24 Hours + 7 Years: A Journey Revisited

JrBear-1In a world where coming out seems easier than it used to be, say 10 years ago, there are still stories out there of coming out nightmares. One such story was told seven years ago by a young bear by the name of Robert Harmon from West Virginia. When Robert posted his story on the Internet, no one ever fathomed that after a period of “queer nationalism” and acceptance of the gay community by the White House that such stories would be told again. That fact that it did occur created an impact in the bear community.

Now that younger gay males are now identifying themselves as being bears and cubs, especially teenagers, Robert’s story has now resurfaced back on the Internet with plenty of notice. Because of some recent incidents regarding young gay/bisexual and questioning males, I asked Robert to recall back to those days back in 1995 and to see what has happened since that time.

MU: Can you briefly recount the events that led to the incident recalled in your “24 Hours” story?

Robert Harmon: Basically, in a nut shell, I was 18 (and) a freshman in college in 1994. I discovered MIRC and the Internet. Jokingly, some friends put me into the #Bearcave channel and I realized it was a gay channel. A bear in Philadelphia chatted (with) me we talked (a lot).  Soon, we had an online relationship and he drove down to West Virginia. He was the first man I ever slept with.  We fell in love and, after a few months, he asked if I would like to move in with him.  So, I pondered the thought of dropping out of college because I was miserable anyway and wanted to be with him.  In February of 1995, I made the leap, dropped out of college and moved in with him.  That following weekend, my father and uncle came up (to) Philadelphia with (the) police and tried to persuade me to come back to West Virginia.  Basically, I came out to my father on a side walk in Philadelphia. Soon after, he attempted to stab me with a pocket knife and the police did nothing.  (Then), my father and uncle left and for a few months. I only talked with my parents via snail mail.  On May 6, 1995, my husbear at the time and I headed to Canton, Ohio at the Football Hall of Fame to see my family.  Hopefully, I was going to be giving them a little relief, settle everything and maybe help them understand where I was coming from. That wasn’t the case. I got out of the car and hugged my dad and then my mom. Suddenly, my two uncles came out of a white van, pulled me in and started beating me. They drove off with me inside. My husbear followed, but he was cut off by my father and an unknown assailant. We got back to West Virginia and I was taken to a mental facility in Huntington where I signed myself in. (The) next day, I was released after calls from my husbear and the FBI.  Mind you, I had no cash (or) ID and (was) running around the city of Huntington, West Virginia.  My husbear wired me some cash and a flight back to Philadelphia. I arrived back home at 9:30PM that night and had a nervous breakdown at the airport.

That was an extremely short version of the story. My website has the entire story in further details.

MU: Then, what happened next?

Robert Harmon: (The next thing that happened took place on July 12, 1995) right around the corner from my house where I was working at in a bookstore in (Northeast) Philadelphia. A guy asked me to help him load a lot of books in his van. Suddenly I was jumped by 3 guys and stripped of my clothes basically. They let me go because some cops were at the strip mall where I worked and they caused a pretty big scene. The cops came took my story (and) I proceeded to press charges. Soon we found out that someone got the license plate. The license plate was stolen and the van recently bought. Basically, I was told “you’re fucked kid” by the police.  Later I got a lawyer and received a restraining order against my parents.  Again the entire detailed version is on my website.

MU: You put this story up on the internet. Originally, what was the reason you did this?

Robert Harmon: The main reason was basically vengeance. I felt so alone in the world that no one believed this was really happening. After a few months and tons of e-mails, it became more therapeutic for me to tell the story. Over time, it got a lot easier to deal with and the webpage was more like therapy. I felt so alone and no one really cared about some young gay guy, whose parents beat the shit out of him, took him across state lines, put him in a mental institution, and then just look away as if nothing happened. Nothing really was done legally on my end it was always a “family matter,” so I took matters into my own and decided to let the world know what happened. The response at the time was completely overwhelming.

MU: Now, years later?

