While reading about gay people (See “Am I gay?!!“) and what was going on in the gay world I discovered a book written by a professional football player who had just come out of the closet, it was the 1970’s. Imagine a tough, rugged, manly man being attracted to other men. Was that even possible? I thought all gay men were effeminate sissies, but I wasn’t effeminate but I had plenty of kids call me sissy as the were shoving me against the lockers or throwing a crumpled wad of paper at the back of my head. I didn’t think of myself as effeminate, maybe I was, maybe I was so queer I didn’t notice. Maybe its like hearing your voice on a tape recorder, you know when you play it back and you’re like “OMG is that what I sound like?” That had to be why all the neighborhood and school kids called me “Gay” and “Fag” before I even knew what the word meant. It must have been so obvious to everyone but me that I was a deviant, a pervert, destined to burn in hell for eternity. But I didn’t feel like a deviant or a pervert, I just felt “warmer” towards men, it wasn’t even sexual. As I mentioned in my earlier posting I didn’t feel “sex” yet, I just felt attraction. Men were nice and there was more indescribable to being near them than being near a woman. Sure women were okay but they were moms and teachers and nurses, one thing women were not was for sex, they were too nice and soft for that kind of thing. Men were masculine, comforting, warm, and I was beginning to discover, for sex…so I read David Kopay‘s book from front to back. Then I wrote him a letter, I thought being a “manly-man” I had more in common with him than the stereotypical queen of legend (I had yet to meet another gay person but I knew from hearing about them that they dressed as women, acted like girls, and raped little children). I poured my heart out to him telling him how much his book meant to me and I was (at least I think I was) 14 years old (I may have been 13… at the oldest I was 15)… but regardless I was young. I’m not sure how much I said anymore (we are talking 35 +/- years ago). I put the letter in the mail hoping I would hear back from him but I never did.
It was around this time that one of the neighbor boys and I started experimenting making everything I was going through seem so much more natural. For me this was something very intimate and comforting, for him (he was and is straight) it was a way to get his “rocks off”. I knew right away this wasn’t a relationship because he would talk about “girls” while this was going on and how he couldn’t wait to make a real physical encounter with a female. Either way he and I “played” for close to a year until it stopped which I assume meant he finally made the female connection he was looking to have. So I was alone again. Certainly other than in the city there were no gay men that could take his place (by the way I never mentioned to my neighbor friend that I was gay I’m sure he knew because of the razzing I got from other kids but in my mind I believed he thought I was getting the same thing he was getting; satisfaction until that first girl experience.) I really didn’t speak out the words to myself either since I knew that in my heart this was wrong, these feelings meant I was a pervert and there was no way I was going to bring shame to my family and that’s why I knew when I was old enough I would go to the city and get away from all the people who would be impacted by my life as a gay person. Of course all I ever heard about on TV was Mayor Feinstein in San Francisco and the support gays got in that city and one day God was going to destroy it like Sodom and Gomorrah, so I assumed that would be where I would end up one day. I never did. I have never even visited.
I spent a lot of time by myself in my bedroom reading. I loved Greek and Roman mythology (probably because of the short togas) but I also read the bible quite a bit. I needed to know if I was normal or not, but the bible didn’t help with all its “Thou shalt not lie with a man as a woman” crap so the more I read the more stupid I realized religion was. Why would God be so evil? Some of the things that man-made monster did were in human so I guess he deserved the title of God but there was no way in hell I was going to believe in this nonsense. None of it made sense and knowing that this book is what made people hate me (or at least the life I knew I would be living at some point) I decided that I didn’t want any parts of and to this day I am an atheist, but that’s another story.
During this time I started smoking through the peer pressure of my younger brother and neighbors who introduced me to cigarettes and it was fun. It made me feel like an adult and being an adult made me that much closer to gay life wanted to be living so badly. Everyone smoked back then, kids (and people) would find it hard to believe but we even had a smoking area for students in high school. All we needed was one of our parents signature say we were allowed to smoke and we were given a smoker’s pass that we would flash at the principal, vice-principal or what ever teacher was doing door duty. I forged my mother’s name who at that point she had no idea I was smoking, and she never did know that I had done this. I don’t remember if it ever came up before she died but I’m sure its a story of something I did that I never shared with her. I fantasized all the time about being an adult, finding a man to fall in love with and live with, a man like my neighbor kid who would want to have sex anytime either of us felt like it.
One day I came home from school to find my parents at the kitchen table. They both had very somber looks on their faces and told me to sit down, they needed to talk to me. My parents were an odd sort, (see “Inge’s Folly” and “Life Through the Eyes of Regret“), they were never the type of parents that would be so serious as to want a “discussion” this sort of thing just didn’t happen in my family. My mother was a tough no-nonsense German woman and was stereotypical German in every sense of the word except cleanliness. I remember my German relatives having spotless homes but my mother’s home was always filthy, it was her home and it had to be her way, she was a bit of a hoarder and saved everything from Styrofoam containers to newspapers to out dated and out of style clothes. My father was a soft, kind man and rather weak (not physically weak) he just had a weak personality and seemed to succumb to whom ever was stronger in the room and generally in our house the stronger individual was my mother.
So here they were staring at me as I sat at the kitchen table, I guess they didn’t know what our how they were going to say what they needed to say and I knew whatever it was I had done something wrong. I about died when my mother pulled something out from her house coat pocket, the something I immediately recognized as the letter I had sent David Kopay. It seemed that he no longer lived in the apartment in Washington DC where I had addressed the letter (he played with the Redskins when the book was written and I assumed he was still there, at the address I had found when researching him at the library). The people who lived there apparently opened the letter and returned it to my parent’s attention so they would know about their deviant little homosexual son.
