“. . . When our grand passion had not yet become familial. . .” (Thom Gunn)

Boston, 1991

Boston, 1991

Somewhere in a box or pile or a file or a stack is a musical creation of mine (or not―it most likely met the same fate as most of my compositions), a small song cycle, a setting of three poems by Thom Gunn from his 1966 collection, Positives. I wrote the cycle in about 1970.

I don’t remember the poems or the music. I wrote the music as part of the work for my MA degree in music composition at what was then California State University at Los Angeles. I chose Gunn’s poetry because I found his book at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and it was the first collection I owned by a poet I knew was gay.

Yesterday I wore an old lavender T-shirt, shapeless and faded―like me―from the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 1991. My first Gay Pride Parade was the 20th in Boston—1990. For it I had a T-shirt that proclaimed in black letters nearly covering the front, “Nobody knows I’m gay!” In 1992 I had a T-shirt with the logo of the Boston Aids Hospice as I marched with the other volunteers from the Hospice (it closed in 1997, after I had moved to Dallas).

A member of the AA group I most often attended in 1991 had been present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. I used to own a book about the riots which contained a picture of her (yes, women were involved in the riots). She was uncomfortable with what she saw as the flippant use by the gay community of Stonewall as a rallying point. She remembered that night only with horror and fear. She could not bring herself to march in Pride Parades.

I was married at the time of Stonewall, but I remember watching the coverage on the national TV news and thinking I should have been there. My wife knew I was gay. Those were the days when many of us―my wife and I included―thought that getting married would somehow end my being gay. (Or, more likely, I thought it would provide “cover” for being who I knew I was.)

I wore my “Together in Pride, June 8th, 1991, Lesbian and Gay Pride” T-shirt yesterday to attend the celebration at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a selfie wearing it at the event.

Trying to sort out for myself, much less for anyone else, the complexity of my feelings throughout the day yesterday, and especially at the celebration, is seeming to be impossible.

First observation. I was (as I have become accustomed to being) one of the oldest people in the group of 2,000. My guess is there were fewer than 50 of us 70 or older.

Second observation. I was alone.

Third observation. It all seemed too easy.

Fourth observation. My tears over and over again yesterday were of joy, relief, fulfillment, jealousy, longing, and grief simultaneously and progressively, impossible to sort out.

Of course I am elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic at the Supreme Court decision, relieved that that step on the journey to civil rights is taken (I wonder if the LGBTQ community ready now to tackle racism, poverty, and xenophobia in this country).

The only man I have ever wanted to marry died in 2003 after we had been together 12 years. I sometimes long to be with him, and I grieve that we were never able to have a legally recognized relationship.

I grieve—yes, that’s the correct word—for the relationships I have had, beginning with my marriage to Ann. I grieve also that I am alone, that meeting a man I would want to marry, now that I could, seems improbable, if not impossible.

Hugged by the man I would have married

Hugged by the man I would have married (taken 1993)

Most of the crowd of people younger than I that gathered at the Cathedral of Hope yesterday—this is not sour grapes but a statement of fact—cannot know how much I treasure that 24-year-old lavender T-shirt (many of those wonderful folks were not even born in 1991). Or the pictures of my second partner and me taken in about 1985.

Or the memory of my “coming out” in my university newspaper in 1965—4 years before Stonewall.

I have never done anything “important.” Other than be something of a role model for (sometimes frightened and depressed) gay college students for 30 years. And volunteer at the AIDS Hospice. And march in parades. And write some pieces that have been published over the years. And try to be a good partner. And maintain a career viable enough to take care of myself.

One of the men I love and admire most these days was part of the Lambda Legal team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court. One of my closest friends was a leader in ACT-Up in Boston in the ‘80s. A friend was the founder of the Gay group that still exists in the American Baptist Convention.

I’ve never done anything publicly important for the cause of LGBTQ rights. I’m not one of those the speakers last night acknowledged they were “standing on the shoulders of.”

Except I’ve persevered. I’ve lived a life of quiet (sometimes) desperation, desperation that may or may not have had anything to do with being a gay man (that’s a topic so complicated seven psychiatrists and three neurologists have never been able to untangle).

And now I am alone.

I’m not asking for anyone’s pity. Only some acknowledgement and understanding that my feelings yesterday were justifiably complex and contradictory. Which means they were (are) like my feelings my whole life long. My passions were my passions when they “had not yet become familial.” Could not become familial in the most basic sense.

“THE HUG,” BY THOM GUNN (1929-2004)
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
―(From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.)

