Not Just Clothes

In my world in the 1970s a closet was a place to hang clothes AND a metaphor for the hiding place of gay people. Some people “came out” and some people stayed in and some people occupied a twilight area between out and in and THEY were sometimes picked up by the cops for soliciting.

My boyfriend was “out.” My boss was “out.” HIS boss — a much older man who’d lived most of his life in a world where “out” was not a viable option for an ambitious guy who wanted to succeed in the world’s terms — occupied the twilight area even though everyone knew. And he got arrested for soliciting.

Much of the gay world in those days was kind of a grubby place. Anything that’s illegal drives those who are involved in it to the gutters of the wide and glorious streets of social acceptability. I’ve never understood how someone’s sexual preference (other than pedophilia, rape and incest which are absolutely criminal) was anyone’s business, but there it was. And so it has been for hundreds of years.

There was a lot of fear — probably still is — over coming out. Parents back then shut the door on their gay kids, “You’re not my kid!” they’d say, “Don’t come back here.” People could lose their jobs, be jailed for being caught being “gay” — even simple hand-holding.

No gay person I know would ever argue that it’s “ideal” to be gay. None of those I’ve known ever said, “I’ve chosen this from two equal choices.” In fact, they said the opposite. My boyfriend often said, “Who would CHOOSE this? To be outside every normal thing that humans do, all the simple aspects of human happiness, family, home?” Back then, it took courage to stand forth and publicly claim ones sexual identity. Love imbues that kind of courage.

Among my oldest friends (high school) is a beautiful, talented man who has been in a monogamous relationship with another man since his college days. All my attempts at life-long love have deteriorated, but his has held firm, a partnership of comprehension, respect and love. As with all humans who manage this feat, it may have begun as hot desire and evolved into forty years of shared life.

Another old friend (first boyfriend) is married to his “soul mate.” He and she adore each other, work together, share wonderful vacations together, believe in each other. He has always been attracted both to women and to men. She accepts this because it is a fact of her husband’s nature, an aspect of the man she loves.

Some of my friends from that decade died of HIV — and among them was the man who may have been the great love of my life. “But he was gay!” you might be saying. Ah, that’s the other thing. Love and desire are not always so black and white, so absolute. As he and I struggled with his predilections (which he would have changed if he had been able so that he could have the other things he wanted, a life with me, a family, a home) I came to understand that we don’t love a “sexual preference.” We love a person.

Looking around today at the “progress” of LGBT rights, I wonder. Why has that ever been an issue? How is someone else’s (non-harmful) sexual nature anyone’s business? Why is acceptance so much more difficult for human beings than rejection and hostility? Aside from pedophilia, rape and incest what does it matter to anyone how another person loves?

20 thoughts on “Not Just Clothes

  1. Thanks for writing this. I have never had a problem with “gay”. They are people, that I meet and know, but it is not a problem for me. The days gone by I know it was not easy and thank goodness for today’s reality, although it cannot be easy for many to say “i am gay”. I wish it was.

  2. When my son told me he was gay and waited for the reaction, all I could say was “I know. Since you were a kid. Probably before you knew yourself.”

    “Oh,” he said. Which was pretty much the whole of the coming out process. Sadly, I don’t like his boyfriend much better than I liked his wife, but his taste in partners is a whole separate subject.

    • Oh my. Yeah, I could have lived with Peter and his boyfriend, actually. But, the boyfriend couldn’t deal and it’s just the grace of God I’m here now. I don’t think Peter or Paul (yeah, that was his boyfriend’s name…) imagined an open relationship, but after five years of “dating” Peter, I understood him well. We had a lot of things going for a happy marriage — we liked each other, enjoyed each other, cherished each other, loved each other and understood each other. He never saw that the fact that our relationship endured in the face of odds that appeared insurmountable was an indication that we might need to define our own way. That was another side to those days. I really admire my high school boyfriend and his wife for the wonderful love their share and their happy marriage.

  3. Wonderful essay from a perspective (yours) that we don’t often get to hear!

    My thought is that it might be too threatening for those who condemn all sexuality that is not two-person hetero, to legitimize anything other than that. They are so safely identified with their “truth,” that to even to accept an “as long as they don’t bother me” attitude, could be too big of a leap. Just my 2 cents … 🙂

    Great post! Thanks!

  4. I think this is a great article from a different perspective. I was in nursing school with a gay male. All of my class mates liked him and he was fond of us. One of the funniest men I’ve ever known. He was a great story teller and full of witty sayings. I’ve worked with gay female nurses who were absolute bitches and my daughter has said the same thing about some of the gays she knows. Don’t know why but many gay women are mean spirited and so are gay men. Guess I just happened to have seen some that had a lot of resentment. My cousin was a gay man and he never settled on one person as his lover. He was a happy and generous man.

    In this day and age I know some folks that still believe one chooses to be homosexual. I’ve tried to explain to them that a person is born that way but they refuse to believe science and always spout religion and that homosexuals are sinners. They claim the “Bible” says it is a sin.

    • There are so many things I don’t understand about people, like why someone else’s most private behavior, that doesn’t hurt anyone, is their business.

      My cousin — one of my favorite cousins — was gay. I was the first person he told. I was in 8th grade and he had just started university. He was visiting my family and walked through the woods to meet me at school and walk home with me. When I told my dad, my dad said, “I’m sorry for Greg. He’s going to have a rough go of it.” I loved my dad for that and took my cue from his wisdom.

      I loved my cousin dearly. He was always my champion when I was a little girl and I’m happy that the last time I saw him — after years and years! — we shared moments that would not have interested anyone else in the world. I know his life was hard because of his sexuality; his dad threw him out (and then welcomed him back) and he was never able to really find himself. He died of alcoholism and drug abuse 😦

      • Your cousin was a tragedy. What a shame. I’m glad you had a great relationship with him. He was a treasure. Then he had such a sad ending. I’m sure you have raw emotions concerning how he was treated and what caused his death.

  5. ‘Aside from pedophilia, rape and incest what does it matter to anyone how another person loves?’
    Agree from the bottom of my heart! In the most carefree years of my life, most of my friends were gay men who accepted ‘me’ as none of my female peers ever had. Their love lives were only my business in the way any friends’ love lives are – you’re happy for them, or lend a shoulder to cry on if necessary.
    And when my kids were little, my daughters were in far more danger from paedophiles than my son.
    The attitude of so-called Christians to the LGBT community enrages me completely. God’s eye is on the sparrow and we’re all God’s children – unless you’re gay? How do gay sparrows fare? And are you still God’s child if you’re a self-righteous, narrow-minded bigot?

      • I guess it’s easier/more exciting to buy into the drama of scape-goating. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes takes consideration and reflection. Just my first thoughts.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head — plus scapegoating allows a person to stay with a group. Putting one’s self in someone else’s shoes means you might be acting and thinking for one’s self. thinking

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