Lately my heart has been gripped by all of the stories that I heard this summer. It’s brought me to my knees more than once. It’s caused me to question. There were so many stories. So many broken hearts. They didn’t hit me until months later. I think because my own broken heart had to heal before the wave of their pain could truly enter my own. But I’m feeling them now.
It’s a story I haven’t told, and maybe that’s because I feel a little more duty; a little more ownership, I don’t know. But a friend so graciously told me that I had to write this story. And I agree. So here I am.
It was the Castro District, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States. It’s an area where those that have been shunned in every other area of our world feel at home. It’s where they let their guard down. They flaunt. They party. They love. There’s an overexaggeration in the air that’s inexplicable. It’s this need and desire to be accepted.
We saw him from afar. He set up camp near a place called “Hot Cookies.” The vivid lights illuminated from the bars and dance clubs on his massively tender dog. As we approached, the dull thump from the raves matched the beat of my own heartbeat. He seemed somewhat surprised when we knelt down to meet his gaze. His name was John, but went by Twitch. I remember him being embarrassed about introducing himself as John. He never did that. He wasn’t sure why it slipped off his tongue. At this, I made my first mental note.
It is amazing how your heart can be drawn into something as quickly as it was that night. I looked into his eyes and could see the pain so convincing, the cut so deep. They were hollow.
His hair was messy, like it hadn’t been combed in a long time. Maybe that’s because it was a wig. Twitch was dressed as a girl. We chatted for a few minutes and decided to join him on his blanket. People shuffled by us, dressed in their glitz and glam and pink feather boas. They stared every once and while, making it known that we did not belong on the sidewalk.
He talked of his life and how he chose to live homeless. He was almost proud. He thought this was his way of being in control. As conversation went on, he preceded to share that his dad sexually abused him and his siblings at the age of 9. Something in my chest started to crack. Conversation went on and you could see how this affected so many decisions throughout his life.
John had been on and off drugs for years, and you could tell. He chose the name Twitch because he would sometimes get this uncontrollable “twitch.” Maybe he was referring to Tourette’s, I don’t know. So people started to call him that. And he decided to keep the name because he liked the idea of being whoever he wanted to be. He came alive when he talked about this. He was so much into the “good vibes.” He even said that we put out our own “good vibes.”
God was brought up. And we talked of His love and acceptance of us. And those cracks that had been forming in my heart shattered when He referred to God as “She.” The pieces started connecting in my head. It wasn’t even in the theology of whether God is male or female, that wasnt important at all. It was in the fact that this man had been so scarred by the male population, his own father even, that he felt the need to alter his entire identity. He completely changed who he was, inside and out. And it broke my heart that he couldn’t just be John to be seen and accepted. He had to be Twitch, the cross dresser, homeless man. My heart burns as I think about what could have been for him if he would’ve felt accepted before those kids started calling him names. Or what would have happened if he had been shown a love that was true, not a love that was tainted and false.
Twitch gave me his number and told me to call him if I ever needed him. I’m embarrassed by that. I wish it had been me. I wish I had been the one who offered my number. That should’ve been something I did, not something someone who found their home on the cracked pavement of a wild, party street in the hub of San Francisco, with a lot less than I had, did.
I couldn’t offer him much of anything. Monetary things weren’t of importance in this conversation. But I looked into John’s eyes and saw a hollowness that still haunts me today. In a place where people were flaunting their acceptance with everything they had, this man was still so alone.
I am challenged everyday to see people. People need to know that they are important and that they are worth more than the love they are shown. I pray that the what-ifs and regrets of John’s story never leave my heart. That the hollowness of those eyes continue to push me out of my comfort zone and into a place of authentic love.
I challenge you, too.