Guest speaker Michael Purcell speaks at SAGA Club for My Rainbow Road series

Alexis Delgadillo, Reporter

The Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) Clubs speaker for their My Rainbow Road series took the audience down the many roads of their life. The speaker on Feb. 24 was Michael Purcell, a former Bakersfield College student and a friend of the club’s advisor, Helen Acosta. 

This meeting started differently than the previous ones, in the past, the speaker would talk about their life first, then there is time at the end for the audience to ask questions. But this time Purcell asked if it was okay if he could ask the audience a question first. The question was, “what do you value most?”. Some audience members answered with love, family, and patience while others said themselves, connection, and resilience. After hearing the audience’s answers, Purcell began to tear up. 

 Purcell asked this because he said he just wanted to know about his audience and who he was speaking to. He continued with the zoom by delving into his past that led him to where he is now in life. 

The recount of his journey through life was scattered because he’s led so many lives that it was hard for him to tell them in chronological order. But the scattered bits of his life put together are more life than most. 

He grew up in Bakersfield and comes from a large Catholic family. Purcell came out as a gay man in the late 70s and said his family was supportive and that because he came from a large family his parents have seen it all from his older siblings so they knew better about how to approach his situation. As a kid, he had a lot of challenges emotionally and found it hard to be sensitive and creative. He went to a psychiatrist from a young age and just always knew he was different. He decided that high school wasn’t for him and being a young sibling of a large family he was used to being around older people so his school advisors said he could take The California High School Proficiency Examination. He did this after two years of high school then decided to go to BC. 

At BC he decided to explore his love of theater and pursue that, unfortunately, because he was young and still looked like a boy, there weren’t many parts for him to play. But then he met Acosta’s father, who was at the time the speech coach at BC. He introduced Purcell to the speech team and he found it a lot of fun and said that it helped him realize that he was okay and not an alien because he got to be himself and express himself through speech. He said he told himself, “I am empowered by this and I want to remember this.” 

After his time at BC, he decided to go to the California Institute of the Arts but he said it ended up being a lot of pressure and he had a nervous breakdown. He was then given an early diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He said at that time he misused pot to help numb his emotions but that he eventually learned to ask for help.  

He eventually got back into theater and went to New York and Alaska for some time because of it. Because of therapy and medication, he was able to keep going. He said it’s not uncommon to get lost when looking for yourself. And told the audience to “feel your pain,” because for so long it was what he was running away from but he said it’s okay to feel it because it’s better than being numb.  

Purcell then moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting but was still doing theater on the side. He had taken some sign language classes before and because of this and his theater background he was asked to do a play that was completely in sign language, and he helped the cast with their sign language. The play earned two Tony Awards and went on to Broadway but he didn’t go with it.  

He later learned that film and tv weren’t for him so in L.A. he started studying metaphysics, starting in the late 80s and to this day he is still learning and practicing. He said it was a huge help in his life and learned a lot. He learned that everyone is unique and special, that life is living through you, life needs you to be you, and he said he felt supported by life. Traveling was still something that he wanted to explore more and he was later invited to India. 

He was invited to India to work with someone who was deaf and was asked to stay longer to help teach the whole family and people that worked with the family business. While working with them in India he also got to explore different parts of India. 

Purcell also spent some time at Esalen Institute at Big Sur where according to him “people could explore the fullest life experience.” He spent about 8 years there taking different courses and was asked to stay longer than the usual time to help students. 

Purcell now does signing for deaf students over video calls. He found interpreting to be useful and he wanted to be of service to others. He found because of this career he got to go places and do things he never thought he would, like the play completely in sign language, the time he spent in India and he even did the signing for Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl. Because he helps students, he has gotten to sit in on a lot of interesting classes. He said that he felt sign language kept coming back and that he finally listened to it.