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

“. . . in our brokenness thrives life, thrives light, thrives the essence of our strength. . .” (Jimmy Santiago Baca)

The Supremes

The Supremes

So. This was the big day. The day a certain portion of society has been awaiting for thousands of years (hyperbole, vanity, or fact?). The showdown between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. A moment of truth.

One more tempest in a teapot cooled.

In the year 2000, I predicted well in advance that Dick Cheney would somehow manage to steal the election for himself and George Bush. I had read the “Project for a New American Century.” Leading up to the election I emailed friends about it, and they all said, “Oh yadda, yadda, yadda. Don’t take stuff like that so seriously.”

Does anyone remember who was in charge of choosing Dick Cheney as W. Bush’s running-mate?

In July 2000, after serving as the head of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush’s vice presidential search committee, Dick Cheney was announced as the Republican vice presidential nominee. As the vice presidential vetter, Cheney required at least 11 potential candidates to fill out “an extraordinarily detailed, 83-question form” delving into their backgrounds.

Bush’s staff assured the press at the time that Cheney “subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny” as the other contenders. But a new book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman reveals that Cheney “never filled out his own questionnaire.”

“Of the twenty-five people who signed the PNAC’s founding statement of principles, ten went on to serve in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.”

And then came Afghanistan and Iraq and all manner of other disasters.

While researching something unrelated, I came across an article by Nilay Saiya, “Onward Christian Soldiers: American Dispensationalists, George W. Bush and the Middle East.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 11.2 (2012): 175-204.

That led me (as only a committed researcher—remember, I’m a musicologist at the core—would be led) to an article by Frank Summers, “Violence in American Foreign Policy: A Psychoanalytic Approach.” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 6.4 (2009): 300-320.

And that led me to Maria Ryan’s article, ““Exporting Democracy”? Neoconservatism and the Limits of Military Intervention, 1989-2008.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 21.3 (2010): 491-515.

There are more. I’m going to figure out how to post all of them as an annotated bibliography of articles about how we got to where we are as a people (or are we a “people?”)..
Scalia and Wuerl

But back to the great cooling of the teapot today. In point of fact, I never wandered from the subject. It’s all of a piece. Those guys that Dick Cheney got into W. Bush’s cabinet were able to choose two members of the Supreme Court. Well, they didn’t, exactly. W. Bush himself did that, presumably. But if Dick Cheney appointed himself Vice-President, don’t you think he had some influence there?

Those two are Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Together they cemented the most monolithic majority the Court has ever known: five conservative Roman Catholic men. They vote in lock-step as consistently as any Court majority ever has—way more than most.

And they’re going to decide, based on arguments they heard today, if marriage is a civil right or a religious privilege.

Guess.

I wonder if they’ve ever read any of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry.

“What is Broken Is What God Blesses,” by Jimmy Santiago Baca (b.1952)

The lover’s footprint in the sand
the ten-year-old kid’s bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
and in those roots
do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
paraphrased from textbooks,
not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
and on the dust will again be the people’s broken
footprints.
What is broken God blesses,
not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
but the shattered wall
that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
the human complaint is what God blesses,
our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
the irreverent disbeliever,
the addict’s arm seamed with needle marks
is a thread line of a blanket
frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
blessed.
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
we embrace
we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
we work, we worry, we love
but always with compassion
reflecting our blessings—
in our brokenness
thrives life, thrives light, thrives
the essence of our strength,
each of us a warm fragment,
broken off from the greater
ornament of the unseen,
then rejoined as dust,
to all this is.

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 2, 1952. Abandoned by his parents at the age of two, he lived with one of his grandparents for several years before being placed in an orphanage. He wound up living on the streets, and at the age of twenty-one he was convicted on charges of drug possession and incarcerated. He served six years in prison, four of them in isolation. During this time, Baca taught himself to read and write, and he began to compose poetry. A fellow inmate convinced him to submit some of his poems to Mother Jones magazine, then edited by Denise Levertov. Levertov printed Baca’s poems and began corresponding with him, eventually finding a publisher for his first book. (More. . .)
GAY MARRIAGE OPPONENT HOLDS SIGN IN PROTEST OUTSIDE STATEHOUSE

“. . . the outcry of old beauty Whored by pimping merchants. . . “ (a short poetry lesson)

A Nike sweatshop, China. The flunkeys and their Crash.

A Nike sweatshop, China. The flunkeys and their Crash.

