Aug 6, 2014

Summer 1980: Are You the Boy or the Girl?

In the summer of 1980, during my sophomore year at Augustana, my boyfriend Fred landed a pulpit in Gretna, Nebraska, a tiny town about 20 miles south of Omaha.  So, being bright-eyed and naive, I moved with him.

I hated every minute of it.
1. Fred was completely closeted, so I had to be introduced as his "cousin."
2. He expected me to do all of the housework.
3. Gretna, Nebraska had an annual "Watermelon Feed."  I never go to any event called a "feed."  Do they line you up at a trough like pigs?
4. I had a job as an Assistant District Circulation Manager for the Omaha World Herald. A glorified paperboy.
5. I had a car, but I wasn't allowed to go to into Omaha to the gay bars, or even to go to the gym without Fred's permission.
6. Fred dated women, "for appearances."
7. I'm pretty sure that Fred was also tricking with the teenage boy downstairs.

Naturally, I got depressed.  Super-depressed.  Sitting-around-all-day-in-a-bathrobe depressed.

"You need psychiatric help," Fred told me one evening when he returned to see that I had spent the entire day in front of the tv.  "Every gay person should be in counseling anyway, to work through the guilt and shame."

"I don't have any guilt and shame.  I'm homesick."

 "Yes, you do.  You're just suppressing it.  Don't worry, I'll find you a therapist."

Easier said than done.  Although the American Psychiatric Association removed "homosexuality" from its list of psychoses in 1973, some therapists hadn't gotten the word, and others were just homophobic.  But the Gay Hotline of Omaha had some referrals, and in July 1980 I began seeing Dr. Corey.  I couldn't afford individual sessions, so he suggested group therapy.

Bad idea!  There were four other members in the group, two men and two women, and they spent the entire three sessions that I attended peppering me with inane questions:

"Were you gay before you met Fred?"
"How do you know you're gay, if you've never tried it with a woman?"
"Did some traumatic event turn you gay?"
"When you see a cute girl, do you think she's ugly?"
"Where do you find women's clothes in your size?"
"When are you going to have a sex change operation?"

And those were the polite questions.

Dr. Corey had a rule: you can't hit anyone in session.  If you feel like you're going to lose your temper, get up and leave the room.

A tall, muscular guy named Stan, about my age, got up and left the room a lot.  After almost every question.  We could hear him stomping around in the waiting room, saying "Goddam!  Goddam!  Goddam!"

When they asked "Do you have to be drunk or high to be able to have sex with a man?", I answered "No, I like it, so I want to be sober."

That got Stan so upset that he had to stomp around outside the building, in the parking lot.  When he returned, he had obviously been crying.

"I don't have anything against anybody," he stammered, "But when you...act, act like that, like a...woman, with your legs in the air...and then you say you like it!  You're sick!  You have a disease!"

"What makes you think I'm the one with his legs in the air?"

He stomped out of the room again.

During my third session, someone asked: "Are you the boy or the girl in your relationship with Fred?

Of course, the proper response is "We're both boys," but I was too stupid for that.  I thought of how Fred was the money-maker, how he expected me to stay home, put all of my career aspirations on hold, and spend my days doing housework and watching soap operas.  Gender-polarized female.  So I said "The girl, I guess."

Three of the four group members ran out of the room to avoid hitting me.

Which didn't make me feel better.

I never went back to group.  I thought of a better solution.

On Sunday, July 20th, I waited for Fred to go to church.  I packed while he was gone, got into my car, and drove cross country 24 hours to Los Angeles.  You can read about my trip here.