Chapter 1: DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL: 1961

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Note: This file is slightly edited for compliance with the 1998 Child OnLine Protection Act (which is now, however, enjoined). For details see adult access >= age 14.

See consolidated footnotes as updated since publication for Chapter 1.

See Section_01 Warm Fall

See Section_02 Initiations 

See Section_03 House and Home, and Family Trips

See Section_04 Tribunals

See Section_05  Therapy 101

 

  Section_01

  A Warm Fall

 

     On the day after Thanksgiving in 1961, as I returned to my dormitory room in Brown Hall at the College of William and Mary, I found a note, a folded sheet of composition paper, taped on the unlocked wooden door. That first freshman semester, I shared this very cramped living space with a roommate who exhibited a somewhat macho culture very different from my own upbringing.

     The note, written in neat, oversized, feminine penmanship, ordered me to report to the Dean of Men at once and stated that the dean had become concerned about the array of patent medicines that had been noted in my room during "recent inspections."

     I didn't know about the inspections, and even at age eighteen, I was rather shocked that such dirty laundry would be aired for the public to read, as if it were an eviction notice.    

    I walked through a mild mist at early dusk, typical warm late fall weather in Tidewater Virginia, where fall plumage lasts through November.  Why was the dean waiting just for me late on a Friday afternoon of a day that most colleges took as break? The college, well supported by the Commonwealth of Virginia, indulged in some upper-management redundancy in those innocent days; it had a Dean of Students, and separate Deans of Men and Women. 

     Thanksgiving day itself had been sunny and fulfilling.  My parents had come down and had taken me along with a new college chum who shared my musical interests to the Jamestown settlement, then on to the wide-screen, stereo history movies about Colonial Williamsburg; finally we enjoyed a turkey dinner at the Williamsburg Inn.  That Friday morning, my parents had driven to Charlotte, N.C. to visit close family friends. I thought for a moment about one muggy October day four years back, when, while our northern Virginia home was being brushed by a hurricane, I asked my father about whether he had any special “men” friends; he mentioned just one man, whose family had shared a beach house in Ocean City with us one week every June for years before recently moving to Charlotte.  

     But now I marched into Wren hall, the oldest academic building in the United States, and walked upstairs to the dean's office and knocked on the milkglass door.  He was waiting for me, indeed.

     The office was dark, almost clandestine. I recall a little green lamp on his orderly desk.  He started by thanking me for coming by immediately.  I reassured him that the "drugs" were harmless patent medicines¾neo-synephrine nasal sprays, Rolaids, and especially iodine and glycerin for sore throats.  I had always been a high-strung hypochondriac.  We then talked very quickly about my studies¾I had all A's at midterm.

     “A couple of  B’s probably wouldn’t hurt you, he said, his voice still oddly somber.

     “Your grading scale is actually easier here than it was at Washington-Lee.”  I still wonder how I had made valedictorian, when one had to make 95% for an A and 81% for even a gentleman’s C.

.    The dean was not to be sidetracked; he moved quickly to obviously more sensitive areas.

     “Bill, please tell me, how do you think you are getting along with the other boys in Brown Hall?”

     For five whole seconds¾far too long to wait for a car’s oil pressure light to go off ¾ my mind churned about two adjectives, “latent” and “overt,” used to modify “homosexuality” as discussed in a supposedly innocuous psychological self-help book[1] right next to our 1950 World Book Encyclopedia, so satisfying with its colorful topographical maps of all the states, in our den bookcase at home. Now, I felt proud of a few of my high school friends, and I had even come to feel secretly proud of my internal sexual arousal in their presence. I felt good about myself by worshipping these friends! My feelings had given me the capacity to identify and select, in my own fantasy world if nowhere else, the best and most complete men. The other boys had visualized their own powers as reflected in the sexual allure of girls. By courting young ladies, they set themselves up for the tender trap of marriage; they would give up their desultory  “power” quickly. These ostentatious boys didn’t even know about their own vulnerability, and I wanted to teach it to them. My fantasies¾a potential verbal weapon¾were still just mental games, but they pointed to a truth I wanted to tell. Boys cared about their own self-images and their own bodies; they really didn’t care about women as equals (or as their sexual superiors and their own futures) yet. After all (in subsequent military parlance), “women are so stupid,” they’re “playthings” to dominate.  

     A comment my roommate had made a few days ago played through my head like a warped phonograph record that got stuck. He had said, “I’m not modest about my body. But I know it bothers you to go without your shirt.” It did. We just had to be able to talk about these things.

     Actually, the boys had brought it up anyway. Just a week ago, there had been another sign on my dorm door, "Blow jobs from Golden Genius, 25 cents" (++offering sexual activity for money+). I had quietly taken it down as if it were a Christmas ornament. 

     I made my announcement quickly.  "I have come around to considering myself to be a latent homosexual," I said. With that statement, I had “pinned a label on myself,” as my father would later put it.

     "Now what makes you think you're a homosexual," he said dispassionately, as if there were nothing particularly alarming about my statement.

      "I've never done anything, but I find myself getting sexually excited around a few very select men that I admire, although I don't tell anyone. It’s all just thoughts. That’s why it’s latent.”

     The moon-faced dean sat very still. He maintained his calm control by saying nothing for the moment and keeping the ball in my court.  

     “Oh, the boys,” I lectured. “I’m not alone with these feelings.” They were all so curious about each other’s endowments, about where their physical maturity put them in the male food chain. Some of the more homely (often fat) men had suddenly become the most vociferous in bragging about their conquests of girls (not grown women); actual performance in intercourse would neutralize their visibly obvious inadequacies as man-likenesses.  They would tease me late at night with questions like, “Bill, what do you think of sexual intercourse before marriage? Bill, what do you think of homosexuality?” My father had reassured me in a letter that they must already feel guilty about taking advantage of “most gorgeous gals.” They would soon give up opportunity, control of their own lives and vitality to validate their “manhood” in sexual performance and perhaps by getting girls pregnant; at least that’s how I saw them. I wanted to make them admit it.

     I realized I had talked myself into a trap. The somewhat vulgar, dead-end male-bonding I had observed in some companions hardly approached my own sensation of sexual urgency. I stopped.                    

     He leaned back in his upholstered chair and spoke softly. “Well, I had heard rumors that you’re a homosexual. Now, Bill, you don't want to think of yourself as a homosexual.”

     I should have challenged him with a contentious “Why?”  Really, what’s wrong with being attracted to men? If I don’t date girls, that’s somebody else’s problem. Then, I allowed myself to be mentally distracted by the rumors. My roommate had said, “You put your hands on other boys’ knees,” and I didn’t recall ever doing that.

     “This is all just feelings inside me,” I protested, “and a little talk.”

     He paused, like a jury member deliberating. “No, you’re not a homosexual. You just can’t be. I think you just have some anxieties that we'll have to work out.”

     “We all do.”    

     “But, Bill, I really have to talk to your parents about this. Are they home tonight?”

     I told him my parent’s weekend plans and immediately gave him the name of those family friends in North Carolina.

     “I don’t know the number. You can call information.”

     “Well, thanks for the cooperation. Don’t worry," he said. "I’ll track them down tonight and get us all together next week. I'm sure we can work this out.  We won't ask you to leave school or anything like that."  I distinctly remember that promise.

     It turned out to be a lie.

     “Look, I’m glad you told me,” he added. “The day you admitted to yourself that you’re a homosexual, you should have come to me.” Already, he had contradicted himself. Maybe he knew I was telling the truth.

     My parents must have been stunned to receive that long-distance call out of the blue while they were on holiday¾these were the days before direct dial and cheap rates, when a long distance call was a "special occasion."  But they appeared on Monday night.  None of us were very worried.  I had believed the Dean. After all, I was in the right.

     On Tuesday morning, I went to the 9:00 A.M. qualitative analysis class lecture as usual.  That afternoon, we would have lab and get back our second laboratory examination, which I thought I had messed up.  The chemistry professor had announced and fulfilled his propensity to come up with “word problem” questions where we would have to “apply” the facts we had learned to calculating “molarity” of solutions or to predicting the presence of “unknowns.”  After all, he had to weed out those students who “didn’t belong in chemistry.”  But I would never find out how he did it.

     My parents met me at the entrance to Rogers Hall, the science building, and a few minutes later I had climbed into the back seat of the Ford Galaxie.  It was November 28, 1961, sunny and windy, the first cold day of this late fall season. The days had grown very short.

     As I closed the backseat door, my father said, "This is going to come as a blow to you, Bill, but we have to take you out of school."  He then explained that my situation had been quickly presented to the president of the college and that the college insisted that it could not take a "chance" of legal problems if it allowed a "known homosexual" to remain in an intimate dormitory environment, where there was at least a possibility of future overt conduct or emotional trauma to other students. At the least, the College needed to maintain order and discipline among otherwise rowdy adolescent young men.  

