He is known now as the “Vogue Boy“, but back in the summer of 1991 Robert Jeffrey was just a kid on a family vacation. Decked out in an ensemble fitting for Hampton Beach, New Hampshire – shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers with socks – the young Robert looked like any other boy on vacation with his family, but when offered the chance to lip-sync his favorite song, he became someone else. The little gay boy in each of us came out at that moment, as he channeled Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ in front of a blue-screen at the Hampton Beach Casino.
Two decades later, Mr. Jeffrey posted the video online in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of ‘Truth or Dare’ and the response was overwhelming. When watching it for the first time, my eyes welled up with tears. It resonated so strongly with me – and countless other gay men – that it was like looking at a piece of my own past had it gone the way it should have – had I been so brave and not cared what anyone else thought. Here was something I had done in my bedroom, secretly, on my own, yet he was doing it not only in front of people, but on video, forever committing this moment to history. And not just doing it, but doing it with such joyful abandon and glee that it was impossible not to be swept up into the magnificence and beauty of it. This was a boy on the cusp of finding shame, but not quite there yet. For most of us, the happiest moments of childhood come right before we learn embarrassment, before society teaches us such shame. Here was that moment, captured exuberantly on film for all time, then put away for twenty years.
Reading further into how he came to be performing a Madonna song so publicly, I also envied how supportive and loving his parents had to have been (I would subsequently discover that his Mom bought Madonna’s ‘Sex’ book and gave it to him for his birthday when he was old enough to have it – now THAT is one cool mother). I suppose a few of my tears fell for the longing of that, and the happiness I felt for someone to have been so lucky and so embraced, so early in his life.
After watching the video again recently, and delving into the writings on his website, I was struck by how parallel our lives had been at key moments. The stories were pieced together by various pop-culture mile-post moments, and many were eerily similar to what I had been going through around the year 1996, when we were both in the Boston area. Our time there matched up in uncanny ways confirmed by our tendency to link events in our lives with the career trajectory of Madonna. Back then we were both infatuated with gentlemen who did not return our affections, at the same time that we were picking up the ‘Evita’ soundtrack (painstakingly, and painfully, recalled in the Madonna Timelines for ‘You Must Love Me’ and ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’) – and in Mr. Jeffrey’s pieces on the night he saw ‘Evita’ at the Cheri Theater (where I took my Mom to see it as well, the very night I officially came out to her) and his never-to-be-love-affair with another boy.
At those seminal moments in our lives, what a difference it would have made to have known that someone else was going through something similar, at the same exact time. Would we have been friends had we met then? Who can tell? It’s one of those wistful sighs of the universe that we simply must trust was meant to have been, and if we weren’t supposed to have known each other until now, there must be a reason for it.
What made those angst-ridden years so difficult was not just being lonely in terms of love, but also somewhat lost without any close gay friends. For a lot of gay guys who feel shunned by the world – especially those courageous enough to be completely who they are – the only people they feel close to are other gay men. Such is the way in which lifelong friendships are established, with the trust and understanding that only someone in similar circumstances could fathom. I never had that. To this day, aside from my husband, my closest friends are straight. For that reason, and in so many other ways, I do wish we had met back then, to have been friends in the lonely years in which we searched for love, in which we grew up, in which we became the men we are today. But we can’t go back. We can only remember, and move forward.
A few years, and several love affairs later, we both saw our idol for the first time in Boston, when she was on her Drowned World Tour. It was 2001, and we must have been screaming for her at the same time – another moment where our lives geographically and emotionally connected in ways of which we were completely unaware. Can some of the loneliness of the past be replaced by a friend who should have, or at the very least could have been there all along? Of course not, but while we may not be able to erase the loneliness that once was, we might be able to heal and come to terms with it in ways that previously proved impossible.
I’m not sure what to make of all these nearly-shared experiences, the moments and timetables that so strangely dove-tailed but in which we never quite met. This is my little tribute to the boy who showed off when I showed shyness, who dared when I was diminished, and who danced when I dreamed. Hopefully, it’s also an introduction to a new friend who feels like he was there all along.Back to Blog