Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Funeral of Carlos

Carlos was in his late twenties and married for less than a year when he died.  I had worked with him for just over a year in an office of 64 where too many people took themselves too seriously.  I enjoyed having him around because he was really sarcastic.  He had a way of saying “That just stupid” which was hilarious.  I guess you’d have to hear him, but trust me.  He was funny.

Carlos enjoyed looking at shirtless men on the computer at his desk, for example, and had in the past been on more than one vacation with a male lover.  I would describe him as a portly African American with a taste for nice shoes.  When I met him he had just married a bi-sexual exotic female dancer and both of them were trying to be straight and monogamous.

His funeral was at an independent Christian church in North Philadelphia and there weren’t a lot of white folks there.  By way of description, and with respect, I would say the ceremony was a mix of Roman Catholic mass and New Orleans.

The funeral started late with a procession of at least 40 people into a full church of about 175-ish.  The gait of the procession was a mix of dancing and shuffling to the music, at least two or three people wide, in a jumble that couldn’t be called rows.  Their costumes and/or color of clothing had to do with their role in the church and the status that went with it.  The parade came from the back to where the casket was centered just in front of the stage, and then snaked to the right as they started filling pews in the front half of the right-hand side of the church.  All the while there was clapping, swaying and amen-ing all throughout the church.  I’m sure some of the white folks thought this was Baptist service, but I’ve been to numerous Baptist services and this service was different.

The final person in the procession was the officiant, dressed like a Catholic or Episcopalian bishop with a long robe and high hat.  I can see why Carlos was crushing on him.  He was truly gorgeous.  Creepy, but stunning.  He looked just like the guy who played the Mummy in the 1999 movie, only a little younger.  The “bishop” was preceded by a bevy of middle-aged women who were dressed in white nurse costumes, circa 1950.  They dispersed themselves around the room.  I was told they were poised to help anyone ‘overcome by the spirit.’  That never happened, but the presiding clergy did frequently lapse into ‘speaking in tongues.’

The service lasted about two hours.  I didn’t want it to end, but not because I was enjoying it.  I kept waiting for something to happen that actually gave Carlos his due – so little was said about who he was.  His bride was exalted like royalty and was seated on the dais, behind the podium where the “bishop” was speaking.  She frequently burst into dance (though she did keep her clothes on).  She was wearing a white suit, white shoes, and a huge white hat.  Carlos himself had on a long brown robe with a Nehru collar and buttons down the front, indicating he had some leadership status in the church.  I sincerely hope he had on nice shoes.

What I really believe killed Carlos was the impossibility of reconciling who he was with what his church required.  He loved being an active part of his church and holding a leadership position.  It is possible he loved the Mummy-Bishop more, but we’ll never know.  Nonetheless, cultural acceptance by the group to which he wanted to belong would not have been possible without pretending to be straight.

I’m not a shrink, but it seems to me there were a series of events that led to Carlos’ early demise.  He was only slightly overweight and not at all disciplined.  In spite of those two realities, he found some doctor to give him gastric bypass surgery.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well.  He had one complication after another until he eventually died.  If his church could have accepted him, maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to make himself surgically thin and lovable.

The author in the CNN story linked below learned to stop trying to “pray away the gay.”  It seems that was not the experience for my friend Carlos.

In my way of thinking, Carlos died for his religion.  His was not the usual path of a martyr, to be sure.  Atheists would use this example to say why religion is bad.  The life and death of Carlos is not about what’s wrong with religion, but what’s wrong with people, especially when they are influenced by cultural paranoia.  There is no justification in Christianity for homophobia.

I have had a life-long interest in religion, so I understand what drew Carlos to commit himself to a community and a spiritual life.  This drive cost him the essence of who he was, and eventually his life.  It was irreconcilable.  This was the community in which he wanted to participate and their narrow view of ethics and Christianity made that a destructive path for Carlos.  For some people it is not as easy as just going to another church.  Where is the church that feels right?  Where is the  sense of belonging?  Sometimes the church where you feel you belong doesn’t want you.  In that we see that the Church is as flawed as every other human organization.  And that is the tragedy of the life and death of Carlos.  -J.B.