     Section_02

    Initiations

 

     Being “asked to leave” William and Mary was indeed a setback.

     I had earned a chemistry scholarship the previous year, by grades and a competitive exam at the College the previous April.  Except for $1.25 stuffed into my hand once for playing piano at a Cub Scout function, this was the first consideration I had "earned" in my life.  My senior year in high school had been eventful; it was the first time in my life I gained recognition in a valuable peer group, the Science Honor Society.  I had been "initiated" into the society one pre-blizzard December evening in the basement of my own home, as my parents hosted the informal dinner for about sixteen of us, including a much admired physics teacher. The "ritual" was nothing more than giving a technical talk, which for me had been the speculative possibility of a life chemistry based on substituting silicon for oxygen.  Another “initiate” gave a talk about the various kinds of white blood cells and talked of “lysing leukocytes” (killing certain immune-modulating cells), perhaps twenty years ahead of time. Before the talks, we sat around card tables or at my undersized chartreuse ping-pong table (which had given me a decided home-field advantage) eating fast-food fried chicken; my friends even admired the wood-paneling my father had put into the recreation room back in 1949, when the house was new.  Indeed, I was proud that this ceremony was held at “Boushka’s house.” The evening concluded as the physics teacher, standing in front of a calf-warming fireplace, spoke about the sudden importance of science in preserving freedom.

      In 1957, the Russians had launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. A few weeks later, I cried when reading in The Evening Star that the Navy’s first attempt, the Vanguard, had exploded. Supposedly comfortably ahead in the development of doomsday weapons, we quickly caught up with and passed the Russians in space shots.  Still, I felt vaguely uneasy. Not too many years before, I had experienced the “duck and cover” drills under grade school desks. I had grown up hearing “it’s a free country” without clearly conceptualizing what “free” means;  my father had said that in Russia, kids never even talk at home, and when they do, a policeman assigned to their home turns them in! Once, driving me and a bunch of grade school classmates to the monuments in Washington, my father remarked that the country wouldn’t last more than another 25 years. The response of government and corporate America seemed to be, grow brains!  Suddenly, our country caught on to the fact it would have to value learning at any social price. In some circles, traditional young male “brawn,” by comparison, almost seemed like a burden.  Young scientists should probably be excused from the military draft. The science television program, “Watch Mr. Wizard,” encouraged students to take “all the science and math you can.”  This advice most certainly included young women, who, if anything, tended to exceed the men in scholastic achievement, especially in verbal, but sometimes even at math and science. Already, by about the ninth grade, I had found that the better male students (who often seemed to come from Jewish backgrounds), nice boys who didn’t “tease,” would value my companionship. Though, unlike me, they were cautiously dating girls (and much more eager to yield seats to ladies on busses or hold doors for them). They saw typical reckless male behavior ¾ the aggression, showing off, smoking, and fast cars ¾ as stupid and unnecessary. Grades, however mundane, had gained me recognition and a real place in this precarious world.

     Science, I had already noticed, provided a certain intellectual shelter from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. In biology, we had learned about the basic functions of life: respiration, ingestion, irritability, reproduction. Sex (whether pollination or intercourse), it seemed, could be looked at with intellectual antipathy as no more than a natural selection process. 

     The previous autumn had indeed brought a social “coming out,” as I was around young men whose company I really valued. I would walk back to the high school for Friday night football games with the hymn-tune from Brahms’s First Symphony playing in my head, and then join my friends at our assigned fund-raiser, selling cokes in the stands and during intermission. There would be harmless jokes then about homosexuality, even my apparent homosexuality (a “rumor” which started when I blurted out in chemistry class that a boy shouldn’t kiss a girl “on the lips”). Once, I lightly embraced a couple of the students as we made jokes that homosexuality was really some kind of psychological, esoteric priesthood.  There were even lighthearted rumors that our esteemed physics teacher was a homosexual, perhaps due to his total lack of interest in women. This was just a rumor; there had never been any kind of incident. The teacher would suddenly resign at the end of the school year and complain about the “social backwardness” of the Arlington school system. A few years later, I would read in the Washington papers that the teacher, now a traveling lecturer, had died of hepatitis.   

           One friend, the “math” genius in the society, introduced me to mountain hiking that next April (he used to say, “A hike in the mountains is worth any grade”).  Over Memorial Day, we took a field trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, including two nights in rustic cabins on Bear Camp Pond, a night-time hike up Rattlesnake Mountain above the pond, and a drive to the Mount Washington Summit (the physics teacher canceled the climb because of late spring cold and wind).

     That summer, I formed a particularly close bond with another classmate, who would that next fall go away to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI was the only place to which he applied), eventually become an Army officer and ultimately earn a doctorate in physics.  We would play chess (I won) and tennis (sometimes he let me “win”). He sat by me in a “notehand” (baby shorthand) class we took in summer school; we had expected note-taking skills would help us get through that first year of college when rumor held it professors would “flunk out as many as they could.”   Toward the end of the summer, I confided in him that I felt attracted to him, and he was not at all alarmed. He would talk about his weekend trips to New York to see a girl friend, but he refrained from making it sound “serious.”  Before I went away to William and Mary, he treated me to a World War II battle movie, The Guns of Navarone, downtown (toward the end of the era when downtown Washington owned those movie palaces).  He confided in me that I was one of his best friends, and that he appreciated how utterly “frank,” although socially “naive” I was; he had once laid awake all right deciding whether he should be my friend. The tenderness of his comments ignited my feelings of excitement, which I contained. I actually wondered if he would get roughed up as a freshman himself in his chosen school’s rather notorious plebe hazing.

     The Arlington County school system had be­come regarded as one of the top in the nation for student scholastic achievement. The emphasis on grades, and the incentive for egghead students like me to identify with them, could get exaggerated by some teachers; for example, an English teacher who demanded a second term paper for an “A-B” credit. This apparently meritocratic, absolutist notion of excellence may have been recent; in the third grade, letter marks had been assigned “according to ability” and the teacher had even said, “If you do the best you can, you’ll get an A.” Now, their academic standards were associated with a very strict classroom discipline. In grade school, the report card had included a conduct page broken into two sections, “Progress of the Pupil as an Individual,” and “Progress of the Pupil as a Member of the Group,” which included such juicy items as “practices self-control.”  But what the schools regulated was conduct, on issues such as smoking, drugs, gum chewing, talking in class, tardiness, absence, and appearance. (Once, I had been sent home to get a belt for my trousers. I was once called before the assistant principal for failing to sign the roster when I went to the library for study hall; that was my only “close encounter” with the “disciplinarian” in senior high school.)   I felt no pressure to court girls or to think about the idea of having a family of my own some day. What­ever the physics teacher’s experience in the school system, I never heard homosexuality mentioned (for condemnation) in the classroom.

     The school system did an outstanding job of teaching basic concepts of American history and government, and it started early.  In seventh grade, our "general education" teacher drilled into us the facts about Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) because she believed we would have to adjust to school integration in a matter of months. That would have meant, for sheltered Caucasian kids like me, sitting next to “Negroes” on school busses or in class, an idea that seemed unthinkable to many people in those days. Even my father had spoken of the Bible’s “fixing their bounds thereof...” The idea of integration didn’t bother me.  I saw “black” people as different, harmless outsiders; but then, so was I likewise not “like” everybody else. I dimly sensed that segregation ultimately intended to preserve undeserved collec­tive economic advantages for us “Europeans” rather than to avoid directly the “discomfort” of having slaves’ descendants living in our neighbor­hoods (but not in our bedrooms).  A few blocks from my parents’ suburban home, there was a brick wall which separated the “colored” (as people called African-Americans in the 1950’s) from the rest of us; the wall came down during the 1960’s.   

     In grade school, the teacher would show a his­tory film and then order us to “write it up,” to test how well we had paid attention. I could not imag­ine what the significance of all these legal and cultural trends could be, until I started recognizing what was happening inside me.

     As early as third grade, Arlington taught us conversational Spanish. Starting in ninth grade, I took four years of French. By college, foreign lan­guage study had already impressed upon me how grammar affects the way ideas are perceived. French (like many other languages) has a special subjunctive mood, which separates supposition from fact. In English, this distinction must be in­ferred from context. French also benefits, in di­dactics, from a separate impersonal form of the pronoun “you.” Attaching gender to nouns gives ideas a suggestive psychological color. Our first-year French teacher explained, “Everything is either masculine or feminine; absolutely nothing is neuter.”   The consistent attention to language and mathematics skills conveyed to me an impression that I could learn to think things out to their ulti­mate conclusion and “go to the root” for myself, not having to depend on the authority of others. I saw this in tenth-grade English, where the teacher allowed one student to write a theme attempting to “argue” the existence of God, and then to share that with the class; we were then allowed to show where her conclusions were based on assumptions (“postulates”) she ultimately could not prove. Teachers often admonished, “Read, don’t watch television!” in an era when TV was still relatively novel. The inability of many adults to read criti­cally today and identify relevant information in large volumes of printed matter hampers their ability to think for themselves and respond to rea­soned appeals to their self-interest.                    

