“I dropped out of college. I got good grades, but I got bored. I want to learn what I want to learn, not on some assembly line. I have continued my studies in the university of life and that I shall not graduate until my last breath.” – Don Schrader
My name is Don Schrader and I was born in 1945 in Illinois and grew up on a farm. My mother was born in that house upstairs in 1907 and she lived all her life on that farm. And she was my all-time closest friend and she died in ’82 and after her death, my dad became, in some ways, the living person closest to me, but she was my all-time closest friend and he died in 1994.
I went to two different one-room country schools in grades one through five. One teacher, outdoor toilets, cold in the winter, and a pump out in the front of the building to pump water by hand. I graduated in 1964 in a class of 49 with highest academic grades, but there were only 49 in my class (laughs). I was a really religious kid – sincerely so – very religious. I carried my bible often as a high school student with my other books. After graduating from high school, I went to Eastern Mennonite College in Virginia where I majored in bible studies and the second year that I was there I became assistant pastor of a small brethren church in Virginia. I than came back to Illinois in 1968 – or, excuse me, ’66. I dropped out of college.
I got good grades, but I got bored because I love to learn, but I want to learn what I want to learn, how I want to learn, when I want to learn, and not on some assembly line of saying “Read this book – this many pages by this date,” right? No. It just drove me up a wall, and so I dropped out, but I have continued my studies in the university of life and that I shall not graduate from until I breathe my last breath.
I became pastor of a small Mennonite church in Sterling, Illinois in October of ’66 when I was almost 21 years old, and it was a small congregation. Mostly middle-aged and older white people. But, in the community, where the building was located, there were many Latinos from South Texas, Puerto Rico, Mexico, who had come to work in the huge steel mill in Sterling, Illinois. It’s now defunct, but it used to employ lots of people. It was the largest independently owned steel mill in North America at the time and many of these youth became dear to my heart. I was, a young pastor, and at that time, I didn’t know I was gay.
I mean growing up in school, no teacher, no teacher in high school or in college told me me that Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and a host of other men of many cultures are in love with men and make love with men. Many are bisexual, but some are only gay. I am gay, but I am convinced that most – that there are far more bisexual men in the world than gay men. As a young pastor, I didn’t know I was gay, but as I look back now, I realize that my strong, deep attraction for certain men.
I was a pastor in the community for two years and I resigned October 20th, 1968. The people of the congregation who paid my salary were good to me, but they didn’t understand the changes that I was going through and I still didn’t know that I was gay at that point. Changes in looking at the world and at cultures and not wanting to feel so paged in by religious restrictions. See, in high school, I never danced. I thought it was wrong. I don’t know that I ever in public wore shorts except in physical ed in high school and growing up, maybe in our barnyard at home. In many ways, I was very uptight and inhibited and didn’t even know the prison I was living in emotionally and in my life, in many ways.
This was during the time of the draft for the Vietnam War, and because I resigned as pastor, my ministerial license was terminated, so that opened me to the draft. As you may know, Mennonites are one historic anti-war Christian denomination, something like Quakers. And, so, Mennonites, if they’re true to their faith, refuse to go murder people for any government. So, I registered as a conscientious objector – a person opposed to all war and I was called before the local draft board, questioned to see if I was for real. and I took long letters from about 12 people who knew me attesting to my sincerity and my stand against war. They approved me as a conscientious objector. So, I was required to put in two years of non-military community service under the draft instead of going to Vietnam to murder and possibly be killed, or whatever.
I first was in Arizona in a farmworker community near Phoenix. The community is called ‘Surprise’ that’s the actual name of it. Northwest side of Phoenix, beyond Sun City. And I worked there with kids, I had several boys clubs. I drove a van for a kindergarten part-time and I enjoyed being in the community. Many of the people were farmworkers and from Mexico or Chicanos born here. And I, I really felt close to many of them. In fact, I felt closer to those youths, or in some cases, their families, than I did with my other unit members because we lived – it was a Mennonite service unit and they were – that we lived in. And, I developed some conflict with the man and his wife who were in charge of the unit, and so, I wanted to transfer, and that’s how I came to Albuquerque in June of 1970 and I was completing my two years as a conscientous objector under the draft in non-military community service. It’ll be 47 years ago this June.
