Coming out as gay to your momat 13 is tough for many kids, but not for Cyon Flare. The 43-year-old performer says, “She knew, probably because I was walking around in cha-cha heels by the time I was 5 years old. In my family it was not labeled as a masculine or feminine thing…my mama didn’t play that!” It didn’t hurt that Flare’s mother, Ida, is also gay.
“She came out when I was around 4 years old,” he recalls. “I think she had just grown tired of living a lie. I have multiple siblings, some with different fathers…and then one day I noticed that there were no men coming over anymore and the next day I noticed that women were coming over. I had a normal life growing up; I had the same growing pains that everybody else had. For me, the shock wasn’t my family’s reaction to my mom, because they were very accepting of her. What was shocking to me was the outside world and how they reacted to her.”
Of course, this was Detroit in the 1970s. Still, Flare brags, “She is an out and proud lesbian that raised four boys, two girls, and several other children from past lovers/partners. The rule of the house was to live how you want to live as long as you aren’t hurting anybody or yourself. So I grew up in a household without judgment, without shame; simply put, I grew up in a house of equality.” (For the record, Flare has two aunts — Terrell and Minnie — who are also gay. “Yes, half of the adults in my family are lesbians.”)
Flare, who has been living with HIV for 14 years, blossomed with that early encouragement. He started performing in Detroit in the early ‘90s, just as “AIDS made itself very present in the black community, and it was because of the death of so many performers, friends, and family who brought such color and radiance to the community that I really got inspired/moved to creating costumes/headdresses and wearing glitter — all that and a pair of heels helped me to make a statement with a purpose.”
He says he was “born out of the loss of so many artists, performers, drag queens — people who brought happiness and joy to our communities.”
With star DJs and nightclub owners backing him, Flare grew into a musician as well, with two Billboard dance chart hits, including “Everybody Everybody.” Today he’s one of Chicago’s most beloved performers, showing up at clubs, festivals, and even International Mr. Leather competitions.
“I’m trying to be everywhere and anywhere that embraces my art and message,” Flare says, blushing. And part of that message is about HIV. “I have chosen to believe that HIV has not changed my life so much as it has illuminated it. HIV has helped me to recognize the ‘I’ in me. Being HIV-positive has helped me to see the value of who and what I say I am. Somehow the greatest struggle for me, and many others, has been learning how to love myself. No one can just wake up and decide to love oneself. I have found that it’s a lifelong process and not a onetime event.”
He says the judgment and rejection he felt after he contracted HIV helped him discover that HIV did not need to define him, and having his mom’s support that helped him embrace life after HIV. “It didn’t stop me from dreaming; in fact it pushed me to dream bigger but add some glitter pumps and feathers for the long haul,” he says. “The light of HIV has changed my life; no shame, no shade.”