Sep 20, 2014

Fall 1976: Discovering What Gay Means

Up until my junior year in high school, I had no idea that gay people existed.  I knew about fairies, boys who had the audacity to pretend that they were girls (bad at sports, good at schoolwork), and swishes, monstrous beings who conflated masculine and feminine. But I never associated these beings with same-sex desire or acts.

No one did.  Everyone I knew dismissed same-sex desire as something else, hero worship or friendship, and same-sex acts were simply beyond the boundaries of what could be imagined.

Even though I engaged in some at music camp during the summer after my sophomore year.

Still, I didn't figure out that gay people existed until that fall.


1. September 29th: On TV, Alice met an ex-football player (Denny Miller, left), who said that he was gay.  So of course he has no romantic interest in her.  But all men, I was told, spent their lives in passionate pursuit of the feminine.  Who was this exception?  What was "gay"?

2. October 6th: in Rolling Stone, Elton John stated that he was "bisexual."  Nowhere in the article was the word defined, but I knew"bi" from "bisect" and "bicentennial": divide into two.  Did he have "two sexes"?





October 9th: On TV: a  new patient (Howard Hesseman) joined Bob Newhart's therapy group, and the others were horrified to discover that he is gay.  Elliot Carlson (right) is particularly worried about...something.  But what?

November 1st:  On TV, Phyllis dated a man who did not find her attractive.  He explained that he was gay.



November 10th:  Mr. Manary's Political Science class car-pooled down-town to the County Courthouse to see a real criminal trial in progress.

The case was about a shooting that took place outside the Hawaiian Lounge, which we all knew was a fairy hangout.  Sure enough, a swish was called to the witness stand: tall and gaunt, with long, greasy hair and mascara-ed eyes. He explained that he was parked across the street at the time, so he saw everything. The attorney wanted to know why he was parked in downtown Rock Island on a bitter cold January evening.

“We had just come from the Hawaiian Lounge, and we were deciding where to eat.”
“Who was in the car with you?” the attorney asked.
He named two men and a woman.
“Why was there a woman with them?” I whispered to my friend Darry. “Swishes hate women.”
“Maybe it was two of Them and a normal couple,” he whispered back. “Maybe it was two swishes on a double date!”

This made no sense. Swishes hated women, so how could they date. ..unless he meant. ..but they couldn't possibly date each other! They were both boys!

But if you don't find women attractive, maybe you find men attractive, so you want to date....

November 14th: in the public library, researching prisons (for the same civics class), I was leafing aimlessly through a book, when I happened upon a black and white photo (not this one).

It took a long moment for me to comprehend what I was seeing; it simply didn't make sense.  Two male prisoners were standing in front of a chain link fence, with their backs to the camera. Holding hands.

I stared for a long time, thinking “No, this is impossible.” Only little kids, parents and children, and boyfriends and girlfriends held hands.. Men didn’t even touch each other’s hands. If their hands met by accident, they would jerk away, too disgusted for words.The caption talked about the “problem of homosexuals in prison.” So fairies  -- swishes -- homosexuals -- gays dated each other, held hands.

Suddenly embarrassed, as if I had been caught viewing pornography, I slammed the book shut.  Darry looked up at me quizzically.

November 15th: On TV: Maude's husband (Bill Macy) dreamed that he kissed a man, and worried that he might be gay.

So gays not only dated and held hands: they kissed!  Maybe they reached under frilly sweaters to feel each others' powdery marshmallow bodies.  Maybe they even had sex.

But I still didn't connect gays holding hands with the boys holding hands among the candles in the Don Grady song.  Or gays dating with my dates with boys.  Or gays having sex with me and Todd spending the night together at music camp.

I wouldn't make the connection for another year and a half, not until the summer of  1978.