Posted by Jorge J Prieto

I want to start this, my very first blog ever, on a positive note. Just two days ago I finally opened a Facebook account and I must say, my phobias about it have subsided little by little. I’ve received over a dozen requests and 'likes' and I've come across lots of co-workers from my years at TWA, who I simply lost track of once the company closed down in 2002. Discovering Facebook brought joy into my sort of lonely life, but the most exciting part is seeing and keeping in touch with my Florida and Texas family. To be honest, I’ve been more in touch with my Stage 32 family than my own, simply because no one understands artists more than other artists.. Period.

You might wonder why I have titled this blog OUTspoken? It wasn’t easy coming to terms with what I’m going to share with you all. The fear I have had of opening up, to expose myself, to explain where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing all these years is something I was not looking forward to. The root of my fears, I believe, all lead back to when I was eight years old in my native city of Havana, Cuba.

I was a talkative, outgoing, active, normal child who loved birthday parties as you can see in my eighth birthday party picture. My brother’s birthday is on the sixth and mine is on 15th of September, so to save money, my parents always celebrated both our birthdays on the sixth. 

Having to live with the communist regime was difficult for me, because I so wanted to belong, but my parents hated the system and always told me I must not show patriotism. We were waiting for our number to be called, so we could come to the USA. We had family there who were going to be our sponsors. The anti-regime Cubans like my family were called, 'worms'. That word created real pain in my innocent heart. I remember arguing with my mother because I wanted to show my support for Castro and The Che. I was an outspoken seven year old and my grandmother would tell my parents that when I grew up I was going to be a politician.

I was happy and living normally until one horrific afternoon that changed me and scared my life forever. I played soccer with other boys my age in the courtyard, but there was also a 24 year old neighbor and friend of my parents who would also play with us, he was a leader to us kids and he was part of the Cuban Military, he was very strong and athletic, little did I know that I was his prey.

One afternoon after a game, he invited me over to his apartment where he lived with his parents. He took me into his bedroom to show me small airplane models. I always liked airplanes and he started showing me the planes one by one, then he started getting physically closer to me and that's when the horrific abuse started. Minute by minute, hour by hour, it felt to me like I was trapped in that room for hours, days... it was a nightmare which I couldn’t wake up from because he wouldn’t let me leave. I’ve already described this whole experience through the words of my character 'Angel Diaz' in my screenplay 'Shared Scars', which is up on my profile page and all of you are welcome to read it. 

In an attempt to keep me quiet and before he let me go, he told me “Jorgito, you must not tell anyone about this, more importantly not to your mother, because you know her temper...” (My mother turned into a beast if anyone hurt her kids, he knew it and I knew it). “She will kill me and go to jail for a long, long time and it will all be your fault.” I ran out of that torture chamber with my heart racing and tears running down my face. After that I hid from him and I avoided him. My mother used to ask me why I wasn’t going out to play as I used to. I made something up and I hid under the bed whenever he visited.

A year later, my prayers were answered and we got our permit to come to America. I knew then that I would not have to face this animal ever again. My mother, my brother and I left Cuba forever in February 1970. My father had to make the sacrifice and stay in Cuba, or else we would have starved because when one applies to leave Cuba, the government forces you to quit your job.

We lived with my mother’s uncle for a few months, but then we found an empty basement apartment where we could live and we were very happy there. Mom started babysitting for the upstairs neighbor and once the word spread, Mom gained six children to look after and she charged $40 a week for each child. The rent was only $100 a month. We found furniture in the street and beds at a thrift shop, we had it all, but most importantly, we had freedom. Mom was sad because she missed dad, but found solace in the fact that she had saved my brother and I from the Revolution military before we were thirteen, because once a male is thirteen, he must serve and leaving Cuba is denied.

I had become an introvert once we got to America. I didn’t speak the language and when I was in third grade, kids would put thumb tacks and gum on my chair. One time, a kid threw a book across the cafeteria and broke my glasses, cutting my face. My brother who was heavily built and strong, defended me and when my Mother found out, she wanted to kill the kid. I was embarrassed, even though I was the victim.

I didn’t trust many people and my teenage years were very painful. I was bullied constantly for being quiet and aloof. In high school, this one teenager kept taunting me in the boys locker room, which led to me questioning my sexuality. I knew I was attracted to other male classmates, but I refused to process it. I believe this is one of the reasons why I never had any male friends, which is also true today. I was afraid they would notice what I was, something which I refused to accept. It couldn’t be true. I also kept having this flashback to when I was seven, my father had slapped me and told me to "stop talking queer like that little faggot", he was talking about Tony, who was a friend of mine and I would always cry. As a child, I used to do imitations of people and I would do imitations of Tony as well and that was what I was doing when my Father set on me, I didn’t know what a faggot child looked or sounded like. That slap across my face and those words are wounds in my heart that will never heal.

I remember thinking, 'maybe that man who raped me, saw something in me. Maybe he knew I was a queer'. I retreated into myself and depression settled in. I began writing and I wrote every single day. Writing saved my life. Unlike my character in 'Shared Scars', I wanted to disappear and I did just that through my characters. I could become who ever I wanted to be: The popular guy, the strong and the straight muscled teenager, someone I wasn’t in reality. I was skinny, shy, quiet, scared and yes... gay.

