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EP002: WeHo Mayor John D’Amico, COVID-19 & AIDS

episodes show notes Apr 10, 2020

Photo: Mayor John D'Amico is seen here during a West Hollywood City Council meeting in 2018. You can see more pics and contact Mayor D'Amico directly via Twitter @ourWEHO.

Today we talk with the Mayor of West Hollywood, John D’Amico. He’s a leader who actually contracted COVID-19 and is here to tell us the story.
I first met Mayor D’Amico when I was working in the City Manager’s Office at West Hollywood City Hall. Later, John believed in my vision of creating “TRIBE - Gay Men’s Discussion Group” that was made possible by the City Council and I facilitated for over 5 years.
For more than 20 years, Mayor John D’Amico has participated in city leadership as a member of Advisory Boards and Commissions, and for the past several years, as a member of the City Council.
He also has worked at AIDS Project: Los Angeles, was the Co-Director of Public Policy for the County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services, where he worked for nearly 23 years.
Mayor D’Amico welcomes questions, comments and feedback directly via his Twitter account @ourWeHo.

We talked about:
  • The transition from AIDS to healthy sex lives [3:23]
  • Exploring AIDS and COVID-19 [6:56]
  • His experience coping with the symptoms of COVID-19 [14:20]
  • Finding humor during an epidemic [25:32]
  • The positive social outcomes that followed the era of AIDS [28:11]
  • Why he moved to West Hollywood back in the 80s [39:25]
  • Advice for men who still want to hook up [42:26]

You can find more about Mayor D’Amico on:

Episode Full Transcript:

Mike Gerle  0:00  

The moment you realized you were a gay man, you were forced onto the path of the other. So you know oppression inside now. the calling of otherness has led you on your own hero's journey. And that journey has prepared you for greatness. You were a man entering the cult of brotherhood, to conscious sex into heart centered connection. Welcome home brother.

This is the GerleMen podcast. My name is Mike Gerle, and I'm the host and founder of, a site for gay men and anyone self identified as the other designed to help you invest in your own dignity, strengthen your connection to your chosen families, and thrive in general society. Now that you found us please hit that subscribe button. Today's guest is West Hollywood Mayor John D'Amico. For more than 20 years Mayor D'Amico has participated in city leadership and now He's the mayor. Before that he worked at the county of Los Angeles Department of Health Services, which is very relevant to this pandemic rich episode. And he also worked for AIDS project Los Angeles. I worked for the city as well for 23 years, and recently retired and I met then Councilmember D'Amico, when I was working in the city manager's office, and he let me run with the idea of a Gay men's discussion group called tribe. We talked about what we talked about in Tribe, which was the transition from an AIDS centric sexual community to a healthy sexual life community. We talk about comparing aids to Cova 19. His experience coping with the symptoms of Cova 19, which he recently recovered from, we talked about finding humor during an epidemic and the positive social outcomes that followed the era of AIDS John's coming out story may not be the hero's journey that I've been talking about. We talked about why he moved to West Hollywood. And finally, we talked about advice he has for men who still want to hook up. So stick with us. And here's John D'Amico. 

And we're on now with Mayor John D'Amico, of the City of West Hollywood. Welcome to the GerleMen podcast, John.

John D’Amico  2:25  

Thank you. Thank you for welcoming me.

Mike Gerle  2:27  

I would have you here. But we do have the whole COVID/Coronavirus thing happening. So we'll just deal with doing this on Zoom. John, you've had a really long career of being of public service and of been very public. As for being on the city council, and all of that. And one of my deepest connections with you is through the Tribe discussion group when I just mentioned it to you and you're like, let's go And we had a Gay men's discussion group for five or seven years and that that's been really great. And as a gay man, and for all the men who kept showing up, I just do really want to thank you for that on top of all the other stuff that you do for generally for the city, but for that specific sliver, I want to just say thank you.

