Here I go, ladies and gentleman, shamelessly showcasing another early blast from the past: an article I wrote as a co-op student for the Campbell River Mirror, spring 2007.
I remember catching some harmless hell for this interview, after hanging out with David Mielke in his Campbell River home, which overlooked the ocean (if I’m remembering correctly). We chatted each other’s ears off for three hours. He taught me about steel cut oats.
Regardless… I was reminded, upon returning to “the office,” that interviews aren’t supposed to last longer than twenty minutes. (Hilarious when you think about it.) I didn’t see a problem with my behaviour, though, as long as I made deadline—which, if I remember correctly, at the Mirror I always did.
“I’m good with deadlines,” I told my favourite editor yet years later.
“I know you are,” she responded without missing a beat.
But back to one of my earliest profiles, Mielke and I really hit it off. Or so I thought. Up until re-reading the article recently, I agonized all these years over upsetting him over what I thought was an editorial error. After returning eleven years later (although there was an editorial error introduced), I’m thinking now that my candid exposé may have been why a relative (who worked at the Mirror in another department), offered Mielke a sneak peak of the article a day before it went to print. He said he thought I “did a great job with a complicated subject,” and pointed out the factual error introduced not by me, but by the editorial team.
Mielke never responded to my apology email. I was crushed. I felt like trash for pain I unintentionally inflicted. Remember I’m saturated with 4 Sagittarius’s in my natal chart, so playing with fire (along with being everybody’s friend), doesn’t elude me. Capricorn sets rules for us to follow now to avoid trouble as much as possible.
Though in my defence, I remember interviewing and profiling the town clown, sitting in her basement on bar stools—she (probably an Aquarius)—entertaining me to no end. Toys, colours, costumes, and crafts everywhere. I remember her divulging personal information about her life that, if my editor caught wind of, he would have wanted me to print. So, I kept her personal details to myself.
I think it’s clear in the following article that Mielke’s mom came around. In some ways, his parents were supportive from the beginning. But the psychoanalysis and the personal details not found here are his business to share. The following article, however, was printed.
Otherwise, for a 24-year-old co-op student (and compared to my very first article ever published in print two years earlier), I knocked Mielke’s profile out of the park. Profiling cool people is my strength. Even today, eleven years later—and in light of pride month and conversion therapy—the message and story couldn’t be more relevant and timely. Thanks David Mielke!
By Jill Lang
David Mielke grew up in a doll house, not a closet.
Mielke knew he was gay in the sexual sense of the word when he hit puberty, but family members and peers perceived him to be “gay” from a young age.
“I was kind of effeminate as a little kid,” says Mielke. “I’d cry over sad things, I liked to play dress-up, and I liked to write little plays and put them on.”
In 1968, Mielke’s kindergarten teacher had strict ideas about gender roles for her young students. She expected little girls to play in the elaborate, life-size doll house, while little boys were supposed to build roads outside in the fields for their tricycles.
Since Mielke was always getting caught in the doll house, his kindergarten teacher suggested his parents take him to Vancouver for steroid and hormone treatments.
“Fortunately my dad was a dentist and my mom was an RN, so they had some education and just told her to stuff it,” Mielke says.
Even though he remained in school, being banned from the doll house didn’t stop him from drawing pictures of flowers or choosing Daisy Duck to decorate his locker.
“I got the message very strongly that there was something wrong with me and it was bad to be the way I was,” he says. “In retrospect, people would interpret that as being gay, so they would call me fag before they knew what that meant.”
Over time, the verbal and emotional abuse led Mielke to hide his “femme boy” qualities. He systematically hacked away important virtues like creativity, so by the time he reached 15, he had sunk into a suicidal depression.
His parents split only added to this dissociation from life and like many teenagers, he began to abuse drugs and alcohol.
“I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of dealing with [my mother], so what finally happened one day was she called me a femme,” says Mielke. “It was such a violation. Something in me just kind of broke and I thought ‘I’m on my own in this life.’”
Unable to rely on his parents or trust adults, Mielke convinced his then-girlfriend to run away with him up north to McKenzie, B.C. The pair were shortly discovered by RCMP and his girlfriend flew home with her father. Mielke’s mother emancipated him, confirming his worst fear that she didn’t care.
Fifteen years old with a grade nine education, Mielke went to work as a night janitor and rented an apartment. A couple more brushes with the law forced him to move to the mainland.
He found a decent job in Vancouver at the International Plaza Hotel and stopped taking drugs. He spent his evenings taking acting classes and enrolled in the BTSD equivalent program at Capilano College.
“I started seeing plays and seeking out things that were authentic to me,” says Mielke. “I stopped trying to have a girlfriend, but I still wasn’t out.
“I would just make excuses, so there was still an element of self-destruction there.”
A shop-lifting habit Mielke picked up in McKenzie caught up to him at the Park Royal shopping centre, where he was busted for stealing towels and bed linens.
The West Vancouver police department assigned Mielke to a sympathetic probation officer who allowed him to work off his 200 community service hours in a theatre company.
