Julie Joplin Editor Savanah Mandeville met with the one and only James Dale and his boyfriend, Jerry, at Club 609 to get the full scoop on James’ fascinating life story. Over appetizers and many (many) gin & tonics, James unraveled his tales of adventure, debauchery, betrayal, revenge, friendship, love, and more…
Savanah: Okay, let’s start at the beginning…
James: I was born in Grove, Oklahoma on a Tuesday, I think around 6 p.m. Growing up my mom wasn’t there a lot for me because she was addicted to meth like a lot of mothers are around here. Sad. My grandparents raised me. They adopted me when I was eight-years-old, I do believe. Maybe six. But I decided to come out of the closet in Middle School when I was probably 15 years old. And when I say come out, I mean go to school dressed in drag.
Savanah: So you came out to your grandparents?
James: I came out to my grandmother, but I was very flamboyant like all my life. Unfortunately, my grandfather died the day after my 15th birthday, and I wasn’t able to come out to him before he died. But he knew. How could he not?
Savanah: So you don’t think he would have been upset or anything?
James: No. Of course not. He would have supported me. He loved me more than anything.
Savanah: What’d your grandma say?
James: I’m still my grandmother’s favorite child. Always have been. I have a younger brother who still lives my grandma because my mother is incarcerated … again. She’s going to get out soon. I have an older sister. She doesn’t do much for the family at all. She’s just kind of lame.
Then it was probably stupid of me to drop out of High School at such a young age to party and drink and smoke weed.
Savanah: How old were you when you dropped out?
James: I dropped out in 9th grade.
Savanah: You did? Is that even legal? How’d you pull that off?
James: How’d I pull that off? When I was in Middle School, I mentioned going to school everyday in drag, well eventually they got tired of it. They were trying to repress me. And they got me to sign a paper that said I wouldn’t come to school in makeup or in anything other than male gendered clothes. We live in the Bible Belt – Grove, Oklahoma – not making excuses for it because it’s fucked up either way you spin it no matter where you are. But I signed the paper because my grandma wanted me to sign it.
She said, “I don’t want any trouble, James. I’m an old lady. Please just be respectful and sign the paper.”
She was a supporter of me she just wanted me to follow the school’s rules like any good grandmother would. She didn’t care what I looked like at home or when I went out in public with her.
But I didn’t listen to the rules and they gave me ISS, which is In School Suspension every day for a year and a half. Finally, there was an alternative school programming brought up just because I would come to school with eyelashes on or in heels or with makeup on my face. So I kept breaking the rules just to prove to them that this is who I am, you’re not going to stifle me, I don’t care if you don’t like it. It was probably stupid. There were other avenues for me to take but none that I could see right then because I was a 15-year-old boy and the only place I ever went was school or home.
So I kept breaking the rules and getting put in ISS and eventually the teacher from the alternative program came up to me – and this was probably my third week in High School – and she said, “Do you think you’ll graduate at this pace?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ll graduate” because I really didn’t want to go to the alternative school.
So I tried to kill the interview as much as I could. I said everything I could possibly say to get to stay in the regular general public school. I was saying things like, “Yes, of course I’ll graduate” and “I have a great friend group.” Shit like that. But the administrator of the High School pretty much played his cards and got me into the alternative school because he didn’t want me causing a muck and making him sign papers everyday.
There was a six strike program at this school. So I missed six days on purpose and the regular school wouldn’t have me back and that was that.
So I went and got a job at a pizza place being a prep cook and I met a boy at the river one day and we ended up buying a cabin together.
Savanah: You bought a cabin?
James: We bought a cabin. I was 17. You know when you drive down Range Line and you see those little shed cabins in front of Lowe’s? I bought a 32-foot-long one by, I wanna say, 18-feet-wide. My boyfriend and I completely did the inside of it with a little help from a friend. It was like a Tiny House deal. We moved it into the woods with no water and no electricity.
