Peter Mac, unlike the most of us, may require the services of not only a guardian angel, but also one additional protector.
“I like to call her my ‘guardian diva,’” Mac said of childhood idol, Judy Garland. “I think we all have one.”
National Coming Out Day 2012 is taking place on Oct. 11, and West Hollywood resident Peter Mac, similar to others in the gay and lesbian community, never found it easy growing up homosexual. But despite his tribulations as a youth, Mac has traversed his way through a dark tunnel to a place where he shares his story with the world, through speech and song.
“I grew up in a very homophobic, narrow-minded, Long Island suburb, and from age nine to 17, was taunted, teased and beaten up mercilessly,” Mac said. “From third grade through high school, there wasn’t a day that my mother wasn’t at the school fighting on my behalf.”
Mac is a celebrity female tribute artist who has seen his shows Judy and Me and Becoming Judy, both of which detail Mac’s hardships and how Garland served as his inspiration to fight back against discrimination, become Off-Off Broadway hits.
Judy and Me is a full-length play, written by Mac, which opened in 2003 and was eventually moved to Off-Broadway due to its success. It is told by six actors and takes place over two acts, with music and costumes.
Becoming Judy is a one-person show, performed by Mac, in which Garland begins with a mini-concert regarding her relationship with Mac. Mac then changes into himself and tells the story of Garland’s influence on his life.
However, Mac’s Broadway success hardly came to fruition without struggle.
Mac grew up in Elmont, Long Island, where he says his days as a youth nearly led him to committing suicide.
“I just did not fit in,” Mac said. “Things got worse when I transferred to high school because there was a much larger visibility. Twice throughout junior high and high school, I contemplated taking my own life.”
Mac recalled one instance in which he was slammed into wall in home economics class while two boys rammed a sewing needle into his shoulder.
“The principal would tell my mother, ‘Boys will be boys,’” Mac said.
It was not until age 12 that Mac discovered Garland, who played Dorothy in the film classic, The Wizard of Oz.
“I kind of channeled all of my angst into Judy and her music,” Mac said. “I would have a really rough day at school and come home to my darkened basement and listen to Judy’s albums and sing along with them. It gave me this great, overwhelming sense of joy.”
Garland is widely considered an iconic figure in the lesbian and gay community, namely deriving from her role as Dorothy and her open support of the LGBT community.
Mac believes that Garland’s reach is far beyond that of a gay icon.
“There has always been this terrible misconception that gay men love Judy because she was sympathetic to them and she had so many terrible things happen to her that gay men can identify with that,” Mac said. “That’s just so trite. I think that it was no matter how much crap was thrown at Judy Garland, she was able to rise above it and come out of the ashes.”
Still, after finding his connection to Garland, Mac endured more heinous acts of discrimination, some of which nearly cost him his life.
“I had been pursued home one night by a Jeep full of guys and I was just running for my life,” Mac said of one incident in high school. “Had I been any further away from my home, the outcome could have been different.
Soon after, Mac dropped out of high school after his junior year to escape the torment from his peers. At that point, suicide was a realistic option, according to Mac.
“I stared at razor blade for six hours about to slit my wrists,” Mac said. “I’m so grateful that I didn’t because it did get better eventually. You can’t let these people overtake you. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mac says that it was another young man’s story that inspired him to channel his life into a stage performance.
Matthew Shepard was a young gay man that was killed in Wyoming in 1998. After hearing of Shepard’s story, Mac thought it time to begin sharing his story. Mac then wrote Judy and Me, to which he received incredibly positive feedback.
“People would come up to me at the end of the night and say this was their story, with Cher or Bette Midler or whoever,” Mac said. “It wasn’t always necessarily gay people either. I had a woman that was 400 pounds who had a terrible time in life, too.”
Now a resident of West Hollywood, Mac, having come through the circumstances of growing up in a town void of tolerance, is aware that times have changed since he was a youth.
But Mac is also aware that somewhere, even in West Hollywood, discrimination against homosexuals still rears its ugly head.
“West Hollywood is an extremely gay-friendly city, but unfortunately, you’re always going to run into homophobia,” Mac said. “I hate to use that word, but maybe that’s what it is.”