There came the time when I stumbled on the Gay Community Center of Baltimore in the phone book. I was 16 years old and I just didn’t know what to make of the words in front of me. I knew there were all these marches going on in Washington there was so much going on in the news about all the perverts and deviants fighting for their right. Anita Bryant was in opposition of anything gay and ran her bigoted big mouth at every opportunity, and on shows like “All In The Family” Archie Bunker was making fun of the “Queers and Queens” as well as his son-in-law, but I just didn’t understand the concept of something so “official” as phone listing. I mean after all gay people were disgusting vile creatures that deserved nothing more than contempt followed by death from the loving non-judgmental flock of the Christian god. The Moral Majority (who were in fact a loud minority) ran by Jerry Falwell made their hatred of homosexuals known very publicly and politically (despite the separation of church and state). How could there be a “GAY COMMUNITY CENTER”. (See: Am I gay?!! and I’m Coming Out) I was fascinated by this listing. But I knew that I had to be wrong. Gay people couldn’t be that organized could they? Of course they were capable of banding together and marching but to actually establishing something so physical as a group? It didn’t seem possible.
I wanted to call the number in the listing so badly but I was terribly frightened. What if this were some government organization whose job it is to identify all gay people to arrest them for the crime of perversion. I mean there was no doubt by this time that I was gay, I didn’t question myself at all anymore, there wasn’t a woman in the world that could make me stop thinking about Dirk Benedict or Lee Majors (Dirk Benedict was an actor that played Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica; Lee Majors was an actor that played Steve Austin on the Six Million Dollar Man)… or… well you name him, if he was handsome I was attracted and probably masturbating with thoughts of them in some anonymous encounter.
I had already come out to my friend Vicki (See: I’m Coming Out) and I showed her the listing. She told me to call it but I told her I was a chicken shit and explained my theory about it being a government trap. But I also had other concerns, what if there was some pervert on the other end that wanted to rape me or worse yet, a good Christian that wanted to kill me for their loving god? So I wouldn’t make the call, but I talked about it, and talked about it and talked about it and finally Vicki got sick of hearing me. She told me if it would shut me up she would call them and find out what they were all about.
I stood by her side, butterflies in my stomach while she spoke to a man who explained to her the Gay Community Center was a resource for LGBT people (of course back then we didn’t say LGBT… You were Gay or Lesbian… acronyms for this perverted portion of the population weren’t even a consideration yet, Bisexual wasn’t even a real concept and Transgender was a true anomaly, something of Unicorn fame and certainly weren’t called “Trans”). When Vicki hung up she told me everything that the man had told her. She told me there was a gay youth group run by a young teenage lesbian and the man had given her a phone number to call. How cool was this? Would I be man enough (or in this case gay enough) to call?
Okay this “Gay Community Center” was located in Baltimore so it might as well be a million miles away since I lived in the suburbs of Maryland. My parents never went to the city and actually referred to it as “Murder City”. Since I had never been to Baltimore the only concept of a city in my mind was what I had known of Washington DC. The manicured lawns, the museums and monuments with marble floors and pillars, the gated embassies. Of course we did see the poor and dirty areas of the city as we drove to the monuments but there were no high rises or other things one thinks of when they envision a city. So immediately in my mind I developed an image of this Gay Community Center and my imagination manifested it in the form of an embassy. A huge white marbled pillared building surround by plush green lawns behind a wrought iron fence staffed and guarded by a force a LGBT people that were strong and brave enough to stand up to the Christian force that was damning them so publicly. I knew that in my mind I would be part of this army of gay people someday, an army of people that just wanted to live their lives the way they wanted to live it without being called “FAG”, without the attacks from bullies, just wanted to live a normal life…boy was I wrong!