Savanah: How’d you find a place in the woods?
James: It was actually family friends that we moved it back onto their back 40. Before we moved it into the woods we had it on an RV lot with the water and all the utilities and we were probably eight months into our relationship. Then we moved it into the woods and I took all that away from him. I said, “You’re going to be a grunge hillbilly now.” So when I took all of his amenities away, like all the utilites, everyday his alcoholism was progressing and progressing and finally, about six months into us living in the woods, he was passed out drunk on the ground, outside the cabin, his was phone on his chest and it was ringing. Well it was this guy I’d asked him not to speak to because they were speaking on a level that I wasn’t okay with. So I opened the phone, which I shouldn’t have done but I was 18 at the time and I wasn’t as open-minded as I am today, and he was my very first boyfriend that I’d told I loved, so you know… And I would have never opened his phone if it wouldn’t have been from that gentleman. So I go through some text messages and he’s telling him when he’s going on break at work and blah blah blah. So I throw his phone on his chest, I slap him on the face, I grab my little puppy, and I call my girlfriend up and she and her boyfriend come and get me within 30 minutes.
Oh, I forgot the best part of this story. The reason why I noticed his phone going off was because about 20 minutes prior I had called a friend who worked at a pizza shop up the road and I was going to check on my pizza and I saw his phone ringing. Well I go and get the pizza before I wake him up because I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m hungry. I can be fuming later.” So I eat half the pizza and then I piss on the other half of the pizza and I wake him up. Then I come back the next day to get some shit and there was nothing but crust left! He doesn’t eat the crust! So he ate my piss pizza! It’s terrible, right?
Savanah: No! Then what happened?
James: So I break up with him, and I officially come back two weeks later to move all my stuff out. And I have a pregnant girl with me and another girlfriend and we all drank 60 ounces of water before we came over because we were – once again shady, childish nonsense – we were going to pee on this $3,000 couch he was renting from Rent-A-Center! He was almost done paying off this couch, but I get me and two of my girlfriends – one of whom is pregnant – to unload full bladders on one, two, three seats of this eight-seat sectional. It was corduroy with leather trim. It wasn’t coming out.
So we pee on the couch, and I move out, and about three weeks later I pack my backpack and put on my hiking boots and I’m on the road.
Savanah: Okay, so you hit the road … were you in a car, were you hitchhiking?
James: On my feet. First time I had ever left home.
Savanah: What made you decide to do that?
James: I set in my mind that I was bumming it then. I’d literally quit my job because I had my cabin paid off, he was just paying on his couch. I quit my job so I could be a fulltime housewife. I had the cabin, tended to the garden, there was an elderly woman and I was taking care of her too.
But after the relationship fell apart, I was staying in my girlfriend’s spare bedroom thinking, “I’m not doing anything here but being a bum, why not be a bum on my own two feet and go see some shit and go experience some stuff?”
Also, I had a friend named Allison* who was traveling a lot back then. She starts travelling and she tells me how beautiful it is and that cemented in my mind right there that’s what I wanted to do.
Our friendship had gone way back at that point. I first met her a couple years prior to this when I was visiting my mother in rehab. She was up there visiting someone as well. We met and we hung out a lot. But then maybe about six or eight months later, Gay Pride comes to Joplin and me and a bunch of friends from Grove come up to Pride and I see Allison there. She ends up coming back to Grove with me and she has a bunch of money in her bag and my sister ends up stealing her money. Because of that, she ended up getting stuck at my house for nine months and we bonded forever after that.
Savanah: So you’re leaving Grove, Oklahoma on foot with hiking boots and a backpack. What all did you take with you?
James: I had a bunch of stuff I didn’t need because I was so new at it. I was like, “I’m taking everything and the kitchen sink.” Like I had waterproof matches. I thought I was going to get stranded in the desert. I also had like 15 pounds of food at the bottom of it like dried rice and beans.
Savanah: Are you serious? Did you have a pot?