My parents were still alive than. I was back and forth a lot between Albuquerque and Illinois. I was very torn in my heart between home there and home here. Thirteen hundred miles between, so I got a small taste, a small taste of what it feels like to be an immigrant. Now, of course, I didn’t have to learn a new language. I learned some Spanish, but I’m far from fluent.
My parents are both gone, now for over twenty years, my mother in ’82, my father in ’94. And, I haven’t been back there since I returned from my dad’s funeral in ’94. I have one brother, no sisters, and my brother is almost 11 years older than I and he is very religious – very conservative. I mean to give you some idea… he’s against dancing!
And now I love to dance. In fact, last June, at the San Felipe fiesta in Old Town, I guess I had danced the most I ever have in one day in my life – most of the music from 2 o’clock till 7 o’clock – five hours, most of the music. And I was 70 years old, and now 71. I’m the most openly – most well-known openly gay man in the city of Albuquerque. I am the most well-known nudist in the city of Albuquerque.
I was a very sincere Christian preacher, Mennonite. I had not learned to question deeply. I had not dared to question deeply – not just because what other poeple would say, but because for anybody who’s extremely religious, whether you be Roman Catholic, or Muslim, or Orthodox Jew, or fundamentalist pentacostal, or Hindu. It can be almost terrifying to question deeply and because so much of who you are is wrapped up in that religion you espouse, and so, it was a long journey away from that kind of religion and mindset.
I am indebted – and I wanna say here, not just on this, but on everything that I’m deeply indebted – deeply indebted to many, many, many, many people who have taught me, who have loved me, and who have inspired me. I mean, so many people – their books, their articles, their DVDs, their conversations, their – that I have – that I constantly collect wisdom from everyone that I meet.
And you know, even if I may disagree with a person on 98% of what I think the person stands for, that other 2% may be enlightening to me and may be like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, I mean in my perspective of life, the piece that I’ve been missing.
There is always something to learn from everybody and not just from people’s strengths, but also our weaknesses. And I have learned just as much from my parents’ weaknesses and mistakes as from their strengths.
And anybody who can learn from my mistakes and my weaknesses, power to ’em! Right on.
Coming Out Story
I came in 70 and as far as coming out as a gay man, that didn’t happen until ’76, late ’76. I remember my friend, Steve Quintana, and his first wife who’s now dead. He was from Martineztown. For years, one of my main stomping grounds for friends was Martineztown here in Albuquerque, and Old Town. Steve’s wife said to me one time, “we have a place we want to take you and we think you might like it.”
They took me to the Heights Lounge, on Central, which is now the Albuquerque Social Club. It was the first gay bar I’d ever set foot in…and yeaaah!
I had no sex with any boy as a boy and with no male until I was 31. I had sex with a couple women before that, but not many and never with a woman since I first came out as a gay man.
The pieces began to fit together in my past. When I was a first grader in elementary school there was a sixth-grade Italian boy and see, we had several grades in the same room with one teacher. At least on one occasion – it’s a hazy memory – he and I sat side-by-side to share a music book. And, because there weren’t enough for everybody to have one. I didn’t fantasize about sex with him. I didn’t know all the wonderful pleasures there were to be had. But, it just felt so right, like, magnetism. He was tall, dark, and exotic. He was a sixth grader – Italian – in this largely white homogenous community and I don’t know what’s become of him. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. I don’t know if he’s gay, bisexual, or heterosexual, but as I look back, that was one of the first attractions that I had. And I didn’t understand, of course.
When I was in high school, and some of the athletes came into the study hall or the library where I was – it was like the invisible spotlight of my attention focused on them, and that I needed them more than they needed me. And, of course, I was so ignorant of who I was and so it didn’t make much sense to me.
Shortly after I first had sex with a man in late 1976, here in Albuquerque, a Chicano from outside Albuquerque. I forget the name of the place right now. I told my mother and she said she had never known there were gay people in the world. That’s how ignorant she, and I, were years ago.