My family was going to South Carolina for Christmas that year to visit my brother, his wife and daughter. He was in the Air Force and stationed at Fort Sumter. (See: It Dog!) I was excited about seeing my brother but I had this terrible “gay thing” distraction on my mind constantly. Before we left Maryland I had gone to a bookstore, part of a chain that no longer exists, I believe it was called Walden Books and these stores were found in practically any shopping center or mall. This was before computers could be found in every home, before the Internet. If you were gay in the suburbs the closest thing you had to coming to terms with what you were and learning about it was the library or bookstores and even they weren’t keen on the subject, you were totally alone because you didn’t dare tell anyone that you were gay for fear of being beaten or committed. Well you could imagine my surprise when I found right next to a book entitles “The Joy of Sex” a book called “The Joy of Gay Sex“. A lot of young people don’t realize this but the 70’s were very sexual. People were becoming open minded and despite all the gobs of porn that can be found on the Internet now the general mind set was a bit more progressive than now with the turning back of the clock thanks to AIDS, Reagan, and Religion, but still not so progressive as to accept things GAY? Things are different now, children are more protected than they were in the 70’s, not that we weren’t safe, we just didn’t have the over anxious, worried, doting parents that are raising kids today. If a 16 year old would try to buy this book with pornographic illustrations in today’s puritan society it could never happen. Its ironic that children can access the most disturbing of porn today in their own houses. The clerk of this store while maybe disgusted at what she was selling me didn’t question my putting the book on the counter. I will have to say I put it on the counter with the title side down in hopes that she wouldn’t see what I was buying but she turned it around and look directly at the cover, still she said nothing.
Oh the masturbatory sessions that came out of that book, as the title promised, it was pure joy and I would never part with it, it was my only outlet to real gay sex (other than the neighbor boy who allowed me to blow him every now and then) so I took it along with me when I went with my family to South Carolina. My brother lived in military housing on base and put us up in a spare bedroom and if I remember correctly my younger brother and I slept of the floor under a blanket, his spare room had not yet been furnished. I hid my book on the top shelf of the empty closet in that room so that I could look at it (among other things) at every opportunity.
Things were changing in the world besides the gay marches all things gay were starting to be discussed. The Village People were hitting fame and one night were singing “YMCA” on TV, the rumors were saying that the musical group’s members were gay. In fact my brother if I knew for a fact whether they were gay or not. I answered that I didn’t know. I didn’t know for a fact, I heard the same rumors he had been hearing…but what disturbed me more than anything was why my brother would single me out with the question.
One day my brother and his wife took my family out and I wanted to stay home alone, I was a teenager, gay or not the last thing I wanted to do was be uncool and hang out with my parents. I was also thinking about the Gay Community Center in Baltimore. In my mind I assumed that every major city there would be such a Gay Embassy to protect the LGBT citizens of the world and since the man in Baltimore had described the gay youth to Vicki my assumption was there would be something comparable in every city, so once I was alone I looked through the phone book (I think Charleston was the closest urban area but I don’t really remember anymore and its not important enough to look up on a map just to make this post 100% accurate as my elderly 50 year old mind may not be 100% accurate about every word I am writing anymore) and to my disappointment there was no Gay Community Center listed. My heart sank, I had anticipated that while on vacation I would use the anonymity of the distance from our home in Baltimore to visit the South Carolina Gay Embassy. Well just because it wasn’t listed in the phone book I wasn’t going to let this deter me. Since Vicki had opened the door for me with that first call and being that I was hundreds of miles from Maryland I really didn’t have that much to fear so I called information.
“Can you give me the number to the Gay Community Center?” I asked. There was a hesitation and then a southern drawl replied
“The wuuuuuuut?” (does spreading that word out like that make it look southern?) said the operator.
I repeated “The Gay Community Center”
“We don’t have one of those.” She said and without another word hung up. Okay, so the south after all was primitive, they still hated black people and were surely mostly members of the KKK, they all sounded stupid with their southern accents, the south was just backwards, not progressive like the rest of America (Oh the innocence of youth). We were below that dreaded Mason-Dixon line where the police harassed and arrested young people and people of color for nothing more that being young and/or black. (Ironically I didn’t realized Maryland was below the Mason-Dixon line but I didn’t find this out until much later when I met my partner and we actually drove by a Mason-Dixon marker on the Pennsylvania border). There was a movie called “The Mason-Dixon Line” and never dreamed the horrors they acted out in that film could have happened in Maryland. I remember as we watched the movie my younger brother and I saying “We will never go below the Mason-Dixon line” but may have been 10 years old when I saw that movie and I am now digressing, so back to South Carolina). Well at this point I knew I wasn’t going to see any Gay Embassies in Fort Sumter so I simply determined to reach the gay mecca when I returned home to Maryland.
