I have a scrapbook my mother put together sometime after I came out to her in 1973, a year after my father died. She wrote a note to go with it. Her supportive words I’ve committed to memory.
“Charles Robert! How things might have been so wonderfully better for us had you shared the one truth about yourself that kept unnecessary distance between us. Openness is healing. Trust, an act of love for me. A gift, to be sure.”
The “treasures” she thoughtfully pasted in the lifetime memento include my birth announcement (7-1/2 pounds), early drawings, kindergarten good citizen tokens, embarrassing report cards (C minuses in spelling), my first shorn lock of spun-gold hair.
(I’ve been asked to donate that iconic relic for the Pride Banquet 2011 Silent Auction; but I choose to keep the snippet as a reminder I was once an angelic, Madonna-like blond. Virginal. And actually had hair.)
When I told my mom I was gay, she paused. “I haven’t been around as long as I have, read as many true-to-life novels, not to know.” (Now she tells me, I mused. Why couldn’t we have talked about this one 500-page “War and Peace” earlier?)
Shortly thereafter Jane Alexander met my friends, attended Unlimited Seniors get-togethers, visited MCC-Detroit. With her easy-going ways, friendly smile, American Baptist affiliation background, she fit right in. Happily so.
(Interestingly enough: my parents never asked me, Who are you dating? When are you going to get married? It certainly removed pressure to make up stories. Two of my gay partners my folks met – not aware they were gay – and thought they were tops. Actually they were.)
Pride Weekend 2011 in a new setting is about accepting – demonstrating – the honest freedom that one’s biological, mental, and emotional self is L, G, B or T. Without too much prompting I’m devoting this PG to celebrate that I’ve been “in the life” for 55 self-actualizing years.
It’s important to underscore “emotional” because too many straights – and many gays – think that being out’s all about sex. Period. It’s not. (Well, maybe 82.7 percent.) While sex is (or should be) mind-blowing, closeness, intimacy, friendship, sharing, warmth, caring for another are the real catalysts for personal growth and fulfillment. (Ask your mom.)
My scrapbook also contains a kindergarten photo: my class, teacher chaperoned by tiny Mrs. Williamson. To my right is a towhead kid named Mel, who provided my first hands-on “gay” experience. An initiation at age 13 that lasted several sessions of lower-bunk wrestling, hammer-locking, knee jerking. For starters.
Mel’s mom, a waitress, worked days. Ron, his brother, was usually out swatting baseballs. After our “tag team matches,” Mel allowed me to help myself from the kitchen fridge, sort of a bribe for services rendered in the name of amateur, on-the-mat sports.
One day – out of the black and blew – Mel sidelined our activity. “We better stop doing this,” he said offhandedly, offering a placating peanut butter/jelly sandwich. “Why?” said I, new to buff matters of indoor sporting – and enjoying a deliciously crunchy treat. “Because,” he jabbed me, “we’ll grow up to be QUEER!” (That’s news to me, I nibbled away, unconcerned by his revelation.)
Fresh out of high school I joined Detroit’s thriving gay community (four downtown bars, two teenager hangouts). Many a warm summer evening I stood on the corner of Farmer & Bates, taking part in the constant flow of secret, closeted, celebration, unnoticed by the go-home-at-5 business world.
The corners met in walking distance to Old City Hall; and – sorry for many – the First Precinct Police Station. Now, it’s June 2011: nearby Hart Plaza. No way, said I at 19. Way to go, say I at 75. Right on!