A recent e-mail from… er, let’s call him Alex… posed this interesting question, on the basis that “the blog sounds too idyllic”! He also asked some other questions, including why we ‘chose’ to live in the Bible Belt (we didn’t, we were taken there by parents because of our fathers’ jobs…).
I am going to take this opportunity of repeating most of my originally private answer to ‘Alex’ because it does clear up a few points which others have raised.
Dave says: ‘Tell him you are a 65-year-old Albanian taxi driver with a wooden leg.’
OK! I am very pleased to hear from you and your questions are good questions. I am going to answer them in reverse order – the reasons will (I hope) become clear.
Both Dave and I ended up in Oak Ridge Tennessee because our fathers both got seconded from the UK to the US National Laboratory which was set up there during WW2 to assist in making the bombs which were dropped on Japan. Of course, they are not working on bombs: my dad’s job ended quite quickly, but Dave’s dad is still there, and we currently still live in his house. Dave and I met in Oak Ridge High School, both as apprehensive new guys from UK, and we became instant friends, not least because we were both interested in gymnastics and fitness.
Subsequently, as we became surrounded by other acrobatic and body-conscious guys, we realised our gay status and our love for one another. I am proud to have written about that, including the tearful episodes of self doubt as we matured from schoolboys into adults. It is essentially the local gay brotherhood of super friends which has kept us in Tennessee where, as you rightly suspect, it is not exactly gay-friendly. But we have been here now something like 13 years, although we have spent long periods away on tour and also back in UK where Dave and I own a small house in Wales (our pension fund!).
All this, and much more, is written in the books which the blog constantly refers to. I admit freely that the blog was set up at the suggestion of the publisher with the objective of selling books. Therefore, the things that I write are focussed upon the themes of the books – gay love, acrobatics and circus, and the misadventures which have befallen us.
That brings me to answering your question ‘are you guys real’? There needs to be some explanation.
Yes, I am real. I am writing this back to you. I am ‘Tone’ of the books. But I am NOT ‘Cavanagh’. That is a pseudonym. And I have changed many names, and some locations, within the books. Why would I do that?
Many writers choose, for all sorts of reasons, not to publish under their own names. Is it because I am gay, and wish to conceal it? No, as it happens. I am proud of my sexuality, and so are my colleagues. No, it is because of our true friend and gay colleague, Zach (not his real name). His mom was a hippie on the beach in California, his father was not known. Until 2003. But, just as we had formed a touring group and starting travelling around the US and the world, his father sought him out. But his family is not a pleasant one – quite the opposite. They were Mexican, and involved in the current drug issues which you can read about in newspapers. You’ll have to read the books to get the full picture, but essentially this led ‘Zach’ to getting shot at during a performance in Scotland, and then later, to him and six of us getting essentially kidnapped as part of a scheme to have ‘Zach’ sell drugs for his obnoxious family. In the course of that, his own beloved gay partner ‘Gary’ got knifed in the stomach, and it was only his martial arts training which saved his life.
After this got sorted (not easy), ‘Zach’and ‘Gary’ were advised to disappear altogether (actually they went to a circus in Romania) and the rest of us were advised – very strongly – to keep a very low profile. After a few years, we heard that the father and ‘Zach’s half brothers died in some incident as part of the gang wars in northern Mexico, but we can never be sure that the threat is entirely gone.
So, everything I write about in the blog, and in the books, has to conceal our real identities. The law-enforcement agencies have strongly advised that. I do not, ordinarily, therefore, publish pictures of ourselves or our close colleagues, although they are out there on the net – just under different names. ‘Circus Extreme’ is really called something entirely different. It did have a website, but we were advised to remove it and, anyway, we are all getting rather tired of touring as the years creep by and, frankly, I think that our forthcoming short US season will be the last. This latest tour was entirely arranged by word of mouth and reputation.
Is our life idyllic? Well, maybe. Depends on your point of view. I dislike having to think twice and look over my shoulder before writing something or doing something. We do indeed have an inner circle of ‘clean’ gay colleagues which I called ‘Tuan Jie’ after the Chinese characters which ‘Zach’ first introduced us to – they are on all the book covers too. The love that gay guys can give, and share, and the caring that they can give collleagues in times of of stress, are certainly real, and have kept our hearts going when the darker times threatened. I have a loving son thanks to a wonderful lesbian girl who begged for help to start her family – her partner likewise, with Dave, has a daughter. The kids, above all else, keep us ‘in the bible belt’ as you put it.
That said, Dave and I are thinking very hard about our future. We are not going to carry on performing indefinitely – age is creeping on, as I said. What to do, then? Not sure. Yes, we coach gymnastics and are qualified to do that anywhere, but it is not financially very rewarding, although we love to do it. Writing, as my three books have shown, is not a route to becoming rich either! Should we go back to UK? Maybe. We’ll see.
All of this leads me, therefore, to one final admission which I am happy to make. Books need to be ‘a good read’. The publisher insisted on that – not just a catalogue of what happened, and when. A close (more senior) family member counselled me a lot in the writing to make it more entertaining. Therefore, I have changed some things, but not locations. Nothing is explicitly untrue, but some things I’ve left out. Similarly, the blog is structured with book sales always in mind. I do not tell you everything. Sometimes we leave town, or even the US, for good reasons, but choose to leave the blog suggesting we are still in Tennessee. Soome things in our lives we keep for ourselves. I hope you can understand that.
So. Some names are changed. Some ages are changed. Here and there I have put things into a different order from what actually happened. As one example, I refer in the second book to a former friend of Dave’s who was crippled in an accident in a gym. It would not be fair to publish his real name, or to directly give information which could identify him. A High School coach, who I have ‘outed’ as gay as part of the narrative, could not possibly be identified from what I actually wrote. That would be unforgivable. I hope you can understand that, and can continue to enjoy the pictures I do post, which illustrate our lives and interests in various ways without directly exposing us to personal scrutiny which might – just might – still be damaging, if not dangerous.
I was pleased to receive your questions and I hope that this lengthy reply offers you some insights.
There was more to this exchange, but that’s quite enough. Almost another book – in fact, that’s a huge trailer for ‘Against All Odds’
, the third and last part of the set. If anything there strikes a chord, go to any other post and click on a book cover for more information.
To conform with this blog’s present traditions, a few gay-oriented pictures:
Not really keen on the ciggy in the next one, but…