     In eleventh grade, I enjoyed a “Virginia and U.S. History” teacher, himself a combat veteran of World War II, who insisted with considerable controversy on making his exams all essay. He would require us to explain in our own words such concepts as mercantilism, the bearing of geographical concepts such as “the Fall Line” on settlement, the relationship between secession and abolition, reconstruction, suffrage, the economic depression cycle, and the differences between fascism, communism, and socialism. He made us prepare an in-class book report on John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage[2] and graded us on how much he “learned” from our comments. In the spring he taught passionately that World War II had forced us to prove as a nation that freedom “works.” 

       Since I had been born during World War II (in 1943), just before the winds of war started to turn the Nazis back, I had already felt that I had woken up in the world at just the right time. Three decades later, I would watch the events that set the stage for today’s version of personal liberation on the excellent history serials of Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.  On D-Day, that stormy Tuesday morning about fifty years ago, western civilization proved that democracy and ordered liberty really work. Hitler had assumed that his “Folk” ¾young soldiers and workers regi­mented by allegiance to the Nation State ¾ would prevail over those “softened” by relative personal freedom. Hitler was proven wrong. Motivation to serve family, faith, and country, and only then perhaps to indulge the self, turned out to exceed “social” order, blind nationalism, mysticism, hero-worship, and consequent unquestioning obedience. World War II had indeed exploded as a conflict among “moral” value-sets that stirred passions far beyond conventional political conflicts; a modern society had talked itself into countenancing horrify­ing cruelty. By V-J day (and after Truman dropped two atomic bombs) Americans danced in the streets on confetti August snow and looked forward to personal rebirth and to unknowable freedoms and prosperity ahead. In their celebra­tion, they could not imagine how understanding of morality, justice, and freedom would evolve in the decades ahead.

      The history course had shown how the Ameri­can people would witness a full circle on the con­text of freedom, which had varied from the rugged individualism and autonomy of the frontier, through a growing grasp of community good and social justice during the many wars, back to a modern individualism that would experiment with the form of social constraints. Western civiliza­tion’s political dynamics would migrate back towards cultural squabbles, away from “class strug­gle” or nationalistic racism,[3] and from earlier dy­nastic state-system political conflicts, which them­selves had been derived from feudal times when the wealthy had learned how to build the state to suit their own ends. Homo sapiens, after all, had competed with other species (as dramatized when our organism survives, minus 700 million indi­viduals, an alien invasion on Independence Day); then races and tribes (separated, according to Bib­lical lore, at the Tower of Babel) had competed to propagate their own genes, with persons having to put the welfare of the kinfolk over their own com­fort. From Bible story books at home (my father’s favorite had been Van Loon’s Story of the Bible,[4] aptly illustrated with woodcut-like sketches), I had during my high school glory days understood how humans became civilized. Eventually the “tribes” could join through marriages into nations; but progress toward the time when human beings could contemplate their own differences as maybe something good, something that drives personal accomplishment, would take centuries.   

     Life had been difficult for most Americans during and before the War, and one could wonder indeed exactly what we were fighting for. My fa­ther had been just barely too old to be drafted. Both he and my mother had always lived in rooming houses until their marriage in 1940; they never knew the independence as singles that I would. For four years, there had been nothing to do but win the War; by first grade, I was barely able to grasp that I was living in the sunshine that closely fol­lows a terrible storm.   In 1950, as I sat drinking lime Kool-Aid on my grandmother’s porch, my mother suddenly said, “There’s war in Korea.”   My cousin and I would bang out tone-clusters ¾ random noise¾on the bass notes of the upright piano in grandmother’s den, and I would ask, “Why would any boy ever want to go to war?” By high school I knew the Communists, who had already killed more people than Nazi Germany had in concentration camps, could roll back our af­firmation of “democracy” at D-day. My world was now searching for a new balance between an indi­vidual’s self-direction and a community’s need to survive, provide some sort of fairness and prosper collectively. I sensed the uneasy joy and peace; it felt good that we had won the War, but the feeling wouldn’t sustain itself for long if I felt too afraid to fight.  

     The freedom that democracy protects for me had come to mean a freedom to excel, succeed, and be recognized as “important”¾ having a visible position of leadership. Theodore Reich describes this as Consciousness II,[5] in which personal iden­tity is enjoyed relative to “meritocratic” position in organizational structure (or “corporate state”).   In kindergarten ¾ where we were sent to learn to “behave” ¾ the teacher separated the class into "brownies" and "elves"; I certainly did not get to be an "elf."  I saw the adult world as one in which the smart people made it ¾ went to work in “good clothes,” solved intellectual problems and made decisions ¾ and the others did the dirty work for them. I vaguely knew that some of this manual labor  was downright dangerous: skyscraper iron-hangers often died, as had the immigrant men who had blow out the tunnels for New York City’s subway system.[6] I developed a resentment of the idea of (as I then called it) “low work,” largely because I was clumsy and not good at it, but also because I felt it somehow erased my individuality. I even resented the idea of addressing elders as “sir” or “ma’am.” Very recently, I volunteered for the AIDS Quilt candlelight march and was sent into the House of Representatives Cannon Office building to help with a “VIP” reception. I felt just a trace of resentment at the idea of a uniform T-shirt, and I jumped when approached with, “would you like to serve food?” Of course, I did so: I served setups and soft drinks (a reprise of those high school football games) and enjoyed wonderful opportunities to bounce my ideas off the congress­persons and media people who walked by; so by now I had become a semi-VIP, I guess.

     Even having been educated at an academic level about segregation and poverty, I still viewed discrimination and oppression (even the witch-hunts of McCarthyism) as other peoples’ problems. In America, even during difficult times during the Depression when survival came first, anyone could, in principle, “make it.” Anyone could be valued as an individual. War was perhaps the most obvious threat, something that could force me to learn the pain and subjugation that others experience. I did not yet understand that most grown-ups experience “freedom” through their ties, even obligations, to families they form after courtship and marriage. I knew that my parents loved and were totally loyal to each other; I thought this what they had both always really wanted. 

     In my senior year, my government teacher continued the tradition of political consciousness-raising. During the pre-Inauguration Day blizzard of 1961, we were required to write a complete comparison of Communism and Democracy. (He should probably have asked for a third comparison, to Fascism.[7]) Then, to make a point about citizen participation, through networking as well as voting, the teacher also made us memorize the names of our representatives in the County Board, State, and Congress. In a private conference, he said he expected me to understand what he was getting at, in drumming in the workings of democracy, and that I would then teach it to others later in life.  Like many of my other teachers, he knew that social values were poised for change, however scary the Cold War and shadow of McCarthyism; the phase-out of segregation was only a promising beginning.  The world seemed like just the right place for me to discover myself; it had the right constants of physics, orbit around the sun, and had provided me a side that always won to play on.   

        

     Section_03

     House and Home, and Family Trips

         

      From my first memory of personal sentience at age three, when my father showed me how to operate a Mars electric train making a perfect circle around the Christmas tree, I had always been somewhat a bookworm, and a mildly spoiled, but independently and critically thinking only child. Modern psychology predicts that I will conduct my life conservatively and always remain conscious of what I have to lose.[8] My father, a sales representative for a glass manufacturer, often traveled from our Virginia home for two or three weeks at a time, although he was home all day with us when not traveling. Supporting a family demanded much from men in the “prosperous” 1950’s, just as everyone complains it does today.  The fact that he had his family and child ¾ me ¾ became very important to his standing in the company and industry and to his success. Selling, to him, was proof that he could  convince the customer that the customer really did need the product; truth in business could itself be generated by masculine power.  I would watch him fill out “orders” and compute the charges on his invoices on a crude mechanical adding machine. I would grimace at television commercials claiming, “This is the best toothpaste.”  I would challenge my father, “They can’t all be the best.” He’d say, “You’re right; when you sell, yours is the best.” Sometimes I would carry my objections further, and mention my insult upon seeing intentionally misspelled words in dry cereal ads appealing to small children (and preying on nicer weaknesses), or claims that were patently false. My father saw “stretching the truth” in selling as inevitable; presenting his product’s best face did not contradict his righteousness. Personal merit for him meant moral substance, and he made a lot of appearances. About fat people he would exclaim, “Pot belly, no ambition!”   Because of his stability and energy, we were always financially comfortable. When I was about nine, my parents discussed the idea of adopting a younger sister but never followed up; I think they felt I resented the idea.

