Hell's Kitchen saved me
When some young kids come out to their families, they wind up homeless in New York City, sleeping rough on the streets or in the subway. Shane Tate was one of the lucky ones
The year is 1985, the city: Jacksonville, Florida, where 15-year-old Shane Tate lives with his single mom.
“My parents were divorced and my mother was basically my savior,” he says now. “She’s the one I came out to. She took me to my first gay bar. She didn’t let me drink but she said, ‘I want you to be around people that are like you. I want you to know that I accept you.’ She was the one person in the world that understood me.”
Just a few months later, at Christmastime, she was killed in a car accident. The tragedy left young Shane with two choices: “I could either go live with my father, who was physically and emotionally abusive, or I could run away to New York City. Which is what I did.
“I took the Amtrak train – I had $120 in my pocket after I bought my ticket. I actually arrived in Newark, New Jersey, because when they said, ‘Newark’ I thought they said ‘New York.’ I got out and thought, ‘This can’t be it.’ I ended up spending the last bit of money I had on a cab ride to New York City, and I slept on the subway.
“Hell’s Kitchen is the area that saved me.”
"I’m literally fresh off the train and I don’t have a place to stay. I’m staying on the subway."
While walking the city looking for a job, he saw a sign in the window of a T-shirt shop between the Shubert and the Booth theaters. “I’m filling out the application – this is how naive I was – and said, ‘If I don’t actually have an address, what should I put down?’
“This guy said, ‘What do you mean?’
“I said, ‘I’m literally fresh off the train and I don’t have a place to stay. I’m staying on the subway.’
“He goes, ‘You know what, my roommate just bailed on me. How about this? I’m going to hire you on the spot, I’m going to give you a place to stay, I’ll take your rent out of your paycheck …’ and I’m like, done. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen any more.”
He worked there for a couple of years, got involved in theater, made a living, and started teaching himself computers ... which is how he landed a job with Merrill Lynch. “I told them that I had a BA in computer science, and back then they didn’t check.”
Somehow he’d transformed himself from homeless teen to finance whiz. Jobs followed at Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley … “Now I run a hedge fund, and I don’t even have a high school education!”
He’s been a drag queen (“I was a very pretty drag queen”), he’s done porn (“I’m not really proud of that time in my life – I’m proud of me because I made it through. The films are horrible, but you do what you have to do”)
In between all that, he’s been a drag queen (“I was a very pretty drag queen”), he’s done porn (“I’m not really proud of that time in my life – I’m proud of me because I made it through. The films are horrible, but you do what you have to do”) and – the thing he’s most passionate about – he’s thrown parties. These days Beers and Bears (upstairs at Ritz), the Fire Island Bear Weekend, and Truck Stop (new at ReBar) celebrate the bear* community he’s proud to call his family.
As well as go-go bears and drag queens and mystery shots, every event has a charity element – his most recent cause is Out My Closet. “What they do is take LGBT youth that have been kicked out of their homes – New York is full of those people, and it brings a tear to my eye to even talk about it, because I was one of those people – basically just because they finally have the courage to come out of the closet. What this charity does is find them somehow, clothe them, line up job interviews for them, and establish them in the community. It truly is an amazing charity.”
No regrets. No self pity.
“You look back at your life,” he says, “and, as complicated as it might have been, you wouldn’t change a thing. Because everything you’ve done in your life makes you who you are today.”
This interview originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you receive our daily newsletter. Join the conversation at w42st.com.