James: Yes! I had a pot hooked onto the back of the backpack! I had a map like a real road atlas of all 50 states shoved in my backpack while there was a smartphone in my pocket.
Savanah: What the first day like when you first started walking?
James: The first day I got a guy that I was talking to to pick me up from Grove and I come to Joplin and I sleep on Allison’s porch. Then that morning, Allison’s mother takes me to the Flying J truck stop and I hitch a ride out of there with a trucker. He ends up taking me all the way to Rogers, Arkansas. And I hang out there for awhile and eventually find myself in New Orleans.
Savanah: Are you just riding along with truckers and random people?
James: Yeah, random people along the way. The details are pretty boring.
Savanah: I don’t think that’s boring. Who’d you ride with?
James: I remember riding with this one lady through Arkansas who was this crazy tweaker lady. She took me to her house. Like she took a transient bum to her house, she didn’t know anything about me, and she left me in her car with it running outside her house and before she left she said, “Boy, don’t you think about stealing this car. My boyfriend’s in there.” And I said, “Okay! Alright!”
Savanah: So you hitch a ride with people then you get to New Orleans?
James: Yes. So I turn 21 in NOLA which is really cool. And I end up getting housed up with this really nice lady named Anna. And there’s this guy who lives a couple blocks down and we end up hitting it off.
Anyway, he was a bad seed. One night we were drinking at lot of Evan Williams and I had also taken four xanax bars. I was having a really bad day at this point but it turned terrible really soon. It turned terrible real quick because for someone reason Austin – my ex-boyfriend I lived in the cabin with – called me for some reason. It brought up all these terrible feelings because he was my everything and then he was conspiring to cheat on me. So the gentleman I’m kind of seeing at this point, we end up having an altercation about it and he calls me a stupid slut and I slap him in the face. And I have this five-pound canteen on a strap that I literally carry with me everywhere because I walk all over New Orleans every day. And I’m a poor hobo. Ain’t got no money, no job. So I take this thing and I swing it and I smash him in the head with it. And I don’t know why, but my drunk, xanaxed out mind thought that was a finishing blow.
Savanah: Wait … you thought he was dead?
James: No, no. I just thought it would like knocked him unconscious or something. Because I swung that bitch hard. It was heavy. It was metal. But it just enraged him. So he tackles me. He’s also got I would say 80 pounds on me and we are in this washing room made out of concrete – all four walls and the floor were concrete – and he tackles me onto the ground and he’s smashing my head into the wall. And I remember saying “If you don’t stop…” I’m slipping in and out of consciousness, but I remember saying, “If you don’t stop I’m going to stab you.”
Savanah: Jesus Christ…
James: And there was this, ironically enough, this blade that someone had given to him as a gift. It was kind of special. It was an ornamental half samurai sword, and anyway, I guess I punctured him with it three times. Twice in the back and once in the front. And mind you, I am terribly intoxicated. I remember looking down and seeing a bloody knife in my hand and immediately I drop it. Because I’m all xanned out. I don’t know what’s going on. I still don’t take barbiturates to this day. Haven’t taken one since that incident, will never take one again. But I call the police and I tell them what I did because I almost killed this man. He almost died. He’s still alive today and we still have a rapport. We’ve spoken to each other.
But I go to jail for about two weeks and Austin’s mother bails me out of jail. So I go back to Miss Anna’s house where the incident happened.
Savanah: How long had you been in New Orleans at that point?
James: Maybe three weeks, four weeks. Super short period of time.
So after I get out and I go back to Anna’s house, Allison is meanwhile in Joplin buying a car. She called it Mona. She drove from Joplin to New Orleans so she could pick me up to go to this thing called Rainbow.
Savanah: What’s that?
James: Rainbow is a hippie gathering in the woods. But it’s much more than that. It’s where the Train Kids go and where the Rubber Trampers go and the Hitchers go and all the people that don’t fit into the social norms that are transients. They know about Rainbow, have been to Rainbow. It’s beautiful.
