3: My Second Coming: 1973-1992

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Chapter Summary

 

            Once out of the Army and finally living my own adult life—own apartment, car, record collection, writing plans, chess repertoires—it would not take too long, just two years, before I would “formally” come out and “join” the gay lifestyle, if there is such a thing.

            I will have to develop what that means.  But I eased into it with a soft landing, from an approach that started in environmental social activism.  I had been following the controversy over strip mining, and the rumors (still persisting today) that coal companies would turn most of West Virginia into an extension of the great Midwest.  One time I was caught taking pictures and for the only time in life almost arrested for trespassing; instead I wound up with a thorough tour of a strip mine.  

            In the mean time, I would make the usual attempts to “date girls,” meeting them in the shelter an organized “fun” of singles clubs.  

            As I moved away from home I would move into other areas of social activism, sometimes to “meet people.”  The Sierra Club would lead me to the People’s Party of New Jersey, and while sitting in on grassroots meetings in rundown tenements in Newark, N.J. I would learn just how indignant many people of my generation had become.  It wasn’t just Vietnam and the “military industrial complex.”  Supposedly the whole upper class lived off on inherited wealth and off the sacrificial labor of the underclass. Even computer “professionals” like me were suspiciously dependent on the working class.  It wasn’t fair.  The “People” would take over, by violence if necessary, and redistribute the spoils to the oppressed and the poor.

            But, being near New York City, it was inevitable that I would discover its rather self-contained gay world.  I would inquire, make a wintry bus trip to a cozy Sunday “gay talk group,” and scream in the joy of self-liberation.  Now, some day, I could look forward to a Maslow-style peak experience, a narcissistic, reflexive discovery of perfection and submission, and excitement that could itself become catalogued.  

            I would spend a lot of energy making myself comfortable: moving into New York City so that the community was right there, and looking for that First Experience (well, soft of), that would finally come in the Club Baths.  I spent enormous energy arranging my life around a quest that most people take for granted—indeed, my straight friends from high school, college and even graduate school were mostly properly married and distanced from me by attrition.  Quickly, I discovered an amazing resource, the Ninth Street Center, a gay community center located in the heart of the Ukranian East Village in New York City.

            The Center dispensed a Philosophy, developed by guru Paul Rosenfels.  The Philosophy was popularly and notoriously known as “The Polarities,” regarding psychological mating between “masculines” and “feminines,” but it was much more.  A central concept was psychological surplus and psychological creativity (as opposed to conventional adaptive behavior like “work”), but these goals could be achieved ultimately when one could, however independently, meet the real needs of other people.  A second duality, perpendicular to the “polarity” axis would be the subjective-objective line, combining with polarity in a kind of “Nolan” chart to produce balanced and unbalanced personalities.  Unbalanced personalities like me become focused on their capacity to follow their own chosen ends rather than remain loyal to others, and feminines like me focus on their ability to perceive, feel, and discriminate (“notice differences”) rather than operate, wage conflict, and lead.  The theory amounted to nothing less that a secular version of Biblical morality, brought down to the level of the individual’s own aims.

            The Ninth Street Center then was something like a non-residential commune, most of whose members lived simple “underachieving” (by conventional reckoning) lives, many never venturing north of Union Square.  There was indeed a new freedom, a respect for privacy, that had taken hold since Stonewall and as the pretentious Nixon Administration crashed down in Watergate. Gays would be left alone.  In run-of-the-mill jobs, they would no longer be discriminated against.  But this “toleration” was far from equality, although at the time I was so preoccupied with my own erotic goals that I would not see this.  Positions with real “responsibility,” corporate upward mobility stayed with men (and now sometimes women) with families and children in the suburbs.  The world seemed to be dividing between free spirits (ah, The Tempest) who lived in protected ghettos, and the external world of achievement and responsibility.

            I wanted to straddle both worlds.  I made plane trips to the west coast and got involved with a UFO group, “Understanding,” made a boy friend. I would be the wide-range messenger in a world increasingly troubled about its indulges.  This was the time of gas lines, oil boycotts, and urban financial crises, stagflation, recession, super inflation.  What was called into question was whether we, as a whole society, were living beyond our means, exploiting others around the world. We might have to sacrifice.  If so, people would be affected differentially, based on their lifestyles and obligations to others.  Hence the separation between me and others who say me as not having others to be responsible for.

            I would eventually get out of the City and try a new life in Texas, being on stage there for several important historical stages.  When I got there, my first surprise was the dedication to Christian faith that I found in the local Metropolitan Community Church, at the time pastured by Don Eastman.  Many people, especially the women, demonstrated a willingness to turn over everything, including control over the choices in their lives, to “Him,” a level of faith I had not experienced in my own more liberal upbringing at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC (essentially an American Baptist Church most years even if affiliated with both conventions).  I would witness faith healings there with my own eyes (as I would one day witness speaking in tongues and “being slain in the spirit” in a visit to an Assembly of God in Florida). All of this was taking place in the few years before AIDS broke out. MCC Dallas would go on to build the awesome Cathedral of Hope and now an even bigger project. Of course, Texas was quickly becoming the “buckle in the Bible belt” as the “moral majority” raised its head with (anti-gay) “religious right” preachers like Wally Criswell and James Robison.  Televangelism seemed in those days like the edge of pre-Internet technology.