Stephen Crane was born in 1871 and died in 1900. Americans who attended public high schools before 1971 read his Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), a realistic picture of war by a man who never saw war. His Maggie—A Girl of the Streets (1893), is the earliest novel in the “American Realist” tradition.

A few days ago someone mentioned Red Badge to me, and I realized I remember it only vaguely. In about 1995 I read Maggie for a graduate seminar at UTD with Professor Harvey Graff in the history of childhood in America.
I Googled Crane thinking I might get Nook versions of his novels and read them again—they’re simply written and short! I ran into Crane’s poetry, to which I had never paid attention—an obvious oversight.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry, on the other hand, I read quite often. Ferlinghetti, last of the “Beat Generation” poets still living, was born in 1919. At 95 he writes a weekly column for the San Francisco Observer and still helps run City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Crane was one of the “modern” poets when Ferlinghetti was in high school.

The impact of a million dollars
Is a crash of flunkeys,
And yawning emblems of Persia
Cheeked against oak, France and a sabre,
The outcry of old beauty
Whored by pimping merchants
To submission before wine and chatter.
Silly rich peasants stamp the carpets of men,
Dead men who dreamed fragrance and light
Into their woof, their lives (Stephen Crane).

The impact of a million dollars is to create a “crash of flunkeys” (crash: a plain-weave fabric of rough, irregular, or lumpy yarns; flunkey: “a person who performs menial tasks”); that is, the impact of a million dollars is to create a rough or utilitarian fabric of people who perform menial tasks.

The menial task these “flunkeys” perform is to create “yawning emblems.” This “fabric” of menial laborers creates a “fabric” of phony Persian carpets, the “outcry of old beauty, Whored by pimping merchants to submission before wine and chatter.” The reproduction of old beauty (“yawning emblems”), rather than making something beautiful, prostitutes both the workers and their phony Persian rugs.

The merchants who own the means of producing these yawning emblems and who sell them are pimps.

Mark Parker, the pimping merchant

Mark Parker, the pimping merchant

The flunkeys are dead men who “dreamed” that the fabric of their lives would be “fragrance and light.” It is not.

In a poem for UNESCO World Poetry Day, March 21, 2001, which he read at UNESCO’s celebration at Delphi of the prophetic in poetry, Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote

Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries,
Awaken now at last
And tell us how to save us from ourselves
and how to survive our own rulers
who would make a plutocracy of our democracy
in the Great Divide
between the rich and the poor
in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing.

Unlike Stephen Crane’s poem, this needs no “unpacking.” . . . who would make a plutocracy of our democracy in the Great Divide between the rich and the poor.

Walt Whitman did not hear America singing between Mark Parker, Lloyd Blankfein, Brendan Eich, Mary T. Barra, Virginia Marie Rometty, Stanley O’Neal, Doug Coe, Darrell Issa, or Antonin Scalia.

I know that at least one friend who often reads my posts will now be either be venting about my not understanding how “capitalism” works and how regulation and government intervention are ruining America and destroying the ability to create jobs for the flunkeys, or he will have stopped reading.

I am not writing about government or capitalism or regulation or anything political. I’m writing about greed—corporate greed, small business greed, your greed, government greed, and yes, my greed.

When I was younger I would think about sweat shops making Nike Shoes, and I would think about seats in Congress for sale either to the highest bidder, and I would think about horrid men (I’ve never heard of a woman member of “The Fellowship”) who trample the religious integrity of people around the world, and I would think of the bankers who are making billions simply from making billions, and I would think of judges who have ensconced themselves as the friend of those people, and I would think of myself with six pairs of jeans and fifteen shirts and a pipe organ in my living room and my iPad my iPhone and my two functioning computers here on my desk and a paid-for car and health insurance that keeps me from having seizures and from being suicidal, and I would think, “Something must be done politically; there must be a way to change things.”

After all, by what right do Mark Parker, Lloyd Blankfein, Brendan Eich, Mary T. Barra, Virginia Marie Rometty, Stanley O’Neal, Doug Coe, Darrell Issa, Antonin Scalia, and I have to enough to eat and extra clothes in our closets and cars and homes and luxuries too numerous to name? By what right do we have homes when people are sleeping in doorways—yes the doorways of Neiman Marcus—and in homeless shelters crowded and dirty? And by what right do we have the means to be cared for when we get sick when 50,000,000 people in this country and billions of people world-wide do not. And by what right to we travel around the world having fun and/or making more money—I am determined to see Easter Island—when most people in the world never get more than a few miles from home—unless because of wars and natural disasters they become refugees.

By what right?

It grieves me more than my chronic, clinical, incurable depression does that I can do nothing—or so little it seems to be nothing—to make life significantly better for any one of those people.

It breaks my heart. As it should yours.

“The Impact of a dollar upon the heart,” by Stephen Crane
The impact of a dollar upon the heart
Smiles warm red light
Sweeping from the hearth rosily upon the white table,
With the hanging cool velvet shadows
Moving softly upon the door.

The impact of a million dollars
Is a crash of flunkeys
And yawning emblems of Persia
Cheeked against oak, France and a sabre,
The outcry of old beauty
Whored by pimping merchants
To submission before wine and chatter.
Silly rich peasants stamp the carpets of men,
Dead men who dreamed fragrance and light
Into their woof, their lives;
The rug of an honest bear
Under the feet of a cryptic slave
Who speaks always of baubles,
Forgetting state, multitude, work, and state,
Champing and mouthing of hats,
Making ratful squeak of hats,
Hats.

“To the Oracle at Delphi,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Great Oracle, why are you staring at me,
do I baffle you, do I make you despair?
I, Americus, the American,
wrought from the dark in my mother long ago,
from the dark of ancient Europa–
Why are you staring at me now
in the dusk of our civilization–
Why are you staring at me
as if I were America itself
the new Empire
vaster than any in ancient days
with its electronic highways
carrying its corporate monoculture
around the world
And English the Latin of our days–

Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries,
Awaken now at last
And tell us how to save us from ourselves
and how to survive our own rulers
who would make a plutocracy of our democracy
in the Great Divide
between the rich and the poor
in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing

O long-silent Sybil,
you of the winged dreams,
Speak out from your temple of light
as the serious constellations
with Greek names
still stare down on us
as a lighthouse moves its megaphone
over the sea
Speak out and shine upon us
the sea-light of Greece
the diamond light of Greece

Far-seeing Sybil, forever hidden,
Come out of your cave at last
And speak to us in the poet’s voice
the voice of the fourth person singular
the voice of the inscrutable future
the voice of the people mixed
with a wild soft laughter–
And give us new dreams to dream,
Give us new myths to live by!

The homeless refugees of the Republic of the Congo.

The homeless refugees of the Republic of the Congo.

I don’t care if it is your Constitutional right, carrying a gun is. . .

You can't yell "fire," but you can fire.

You can’t yell “fire,” but you can fire.

The last time I attended The Dallas Opera (their production of Carmen on November 10, 2013), I was distracted by the woman in front of me who was texting on her smartphone. Granted, she never turned it on at a time when something was happening onstage. She lit up the theater only during breaks in the action. I never heard the phone make a noise.

But it bugged me. Why should that woman think she—of all those 2,000 people—had the right to disrupt my immersion in the operatic experience? She paid about $200 to be there, as I did, so you’d think she would have arranged her life so nothing would disengage her from her expensive three-hour experience.

I can’t imagine being such a control freak that I would have to be able to control my business, my children, or my friends even from the opera house.

Perhaps she simply felt she had to let the people sitting around her know how important she was, so she responded immediately to the Tea Party request from Ted Cruz for money to work to defund the National Endowment for the Arts which gave a grant to make the opera possible. There’s more than one way to destroy culture!

Curtis Reeves has shown us how to deal with people who text in theaters.

Unfortunately, I have some hurdles to jump. (Question: if the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to mean the freedom of speech does not extend to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, does the Second Amendment freedom to carry a gun extend to packing firepower in a crowded theater? Apparently so. We are inconsistent, aren’t we?)

I have a right to choose to kill you

I have a right to choose to kill you

Assuming I have the Constitutional right to carry a gun within murdering distance of a couple of thousand people who would be trapped within my firing range, I’m not sure I could buy a gun in the first place. The laws of Texas are pretty vague about who’s allowed to endanger two thousand people in a theater. I don’t know if the state is aware of the psychological disorders for which I have been treated in the past. Does it know I’ve been hospitalized for depression resulting from Bipolar II disorder? I take some pretty high-powered psychotropic drugs. But I’m a college professor and respected (I hope) church musician. Which aspect of my character would win out in an application to buy and carry a gun?

Then there’s this matter of my little (and I mean little—only complex partial) seizure disorder. About once every ten years I have a blackout seizure—you’ll have to ask the assistant manager of the Target store where I had my last one eight years ago how I act at those times. I don’t know if the fact there’s a—what, one minute out of ten years—chance I might black out during the opera and do something I’m unaware of will prevent me from buying a gun in Texas or not. (It will now!)