My mother soon started getting suspicious, because I was 18 years old and I had not had any girlfriends. She questioned me a few times, but soon I was going to college and something magical happened there. I auditioned for the college's first ever musical play, 'The Me Nobody Knows' and I not only got a role, but the biggest dramatic role. After that I became popular throughout the whole campus and everyone recognized me. I started weight lifting and my body changed completely. I was writing a lot in college and was getting straight A’s in creative writing and in English composition, I also made it onto the Dean's list.

In 1980, my father arrived after spending five months in Spain after leaving Cuba, but he and my mother were always arguing at night. In 1982, I graduated college, I got a good job and was also attending Spanish theater at nights and weekends and I carried on writing. After moving out on my own, I felt like my true self for the first time, which is something I did to get away from the fighting between my parents.

In 1984, I met my first true love, Joseph, who was known as Joey. He was Italian, tall, hardworking and the kindest person I had ever met. He reminded me of myself. He soon became a nurse and got a job at a big hospital. I was working on Wall Street. 

Because of the 10 year separation my parents endured as a result of the Cuban regime, they were unable to reconcile their marriage and my mother moved to Florida.

The ‘80s also brought the AIDS epidemic and one afternoon, after leaving work, Joey collapsed with a seizure. He was admitted to hospital and given the bad news that he had full blown AIDS and it was attacking his brain. Six months later in 1990, my first love, my friend, my partner of six years, was gone. 

I was lonely and devastated, but my work colleagues at TWA and my acting family at the theater, all got me through. I felt as though God was with me, because I never got HIV or AIDS. 

In 2004 and again in 2006, I auditioned and was cast in Joe Pintauro’s, 'Raft of The Medusa', which was a play about a support group for victims with AIDS. My character, like all the other characters, were all dying of AIDS. The playwright told us that each one of our characters was a real person and they had all died by the time he finished the script. I was playing someone who had a break down and I had to do this seven times a week for nine weeks and I thought of Joey every time I stepped on stage. I dedicated my performances to him.

In 2008 my dad went into total kidney failure and I promised him I would not let him die, God had given me two perfect kidneys, so I volunteered to be his living donor. I went through weeks of intense testing to confirm that I had no life threatening or contagious diseases. I was not only cleared, I was a perfect match. On April 9th 2009, the transplant took place. My dad is now strong and healthy, saved by the queer son he’d slapped 40 years earlier. Dad and I have never discussed my sexuality, but now and after my beloved mother’s passing, I love dad more than ever, I know he loves me in his own odd way and he’s grateful that I care for him now that he just turned 80.

Today I suffer from chronic back/neck/shoulder pain from two work related accidents while working for TWA, this landed me in the operating room three times for spinal cord surgeries, so I get very depressed from time to time, but writing always comes to my rescue and even if I don’t ever 'make it' as a screenwriter, I will always be grateful to God for inspiring me to write and create all these moving, disturbing, powerful, inspiring, touching characters and stories. Many of my stories are very painful to write because every character is a piece of me and they come from a place of pain, but to quote two time, Oscar winning Writer/Director, Alejandro G. Inarruti, “Pain is temporary, but a film is forever.”

Well, by now you all know why I called this blog OUTspoken. Today I came OUT to more of you than I wish to count. Isn’t it more than 600,000 and counting, should I delete this? Just kidding. All of you, my Stage 32 family, are the first people I’ve told my horrific childhood experience to. I did tell an English teacher in high school and I know he wouldn’t want me to talk about my story, but he was so kind about it. Thanks, Mr. R., wherever you are.

I would tell my story again if it helps someone like me realize that it is not their fault. My message to anyone going through this is to remember that you are the innocent victims, they are the pedophiles, the predators who deserve no forgiveness. I will take the wounds of what that animal did to me to my grave and I will never forgive him, but right now, I finally feel a sense of relief for sharing this part of me. I’ve also proudly told all my Facebook friends that I’m a screenwriter and proud to be! My silence is broken at last. I am out. I have spoken.

Since I began writing this four days ago, I can’t believe the outpouring of love and joy I have received from many of my former TWA co-workers on Facebook. They really touched my heart and soul and now the journey continues, because life is a journey with an unknown destination for all of us.

My gratitude to Rosalind Winton for encouraging me to write this and Richard 'RB' Botto for creating this amazing platform for all of us artists, with the hardest working and most creative team ever.

 

About Jorge:

Jorge is a Stage actor and Screenwriter from New York City, where he grew up after migrating from Cuba in 1969. He grew up and still lives in Queens, New York, the only home he knows and loves dearly. Jorge graduated in 1982 from LaGuardia Community College in Queens with a degree in Liberal Arts and with Honors and he made the Dean's List. At college, he developed a love for acting and it is where he took his first few courses, he also developed his creative writing skills, a passion he has had since he first wrote his first story at the age of thirteen. It is writing that helps him to overcome the trauma of school bullying and the loneliness and alienation he went through as a new comer to strange Country.


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