Absolved from stealing and consuming alcohol and drugs, Mielke bought a second-hand girl’s bike with a basket on the front and cycled to Hollywood.
“My intention had been that I was going to go to Hollywood and make a life there,” he says. “By the time I got there I decided to go back to Campbell River, get my grade 12, and try to make amends with my mom.”
Back in the River City, Mielke’s grandmother drove him to Southgate where he enrolled in the school’s musical theatre program. It turned out that his favourite teacher from elementary school, Marie Rackham, created the new program.
Mielke moved into Rackham’s home where she mentored him and taught him to play piano. Mielke discovered a classical operatic singing voice within himself and developed the interests and abilities he held as a child, which boosted his self-esteem.
He starred in several high school musicals and won all his categories in various B.C. music festivals, including most promising performer at CMYC in Courtenay. He even made honour roll.
“The next thing I knew I was being groomed to be this professional performer,” says Mielke. “Publicly I was feeling better about myself, but still harbouring that core of self-loathing for my big secret.”
Eventually, however, Rackham caught Mielke with another male and from that point onward, Mielke had somebody with whom he could confide.
Upon graduation, Mielke moved to Hollywood to pursue a traditional career in acting, but he maintained a relationship with Rackham. He voraciously read books, explored spirituality, and embraced a life in the doll house.
“There’s a tendency in the gay world that coming out in itself is the big act and now you’re free and you don’t have anymore problems,” Mielke says. “But that’s not it at all.
“Coming out is just the very beginning of the journey of figuring out, what does it really mean to be gay beyond the most superficial aspect of it? How does a gay person give back to the collective, in the sense that heterosexuals serve nature by procreating and raising the next generation physically.”
As a gay person, Mielke felt that biologically, nature didn’t intend him to procreate or he’d be attracted to women. He thought it more imaginative that gay people serve a different purpose in the world.
He started reading literature about Indigenous cultures, who he says, found inclusive ways of incorporating each member’s “unique gifts” into the community—whatever best served the whole.
“They felt that because a consistent percentage of their population seemed to be gay, it was what nature intended,” says Mielke. “So they just assumed there was a positive reason for it.”
Because the gay people were free of the time constraints of raising a family, they were expected to float around and fill in where help was needed, according to Mielke.
In fact, they often took on Shaman roles because they had time to learn about herbs and different healing methods. These “floaters” were often called twin spirits, burdache or nagels.
“In all Indigenous cultures you’ll find different variations on this which blew me away,” Mielke says. “This was hugely helpful for me as a gay person to start learning about that because [these cultures] weren’t arrogant enough to assume nature or their Creator made mistakes.”
Around the time AIDS exploded in North America, Mielke took in El Salvadorian refugees and worked with teen runaways on a volunteer basis.
Deemed by the press as the “gay disease,” many of Mielke’s acting peers contracted the deadly virus and died within a year. He was fortunately spared.
“I didn’t get it because I was lucky,” Mielke says. “But I still felt like I had to give something back.”
Mielke started writing and performing original shows for hospices, nursing homes and hospitals based on the idea of giving a performance as a gift. He was soon asked to perform at birthday parties, which snowballed into charity events, Black Tie galas and regular acting jobs.
“I found a way to make a living without having to wait tables,” Mielke says. Although he continued to write and perform voluntary shows.
In 1991, he formed Rainbow Man Productions—a company that produced his one-man stage shows. He didn’t associate the company with gayness, even though the rainbow was appropriated by gay people. Instead, he thought of it as being all the colours of the human race.
“You can’t have a rainbow if you take the red out,” he says. “As a teenager I’d been reduced to red. The quest to get all my colours back has been my journey focus.”
In 1997, Mielke sold his company and moved back to Campbell River, where he and Rackham founded Splashes from the River Inc. Before Rackham died of cancer last year, the pair wrote and produced a musical called Rediscovering the River, and a series of grammar and punctuation video courses.
Mielke is now busy marketing the videos, so he’s not sure what his future holds. For the moment, he plans to stick around Campbell River.
“I find it quite lovely to live here,” he says. “I don’t feel like this is a scary or dangerous place to be anymore.”
Even though things have come a long way since his youth, Mielke says young kids are still feeling harassed. Heartened about the first inaugural Campbell River Walk Against Homophobia on May 17, Mielke feels sad that these walks are necessary at all.
“Walking against homophobia is not just about supporting the freedom of gay people,” he says. “It’s about supporting the freedom of all people to wriggle out of their suffocatingly tight blue or pink straightjackets, so the full spectrum of their original colours can breathe and live fully into the light.”
Mielke was in Europe during the First Annual Campbell River Walk Away from Homophobia May 17, but his mother and younger brother participated in the event.
“The Walk Against Homophobia [was] a pathway for all of us to a more hope-coloured future,” he wrote in a letter to the Mirror last month. “Gay people don’t have a copyright on the rainbow.”
But a gay man is certainly entitled to play in a doll house if he wants to.
*Please note that the above article originally appeared in the Campbell River Mirror on June 22, 2007. I have exercised editorial liberty over the content published in this post on this blog, based on words submitted by me to the newspaper and the words that were published in print in 2007.