Nathan Kelleher: Advocate

Ruby's Rap

by Ruby Comer

Photo courtesy N. Kelleher

If you read my column regularly, you know how much I dig the desert! This Friday, I’m taking a three-day weekend and cruising down to Palm Springs. I decided to reward myself to a much-needed getaway and plant myself at The Ritz Carlton, Rancho Mirage—all right!

I wish my paycheck reflected how much sweat I put out for my job, but let me go on the record: I cherish my profession, I’m grateful, and thank heaven America still has a free press—do we…. today?!

As I motor along on Route 111 (the main highway through the desert) I’m nearing my destination this late Friday afternoon, I see a beacon nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s the resort. I drive through snaky curves and eventually land at the Ritz, where a gracious valet and bellhop greet me. Like Leonardo said in Titanic, “I’m on top of the world!” (James Cameron’s epic is this current subject’s favorite film) and I finally feel that L.A.’s rat race is far behind me. After checking into my woodsy suite, with a balcony overlooking swaying palms and the swimming pool, I feel serene and ethereal.

Hungry, this girl heads to the Club Lounge. I snack on a hefty array of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres. Nathan, a handsome server in a spiffy suit, approaches as I rest in a comfy high back chair. He inquires if I would like a glass of wine. You bet.

He pours the wine and we exchange a few words. Thankfully for me it was a slow night so

Illustration by Davidd Batalon

we begin to chat. He reveals that he has a very happy and fulfilled life. “I’m looking forward to what the future holds,” he says. I realize I’ve encountered a live wire and I want to know more.

At twenty-four, Nathan Kelleher still lives in Beaumont, California, his hometown, about thirty-five minutes outside P.S. Though raised with a dad and two moms (his mother and her wife) in two separate homes, he now lives with Leo, his boyfriend, of nearly five years. Growing up, Nathan attended a “strict” Seventh Day Adventist Academy and comes from a loving tight-knit family. Since his two moms grew up in the seventies and eighties they made sure that their son was thoroughly educated about HIV. He’s participated in several AIDS Walks with his family and co-workers.

During my stay, Nathan and I become quite chummy. What follows is an amalgamation of my visits to the Club Lounge. (Their breakfast is extraordinary.) I feasted on French-made chocolate croissants, fresh plumped dates, organic arugula with homemade salsa, and my favorite, chive-infused sour cream, which I dollop atop my petite-size frittatas!

Ruby Comer: Your non-traditional family intrigues me, Nathan. Tell me more about your moms and dad and their influence on you about the epidemic.

Nathan Kelleher: My mom and dad raised me until I was twelve. Then my mom and dad divorced and, shortly thereafter, my mom met her partner and from there on I just had three parents at two houses. Both my moms and dad are very close and to this day see each other almost daily. We still go to dinner together, vacation together, and do things like that. I’m very blessed that we are all very close.

Photo courtesy N. Kelleher

How nifty is that?! Now that is a family.

When I was a teenager, I remember them saying “Condoms don’t just prevent pregnancies, ya know”—or something to that effect. But yeah, they wanted to make sure I was careful with whom I chose to be sexually active and that I would be cognizant and well informed about safe sex.

You grew up in healthy quarters, you lucky dawg. I wish all kids could say that. Tell me about the Seventh Day Adventist school.

A friend of my mom’s recommended the school. I really enjoyed it. [He notices my doubting eyebrows.] I attended that school from fifth through the twelfth grade. I was really thankful for the experience and the sense of community was amazing, even after I came out.

I would have never guessed it. Hmmm. Do you come from a religious family?

I would say all of my parents are more spiritual than religious, and I’m the same. I was raised Christian so a lot of my spirituality and beliefs stem more from Christianity.

Speaking of family. You and Leo…how did you two meet?

We actually met through a mutual ex. His first boyfriend also happened to be my first boyfriend!

That’s worthy of note. How did you handle the STD conversation with Leo?

Because Leo and I were already friends, we were both aware of each other’s status. That was a big plus when we finally got together. We got tested together, when we were in college.

Now…that’s a stupendous date! When did you first get tested?

It was after my first boyfriend and I split up. I felt I should, just to know what getting tested was like. I also wanted to have a definite answer for when future dates or mates would ask about my status. It was a pretty easy experience for me. I was open with my parents about it so they were obviously very supportive.

Were you taught about HIV in school?

Yes I was. Considering the religious beliefs of the school I attended, it was geared more along the lines of the epidemic affecting Africa, not LGBTQ culture. Prevention was taught more as, “the dangers of STDs” versus specifically protecting against HIV.

What comes to mind when you think of the epidemic?

The AIDS crisis in the eighties. I know guys who lost friends, family, and partners. It was a mysterious disease back then.

Can you address the high rates of HIV infection in your generation?

I think my generation is obsessed with instant gratification. We grew up in a time where technological advances have made life so much easier. Soon we probably won’t have to drive thanks to self-driving cars.

[I interrupt.] Omigosh, you are so right. Times they are a’changing, fast!

[Nathan continues.] My generation takes the same approach to sex. Whatever feels the best and the easiest—that’s the way to go. That is not the safest way. Yes, we now have PrEP, which reduces the risk of acquiring HIV, if you take it as prescribed, but even that isn’t a 100 percent guarantee. It shouldn’t be taken as a replacement for condoms either. [He dons another voice, lowering it an octave] “Well since I’m on PrEP, we don’t need condoms.” That is not the mentality to have.

Valuable point, Nathan, if one is concerned about other STIs. Also, if you have sex and do not use condoms, PrEP is there.

You know, Ruby, history is like an ex-boyfriend. You have to learn from the mistakes you made, or you will repeat them. It’s extremely important for my generation to remember what happened in the eighties.

Photo courtesy N. Kelleher

Like you, those eighties’ people are heroes in my book too. Who is your personal hero?

It’s such a cliché for a gay boy to say it but, my momma. [He chuckles and brightly smiles.] She is this adorable five foot two woman, yet she is strong and knowledgeable. I talk to her every day and I am so grateful to have her in my life.

Awww…Nathan. [With a shy glance, he purses his lips and cocks his head gently to one side.] You are such a positive, upbeat person. Where does that come from?

Thank you, Ruby! I was raised to be grateful for everything and everyone in my life.

Please rub off on me. And how do you confront difficulty?

When I’m faced with a challenge I take it one step, one day, at a time. If it concerns another person, I try to understand where they are coming from and how they are affected. [He clears his throat.] When I feel down, I talk to someone, be it Leo or friends. It helps to talk things out with someone you trust.

[As Nathan heads to another table to offer his charming service I ask] Any parting words, my new friend?

I would just encourage people to know their status and be open with each other about it. Get educated about HIV and [he releases a sturdy exhale]…keep it an ongoing conversation!

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].