One male voice of experience speaks out on the meaning of gay male life. This lengthy commentary was written by the man I identify only as “DLS” and its expands upon my interview with him. This personal commentary was first presented online during the early 2000s.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Very early in my life–back during the 1930s–I made a wrong, but irrevocable, decision. I sought only honor, respect and security in a straight world rather to stand up and fight to be me. I chose not to courageously seek the loves and joys I so desperately desired–male embraces, male partnerships, and acceptance by my own kind. Today I’m a 75-year-old homosexual, a lifetime “queer” after a lifetime of denial, wearing the skin of a “straight,” hiding the soul of a gay.
Since I survived to see the new century, my memories swirl around the events of the past century during which I led an apparently successful straight life. It’s only natural as the new year begins for us all to instinctively draw on our memory banks to retrieve “data” from the past.
Our memories inevitably include and impact more than our spiritual, personal and professional beings, they encompass the household and workplace in the neighborhoods, towns, counties, states, nations and the world in which we do our thing while the strangers of the rest of the planet do theirs. They bear on our futures because we are today what we made of our past.
My memories are a mixed bag because I remember myself as two distinctly different men literally sharing one body. In my straight existence, I remember and still see myself as far back as the 1940s as a proud and honored veteran of World War II, eventually a husband and father in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, a grandfather. I was a successful professional copy writer earning a living and all its necessities and some reasonable luxuries for a wife and children. And in the other existence, that secret gay whose true self nuanced in the 1930s and imploded in the 1940s, I remember and see myself as what I really was and am, a gay boy who shared myself with my similars, a young man who loved other young men and was loved by them, but then again took refuge in that closet, in self-denial and mortification.
Some of my memories are gems to be to be embraced, perhaps even coddled. The best are welcomed and create an aura of warm happiness and appreciation, and then reluctantly must be re-filed as I face the future. Others are grits of dirt in my mouth, the worst make me shudder with regrets, sorrows, often as not with shame and pain. Those I always unsuccessfully try to send to my mental limbo much as we dispatch unwanted computer trash to a recycle bin.
I can look back to events in my life which began in 1924, and re-live events so far removed from thoughts of a new century, not to overlook a new millennium, that it all seems a dream here, a nightmare there. My eyes have seen so very much. Indeed, mind is a warehouse.
As each Christmas-New Year season goes by, I become more and more the ageing regressionist. So many people in my three-quarters of the century are now mostly long gone.
In 1940 I was 16 and living in the Midwest with my widowed mom who never in her life suspected her little darling was queer. By then, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had succeeded in reviving America, mainly because he was rebuilding our military strength and booming weapons factories generating increased employment sparked and then bonfired us back to full recovery.
What an exotic and exhilarating era it was: The New York World’s Fair brought the first publicly viewed television to “the man in the street” in 1939, and the king and queen of England came to America where FDR introduced them to Hot-dogs and picnics. Sports stars were earning as much as $60,000 to $100,000 a year just like movie stars. Frank Sinatra was the new kid on the block, while Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were among the top showbiz personalities.
Wives stayed home to raise kids while husbands went to work. A lot more people went to church, racial discrimination was rampant throughout the nation. While everyone knew that “illicit sex” including homosexuality existed and there were drug addicts, no one talked about it or did anything to curb it. At that time, the homo population included about 10 percent of the population and even less were known addicts. Of course, the violators of moral ethics back then were more or less banished from family circles and never again mentioned. And God have mercy on anyone who crossed racial barriers to marry.
When Dec. 7, 1941 exploded, I was a 17-year-old horny homo smart aleck in high school. I was in love with a classmate, Richee, and in the first phase of “having my share”. He recognized my weakness at first eye contact and took it from there.
He was a member of a “secret society” called the “J.O.C.K. CLUB”. That stood for “Jerk Off Circle Kids” and a dozen teens, 15 to 18, belonged to it. Richee “inducted” me in private one night on the back seat of his older brother’s Willys Knight sedan and then there were 13 members. He said I was his lucky 13. There were no club rules, dues or scheduled meetings.
