Partial Transcript: Now, we'll just start. How would you describe yourself in terms of gender, race, ability, socioeconomics, et cetera?
Okay. Just the upper-middle-class gay white guy, I guess. Never been called an elder yet, so that's exciting. Thank you for that.
Segment Synopsis: Interviewer Leland Flynn explains the project's purpose to interviewee Will Jones.
Partial Transcript: Yeah, I grew up in a little town called White Stone, South Carolina, which is just south of Spartanburg. It was really an old farming community, but all that was gone by the time I came along. There are probably about 50 people there on a good day. A church and a post office and a general store. That's about it. Everybody's all dead or gone or moved away now, but yeah, that's where we grew up.
Have two sisters and one brother. Three out of the four of us are gay, so that's... kind of interesting. Yeah. Another boy and another girl. They all married and spawned and had kids and all that before they figured it out, so kind of took the pressure off me. I'm the youngest. There was a chemical company nearby. I told my mother her eggs were maybe contaminated or something in the water.
Well, they [Will's parents] loved us unconditionally. They loved everybody I ever brought home. Were they jumping up and down, thrilled, waving pride flags and marching in parades? No, but that was their generation. But certainly, there was never a question of love or acceptance. Yeah. My sister's partner is Polish and my brother's partner, husband now, is Indonesian, so my dad always said he had a Polish daughter and a Chinese son.
And we had a commitment ceremony in 2001, which was one of the first done at All Souls. I was trying to tell my dad... My mom had passed by then. I was trying to tell my dad about it. He was already in his 80s. It was like, "Well, I don't understand this, but I'll be there."
Segment Synopsis: Will describes the setting he grew up in, having gay siblings, and the acceptance he experienced from his father.
Keywords: All Souls Church; South Carolina; Spartanburg; White Stone; accepting parents; gay siblings
Partial Transcript: Well, you always had this feeling of being different, and that was there, and I didn't put a name on it until years later. I can remember just being literally six or seven years old and just having this crush on this camp counselor. I just followed him around everywhere. Those kinds of feelings. But then, realizing as you get older, "Whoa, this is bad. This is something you've got to try and hide." Yeah. Just those early feelings of being different and trying to find a place where you belong. And then fears, obviously, for the repercussions.
Well, it was just different. There were no gay-straight alliances, there were no role models. This was not even something that was acknowledged or talked about that much. Maybe in the bigger cities, but certainly not where I was. Right. It was a big deal. It's a lot easier now, thank goodness.
[I] Just prayed for change and all of that. Yeah. Not strictly religious, but definitely go to church and Sunday school every Sunday. Methodist... You knew that it was a sin, but we weren't fire and brimstone, that kind of Christian. I don't think it was that big. And then certainly, getting involved with the Episcopal Church when I was in college was a big step, because that was certainly a lot more liberal, and Charleston was a bigger city, and there were more role models and people who were already out in the early '80s. That made a big difference.
Segment Synopsis: Will goes into detail about recognizing his sexuality at an early age and the fears associated with being perceived as 'different' by his community, especially his early church community.
Keywords: 1980s; Charleston; Christianity; Early crushes; Episcopal Church; Fears of being different; Methodist; lack of community
Partial Transcript: I was into a lot of stuff. I tried to be a good student. Still partied a little bit and hung out with that crowd. And then I was in a band, which was kind of cool. That was fun. Yeah, it was pretty busy time. [Interviewer: Did you play sports or anything like that?] No. God, I was horrible. horrible. Yeah. Gym class was not fun. In my class, there were probably 250 people, something like that. Fairly big. Middle size. Especially with Facebook, I've reconnected with a lot of people.
Segment Synopsis: Will briefly talks about his life in high school and rekindling relationships from that stage of his life via social media.
Keywords: High School; Reconnecting with community; Social media
Partial Transcript: [Interviewer: You graduated high school in South Carolina, and you applied to College of Charleston?] Yeah. I had an older sister that went there, and then a brother that was in med school there. I really loved the city. That was really the only place I applied to, because I knew that was where I wanted to be.
I had a good time. I was in a fraternity and all of that. I've always been somebody that's worn a lot of hats, though, because I was involved with the fine arts department and that whole different crowd of people, which was good, because it gave a lot of support. Obviously, those people were very supportive along the road.