     I spent summers near Cleveland, with Mother’s family, and we often took long auto trips through industrial Pennsylvania and the near Midwest. I developed a fascination for mountains, tunnels, locomotives and coal trains. The real “Roadside America”[9] seemed to belong to places like Pittsburgh, Wheeling, and even the Lorain, Ohio port on Lake Erie, where forklifts turned coal cars upside down to load huge barges. We toured the glass factory in Bellair, Ohio. Just prior to completing this book, I drove to the site of that factory, a vacant lot with an auto-parts store going up, where a ghostly sign for Imperial Glass still stands from its days of glory forty years before. The surrounding riverfront area seems badly depressed; yet only a few blocks from the factory, I discovered a row house with a rainbow flag. “Family” values in this hidden, netherworld city had run full circle.

     My father’s love of travel (he bragged he had set foot in all forty-eight [Alaska and Hawaii were still territories or “possessions”] states) carried over into my own adult life, when I would run around alone on many adventures in Alamo, Avis, and Hertz cars (with unlimited mileage). Yet, in ninth grade I did not go on a field trip to France because I was afraid of getting sick!             

     From about the third grade, I had always been the stereotyped sickly, "sissy boy," so offensively described in Growing Up Straight.[10]  Most homosexual men were not "sissies" as boys and often have been competent to outstanding athletes; the record of gays in the military has recently demonstrated this publicly.  But I did fit the cultural notion of a "pansy" or  "pre-homosexual child,” someone who might never become “sexually normal.”  Through the first two years of grade school, I had been regarded as a bright and pleasant schoolboy; then suddenly, the teachers acted put off by my “problems” and refusal to start “growing up.” We would play a game, called "soccer," based on the rules of baseball, and one rule was "no bunts except for Boushka."  Why I was physically weaker and more awkward than I should have been, I do not know.  My parents say I was born with slightly deformed feet, which I outgrew.  The summer after first grade, and well before any vaccine became available, I caught the measles; we know now that this disease often causes very subtle neurological damage affecting such areas as coordination, and perhaps this is the explanation. The other boys, who called me “lazybones” at summer day camp, acted as if I would become a burden, a “girl” for whom they would have to risk their own lives some day, and I wouldn’t return the favor.

     The measles event produced a curious little incident. I was bedridden for weeks, and I remember going outside as I recovered to play in the front yard and encountering a favorite playmate, Mike. We had sat next to one another in first grade; one day, the teacher gave us all the “choice” between white and chocolate milk for break, and Mike had made the “wrong” choice because the chocolate tasted better. I had chided Mike, “You’ll get sick,” and he had retorted, “I don’t care.” Well, he never got sick, but I often did.  In just that month of my staying in bed with eyes covered, he had grown perhaps an inch taller than me. I felt threatened and yet curiously enjoyed a perception of his sudden dominion over me. Having just turned seven, I suddenly knew I was “different.” He picked up on my reaction and made a strange comment that sometimes “men can marry men.”  The following year we would endure a seventeen-year-locust summer.  I would cry when seeing trees in our backyard denuded, and Mike would notice that these insects would “sleep” almost their entire lives, and “live” only a few weeks until they reproduced their own kind. We noticed biology and nature early.    

     In the third grade, I also suddenly discovered an interest in music and demanded to be given piano lessons.  I really don't know why, but music seemed to run in my blood.  But in February 1952, my parents bought a console Kimball piano, and I began private lessons in a basement a half-mile away with a well-loved elderly woman. Music is a “universal language” (all the more so than “esperanto”), she taught us in our Wednesday classes. I developed an ear for romantic, yet logically expressive music of  European symphonic tradition. I recall the music teacher characterizing “Allegro” as, “gay and lively.”  (She also warned me that I must be a “normal” boy.)  I won several prizes in annual solo piano competitions, called “festivals,” and remember her embracing me after one recital in which all three judges had rated me “Superior” (equivalent to “A”). I seemed to possess, at least intermittently, perfect pitch.

       I also started a record collection and quickly developed a memory for musical literature.  I can always distinguish Mozart from Haydn, Brahms from Schumann, Mahler from Bruckner or Strauss. Classical music, particularly European “sonata form” music which develops and resolves otherwise conflicting motives, tends to organize the mind to perceive connections between apparently unrelated concepts.  Music, even when totally abstract,[11] could promulgate ideas that might otherwise be unmentionable and bring them full-circle to a conclusion through the use of thematic development and tonality.   Mozart, much more than Haydn, associated key signatures and themes with specific personality types, often, in his sonata movements (and operas), polarized roughly as masculine and feminine, which did not have to correspond exactly to man and woman.  By the early nineteenth century, with Beethoven and Schubert (if not much earlier even with Bach), composers had learned the “technology” of  manipulating counterpoint, harmony, and thematic sequence to induce mood and feeling in the listener. European (especially German) symphonic tradition discovered that emotional response could be highlighted by strict discipline and adherence to rules of form, harmony and counterpoint (that is, polyphony, which means “many melodies”). Music did not need to be “pretty” or tuneful; it had to make sense and build up to a climax.  By high school, I would start a small classical record collection. I would ruin the records quickly on a little RCA record player with sapphire styluses (already an improvement over wood or steel needles). In a few years, I would graduate to stereo and inner-groove distortion. I gradually began composing, often rather perfunctory sonatinas with rather rollicking repeating themes and accompanying alberti fragments. By eleventh grade, I composed a big romantic Sonata in a Rachmaninoff-like style. Later, I would write another Sonata in which I would exploit “atonality” (specifically, the “twelve-tone” technique) to achieve emotional, post-romantic effects, with no risk of subconsciously copying melodies heard before.  I recorded it privately in 1991, and it now sounds a little bit like Ives (the Concorde Sonata) to me.

     Music, in fact, would always bind together all of my intellectual substance.  Music would fulfill the hope not for personal romance, but for romanticism, which (as we were taught in English) is life as you’d like it to be. That was its biggest paradox, that it demanded you get outside yourself. Leonard Bernstein, in teaching students orchestra conducting at UCLA, would berate them for being more concerned with themselves than with the dual themes in the first movement of the Beethoven Fifth.  

     I also expressed an interest in drawing. When I was about eleven, an older friend and I developed a hobby of drawing mostly educational or scenic filmstrips (we called them “movies” ¾ a typical title was “The Land of the Bible”), and invented a rather crude system of projecting them (even in what we called a “CinemaScope” format) to a basement audience with mirrors and flashlights. Once, we even invited everyone to vote on our “academy awards.” Steven Spielberg, I suppose, took such a hobby much further than we did.     

     In the mean time, I gradually became mildly competent in some sports. I could actually hit a softball pitched at moderate speed and actually became a baseball fan. I invented forms of fantasy and backyard baseball (softball) to play with slightly younger boys in the neighborhood.  Once, I had become angry when the boy ahead of me in the batting order hit into a triple play, quite a feat in grade school softball! I would design the rules (such as a force play at any unreached base and over the chain-link fence into a neighbor’s yard as an out) to keep the run production reasonable; the boys seemed to appreciate my imagination and innovative leadership even though I threw softballs “like a girl.”  During the Ohio summers, I found a pal, my age, with whom I expanded many variations of these backyard baseball games, even to games that could be played indoors with homemade cardboard “stadiums,” imaginary Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadiums  complete with bullpens and outfield walls.   This friend talked about men’s bodies and the signs of puberty, and we would tease each other into “revealing” various body areas, although we never really “did” anything.  Perhaps he had picked up on my recent curiosity about young men’s bodies, which seemed to start about age twelve. I don’t know where it came from; the thoughts and fantasies were sometimes stimulated by police or West Point movies on television, or by occasional comments from my father about baseball players or highway construction workers.    

     By junior high school, I had established myself as a good student; my father often urged that I follow a career in science, rather than music, in order to be economically secure. Success in science offered the opportunity to be part of an "elite," furthermore, I liked both math and chemistry. But there was also a dark side to what was happening.  I could lose my temper after the repeated taunts of the "bullies." One time, I severely lacerated another boy’s forearms when fighting back with fingernails! Also, I could be incredibly insensitive and unaware of things I said and did. I sensed a difference in my refusing to be like other boys, whom I saw as self-destructive through their thrill seeking. A classmate complained that my handwriting was like a “girl’s,” because other boys wrote “regular” (in an absent-minded scrawl).