John D’Amico  3:20  

You're welcome. And, you know, I in hindsight, it's, it's pretty clear, Mike, that you and you know, the sort of Genesis behind that was really kind of a transition point from the time of aids to the time without AIDS. In a way, you know, I think when that started, we I don't want to speak for all gay man, I couldn't possibly but certainly a lot of us in West Hollywood, were still living in a world in which there weren't a lot of options, right. You could practice safe sex or you could be a bad person. You could be HIV positive or you could be HIV negative. And there was sort of There wasn't a lot of overlap. And now in the era of prep and the time of sort of gay men and lesbians and trans people and everyone sort of participating in the global community of healthy sexual discussions and sex lives that exists, and that Gay Men's discussion group in some way bridged that. I think for me, I went to several discussions about prep there, I went to several discussions about sort of having sex the way you want to have it, I went to several discussions there about people's fears of the world changing again, when they had spent maybe their entire lives from the time they were 12 until they were you know, 45 only thinking about gay sex as being in one particular way. And now suddenly, it was 2013 or 14, and they were supposed to give it up and be fine with it and figure it out. And so I think all of those things like were you know, One month at a time were talking about and maybe it didn't reach, you know, a global audience, but it reached a community of men in West Hollywood, that as we know, many times, West Hollywood invents, what happens in the rest of the country. And I think we did that again, in that little way, you know, the ways in which we caused experts to show up. The owner of Grindr came. Yeah, you know, Tony Mills came, people from LA County Health came, I mean, we really sort of had those discussions and I give that to you. I know that that was maybe not what you thought about when you thought about it in the first moment, but it's what it developed into you and Brendan and others who led those discussions and I think it's a really, really honorable admirable thing happened.

Mike Gerle  5:52  

Well, thank you. Thank you very much. And thank you for supporting it, talking about that, you know, this, this whole podcast is taking on a very different tone now that there's the pandemic because I, I think, as just data fact that the only thing that all gay men on the planet have in common is, is the desire to have sex with other men. Once we leave that we're different, we're different politically, we're different. racially, we're different economically, we're different culturally. And I think that's off the table now. So you've been talking about transitional sexual identities, or how we approach our sexuality as gay men, or a sexual identity, but how we approach sexuality, and it seems like we're facing that again. Now, it looks like I mean, you were really in the trenches I before this interview, I didn't actually do my research before. I didn't know that you're the CO Director of Public Policy at AIDS project Los Angeles.

John D’Amico  6:52  

I was for a couple of years after Phil Wilson left.

Mike Gerle  6:56  

Can you talk about comparing the AIDS plague and Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic, you know, what's similar? What's different?

John D’Amico  7:07  

Well, you know, I have heard a lot of mostly gay men jump to a sort of starting off point that we, we have familiarity with this, we know what it's like, because we know about the time of AIDS and I certainly don't want to disabuse people of what they know or, you know, what they what they think they know. But I would say that to me, AIDS happened in slow motion. I mean, it took years for people often to find the courage to get themselves tested years often for them to get sick even the first time years for medications to develop. And in fact, you know, what we know happened is that, yes, it took 15 years from 81 to 96 to get a three-drug cocktail, but we were able to catch up with hundreds of thousands of men and women who are HIV positive and give them those drugs and save their lives. If it takes two years to catch up to this covert virus, hundreds of millions of people will have already been infected and been through their disease progression and come out the other side. Many of them will die. Millions perhaps. So I think, you know, this is not happening in slow motion. This is happening at hyperspeed. And sure many of the lessons I learned about being HIV positive about working with people who are HIV positive. When I found out that I had been exposed to this virus, I put those into use immediately. You know, I said, here's a list of all the people that I may have been that I've been around that I may have exposed, and I wrote them all in email, or I wrote to my HR person and said, You need to write them an email, you know, and I think I immediately thought about ways to protect people that I love, Keith, others to make sure that if something happened before I found out, nothing was gonna happen going forward. And I also want to say that the other thing about this virus is that when people like me in the 1980s, found out, they were HIV positive. There were not a lot of words of wisdom that were actual wisdom. You know, there was lots of people who said, you know, things will work out, it'll be fine, but most of us knew things were not working out and we're not going to be fine. Some of us they were I, you know, incredibly grateful and could not tell you why I'm still alive from having been exposed to HIV and furthermore, couldn't tell you why I'm still alive and having been exposed to COVID-19. You know, that's, that's my body. It's working in its own way. But I just think that the vast majority of people who get infected by this COVID-19 virus will have an experience of their health and declining and then improving and they will move on in our sort of global response to this, I think is incredible. And it's heartening, and it's admirable. And though many of us might not like the leadership at some levels, even at my level, I get plenty of emails about, you know, how I'm doing it wrong at City Hall. But I think, generally, the fact that this is happening and hyperspeed, and that we're reacting the way we are and taking care of communities and people the way we are, to me is kind of extraordinarily extraordinary and impressive. And I guess the last thing I would say is that with whatever deliberate speed, a vaccine or a set of sort of protocols for helping people who do get infected with this virus I would expect, similar to other diseases. Maybe specifically HIV and AIDS, our community City of West Hollywood, the gay community will be able to roll that out. Because we know how to do that. We know how to tell people, if you take this medication, you won't get infected. If you are infected and you take this medication, it will keep you alive. There's no shame in living your life and having your healthcare be some of the things that you talk about with other people. And I just think that in some way, that's a lesson that we have learned. That's something we can teach other communities and reteach ourselves once that arrives.