My mother suffered severe illness for many, many years. And my dad did, too. And much of the reason I’m so devoted to health today is that I saw both of them suffer so much for decades. Not just days, or weeks, or months, or even years, but decades. I was with my mother in the hospital when she died in intensive care. I was with her mother who died of cancer when she died in the hospital. I’ve seen so much suffering in my family, but also in friends. I took my mother three times to a nutrition doctor in Houston, TX in ’75, in ’78 – er, in ’76, and ’78-9. We were there for some months.
She was in outpatient of the nutrition doctor and I introduced her to Jaime Chappa, a young man, a young, gay man in Houston. And I think if he had become my lover, she might have really accepted him like a son or son-in-law. Jaime and I did not become lovers, but some of the things that impressed her so much about Jaime, I think, were, he and my mother went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant.We went out to this Mexican restaurant. He was a young, gay Chicano from the city, and my mother, and older white woman from the farm, who had never lived in the city, and who hadn’t known most of her life about gay people, and she was in a wheelchair and he bent over and kissed her. And that touched her because some of her own grandchildren, my brother’s children, who she loved dearly might not have been that openly affection in public to her as their grandmother.
He said to her, “What do you think about being gay?” And I thought, oh, Jaime, what’s my momma gonna say that’s gonna sound stupid or narrow-minded or close minded, whatever, but she took it right in stride. And she said, “Don’t you wanna have children,” or something like that, and of ‘course that’s before much of this knowing about gay couples adopting children. He got right to the point and was not a stranger and she liked that, I think. And then, he said, “Do you want me to sing?”
After I came out, I wrote to a friend, who lived in Illinois at the time, where I had been pastor. And I told him that I was gay, and he wrote back a fine letter and he said, “I knew from the first day I met you.” So, he knew before I knew.
That is often the case, and I meet men, or women, that I think are gay or lesbian and I’m not always right, but sometimes, it’s – they don’t know it yet, and so I need to tread lightly because some poeple don’t like being told before they accept – if they accept it, and some people never do.
My favorite place out of Albuquerque that I used to go to dozens of times was the hot springs in Jemez. Uh, in fact that’s where I met José in 1991, summer of 1991. He was 23, dark, handsome, bisexual, from Mexico and we became involved and I certainly was in love with him. We had sex, many times, over 70 times, I kept track. (laughs)
Sadly, José got involved with drugs, and he was not a citizen, but he did have a green card, but because of getting arrested for drugs, he lost his green card and did time in prison.The last time I wrote to him, the letter came back and I don’t know if he was taken back to Mexico, or what hapened. And one friend who had done time in federal prison said that on the federal registry of prisoners, your name always is on there, even if you’re dead, regardless. And I had his name, his full name, his social security number, his brithday, and he’s not on there. And maybe, now I don’t know this for sure, but maybe he became an informant. And if you become an informant, it’s like the old you disappears from the universe. Sadly, I may never see him again. He is one of several men that I was certainly in love with.
I hosted a weekly tv show here for 20 years on public access called Clearly From My Heart. It was from 1992 to 2012, then the station, channel 27, changed hands. I mean, the new people in charge of the station do not want controversial programs.
Well, I was born naked (laughs). Native people all over the world had the good sense, for thousands of years, that when it’s hot, you take clothes off, when it’s cold, you put ’em on. And, sadly, largely because of religions, different, different brands of religion – the shame about the human body, especially about the genitals, or the ass and, and I just began to see, I mean it was a long journey. And my first time of experience with mixed public nudity, men, and women, was at that hot springs in Jemez. A Hot Springs up on the side of the mountain, and there used to be, in the parking lot, a federal government sign which said “BATHING SUITS NOT REQUIRED” – certain days of the week, required other days. I may have had a small part in bringing that to be. Well, I guess that sign is long gone. I haven’t been there for many years because I do not ride in cars anymore. Haven’t ridden in a car since April 7th, 2001, so it’ll be sixteen years shortly. And that’s one of the main places that I miss, is that hot spring.
However, I guess there is not such a pre-acceptance of nudity at the hot springs as there used to be. In other words, there may now be danger of getting arrested, and I don’t wanna get arrested. I don’t wanna pay a fine to the beast of government.
