NASHVILLE, Tenn. (December 23, 2020) - It would prove difficult to throw a rock at the Nashville LGBTQ community and not hit someone who knew, knew of, or had heard rumours of self described “notorious bisexual” Thomas Horton, 54. The author, activist, poet, artist, tech wizard, philanthropist, DJ, singer, world traveler, linguist, and salty yet satisfying dish of hard truth died December 19 in hospice after a brief illness.
When a journalist submits their work, the first rule of thumb is to eliminate any trace of yourself from the story you are covering. We fuel on facts, and information given to us by those we track down for the scoop. To approach this highly unusual situation, I am in the front row seat. Thomas was my best friend, and I have spent the last year of his life next to him, in our home, quarantined.
It is nearly impossible to rip myself out of the bowels of this extraordinary life and approach it through the eyes of a journalist, but I will do my very best, and ask forgiveness in advance for any opinion injected into this article. The library is open, and I will read him accordingly.
Thomas was a Nashville native with degrees in French and French Literature, attended L’Alliance française Paris, and taught English to French students in the city of Marseille, France. He also happened to be a fairly decent French kisser, and on occasion cooked remarkable French toast. But France, and the French language, was only the beginning for this debutante, this force of nature that flew through the streets of cities across the globe inspiring change and a solid acceptance of reality.
The author of explicit and kinky novel Titanic Days was a peer support counselor and guide of sex positivity for members of the queer community long before his debut work of fiction. In a recent adults only episode of Out & About After Dark, taped in September with Managing Editor James Grady, he spoke about the topic, explaining what sex positivity does and does not mean. The topic came up of what it’s like to navigate bisexuality between the competing demands of the heterosexual and gay communities.
“If you look at the closet as an institution and ask one hundred people, one hundred of those people will say they are glad they came out,” Horton told Grady in the interview. “No one ever says ‘You know, I really wish I had stayed in the closet and hid that part of myself’.”
Horton went on to explain that the act should always be done in that person’s own time. He spoke on numerous occasions of the frustration with the erasure of bisexuality, from both society and within our own community. Thomas was not one to waste time with taboos, traditions or religious biases.
“There are three things you should always ask,” Horton said. “Is it safe, is it sane, is it consensual. If it meets that criteria, let your freak flag fly.”
The information I’m privy to, that most journalists outside of the window looking inside of this glorious life may not be, is the innumerable people Thomas guided into their coming out and acceptance of hidden parts of themselves. He did this with straight people too. A decidedly and resolvedly single cis man, Horton was ironically the best friend for relationship advice. On numerous occasions he assisted women in fleeing situations of domestic violence, held mirrors up to the face of gay men in love with a narcissist, talked with people who had just learned their HIV positive status, listened to youth coming out to him as transgender, and sometimes was simply an ear to listen.
Even when I worked in the mental health and addiction industry, Thomas spent countless hours with me, assisting people with treatment, helping them find stability, helping them to find themselves.
It would be a tremendous void if we didn’t also talk about Thomas Horton’s ability to do life right. His favorite thing to do was nothing. To set work aside responsibly and visit with those important to him. If you’re asking yourself if you were important to him, I’m very sorry but you weren’t, because you would know.
Also important to Horton was the advancement of LGBTQ rights on a federal and state level. He gave to numerous campaigns that fought for equality. In the early 2000s, he served as Creative Director for the 2002 Democratic Coordinated Campaign and later would work for the state as Creative Strategist for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. It was there he worked directly with top aides of the Governor.
“In my 25 years in and around journalism and communications, Thomas was hands down one of the most talented individuals I worked with,” recalls one coworker. “To say that he was talented and smart is an understatement.”
This sentiment was echoed as I talked with numerous activists and political professionals in the past few days. That he was a “great guy”, that he was “brilliant”, and that he was “devoted” to advancing the community. A fluent speaker of seven languages, communication was his first strong suit. His second? Humor.
After reading the comment on a post on social media from a mutual friend that read “I love you, you hateful queen,” Thomas founded the Facebook group You Hateful Queen, and thus, the International Society of Hateful Queens (ISHQ). The about section of this group tells all you need to know before entering: “The world is full of vapid twats. Contemptuous hussies. Dizzy bitches. Wretched hags. You know, people who deserve to be made fun of. We do that.”
To become a hateful queen, one must not simply have the ability to be cruel, but more importantly, clever as well. The hateful queen does not blurt out contempt, but disguises their shade as helpful, for example “That’s a lovely dress Karen, did someone have a garage sale?” Or “What a large boat Charles, perhaps tonight your numerous inadequacies won’t tarnish a good night’s sleep.”
The group would meet up in public occasionally for “reading sessions”, during which each member present would express their insults with a side of snark and a pinch of truth. It was a glorious and motley crue. On occasion, the group would meet for karaoke and cocktails, a favorite pastime of the man his friends in China call “The Happy Buddha.” It was at Corner Bar at Elliston Place where he would often sing duets with a group of minions affectionately and admittedly known as his “whores.”
“There are two types of people who don’t mind being called whores,” Thomas would always say. “My friends, and actual whores.”
It was at these outings that he would admire and state the praises of his favorite singer, Memory Strong Smith, scheduled to perform at his memorial service Tuesday, December 29. The two were not only partners in shade, but confidantes, who spent hours conversing with each other in between turns to sing.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Strong says of the upcoming ceremony. “One I wish I never had to experience.”