Mike Gerle  11:35  

Well, I do what to compliment the leadership I've seen from West Hollywood. I'm a block and a half out of the out of over the border now. But I have been looking to just the clear, open, this is what we know this is what we don't know. And just super easy access. I'm just very impressed. And happy to have been associated with the city when I see that, especially with all the chaos, it's it's very comforting to see that.

John D’Amico  12:08  

Well, I I you know, one goal of mine, Mike is been to not be the guy with all the answers because I'm not. And what I want to be is the person who gives exactly the same message that our city needs to give every time and it develops as our city's message develops, and we do everything we can. But we don't promise things. We don't do things we don't know how to do. You know, I mean, the City of West Hollywood is not a healthcare provider. The county is a provider of public health and a provider of healthcare generally. And so we look to them to tell us what to do. There are plenty of people who want us to be you know, opening up testing sites and shutting down this store or, or this restaurant that's delivering or that pot store that's selling cannabis or, or that dog park itself, because you know, three people are standing too close to each other. But ultimately, I just think we need to be delivering the message that tells exactly what we know at this moment, and be willing to, you know, have that evolve, and then tell that message. And you know, I won't be the mayor forever, I think I'll be done in you know, two months or so. And then there'll be a new mayor, and my hope is that Lindsay will do the same, but you will know that the best option is to tell the city's story not to be the mayor, who's in charge, because I just don't think our city you know, I don't think our city is best served by that kind of decision making but you know, we'll find out

Mike Gerle  13:47  

In this time of, of confusion, and chaos is really great just to have that, that clarity, a place where I just like, Oh, this is this is what they know. And this is what they don't know. And these are my responsibilities for myself. Thank you for That information as mayor now as my neighbor, and we're very similar demographically, as far as like age, I'm positive. When I saw that you were positive with COVID-19. I was like, Oh my god, this is really hitting really, really close to home. But I'm wondering if you'd be willing to tell us a little bit that about your that story, especially when it comes to maybe not just the ill Well, there's the illness itself and the symptoms but also the isolation and how you handle that with your husband with Keith and, and your friends and and how did you balance support and isolation and all that and emotionally, maybe How was it for you?

John D’Amico  14:46  

Well, I guess I really want to start with I'm not a medical professional. Yes, I need to be like super clear. And, you know, I Saturday 14th I started to have a headache. There was a lot going on at City Hall about emergency ordinances and shutting businesses and lots of phone calls and emails and, you know, angry people and desires and you need to shut it down, and you need to leave it open and you're trying to put me out of business. And, you know, like, why are you doing that you care about residents and all that stuff, which is perfectly fine. And I got a headache. And I was like, That's awful. And so I went to sleep, and I woke up and then my neck hurt, and I couldn't really move my head and I was like, boy, this stress sucks. And then I thought, like, on Sunday afternoon, I actually thought like, Wait a second, John, you're 56 years old and you have never had a stress headache or this maybe something else is up, you know, and then I was like, What could I have? You know, my dad didn't diagnose myself and then Monday I woke up and I was coughing. And so I didn't go to work because my job you know, we're all like, everybody, just you're not well stay home, right? Even if you have a cold and then by the middle of the day I started getting a fever. So I called the city manager and said, I'm not going to come to our city council meeting. And then my fever didn't go away. And then Tuesday morning I woke up. And And honestly, I mean, it was certainly in the back of my head that maybe that was what was up, but not really. I mean, I literally I could show you the text I sent to my doctor was like, I got a headache and a little fever and I don't want to come in because I'm sure you're busy. But if, you know, my assumption is I should just drink fluids and rest. And then he called me and said, No, you need to drive over here parking the parking lot and leave your lights on and we're gonna test you for this virus. Okay. So then I did and I still had a fever and I had a fever overnight and it wasn't great. It got to like 102 and then I was sort of thinking, Okay, this is an intense sort of moment, right? But then I woke up the next day I I took some NyQuil and some Tamiflu and woke up the next day my fever was gone. Then my doctor called and told me the results. But by that point, my fever never came back, you know, and he was like, well, you have to wait until the seventh or eighth day. Sometimes it comes back sometimes, you know, and that was over the weekend and, but the whole time I was texting him a couple of times a day or talking to his nurse practitioner. And they were very concerned, they were really clear that the threshold for going to the hospital was you know, if I have any trouble breathing at all, I need to call them and tell them and tell them that I tested positive so they could be prepared for me to arrive and all that. And so I never had a moment where I was like, feeling super sick and knew I was positive for this virus. I had sort of already gotten over it was like, wow, what just hit me, you know, like, whatever it is it just in the head. It's back there, you know, and I'm still moving. So Keith started to not feel well, you know, the next week and he was not well for four or five days. And that was then I was sort of looking in. And that's when I kind of got scared, like, wow, this could really just go bad. He could just, you know, be late, and then just get worse and worse. And luckily, that never happened either got better. And now, you know, he's been feeling well for four days. And I've been feeling well for 10 days and 11 days, actually. And so, you know, it's kind of in that sort of spirit that all of this went down. In fact, today, I went back to my doctor's office to participate in a study that he's doing for viral virology study in the blood and in the mucous membrane for people who have already finished their course of infection. So I was the first patient in his practice of several thousand gay men to have tested positive and I didn't love hearing that when he told me you know, We have been I've been seeing him since 1994. And I was like, I don't know, Peter, if I really want to be like the Pioneer again, you know,