I have been naked in the presence of people – hundreds of artists over the years, and I am just as at home being naked in people’s’ presence most people are in their favorite clothes, if I am warm enough. I don’t like to be cold and if I’m not in danger of getting arrested or freaking people out.
I was naked, as an adult, in the presence of my parents a bunch of times. In fact, I have photos that my mother took of me naked as an adult. And I gardened on the farm naked as an adult.
Either less people hate me, or they learn to shut up and given up harassing me (laughs). Not just for being mostly naked in warm weather on the street, but for being gay, or for other reasons. I’ve paid no federal income tax for war for thirty-eight years, not one damn penny.
Almost half the federal income tax goes for war, either past, present, or future war. And I have no right to pay tax to do to other people what I do not want them to do to me. I want to say that as a conscientious objector, person opposed to all war. I came to see that, for me, to pay federal income tax to train and equip other people, largely people of color and lower income to become professional killers, to murder on command, with no conscious would be more evil than being a soldier myself. For somebody who doesn’t go to war, but pays for war, they don’t have to deal with the horrible memories, life-long nightmares of seeing their buddies blown to bits.
That’s why I say that for anyone who opposes the war as I do, and did, to pay for it, would be more evil than being a soldier myself, and I didn’t see that always, for a few years, I paid federal income tax, but for 38 years, not one damn penny.
I live under the taxable level and I live well. That’s the most radical and the least hassle because, there are many other people of conscience who refuse, who make over the taxable level, but sometimes they get harassed by the internal revenue.
Living simply and enjoying – it gets at the roots of war because so much of war – this empire is about robbing the wealth of the world.
The U.S. is less than five percent of the world. The U.S. is less than five percent of the world’s people, but consumes 25% of the world’s wealth.
I lived well last year on 4,946 dollars… total expenses. And I write down every penny I spend everyday for everything. I started in the year 2000, and it’s a wonderful discipline because most of the money most people spend is for crap nobody needs and then they often cry about the bills and so on…
It will be 16 this week, that I have not ridden in a car.
War’s oil, global climate chaos, poisoned air, highways smothering fertile soil – when you think how the population of the world continues to spiral upwards, billions of people. I guess the worldwide human population didn’t hit 1 billion until about 1800, between about 1800 and 1850 and now it’s over 7 billion in about 200 years and if there’s no major catastrophe, which there certainly could be. The human population just keeps skyrocketing and of course consuming meat and dairy, which I do not do, uh, and there’s a wonderful DVD documentary called Cowspiracy pointing out that the number one cause – the number one cause of global climate chaos is animal agriculture, even worse than cars, worse than big houses consuming resources and so on, uh, animal agriculture, uh, and sadly, most U.S. environmental groups will not – will not take a public stand on this because it would endanger their contributions from all the meat-eaters who say they’re environmentalists and they’re meat-eaters.
So, anyway, but back to cars, as I say highways – when you think of the acreage in this world that is constantly increasing of concrete for highways, garages, parking lots, streets, often over soil that could be used to grow food and trees. Trees, a major source of oxygen, soaking up the carbon dioxide, and so, it’s a prescription for disaster because as the human population goes up, and the, the need for good farming land goes up to feed all those people, especially if they’re going to eat meat and dairy, which causes far less people to be able to eat from the same acreage as if you’re eating just plant foods, directly. The human population goes up and the need for all this acreage goes dow- or, goes up, the available fertile land goes down, not just because of droughts, but because of all the concrete for the parking lots, garages, streets, highways, and so, um.
Another reason is, I save a lot of money by not having a car and I get a lot of exercise, and so, as long as I am physically able, I am blessed to be able to walk, and to walk a lot and it’s good for the circulatory system, it’s good for the brain, and of course, the worst way to travel, environmentally, is by cars and planes and I’ve ridden no plane for many, many years, and never plan to unless by gunpoint if a repressive regime takes over and I’m required at gunpoint to go to some prison halfway across the country, well, what choice will I have? I will not fly, and I and then, uh, better than the worst, cars and planes, are trains and buses, and better than that are bikes.
