By Justin Jones
I spent every summer as a teenager in Fort Lauderdale. From the first of June through the middle of August, I indulged in your beaches, in your clubs, and with your boys. Fort Lauderdale then was my escape—an annual breath of fresh air from my confined (and closeted) existence in North Carolina. You were my Disney World: a magical place, I deemed, where what made me different in North Carolina—my sexuality—made me desirable.
These were the days of Cathode Ray and Coliseum (where I spent an exceptional 18th birthday, I might add), before social media took its hold: A time when partygoers dressed up and played just because —rather than pretending and over-glamorizing for the cameras. The atmosphere was raw, candid, intense… and wonderful. I marveled at, and envied the openness of Fort Lauderdale.
I wrote private stories to myself: endless fantasies of what I’d do if I lived there full time. I’d extend the novelty of my summers—lazy, alcohol-soaked, sex-infused—beyond the season and into the rest of the year. True confession: I lost my backdoor virginity in Fort Lauderdale. And, through a multitude of trials and errors with too many men, I found out my “type” there— and what activities I enjoyed doing most with that “type.”
I would later apply this learning when my slutdom came to its frenzied finale, and at last I found someone with whom to commit. Don’t let this recollection dictate to you how I remember Lauderdale-in-sum. It may sound like superficiality drove my love for the city. OK—well, you’re right. It WAS superficial then. At least I thought it was. But something happened one day.
Something inside told me I was in love with Fort Lauderdale not because of the boys and the booze, but for another, more profound reason. I started growing up, and when I was 19, I realized that Fort Lauderdale wasn’t just a threedimensional wonderland. Fort Lauderdale was the place that gave me… me.
The party life dominated my Fort Lauderdale experience in my youth. Summers there were annual two-and-ahalf- month-long orgasms, releasing pentup aggression and denial of my sexuality. I had to cram 12 months of self-discovery every year into a single summer. It was the only place I felt wholly myself. I still hold Fort Lauderdale in high esteem; it’s one of my favorite cities in the world.
For those of you rolling your eyes and lamenting your own Fort Lauderdale experience with opinions like, “Honey, there is just too much drama here,” or “Girl, this town is too fake,” or what have you, don’t be so quick.
For at least one boy from the south, your town was an Emerald City. So, yes, Fort Lauderdale gave me who I am: It’s where I evolved from a frightened, naïve boy from North Carolina, to a trial-by-fire uber-mess, to someone who makes his way writing commentary on how we—us young, stillgrowing- up gays—see each other.
I’ll make a trip back soon, sweet Lauderdale. We have some catching up to do.
Justin Jones, 25, is a writer based in Minneapolis. In addition to his column lovejones, Justin pens Through These Eyes, a bi-weekly column for Lavender Magazine. He writes about things like being alive, being in love, and drinking too much. Facebook.com/JustinJonesWriter.