     In early June, 1957, just before the end of ninth grade and junior high school, there occurred an incident of which I am more ashamed than perhaps any other in my life. In another algebra class, a boy had an epileptic seizure, which the teacher handled very capably with the proper first aid.  Soon there were rumors about the incident throughout the school, including some speculative gossip in the library that afternoon, to which I was a party, and which the school librarian overheard. The next morning, the boy came back to school and into our first period gym class.  When I saw him walk into the locker room, I asked, incredibly, "Don, aren't you the one who had all those convulsions?" During gym class, several of the other students quite considerately counseled me about my behavior, and soon I would appreciate them for doing so.

     Today it shocks me that I could have been so cruel and unaware of how unacceptable it was to make fun of someone else's disability. Perhaps I had become desensitized by the taunts against me during my boyhood, but that was no excuse for my conduct ¾ perhaps the “worst” thing I’ve ever done. That afternoon, I was called from mixed chorus class to the school office, not by the principal, but by the school nurse, who, starting out with a bellicose, "I want this stopped," scolded me with the verbal reprimand of a lifetime, as she accused me of “diagnosing” and "bullying."  As the session continued, it became apparent that she hadn't heard of the incident in gym class but thought I had been spreading rumors among other students in the library. The incident left me apprehensive about the potential for being suddenly called in by persons in authority, but still comfortably blasé about the impressions inappropriate behavior created or the harm it did. Previously, I had just resented it when a teacher said, “see me after class.” Now I knew discipline was a real threat and that I could do real harm without quite realizing it. 

     In (senior) high school, I was recognized often by other students for by scholastic abilities, and developed an improved self-image through academics, at the cost of becoming a better-rounded person. Fortunately, gym didn’t count in the grade-point average; an athletically inept student was guaranteed a C for any effort at all. (I once hit a home run in a gym softball game and still got a C. Thankfully, they didn’t offer swimming.) By now, my erotic fascination with the appearances of other men stayed with me all the time. I became interested in the idea that one could be a good ¾ even great¾student with good marks and still be "masculine," too.  In earlier grades, I had seen good marks and proficiency in certain skills (especially verbal ones) as a girl’s “domain.”

     There was a paradox about society's attitude towards women. Etiquette demanded, “girls first.”  Women were to be valued for their beauty, whereas men definitely were expected to keep their manliness covered up with neckties and long sleeves.  Women were boxed on a pedestal, deserving absolute devotion and protection from men, yet "girls" were objects of derision.  The worst thing that could happen to a young man, in my fantasy world, was to be made to "look like a girl” or to "feel feminine."

     I had already recognized within myself a process of symbiosis. Even as an eight-year-old, I had idealized “fine young men” that I saw in the media, whether cowboy Roy Rogers or children’s show host Billy Johnson; my heart had pounded when I received a Christmas card from the latter. Now, I liked to hang around young men who were simultaneously more “masculine,” “smarter” and more popular than I was. I longed to join intelligence with testosterone, at least vicariously. Having a connection to one of my “heroes,” who possessed the physical qualities I wanted for myself, made me feel good about myself. This made a lot more “sense” for psychological self-interest than did chasing skirts. After all, I didn’t want to “be like” a girl, so I didn’t want to “like” a girl either. My father had predicted, “One day, blue eyes will confuse you,” and later he “reassured” me that once I began dating a nice girl, started nesting against “her bosom” (as if she were Scarlet O’Hara), the arousal would take care of itself automatically. It never did. For me, “dominating” a woman for sexual or reproductive motives could never represent achievement. I had to be satisfied with myself to control someone, I thought, until I learned that the “control” should be replaced with “love.”  Already, I had heard of pop psych claims that women really go for men with a fatal “weakness.”        

     So I played my mental game of fascination, which by now was evolving into erotic dreams where I would wake up aroused after dreaming about the wrestling class in physical education. Only a few years before, I had dreaded the idea of a gym locker room, of being naked in the showers and seeing another boy’s penis. I enjoyed the idea of being overwhelmed (by a young man with the correct attributes) and even sensed a desire for sexual surrender (first as a “woman” and then as a man myself); I even pretended that my adoration of fine young men put me into some kind of special priesthood. This was me, an identity. I could be “me” by expressing my teasingly “dangerous” difference.  No one had a right to contest it.  I could control it within the privacy of my secret thoughts. Yet, I never even thought about the things homosexuals “do.”  I didn’t even know. As my summer friend had implied, I was indeed naive. But I still had no propensity to commit “homosexual acts.”

     Was I born this way? I certainly inherited a sensitivity to color and sound and to complex patterns of sensation. Once, I had insisted upon drawing a Halloween pumpkin red in kindergarten class simply because I liked red better, even though I knew that “pumpkins are orange.”  I could detect untapped musical talent in my own father, who sometimes would try to peck away at the piano in Tom-Thumb fashion (not chopsticks!)  I sensed that this nebulous underlying psychological “femininity” was an asset, a sort of hidden power behind an imaginary throne, a resource that could be kept inside rather than be refreshed by intimacy with girls. My father’s way of putting this had been to characterize me as a “serious boy.” Indeed, the reckless, pointlessly risk-taking masculinity of most boys, like the kind I see when a ten-year-old African-American kid bikes the wrong way on a major Arlington street when there is a bike trail fifty feet away, has always struck me as a limitation, a vulnerability.[12]  Sure, I knew these boys took risks because later they would be practically forced to offer themselves as shield for progeny ¾ women and children.  I could come to bat, literally take my ups, when I had some personal recognition to earn; when it came to blending into a team and risking ”getting hurt” in rough play (much worse than those awful penicillin shots), I just sat on the sidelines and pretended to know everything, even if I didn’t like to tinker with my father’s tools.  In high school chemistry lab, I had even been afraid to light matches!  Now, I can’t say my biological constitution alone made me get aroused around certain young men.  I didn’t need women for their femininity, as I already owned it. I needed to know manhood, but not the coarsened and empty kind that destroys itself in foolish chases. Indeed, neighborhood boys had challenged me, “Wanna fight!”  When I walked away, they had cried, “Chicken!” How stupid! Once, I had even started a debate in Sunday school about whether it was right to “hit back.”  I imagined masculinity as more powerful if it was tamed, perhaps by me. I absorbed visual images of “male power” every day in baseball games, in gym class, and even on quiz shows. My mind arranged these pictures into a perfect, hierarchical virtual order, and that was exciting.             

     So all of these feelings ¾ hero worship and personal sexual confusion and anxieties ¾ converged as I started at William and Mary as a freshman in September 1961.

    

     Section_04

     Tribunals  

             

     My pencil-shaped room Brown Hall was perhaps twelve feet wide. It contained a bunk bed, two chests and desks, and very little floor space.  I slept on the bottom bunk; I could afford to fall out.

     My roommate, from rural southwestern Virginia, was an impressionable fellow, and during our first week or so at school, we shared the vision of a bright future and the feeling that something big had already happened in each of our lives during senior years in high school.  He wanted to be a drama major and wind up in show business.

     At the very beginning, we were both filled with idealism. I hoped for a friendship to replace the one that had been suspended by my leaving home. He found my braininess useful; in the coming weeks he would often ask me how to spell things.

     We both valued the William and Mary Honor System.  My high school system had already taught the importance of academic and professional honesty, and, with term-paper assignments, the liabilities of plagiarism. On cheating, the French teacher had said, “Everybody does it, but that doesn’t make it right.” I can say I have never cheated on an exam. One time in high school, however, one student thought I had cheated because I correctly predicted a question on a government test (define “institutionalism”). Officials at William and Mary handed out a booklet explaining the Honor Code, which defined Honor in terms of the following four specific violations: “lying, stealing, cheating, and failure to report and infraction of which one has first hand knowledge.”  “Failure-to-report” an incident of mendacity directly contradicted playground or “recess” honor, that one not tattletale or snitch! The booklet offered this rather awkward explanation of the honor concept: “there must exist two forms of social control: one is inner morality of the student resulting from religion, education, and public opinion, and the other is an outer law. For the vast majority of students, the Honor Code takes the first form, that of a set of personal ideals or code of conduct.”[13] Later, I would wonder about the finer points of honor codes, such as whether it was ethical to study college notes summarizing literary works rather than dig the meat of these opuses for ourselves. The newspapers carried stories of minuscule honor violations at military service academies, such as “quibbling.”

   Today, it strikes me that our elders really struggled in sorting out moral precepts and that the renowned “established” essayists we would study in English class (such as Mill, Arnold, Fromm,[14] Huxley) had also struggled with their ideals about identity, love, honor, and society in complicated, equivocal prose. We underlined passages in these assignments as we studied them for quizzes; we hardly knew how they would one day apply to us as grown-ups. Since my roommate wanted to become an actor, he could relate to these ideas in real people’s talk; I would only gradually appreciate the (even commercial) value of inductive reasoning and ethical principles as I watched my life unfold on a mental movie screen. Today, word-processing software goes off the scale in evaluating the “reading grade level” of pieces like this.