Savanah: Is it like a music festival?
James: It’s not a music festival. There’s music there, of course, but it’s totally free. They feed you. There are kids there. Little tiny babies that are raised in Rainbow families. It’s a beautiful place.
Savanah: Is it like a yearly thing?
James: They have them all the time. There’s probably one going on right now. They’re two weeks long. When one ends, another one begins.
Savanah: How do you find out about it?
James: It’s like the best kept secret in the world. But I think it might be on Facebook. You just search like “Rainbow of Loving Light” or something like that.
Savanah: So anyone can go?
James: Everyone can go. It’s just a giant family. It’s a big hippie gathering in the woods. At my very first Rainbow Gathering I remember being on the main stretch of road and there was this boy I remember him very clearly saying, “My name is Spange Whore.” Spange is when you like ask someone for change or spare change. That’s how it came about. “Spange.” It’s just a traveler word. But he was screaming “My name is Spange Whore. I want my nipple pierced. It’s my birthday.” So I pull a safety pin out of my shirt and we go sit down and literally, in the middle of the woods, dirt everywhere, we’re all filthy and disgusting, and I pierced this boy’s nipple with a lighter, a safety pin, and some booze for his birthday. It’s crazy.
Savanah: Wow. So this was the one you went to with Allison?
James: It was in California. Before we left, we were hanging out on the square in NOLA and Allison ran into a traveler she knew or something like that and we made fast friends and ended up staying at this squat house. It was this really pretty giant mansion in the middle of town that was just abandoned after the hurricane. It was like a secret squat house. There was still electricity. Someone owned it, they just didn’t live in town. And it eventually got blown up after three days. When I say blown up, I don’t mean like an explosion. The spot was alerted to authorities that we were there.
But we did pick up three more people and went to California to Rainbow. When Rainbow was over we parted ways and went back to NOLA. Then Allison goes her way and I go mine. She doesn’t go home to stay – we both meet boys at NOLA – and she traveled around with the gentleman she met for a couple years and had a great time, but ultimately they weren’t right for each other.
But at this time when I come back to NOLA, I have to stay for a little while to deal with my court hearings for the incident. I end up staying for another three months couch hopping. Then they pretty much gave me an okay to leave the state so I moved to Joplin in 2014 and moved in with a friend, Melissa, and shortly after I met Jerry.
Savanah: How did you feel about being in Joplin?
James: It’s better than being in Grove. And I want to say the reason I came back to Joplin instead of travel is because I’m dealing with a health issue that needs to be dealt with.
The incident when I stabbed that man … a lot of blood got on me. There was blood everywhere. And it was contaminated with HIV. And I contracted it from the incident. And I came home to deal with that.
Savanah: When did you find out that you have HIV? What was that like?
James: Long story, I was actually at this bar called Oz in NOLA applying for a job. At this point, it’s winter time. It’s cold outside. I don’t have a stable place to live. So I was interviewing with this couple to come be their live-in house boy – like clean for them, do their dishes, walk their dog. So I was doing that and I’m meanwhile getting bombarded by 10 phone calls from the gentleman I’d stabbed. Obviously, I’m ignoring them. The State Attorney’s office told me I couldn’t have any contact with him or it would be bad for me in court. He’s still in the hospital at this point. So I’m ignoring the calls. I’m really feeling the heat because this is my first offense. And I mean literally, I stabbed someone. The first time I’ve ever been in jail. First time I’ve ever been in trouble with the cops. And I almost took someone’s life. And I can’t plead self defense because I was high and it was above the waist, even though he was banging my head against the concrete.
Well so I’m getting all these phone calls and then finally one message that says, “My blood was just taken at the hospital and I tested positive for HIV.”
So I freak out.
I just say, “Fuck it.”
I’m done with the bar. I leave. I go on a walk and buy some booze and sit by the river and just cry.
