Coming out as a survivor of Peoples Temple was never a problem for me. Perhaps because it was never really a question. Having already come out as a gay man, I had some experience belonging to a persecuted minority and knew that I would have little self-respect should I try to hide from consequences of my previous allegiance. In any case, I needed others – starting with family, lover and friends – to help me process the dream turned nightmare which had held me bewitched for the decade of my young adulthood. I needed their feedback, their questions, and often their incomprehension, to help me make better sense, even to acknowledge the obvious. What has always given me healing is knowing ever more deeply whatever the truth was/is.
As I interacted with a still limited but much wider public, first in the underworld of poets, then among radical activists, finally among fellow library workers, I encountered a wide spectrum of responses but felt little shame in disclosing what my real history was, in large part, because Peoples Temple – whatever its tragic flaws – had enriched my life in too many ways to count. Whatever shame I retain has everything to do with giving less of myself than I might have when the time was ripe.
Irrespective of reactions to my story – and most continue to be encouraging – I do my best to present the Peoples Temple experience as an attempt that failed to prevent the sort of apocalypse which we as a members of a privileged species are quickly bringing upon ourselves. Sometimes people get the connection, sometimes they resist it. In the best of cases, the bonds I develop grow deeper as a result of sharing my truth. What I do know is that as a survivor I have a responsibility to bear witness as long as there’s life in my eyes.
(Garrett Lambrev is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. His other articles in this year’s edition are My friend Teresa King: From the Avenue of the Fleas to Jonestown and Hammering. His complete collection of writings for this site appears here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .)