Small business owners have been affected all over our nation during this global pandemic, and it goes without saying that our LGBTQ business owners need our support now more than ever. Jersey City business owner Michael Billy opened Pianist Envy in his community & immediately encountered challenges he did not dream of (more on that later). Challenges though, are what this energy healer is equipped to handle. He recently took a journey to his origin country of Bogota, Colombia in his ongoing search for his biological family, to interesting and heartwarming results. I sat down with Billy to talk about his journey to “see myself in someone else’s face”, what it has been like getting to know his Colombian family, and what it’s like to have support from his husband Matthew during this once in a lifetime journey.
Michael Cook: So right off the bat, tell me about where you were born and how did you end up in Jersey City?
Michael Billy: I was born an orphan in Bogota, Colombia in 1982. Right out of high school in 2000, I had known about the percolating LGBTQ community in Jersey City, so I made my move here when I was just nineteen years old from Teaneck, New Jersey. Like many gay suburban New Jersey boys, I wanted to live in a LGBTQ community, in a progressive city, and right next door to Manhattan- it was the only option.
MC: Was it hard for your own family to accept your choice to seek our your birth family?
MB: Generally yes everyone was supportive except for my mother, who unfortunately is still not supportive today. But that’s her journey in life, not mine. As I’m now looking into adopting a child myself, I do understand the fear, whether unreasonable or not, of losing your child or being replaced. My brother who is also adopted, was completely supportive, although never had the same level of curiosity I did about his own origins.
MC: What was it like for you when you finally got to meet your birth family? Do you remember how it felt and your feelings?
MB: For the first time in my life, I was able to see myself in someone else’s face. Something, I think perhaps, that many biological families take for granted. There’s a feeling of belonging, of family, of a natural bond that comes with, but isn’t exclusive to hereditary and genetic bonds. While I love and feel connected to my adopted family wholly, there was still this new level of soul connection that was immediately felt when I met my birth mother and brother first. It’s important to note though that when we first met, we were all in a good spiritual place to all be available to each other in that way. To be open to make that connection free of fear. Fear plays such a big part in getting in the way of what is in your life. Of course I had many fears, mostly if they would want to meet me in the first place. I had to move through the fear and connect with what my soul was telling me was right.
MC: In the years you were able to spend with your birth mother, what did you learn from her?
MB: As the story goes, my mother had been paralyzed for twelve years before I had met her. Her joints were pointing in the wrong direction having suffered with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I am a channeling energy healer, which means I’m able to connect with people’s energy to improve the natural flow of their energy and remove blockages. It’s an ancient practice used to treat physical, mental and spiritual illness and blockages. Naturally, I had practiced this type of meditation with my birth mother when we met for the first time. And without medical explanation from her doctors, three days later, she walked for the first time in twelve years. The story is about the miracle brought about by the infinite power of love’s energy. I had never witnessed such a miracle before in my life. She taught me that such things are possible, that the human body can heal itself, that love and forgiveness can free our body and soul.
MC: How supportive was your husband Matthew in the entire process?
MB: My husband is also a very spiritual person who has found his own journey in what we’ve experienced. He’s always been extremely supportive, while helping me understand the very real-life changing consequences of my pursuit. I wasn’t searching for my birth mother when I made contact. I hadn’t even thought about who my birth parents were since I was a child.
By chance, while looking for my birth certificate for our marriage license- I came across my adoption papers, which I hadn’t seen in many years. It was then, three days before my wedding, that I found in those papers my birth mothers name and town she grew up in. Right away, I knew that my entire life was about to change. That something massive was shifting. Minutes later after showing Matthew, I knew what I had to do. So I put the name into a Facebook search along with the town- and a profile popped up. It wasn’t exactly her name, but appeared as if this person could be her sister. And sure enough it was. So I messaged, and that’s where our story begins.
MC: Shifting gears, tell me about Pianist Envy; it’s getting plenty of attention in Jersey City and beyond! What can patrons expect when they are able to go back?
MB: I was so excited to open an LGBTQ Piano bar because they are such a cornerstone of our history as a community. Piano bars are where our community has come in times of struggle and celebration to come together, sing together, celebrate each other. And for the time we were open, we were a hit. A community hot spot that didn’t take itself too seriously. Sadly, we closed due to Covid, but I haven’t lost hope just yet that we won’t reopen one day soon.
MC: What was it like opening a business geared towards the LGBT community? As hard as you expected? Biggest challenges?
MB: I didn’t expect it would be hard specifically because we were LGBTQ. I always thought that would be what would make it easy. My whole life’s work has been about building healthy spaces for our diverse community to come together in. What my biggest challenge was, was opening my first restaurant; now, that was a challenge! Luckily my business partners were experienced in launching restaurants, so it was a perfect marriage.
MC: You must be a massive Broadway fan; favorite show?
MB: Haha, not as much as you’d think honestly. I’m a fan of well written, funny material that is off-the-beat of mainstream theater. I like when people see the characters our waitstaff are portraying, as well as the song they sing. And just the same, I love when our entire bar gets out of their seats and sings something triumphant from Les Miserables.
MC: What would you tell all the adopted kids out there who are thinking about making the kind of connection you did with your birth mother and family?
MB: I would say that I didn’t approach looking with wanting to fulfil a void or with an expectation of who they were or who they could be for me. I came at it with the opportunity to learn and grow from spiritually, and as a human. I came at it to offer forgiveness to my birth mother who had carried around such guilt with her. I pursued it selflessly, with unconditional love and gratitude. Approaching life this way helps me see each moment as a great gift meant for me to grow from.
Follow Michael Billy on Instagram
Check out his podcast ‘Finding Prometheus’ on Spotify, which connects Billy’s journey with his mother as well as the journey we are all on.