[In terms of being gay in the early '80s and in college, how was that?] Even then, it was still just something that wasn't socially acceptable. Yeah. There were people that were out at my college, but they were just such on the fringe of everything. [What'd you major in?] Biology. I was not pushed on that path, but my brother went to med school, and I was always interested in the sciences and things like that. [Is he a doctor, too?] Mm-hmm (affirmative). I just went right straight into MUSC after. Actually, I did have a year off. I take that back. I did additional coursework at MUSC, and then got into medical school. That year was a transition, definitely as far as coming out and exploring that and starting to go to the clubs and make friends. That was a real year of growth. It was very liberating. The gay bar was like church. That was where you could just go to be yourself.
Segment Synopsis: Will is asked to recall his life during his post-secondary education experience in 1980s Charleston, South Carolina.
Keywords: 1980s; Biology; Charleston; College of Charleston; Fraternities and Greek Life; MUSC; Medical School; Medical University of South Carolina; South Carolina; gay bar community
Partial Transcript: I knew that, when I was an undergraduate and involved with that fraternity and all of that, that I just couldn't go through that [coming out], so I consciously decided that, once I got the diploma and was out of that situation and moved on to a different phase of life, that was going to be what I did. Didn't look back. I was moving into a different social setting and was free of some of the peer pressures. It was still a major thing when that crowd found out; just a lot of gossiping and scandal and, "Oh my God. Did you hear this?". You found out who your friends were, for sure. And there were people that I'm still friends with now that were supportive as best they could, and there were people that dealt with it as best they could, and people that I've reconciled with since then. Even fraternity brothers that have called me when they found out their kids are gay. It's always good to have a friend and somebody that you know is going to have your back no matter what, and that was great. There were the people that I had to tip-toe around. You just knew what you could share and what you couldn't. But I don't think I ever really was... I won't say I was in the closet in the sense that I didn't pretend to have a girlfriend any of that.
Oh, all through college. Yeah. I dated women. It was just a big sham. I drank a lot to socially fit in, too. That was the biggest. Probably had a drinking problem. But that was just what you had to do to socialize and adapt, because you had this whole secret part of yourself that couldn't get out. [Interviewer: How were you able to do that? Is it through the drinking?] Oh, yeah. And just staying busy and involved with a lot of things and putting it on the back burner, so to speak. The girl that I dated all my senior year, I did love her. But it was not... Yeah. But it's a different kind of... It's hard to explain. And we're since friends, too, now. But yeah, it was tough, because you knew you were messing with this person's affections in a way. But still, I enjoyed the relationship and all that, but I knew that it couldn't be anything long-term. And luckily, we stopped it before anybody got hurt too badly. [Intimately] it just didn't feel right. Not that it was unpleasant or anything. It's hard to... Yeah.
I made this wonderful circle of friends. God, this one guy, Marcus Williams, that was just so flamboyantly gay. I started teaching group fitness before I even went to med school, and he would come to my aerobics classes, just hooping and hollering. Just obviously so gay. And he ended up being a really good friend and took me under his wing as far as just... And met so many good friends through him. I think he had me figured out before I even figured everything out. [Interviewer: Do you think other people knew before you came out?] I'm sure there were people that suspected for various reasons, but I wasn't terribly effeminate, I guess, and I did everything I was supposed to do to fit in. It may have come as a surprise to people. And I certainly didn't hook up with any guys, so there was nobody that... I was terrified of that. There wasn't anybody that was going to tell tales, because there wasn't anything to tell.