Mike Gerle  19:07  

yeah, we've done that.

John D’Amico  19:11  

Exactly like really, but you know, but then I also here it is less than two weeks later and I'm, you know, participating in a study and trying to make sure that other people have as much information as can be developed from now people unfortunately like me. Mm hmm. through that.

Mike Gerle  19:29  

Well, then let's talk about the isolation and the socialization mental emotional aspects of that. I think it sounds like you had the earlier restrictions personally that everybody's living under now. I mean, do you have any, any any wisdom you've learned from that? Or just then there is story of like, what we might expect if we're, if we're, like you, which I kind of am.

John D’Amico  20:00  

Then, you know, to 15 days in my house in on my property and I sort of the, but truly would walk a couple of miles every day up and down my driveway. Just because I, you know, I here's what I know about everyone I know who's ever been to the hospital, they stand you up and they walk you down the corridor, right? You know you had your hip redone three hours ago, get up and start walking your lungs been replaced, get up and start walking, you know. And so based on nothing, except the fact that I wanted to be outside and it wasn't raining and it was sunny, was, you know, walked out my side door and walked up and down my driveway and I literally would walk, you know, two and a half, two and three quarters, one and three quarters miles up and down my driveway. Somebody's listening

Mike Gerle  20:49  

to podcasts or sometimes in a meditative,

John D’Amico  20:52  

meditative thing. Okay, great. You know, those monks who sort of walk that same? Yeah,

Mike Gerle  20:58  

well, I say that because I think that this may be an opportunity, you know, I started teaching yoga and I meditate every day and I forced opportunity for people to be with themselves. right and right. So it is interesting that you were doing that without anything in your ears. And, and I'd also say my

John D’Amico  21:17  

that, you know, I love being on the city council. I am honored to be the mayor. But this year, I've been saying to Keith, like, I just really need to slow down you know, like having a full time job and being the mayor of being on the council and having a husband and and I suddenly didn't wish a global pandemic on the world so that I could slow down. I am in a similar way to the way that finding out I was HIV positive catapulted me into my life, it made me sort of snap out of being a knucklehead and get it together and go be myself. This was like kind of the opposite inverse reaction of like, yes, I'm at home now I can, without any qualms, sit down and meditate for an hour, I don't have anywhere else to be because I have nowhere else to go right in this either way. And so I really have taken this up as a genuine opportunity to do that thing that I, you know, said I needed to somehow figure out how to do it just got figured out for me or the space opened up and I filled it with that. I was filling it with anxiety or you know, some other

Mike Gerle  22:33  

Yeah, sounds like you almost happily surrendered to it.

John D’Amico  22:39  

Oh, I completely surrendered to it. You know, I mean, it's true. I'm happy to walk my dog around the block, but even since, you know, after being cleared by the county and cleared by my doctor, I have walked my dog around the same block four times, you know, and driven to my doctor's office and there's nowhere to go. And I'm right here I don't have to have surrendered to it and I do really see it as a as an opportunity.