Simply put, the only obligation was to have sex with whoever put a hand on your shoulder and said, “come on.” We were just teen boys clinging to each other for sex. Yes, including group sex. We were joined at the hip by our uncontrollable appetites and bound by our youth and ignorance. Soon enough we’d wise up to the ways of the real “queer” world with its bar scenes, pickups by older men in the dark paths of the town park, or blow jobs in the movie houses downtown. It was sexually satisfying, and exciting. So what’s changed now, fellas?
One by one, Richee and the other JOCKS went to war. Richee, from a camp near San Francisco, wrote he’d discovered it was as easy to meet other homos in uniform as it was to buy cigarettes and beer at the PX without parental permission. “I met the nicest guy,” he wrote, “I’m sure you’d like him.” But that was a military era long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Of course, if you got caught it was the guardhouse, brig or prison unless you were lucky to get an Undesirable Discharge which marked you for life. There was also the chance your straight buddies would simply handle it without calling the MPs, by wrapping you in an army blanket and beat the shit out of you–and I can vouch for the fact that hurts.
Within 10 months of Pearl Harbor, I was the last of the “JOCKs” at home and mortally wounded, psychologically, because Richee was doting on some other guy. One day, I walked out of school, persuaded mom to sign my enlistment papers and wound up in the Army Air Force in Texas where they militarized me into a headquarters clerk.
Although there were a few “quickie” contacts that first year in uniform, I never succeeded in finding another Richee, but on a troopship headed for England in 1943, one of my sergeants took a shine to me. In exchange for some favors in a companion-way alcove, he got me promoted to corporal and eventually buck sergeant after a three day pass in Paris.
Richee was taken out at Guadalcanal. The rest of us JOCKs made it home alive and unwounded–a miracle because I was the only one in non-combat status.
My sergeant and I were on pass in Paris when President Roosevelt died. We were strolling on the Champs Elysee toward the Arc d’ Triomphe when weeping Parisians began hugging any GI in sight, expressing their sorrow and sympathizing with our anguish. We went on to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and just stood there as priests covered the main entrance with purple drapery. Everyone was stunned, even angry at fate. Who knew that a few days more and Hitler, too, would be dead?
Being overseas in World War II was a stunning experience from a military and cultural standpoint. I was a very good soldier, doing my duty, keeping my rifle and other equipment combat ready, and kissing up to sergeants and corporals and, once, with a second lieutenant. However, it was all very discreet and and safe.
A month after the D-day invasion when, frankly, it was really safe from enemy attacks, my outfit crossed the channel and I company-clerked myself across northern France into Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and on to Victory over Nazi Germany. My weapons? A typewriter, and God knows how many reams of paper.
By the time the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, I was home on leave and in New York City with my sergeant. I don’t think either of us understood the magnitude of those bombs heralding the nuclear age. We got so drunk at Jack Dempsey’s bar that I passed out. When I woke up on the sidewalk outside, the Sergeant was gone and I never heard from him after that.
Aside from judgments concerning the meaning and meanness of war in those days, what did I learn? That America’s valiant homosexual military guys could be just as great soldiers, sailors and marines as any straight, hard-fighting Trooper could be. And I lost count of how many of those straight troopers enjoyed a little hard rock night with their gay counterparts.
The war years stateside and overseas also taught me that homosexuality was not just an American phenomenon and it was just as fully experienced around the world as it was back home. Based on that experience, I’d vow that sexual orientation restrictions in the armed forces are stupid, unsuccessful and unnecessarily destructive to all involved, straight or gay.
After the war I re-enlisted and was assigned to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, as an army administrative assistant, and queer though I be, decided to make the military my career. What probably made up my mind was that there’d been a JOCKs reunion but we weren’t the same guys–war does change people–and one was already converted to a straight marriage, another was engaged to the sister of his high school Lothario, and we all seemed totally confused with ourselves and each other. Besides, Richee wasn’t there and wouldn’t be so I figured “what the Hell” and took the job in DC. I believe my family was relieved to see me go because without being able to zero in on it, they knew there was more different about me than met the eye.
I wasn’t just a disturbed veteran, I was different.
