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Island love: Jesse Flores (l) and Arthur Kennedy have lived in Galveston for 18 years.
Island love: Jesse Flores (l) and Arthur Kennedy have lived in Galveston for 18 years.

…never having to go over the Causeway. Plus the merman of Clear Lake.
by Karen Derr

Arthur Kennedy and Jesse Flores have enjoyed living in Galveston for so long now that they really don’t like going over the causeway bridge to leave. They moved from Houston to the island 18 years ago and now live in a historic home near the Mardi Gras parade route. Kennedy explains, “I’m originally from South Carolina, and I’ve always liked the water, and I like old houses.”

Kennedy, who is 85 years old and a retired database salesman, says Galveston is a very tolerant community. He points out that even 15 years ago his friend David Bowers, who is gay, ran for mayor and won 43 percent of the vote. He explains, “Now Annise Parker is mayor of Houston, but Galveston has always been more tolerant than Houston. People really like you for who you are. They don’t care about your sexual orientation.” He adds that he probably has more straight friends than gay on the island.

His husband, Jesse Flores, 58, was not retired when they first moved to Galveston. “I commuted for awhile, but that got old. I still have a house in Houston, but now I’m retired.” He keeps his small home in Houston for times when they don’t want to make the drive home after visiting friends in the city.

Most of their interests are now on the island. “It’s easy to get involved here,” says Kennedy. Their home on Avenue O in the historic Silk Stocking District is a Victorian beauty that’s been featured in Coastal Living magazine and on the Canadian television program Bump! The Ultimate Gay Travel Companion. It’s been included in two historic home tours and one garden tour, says Kennedy, who is involved in the Galveston Historical Foundation.

Kennedy and Flores don’t consider themselves very political. In fact, Kennedy says, “I’m still pretty Victorian about [being gay]. I don’t talk about it much. I’m not as open as some people are.” But last October, the two were sent off (after a small reception with 40 or so friends) to be married in New York City. Kennedy’s eldest nephew, who is also gay and works for the New York Times, stood up with them. Flores remembers, “It was a zoo over there. Some of the young ones . . . you just knew it wasn’t going to last.” Kennedy says after they were married, “We boarded a cruise ship for our ‘honeymoon,’ I guess you’d call it.”

Their longtime friend and fellow historic preservationist David Bowers believes Kennedy and Flores epitomize the positive changes in these remarkable times. Bowers says, “I was a witness at a gay marriage at the City Hall in San Francisco in April. Just in the hour I was there, three other couples from Texas were wed at that office. Many older gay couples are getting married, so the surviving partner will have Social Security benefits.”

Kennedy has his own ideas about why so many couples are choosing to get married. He says, “I think most people who have gotten married have been together a long time. If you’ve spent a long time together, you feel it’s the right thing to do.”

And true to their nature, the story of Kennedy and Flores’s marriage in New York is short and sweet. They move on to more talk about what makes life on the island side of the causeway bridge grand. When asked where they like to take visitors, they recommend three new restaurants which have opened in the past year: The Porch Cafe, Grotto at the San Luis Hotel, and Number 13, a new upscale restaurant for steak and seafood that the couple warns is a bit pricey. They also might take guests to one of three or four “gay-friendly” bars on the island, but only if it’s someone’s birthday or a special occasion. “We’re definitely not bar flies,” explains Kennedy. “Well, not anymore,” chimes in Flores. Besides entertaining, historic homes, and walking on the beach every day, pets are a big part of their lives. They have dogs, but they also each have their own cat. Flores’s is a Siamese and Kennedy’s a Turkish Angora cat that he says weights 18 pounds. Cats just seem to go with Victorian homes and can be seen peering out the large windows and reclining on porches all over the historic districts.

Indeed, Arthur Kennedy and Jesse Flores paint a pretty picture of their life on Galveston Island. Their married life.

Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Boulevard Realty. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.

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Photo by Tori Laxalt
Wesley Wallace. Photo by Tori Laxalt

Just Add Water
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a merman!

Strange but true: this writer found herself next to a very nice backyard pool in Montrose watching a man put on a mermaid tail—quite pretty, with shimmery aquamarine colors and a serpentine shape. He then slithered into the pool and demonstrated how best to splash. Where did this mythical creature come from? Clear Lake, Texas.

Wesley Wallace, 34, is a La Porte ISD software trainer who has been an active member of Houston’s gay community since his teens, when he was a member of HATCH.

So why the tail? Wallace has cultivated an interest in costuming throughout his life. When he was watching TLC one day and happened to come across an episode of My Crazy Obsession featuring “a real-life merman,” his interest was piqued. He soon found Eric Ducharme’s website—the fittingly named Mertailor.com—and ended up with a one-of-a-kind silicone and neoprene tail. (For six years now, Ducharme has outfitted men, women, and children in custom-designed tails that range from $500 to $5,000. His clients include Lady Gaga and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants.)

Wallace takes his merman tail out for a spin fairly often, and he hopes to bring it down to the Gulf coast sometime soon, as Galveston holds a special place in this Clear Lake native’s heart.

So where do A-list mermen hang out in Galveston, you might ask? Wallace could be spotted enjoying the nightlife at Sandbox on the seawall and 3rd Coast Downtown. For day trips, he recommends the Moody Gardens IMAX and aquariums (a great field-trip spot for his students) as well as the annual Pride celebrations on East Beach. —Tori Laxalt

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Karen Derr

Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Boulevard Realty. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.

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