Mike Gerle  23:05  

I see it that way too. It's it's really difficult. But it is an opportunity to go inside. And I'm my personal belief system right now is that's just that's where the answers are. That's where the the eternal wisdom lives. That's where the soul the Atma and the Buddha energy, whatever you you know, whatever people want to call it, it's really it's in there. It's not out there. It's not in it's not at the mall.

John D’Amico  23:34  

It's not on Instagram.

Mike Gerle  23:36  

It's not on Instagram. Yes. Are those other places so it's a chance for that. So you did mention that a second ago about AIDS or HIV said you the catapulted you into your life. So what was happening before Can you talk about like, maybe before and then then it switched

John D’Amico  23:57  

It was 1988, I was working in a gallery, sort of sleeping on people's sofas hanging out at bars at night driving a motorcycle around, you know, like being a 24 year old in 1988, which, you know, I mean, I would, we could spend the rest of eternity describing what it was like, and not cover it. But you know, like 1988 was a different time in West Hollywood, and I was enjoying it in the way that I somehow knew how, but I also you know, once I found out I was HIV positive, I also had lots of friends who were in acquaintances and you know, some of them bought insurance policies and cash them out expecting to die like this sort of thing that I don't even know people can even conceptualize now, right, like, they bought like three quarters of a million dollars of insurance and then, you know, said Oh, I'm HIV positive and sold it for Half a million dollars. And then this went wild and then others sort of waiting to the sort of meditative Buddha, you know, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Angels, you know, like that whole thing and and I just sort of thought, I think I need the environment of an educational institution, which would come with some structure and come with some insurance, which I didn't have insurance. Why would I have insurance? I was 24. You know, and

Mike Gerle  25:32  

How did you get how did you find out? was it? Was it your first test? Or was it?

John D’Amico  25:36  

Yeah, It was my first one

Mike Gerle  25:39  

I was the same way. And nobody laughed at my joke when they said he wanted to he wanted to he wanted an HIV test. And I said, No, I passed it the first time. Thank you for laughing at that. No one has ever laughed at that. Especially a healthcare worker. They don't think that's funny.

John D’Amico  25:56  

I think that's hilarious. There was a lot of dark humor to in 1988. You know? Yeah,

Mike Gerle  26:03  

yes. Yes.

John D’Amico  26:04  

A lot of very. So. So yeah. So I just, you know, and I had spent a couple of years before that, like trying to get into graduate school and, you know, make, like not getting in and then changing my mind and going for a day and then I just said, I'm going to do this. I'm just going to find a school and get myself in and start and wherever my life takes me it's not going to be riding a motorcycle around at 2:30 in the morning, you know, following some guy home just because I don't have anywhere to be the next morning. Did you think that you are going to die from it? I never did. And I still don't and I saw plenty of people die. Many of people kill themselves. Plenty of people not die, but also not live their potential lives, and plenty of people who just rose and became You know, super exciting and excited about living and are still alive and doing it. And I don't judge any of those outcomes, including my own, you know, because I think possible to look at me and see what a lunatic sort of type A personality I am who maybe didn't stop to smell the roses enough, right. But I think everyone's journey in their life is their journey. Yeah, the layer of HIV has complicated it for some and changed for the better for others, I think, do you think? Well,

Mike Gerle  27:34  

I was just gonna say, do you think your life would be different if you weren't positive? But I'd say how do you think your life would be different if you didn't test positive at 24 years old? It's impossible to

John D’Amico  27:43  

know. I mean, I'm sorry, Michael. It's impossible to know like because I maybe I would have tested positive at 25.

Mike Gerle  27:52  

That's why I love this podcast. I get to ask impossible questions.

John D’Amico  27:59  

If AIDS itself didn't exist, then perhaps there's a different world out there. But just because I didn't have HIV wouldn't Oh, that. Okay, well, let's

Mike Gerle  28:10  

talk about that. What Where do you think gay people would be if AIDS hadn't happened?