Segment Synopsis: TW: mentions of alcohol
In this segment, Will explains his hesitancy in coming out during college and how this affected him and his social circle, detailing his heterosexual relationships while concealing his sexuality. He also talks about finding new community in his transitional phase after graduating,
Keywords: Alcohol abuse; Building community; Coming Out; Duplicity; Friendship; Lavender Dating; New phase of life
Partial Transcript: It [Med school] was wonderful. I was in a relationship that lasted five years, so it was all through. It was good. It was really good. He was three years ahead of me in school. Older guy, about 10 years older. That was just a very stable, loving time. And certainly, you're learning so much every day and just so focused on what you're doing. I look back on it as a good time. It was challenging. It consumed your whole life, pretty much. it's pretty intense. The first two years especially, because it's all classroom stuff, and so much pressure to perform, and then boards exams that you have to pass before you can go on to the clinical stuff. And then the last two years are real fun, because you get to do all the different subspecialties and find out what you want to do with your life. I didn't want to do anything where you were dealing with chronic, long-term, trying to keep people alive year after year that had neglected themselves. I knew that wasn't for me. This is a good... You get to deal with all ages of people. You get to deal with really healthy people, you get to deal with really sick people. Every day is a different challenge. We did a year in Spartanburg for internship [post-med school], which was interesting to go home for a year. Your first year is internship, and then, for whatever reason, then you're a resident for the next... For anesthesia, it was three more years. [Interviewer: When you were in Spartanburg, what was that like? You said it was like stepping back in time.] That was almost like going back in the closet. It's a little bit more provincial city than Charleston. And a lot of old-school doctors. It just wouldn't have been an easy thing to be out.
[Interviewer: A doctor is very rare. You know what I mean? Prestigious job, and saving lives, and you're doing all that, and did all this school. Was it they cared more about your work?] I would hope so, that you're judged on your merits and not on who you sleep with or who you choose to love.
Segment Synopsis: Will discusses medical school and his internship in Spartanburg, intersecting the beginning of his career with his fears of being out in the workplace.
Keywords: Anesthesiology; Homophobic workplaces; Long-Term Relationships; Medical School; Post-Medical School Internship; South Carolina; Spartanburg
Partial Transcript: [After Spartanburg,] I was doing anesthesia residency [in Durham]. It was challenging and stressful, because it's a stressful profession, especially when you don't know what you're doing. There's somebody asleep in front of you, and you're just learning, but you're supervised. And just basically monitoring vital signs and resuscitating and doing everything you have to do to keep them alive and stable in the face of what the people on the other side are doing. We're at the head of the table, monitoring the whole ship. Yeah. [Interviewer: I remember you talking about the drinking. Did that progress with med school, or did that slow down after college?] Oh, yeah. Yeah. That stopped, essentially. I didn't need to fit in anymore. Not that, once in a while, I don't drink. You really can't drink and do anesthesia at the same time; not recommended. Or be hungover the next day. You definitely don't want to do that.
I finished residency, took a job. There weren't a lot of jobs in anesthesia when I came out. This was 1995. I ended up getting what should've been a really good job in Orlando, Florida, and it turned out to just be awful, because I was working just way too much, way more than I wanted to work, and commuting a lot and not getting enough sleep and not having time to make any friends. I was miserable. About nine months into it, I started calling hospitals. This was before the internet, so you just had to get an actual phone book at the library. And I called this little Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville. This old anesthesiologist that they had had just, for the third or fourth time, fallen asleep in the operating room and falling off his chair and to the floor while somebody was asleep. And they said, "Yeah, we might need somebody." I came up here. Yeah. Interviewed and got that job, and that was how I got to Western North Carolina. I'm sure I would've liked [Florida] if I'd had time to make a friend or go to the gym or do anything other than work. It would've been nice.
Segment Synopsis: TW: Mentions of Alcohol Abuse
Entering into his career field, Will migrated to multiple places until landing in Western North Carolina.
Keywords: 1990s; Anesthesia; Durham; Florida; Hendersonville; Orlando; Spartanburg
Partial Transcript: I didn't spend a lot of time here growing up, but I always knew it was a beautiful place, and knew it was a pretty cool place as far as being progressive, and some place that I would find a lot to do, and I'm sure make a community. I worked in Hendersonville for a year, and then went to the VA hospital for four years, and then the orthopedic surgery center for five years, back to Pardee Hospital for 13 years, and then have been at Mission full-time for the last few years. [Interviewer: When you got here and you were talking about building that community, what was that like?] Well, it was great, because there were so many resources that I'd ever had before.