I never learned to ride a bike, my brother tried to teach me, but I didn’t learn. And I think I would be a greater danger, personally, on a bike than walking. Now, don’t get me wrong, I could be killed today on the street by some crazy driver or some violent attack. In other words, if I’m on a bike, all some person who doesn’t like me would have to do is get close enough to me, not necessarily hit me, but scare the hell out of me so I wreck myself. And, my friend Chuck who owns this house had a terrible bicycle accident last summer and took weeks and months to recover. And, uh, uh, but I recommend that people who ride bikes, ride on the sidewalk unless there’s a good bike lane because it’s just too risky. He, he was not on a sidewalk, and he- it was on a bridge, and oh, it was awful – bone sticking out of his leg…
I sunbathe on what I call my Riviera Beach, a small spot, here in our backyard with some low makeshift walls, so that I don’t freak out neighbors walking to the alley or get in trouble from the cops. I sunbathe here most days all year ’round and I love it, I read, I write, I think, I rest, I eat often. Sometimes I converse with friends as I sunbathe naked.
Our Body Is Precious!
People remember at the flea market or wherever, and I am, incidentally I am still on tv a little, not with my regular one-hour show, but because I speak at the city council and the county commission. I’ve spoken a hundred- over 160 times since the beginning of 2013 on many subjects and both of those meetings are televised live on government cable channel 16, and uh, I speak on many different subjects that I am deeply concerned about, and anybody can go speak for up to 2 minutes for whatever’s on your heart, it doesn’t have to be something on the agenda. So it’s a wonderful opportunity.
I eat no cooked foods. I stopped meat, large, and junk food, largely in the 1970s. I stopped dairy largely in the 1980s. I stopped cooked foods December 12th, 1998 and the Max Planck institute in Germany found that cooking usually, usually destroys about half the protein, 60 – approximately – 60 to 70% of the assemblable vitamins and minerals up to 96% of vitamin B12, uh, and all of the enzymes, the enzymes that are the life energy – in other words, if you take a seed and you cook it and you planted it, you can dance, you can pray, you can hope till hell freezes over, it’ll never grow. It’s dead. The life energy is gone. It still has some nutrients, but the life energy is gone.
Cooking usually destroys the phytonutrients, and those are the plant nutrients. Phyto- meaning plant, and they’re about 10,000 of those necessary for human health and so, uh, cooked food is dead. Cooked food is slow poison. It may taste good, and it certainly isn’t gonna kill you on the spot, but it slowly does the job. And, and of course, the more raw foods you eat, the better, and why settle for less than the best, and so, I eat no cooked foods.
I say our body is the most precious material possession we have. The only material possession we each have from birth to death is our body, no matter if you’re rich or poor – the only possession that we each have and no other material possession can give us more misery or more pleasure, and I want the pleasure, not the misery if I can help it.
And of course, I can be shot or run down by a car today, but what I put in my mouth – nobody puts a gun to my mouth or making my head and say “You gotta eat that crap.” It’s an addiction, and that we overcome, and growing up. I was addicted to a lot of crap and I ate a lot of junk. I saw what it did to my mother, to my father and I didn’t want to suffer like that, so I changed. I love to be healthy, and so, now at 71, in some ways, I’m in better health than when I was 21.
I didn’t exercise as much back then. I exercise an hour and a half every day in my room. Free! Not in some expensive gym and like over 300 push-ups, not all at once, but in sets, and over 500 crunches, not all at once, but several different kinds in-in sets, er, and yeah. And whole Tibetan exercises, isometrics, isotonics, pull-ups, push-er, uh chin-ups, etcetera. I treasure health, and you know, many people, even educated people, take far better care of their house, or their car, or their pets than they do of their own body. And, I mean, and you know, they have the good sense that if they’re driving a car, it runs on gasoline, they don’t put diesel fuel in it. It ain’t gonna work. Well, same way for our bodies. Our bodies were made for healthy plant foods and if we put all kinds of processed crap in, there should be no surprise that we get sick. And the hospitals get bigger and bigger and the medical costs in this country just skyrocket and the people suffer, you know. To me, the main question is not just who’s going to pay medical expenses for me, I don’t wanna have the medical expenses in the first place, why suffer?
