Caribbean flower farmer, Miles Whitfield, tells his coming out story
Like millions of gay children, from my earliest memories I just knew I was somehow different from other children. I was basically a happy and content child, but felt unsure of myself. As I grew into my early teens, I began to dread that I was different, and I also was scared to death of that growing ‘desire’ hidden in the recesses of my soul.
By my mid-teens, the pressure from family, society – and probably hormones – was starting to take a growing toll on my joy. I was beginning to realise the weight of being the last and only male child in a family that has farmed for 400 years in the rural American South.
This ever-present weight of family history told me I had no choice but to follow in what was a so called ‘normal’ life and work in the family’s agricultural business. I was growing more frustrated by the day with my lot in life, but still too scared to change my safe and comfortable fate. I hid behind a face of painful smiles.
Miraculously, change finally came to me in the form of University. I was offered a taste of glorious freedom away from my family’s eye and their conservative so called ‘Christian’ community.
I knew I was finally ready to tell my family that I really wanted to becoming an architect and that I was damned determined to turn my back on a rural life and dirty farming forever.
Dreams of New York and London were calling me, and that was all I could see.
As college progressed, I could feel a new joy: that my life was actually getting better. My self-confidence was slowly but steadily growing stronger. Though to be honest, I was absolutely scared of the ‘gay scene’. All I could see were gay bashings and the AIDS crisis exploding all around the world.
By my senior year at University, I finally gained the courage to overcome my fears and come out of the closet as gay. I sensed new friends around me were also struggling with being gay. I now look back and realize just how lucky I was to have some friends in similar situations and kind supporters who helped me realize it was OK to be gay. Regrettably my family wasn’t there for me but fortunately my college friends were.
Not 6 months later the single greatest event in my life happened. I met and fell head over heels in love with the man of my dreams, Philip.
A mutual friend set us up on a blind date. It was love at first sight, and we are still together after 30 yrs. At last, I honestly felt free and happy with myself, my sexuality, my relationship, and lucky to be an architect.
I was also somewhat satisfied with my family’s attitude towards me. Being gay in a religious Southern family, especially in the 80’s, could have been an explosive situation. I guess I was ‘lucky’ that my family just chose to basically ignore my gayness and my relationship.
Fast forward 25 hectic and stressful but successful years in architecture. I could feel the growing call of a more peaceful rural existence.
My partner Philip and I were still together, but had gone through several very difficult times. I could sense we both were longing for something to change in our staid existence, but would that change be opening Pandora’s Box?
My fear was that Philip was just tired of me. Growing anxiety developed as I feared our perceived ‘perfect’ life was about to shatter, and I was now more troubled than ever.
Luckily, my Philip is a brave and kind man. His peaceful nature has always been a calming tonic on my soul; something of a Ying and Yang relationship. We did have similar childhood issues, like many gay Southern boys, but somehow he was born with a tranquil mind to handle problems more easily than most.
With mounting pressure on us, he finally took the lead by telling me to admit to myself that I was unhappy with my life, my home, and especially my career choice. He could sense all my fears, but he wanted to reassure me that he still loved me and that we would find a way to bring joy back into our work, and most importantly our relationship.
But what and where would our new life be, and what the hell would we do for careers? All I knew was we both shared a common love of traveling around the Caribbean and gardening, hardly grounds to build an income from.
Out of the blue Philip said, “LET’S BE FARMERS”
I was gobsmacked!
Blessed with ‘green thumbs’, I knew we wouldn’t starve, but FARMING? What should we grow? Could we even handle the hard work of being farmers?
So to the great shock of many clients, friends, and family, we threw caution to the wind, and left our very comfortable urbane life in Charleston, South Carolina. We even said goodbye to the States, decided to buy a small windswept seaside farm on the little Caribbean Island of St Croix to grow pineapples, and maybe open a little inn.
God, were we naïve about the hard work, but it didn’t take us too long to get adjusted and for our love of gardening to develop into a love for farming.
Even though our pineapple farm didn’t prosper, we serendipitously stumbled upon a latent talent for growing orchids. So the winds of change blew again, we decided to move 75miles west to the Island of Puerto Rico.
We realised if we were to become orchid cut flower farmers, we now needed more land, and a rainier climate to grow our Vanda orchids successfully.
So here we are today in the lush mountains of beautiful Puerto Rico, ‘La Isla del Encanto’. We are usually up with the rooster and covered in sweat by noon, but feeling happy and proud to now call ourselves gay farmers in the Caribbean.
Miles, Philip, and SipSip the Parrot
Note: The Caribbean Islands of Puerto Rico and St Croix are very friendly and usually welcoming to the LGBT community. Both Islands are Territories of the United States, and have sizeable gay communities that happily welcome visitors or those seeking to relocate to a lush tropical paradise.