I remember my mother with that tough German accent asking “Are you gay?”. This was something like 1977 or 78 and people (especially kids) didn’t dare say they were gay. If you were gay that meant you were crazy. Not normal. Someone to be shunned. I remember my heart racing and I was so full of fear and dread, but I managed to I lie to my parents and told them I was writing a book report for school. They challenged me asking why I didn’t just say in the letter I was writing a report and I told them I believed by telling the man I was gay he would be more candid and open up to me, kind of like a reporter doing research. They seemed to buy my story…at least that’s what I thought but really they knew I was lying. They wanted some reasonable explanation to wrap their heads around, so logical explanation was to why their son would write something so horrible about himself so they accepted my story. The letter was never mentioned again, I remember my mother ripping it into tiny shreds before throwing it away.
Growing up my best friend was a girl named Vicki. She and I did everything together, we bowled on a bowling league, we went to movies, Friday and Saturday nights we would hang out at McDonald’s or go to the arcades where we would spend our allowances on Ms. Pac-Man and Space Invaders. We were best friends so we did everything together. If I recall correctly we met in the second grade (it might have been the first), it just seemed like she was a part of my life forever. Now that I was discovering this thing about myself and coming to terms with who I was I was ready to “Come Out” to someone (although I didn’t know at this term would become a common way for gay people to announce themselves), I couldn’t keep this secret, I wanted so badly to share it with someone. Straight people don’t understand this discovery about yourself is something (for most of us) you need to share to make it whole, to make it real. It helps to deal with the shame just by getting someone, anyone to understand and sympathize with you it makes you feel more human again and less a monster who frightened mother pull their children from in the streets, less of the devil’s spawn for good Christians to demonize. If anyone could understand this abhorrent deviance Vicki would surely understand, besides I believed she too might be dealing with her own sexual identity issues, I felt like she might be “homosexual” as well and like me was just waiting for the right opportunity to share it. Well I was wrong about her being gay, but not wrong about her understanding and accepting it, at least at first.
Vicki’s parent were divorced so she lived alone with her mother and a sibling. Her mother was a very interesting person and wholeheartedly believed in the lets say “wiccan” sort of life (for a lack of my understanding any of it). She was into Tarot cards, séances, palm reading, and all that deep new age spiritual type stuff like so many are into today, but in the 70’s this was a practice that made people of that era refer to people such as Vicki’s mother as odd or weird. Whatever the case I always like her mother but there came the day when she read my palm… she simply said “mmm hmmm” and walked away. I was terrified. I thought there was one of two things she read in my hand, if not both; either she knew I was gay or knew that I masturbated. Don’t ask me why I thought she could see either of these but I lived in a deep fear as they were both shameful and I just knew that she had discovered one of these secrets. She never told me and I never knew what the “mmm hmmm” meant. She died when we were around 20 years old so whatever she saw in my hand went to her grave (if you believe in that kind of thing, I just know as a teenager I was terrified). I begged and pleaded with Vicki to please find out what her mother had seen in my palm and all her mother would reply was that I was “simple”. I hated that. Her mother referred to me as “simple” a lot and I never understood the context. “How can someone be ‘simple'”? I would ask, it didn’t make sense to me. I never got an answer to that question either.
I knew that I was going to share this secret with Vicki, but how? I was getting a bit more bold with things I was doing in terms of expressing my “gayness” like the poster of a bare-chested Dirk Benedict hanging in my bedroom, but as not to appear too gay I also had Farrah Fawcett and Lindsay Wagner posters too. I figured that I could always explain it as a “fan” thing but in reality I did a lot of masturbating to Dirk’s image. Later I able to get a hold of a couple of issues of the “Playgirl” magazine and kept these hidden under my mattress. As I said my mother wasn’t a clean German and our bed sheets were rarely changed. When they were it was an “occasion” so there generally was plenty of time to hide the magazines somewhere else. Vicki actually helped me buy one of these magazines once on the pretense that it was for her, how I ended up with it I don’t remember but I’m sure I did some fancy double talk, probably told her it would prevent her mother from finding it, but somehow I got her to give it to me.
I conceived a plan to tell Vicki I was doing a school project. This had worked so well for my parents with the David Kopay story, why wouldn’t it work for her and then if I saw that things weren’t going the way I wanted them to go I could fall back on the school project and take all focus away from me. So I called Vicki with a list of questions, randomly made up of things I had read about gay people. I explained that I was doing a survey of random people for a paper I needed to turn in to class (again we are talking so long ago I can’t remember all the details) and of all the questions I put together to ask I only clearly remember asking “How would you react if someone you knew turned out to be gay?” and she responded that she would deal with it and try to understand it, she seemed as if she would be very open minded to it, this would work, I could tell her. Taking every ounce of courage I could muster I quickly blurted “I am”. She said “You are what?” I said “I am” it was easier the second time but I couldn’t say the word “gay”. I’m not sure if or when I ever clarified with the actual words “I am gay” but it became understood, so Vicki was the first person I had ever come out to. The funny part was because of my feeling that she was gay too I said “And you?” and she said “And me what?” and I said “Aren’t you? and she said “No way”. About 15 years later she called me and said “Remember that question/answer thing you gave me when we were kids? Well I am”, I took note that she too couldn’t say “Gay” because her discovery was 1.5 decades later but she eventually learned to use the term. So my Gaydar on her was off by 15 years but I knew I was right. I said “I told you!!”