Growing up gay (as it were)

HRCFrom New York Erratic:

How do you think growing up gay today is different than growing up gay in the past?

Well, since I never grew up gay, it’s kind of tricky to say. But I’ll try.

In my collective of high school cohorts, the politically involved, left-of-center, antiwar demonstrating, civil rights supporting folks, we formed a club called the Community Action Forum. But outside of school, we were friends called Holiday Unlimited, and our motto was “a splendid time is guaranteed for all, stolen from the Sgt. Pepper album.

In our group of maybe a dozen and a half people, at least three of them were gay, but I only knew about one of them, Vito Mastrogiovanni, at the time, and mostly because my sister had such a crush on him that he, or someone, let her know. She was sad because she thought he was so beautiful, and he was. He died of AIDS in May 1991, and you can find his square on the AIDS quilt.

The others who were gay, though, I had no idea. I felt a tad sad that they didn’t feel comfortable telling me, yet I understood.

I go to college, and my next room neighbor, who was gay, was openly hostile to me. I think it was preemptive strike. Blacks were considered threatening to gay males in 1971, or so I was told. But I had a couple lesbian friends; in fact, one, Alice, with whom I was once arrested at an antiwar demonstration, was roommates with the Okie for a time before the Okie and I got married.

Alice and I hitchhiked across New York State, trying to get to some friends who had been injured in a fatal car accident. One guy picked us up west of Binghamton, then gave us a lecture about the sins of race mixing, assuming us to be a couple. I could only imagine what he might have said if he had known of her sexual orientation.

I dropped out of college in 1975 and lived in Binghamton for several months. The Civic Theater was doing a production of Boys in the Band, a 1968 play, but radical for upstate New York. The cast hung out together, and I discovered there was a gay bar in Binghamton; I had no idea. We got to be a tight-knit group for that period.

The review of the production made it sound as though the whole cast was gay, which frankly didn’t bother me, but it upset one of my high school friends, who said to another, “Too bad about Roger!” “What about Roger?” “He’s gay!” “He’s not gay!”

So I have only smidgen of understanding what it must have been like to be gay in the 1960s and 1970s.

Because gays weren’t invented until 1969, or so you were supposed to believe. And it was only a handful of “them” so it was somehow OK to discriminate against gays, threaten them, use terms about them as barbs even against people who were not gay. And AIDS was “God’s scourge” against gays, though there were plenty of straight people getting the disease too.

So how we went from having a whole lot of closeted gay folks, for understandable reasons, to legal marriage for gay people in about a dozen and a half states in the last decade or two is remarkable. I was in a discussion with a blogger who is gay (not Arthur) back in 2006 or 2007, and he didn’t think the issue of marriage equality was that big a deal, quite probably because he had had a bad breakup. But marriage IS a big deal. It’s a fundamental ceremony of the society. The POPE is considering the acceptance of civil unions, for crying out loud. Oh, here’s a joke about marriage equality that I actually found to be clever.

Rewatched the Oprah Winfrey Show episode recently in which Ellen Degeneres talked about coming out in 1997, and I was reminded how it was a BFD. Now she’s a popular talk show host, Oscars host, Twitter breaker and dancing fool.

I think this article about Fred Phelps is true. When the hatemonger first started his picketing, few opposed his poison. But over time, the crowds against the Westboro Baptist Church grew and grew, people standing up and saying we’re not all like that. Which is why I say, all the time, because I’m a boring guy, that gays need straight allies in the struggle for equality, just as blacks need whites, etc. The “gay agenda” I keep reading about, a lot, is the very freedom everyone wants.

So while there is still plenty of things to overcome – check out the Human Right Campaign, e.g. – today’s LGBT teens must have it a sea change easier than gay kids in decades past.

PS: Boycott Mississippi.
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Those HoneyMaid ads.

Amy’s How to “Recruit” Straight People: A Guide

6 thoughts on “Growing up gay (as it were)”

  1. I found it interesting that when the marriage equality movement began picking up speed how many of the black persuasion objected to gays presenting it as a civil rights issue, declaring that it was NOTHING at all like “Loving v. Virginia,” arguing that “Gay was a CHOICE!” Even IF Gay were a choice, I see no good reason to prevent any consenting adults from forming contractual alliances with each other. Opponents typically ignore everything about human relationships EXCEPT what happens in bed.

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    1. I’ve mentioned this before: I’m convinced that the objection of SOME black people had to do with the fact that since black people still are experiencing bigotry and discrimination 395 years after they were first brought to America, that gays needed to “wait their turn” because, as I (sort of) joked, gays have been all but invisible until 45 years ago. Obviously, I think it’s crazy talk, because, as Emma Lazarus said (and MLK, Jr. paraphrased): “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

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  2. I was completely unaware of the existence of gay folk until I was almost thirty, and it really didn’t hit me until a former co-worker died at an appallingly young age and it took a long time for me to find out why. It took even longer to figure out that it mattered to me despite my perceived lack of connection to them — because, of course, they were still being shoved into closets. So maybe I’m behind the times here; but I’m learning.

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  3. Thanks. It’s on my mind a lot for two reasons.

    First, nearly half my church is gay, and while I grew up with gay friends seeing happy families with gay parents is still really new.

    Second, my exhusband is seeing men now, which I kind of knew was part of our problem but kind of didn’t.

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  4. When I learned English at the age of thirteen, I learned that gay meant “happy” or ” cheerful”. There must have been gay people at school too. Lateron I noticed that some of the boys were different. They were a bit acting like girls, and didn’t really belong to the group, which made jokes about them. Another thing I still notice is that a lot of gay men are very popular on tv and they are sometimes awfully goodlooking, which is annoying for girls, because they are not available for them.
    I only hope that they all may find the right partner who makes them happy. They must feel terribly lonely.
    Very good post, Roger!
    Thanks for your comment, I should have liked to hear your father singing about Nicodemus.

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