     My roommate seemed to want things to be simpler, more emotional and more natural.  Personal morality, even honor, seemed buried by these collective global struggles, and constant talk of war ¾ now it was the Berlin Wall ¾ and the threat of not just another Holocaust but of male machismo bombing us back into primitive, Luddite existence. Morality seemed to have a global aspect that transcended our relations to others.

     I had already dabbled in politico-morality once in high school, in tenth grade English, when I wrote a short story presenting a swimming pool lifeguard with a puzzlement. Should he save a drowning victim when an air raid siren was going off and the instructions were to “duck and cover”? This was, after all, the era of Dr. Strangelove.           

     My roommate and I also started “revealing” slowly our psychological self-discoveries of having just “grown up” and left home, of suddenly dealing with deeper friendships and relationships. We both “emoted” at seeing (separately) the wistful film Splendor in the Grass.  But, quickly, it became apparent that his awakening had been the discovery of intimacy ¾ psychological more than physical  ¾ with girls, whereas mine had not.  “A boy and a girl can share things that mere friends or roomies never can,” he insisted. Soon, he began to drop hints that he suspected I was a homosexual.

     At times, he seemed to tolerate his suspicions and tried to let me “teach” him my little world. One night, I made him sit through the Brahms Symphony #2 in D (with its ponderous yet pastoral nature and slow tempi), playing from the constricted speaker of his clock-radio (the subject of his first English theme, a C+ effort). He hated it and told me a story about how some redneck in his hometown had badgered the city council about a license for a classical music FM station because one would have to flip through it on the way to finding a rock station. For stage plays,[15] he preferred no music at all!

     He also tried to sell me on his “old time religion,” and this threw me a bit. I had grown up in a rather formal, high-minded church, and had seen church more as a place to learn to “be good” than to develop a passionate faith.  This church, The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C., was located a few blocks north of the White House, and many presidents had attended it. I had watched the new sanctuary being built and opening on Christmas Day, 1955, when I was fascinated by the stained glass windows, the classical (rather than gospel) choral and organ music, and even the crisp sounds of wooden offering plates being stacked. The Church had been affiliated with both Baptist conventions but tended to be decidedly liberal and tolerant; during the new construction the congregation had met in the Jewish Community Center across the street. Dr. Edward Pruden had preached progressively about “spiritual progress as well as material progress,” and especially about the importance of judging people by their characters rather by than their skin color, gender, or religious professions. Once, he had written that the indifference of established German churches in the 1930’s to practical social issues had facilitated Hitler’s sudden, totalitarian seizure of an entire nation.[16] Pruden’s gentle, humble style of teaching tolerance and inner reflection as moral values downplayed the social controversy he could otherwise have caused. A month after the new sanctuary’s opening, I was baptized (after my own conscious decision) by immersion with my mother. My parents had become celebrities in the Church; my father actually took out a mortgage on our house to help fund the building. My father had also participated in the Freemasons, a cultural fraternity, and my mother had earned recognition in Eastern Star. I had also experienced after-school religious instruction in Arlington public elementary schools (this had remained legal until 1962), and on one occasion, when asked by the teacher to confide a secret in our personal notebooks, had nervously scribbled, “I have idols,” as I believed I was violating (in my thoughts) the First of the Ten Commandments. A lesson from a vacation Bible school sticks in my mind: “Jesus first, others second, me last.”  A much more constructive Sunday school lesson, befitting an open Baptist tradition, was “personal responsibility for one’s own acts,” as well as some good moral metaphors, such as “bribery bridge.”

     I would bring up some Sunday School lessons that had puzzled me. On adultery, my roommate insisted that unfaithfulness in the heart and desire is as much a sin as an actual sex act. On judging others, his proverb was, “You shouldn’t say, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’”                   

     My  behavior was sincere and earnest, yet bizarre and always provocative.  I guess I wanted to test his limits.  My wardrobe may have provided my roommate with the first opportunity for a taunt. I often wore brightly colored shirts, sometimes garish solid colors that had demonstrated retinal fatigue in high school science classes. Perhaps, like some male birds with their plumage (or like the privileged dreamer Joseph showing off in front of his brothers in Genesis), I wanted to attract attention. My roommate would charge, “When I see a shirt like that, I say, there goes that homosexual down the street,” and then a few minutes later state that the one word no one could dare repeat is “homosexuality” (sure, like Clive Barker’s “Candyman”). Then I provoked him with an English theme I wrote early in the semester.  We had the same English teacher, for different sections, and were asked to write a theme around the concept of "definition."  I had already teased him with my father’s question: “Why would a man ever want to teach English?” I chose to develop the notion of "friendship."  I don't have the theme now,[17] but I was quite explicit about the degree of emotional investment required by a "true friendship," especially a same-sex one. A man would really miss his friend (but not an acquaintance), especially if he was afraid the friend might never come back (or come back too soon).  A man would keep friend on a pedestal. Men can talk about things they never mention to their girlfriends or wives.  I got an A- on the theme, and now it frankly began to upset my roommate with what he called its “implications of homosexuality.”  The teacher, a handsome chap from Australia, didn’t help matters by dwelling on the erotic imagery from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” particularly the passages about lying “etherized on a table” apparently (according to the instructor) sexually impotent. I teased my roommate further by proposing that maybe some other student really would get an A on a theme that started with “I am a homosexual.” After all, he had started this! He fueled our growing confrontation by smuggling girlie pictures into the dorm and claiming, “You should be hard as a brick” after looking at them. I wasn’t.

     But local politics was going on in our dorm room and in our freshman class;  I was pushing some hot buttons. Most bizarre of all my antics was my skipping out on Tribunals.  Freshman boys were supposed to attend this initiation “ritual” on the last Friday night in September. Perhaps its aims were more complicated than the military’s practice of turning all plebes into “maggots” on day one, in the name of “unit cohesion”; but since this wasn’t quite the military, I could get away with playing AWOL.  One widely quoted rumor was that, at Tribunals, “they” would shave the boys' legs and that for at least one such Tootsie,[18] the hair would never grow back.  Now, this sort of legend would be intimidating in any environment that is mostly male and, in particular, almost entirely Caucasian; it wouldn't work today.  But there was probably a deeper psychological point to this "ritual" ¾ as boys became young men, they were supposed to give up excessive concern about themselves (and looks of their own bodies) and prepare for adult lives centered around starting, raising, and protecting families. Young men go through a phase of believing that a man’s standing ultimately gets down to the “power” he can project from his physical presence, as if only one alpha male could reproduce. Men are supposed to outgrow this satisfying fascination, forget other men’s qualities that they may cathect, accept what God gave them, and manage to carry on the species. Marriage and parenthood will become the great equalizer for middle-age ¾ believe it! Well, maybe Jacob in Genesis couldn’t carry on the family birthright without cheating. Actually, men are expected to accept the rule that, prudishly dressed in mid-life in gray suits and long socks, they’re supposed to compete simply by what they can do. Male cardinals are supposed to become mockingbirds, trading color in plumage for function, singing more. Men become “defeminized” by being temporarily feminized!  

     My roommate began to cart out the old wives' tales about homosexuality: that homosexuals can’t whistle; that a homosexual would attack other men in his sleep and take on this unstoppable "super strength" in the quest for male semens.  I honestly had never heard of fellatio before he brought it up. He would tell “ghost stories” of teenage boys being "ruined" at summer camp. He didn’t realize that his  own helplessness if confronted by a homosexual actually exposes his own vulnerability as a man.   The other boys would follow their dorm-room inquisitions about sex acts with false rumors that I was “getting friendly” or putting hands on other boys’ knees. [note Y1]

     I would sometimes soliloquize in the dorm shower ¾ when there was no one else in sight ¾ that I was a “homosexual on the loose.”  Just recently, in a scene from the French film Wild Reeds the appealing “anti-hero,” disturbed by his boarding-school crush on a soldier, looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and muttered, “I am a faggot,” repeatedly.  

     Section_05

    Therapy 101

 

     I got to talk to the dean one more time that morning before the sad ride back to Arlington.  The deal was, if a psychiatrist would certify me as "well," I could probably return the following spring, and somehow we would figure out how to make up the credits. But now, I had to go home.

     I knew there was a state institution nearby.  Desperately, and with comical naiveté, I asked if a psychiatrist at the local institution could "check me out."

     "No, you don't want any Eastern State psychiatrists," the dean told me. My mind played out what I remembered from encyclopedias, “facts” like, half the hospital beds in the country were filled with mental patients, and that mental illness could be “organic” or “functional.”  

     Before the drive home, I remember stopping at a cafeteria and suddenly feeling a sense of panic, that some kind of incarceration was about to happen.  I also remember that as we packed up my gear from the dorm room, a couple quirky things happened.  My father picked up the mattress and showed it to me, the evidence of still moist, discolored stains. "See, that proves you are not a homosexual."

