To say Jay Blotcher has led an interesting life is quite the understatement.
Blotcher is the Puerto Rican and Eastern European adopted son of Conservative Jewish parents and is also openly gay. His struggles with both his ethnic and sexual identity were the subject of an enlightening discussion held on Thursday in the Student Center.
Blotcher works as a writer, publicist and activist for the LGBT community and currently lives in Ulster County with his husband Brook. His work began in New York City during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as an active member of ACT UP, a popular organization dedicated to fighting the epidemic worldwide.
Blotcher’s struggles with his ethnic, religious and sexual identity began in a suburb outside of Boston as the adopted child of two Conservative Jewish parents. As a child, Blotcher dreamed of being white and felt confused by the fact that he did not look like the rest of his family. “Why not be a WASP? Kids liked them more,” he explained during his speech. He also explained that Massachusetts at the time had tough adoption laws, so he was never fully aware of his backstory.
While working as a rock music writer in Queens, a woman by the name of Valerie reached out to him and explained that he was the product of a one-night stand between her and former Baltimore Oriole Arnie Portocarrero. He immediately started to reach out to his father, and his first contact was his half-brother, who claimed that he did not know Portocarerro either. Blotcher never actually got to meet his father, as he eventually passed away, but tries to imagine what life would have been like if he were to be raised by his baseball-playing father.
During a conversation he had with me after his speech, Blotcher exclaimed, “This is all speculation, but I will cop to the stereotype and say that yes, baseball players are macho. My father was probably macho, and what the hell would he do with a gay son!?” He adds, “I didn’t have any sports talent either, so if I were to be raised by him, I can imagine the level of disappointment that he would radiate upon realizing that his son didn’t have any sports talent.”
Blotcher came out officially as a freshman at Syracuse University, but started experimenting with his sexuality during his time at his high school’s drama club. He pretended to date girls, but secretly harbored feelings for boys. Regarding his sexual identity, he said in the speech that he “always knew” and “never needed to search for it.” However, he also said that he “worked a long time to get society to accept who I was, and for I to accept who I was.”
He believes that people for years felt a need to keep their homosexuality private because “what they were trying to say that we are living in a homophobic society and I know that sharing my personal life as being gay is going to hurt me, but wouldn’t everybody be open about their lives if they knew there weren’t going to be any repercussions?”
Being a member of the drama club also prepared him for his future career as an activist. “The thing about ACT UP was that a lot of what they did was street theatre, which means that we actually had these events that involved dramatization on the streets, so I guess you could say that a part of me learned the appreciation of creating these spectacles in high school that I could later apply to my activism,” he told me.
Blotcher and his partner made history in 2004 as one of 24 homosexual couples who were married by the mayor of New Paltz during what were known as the “New Paltz Weddings.” “I took [the wedding] very seriously. I considered it a badge of pride,” he says.
The Director of the Center for Multicultural Affairs Iris Ruiz-Grech collaborated with Spanish professor Dr. Patricia Ferrer to bring Blotcher to Marist. Ruiz-Grech believes that his speech was “important for all college age students who are constantly questioning if what they were taught the first 17-19 years of life is what they want to continue to believe and practice.”
She goes on to say that with Blotcher’s speech, she “saw an opportunity for students to see that questioning their cultural, religious and sexual orientation identity is nothing new and that there are many others who go through the same issues.”
Students who attended the event were moved by Blotcher’s story. “I thought it was incredibly moving,” says sophomore Cara Sebert. “It was in a totally different direction than I thought it was going to be.” Junior Bryanna Adams adds, “I think it was a really great event to have and it’s nice to hear about other people’s experiences and what they’ve gone through.”
This event was sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Affairs and the Subcommittee on LGBTQ Issues of the Marist Diversity Council.