Meet Hector Black: Hector is a ninety-year-old man who lives in Tennessee. He has been featured on StoryCorps, Radiolab, and The Moth. He fought in World War II and attended Harvard where he studied social anthropology. None of this sounds remarkable, but Hector’s personal story is.
Seven years ago, Hector and his wife suffered the unthinkable. A man had broken into the home of one of their daughters and murdered her. He was hiding in a closet waiting for a chance to escape without her seeing him. When Hector’s daughter, Patricia, opened the closet door the intruder tied her up. After a few verbal exchanges Patricia was killed.
“I’d never been in favor of the death penalty, but I wanted that man to hurt the way he had hurt her. I wanted him to hurt the way I was hurting,” said Hector in response to the violent loss of his child. A sentiment anyone with a child can understand and anyone who has lost a child can relate.
But then something changed. Hector and his wife, Susie, learned about the murderer’s background. They discovered that he had been born in a mental institution and when he was 11 years old his mother tried to kill him and his two siblings. After watching their mother drown their little sister, he and his brother were able to escape. Hector and his wife must have divined that the man who took their daughter’s life had never known sanity or love. They forgave Patricia’s killer and asked that his life be spared. Now that is remarkable and probably a sentiment that few of us may be able to understand, but one most of us can certainly respect.
In a very short period of time, Hector Black was able to see a man for what he was and give him the gift of forgiveness even after this man took Hector’s child from him. Yet, it had taken Hector 70 years to forgive and accept himself.
Hector is a gay man. He did not come out of the closet until he was 70 years old. It took me until I was 30 to come out for fear of how its implications would impact my life. I was so afraid of losing everyone I loved. It was a painfully lonely sentence that I thought would never end. And here we have Hector; a man who jailed himself for 40 more years than myself because of paralyzing fear, yet found it easier to forgive his daughter’s killer.
Born in 1925, Hector said there were no words back then to describe or label how he felt and who he was. There certainly wasn’t any thought or even a seed for the gay rights movement. Whatever words did exist for the gays and lesbians back then were hissed out through gritted teeth.
As a young man he had a sexual encounter with another man. His reaction was, “I thought this is not me. This cannot be me. And I was just horrified.” Despite the disgust he had for himself, he took the man on as a lover. Later, Hector would undergo estrogen treatments to try to “cure” himself of his urges. The treatments didn’t cure him, but it did produce breasts. He stopped the treatments.
Eventually, he would meet a woman called Susie. He says they fell in love, got married, and had children. Despite how he felt for his family, the draw to a gay lifestyle was too much and Hector fell off the fidelity wagon several times.
“I’m hurting Susie, and I’m wretched,” he thought to himself.
Hector had confessed to his wife about his transgressions and would stop, but would, again, fall victim to his temptations. Hector was unable to completely accept who he was and continued to hope and pray that he was not really gay.
When he and Susie had been married for almost 40 years, one of their daughters came out to them. It was at this time that Hector realized it was time for him to do the same. “I knew how much she had been through, how much she suffered because of who she was. And I just said this is it – that I can’t – how can I love her and hate myself for what I am?”
Hector went to his wife with the idea of divorce. She refused. She told him he could find somebody, if he so chose, and she said that she hoped she would like him. For the next 20 years, Hector and Susie remained together until she passed last summer.
Hector does not share whether or not he found himself a male lover and, if so, whether or not Susie liked him. Maybe it’s out of respect for his wife, lover, family or all of the above. He’s had his heart broken in the worst of ways: murdered child and 70 years of denying who he truly is. I find Hector to be remarkable. This is a man who found it easier to forgive a murderer than to come out of the closet. It’s a profoundly heart wrenching testament to what it is like to struggle as a closeted homosexual. To Hector, being heartbroken it is a necessary evil. “I really am grateful that my heart has been broken a good many times because it does help me to love.” What a remarkable man.