There was a group called CLOSER, which I hope people in this project will probably speak of. C-L-O-S-E-R, Community Liaison Organization for Support, Education, and Reform. They were basically a gay support group that was founded way back in the '70s at All Souls Church. It was just social, support, education, everything. It was every Tuesday night, and 100 people would come. It was just have an amazing way to meet people and just get out of your shell and socialize. Yeah. [Interviewer: We had someone come the other night, a lady. She was born a man. And was talking about CLOSER.] Was it Beth Thompson? I love her. She was one of the first trans people I ever met, and that was through CLOSER. We'd do a thing every year called Transgender 101, and people would come and talk about their experiences. It was just mind-blowing for me, because I'd never even considered that. And here were just some of the most intelligent, articulate individuals talking about their journey. Here, I was feeling sorry for myself about coming out of the closet. I made so many wonderful friends there. Yeah, Beth's a gem. Oh, my goodness. CLOSER just phased out. It's sad, actually, because it was such a huge thing when I moved here. And then just slowly, gradually, I guess the need for it was less and less. It had served his purpose. Kind of like gay bars. People your age don't know... You just go out. You have gay friends, I'm sure, that you go out with, and you just go to the clubs, and everything is no big deal. Our generation, those segregated type spaces were really sacred. I guess they're not needed anymore, which is good, but sad in a way, too, because it's a whole different culture. [Interviewer: I did this Asheville Urban Trail for the same class, redesign, and one of the new stops we implemented was O.Henry's. I know that was first gay bar in North Carolina.] I can't think of the street. It was right beside Malaprop's Bookstore when I first moved here, was the original location. Yeah, that was fun. Scandals, which is still here, but I think is more of a mixed bar now. That was tons of fun. And Hairspray was there. Yeah. Lot of good times.
That whole spring that I moved here was just amazing as far as the number of people I met and social contacts. I started singing in the choir at All Souls Church, which is where I just came from. We're the Cathedral of Western North Carolina, the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. Founded in 1886. No, 1896. We just celebrate our 125th anniversary. And it's always been just a beacon of wonderful, progressive of people. Even back at the turn of the century, they ran a school for African-American kids. They've just consistently been at the forefront of the community as far as inclusiveness and social justice. Obviously, having a gay group meet at your church in the '70s, that was huge. You can imagine the community, but they've always been that way. The Episcopal Church paid you to sing in the choir. They paid you $10 a Sunday, so that's why I became an Episcopalian. That was a lot of money. That was beer money for the whole week, 10 bucks. By the time I finished med school, it was $25. That was a lot of money back then. We're right up front now. That was the thing. One of the things about All Souls is that... In the Catholic tradition, the altar was always at the front of the church, and the priest had their back to the congregation. It was all just whispered and quiet. Well, All Souls... Neil Zabriskie at All Souls back in the '70s took the altar off the front, put it right in the middle of the church, and that's where we're... Yeah. It's among the people, where communion takes place. Yeah.
Segment Synopsis: Will recalls finding extraordinary communities in Asheville within the gay bar scene, a gay support group called CLOSER, and All Souls Episcopal Church.
Keywords: All Souls Church; Asheville; CLOSER; Church Community; Community; Episcopal Church; Episcopalian; Mission Hospital; O. Henry's Gay Bar; Scandals
Partial Transcript: I'd lived here about a year. It was after church one Sunday. This place above Scandals was called Grove Street Cafe, and they would have a tea dance on Sunday, which is... It's a gay thing where you meet on Sundays and drink and dance. Yeah. Saw this guy there, and he was really good-looking, and I went over and talked to him and told him who I was and introduced himself. "What do you do?" "Well, I'm an ear, nose, and throat, head and neck surgeon." And I thought, "Well, you're just the most stuck-up little..." Yeah. I didn't think much about him. I just thought he was kind of stuck up. But then I saw him out several months later, and we reconnected and found out that we had a lot in common. All the rest of its history. Here we are. Before we moved in together, we dated for about three and a half years. Long time. Actually, both of our mothers asked us on the same day, "When are y'all just going to move in together?" It was kind of funny. Yeah. Took that as a sign, I guess. He's one year and three days older than me. For three days every year, he's two years older than me.