John D’Amico  28:14  

Well, again, I think, you know, one of the

Mike Gerle  28:21  

or maybe I can make it even more fine tuned question, do you think we would have advanced as far as far as with civil rights and all of that. Now, one of

John D’Amico  28:31  

the mind blowing things about AIDS is that it outed so many people, not the celebrities, but sure, plenty of celebrities, whatever, but it outed people in their, you know, three bedroom ranch homes and their two room apartments all across the US. And one of the things I think about a lot, and I wish I couldn't, I wish somebody better than a better thinker than me about this and a better writer that About this would write about is those people who threw their children away when they found out they had AIDS, how they lived the rest of their lives. Because the world moved on, and the world found a way to incorporate, you know, AIDS and HIV into sort of who we are as human beings. And I just wonder, I just wonder about those people. You know, I knew some of them the parents of some of my friends and I and the brothers and sisters and some of my friends and I think, you know, it happens today. Sure, plenty of gay people are thrown away by their parents. But I just think it's a it's an interesting story. And I think, I don't think we would have advanced as far as we have, without AIDS, humanizing gay people in a really in a really beautiful, I think and substantial way now we have mythologized our own sort of, you know, story about what we did for ourselves and each other and that's fine. You know, mystery is an incredibly powerful, you know, it's an incredibly powerful thing. But I think that the real heart and soul of all of that is the kind of heart wrenching, heartbreaking moments that happen in living rooms and dining rooms and telephone calls. That really changed him.

Mike Gerle  30:19  

Yeah, well, I look around now and see, with that experience, wondering what will be mythologized about what I'm watching right now, and the horrors and the courage and the suffering that I get to say this, you know, I you know, I became a fan as positive in 87. So that's reason I can be heartless. I already heard a frontline worker talking about how difficult it was in ICU, where she's working. And she can't remember the last time she slept, but then when she got set home to rest, all she wants to do is go back to work. Be with in the fight. There is that and I think about all the movies that were made about World War Two musicals and everything, right? Oh, and that was a horrible, horrible, terrible thing. As far as I know, getting shot and blowing, destroying cities and stuff is not nice. And then we wrote musicals about those things and everything. What I see is people being able to have purpose. And I think if people at home can be leveraged, or make what they're doing, have that purpose be attached to that purpose, then they're more likely to follow the protocols of stay at home and find meaning in the chaos and later it will be mythologized as how we all work together and everything was clear or something. I don't know.

John D’Amico  31:54  

Yeah, we don't know the myth. It's probably too early, but you know, certainly Some have written about the plagues of the Oedipus cycle, right? And how the Greeks and how really, humanity has always understood plague. And, you know, we have for a hundred years, give or take, especially if you take away the reality of gay men. We haven't had a plague, you know, as a society. So I think in some way, we understand the seriousness of it, and maybe there's some, some sense memory of it, but it is different. You know, in fact, you and I are having a conversation and seeing each other's face, right. Yeah, yeah. And so the isolation is simultaneity to the isolation of you have communication through a screen, but we've all been telling each other for the last 10 years. You know, this thing in your hand is the worst thing ever and now it's the best thing ever. Yeah. The interesting how that, you know, that's that's flipped and certainly there will be plenty of art made about this time about isolation and connection there will be, you know, plenty of books written about it. I would imagine plenty of, you know, ABC News, World News Tonight, two minutes of feeling good about this person who got to say goodbye to his mom or this person who, you know, saved a two year old or, yeah, all those things. But I think that's, that that's just a sort of collection of the human condition. Yeah, well, man and into some kind of a myth, you know?

Mike Gerle  33:37  

Well, now I'd maybe like to ask a question I was going to ask before the pandemic started, which was, so before I'm assuming it was before HIV and that it's your coming out story. Seems like when I was very young, going to bars the first time that's the story we were all telling each other bar You know, at least some of them, some of us as each other are you out? You know, those kinds of things do you want Can you tell us what your was really was and and I guess I'm also looking for this Hero's Journey arc. And what I'm trying to get at is that I think that being the other has value that we learned some skills along the way by starting in the known, going through this unknown and then coming back to the known, we get these gifts, the hero returns with the elixir. And so with that, what I mean was anything like

John D’Amico  34:44  

that, or I don't know if I have an elixir to return with, but I'll tell the story and then maybe you can Okay, pluck the elixir out of it. So I guess I like maybe most of us I came out to many things. Time's right? Yes. Well, I'll tell one funny coming out story. So my mother has memory problems. Now she lives in a memory care facility. And for a while, she was staying with us a couple of years ago. Keep an eye and about 15 times a day, she would ask me who Keith was. And I would say, that's my husband. And he would say, Are you gay? come onto her again. Oh,

my God. And, you know, and it was like,

this is a fucking nightmare to come out to my mother. Day after day. Wow. You know, and there is one time I just I, I said, I'm sort of embarrassed to say this, but I did it. I was like, oh, Keith, he's just a friend of mine. He just lives here for a while. And she's like, Okay, and then 30 minutes later, it's Like Who's that? My husband? Are you gay?