Judging from some of the wackos I know who own—and a couple of them carry—guns in Texas, I’d say even with these little abnormalities I could probably talk the gun authorities (whoever they are) into letting me buy and carry one. And in Florida it seems to be a universal right—kill a kid wearing a hoodie or the beloved father of a three-year-old daughter, on the street or in a theater. Doesn’t seem to matter.

I know, I know. Curtis Reeves was simply obeying the law, standing his ground. After all, someone (no one seems to remember who) had thrown popcorn at him. Surely, popcorn in your face is equal to a bullet to the chest.

Here’s my deal. If I knew for sure one person—it would take only one—in the Winspear Opera House was packing heat, I’d be out of there—and demand my money back. How could the Dallas Opera put me in a position where I could be stuck in a crowd and at the mercy of a psychopath like Curtis Reeves?

And, Kimball, my friend, don’t tell me the problem is the psychopath, not the gun. No, the problem is not the psychopath—or, assuming Curtis Reeves is perfectly sane, the idiot—the problem is the gun. Chad Oulson would be alive today were it not for the gun. He might have some popcorn salt in his face, or a smashed phone, or even a black eye from an alpha male fistfight, but his three-year-old daughter would have a father.

I don’t believe in “evil” the way most people do—no evil force stalking the world in the form of “The Beast” or any other religious nonsense. But I do believe it’s possible for an act to be evil.

Carrying a gun—for whatever reason—is evil.

I don’t have the same religious conviction as St. Augustine, but I understand this. “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil–not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked” (St. Augustine, City of God, XII, Chapter 6).

". . . the turning itself is wicked."

“. . . the turning itself is wicked.”

Guns are evil not of themselves. They are evil because the person who carries one has turned to that which is lower than human thought or decency. But one carries a gun because one has already turned, and as long as the gun is present, there is no turning back.

In the Middle Ages the word was “oligarchy”

When I was a kid, all of us were given to believe that we could grow up to be President (well, the white boys, at any rate). At the very least we knew our single little solitary vote counted in elections. I remember the election of 1966 as vividly as any other in my lifetime. I remember standing on the steps of Watchorn Hall at the University of Redlands talking with two of my favorite people, all of us students in the School of Music

We were going to vote for Governor Brown for reelection, of course, rather than Ronald Reagan. It was the first vote of my life. It counted for very little. I lived in California through the entire reactionary (anti-intellectual, anti-middle class, anti-freedom of expression) eight years of Ronald Reagan’s magisterial term as governor.

Edwin Meese was Reagan’s “chief of staff.” He ran the executive branch of the state government. He told Reagan what to think (or at least what to say).

Then there was the Reagan White House. The same arrangement. That is, until Meese became Attorney General. He was implicated in all of the scandals of the Reagan administration.

Now Edwin Meese is in charge of the shutdown of the federal government.

ol·i·gar·chy
noun

1.       a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

Meese has never been elected to public office, only anointed to various overlord positions, most of them by Ronald Reagan.

He seems to be the brains behind the power of the new American Oligarchy—those few, the dominant class, the clique who are running our country. The coup d’état is a fait accompli. The takeover of the government is finished. We have let it happen. We have only ourselves to blame.

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which is designed to end all constraints on the amount of money a person can contribute to a political campaign. The Court, with its majority led by Antonin Scalia, the Edwin Meese of jurisprudence, will almost certainly throw out fifty years of its own decisions and allow Edwin Meese’s friends to contribute as much as they like to their far right-wing candidates.

We are living in the time of oligarchy. The few.

The few of those who are hiding behind the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision declaring that, in our oligarchy at any rate, corporations are persons and PACs are no more influential or dangerous than your local PTA, but PACs don’t have to reveal the sources of their money.

I want to go back to the days when any (white boy) kid could become President.

Let’s amend the Constitution

I propose a 28th Amendment to the Constitution reading:


“Neither Congress nor any State Legislature shall pass any law limiting any person’s right to be free from violence at the hands of those who bear arms.”

A book I know well says, “We will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it.” I have tried for years to come to terms with that concept. To make it part of my self-perception. Internalizing the idea is pretty difficult for me because much in my past I wish had been otherwise than it was.

I know, I know. Everyone can say that—and would if she were being unabashedly honest. But whether wishing it were not so is the same as regretting, I’ll let keener minds than mine decide. My distinction is that I can regret only those choices I made consciously and willingly, while I can wish experiences over which I had little or no control had not happened.

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.