, but it did help me gain the courage to vocalize it a few years later.

What happened once you discovered Milwaukee's Gay Community?

At 18, I was too young to go in the bars, but hanging out in front and around the taverns and the "cruise" were perfectly acceptable. Most of the guys out there were "hustlers" and around my age. I met my first boyfriend, a 30ish cocaine dealer who convinced me "hustling" was acceptable and one of my best options at the time. Now that I look back, I realize the "boyfriend" was really just a pimp in disguise. Finally I was noticed by an older bar owner, who offered me a job bartending and stripping, and an apartment above the bar. It got me off the streets, and finally gave me the opportunity to make connections in the gay community. The bartending gig didn't last too long, but I had made friends and was offered a job working in an after hours cafe right among the gay bars in the Walker's Point area of Milwaukee. Some of the most important, influential, and life long relationships I would ever have were forged in that cafe. Possibly the most so was the relationship between me and a young pretty boy who would eventually become Meghan Chavalier.

Meghan and my spirit for adventure was insatiable. Not long after our friendship began, we were off on a whirlwind tour of our country. Unemployed and poor in Florida for a few months, an awful month in Ohio staying with a true freak, back to Florida for a bit, then Albuquerque for 18 months, both manager's at a sub sandwich chain, back to Milwaukee shortly, and finally the place we'd settle for most of the 1990's, New Orleans, Louisiana.

There was a time period in your life when you became a stage performer known as Alexx Forrest. How did Alexx come to be?

As a young person I was fascinated with the drag scene. On the rare occasions I could get past the doorman at Club 219 in Milwaukee to see performers like B.J. Daniels, Ginger Spice, Mimi Marks, and Dominique Mahon, all so glamorous to an 18 year old me. Since I'd always thought myself an entertainer, I asked my friend Brittany to show me how to do all things drag. She was happy to help. Meghan was already doing shows here and there around town, and got me invited to do some as well, and being too young to be in the clubs, drag was a perfect disguise. I was never asked for my I.D. and was able to hang with the big girls, and of course Alexx Forrest was a tribute to the best nutso mistress on film, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

You had traveled all over the country, why did you settle in New Orleans?

New Orleans and it's people were unlike anything I'd ever experienced. My first day in the French Quarter I knew I'd found a home. It was also a perfect place to be Alexx full time. The scene there for that part of the community was like a family. I'd never had people teach and look out for me the way those girls did, and still do. At first, "hustling " as Alexx was a survival move, and all of my twisted sisters showed me the moves necessary to maintain my safety. A stroke of luck, a show director who wanted a naive, cheap showgirl, some make up and hair tips, and a bit of donated wardrobe landed me in the cast of a Bourbon Street female impersonation review performing as Judy Garland, Liza, and my favorite, Pat Benatar. All things come to an end, and after 4 years and thousands of performances the show was cancelled, Meghan moved away and we grew apart.


I moved from above a strip joint on Bourbon Street, to live and work at a seedy, rent by the hour if you'd like, hotel a few miles away. I became very involved in the bar/drug/alcohol scene, still did an occasional booking, but couldn't get my padded ass to understand the damage I was causing myself. So back on the road it was.

You left New Orleans for a period of time. Can you tell our readers about that?

A friend I had met in New Orleans was born and raised in Arkansas, and made it sound laid back, friendly, and an overall easy place to live. I got a job as assistant manager at a Burger King, had a cheap trailer on the outskirts of Little Rock, and a Basset Hound named Buddy. All was well until the restaurant closed. I packed up my trailer, found Buddy a new home, and moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas. I returned to the drag scene there, eventually becoming Fort Smith E.O.Y. I also started a relationship with a man 15 years my senior. My boyfriend's job was transferred to Beaumont, Texas and we moved to Town Bluff, Texas, population 11. I returned to work at Burger King in Jasper, Texas, and tried to make a go of small town East Texas life, but the isolation drove me away in a matter of months. I thought, it's time to return to the one place I really missed and loved, New Orleans.


     It was only a short period of time back in New Orleans when I was offered a job bartending at one of the most popular haunts for TS, TV, TG individuals, as well as an eclectic cross section of French Quarter society. I was once again working as Alexx every night, making tons of new acquaintances, good money, and had an outlet to express my big personality. Drugs and alcohol were in abundance, as well as a never ending supply of "good time" friends. The good times, eventually brought bad times and Dave/Alexx ceased working at what may have been my favorite job ever. Things never really turned around for me in New Orleans after that, it was time for a new place.


     Though I had tried Texas before, I'd never tried to make it work in a big city. I had a New Orleans friend in Houston, and convinced a French Quarter cab driver to take me on the four hour journey. It ended up being a return to the drag scene, weekend bookings, and occasional hustling. To me it just seemed that every new place just kept revealing the exact same problems. After a little over a year I returned to New Orleans. I explained my problems and thoughts about them with one of the first and most dear friends I'd made in New Orleans. Her advice was simple, and so true. "How do you expect the situation to change, the problems to change, if you don't change?" That, a bit of home sickness, and an ill grandmother brought me back to Wisconsin.


     Upon returning to Milwaukee the same issues that had plagued me reared their ugly faces again. This time I was prepared to attempt a change, make an effort. I began work managing a Greek family restaurant, reintroduced myself to my family and Wisconsin friends, got an apartment and truck, and went about living life as myself, with all the issues that came with that. In 2002 I began dating the man I've been with ever since that day. We own a home, puppy, kitten, and enjoy spending time with loved ones and each other. I stopped actively working in the service industry after a rock climbing accident left me with severe pelvic injuries.

