Sep 24, 2013

Fall 1977: Finding the Gays at Rocky High

During my junior year, Aaron, the rabbi's son who was gay (but didn't know it yet) was exceptionally homophobic. I was homophobic too, of course (I hadn't yet made the connection between "gay" and "boys who like boys.").

But he spent the summer of 1977 visiting relatives in Brooklyn, and returned noticeably tolerant.

He had no qualms about watching Soap, the tv sitcom with a gay character.  He didn't mind driving past the Hawaiian Lounge, the gay bar downtown.  And he had a treasure trove of stories about gay and bisexual Hollywood stars like Rock Hudson and James Dean.  Mostly scandals:

Silent-film star Ramon Novarro choked to death when burglars shoved a gigantic dildo, an artificial penis, down his throat.

Sal Mineo, star of Rebel without a Cause, died after having sex with a male prostitute with a gigantic penis.

Singer Barry Manilow had to be rushed to the emergency room after having sex with over a hundred gay men on the same night.

Finally one night when we were watching tv in my attic room, I yelled, “Enough, already! Don’t you have any stories about normal people? I swear, if you mention one more Swish, I’m going to throw up!”

“Sorry," Adam said.  "I know you don't like gays."

"Don't like them?"  I exclaimed.  "That's an understatement -- they're disgusting! They pretend to be girls, all that make up and perfume, and they carry handbags and call each other 'thweetie.'"

"So what if they act like girls?  They're not hurting anyone."

"Not hurting anyone?  Are you kidding?  They spend all their time trying to seduce normal boys, and if you're too masculine to seduce, they kill you!"

"Well, maybe some of them do that, but you can't blame an entire group on the actions of a few."

"But...but...handbags and perfume..." I sputtered.  "And that's not all...." I remembered that our preacher had just discovered homophobia.  "God hates them.  He hates boys who act like girls."

"Well, then God must hate you.  You play in the orchestra, that's girly.  Nobody can be macho all the time."

Fuming, I said "No...that's different...I don't say 'Thweetie.'"

Aaron looked at me, waiting for my next argument.  But I kept silent and pretended to watch CHIPS.  Finally he said, "Have you ever seen one?"

I had seen two -- the Fairy on the double date at the Hawaiian Lounge, and the waiter at the restaurant where I tried out my soul-winning technique -- but I was tired of Aaron's superior attitude.  "Of course not, and neither have you.  There aren’t any in Rock Island. You’d have to go all the way to San Francisco to find Their little dens of depravity.”

“One of the guys at Rocky High is gay,” Aaron said softly.  "I'll give you $5  if you can tell me who.”

Great -- now I would never be comfortable at Rocky High again!  

Anxious to win my $5, I spent the next week scrutinizing every boy for a tell-tale hip-wiggle or loose wrist, concentrating on the drama club and home economics class.

No one particularly feminine presented himself, so I went back to Aaron and asked for more clues.  "He's really muscular,"  Aaron said.  "Works out all the time."

"That's impossible!  Gays think they're girls.  Why would they want muscles?!"

ButI spent another week searching the weight room and the locker room for a Swish disguised as a jock. No one particularly evil presented himself.

I never found out who the gay guy at Rocky High was.

Years later, it occurred to me that Aaron may have been talking about himself.

Except when he finally told me that he was gay, he swore that he didn't know in high school.

Or -- maybe he was talking about me?  Did he know something?

Aaron's story continues when we go to Leonard Bernstein's Mass.