James Barrett Rodehaver’s ‘Strangely Wonderful’ Tale
James Barrett Rodehaver is a 30-year-old man. Yet he looks and sounds far younger, the result of a variety of health issues which have affected his growth patterns. Rodehaver, who identifies as bisexual, continues to fight for life. Life has dealt him many harsh blows, yet he remains an optimist.
There have been lights at the end of the tunnel. Rodehaver now lives in Dallas with his husband Randy. He finds great strength and comfort in that relationship, and in the gift of poetry that’s been bestowed upon him. Through the hundreds of poems he’s written, Rodehaver has been able to convey his frustrations, hopes, fears, dreams, sorrows and joys.
James Barret Rodehaver, also known as Bear, talks to SFGN about his poetry, his life, and about Strangely Wonderful, his newly published collection of poems.
Tell us about yourself.
I was a very sick baby and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. At some point during my early childhood, they induced a 3-month coma. I don’t remember why.
My childhood was tough. I grew up in a broken home right from the beginning. Our first foster home was very poor, and it was also Pentecostal – that was probably the strangest church experience I ever had as a child. Our second foster home was somewhat nicer and well off.
During my entire childhood, I had been misdiagnosed with cerebral palsy, when in fact what I had was mild right hand nerve damage from lack of oxygen at birth.
Can you describe the bone disease you live with, what it is, and what it does to you?
My bone disease is called Camurati-Engleman Disease. It’s very rare and African in nature, even though I’m Caucasian. It causes me a lot of pain, especially in the winter. I actually lost my right hip to this disease. It has caused malformations in my feet, which three foot surgeries have tried to repair unsuccessfully. I cannot run because of this disease, as my hips do not pivot. I walk with a cane most of the time. In fact, I’ve been known to use walkers and wheelchairs. I take pain medication for it.
What is your prognosis?
Uncertain. Recently a doctor told me that he doesn’t think I have this disease, which was very shocking news. He said that my bones were getting thinner, not thicker, which is what CED does. I will, of course, get a second opinion and ask my primary care physician. Sometimes I think this thing will kill me, but I’m a fighter and I don’t go down easily.
How do you deal with his emotionally?
I write, I go to my church, Cathedral of Hope, and I pray. Talking to people about it also makes it easier to handle. But the best way I’ve ever dealt with it is to write about it.
Where does your nickname Bear come from?
Rodehaver: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and my mom was a Crimson Tide fan. So I was named after the great college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I love me some Alabama Crimson Tide. That’s only half the reason. The other reason was that I came out a very sick baby. So sick that when I was born I came out growling like a bear due to some problem with my lungs at the time. The rest is history. What it means to me, and what it always meant to me, is bravery and strength. Strong enough to bear whatever I must, and brave enough to never give up until the job is done.
At what age did you realize you were bisexual?
Most of my gay friends knew they were gay early in their childhood. For me it was very different. I also suffer from Hypothyroidism, which means that my pituitary glands make no hormones whatsoever. So I have to take them externally. Therefore my teenage years were more than awkward. I didn’t have sex until I was 23, and that was after I got married for the first time, to my high school sweetheart. And I didn’t realize I was bisexual until I was 21.
I came out in scattershot pieces to different people at different times. And of course the reaction was: you’re confused. My mom didn’t like it one bit. I had to wait until I was drunk to tell her, but I believe she understands now.
I mostly dated women. After my divorce, I tried to explore my sexuality before actually dating a man. I had two short-term boyfriends before I met my husband online.
Many bi people have said they get no support from the larger community. What has your experience been?
I haven’t had any people from the LGBT community directly say that they don’t believe in bisexuality, but the feeling is always there that they don’t think you’re for real. I don’t think the bisexual community is as tight-knit as the gay or lesbian communities. I mean we have our own flag, but I’ve never seen it waved at a gay pride parade. There are always going to be subsets of people in any group who don’t agree with what you’re doing or don’t believe in it. You can’t listen to them. You just have to pray that one day God will put them in a position of understanding. We are definitely not confused. We know who we are.
What inspires your poetry?
Poetry has been my greatest coping mechanism though all the abuse and trials of my childhood. I started writing at age seven and it’s been my saving grace ever since. I write about everything. I try to read all the greats of poetry and learn as much as I can. I write about the beauty in the mundane, my struggle to feel whole, and what I believe God is doing in and with us. I write about the struggles I have in my faith, and the lack thereof at times. You name it, I’ve written about it. Even the funny, dirty stuff. OK, especially the funny dirty stuff.
How much does your bisexuality and your illnesses contribute to you writing?
As much as breathing has to do with keeping me alive. Writing about my illness, and my sexuality, helps me deal with who I am and who I want to be. Do I want to be someone who has let the pain own him, or a phoenix who rises up out of the ashes of pain and tragedy to become a symbol of victory? Do I want to tell people that I feel marginalized as a bisexual and hated on both sides, or do I want them to love me, no matter who I am, with my integrity, my kindness, and my heart? No matter what I write about, my writing takes me from victim to victor. And sometimes to Victoria!
Strangely Wonderful by James Barrett Rodehaver is now available for purchace at Amazon.com for $19.99