Emerson once said that ‘Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.’ Once in a great while, I stumble across someone who has truly lived a remarkable life and seems to be in a place of true understanding. Some call it enlightenment. I call it wisdom.
Glenn Hill, I believe, has truly lived.
A gay black man in Los Angeles who worked as a flight attendant for TWA and designed church hats for his grandmother eventually married a British woman with whom he had a daughter. He would eventually open one of the most notorious gay sex clubs in Los Angeles before his meth addiction nearly destroyed him. He’s gregarious but he appreciates his privacy and solitude. Nonetheless, he can be engaging and warm and very funny; captivating you with his stories of his life. At 63, he’s celebrating life – he’s embracing it. That much is clear.
Glenn Hill, I believe, is truly living.
When did you open up a sex club? 1992.
So you just woke up one day and said ‘Today I am gonna start a sex club?’ [Laughs] Lord, no. Nothing like that. I was exploring things in my bedroom, and then I met other people who were involved in the sex fetish community. We started meeting in my basement. Then we outgrew the basement and decided to get a bigger place. It just kind of happened organically really.
Did you tell your wife from day one that this was going on? No. There was a brief period between the millinery business and the sex club. By the time I opened the sex club I had gone through the divorce. We were separated and she had custody of my daughter, who was about 7yo at the time. And so began the dark years [Laughs]
How did the sex club get shutdown? It imploded. My partner, who was also my dealer, and I were in the sex club business together. And neither one of us was willing to let the other one have it once we broke up. He was in prison and took out a restraining order against me declaring the club as his address. So, if I set foot in the club – I would be in violation of the restraining order.
He was pretty cunning, then? Well, not really. The person he put in charge cleaned us out. You didn’t get it, someone else did? Exactly. By the time I was able to get involved again, it was too late.
Did you continue to do meth after that? Yes. I was using quite a bit actually.
What made you stop? I was losing my mind. I was on it for about eight to ten years but I didn’t see myself as an addict. I mean, I was functioning. I appeared to function – but in reality, I wasn’t. I would snort it, smoke it, and I stuck it up my ass, but I didn’t shoot it – so in my mind I wasn’t ‘addicted.’ When the club closed, I lost everything – personal and business.
What was your relationship like with your daughter? My wife always worked with me. She never denied me time with my daughter. There was no supervised visits or anything like that. Honestly, my ex-wife just wanted to be sure that I was paying every month – and I was. I am not about to let some other man be my baby girl’s father. She calls me Daddy. I am her Daddy, and I took that seriously – even when I was on drugs. I have always taken care of her and been there for her.
When did you tell your daughter about the sex club? She was a baby. She was like 8yo. I would only bring her there when the club was closed, but she didn’t know what she was looking at. She thought the slings were swings. [Laughs] I never really recall telling her, but I think she has always known that my activities were ‘over the top’. I never exposed her to that stuff.
You were never like ‘Baby! Don’t put that in your mouth! Don’t touch that!’ [Laughs] No, never! I had a separate residence and the sex club was in a different place. There was separation. But I had enough sense then to know that I didn’t have any sense. I was using a lot of drugs.
She’s getting married soon? Yes, she’s getting married in August 2016. I am looking forward to it.
Black guy or white guy? White boy. Red headed. First generation out of the trailer park. But I like him. He puts her first and for me, that is the most important thing.
How did you support yourself after the sex club shut down? How did you survive? Well I had to stay with my sister. I was a gypsy. I have a few sisters and I went from couch to couch for a while. The jobs I took seemed to revolve around LGBT Youth. I was able to really get through to a lot of those kids. I eventually became a counselor.
How did you get that job? Honestly, the guy doing the hiring wanted to get in my pants.
Did he? Nope. He didn’t get in my pants, but I still got the job! [Laughs] Basically, I worked in social services for a long time because of my experiences.
Did you go to college? I did. Way back. But when you work with addicts and things like that, sometimes nothing is better than experience. However, I had a prestigious job that I fucked up when I got involved with drugs. It was, at the time – one of the most prestigious jobs you could have. I was a flight attendant – one of the first male flight attendants – for TWA. This was back in the 1980s. I was about 21 or 22 when I got that job. But once I started getting high, it was over.
What happened? I took a piss test and failed it. And back then the airlines didn’t fuck around. They were not about to send me to rehab. They fired me. Right then and there. But it was during that time that I started my millinery business.
You were doing both jobs? One overlapped the other. Since I was flying all over the place for free anyway, I was able to collect all sorts of things for my millinery business – which I did on the side.
How did that business take off? I made a church hat for my grandmother, and she loved it. In fact, she wore it and got so many compliments that other women from her church – her friends and such – they wanted hats made for them as well. So, I started getting these orders for hats. I got a store and made it my business.
What happened to it? The LA Riots. They looted and burned my store. I could never gather all those items again and honestly, no one wanted to come to that part of town for a long time afterwards. I just moved on to the next thing, which was the sex club.
You’ve always had work then? Well there was a two week period when I was laid up on the Widow Joy’s couch [Glenn’s sister is the Widow Joy, how fabulous is that?!] and she woke me up one day and said ‘Listen, you need to get your ass up off this couch and go get a job. You can’t stay on my couch like this.’ And I’ve always thanked her for that.
So they knew what was going on with the drugs? They did. They never really attacked me for it – but I wasn’t fooling them for a minute. They just loved me from a safe distance.
They never said anything? There was one day my sister came to the door and saw me. I had lost a lot of weight. I was very thin. And seeing the horror on her face was enough to make me say to myself, this has gone far enough. Seeing my reflection in her face was enough to bring me out of that dark place.
They must have thought you had full-blown AIDS. They did. They really did. Oddly, I tested positive many, many years ago. I am involved in a few studies actually. I am a long-term nonprogressor. For thirty years I’ve had the virus and I’ve never needed medication. Oddly, the doctors told me to continue doing what I was doing – and at the time, I was doing a lot of crazy shit. So I kept doing a lot of crazy shit. [Laughs] But I made it to 63, so I am one of the lucky ones.
Your daughter, is she HIV Negative? Yes, thank God. Both my wife and my daughter do not have the virus. But that was the moment when we talked about divorce. I mean, I was the one doing all this crazy shit and stepping out on her. I had to do the right thing. But back then, you had to wait like two weeks to get the results back. And when I had to wait for the results for my wife and daughter – who I loved dearly – it gave me a lot of time to think. The picket fence and the house and all that shit, it’s not worth it. I can’t hold her hostage in a relationship that is no longer working. I love her more today than I did when I said ‘I do.’
She always knew you were gay? Yes. I actually took her to a gay bar on our first date. She’s British. She wanted to see LA. I took her to the places I went, and I went to gay bars. She didn’t put it altogether at first, she just thought everyone in LA was very progressive. [Laughs] But we were married after knowing one another for about six months.
So that means you could also live and work in the UK? Yes, but my life is here. My family is here. I wasn’t about to leave. She was seven years younger than me and she wanted to be in America. Honestly, that part of it worked out well.
You were honest with her about being gay? I was. From day one. I was always honest.
Did she meet someone new after you? She did. Do you like him? Yeah, we all get along really well. She had a son with this guy and I get along well with her son and her new husband. We’re just one big happy family?
Like Will Smith? [Laughs] Now I wouldn’t go that far!
Glenn Hill resides in Los Angeles with his two dogs, Shaka & Bo.