            I was also in Dallas for the Baker v. Wade case, the challenge to the Texas homosexual-only sodomy law, in 1982, which we (the Dallas Gay Alliance) won at the lower court level.  But the storm clouds were gathering, and by the beginning of 1983 we knew that AIDS would become a devastating public health problem—and in Texas, political problem.  Soon there was this burgeoning pressure group, the Dallas Doctors Against AIDS, got a bill in the Texas legislature introduced to not only strengthen the state sodomy law but, with a military-style ban, prohibit gays from having employment in such areas as teaching, law enforcement, and even food service.  (This had been tried with teachers in California in 1978 with the Briggs initiative, which ironically Gov. Reagan himself had strongly opposed.)  I would engage the DDAA with secret letters, and we would eventually get the bill quashed with a strong letter writing campaign.  But our right to even our own private lives, as I saw to be so fundamental, could not be taken for granted ever again. At one community forum sponsored by the religious right, a law prohibiting same-sex cohabitation was proposed, as was the idea that employers should aggressively “ask” in order to “protect”  the workplace (and prevent health care claims). This was definitely the language of must-ask, must-tell.

            I would become a buddy myself, working with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center (after a scary biopsy of my own trunk for possible KS in 1983).   My one one-night stands, which had been going on for about seven years, would stop, as if marking a period in my life.   I became very attached to one PWA in particular, who would make a miraculous recovery only to succumb eventually to diabetes induced by the medications.  

            Eventually, I would move back to the DC area, as economic hardship associated with lower oil prices and mergers and downsizings. I would, as I downsized my life, question my own motives, a few years into the epidemic.  I had no family to support and felt I could be viewed as expendable. And perhaps I wasn’t playing fair: I would “hang around” younger men and refuse to feel attracted to someone my own age—ironically I saw this as an infringement on my capacity to feel, at least in the world of aesthetics. The sight of potential male perfection, that was exciting the way a perfect symphony is exciting; by comparison, procreation and baby-making, which to many people is a great Mystery, had always come across to me as mundane and something everybody did, with little control of the roll of the dice.  In time, I would understand that perhaps I held this view because I was living in a technological society that allowed me to, when compared to all earlier times, where living things were equated to economic and cultural assets.  

            I would wonder if I really had the right to live the way I did, and I felt that this was one question no one dared to face.  For gay rights had been treated by the political process like everything else, as a matter of an oppressed or disadvantaged or aggrieved “group” getting what it was entitled to through the democratic political process, even if that meant forced sacrifices from others.  Conventional politics, even in a democracy with a strong constitutional system like ours, tends to encourage voters to support candidates and parties who will give them what they want on their own specific adaptive issues; so it then tends to lead to coalition (“solidarity”) building and special interests, at the sacrifice of principles.   It was easy to feed this argument (for gays) with provocative research written up by Chandler Burr and others, to the effect that homosexuality, especially in men, had a largely biological component.  Indeed, “gay rights” in the late 60’s naturally aligned itself with the collectivist thinking and coalition building of the Left; it was not until the 1980’s that the gay community, motivated by AIDS, would begin to appreciate a theory of individual rights as the intellectual foundation for equal rights for gays.

            Conservative writers like George Gilder,[1][1][2][2] however, would start to force a debate on sexual freedom as a test of the limits not just of individual rights but of social standards and order.  Men needed to be tamed by women (else the “sexual princess problem” comes about).  Other writers like Warren Farrell would point out that men were really the disadvantaged sex because of what was expected of them.  And it was Paul Rosenfels[3][3] of the Ninth Street Center who could tie all these threads together with a psychological philosophy that argued for individual freedom and self-determination along a narrow untraveled road that stayed away from politics and ignored the bigger world.  My own experience is that of rejoicing that my own gender may be regarded as “beautiful” rather than as something fungible and fragile and barren until justified by marriage and fatherhood (and then still expendable).  

            I would remain a bit schizophrenic about all this, withdrawing and then coming out again—once to Catholic Charities when offering to take in a Cuban refugee in 1980 (denied), once during a voir dire for jury duty, once to an opponent in a chess match in a dinner between games of a Sunday doubleheader, once in a personal confrontation with a representative of Campus Crusades for Christ.

            But I would, in the 1990’s, be able to help bring the individual rights perspective on gay issues to a head, in my own way.

         

ÓCopyright 2000 by Bill Boushka and High Productivity Publishing, subject to fair use.                       

                                      


 

 



[1][1] Gilder, George. Men and Marriage. New Orleans: Pelican, 1986.

[2][2] Farrell, Warren, Ph. D. The Myth of Male Power. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

[3][3] Rosenfels, Paul (introduction by Dean Hannotte). Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process. New York: Ninth Street Center, 1972/1986.