Our postwar Pentagon was heavily staffed by newly-civilian male and female supervisors and technicians who had served in the war as officers and enlisted personnel. There were also lots of all-level staffers who had never been in the military and I must say, they were very respectful of us gnarly veterans. Some of them, perhaps embarrassed at having been “4F”–unable to serve in the military–were more vulnerable than others and easy to bed.
So, it didn’t take me long to realize a large percentage were as gay and lesbian as any motley crew I’d run into in the military service. I was in Homo Hog Heaven when it came to availability as we new arrivals began moving in with each other to save apartment expenses.
Homo Sapiens of all sizes, shapes and colors clustered like bees around honey and I found myself sharing with two other clerks from my division on the Pentagon 3rd floor, Ring 3A. Believe me, we did not sit around evenings talking about world affairs, the booming economy or the price of new cars now rolling off assembly lines like crazy.
We populated gay bars and cruised 9th Street in DC. Lafayette Park across from the White House was one of the easiest and quickest places to make latch on to fresh men and score in the park on the other side of the White House grounds. It was a Roman orgy.
Thing was, back then, no one was crusading to wipe us off the face of the earth, condemn us to Hell or put us in prison as vile curs. No one of consequence really cared a great deal unless a homo got too bold and obvious.
I remember one intimate chap who told me, “you think we got a lot of queers in the Pentagon? My boyfriend over at the State Department says they outnumber us there.”
Back then, closing time at Arlington National Cemetery was maybe 11 p.m. I could pick someone up at Lafayette Park or almost anywhere in DC. I preferred young, rough Marines back then. The thing is, I had a 1936 2-door Ford V8 Coupe and I’d drive my companion to the cemetery where we’d simply park and walk among the various monuments and stones to a comfy secluded spot and get to know each other. A friend of mine who worked in the same section at the Pentagon, upon seeing me undressing at his apartment one night, swore he could read the imprint “Rest In Peace” on my back.
The straights of America were happy, marrying, having kids and settling in for the long plod to old age. We of the other sex were happy, coupling, and settling in for the long plod to old age. It really was a live-and-let-live society. I liked the Pentagon/DC pace so much that by the time my one-year temp civil service contract phased out I re-enlisted in the Regular Army as a buck sergeant and got assigned to the same office and enjoyed the same benefits.
In my opinion, the postwar period in which I lived found war-weary, prosperity-hungry Americans of all beliefs and races more concerned about the good things in life than about politics at home or conditions of any kind overseas. As a gay man used to doing his thing casually and without flamboyance, I began in the 1950s to sense that the homosexual community was faced with another menace. There suddenly surfaced the suppressed resentment and violence that “straights” of all political, religious, social and economic sectors had for ages simply ignored for expediency’s sake. It backfired.
I remember the 1969 queer revolution in Greenwich Village, New York: Stonewall. I was secretly thrilled with their bravery, their courage which led to what liberty we do have in the community as the century crawls to a close. There ought to be a monument to them next to the arch in Gramercy Park.
As a G.I. “bachelor” living at South Post, Ft. Myer, Pentagon military barracks, I had it made. The Korean War had begun but I remained in DC, where the police were finally trying to clear the gay pickup points at Lafayette Park, 9th Street and the Union Railroad Depot–something they hadn’t been too ardent about in the past.
At the Pentagon, and military and government sites around the world, homos were the subject of investigation, quick apprehension and either dishonorable or other-than-honorable discharges from service, in disgrace and facing rising discrimination from would-be civilian employers.
One of my buddies was so badly beaten by MPs who caught him with another soldier in an alley behind a gay bar, that he lost an eye and half his teeth. More and more I’d hear of gay troops getting busted and “Goodbye, Baby.” An outed buddy of mine committed suicide in the barracks latrine. Where I’d always had concern about being caught like that, it now became a cold dread provoking my soul.
Like a lot of gay men seeking to avoid the troubles and just exist within their availabilities, I began dating women from time to time. Yes, I even slept with them. Being seen with a woman with whom it was assumed you were romantically involved wrapped one in a mantle of accepted heterosexuality.
