Friday, June 24, 2022

My first gay encounter: It’s a different world now than where we come from

NOTE:  I am an older man out of step with the times, so this may contain language or memories you find offensive!

Yesterday afternoon when I was outside in front of the Tiffany, two young men were headed my way from the opposite direction.

They looked around 16-17 years old, were both around 5’7”, slender, one had a goatee.  Both were wearing ski caps (in summer) on the back of their heads like Mike Nesmith from the Monkees.  And they were holding hands.

I tried not to do a double-take, but this isn’t something you see a lot in Pittsburgh.  Well, not in my neighborhood anyway.  I’m aware there’s a lot of gay people out there, I’ve been lucky to know a few and seen plenty at the Pittsburgh Pride parades every year when I worked downtown.

I’ve just never seen anyone this young and so casual about it.

I know gays have been pretty open for awhile.  Ten years ago, when my older niece Drew was going to her senior prom, I was curious about her date and looked him up on Facebook.  On his profile page he’d written he was afraid of ghosts, milk & frogs, “not necessarily in that order”.   When I contacted my sister Donda and said “Hey—about this young man…” she told me to relax, he was Drew’s best friend, gay & everyone knew it.  Wow, okay!   

This sure isn’t the world I grew up in.  When I was their age, being branded a “queer” or “faggot” was a death sentence.  I remember getting cornered at least a dozen times in the locker room before or after gym class, in 7th & 8th grades.  Always the same guys who looked like 13 year old versions of the hillbillies in the movie Deliverance, Vernon Smitley, Jerry Eaton & Alan Bradshaw.  Always demanding to know if I was queer-bait, while Donald Bates, a creepy possum-faced redneck stood behind them making kissy lips at me.  

Oh, and that’s their real names.  I’d love for them to see this and reach out to me.

Mom, the Beauty Parlor and my first Gay Man

When I was 11-12 years old, and Mom was still getting her hair done weekly at Mary Jane’s Beauty Salon, Dad would drop my sister Shawn & myself off in town on Saturday mornings and we’d ride home with Mom from her beauty appointment.  One Saturday in the spring of 1972, as we sat there in the shop eating our candy and reading comics and waiting for Mom to finish, a man walked in wearing a fur stole and sporting a platinum blonde beehive. 

He was short, pasty, on the chubby side.  His name was Conrad Perry.  (Conrad was NOT a transsexual, a straight man who dressed as a woman.  He was a gay man who liked wearing fur stoles and women’s hairdos.)  I’m pretty sure he was harmless.

He was clearly in a dither, gesturing at his head and saying something to the shop’s owner.  Mary Jane told him to come back in an hour and she’d try to fit him in.

When he left the salon, Shawn & I went back to Mom’s chair and asked “Was that a homosexual?” 

Mary Jane and a couple of the other ladies laughed, and poor Mom looked like a deer caught in someone’s headlights.  She said “Do you even know what one is?  Where did you hear that!”

I said “When we were at your mom’s house for Thanksgiving, she dropped a National Examiner in your lap and said ‘Here, I told you these two were married.’  It had Rock Hudson & Jim Nabors on the cover.  So is Conrad Perry one too?”

Mom said “How the hell do you kids even know him!”  My sister said “We see him on Main Street on his bike all the time and I said “Yeah, and he always wears red satin hot-pants.”

Mom said “The next time you see him headed in your direction, I want you to cross the street.”  I said “But he zig-zags.  Won’t that look funny if we’re always zig-zagging when he is?” 

The ladies in the shop were now laughing it up pretty hard, while Mom shook her head and said “You damn kids, go sit down!”

I want to add that Mom did change with the times, and 10 years later she’d take up disco skating and become good friends with Ronnie A, an out-of-the-closet gay man and former classmate of mine who’s been with his partner 40+ years.

Here’s my funny, beautiful mom from the early 80s, wearing her gay pride rainbow top.  Sure do love & miss you, Mom—and I miss seeing you get riled up! 

35 comments:

  1. What a sweet memory of your mom. I guess it's harder to be gay and male than female. Nobody even notices two women holding hands. Good post!

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    1. You're very kind (and very right about women being close vs men). Thank you DJan!

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  2. Gays have a hard life. Rock Hudson was my idol. I used to buy his photos when I was in 5th grade and paste them in a scrap book. I was shocked when he died of AIDS years later. Gigi hawaii

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    1. His death brought AIDS into the mainstream, at least. Thanks Gigi.

