1  Summary        “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: 1961”

Complete text:   http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/xchap1.htm

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Chapter Summary


            I put myself into my own argument right off the bat, as I recreate the scene where the Dean of Men of the College of William and Mary called me into his office late on Friday after Thanksgiving and quizzed me about my adjustment to living with other college boys in the dorm.  I would “confess” (or “admit to myself”) that I viewed myself as a “latent homosexual” who hadn’t done anything.

            Then, my parents would be called long-distance suddenly while they were on their own vacation; they would return to Williamsburg to take me out of school.  The arguments used by the college, that it ran a legal risk in allowing a “known homosexual” to live in the close confines of a college dormitory, would pre-echo the arguments to be used by the military three decades later in justifying its ban against gays serving, even covertly.  

            Indeed, my social adjustment to my roommate and other boys, some of whom came from unusually “religious” backgrounds and some who were intellectually rather roughshod and insecure themselves, was a bit of a spectacle.  I actually skipped out on the Friday night Tribunals, a hazing ritual in which freshman boys would have their gams shaved, a prospect that non-football players did not relish.

            There was a certain spectacle to it, a cold late-fall day in Williamsburg, my father carrying a stained mattress down a staircase in Brown Hall as I had to explain to other students what had “happened.”

            All of this had come as the first big blow, as I had, in my last years in high school, become somewhat accepted in my own kind as a kind of nerd, the kind of kid who today would lose himself on the Internet and maybe start million dollar companies—except that I was too conventional, too grade-oriented for that.  The biggest red-letter day of my life had been my “initiation” into the school Science Honor Society in my own basement on a snowy December Friday night.

            I would start going to school full-time at George Washington, but then be “invited” to participate in an inpatient program for “college students having trouble adjusting” at the National Institutes of Health.  I spent seven months there, the last half of 1962.  It did turn out to be a bit of a mental institution, with less intact, typically female, patients screaming in the middle of the night or going catatonic in group therapy.  There were other sessions: individual therapy, family art therapy, unit government.  And my therapy, frankly, amounted to a gently poised attempt by government psychiatrists to change my homosexual interests.  

            I actually attended school at night while a patient, and got to look in at the GW Student Union at the most dire moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I wonder to this day what would have happened to the “patients” had Kennedy ordered some kind of evacuation during those “Thirteen Days.”

            Indeed, the Cold War, post-McCarthy, post World War II and post depression era helps explain why boys like me were taunted in that era.  There was natural social pressure to make young men pay their dues, and participate in the roughshod activities that would make them warriors, providers, and protectors of women and children.

            I had sometimes returned the taunts. Once in ninth grade, I had made fun of a boy in gym class because of the stories of his epileptic seizure the day before.  Yes, I was rebuked for that, but in those days thoughtless rebukes if those who somehow didn’t “measure up” were socially acceptable enough to excuse compulsive thoughtlessness.  In group male settings—the military, the fraternity house, even the workplace—hazing seems to be an unstoppable social behavior (regardless of laws or “management”), as those who “made it” want the newbies to prove themselves capable of self-sacrifice if called upon.  The long hours of residents and interns in hospitals provides a contemporary example. In the computer profession, it might consist of expecting newcomers to solve tough novel problems on their feet, or in doing more of their share of nightcall.   

            My parents, sometime after I had gotten started at GW, gave me a stern warning, that I must never mention the subject of homosexuality anywhere, anytime.  But this was the era when accepted literature was books like Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers[1][1]  and (later) Peter Wyden  Growing Up Straight[2][2] (New York, Stein and Day, 1968).   


            College kids today have indeed grown up in a freer world.  Typically, man of them live off campus in what we call “1521 clubs” in the Twin Cities, often developing rich, adult-like social lives of their own, working part-time jobs and experiencing the perks of adulthood, with no draft to worry about.  

            I suppose in most schools an incident like what happened to me at W&M would be a lawsuit today.  What the college did was not necessarily wrong, though, given the standards of the time.  Even today there sometimes are incidents, such as a recent murder of a gay student at Galludet College for the Deaf in Washington D.C.

            But this whole William and Mary episode—though it happened in 1961 it is certainly borne by the attitudes of the 1950’s—shows me how far we have come from the days when society used to do its best to force and harass young men into conforming to their gender stereotypes.


ÓCopyright 2000 by Bill Boushka and High Productivity Publishing       







[1][1] Wvelyn Rutg Duvall, Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers (New York: Associated Press, 1950), a book that discussed the idea of “latent” v. “overt” homosexuality.


[2][2] Peter Wyden, Growing Up Straight (New York: Stein and Day, 1968).  Wyden actually said, “I don’t want to persecute homosexuals, but I want young men to grow up sexually normal,” and in one place hinted that men without chest hair were more like to become homosexuals!