Friday, October 1, 2010

Let's salute a survivor: I love Mondo!

It's been an intense, emotional day thinking and writing about this awful spate of suicides by LGBT young people tortured by this society. Thinking and writing in the spurts available, that is, before and after work and on my lunch hour. In fact, this was one of those days when I was glad to be on the job and have to focus on my work tasks all day, for sometimes dull and deadening can be a good thing. Anyway, as I was coming home this evening I remembered what I watched on TV last night and it felt like a bit of a balm because what I watched last night was all about one young gay man who survives, and on his own terms.

I'm talking about Mondo Guerra, the breakout designer and widely adored darling on the current season of Project Runway. Yes, I watch PR, annoying, maddening and offensive as I often find it and disgusted as I am by the industries it celebrates. So much for consistency--despite all I loathe about PR and the media, cosmetics and fashion profiteers it exists to enrich, I'm hooked on this damn show and I watch it week after week, alternately snarling and cheering.

It's all cheering when it comes to Mondo. He's a fabulously talented designer, so far ahead of this season's pack it's practically a joke. From the evidence of the broadcast episodes, he's also a mensch. If there have been no shots of him acting evil toward his competitors and speaking badly about them behind their backs, that means he has not done any of that because if he had we'd have seen it--this is the whole juice of these shows. (A topic in itself, so-called reality TV, which I've been threatening to blog about and yet may.) The one time Mondo slipped toward such bad behavior, he quickly caught himself, apologized to the camera and to his fellow designer Michael Costello, and that episode ended with this unbearably darling moment with the two of them basking in beautiful friendship.
Last night was Mondo's shining hour, and I'm even crazier about him than I already was for what he said and did. The designers' challenge was to create a textile from scratch inspired by something from their own lives. As they got to work, the designers were surprised by the arrival of family members. For Mondo, it was his mother, who'd been flown in from Denver. In one of his talking-head segments he spoke shyly and haltingly and so obviously sincerely, about his complicated relationship with his mother, about the deep mutual love between him and his family but how mother reacted less than optimally when he came out to her. It resonated for me as it must have for how many millions, how he's obviously grappled with these issues, the love, the rejection, the mutual hurt, the finding your own way through it, finding your way to yourself, to your strength.

But all that wasn't only about being gay. Mondo also told the camera that he's HIV-positive and has been for 10 years and has never told his family. The textile he created incorporated a design based on plus signs symbolizing his HIV-positive status. Yet after he spent the day visiting with his mother, he said that he'd wanted to tell her then and there but couldn't bring himself to cause her pain during this special time together. Throughout the episode he mused on camera about all this and wrestled with himself.

Then when the designers presented their finished pieces on the runway--and, once again, his was a knockout, and for the third week in a row he won--he initially just made a cryptic remark about his design having deep personal meaning for him. Later, though, and it's hard to know the real sequence of events or how much time had passed because of the editing, he spoke up again and said he wanted to tell the judges about the meaning of his design. And he came out as HIV-positive, which he characterized as a secret he'd kept for 10 years. Afterward, he was weepy with happiness and relief, saying he felt a huge weight off his shoulders.

"I'm free," he said.

There's a weekly party in Denver where Mondo watches each episode with friends and supporters. At last night's his family was there, and according to one report, "the Guerra family rallied bravely around Mondo, exemplifying the beauty of unconditional love."

I wish every queer kid contemplating suicide could have some time with Mondo Guerra. You just know he had a tough time of it in school. If he wasn't bullied and derided, called every anti-gay epithet and then some, I'd be shocked. His family wasn't perfectly supportive, not at first. He hung in there. He had hope, I can only assume, somehow he knew it would get better. And it did. If he's not a role model for being yourself and riding it out, I don't know who is.