Robert Harmon: I’m actually on slow speaking terms with my family. This past summer my grandfather had passed away and originally I thought it was my dad because their names were the same. After realizing it was my grandfather, I realized that if I didn’t attempt at least one more time in my life to try and come to a true closure with my family I could never live with myself. My folks and I are talking on a 3-to-6 month basis, but they did admit to their wrong doings in the past. This of course doesn’t mean I’m hoping on a plane to see them either, but admitting that what they had did in the past and saying they’re sorry was a big step in the healing process. Only time (will) tell when the next time I’ll ever see them. It’s like the saying “it’s a shame it takes a tragedy in a family to bring to feuding families together” My grandfather’s last words “have you talked to Rob and have you worked out your problems” That just stabbed my heart that he knew my parents and I were on bad terms. Just knowing my grandfather just wanted peace between me and them was really hard to take.  Though like I (said), only time can tell I can say this though. I’ve got a lot of bears and friends that are gonna be there that day when I do finally see them again.

MU: A lot has changed from what I have witnessed since that day in 1995. What were those changes that have happened in your life?

Robert Harmon: So much has happened. I went back to school and got my Associate’s Degree in Computer Animation. I’m working in a Post Production House for Film and Television. I’ve traveled tons and met some really great people that are my family. Some like brothers, mothers, fathers, and uncles I love them all there very dear to me. My husbear (that was with me during the incidents with my family) and I broke up after 4 years. Things just got way to stressful and, unfortunately, also abusive. School was taking a huge part of my life as well. I did find happiness again though after my (previous relationship).  Richard, my wonderful husbear, came into my life the summer of 1999.  He’s been extremely supportive in everything I’ve done in the past.  We married the summer of 2000 (in) a pagan Celtic-style ceremony.  We’ve got 2 great psycho cats that always keep us entertained. Things are crazy. I’ve got so many ideas and plans I’m working on for our future together. His mom has been really supportive. I’m her “other son” as she likes to call me.

MU: You still have a lot of people responding to this story? What kind of responses are you getting?

Robert Harmon: Well, our (new) website just hit 3,800 hits in less than a year. (This year) is the first year “24 Hours” has been back online in over 3 years. There’s been a lot of people e-mailing me telling me thanks for sharing such a deep personal part of myself to the world. I’ve had a few gay bashers do a 180 (degree turn) due to the extreme nature of the story because of the realization that we’re all humans no matter what. Recently a kid in New Jersey seems to be going through a similar situation as I did in the past, so I’m hoping that I can help him if I can. I always swore that if anyone ever went through what I did I would be there for them.

MU: What can be done to reach out to those who are in similar situations today? What would you suggest?

Robert Harmon: That’s a really hard question to answer because I’m not a social worker or a gay youth leader. For me, personally, I went to a gay youth group which kinda helped me talk about what happened and there where a lot of other young gay and lesbian youth that where in similar situations. I’d suggest getting involved in a gay youth group or go to a school counselor or friend you can confide in. No one should have to face coming out alone or have the fear of being abused by coming out either. If anyone needs help please don’t shrug them off or look at them with a third eye. It’s extremely important to know that there’s at least one person listening and willing to help.

MU: Are you doing anything actively as well?

Robert Harmon: I’m currently in the process of starting my own company (that produces) t-shirts, hats (and) artwork. Recently, I got an e-mail from a website asking if I would like to start an online bear comic strip for them. Actively, I’m swamped just so much going on, but I try to balance it all out.

Knowing Robert for most of the time since his last attack against him in Northeast Philadelphia, I praise his courage and stamina through these past seven years. He is a sentinel for all of us whose parents never accepted us when we first came out. As extreme as his family’s action against him, knowing this can and may happen to another young man makes us want to do something about it.

If there is a gay youth group available in your local area, please support it. If there is a crisis line for gay youth or violence against or by other gay men, have that number handy somewhere for someone may use it. Somewhere in the Midwest, even right around the corner from where we live, another Robert may be going through the same situation. Hopefully, if you’re in this situation and are reading this, go to the link listed below and read it. It may save your life.

To read “24 Hours,” log on to http://mypages.comcast.net/bearcub2212/main.htm

and click on the “24 Hours” button. To contact Rob, e-mail him at bearcub2212@comcast.net.