Sep 26, 2013

Fall 1982: The Gayellow Pages

Sometimes people who are about my age, especially those who grew up on the East or West coasts, wonder how I could have been unaware that gay/lesbian people existed until I was nearly 16 years old.  How I could have avoided seeing the word "gay" in print until the summer after my 19th birthday.  After all, there were gay characters in movies in the 1960s, and on tv as early as 1971.  Dozens of gay books.  By 1980, Gay Pride Parades (then called Gay Rights Parades) were being held in a dozen cities around the country.

But the gay characters appeared in movies and tv programs that I wasn't allowed to watch, the gay books did not appear on the shelves in any library or bookstore that I had access to, and the nearest Gay Pride Parade was in Chicago.

I knew about "fairies" (feminine men) from my earliest childhood, but I didn't know about gay people until the fall of 1976, when Denny Miller played a gay man who mentored Tommy (Philip McKeon, left) on Alice. I didn't know that they wrote books until the spring of 1980, when I saw Fred's hidden bookshelf, and even then I figured there were only about a dozen in existence.  

I knew about gay bars, bath houses, and adult bookstores, but I had never been in one.  I knew about pornographic magazines.  And that's all.  I figured that since being gay was illegal (it wasn't, at least not in Illinois), there couldn't be any organizations or publications, no community, nothing except clandestine closet bars and porn magazines. 

In the fall of 1982, I began graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana.  On the night of September 25th, I went to an adult bookstore near the campus and asked "Do you have anything gay?", hoping for some porn.  I got got copies of Mandate, In Touch (with the article "Prince Charles is Gay") and Christopher Street, and a directory called the Gayellow Pages.  

It was #12.  That means it was first published in 1970!  There were gay communities at least as far back as 1970, and not only bars and bath houses, but "Businesses, churches, organizations, accommodations, publications..."

And not only in big cities.

There were 16 listings for Madison, Wisconsin. 6 bars, 2 bookstores, a community center, two health services, a legal service, a liquor store, a religious group, a place called "the soap opera," and a women's center.

Kicking myself for not going to the University of Wisconsin, I looked up Bloomington.  A little more sparse: a bar called Bullwinkle's, a women's center,  and a gay student group.  When I called the student group, I got the message: "All conversations are recorded and delivered to the police," so I hung up quickly to avoid being arrested.  But still, it was obvious that there were many more gay people than I ever imagined, and they were much more organized than I ever thought possible.

See also: I Visit an Adult Bookstore.