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  3. I'm a bit like you I guess Doug when it comes to seeing same sex couples. I still do a double take. I always chalked it up as living in rural America where that sort of thing isn't visible often.

    In fact, on another blog I just learned that there are a bunch of letters and a symbol now after the ones I thought I know. I know LGBTQ though I don't understand how Q is different than L or G and if G applies to females, how that is different than being L. I have no idea what I or A or + refer too. Kind of like electronics, I'm slowly becoming obsolete I guess.

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    1. Thanks Ed, I hear you and understand loud and clear! I was just thinking last night, I have no idea what music is popular these days. At least your daughters will keep you young. πŸ™‚

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  4. It’s too bad this country is so full of hate and is going backwards. The TX GOP this past weekend stated: Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin, and we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. No one should be granted special legal status based on their LGBTQ+ identification.

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    1. Very true, Anon! I know several people who live in Texas, and they are all really great people. But Texas government is fascist, sad to say. They want to secede from the Union, and I very much wish they could and would. They will wreck democracy if we let them!

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  5. Hard to imagine the ignorance, intolerance and prejudices of long ago. Stranger still to think that once consulting adults were fired from their jobs or even jailed for harming no one and going about their own businesses. It must have taken great courage to be their authentic selves.

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    1. Very true. Florence. Well, I have epilepsy and in the United States, up until the early 70s, a person could be fired from their job or disallowed to marry or have children for being epileptic! Anyway, it looks like the us is going backwards again today with women's rights. Watching it play out right now on TV, unbelievable.

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    2. Just realized I (or spell check) typed in 'consulting' adults instead of 'consenting' adults. Ha! I didn't know you have epilepsy, Doug. Sorry to hear that. Bummer! So puzzled that your wonderful country is having a crazy spell. Surely the pendulum will soon swing back.

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    3. Florence I could've sworn you wrote consenting--so strange! Well, my seizures have been 'in remission' since the early 90s so I've been very fortunate--and YES, sure hope this country somehow rights itself. I no longer recognize it. :^(

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    4. Wow, Doug, you haven’t had a seizure in 30 years? That is fantastic.
      Hope you are having a nice weekend.❤️
      Robin

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    5. Robin, you're very sweet, thanks my friend! πŸ™‚♥️

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  6. Did not know that about epilepsy. I did have a friend in the 70's whose husband was epileptic can't remember any restrictions except driving. Sure glad for your sake and his that those days are over.
    Times sure have changed for the gay but not always for the better, Like Ed, I have lived in rural areas for the better part of 40 years so PDA between homosexuals is just not seen. I think the younger generations are handling it better than most as they have racial differences but there is still a long way to go. I have faith and hope in our youth.

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    1. Thanks Patti, I have faith in our youth too. For lots of reasons, we need to stop going backwards.

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  7. Hi Doug, I didn’t know you had epilepsy. My Dad did too. My Dad never could get life insurance and wasn’t supposed to have a driver’s license but did.
    A lady Chuck was friends with in the military nearly 40 years ago had to keep it a secret that she was gay. Thankfully things changed and she was able to be open about her life.
    Your Mom sounds like a lovely lady Doug. I love hearing the stories about your growing up years.
    Have a good weekend Doug.❤️
    Robin

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    1. Thanks very much Robin--wow about your dad having it too, it's a small world. Well, I wasn't able to get a drivers license until I was 38. (I was eligible at 34, but it took me a few years to work up the nerve!) Anyway, thanks for the kind comments about my mom & stuff Robin, I think you would've liked her a lot. :^)

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  8. We had a gay teacher in our school and he was accepted without any problems that I could see (20 years ago). I also have two friends whose child was gay and they were understanding and caring of their child. I'm so glad that people are more aware and caring now (at least the people I know). However, back when I was in high school I did have two guy friends who turned out to be gay. I had no idea back then. We just didn't know and didn't care.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Kay--well, I think gays have been pretty much accepted since the late 90s... I just very much hope our country doesn't start sliding backward now that the Supreme Court is reversing rights. I wouldn't be surprised to see gay marriages being banned next.

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  9. We are definitely moving backwards these days and it's terrifying to see. Gay rights will be next now that they've gutted gun control and abortion rights. I don't remember much about gay people growing up (smallish town) although my dad lived with a group of gay men when he was a young teacher. They were friends and no one thought much about it. My dad did use to say that someone was "light in the loafers" to mean gay, but he didn't mean anything derogatory by it. Great story about the man in the woman's clothes out in public in those times--what a brave soul!