I call my girlfriend that I was living with and I just cry because I was really scared. Why does it have to happen to me?
I was really negative at this point, still thinking that my life was over.
So about three days later, Allison arrives in town and I tell her what’s happening and she’s completely, 100 percent there for me. We end up going to this place – I still remember the address – it was a Planned Parenthood pretty much. So I go there and I get tested and I come back negative.
So then I go to Rainbow. And once I get back from Rainbow, I’m super deathly sick. Like I can’t move for two days. And I figured it was from all the burning wood and smoke I’d inhaled. When you burn wood with the bark and the lichen on it, it’s really terrible for your lungs. But I decided to go get tested again because it had been three months after the last time I had contact with this gentleman. And that’s where if you are, you are, if you’re not, you’re not. And I go get tested again and it’s positive.
So I decided to come home where I could be stable and in a good place and with good
people. I moved in with Miranda and I met Jerry shortly after. The rest is kind of history.
Savanah: How did you guys meets?
Jerry: I was visiting a mutual friend and he showed up to bring cookies and I thought he was really cute, and I still do, and I said, “What’s your number?” and he said, “I don’t have a phone, but hit me up on Facebook.” The next morning he had messaged me on Facebook before I even had a chance to. We hung out the next night. Watched a movie. This was April of 2014. It’s 2017 now. Crazy.
We ended up going to bed. We fooled around with each other pretty soon. And he withheld the information.
James: Everything was safe when we fooled around the first time, but I did withhold the fact that I had HIV from him for one day. He dropped me off and I felt terrible about it. But we were safe and my vital count was very low. Of course I was putting him in danger in the sense that I have HIV, it’s dangerous to be with me, but at that point in my life I was healthy and I think my vital load was undetectable. That’s a fancy way or saying there’s one infected part per billion in my blood – like one per billion cells. And this is the very first person I’d even been interested in or talked to seriously. But we didn’t have sex the first night.
Savanah: Is the HIV the only reason you were afraid?
James: Yeah, that was the only reason. Because men work a lot faster than most people. We just get to the punch. And like we get it over with. So we fooled round the first night and I felt terrible because I didn’t tell him I was positive. I was thinking terrible thoughts.
Savanah: What were you thinking?
James: That I was about to end his life and I’m a terrible person for cursing him with this plague. I was still really in my head about it then and getting down on myself for something I have no control over. The thing I felt the worst about is being with him and not being honest with who I was. So I messaged him and told him, “There’s something I need to tell you.” So I’m just wracking my head for hours and hours and hours and by the end of that night I’d told him that I was HIV positive. And I was like, “I completely understand if you never want to speak to me again or even go to the police. I understand.” And it was the exact opposite. It was him accepting me for who I was when I couldn’t even accept myself at that time. That meant a whole lot to me. I was relearning to love myself.
Jerry: I surprised myself with my behavior, honestly, because you know a lot of people would probably run for the hills or say, “I’m done talking to you” because people are just uneducated about how it’s transferred.
James: That stigma still gets a lot of people in trouble. That stigma of it still being a bad thing probably hurts more people than it helps.
Jerry: And keep in mind this is someone I’d only known for two days and I feel like I’ve exhibited great open mindedness there. I’d never been with anyone who’d been infected before. But I was educated on how it was transferred. I didn’t know you had a very low viral count, but I liked you and I was willing to overlook it. I was little upset with him that he didn’t tell me, but I understood why he didn’t tell me and we’re fine. I’m still clean.
Savanah: Do you get checked on a regular basis?
Jerry: Everything three months. If you are infected, it will show.
Savanah: Do you just use condoms?
James: We used to but we really don’t anymore. I mean, we’ve been together a long time.
Savanah: So just pull out or what?
James: To be honest with you, we don’t have penetration a lot. We jerk off a lot together and we kiss each other’s bodies a lot. But there’s not a lot of penetration in me and Jerry’s sex life. I don’t know if that’s directly because … I never thought about it. That’s just the way it is and we’re happy. Most of the time our asses stay unfucked.