We returned to Maryland and to my horror I realized that I had forgotten my “Joy of Gay Sex” book in my brother’s closet. It was a spare room and this was temporary housing so its quite possible that he never found the thing but I think that’s unlikely especially since the military are so strict on cleaning housing quarters when you are moved. My guess is he found it and disposed of it. Anyway it was never mentioned so it was either something that was so appalling to my family that they never brought it up or as I said, it was never found.
When we got home I finally called the young lesbian youth group leader, times were different then and I remember her describing herself as a female separatist meaning she and others hoped to eventually and through the efforts of the Gay Community separate lesbians and gays creating two different communities but apparently based on where we are today that image of a gay future never occurred. Anyway she told me that the Gay Youth group had weekly meetings on Saturdays at the Gay Community Center and gave me the directions on how to get there.
My problem was that Baltimore was so far away, how was I going to get there? We didn’t have public transportation at that time in my County, we were much too rural. Where I lived if you didn’t have a car you were shit out of luck. My brother “Thor” (See: Did Thor kill Jord?) had a Mustang that he left at my parents house, it was a spare car, on of 3 or 4 that he owned at the time. Often I was permitted to drive the vehicle to take my mother to the commissary on base for groceries and such but I would never be permitted to drive it for my own amusement. I was determined I was going to take his car and drive to Baltimore, I would attend the meeting and be back before he ever even knew the car was gone, the problem was that I didn’t have any money and gas at the time (if I remember correctly) was very expensive at around .75¢ per gallon and of course there was the energy crisis going on too so people were literally waiting in line for gas so I saved my lunch money. Instead of using the .50¢ my mother gave me each day for lunch at school I would instead pocket the money. I figured that along with my $5.00 allowance would be plenty of money to get me to Baltimore.
I remember the night before my big trip, the first time I had ever done something so daring, I was watching the Dukes of Hazzard (starring two more hot young actors I was liked at the time.) and thinking excitedly that tomorrow I would be arriving at the plush lawns of the gay embassy. I would tell the guards at the gate that I was there for the gay youth meeting and I would be escorted through elaborate marbled halls by some professionally dressed lesbian who’s heels would echo throughout the building and finally I would meet a legion of sophisticated gay youth who would all be awaiting my arrival.
The next morning I drove off with 2 pop-tarts for lunch in what if I had really thought about it was a stolen car. The gay youth meeting would start at 11:00 AM and would end around Noon. I drove the 45 (give or take) minutes through a very dirty city knowing by all accounts very disappointing from my memories of the manicured lawns of Washington DC. As I drove I thought about my brother Thor and if found out I had taken his car for such a trip, he would use my ass to polish the car if he didn’t run me over with it first. I had never before in my entire life been to Baltimore, we had only bypassed it when going to Washington DC or to the Airport to pick up the “Gods” from Germany that would occasionally honor us with their visits. (See: Life through the Eyes of Regret). When I arrived at the Gay Community Center I was horrified to find my fantasies of an marble stone embassy were all wrong. I was in the car, staring across the street at a basement store front, no signs, just a huge single pane window. The door was high enough that I could see a young man standing in the glass front doorway wearing what appeared to be a red hanky in his back pocket, and I would find out later all about hankies in the gay culture but at the time he just looked like a rugged young man to me. I walked around the block several times trying to build the courage to enter the store front and finally taking every ounce of courage I could muster, I took the stairs down to the basement store…And so began my life as a member of the Gay Community Center of Baltimore and the beginning of my life as a gay man…