Monday, March 8, 2021

49. This Is Not A Dress Rehearsal

By April of 1988, I was closeted, scared, terrorized by the AIDS crisis, and not sure I was ever going to come out as gay. I didn't really see the point, as I didn't know any gay people that seemed happy, there were zero positive role models in the media, and it seemed like being out would make my already somewhat miserable high school experience even worse.  It seemed easier to live a shell of a life pretending to be someone I’m not.  

Then on April 11th, Cher won the Academy Award for Moonstruck. This underdog, this audacious outcast, whom I had watched and admired on television my entire life, was finally seeing the rewards for her passion and devotion to her work. Furthermore, she came to the ceremony in a unique one-of-a-kind Bob Mackie see-through gown that signaled, "I am here, deal with it." Later that night in a pre-recorded interview, Barbara Walters asked her, “Do you care what other people think of you?” Her response:

 “It hurts me if people don’t like me, it hurts me if other people don’t understand what I’m doing and they’re angry with it.  But after all this is my one and only life.  This is not a dress rehearsal for anything else.  This is the only one I know about.  It’s more important to me what I think of me than what other people think of me.”  [starting 14:37]


With that piece of wisdom I set out to live my life with as much passion and integrity as possible.  I slowly started telling people I was gay at the end of 11th grade, and continued throughout my senior year of High School (there was no social media to help with this!).  I went to college at UC Santa Cruz and used Cher's words to find my voice politically when I spoke out against blood donor discrimination policies, the [first] war in Iraq, the atrocious medical conditions of the Cowell Health Center, as well as ultimately forming my own queer social / support group called the “Porter Lavender Network.”  I moved to San Francisco to pursue my graduate degree in Psychology, work and volunteer in HIV prevention knowing this was not a dry run, not a "dress rehearsal."  

When the tragedies of September 11, 2001 took place I was living a relatively safe and quiet life in Palm Springs, California.  But something about seeing those towers collapse over and over on 24/7 news told me, “Go live in New York.”  My fear-based mindset kept saying, “No! You can’t!”  My Cher-based mindset saying, “Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?”  And so at age 34 I picked up stakes and moved to New York.  I still consider this one of the bravest and wisest decisions I’ve ever made.

When I began using PrEP in 2011, I "came out" about this slowly, having small one-on-one discussions with colleagues, as well as with some of the nightclub producers who were letting me teach about HIV vaccine research at their events.  Those conversations led to an opportunity to appear on Alicia Melendez’s show on The Huffington Post Live in November, 2012.  When I got the call to talk about PrEP on live TV, my mind immediately said, “NO— You can’t do that!  You can’t possibly work as a therapist and talk about enjoying bareback sex openly.  You can’t possibly work in HIV prevention and talk about your decision to stop using condoms.”  Once again, my Cher-mind clapped back, “If they don’t like it they don’t like it.  If they get angry they get angry.   You’ve dealt with that your whole life. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. You can do this.” 

So I showed up on the live segment and spent 30 minutes discussing my decision to use PrEP to have sex without condoms (“Imagine you wait 20 years to drive a new car, and you finally get the keys to that new car, you’re going to want to take that new car out for a spin.”).  Yes, people did get angry, many still are.  But I have never once regretted speaking out for what is true, what is factual, what is loving, what helps people find joy.  


This is not a dress rehearsal.  It's more important what I think of me than how others judge. Living life with integrity, expression, and compassion makes the aging process interesting, exciting, and rewarding.

 Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707. 

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