The memorial services will be limited to family and close friends due to COVID-19 restrictions, and will take place graveside at Harpeth Hills Cemetery at 10:36am this Tuesday. 10:36 is a very significant number for Thomas. He would talk a lot about interesting things happening to him at this time. Occasionally, he would blurt out in a room full of people “It’s 10:36.”
Thomas died December 19 at 7:55pm, but he was carried out of the building at 10:36pm. Christa Suppan, friend and owner of The Lipstick Lounge, would remind us later of the significant meaning of the number.
“The number 1036 is a message to trust that your home and family will be cared for and material needs will be met,” says Suppan. “It means to give your relationships the time and energy they deserve and bring love to all of your interactions. Enjoy the support of others and give yours in return. Focus on love, joy and peace rather than anger and fear, and keep your spiritual light bright and strong.”
Those who wish to show their love for Thomas and support for his family are welcome to line up in a procession of vehicles beginning at 10:36am. After the graveside service has ended at approximately 11am, the procession will quietly drive past the graveside with silent gestures such as signs on poster boards or leaving a single rose out of the window as the family stands to acknowledge them. Everyone is asked to refrain from honking. Once safety restrictions are lifted, family and friends hope to plan a larger memorial service surrounding his birthday, April 22, 2021.
Many decisions have to be made regarding Thomas’ material possessions he left behind, but the most pressing of these matters, according to his friends, is who will receive custody of friend Carrie Lowery’s left breast. Not long after Lowery met Thomas, she was laid off from her job, in a terribly toxic relationship, and generally just having a rough time.
“He called to check on me one night, and I told him that I'd give my left tit for a bottle of wine,” recalls Lowery. “We finished the conversation and hung up. About thirty minutes later, there was a knock at my door. I opened it, and Tom was standing there with a bottle of wine. He presented it to me, then pointed to my left boob and said ‘That one’s mine.’”
Lowery says that contract is how Thomas Horton came to be the sole legal owner of her left breast, which he often affectionately referred to as her “party tit”, a fact the two flaunted at parties as he held it with consent.
Horton’s two finished scripts for television series Legacy and Bayport are now being overseen by co-author and publishing partner Nannette Clark.
“Having the tremendous gift not only of being his attorney and business partner but also one of his closest friends, his writings will be handled with kid gloves,” says Clark. “I will not make the decisions with these works moving forward. He will. And I will consult him, in my memories, often.”
So, you see, my worry of inserting myself into the story, my Achilles’ Heel, my insertion of emotion was inevitably not even having the ability to separate myself from this story. After spending a month in the hospital with his wonderful family and close friends, holding his hand, falling asleep watching him in his involuntary slumber, sometimes not showering or eating for days, I have changed not only because of Thomas Horton, but also because of his departure.
As I sit in our apartment, in his chair, in the dark, the only light is a decorated Christmas tree. There are not enough fists and not enough force to hit the God or Heaven that took him. I can only address the stars with a quiet “Why?” And the only answer I have gotten is “Because.”
One of my favorite principles in life is the African phrase “I am because we are.” During my time with Thomas in this wretched and disgusting year of which I will never speak of again after it ends, we lived together. And I learned life. Oftentimes when I was working or recording an interview or episode of Out & About Nashville’s video episodes on social media, he was just a few feet away from me. My favorite times, however, were when I closed my laptop, sat on the couch, and fulfilled my best friend’s wishes of doing nothing with him.
Before this, I was quite often late to an event or a meeting with him because of work. One of the last notes I have from him was written in a notebook we were using to communicate with each other while he was intubated in the hospital. He wrote “What are you doing?” as I sat beside him with my laptop. I replied “Just finishing this up.” and he wrote back “Always working” and smiled. Thankfully, I took my cue from the brains of this operation that then was the time to resume holding his hand. That was the time to spend with him. I never worked at the hospital a single day after that. Thomas had it right. “You work to live, not live to work.”
In the dark, by the light of the Christmas tree, tonight I am giving him what he often asked me for. I’m doing nothing with him. And as I type, I have felt my fists relax and open. I have felt some of my anger dissipate into the rain. In reporting to you all a glimpse into the life of Thomas Horton, I feel gratitude. I am grateful to the force that took him for the fact that, if it absolutely had to happen, it was a most peaceful departure, void of struggle. He simply drifted from this world four days ago. I am grateful that in losing him I have gained a new family of those who loved him as I did, when I could in fact be facing this alone. I am grateful that I had the highest honor of spending the last year of his life with him, learning from him and keeping other things we talked about in my heart to carry with me, for our eyes only, the remainder of my days. I am grateful that I am still here and have been given the opportunity to forever educate the world on the ways of my best friend.
There is a long way up the staircase to arriving at the top with the gathered pieces of ourselves left scattered from this loss when we were tossed down by this tragedy, so I will sit with you here on the first one, and offer some advice.
As you read this, by the light of your holiday gatherings or lack thereof, know that the most important thing you can do for this world is to do nothing with those you love. To sit, talk, listen and be present. But most importantly, if you see them making a mistake, read them for absolute filth, and be a bitch about it when you do. I love you, you hateful queen.
Photos by Anthony Matula, MA2LA