Savanah: So what happened next in the relationship?
James: We were hanging out for three or four months then finally, this is going to sound stupid, but we’re getting high on 4/20 and I asked him, I look into his eyes, and I say, “Will you be my boyfriend?” And he says, “I don’t date men that don’t have jobs.”
Savanah: Was the only job you ever had at that pizza place?
James: I’d always been drifter. I just had that job at the pizza place after high school.
Jerry: The only reason I said that is because the two boyfriends I had prior to that were freeloaders.
James: So I get a job at Denny’s and then…
The Louisiana court system drops the ball and doesn’t let me know that I have a court appearance. About a year and a half goes by and I am apparently a bail jumper and I have no idea. I had no idea that my case had been picked up by the state of Louisiana. And these gentlemen from the fugitive capture group agency blah blah blah out in Louisiana come and knock on Jerry’s door and we had just had a threesome that night… it was actually a foursome.
Savanah: Do you have an open relationship?
James: We don’t.
Savanah: So there’s no jealousy?
Jerry: No, not that particular night. I mean, we’ve had threesomes. It’s not something we seek out to do. It just happens.
James: We haven’t had a threesome in over a year. Like it’s not regular at all. When it happens, it happens. When its organic, it’s meant to be. When you have to seek someone out, it’s not good for your relationship.
Jerry: The times it has happened has been opportunistic and just kind of happened.
James: So, anyway, at the time I’m working at Denny’s and these officers come and pick me up. And on the ride there, they tell me that a person by the name of “Sharon Dianna” gave them my whereabouts for $500.
Savanah: Who’s that?
James: My sister.
Savanah: Oh shit.
James: She told them where I was and where I worked for $500. I would’ve given that bitch $1,000 not to say shit. My sister is out for herself. She’s a gangster in her heart. She’s a troubled person. After that I could take her not wanting me in her life. I didn’t take it with standing arms. I could understand her not wanting me in her life because I had HIV and she was scared for her children. Like that was okay for me at that time because she’s an ignorant piece of shit. And eventually maybe I can educate her. But when I found out that she literally pulled me out of my life for $500 and made me spend three months in jail in a little tent where people berated me, sexually harassed me, and scared me every day for three months – trying to rape me – calling me Snow White and Snow Pea. Eventually I got tired of it and said, “Motherfucker, that’s not my name. You will address me by James or nothing else.” I almost got into a fight and then this other gigantic, probably like 400 pound, white gay man, was like, “Here you sleep by me and you’ll be okay.”
Savanah: Good God, James, I can’t believe you went through all that!
James: Yeah. And then I got out and I was in NOLA and I was literally homeless on the street the day I got out. Jerry was between jobs because he had just gotten into a wreck two months prior so he can’t help me. Then I look up Miss Anna and I come to her house in the middle of the night when it’s raining and I say, “Can I sleep on your couch for two or three days?” And she tells me no. A day later I get a call from her and she’s sobbing and saying, “James, I’m sorry I turned you away, come back, we’ll have lunch, we’ll talk about it.”
So I ended up staying with her and she buys me a bus ticket back home three weeks later, and I come back when I have my probation transferred up here. And I’ve been on probation ever since and still dealing with that shit today.
Savanah: When’s the probation over?
James: 2020. Three more years.
Savanah: And the guy in New Orleans is okay?
James: Yeah, he’s okay.
Savanah: Have you had any contact with him at all?
James: He calls me all the time telling me how much he misses me and updates me on his life. He calls me sugartits and baby.
Savanah: Are you serious?
James: I just kind of message him back like, “You know, I’m with Jerry, blah blah blah. I don’t shun him just because something terrible happened between us.
I choose to not focus on the negatives of the past. What’s the use in that? You just have to keep moving forward and staying positive.
Savanah: Well said!
~*~ FIN ~*~