Sadly, I've lost both my grandmothers and my father in the last few years. My Mom was recently widowed after finally meeting her match in life, and she suffers from chronic respiratory ailments. I dedicate my days now to caring for those who need or want it, gardening, cooking, and am in the process of starting a furniture restoration/rehab project with a family member and a friend. Alexx still appears for an occasional booking, festival, or just for fun. I still maintain the relationships from the New Orleans days, and travel to see those friends when time and circumstance allow. I have been with my partner for 13 years this July.

You wanted to discuss addiction for a moment, what are your thoughts?

I am a recovering addict. Drugs and alcohol. I spent many, many years medicating all things I didn't want to acknowledge away. I grew up in a family where it was commonplace. I vowed it'd never happen to me, but by 24, I was fully involved destroying my life and body. I've lost my friends, been avoided by loved ones, sacrificed my freedom and nearly my life, but more importantly other peoples lives, with careless behavior and choices. It took a long time to find out I was clinically depressed, had OCD issues, and to finally want to be honest about my disease. I'm still actively seeking help everyday, and I get the support I ask for. If you are suffering, go to your mom, your aunt, your cousin, your friend, a meeting. Someone will listen. Someone will help and support you. I just want the person reading this that understands and is feeling it's the only way to handle things that there are other, better ways and there is a person or people who will care. Me included.

How are your family relationships today?

I adore my family. They may not embrace everything about my life, but for the most part are very supportive. I am somewhat of a "Mama's Boy" these days, but so what? I put that woman through hell, and on occasion she did the same. Forgiveness and love were the only option. My Mom is an amazing woman and my friend. My brother and sisters never had an issue with me being me. Some gay people fear my brother, who's one year younger than me, well lots of people do, but it's just his appearance. He's a big, bald, somewhat threatening looking dude, but you've never seen someone carry on in a gay bar or at pridefest quite like him. My sisters are equally wonderful. I'm proud they are great parents, loving people, and my siblings. My extended family, just as groovy. I'm fortunate to call so many of my aunts, uncles and cousins my friends. With patience and love, we've come together as a family. Also, with my family's and friends support, especially my partner, I was able to finish my high school education and move on to Milwaukee Area Technical College to study accounting and business management. I'm grateful to have them.

 

 

 

What are the three most important things in your life today?

I've spent so many years treating my body and mind like amusement park rides and ignoring my health, that now, in my 40's, I have to make my physical and mental well being priority number one. I dedicate a lot of my time to helping others who really depend on me. How can I do that if I'm in shambles. So definitely my health. Next is my family, which includes the few great friends I have. I'd be dead without them, and think of and appreciate every single one, everyday. The other is faith. Faith that as a people we can be better. All of us.That mistakes can be forgiven, that love outweighs hate, that our younger generation never knows nor feels our pain from our struggles. I could write a whole book on my thoughts about that, but another day perhaps.

Sometimes life can seem to be a bit overwhelming to people with things the way they are today. What do you do when you want to take a step back and have a moment for yourself?

I spend a lot of time alone these days, and generally I'm comfortable with that. I have my pets, my hobbies. Shoot, I can spend a whole day with just my guitar, harmonica and some sheet music and be happy as a pig in slop. I do suffer from seasonal depression, the holidays just take it out of me. I throw every one at my house, I always push myself to achieve a level of perfection Martha Stewart couldn't even achieve. I get down on myself, think of crutches to lean on that I've already talked about, but I usually come out of it by April. When it becomes so overwhelming that an internal explosion is unavoidable, I travel. I see my friend Sheryl down south, or call my aunt, who's my travelling buddy and we escape from our lives and take great adventures around Wisconsin. Simple stuff. Nature and a listening friend are great therapy and cures for the blues.

If you could sum up your life in one sentence what would it be?

You've got to run between the raindrops if you want to see the sun, and I'll keep running between them to see the sun as long as I have breath in my body. It's what I've always done.

What advice can you give to member's of the LGBTQIA Community that they can carry with them in life?

Nothing worth having is ever easy to attain, and I'm not referring to physical possessions. Pride, dignity, love. They are all things that are constantly evolving and take effort to maintain. I wasn't as fortunate to grow up and come out in a society that has the resources available today. Make use of them, be involved with your local community, be involved in the national community, be an activist, speak your mind. It will help you keep track of yourself, and a whole new family to keep track of you and help you on your way. Listen to us older folks. Our path was far from easy, we've paved paths for you to follow, and we've fought many a hard, painful battle to afford you the few new rights we're allowed today. Have respect, not only for yourself, but your fellow travelers on this road, and you will do our community proud. Lastly, be kind. To those that don't understand you, to the bullied person, the less fortunate, and mostly to yourself. Karma is real and it offers rewards, but also is the truest bitch of all.

What was the best advice you've ever received?

Very simple. No one is responsible for your happiness but you. We tend to blame our parents, our lovers, our friends, but that isnt realistic. The only happiness we deserve and can own is already inside of us, and it's up to us to tap it and make it happen..The advice was courtesy of my beautiful friend T.T. Thompson, and my Auntie Colleen.

Thank you so much for doing this interview. I believe your story will help many young LGBTQIA people in our community.

Thank you. I'd do anything for you today the same way I did 25 years ago. I had to tell the truth because if I was lying you would have known. (Laughs)

Dave Pollard's Official Facebook Page