Not being a hero–or a gentleman–I loudly boasted of these new conquests and described them avidly, and brashly embellished, to my new straight pals over poker in the NCO club. I donned the mantle and kept my mouth shut. I was too cowardly to standup with the thousands of other gays, millions of others, who were crusading for freedom in every state in the union (but not within the Armed Forces–not if you were smart).
Convincing myself hetero sex wasn’t “all that bad”, I began thinking of myself as a bisexual and amused myself with thoughts of going straight.
“To Hell with this ‘queer’ crap. I’ve been there, done, that, it’s time to get married, have a family and live a normal life.” That was the thought which crowded and clouded my mind almost every minute of the day.
I didn’t want the hassle, the risk, of hiding my true self, I didn’t want the humiliation of being caught and forced out and didn’t have the courage to come out on my own. I’d conditioned myself against publicly living my preferred lifestyle–conditioned way back in the 1940s–and I couldn’t change that because I wanted to exist free and easy in this new, precarious world. I didn’t want to stand alone and naked in front of a world full of violent people who loathed me.
In 1951, when I was 27, I was going steady with “Bobby,” a great civilian guy, 32, who worked for the Department of Interior. I also was dating a nice gal, 23, whom I’d met at a St. Patrick’s Day party. We got to like each other because everyone else was dancing and neither of us knew how. We felt it was something in common. We got along great, we persuaded each other we were in love and proved it to ourselves on a weekend in Philadelphia where, actually, my sex was enhanced by thinking about what Bobby would do if he were under me instead of her.
I guess I was lucky she was really a virgin because I was no great shakes as a hetero lover, never developed a taste for it, if you’ll forgive the pun. She evidently mistook my hesitations and clumsiness as consideration for her own virtuousness. Before the weekend was over, I proposed, she accepted. I had my cover and a nice friend in this woman and had solved my problems, overcome my fears. Well, there’s always the Devil to pay!
When I told Bobby, he laughed and told me outright with some choice expletives that it wouldn’t work. “How are you going to stop seeing guys? How are you going to stop seeing me?” he wanted to know. And that’s where I made the stupidest decision of my life.
“Bobby,” I said, “I’m not queer, I’ve been half-and-half (bi-guy), but I’m going straight, I’ll never have sex with a man the rest of my life, not even with you.”
Give him credit, he skipped the small Justice- of-the-Peace wedding in Maryland but sent us a silver tray as a wedding gift. We’ve still got it.
The second-half of the century had gotten well underway and I enjoyed the new life and began to wonder if I’d ever really been what everyone now labeled “gay.” We had children, eventually we were transferred from post to post. There were, naturally, many opportunities to take off for a while with some “cool dude” and clear my tubes man-to-man. But by then it was actually more important to me to be a model father and set an example for our kids. I didn’t want them damaged by such behavior on my part and I didn’t want them to grow up to be what I was.
Besides, all one heard on talk shows or read about were complaints about “those gays and lesbians have those disgusting parades, why can’t they keep to themselves.” And, “isn’t it disgusting how they hold hands in public?” The hatred was hot and I didn’t want to get burned by it.
Eventually, I was a master sergeant and made it all the way to Chief Master Sergeant before I retired from the military in 1964 with the usual commendation medal, citations, farewell parties and slaps on the back.
Although the Korean War and then the Vietnam War raged on for years, I had always been safe, snug, in some admin job, chief clerk, sergeant major, even a first sergeant for a while.
At just about every post or camp to which I was assigned for almost 25 years, I watched tight-lipped as great guys and gals caught up in homo and lesbian affairs were exposed and court-martialed or just discharged, period!
Always, I selfishly told myself, “I’m not like them anymore” and went about my duties as a soldier, and a husband and father.
As much as I love the family to this day, I will never forget those years in the service where I pretended to be someone I actually came to loath, someone who turned his back on a wonderful community of honest, loving and brave people persecuted only because they loved within their own gender.
Fear had motivated the enthusiasm which had clouded my judgment when I went straight, and finally my judgment began to cloud my enthusiasm. Suddenly, I realized that no matter what, I was and would always be a homosexual man even though I might never again glow with that long-surrendered intimacy and joy.