Mike Gerle  36:05  

So when when did you? How did she find out? Or did you tell her face to face?

John D’Amico  36:10  

So I was gay in the 70s. I went to high school. First I went to public school for two years in high school, ninth grade, 10th grade and then 11th grade. I went to this. My folks moved from Maui to Honolulu and I went to this boarding school, a school and the school had a zero tolerance policy for fighting. I was gay. I was gay in 11th grade, I went to the 11th grade Halloween parade as a gay ghost.

Mike Gerle  36:40  

did how did you feel about that? Were you resistant to being gay or?

John D’Amico  36:45  

No, I mean, people have been telling me I was a fag since I was in you know, second grade. I remember chert nourish called me a fag in seventh grade, and and I was like, Yeah, but what am I supposed to do about it? I'm trapped in a teenage body, I'm sorry, I don't even know. Yeah, I, you know, I was out in high school and I eventually came out to my, my father and my mother sort of knew, you know, my mother knew my father. After my first year of college, whatever, I was home and he was like, you know, are you are you homosexual? I said yes. And he said, move out. And I was like, go back to sleep, you know, sort of, you know, whatever. And that's sort of my coming out story. And, of course, in the early 80s, through, you know, really, I don't know, whenever, the early 90s I mean, coming out was still a thing people would never imagine that, you know, I would always sort of remark like, how do people how can people possibly be surprised when I come out? You know, but they, they were, they were You know, some of them, some of them were not, of course, but you know, and I don't know what it's like to come out in 2020 for a 20-year-old or an 18-year-old or a 14-year-old. I don't know what that's like I do have very specific memories of the sort of, sort of not loneliness, but the idea that there weren't other people like me around. Yeah. That sounds painful. Yeah, and not because, you know, I sort of was in that category of anyway.

Mike Gerle  38:38  

Like, yeah, my singular. You know, did you? I mean, even did you maybe even like it? I mean, yeah, give you a brand.

John D’Amico  38:48  

Yeah. Right. And I had friends, you know, women and men were gay still are. Okay. In high school. You know, in Hawaii, it was kind of different at that time, because there were was a it wasn't the same sort of conservative religious element that is now there in this Yeah, there was a big sort of return to Hawaiian culture. And there was a sort of hippie "Live and let live" environment everywhere. And there wasn't. It's, you know, it's different now.

Mike Gerle  39:24  

Mm hmm. So when Why did you decide to move to West Hollywood?

John D’Amico  39:30  

Well, I moved to California to go to college.

Mike Gerle  39:33  


John D’Amico  39:35  

When I, I went to Cal Arts for two and a half years, and then by the end of 1983, I had sort of moved to the West Hollywood in the West Hollywood area, just because that's where my friends who had gone to USC or California Lutheran College of all places and other UCLA they sort of, you know, the ones that were gay, were like, This is where you come to, West Hollywood. So I moved here even then even then I want a sexual ice cream and I'm there was a Haagen dazs ice cream store that I used to go to, you know, it's like, because I was never much of a drinker, but, but I still wanted to hang out. So is there an elixir that I returned?

Mike Gerle  40:19  

Yeah. Well, I was just like, is there there's, there's a book out, being gay in the new way forward. And in this, he thinks that the gay men have 14 specific traits like we're we tend to be more cooperative, compassionate, empathetic. We are sexual educators. We get permission to to look at your sexuality and, and do your sexuality differently. Those kinds of things. So I'm really just trying to like do my own like, ask people if they identify with any of that kind of stuff.

John D’Amico  41:00  

Because that's kind of like a, you know, reading your horoscope, you know, good things will come to you. You know, make sure you look around the next corner.