     In fact, my parents arranged an appointment with a private psychiatrist in Arlington very quickly. They viewed this as an emergency and called it, “taking me to see somebody.”  Almost immediately, I began weekly 50-minute sessions with a shrink. I guess my fantasies and feelings would be of interest to him, simply because he got paid $20 per hour for listening to them (and my parents paid).  I had entered the world of "therapy," where people would say trite things like, "mental illness ¾ it's nothing to be ashamed of." I had been “confused” and had made a “mistake”; therapy would “get my thinking straightened out.” Yet, a history of psychiatric treatment or even consultation could be a serious handicap in adult life.

     My parents contacted the Dean of Admissions at George Washington University, and this dean was not alarmed at what had happened.  “I just don’t want to see a string of F’s,” he said. He obviously didn’t know me! Since the psychiatrist had determined that I could not go back and live in a dorm anytime soon, I applied to GW and began attending full time during the Spring Semester beginning February, 1962. I lived at home in Arlington, rent free, and my parents paid the tuition to this private institution, then about $450 per semester but rapidly rising.  Having forfeited the chemistry scholarship by my “telling,” I was still shamefully dependent on my parents.

     My parents gave me this one very stern warning: that I must never mention the subject of homosexuality again, to anyone.  For no really good reasons except to shelter the sexual comfort of “normal” adult men (particularly younger men still primed to “grow up”) and to protect the family and all others constructively associated with me, same-sex attraction and eroticism ¾ “deviance” ¾ would have to stay forever off my table as a mentionable subject. I had settled down now.  I no longer felt the pressure to overcome the self-deception and consequent teasing from dorm-mates, so I listened.  If I somehow got kicked out of school again over this issue, "my college days were over" because “no college would take me,” and I would definitely be doomed to some kind of marginal existence. Instead, my parents could have made me work my way through school! In the mean time, we told most friends of the family that I had gotten “sick” down at William and Mary and had to come home to recover.  My father would also counsel me that from now on, I must be concerned about what “everyone thinks,” even if I might be right.

     The Christmas season was cheered by visits of old friends. My father had warned they would all desert me, as we offered the euphemism about returning home to seek “medical advice,” but that did not happen. My chum from the summer, returned from VPI, came over and told me about his surviving hell week in the barracks and turning himself into a kind of Swiss citizen-soldier. As for my giving away my little secret, “That was a stupid thing to do.” 

     In the mean time, the private therapy continued, partly because I thought it was a way to get my scholarship back.  On a psychological level, it went nowhere.  The doctor would reassure my father, in front of me, “No, the problem isn’t homosexuality.”  He thought I was using homosexuality as a way to "step on their toes," to hit back at people like those who had taunted me, people like my roommate who at least pretended to believe that any "real man" could be deflowered and rendered impotent for life by a homosexual. “You seem to be unaware of the consequences of things you say and do,” he counseled. But, then, why were these “normal” men so vulnerable to exposure? The therapist wouldn’t answer; he didn’t know.  I wasn’t about to let my individuality become erased by “liking girls.”

     In April, the doctor suggested that I be admitted as an inpatient at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where there was a study being funded of students who had experienced difficulties "adjusting" to college. 

     I went to NIH for the interview, which was held in a very clinical-looking scrub room, and where I was a little more open about my fantasies than I had been with anyone previously.  The government psychiatrists presented the program in glowing terms: the new, "liberal" Kennedy administration was very concerned about the competitiveness of American college students, particularly (I presumed) as the Cold War escalated.

      My father told me that therapists had related to him that I was “very sick.” I didn’t want to believe this. “You don’t see people as people,” he charged, “just as foils.” Yet, in subsequent family therapy at NIH he would come to my defense, half-praising me for being a “stickler” for definitions and accurate (if dangerous) usage of words. 

     I could pretend that participating was an almost patriotic thing to do. Maybe, it would to be a way to be part of something important. More to the point, we all thought a “dorm-like” living experience, even in a controlled “hospital” setting, would convince the powers that be that I was capable of leaving home again for college.

     I was admitted to Ward 7-West on Thursday, July 12, 1962.  I found a community of  twelve patients,  seven men and five women.  Some of the patients had been admitted because of "family" problems instead of college adjustment. These “family” patients (mainly the women) seemed to me to be less "intact" than the college students; one girl would wake us up with her screaming at night (I could overhear the nurse threatening to fix her “in the muscle”)  and actually threw a fake catatonic seizure during group therapy.  The “problems” ranged from apathy to morbid depression, even attempted suicide. There was muted talk about sexual and gender identity, even by women.  I had a roommate, a very quiet person, and we shared a large room with green glazed-brick walls that had once been used as an isolation room.

     They were definitely playing hospital in the mental health units, and I guess I could pretend the NIH Clinical Center, this government hospital, was my own “political prison.” I remember being made to empty my pockets and take off my clothes as I in-processed.   Our lives were structured: three individual therapy sessions a week, one group therapy, one family art therapy (the public drawing was very hard for my parents to take, especially since my father had experienced a mild heart attack ¾ which ended his cigarette smoking ¾ shortly after my “discharge” from William and Mary), mandatory weekly group activities, and "unit government" on Friday afternoons. The therapists all “lit up” during both private and group sessions and looked casual doing so. All sessions were monitored through one-way mirrors and were taped, Nixon-style. We were very pampered  by  three fattening meals a day, and attentive medical care.  One time I complained to a nurse about a toothache, and the next day I was scheduled to have my impacted wisdom teeth removed; it's the only time in my life I have known what it is like to be "high" on drugs, freebased (though legally) with the crude anchor of masking tape.

     I quickly distanced myself from the “sicker” (by my assessment) patients.  I was allowed to go home on weekends and to attend evening classes at GW;  sometimes to Record Sales in downtown Washington (in the days when “nobody” wanted to pay $4.98 as the list price for a monaural recording of a Tchaikovsky symphony or Brahms concerto). My father would say, “you’re married to your records.”

     I would sometimes upset the other patients with my talk of going back “on the outside.”  Some of them had achieved personal comfort in dealing with a constricted, model-railroad-like world, closed off by the geographical, Vatican-like boundary of the unit and containing only a few other people.  They didn’t seem disturbed when disciplined by the unit’s one form of “punishment” ¾ restriction to the unit. Although I had resented my father’s insistence that I learn to do certain manual chores his “right” way, I now longed for the pride of a job, even if it were only on Saturday mornings. I went and talked to a “butch” woman at the Department of Labor, who screamed, “What, you’ve never worked before?” and then hinted that she knew all about us “patients” at NIH, as if the Clinical Center 7-West Wing were the center of the universe. But while an inpatient, I did have an unpaid job in the Clinical Center labs as part of our occupational therapy; the counselor who ran it lectured us about going to work on time every day and on work habits ¾ keeping our minds on what we were doing as we did repetitive tasks.  My “job” was interesting: centrifuging chilled urine specimens from terminal cancer patients to separate and later analyze unsightly sediments.

     Going to individual therapy was like putting off learning to swim, still clinging to the edge of the pool as I kicked.[19]  As each twice-weekly session approached, I nervously anticipated whether I would “tell” all my fantasies.  If I did, would my brain download from heaven some insight that wiped away these dark clouds of self-dislike? Nonsense!  If I told, I risked unveiling the eventual emptiness of my future adult life, of what my “friendships” would come to. I needed reassurance there was a real city beyond the fantasies.

     Of all the recent “tell” books written by prominent gay men (including those recently challenging the military ban), none cross a certain invisible line in discussing the explicit details of sexual fetishes, of what makes their sexuality “tick”; as with politicians running for national office, it eventually gets just too embarrassing (for the audience) for the author to bare one’s soul. My mild interest in male body hair, a “part-object” that I thought men have and women don’t, would jump-start an erotic interest in attractive men (much as do women’s breasts for heterosexual men) which, I would gradually realize, could then be triggered by an appropriate man’s legitimate interest in me. I would play games with the therapist, by divulging the fantasies, which I had no intention of giving up, in the smallest pieces. Individual therapy sessions dwelled on “How do you see yourself...” and with my discomfort over my own body and recursive belief that I was somehow “defective.” “You feel very guilty about your homosexual thoughts and feelings,” the therapist would repeat. Even now, he insisted I didn’t really believe I was a “homosexual,” even if I enjoyed the mental games playing cat with other young men’s secondary sexual characteristics. He answered my newfound concerns over “working” to earn my own way by claiming that “facing these feelings” would be real “work.”  