[Interviewer: That's funny. He's a doctor, too. You met in Asheville. Did you know you always wanted to get married-married?] I knew that I wanted somebody. Yeah. That was my prayer, really, was always, "Well, I've accepted this. Now what? Send me somebody nice to share it with."; I was playing the field. I had a pretty good time. We had a ceremony at All Souls in 2001, which was just huge. We weren't the first one. This was right after the Bishop had said you can do same-sex unions. We weren't the first one. We were by far the biggest with about 200 people and a choir of 30 and four priests and communion for everybody. And then we had the Haywood Park Hotel rented. Yeah. I was paying for it for years afterwards, but it was worth it. Had a big reception at the Haywood Park Hotel. But there was all this dickering. This was new to everybody. There were certain things you could say in the service and certain things you couldn't. Yeah. The language and everything had to be approved by the Bishop. It ended up being a really beautiful, very meaningful service, I hope, to a lot of people. But then we got married for real in New York in 2013. We got married on the steps right out in front of the Metropolitan Opera. The opera that was playing was called Two Boys, so there was this banner behind where we were getting married that said... Two Boys. I thought that was kind of- [Interviewer: Was that coincidental?] Yeah, it was totally coincidental. And then of course, it was legal for everybody in 2015 or 2016.
[Interviewer: Do you travel a lot?] Yeah. I do a lot more than he does, because I get a little more time off. He's got an office and business and all that. I don't have any of that. And employees that need to be paid and stuff like that. But yeah, we travel a lot. [Interviewer: Why New York? Y'all like New York?] He did residency there. And yeah, we both love the city. Yeah, just picked that as the spot. It wasn't legal in every state, so we had to pick a state where you could get a marriage license and all that. I don't know [if we'd move from Asheville]. Not for a while. We really love Key West. That's kind of like our second home. All the way, Southernmost point. I think we'll eventually spend time both here and there, but I'll never totally leave Western North Carolina. And we got so much stuff. Can you imagine moving all this stuff?
Honestly, never thought seriously about [having kids], just because our lifestyles. I've got nieces and nephews and now grandnieces and grandnephews, so that fulfilled that. I just can't imagine us having been parents. I just really can't. And some people do it, which is great. Our best friends actually adopted a boy and a girl as teenagers, and it was really neat to be a part of that. Yeah, it was wonderful to be a part of whole process. But us? No, I can't imagine that.
Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Will looks back on his relationship with his husband and their life together in Asheville.
Keywords: 2000s; All Souls; Asheville; Gay Marriage; Grove Street Cafe; Haywood Park Hotel; Key West; Metropolitan Opera; New York; Same-Sex Unions
Partial Transcript: [Interviewer: How have the goals of the LGBTQ movement here in Asheville and worldwide, in America, shifted in your lifetime?] Well, the pendulum swings in both directions, right? You witness things like don't ask, don't tell, which was a mixed blessing, and then it swings all the way to being able to serve openly, and then Trump takes office and it swings back in the other direction. But the arc moves forward, hopefully. You hope and pray. And I think where we are now with the trans community is where we were probably 25 years ago with the gay and lesbian part of the picture. I really do know a lot of trans people. Yeah. Some of my favorite people in the world, too. [Interviewer: Did you know any when you were growing up or after college?] Oh, gosh, no. I knew drag queens, but that's a whole different thing. But no, the whole concept of gender identity was not... I don't think even scientists knew, talked about it then, but there's just so much that's unfolded now that we... Yeah.
[Interviewer: What has provided you the greatest satisfaction in life?] Well, certainly, my relationship with my husband has been... He's everything. That's the whole center of my life. Yeah, I'm really blessed. I have a wonderful career that keeps me challenged. I have a whole community of yoga friends. I teach yoga. And a whole church community and men's chorus and singing and all of that stuff.
[Interviewer: What do you hope for Asheville and Western North Carolina in general as the community moves forward?]
Well, that we'll continue to be a loving, accepting community. I hope we'll quit growing and sprawling at the rate that we're doing, and I hope that we'll continue to be a place where people of every age, particularly socioeconomically, can find a place, and that's getting increasingly difficult. It's such an expensive place to live. The downtown is just... We've created this wonderful place, and now it's getting gentrified and beautiful. All of that's great, but we're squeezing out a lot of people that can't afford to be here, and that's sad. You lose the whole fabric of what made it great in the first place; I don't know the answer.