Mike Gerle  41:09  

Yeah, yeah. Well, the empirical evidence that I do have is I've been doing a lot of work with the Mankind project, and I've ever heard of that. It's been around since the 70s. It's a men's organization designed to create connection and emotional literacy, like getting in touch with your emotions, a lot of guys. Some of the founders came back from Vietnam and wanted to deal with their feelings. And they have a whole ritualized way of doing it. It's very cool, I enjoy it. They're very, very cool about having gay men involved. And, but what I have noticed is gay men are like statistically in the group the way they are, in general society is a small sliver. But the gay men tend to be able to hold space woowoo term But they take on leadership and they're able to cooperate more, they're in more leadership in the statements group their way disproportionately in the leadership. I've noticed, and what's really cool is the straight guy in that organization constantly point to the things, what they call the queer gateway weekend does that they adopt for the main program all the time. So I guess the last thing I want to ask you is I just, and you're not a health professional, you're just another ear you're the mayor of West Hollywood, and you're a gay man. And I think that we connect a lot through the game and connect a lot through physically and through sex and all of that. And this is particularly difficult time. If sex is off the menu, which some people don't seem to think it is, I've been on some of the hookup apps, and I was talking more to people which I really like. I've actually just had some actual conversations with people. But people still want to hook up. What would you say from when we haven't talked about this but just from an elder space? You know, you're the you're we're the Big Kahuna is now we're in our 50s. And like it or not, were the big brothers of the group. What message do you have for our little brothers out there who might be online?

John D’Amico  43:23  

I think you've heard me say this before, that I think people need to go and vent the world they want to live in. And if I had listened to people my age when I was in my 20s, this might not be such a terrific place. Hmm. And so I don't have words of wisdom. I do have, I can offer that there are people who have ideas about how to protect yourself, and those are out there, just like the opportunity to go hook up. Then ignore what's going on.

Mike Gerle  44:02  

And what I love about what you're saying. Now, I don't mean to cut you off, but it's just your like, take responsibility for your own life and make your own decisions.

John D’Amico  44:09  

Yeah, cuz Is that what you say? Because it's gonna add up. You know, I can't subtract one moment from my life, but I can add new, better ones going forward. So, you know, I get why people want to hook up. I was 24 once, right? I totally get it. I was 34. I was 44. I was 54. I'm here today. But I also, you know, they're the city provides information. The county provides information. The state provides information the federal government provides information. I would hope those apps are providing information.

Mike Gerle  44:49  

They are,

John D’Amico  44:50  

you know, but I wouldn't I would not ever be the person who says that the choices somebody is making for themselves. I should be making them for them. People have to live their lives. And sometimes people have to make mistakes in order to realize they made a mistake.

Mike Gerle  45:09  

I love that I really, really do. Because I think a lot of times people, and this is why it's hard. I mean, we all get to go in talking about that. And I think that's where the answers are. And I think it's a good time to go in. Because with what you just said, a lot of I was asking you to, say, tell other people what to do be, be the them that tells me what to do. And you're telling us to, you're telling us to get informed and make good choices?

John D’Amico  45:44  

Yeah. And if you make a bad choice, don't beat yourself up.

Mike Gerle  45:49  

That's beautiful. That's very loving. I guess I'll wrap it up there. All right. I got to get back to work. Anyway. So thank you so much for making the time today. Do this and it is good to see you. And I'm really glad to hear that you and Keith are both doing well. And the rest of your animal family sounds like they're doing well there too.

John D’Amico  46:11  

I caught my dog's hair and it's like, I'm so ashamed. He doesn't have shame. Thank goodness, I think I think

Mike Gerle  46:18  

well, Florida still considers that an essential service.

John D’Amico  46:27  

He probably doesn't even care. Now, how would he know? Right? Yeah, he's much happier. He's cooler. He's not panting all day long. So you know it accomplished what it was supposed to.

Mike Gerle  46:37  

Awesome. Well love you advocate and thank you very much. Okay. Bye.

And that brothers and sisters was mayor John D'Amico. I hope you enjoyed the conversation and a peek into the world of a leader who actually contracted COVID-19 and is here to tell us the story. Until next time, love yourself and love your neighbor by sending friendly vives from six feet away. That's how we show love now. We're all in this together. And I can't wait to see you next week for the next episode. Bye Bye.

Thanks for listening to the show my friend. Now stay connected by subscribing to GerleMen podcast and sharing with your friends on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere else podcasts can be found. Visit the webpage at Sign up for the newsletter and find more details about each episode. Let's make this a conversation because I'd really like to hear from you. Join us on Facebook at GerleMen, submit your questions, suggest topics or just chat with your brothers. Want to add your own two cents? Use the voice memo feature on your smartphone. Ask a question or say anything. We just might play it on the podcast. Email the file to [email protected] Until next time.


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