I have a whole list, most well-known living simply enthusiast, and the most well-known walker and not riding in cars, the most well-known raw foodist in the city, the most well-known openly gay man in the city, the most well-known nudist in the city, the most well-known, uh, polyamorous person in the city.
I can be deeply and openly in love with more than one person at the same time and do it honestly. I say hell no to lies, to cover-ups to so-called cheating to double standard, no. But yes to sharing generously our lovers and deep intimacy with others.
Like I told a man that I’m in love with now, and sadly some of the men I was in love with a few years ago are dead. But a man that I’m in love with now, who’s not out to his immediate family, and to a lot of people who know him. I tell him that if he sees any man that he is attracted to, not to hesitate for one second to talk with that man. I hate insane jealousy, and of course, we’re all tempted with some jealousy, but as long as I’m not thrown overboard.
You know, we teach children to share food to share toys, to to share friends, and how cruel, how selfish the child is who insists that his child friend have no other friends, no other playmates and a, uh, a loving parent can, uh, have a deep and special bond with each one of several children. Do we say that a parent can only be a faithful parent if he or she has only one child? I mean, it’s insane, and, and, and uh, and so much of the misery in relationships, and, and which oft-can erupt in horrific violence. Murder or beating the spouse up comes because of that jealousy and that unwillingness to share. And, you know if a-if a mother is holding a young child and the child-the mother may love the child and the child may love the mother, but the child wants to get down and play!
Romantic relationships the more that one person is-becomes insanely, selfishly jealous and says you can’t look, you can’t even talk with persons of-that you may be attracted to when you’re in a relationship with me. Often that’s-that just makes the person feels on the receiving end of that, so caged, so fenced in, and I don’t know, I don’t own any man-no matter how much I love them.
And I cannot make any man fall in love with me. I cannot make any many stay in love with me. And I am a fool when I try to force it, and so, I-I’ve learned these things…not overnight, but little-by-little and, uh, one of the many things that I treasure about Jose was that he told me about, uh, having sex with a woman under Old Town, when he was working one time, but she and he were under the- I mean, he-he – that openness to tell me things and not to, “Oh, I can’t tell him, he’ll go, yoo-hoo, great. No-no-no-no.” (Laughs)
I honesty learned from my mother who loved me so much- and don’t, don’t misunderstand. She and I had some roof-raising arguments, but she loved me profoundly, and she often would apologize or ask forgiveness, and I asked her forgiveness of her many times.
She emphasized honesty, you know? Being truthful. In fact, I think in a way to lie, and for her to know that I had lied would have been more difficult for her than if I slapped her in the face, or if I damned her to hell. She hated lies.
And that value of honesty, I treasure. I’m also the most-well known, I think, egnostic in the city because even though I was very sincerely religious decades ago, as a Christian preacher, a Mennonite. I mean there’s so much about religion, of whatever brand that cannot be proven and which, you know, down to the agists, millions of people, whereever, whatever tribe, whatever culture had the-latched on desparately to religious ideas. Some of which seem to us now stupid, or like- you really beileve that?
I learned to question and to question deeply in the search for truth and I don’t know if God is. Period. And I very much want to be reunited-reunited beyond death with loved ones, whether that happens, I don’t know. I do know wanting something does not make it so. I understand well why people grab onto religion for meaning, for forgiveness, for security, for hope. I say I want to be reunited with all loved ones in a much better world beyond death, but I don’t know if that happens and I will not pretend to know to please Billy Graham or the Pope, my relatives, my very religious brother- no, no I will not.
I invite anyone who is sincerely interested in talking with me, even though they may disagree with me on most things that I-that I stand for- to talk to me they see me on the street, or to contact me through you. If you’re sincere, and aren’t out to harass or do me in. I question everything. Question what I say, what the government says, question what your own culture says, question your religion, que-in the pursuit of truth, not just for the sake of questioning, but to-to find wisdom and-and that there’s always more to learn. Always. I love to learn. I collect wisdom to live it, not just to talk about it, or to write about it, but to live it as best I can. It’s a great journey to-to constantly collect wisdom and realize how indebted we are to so many people that we meet, uh, for their love, for their wisdom, for their inspiration.