I met Bill in New Orleans on the day after Halloween. He was Sister Mary Pat Makuto when I met him, and on his way to walk in the Day of the Dead procession that wove it's way through the streets of the city.
Bill: I grew up here in New Orleans. I was raised Southern Baptist. Brought up in the church from the age of two weeks old. Every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening we went to church. At the age of six a deacon of the church began to molest me and that went on for about five years. I knew at that point it was wrong and I didn't want it to happen to me anymore. But I still had to see this man every time I went to church until I was 18.
When I was 19 I met the first love of my life and it was the first time in my life I really felt like I could spread my wings and soar. His name is Sterling and he was a dance instructor. I ended up becoming a ballroom and Latin dance instructor myself and I've been teaching now for 34 years. He's responsible for that. He was ten years older and I was with him for 12 years.
I lived and breathed everything about him. He was the love of my life. He was the first person that saw me for who I was and loved me. I was a caterpillar and I ended up becoming a butterfly because of that relationship.
BW: When did you come out to your parents?
Bill: I actually came out to my parents when I was 22 years old. My parents confronted me. They asked me if I was gay. I told them yes I was. That was a very tough time in my life, but because I had the support from my partner I knew it was the right time.
BW: What happened after that?
Bill: [Tears] It all turned out for the best. It took my mom about three years to come around and it took my dad six. Living in the Southern Baptist household, it's wrong to be gay. Both my mom and my dad prayed that God would take this away from me, you know? When that didn't happen they finally accepted it. Six years into my relationship with Sterling my mom sent me an article that she cut out from the paper about this guy who was healing gay people and turning them straight.
BW: Did you ever entertain any of that stuff?
Bill: No! I was born this way.
BW: Do you think that the molestation had anything to do with your sexuality?
Bill: No. Absolutely not. I think he knew how to target the right victim. You know, the person who wouldn't run off and tell their parents. I was always effeminate. I look back and laugh at some of the 8 millimeter film that my parents took of us growing up. It's just amazing.
I remember that when I was maybe six years old, on Halloween, I'd planned out my entire costume. I went into my sister's room and picked out a dress. I went into the bathroom, and put makeup on, and my mother's wig. I came out and said I was ready to go out trick or treating [tears] and my parents were horrified. It was then and there that I knew there was something different about me. They made me go in the bathroom and wash my face and take the wig and the clothes off and from that point on I hid until I was 22.
You know, it's funny. I think growing up I was looking for [a father figure]. My mother was very hands-on. She always told us how much she loved us. But my father was always a very hands-off person. He lost his father when he was 11 years old and became the adult in his family, so he was a strong, fatherly figure. I've only seen my dad cry once in my 55 years.
BW: When was that?
Bill: When I came out... He didn't even cry at his mother's funeral... [Tears]
BW: Do you feel like you have healed?
Bill: You know, those are things that you put in the back of your mind and don't think about on a day-to-day basis, but when you asked me about it, sure there's still pain there, absolutely. Is anybody ever completely healed?
But I am so happy today. I've got wonderful friends around me. I'm so freaking blessed and I'm better than I deserve.
Part of these collections: Coming Out