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?