I was raised in the arch-conservative Florida panhandle near the Alabama border in the late 1950s and 1960s. In those days, and especially in that location, being gay was the same as being a sexual deviant. In fact, the word “gay” still was commonly used to mean happy-go-lucky. “Queer” was the popular derogatory term used and it implied pervert, deviant, pedophile, and a dozen other terms for depraved. To be queer was also to be an effeminate, cowering “fag.” Real men did not like other men “in that way.”
JUNE 1978 – The cracks in my closet appeared slowly. By 1978, I was out with my family and my college fraternity brothers, but I had no local gay friends. I was intimidated by NYC’s gay scene, ensconced in an intense training program at a conservative bank, and madly infatuated with my best friend and colleague there, a straight, former Princeton football captain and tight end.
I’m thinking about seasons of our lives this morning, as I lie in bed with my husband, Chuck, in our home in Chandler, Arizona. I’ve just looked at Mike Balaban’s instagram page, and seeing all those old photos made me think about the life or lives I could have lived, had I made different choices.
In 1994, I was wheatpasting posters around New York City late at night (when the police tended to be in doughnut shops, not on the streets) for ACT UP and started complaining about having turned 30 and feeling old. My partner-in-wheatpasting-crime — who was positive which, back in those pre-retroviral days, was a virtual death sentence — turned and said “you know, I was really grateful to make it to 30.”
Recently found a poem I wrote in March 1992 about a wonderful guy I met on the “Pioneer,” an Amtrak train that once ran from Chicago, through Wyoming, to Portland, Oregon. I’ve met and lusted over 100s and 100s of men over the years, many of whom have been lost to my memory. This cowboy remains strong and clear in my mind. Here is the original poem:
ON THE PIONEER
We meet on the Pioneer
somewhere near Rawlins.
Each headed west to Portland
another twenty hours away.
Early 1980s—I lived in Washington, D.C. and worked on Capitol Hill. In those days, a presentable young gay man who owned his own dinner jacket could go to all sorts of places, such as escorting (respectably!) well-known ladies to events like the Kennedy Center Honors. I was fortunate to be assigned legendary actress Jeanne Moreau, mostly because I could speak a certain level of fractured French. When I tried out la langue, she said I was absolutement trop cher and would I please go buy her a pack of cigarettes. A lovely woman, whom I was fortunate to meet. She died today in Paris.
Many of us have at least one photo that when displayed elicits the response from others, “You used to be hot.” The gay male friend who makes such a comment would insist it’s a compliment. But, some of us mentally end the sentence with “and you’re not now.” If we’re able to laugh, we can move on. If we take offense, we’ll stay stuck in suffering.
Ms. Matlock: This week we are going to learn how to write a well-structured letter.
Me (to myself): Cool
Ms. Matlock: Each of you is going to write a letter to Michael Eisner. He is the CEO of Disney.
May 1994, the ex, my bff Doug and myself jetted off on a 2 week adventure in Turkey. We began in the port of Marmaris, where we boarded our chartered gulet, with a 2 man crew, for 7 days of sailing pristine blue waters, east to the Lycean tombs of Fethiye, west to Rhodes, stopping along the way at deserted islands, viewing ancient ruins, eating like princes and swimming the chilly Mediterranean.