Segment Synopsis: Will delves into his personal views of the LGBTQ+ community's progress locally and nationally, as well as his aspirations for Asheville's future.
Keywords: Asheville; Gentrification; Gentrification of Asheville; LGBTQ+ Politics; Life Satisfaction; Transgender Community
Partial Transcript: No. I can't honestly say I've experienced poverty... Sure, I was poor as a student, but there's never a time that I wasn't without a safety net, that I worried about where my food or roof was coming from. There were plenty times I ate ramen noodles. I could tell you how to fix ramen noodles six ways to Sunday and stretch them out. Five for a dollar. But no, I've never known want or need or anything. Yeah. [Interviewer: You were talking about hot yoga, or yoga. I saw the hot yoga on the back of the truck. Is health and all that a big part of-] Oh, sure. It's been huge. I've got a whole room downstairs with the heat. When COVID came along, I was like, "Well, I got to do something," so we turned our sunroom into a hot yoga room. Got infrared heat panels on the ceiling, and all the humidity. It's awesome. [Interviewer: How often do you do yoga?] Every day, I try to. If I'm not working. It keeps me sane, somewhat. And that's just such a wonderful community of people, too at Hot Yoga Asheville. I wish I'd started when I was your age. Seriously. When I was your age, I was doing all the high-impact, what we'd call CrossFit now. And Reebok Step and all those things. And now, I can hardly walk. Oh, God, yeah. My knees are just toast from years of jumping around on cement floors and racquetball court floors. [Interviewer: Has yoga helped a lot?] Oh, yeah. I just transitioned into that whole... That's pretty much my whole fitness thing, yoga and Pilates. Pilates is really good. It's fun, too. I try to do something every day if I'm not working or just exhausted. Yeah. Mostly yoga.
Segment Synopsis: Will explains his passion for fitness and the community he has found from it, especially yoga.
Keywords: Fitness; Hot Yoga; Hot Yoga Asheville; Yoga
Partial Transcript: I'm the youngest by far. My parents were in their 40s, and I was like, "Whoops." I came while everybody else was older. And I'm the only one... Well, my brother's semi-retired, but the two girls are retired. The younger of the two lives in Charleston with her wife. Yeah. She fishes every day, and life is good. And then my older sister's in Easley, South Carolina, with her husband. Or Seneca. And brother's in New York with his husband. Lives in Rochester. And then Toronto. Has a house in Toronto, too. Yeah, everybody's doing well. We actually all like each other. We get together every... Have a sibling's weekend, which we just had three or four weeks ago. We just met at my sister's house at the lake and ate and drank and shopped and had a great time. And meet in a different place. Yeah. We've done it here, we've been to New York and Toronto and Charleston. Yeah. We try to mix it up. But we enjoy each other. You tell people you're going to a family thing all weekend, and they're like, "Oh, God, I'm so sorry." But I'm like, "No, we really like each other."
[Interviewer: And then for your husband, I know he couldn't be here, but does he... Are y'all close to his family, too?] Very much. His mom and dad are just literally five houses down the street which was great. Yeah. I had just bought this house when we met, and he was coming up here for the first time and was like, "Hey, I grew up just right down there." It's great, because his mom's a wonderful cook. His dad might walk through that front door any second. Doesn't call. Yeah. I can be walking around in my underwear, and he'll walk through the front door. Yeah. They're wonderful people. They're from Western North Carolina, yeah. Canton area is where they grew up. That was one of the first houses built up here in the mid, early '60s, and they're still in it. He's 89 and she 82. He [Will's husband] has twin brothers that are two years younger. Both straight, both divorced, two kids each. All the kids are doing well got one grandniece on his side and six on my side. It's a big family. Yeah. Thanksgiving, I think I'm working, unfortunately, but I think one of his nieces may be in charge of it this year, because his mom's just gotten too old to do the whole dinner thing. But then Christmas, I don't know what we're doing. We'll spend Christmas Eve at his parents', but then we always go to Key West the day after Christmas. We're always there for New Year's, the last 18, 20 years. Oh, South Florida's nice, and it'll be warm, too.
Segment Synopsis: In the final few minutes of his interview, Will delves into the close bonds he shares with his siblings and his husband's family.
Keywords: Community; Family; Siblings