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    1. Margaret, I always enjoy your comments thank you! Had to smile at "light in the loafers", I didnt think that was bad at all, your dad had wit! I DO agree with you about gay rights being next though, we are at the mercy of Trumpian judges, who clearly LIED about their intentions becoming judges. As for Conrad Perry... you're right, he was a brave guy!

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  10. I hung out with the theater crowd when I was in college. A lot of those guys were gay (not all of them) and no one really thought much about it. But then that was the artsy crowd. Probably the football players or fraternity bros. thought differently ... unless that's another stereotype.

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    1. Interesting Tom... I wish I had known more artsy people when I was younger, in my neck of the woods they were few and far between.

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  11. Looks like Vernon Smitley died a few years back. His daughter notes that he was not the best dad. The other names are too common to look up without more background information.

    The first time that I actually met a homosexual was a cousin. She was a lovely person. Wise. Thoughtful. We talked, and the one thing that she said that changed my view forever was: "If homosexuality is a choice, why would I choose something that cost me my family? Made me an outcast at work? Makes me the butt of jokes behind my back? Why?" And the anguish on her face made me sure that this was not her choice at all. She was my youngest daughter's godmother at a time when this was considered controversial. It is not controversial anymore, and I'm glad that it is not. It shouldn't be.

    I've always felt like someone's sex life was just plainly not my business, regardless of their sexual orientation. There are so many important things to discuss.

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    1. Debby, as always so well said. I can't imagine going against the fiber of your being to be with someone of a gender you're not attracted to. But we both know people do it! And wow about Vernon Smitley... I'm not surprised but thank you for that sad update. That dude was seriously scary for as young as I can remember.

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  12. Like you, I was late starting to drive – 28 in my case. This is unusual for people, especially men, who were brought up in Australia and America (except New York and possibly San Francisco).
    I had a different reason from yours; I had girl friends and eventually a wife who were happy to drive me. I use the word “happy” because it’s true. They were used to having men take them out and they’d drink too much (the men) but still insist on driving them home. So with them driving they were in charge (and it meant I could have some extra wine).
    The reason I eventually learned was my wife left. Where I lived was well served by public transport, but there are many places that are difficult to get to without a car.

    I agree that your country is going backwards. Norma and I have for several years referred to America as a failed state. It seems to be failing more as time passes. What a pity – I like your country (well, bits of it).

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    1. Peter, you sounded like quite the charmer in your day. Well, I was lucky to have friends and family until I drove, and when I moved to the city in the late '80s there was an abundance of public transit I still enjoy. (Sold my car a couple years ago.). As for America being a failed state.. gulp! Cue the David Soul song, Don't Give Up on us Baby!

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    2. Nuh. They just liked someone who didn’t insist on driving after too much wine.

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  13. What a delightful character at your Mom's beauty shop. A friend took a gay guy to the high school prom, because she didn't want to be in a committed relationship, but it wasn't widely known that he was gay. Most gay guys are very polite to women. Saw two guys kiss in a bar in 1972 at Kansas University. I prefer to see two happy gay folks than fighting hetero folks. I saw more gay patients at the VA hospital than I did at a local community hospital. Nicest, most grateful patients of them all, in spite of their pain or illness. Might need to move to Canada, and return in 20-50 years. We really need to vote the jerks out of all offices. Linda in Kansas

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    1. Linda, thank you for this nice comment--it just showed up in my Spam box! Get your act together Blogger, Linda is the real deal! Anyway, an interesting take here, thanks for sharing L. And truthfully, the funniest, kindest guys I know have always been gay. I've often been mistaken for one and I take it as a compliment. And yep yep yep about voting the jerks out of office :^)

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  14. Your mum was very pretty. I don't remember when I first learned about gay people, I remember when gay meant happy and gay people were called queer instead.

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    1. I do too River, the term gay has been changed forever I think.

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  15. Dug, I'm late replying here... but it's because I have no story to tell. I can't remember when I first learned about gay people (can we still say that? I certainly don't mean it derogatory and I don't know what all the letters - LGBTQIA mean??) People's life choices are their own business... and our "free" country is certainly taking steps backwards these days.

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    1. Thanks Rian, you're a good person--I don't think we can get any better than the term gay, and if someone doesn't like it that's their problem. To be honest, I'm not sure what all those letters mean either, but like you, I fully support everyone's choices. Sadly, I think it's just a matter of time before same-sex marriages are put under scrutiny. We're going backwards alright.

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