      I obtained my NIH patient records through the Freedom of Information Act, and pieced together an interesting perception the staff had of me from microfilmed diazos of some rather crude, manual typing.  I was seen as bookish, self-absorbed, and a bit gawky and "unattractive." 1962 was not an era for self-driven geekolators. One comment referred to my restless mannerisms, which were claimed to resemble "genital manipulations," in group set­tings.  My gabbings in group therapy and in Friday afternoon “unit government” meetings were char­acterized as “pedantic” and as “separating feeling from principle.” I liked to substitute fantasy for real interaction with others.  In their clinical writ­ings, the psychiatrists hinted at the old-fashioned view that, for men, heterosexual interest was part of "growing up," a necessary condition for partici­pation in a world where one's adult identity could be constructed from meeting the real needs of oth­ers in a socially supported way. They noted that my relationships with girls had always been of a “most casual sort,” and they seemed to imply that my lack of heterosexual interest related to some deep self-centeredness. They suggested that my disinclina­tion to mate really constituted a defect, a kind of partial soul-death. If I didn’t give up my childish fantasies, I would never want to be a dad myself; I would never really live. Their official diagnoses of me varied from “schizoid” or “compulsive” per­sonality to almost normal. My parents, however, had a few reclusive friends and acquaintances, whose eccentricities seemed acceptable as long as they did not have to be explained. 

     The nursing staff (although not the psychia­trists) occasionally commented on my tendency to watch perhaps two of the young men that “interested” me, with a measure of unwarranted admiration, which I thought was a sign of really caring.   

     I actually did enjoy the respect of these more intact male members of the ward. Over time, some of the men did share with me what had “gone wrong” for them, and their problems dealt with motivation that went way beyond any concerns with sexual identity.  Sometimes they would listen to my playing Liszt and Chopin on the spinet piano in the solarium. Once, I organized a ping-pong tournament; to the consternation of some patients, I won most of the games with a “passive” strategy of keeping the ball on the table and letting my opponent beat himself with uncontrolled, missed slams.

     I tended to resent attempts by the staff and other patients to persuade me to see myself as part of “the group,”  which I saw as a most artificial “family,” the stuff of make-believe and baby play. I steered  group therapy (everything there ¾ art, work, family visits ¾  was “therapy,” wasn’t it!) discussions into my need to recreate myself away from the hospital, in a world of real emotions and real events. About a week before the Cuban missile crisis came to a head, I teased the other patients with the idea that the rapid destruction caused by war, even if Washington were to be incinerated, was a development that would make all of our “problems” seem silly. The beautiful Saturday just before a possible Armageddon, we all were escorted for a sleepy afternoon at the National Art Gallery, almost at ground zero. 

     After about seven months, I grew impatient with the whole situation, and in the spring semester of 1963, I left the Clinical Center as an inpatient and returned to school full time. I knew I still had my problems, but the therapists had been trying to “change” me to conform to the conventional family values of our tenuously free society. They even admitted it.  Despite all their rules that restricted many patients to the unit,  they did not resist my request to leave. I did agree to continue some individual private therapy for a few months. 

     Eight years later, in 1970, I would be invited back to NIH for a “post-treatment” interview. On this occasion, the researcher still wanted to know why my fantasies were entirely homosexual, as if in the intervening time I should have “grown up” and become heterosexual. “You still need men,” he conceded.

     In the summer of 1963, I decided it was finally time to go to work and prove I could at least pay part of my own way.  I had already taken a Civil Service test (which had actually contained a unit on manual dexterity), and I got a job as a lab assistant in the rheology (viscosity) lab at the National Bureau of Standards, which at that time was located on Connecticut Avenue in Washington in a campus-like setting. I had thought nothing of the government’s asking (on Standard Form 171) the usual loyalty questions about membership in the Communist Party.  But the second day of work, I had to take a physical, and was required to answer questions concerning previous psychiatric treatment.  In a panic, I called my father for "permission" before "telling" the doctor what had really happened at William and Mary.  Surprisingly, the government doctor noted in the records, "thought he was a homosexual," but approved my employment because I had never actually done anything.  However, the pattern for the future was clear.  I would have to explain this mental-health history time and time again.

     A few months into the job, I would read the Civil Service regulations of disciplinary offenses that could result in “removal,” and one of these was “sexual perversion.” A pre-med friend from George Washington University doing summer work at the Bureau would say, “They don’t want homosexuals working for the government.”  I had already just read in the newspapers accounts of (usually female) applicants for secretarial positions in the State department being asked whether they were homosexual. 

     Sixteen years later, in 1979, I would be forced to wait three months for my health insurance associated with a new job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas to kick in, after I answered honestly questions on an enrollment form regarding past history of psychiatric treatment.

      As the early and mid-1960’s passed, through college and eventually graduate school, I half forgot that I had ever called myself a “homosexual”; all this stuff in the psychology books about  “overt” and “latent” homosexuality was just a way to sound clinical, or to speak with authority over others, the kind of power teachers once had when they took names for detention. Homosexuals hung around urinals in YMCA’s, scribbled obscene graffiti inside bathroom stalls, and got (like Johnson administration official Walter Jenkins) arrested. I wasn’t like that. I just kept my imaginary heroes to compare others to; but that did make me different! I could look forward to a world of heroes and achievements without a special place for “queers.” But even if I kept my mouth shut from now on, just to get along, others might not be fooled. Some people wanted to buy me a new brain, because they didn’t like who I was.  My roommate had called me “a fine fellow,” until I opened my mouth; then he acted as if I had deceived him and would somehow use my sexual interests against him.

      I dimly knew now that most boys had been explicitly taught to fear any homosexual feelings. Like me, they might have noticed differences among themselves in their emerging external trappings of manhood; but, unlike in my upbringing (which had been so totally silent on homosexuality throughout high school), they had also been impressed that curiosity must never evolve into sexual interest, that as they grew up only women’s looks, not men’s bods, were supposed to “matter.”  Perhaps, like my roommate, they half-feared that giving in once to passive sexual enjoyment would render them impotent. Eroticizing other “superior” men might just remind one of his own limitations and possibility of failure. Homo-sexuality, at best, would always get in the way of man’s work; at worst, it could “ruin” a man for life.

     There were great, musical thoughts and ideals within me.  But I was still childish, juvenile, and in need of  new loyalties.

     Perhaps I did not yet appreciate the adventure and independence of exploring those endless worlds, leagues away from home. 

     There was one way to redeem myself.  Who makes things happen?  Who has power over the lives of others? Who could make me back into a man? 

     The United States Army.


 

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[1] Evelyn Ruth Duvall, Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers (New York: Associated Press, 1956).

[2]  John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper, 1956).

[3]  In a manner similar to Nazism, even the Japanese Empire before World War II had invented theories that Mongoloid peoples were biologically “evolved” at a greater distance from the apes. 

[4] Published by Garden City, 1928 and 1936.

[5]  Theodore Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 59-86.  Consciousness I had been preoccupied with an almost Luddite survivalist and religious values.

[6]  Sony Classics Pictures, Across the Sea of Time (1996).

[7] As shown by the three columns of “Comparative Government” of the 1950 World Book Encyclopedia.

[8] See Frank Sulloway, Born to Rebel (New York: Random House, 1996), Sulloway predicts that younger children learn from their siblings and take more chances and often turn out to be more politically progressive (or, at times, collective)..

[9] A model railroad exhibit on I-76 near Scranton, Pa.

[10]  Peter Wyden, Growing Up Straight (New York: Stein and Day, 1968).

[11] “Program music,” such as a lot of the tone poems of Liszt and Strauss, attempts to “tell a story”; abstract music follows established forms and communicates feelings in a structure. Opera, of course, is the most programmatic of all music.  

[12] Rick Weiss, “Scientists May Have Identified a Cause for Anxiety; Gene Seems to Influence Whether Bearers Are Chronically Worried or Confidently Calm,” The Washington Post, Nov. 29, 1996, p. A20.

[13] The College of William and Mary, 1961.

[14] In “The Art of Loving,” Fromm had already characterized my kind of hero-worship as “symbiosis.”

[15] In my own high school English, we had actually memorized the eight parts of the Elizabethan theater, including the proscenium doors!  Another teacher admonished us, “Learn your facts about your authors!” as if we needed them for a popular children’s card game.

[16] Edward Pruden, Interpreters Needed (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1951), p. 29. But the main factor, besides economic hardship and scapegoating, was probably Germany’s inexperience with constitutional government.

[17] The closest I can come to it is Merton Thompson’s poem, “True Friend,” on p. 106 of Poetic Ramblings (Nebraska: Morris Publishing, 1994).

[18] Tootsie, a 1982 film starring Dustin Hoffman; directed by Sidney Pollack.

[19] I eventually learned to swim the width of the YMCA pool in GW’s gym class; in better public schools today, swimming is mandatory PE and nobody gets out of it.