When I retired from the military, I got a job as the civilian editor of a post newspaper in California where the family and I moved with adventurous excitement.
The wife and I gradually became sexually estranged. I know she thought it was because we had certainly aged and she thought, perhaps, she just wasn’t that attractive to me any more. I’ve never had the decency to simply tell her I was actually a gay man who couldn’t “perform” with a woman anymore because it wasn’t my nature.
So since the 1970s we simply didn’t “do it” and eventually as the kids grew up, married and moved away, we maintained separate bedrooms and almost separate lives. It has gotten to the point where we really don’t like each other but where would either of us go? What would the kids and grand kids think if Grandma and Grandpa split up for real? I suppose we’ll die this way one of these years.
I left the army post newspaper to work on a small town daily newspaper where I became a respected editor before age 65 and mandatory second retirement terminated my professional life. I’ve always somewhat reveled in the thought I worked for more than half a century as a soldier and journalist without my homosexual inner being ever diminishing the quality of my duty performance.
I did my jobs with honesty, integrity, loyalty and success. I never had an officer, superior NCO, supervisors or editor look upon me as anything but “a great guy to have with the organization.” Yet, deep down, I knew that they’d feel differently knowing they’d stood side by side with an old queer, even a latent one. What a sadness.
Any mature, thinking person on this defiant planet surely will give thought to what’s to come. I’ve begun pondering what I must–or may–do to rest my soul.
This closet I’ve been in for more than 60 years has been many things to me. Indeed, it’s been a refuge, a chapel wherein I hugged myself in anguish while praying for deliverance as better men and women outside struggled to make the gay world better. Who knows, if I’d come out and stood with them I might have had a wonderful new life. But I didn’t.
My closet, with only a psychological flashlight for illumination, has been a haven from the violence and terrors of discrimination. Yet, it’s a prison wherein still I am confined.
In what I still consider a remarkable though questionable forbearance, I was totally celibate in my closet for 25 of the years in which my wife and I have been estranged. Totally.
I did finally emerge sneakily several times in the past two years to have brief affairs which I thoroughly enjoyed and considered delightful considering my age. Unfortunately, they were not destined to be lasting friendships, just memorable.
By now you probably want to ask me: “DLS, you old faggot, as you near the end of life will you finally stand up proud and walk out of that damn closet?”
Frankly, I may not walk out of it. That takes courage I have yet to muster. However, I’ve given serious consideration to writing a “deathbed confession”. I’d place it in our bank deposit box to be discovered when the family looks for wills, secreted money, jewels and evidence that I’m the long-lost heir to the last czar.
It would be letter of great emotional intensity because I’m an emotional man. And assuredly it would be a composition of loving, clear, intelligent revelation to my wife if she outlives me, and to our children and grandchildren. That, again, is a cowardly way to exit just as it’s been a cowardly way for me to live.
What matters more is that after all these years of deceit in this passing century, in the next century the people I love most will know the truth about me, from me, for the first time. My wife may sigh with relief finally knowing that the mystery and misery she experienced in my “cold indifference” was not her fault after all.
As for my children and their children, I suppose it will be a matter of diversified opinions. Some will piss on my grave. Others may gently leave flowers and whisper, “It’s okay with me, I loved you anyhow”.
Perhaps, realizing how terrified I was of revealing myself to them in my lifetime because of the possibility of their turning away, it will motivate them to be more understanding of others.
Perhaps it will assure that the rest of their lives they’ll be more tolerant, accepting, of people who are different when it comes to sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or nationality–or any damn difference.
Regardless who and what we are in our lifetimes, it always amazes me there is so much venom, bias, hatred and violence directed at fellow humans just because of “difference”. After all, are we not created in God’s image?
And therefore, are not bigotry and it’s relative mindsets mortal sins, acts of violence against God himself? I don’t know who said it, but I always remember it, “What fools these mortals be!”
Those are my thoughts in the 21st century of a time long ago. And deep down, I pray that some of the lessons I’ve learned last century are lessons you men and women of the gay and lesbian community will learn for yourselves– without the pain, humiliation and distress that I experienced.
God bless us all, for damn fools need blessings.