I simply must say this once

When I was a kid, we had . .

When I was a kid, we had . .

My inamorato and I were out for a little stroll last night down Main Street in Dallas. That should not be, by any stretch of the imagination, anything worth writing about. Two old gay guys out for a stroll.

But this morning when I checked my email and found the pictures I took, my old man brain was boggled.

In 1965 one of my best friends at the University of Redlands was arrested in a city park for lewd conduct or one of those things gay boys used to be arrested for on a regular basis. When the police found out he was a student, in some kind of enlightenment that seems almost impossible in retrospect, they turned him over to the university for counseling rather than prosecuting him.

About twenty years later, in the opening stages of what should have been a brilliant career as a concert organist he died of AIDS after an equally brilliant career as a leather queen.

When he was arrested, I went immediately to the university chaplain for counseling because the police let it be known that if they arrested a student and he was already seeking help for his homosexuality, they would turn him over to the university instead of prosecuting him.

We were (at least publicly) a frightened and scraggly bunch of gay boys in those days. Well, not scraggly—we were as fabulous then as gay boys are now, believe it or not, but in our own let’s-not-draw-too-much-attention-to-ourselves way. Of course, my friends and I were very serious and high-brow music students. Pop culture was way beneath us except the Beatles had invaded by that time, and I was secretly in love with Ringo.

One never discussed being gay in public. When I came out in the school newspaper (obliquely, but “out” just the same) after an insult by a fellow student who didn’t even know he was talking about me, the music chairman called me into his office to tell me to be more discreet (terrified and careful were his real message). This was, I’m always surprised to remember about myself, before Stonewall.

Feeding frenzy in Dallas

Feeding frenzy in Dallas

Eight years later when I was in graduate school, a friend and I took a couple of our fellow students—straight women—to a gay bar. Word of that indiscretion reached my dissertation chairman, and he called me in to strongly suggest that I stop being so flamboyant. Me?

Even for years after Stonewall, one had to be guarded. Gay boys today, except those who have directly experienced gay-bashing, have little idea how things used to be. Oh, come on! I can sound like your grandfather who walked to school in the snow and never owned a cellphone if I want to.

So here we are in the feeding frenzy of talking not about being gay, but about same-sex marriage! Openly, in public, and—at least among straight and gay people I know—favorably.

I don’t have a clue how to say this so it sounds as startling as I feel it to be. And as startling as every other 68-year-old gay man in the country feels it to be. I have nothing special to add to this conversation except—except everything.

When I came out to my university (it’s not clear how many people even noticed), I was taking such a risk that, if I had not been a self-absorbed little twit, I should have shaken in my boots (my organ-playing dance shoes). It really was a risk. The year after I graduated, the university fired our favorite teacher, a tenured professor, because they found out he was gay.

Even ten or twelve years ago I could be out to many members of the church in a Dallas suburb where I was organist, but I could not mention it in, for example, a church council meeting. Everyone knew it, but we didn’t talk about it in any formal way. Six years ago, I stood in terror—literally shaking in my shoes—at the microphone at the church’s synod convention and told the assembled crowd that I was one of the people they were talking about when they were deciding to memorialize the national church to ordain gay men and women. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

We walked to school . . .

We walked to school . . .

I guess all I want to say is that I hope no one is taking all of this open, public, positive conversation about same-sex marriage for granted. I know, I know. You’ve heard this before. But take it from a faggot who in the ‘90s volunteered at the AIDS Hospice in Boston where gay men’s families sometimes refused to come to be with them when they died, this openness comes not because our society is so benevolent but because years ago some of us called ourselves queer in public when it was an almost impossibly dangerous thing to do.

One Response to I simply must say this once

  1. Beau says:

    Love this, Harold, very engaging.
    I was so pissed when I heard the investigator who was doing my background check for my federal job asked my colleague if I was a “flamboyant” person.
    Bastard.

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