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The First Happy Gay Film

STORY: 1974—We’ve just bought tickets to see “Love Simon,” the new, gay coming of age film that we expect to make us happy. The first such film I saw was in 1974, called, “A Very Natural Thing.” It was about a gay seminarian who leaves his priesthood training and goes to New York in search of self. I remember it being very uplifting.

I needed a good dose of gay happiness when I first saw the film. I had recently been fired for being gay by the Catholic Church in Detroit. The dropping of my regular column happened after a Detroit daily interviewed me about the local chapter of Dignity (a gay Catholic organization) I had started. Later, after a lot of publicity, I was fired as a reporter by the Catholic newspaper.

The day after I saw the film, I spoke at St. John’s Seminary to faculty and seminarians. After seeing no active or passive responses to my comments on being gay and Catholic, I stopped and asked, “It seems so odd to me that no one is speaking up, when last night, a whole row of you were sitting in front of me at the gay movie, ‘A Very Natural Thing’.”

Determining that the seminarians didn’t feel comfortable being honest in front of them, the faculty stood and left the room. After that, I got more questions, but no one came out to me.

When I graduated college in 1970, my first love was a guy who had just left St. John’s seminary, and after him, my roommate and bed partner was also a recent departure from the same seminary. Both men were emotionally immature, and neither was ready to accept a gay identity.

Following them, I met a leather-clad Episcopal priest in The Woodward, the first gay bar I had ever dared to enter. We were partners until I came out. My next love was a gay Catholic member of Dignity Detroit, and finally, Ray, a gay Catholic member of Dignity Boston. Our romance began in 1976. He’s lying next to me at this moment, with the dog in between us.

Ray and I left Dignity, and the Catholic Church, a few years later. It took us both time to withdraw emotionally as well as theologically. We’re now long-sober, spiritual people, guided by a potpourri of traditions and beliefs, by in large, Eastern.

We don’t need a happy, gay, coming-of-age film to help us feel good about ourselves. We’re already co-stars in our own joyful, gay love story. But, we’re eager to have “Love Simon” be as meaningful in the lives of young gay people today as “A Very Natural Thing” was to each of us, watched in the same time period but in different, distant cities before we met.


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