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I turned 80 in May of this year. I have lived 62 of those years as a member of Detroit’s rainbow community. I suspect I shall do so for the remainder of life. (So please mark your desk calendars accordingly. Item in italics: Charles, gayly tenacious into his 90s.)
As a friend of mine who would call me up yearly on my birthday put it, “Ah, yes, Charles, you’re living proof of the old adage, “May babies are gay babies.” Or, as the Coffee Table Book of Astrology, admonishes, “Taurus is the Sign of Sexual Deviancy.”
I was born on a Tuesday, 1936, at 7:49 a.m. in Detroit’s Harper Hospital, where I also worked right out of high school training as an O.R. Tech. It was while scrubbing in a Harper operating theater that I had the unquestionably unique experience of assisting Dr. Leonard Heath, the foresighted straight gynecologist who brought me into the world.
Dr. Heath seemed pleased to get reacquainted. I was delighted. (Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember my face, and I couldn’t place his. Sometimes ‘family’ reunions are like that.)
Notable gays born on my birthday are actor Katharine Hepburn, and 19th Century nurse Florence Nightingale. (Other famous Twelvers – who may or may not be LGBT: Yogi Berra, George Carlin, composer Burt Bacharach, artist Frank Stella.) Needless to say, I’m in pretty good company.
At my advanced age I find that quite often I’m out of touch with who’s who these days in entertainment, sports, theater, film, the gay bar scene. Regularly I check the daily Free Press birthday listings, and find that many times I haven’t a clue who the celebs are. (Then again, I’m sure they’ve never heard of me – that is, outside of Michigan!)
I’ve lived long enough to know how things were for us gays and lesbians ‘back then’. As a teenager I was painfully aware that I was a sexual deviant, marked for watching and monitoring by society, religion, government, psychiatry, the law. A fairy. A queer. A sissy. A fag.
To survive I pretended to be straight, went by a nickname, told no one where I worked, lived a tiresome lie to parents, friends, teachers, and clergy. I got by. Sometimes barely.
As a gay teenager I also believed the variant saying shared among us for a future that seemed decades and decades away, “Nobody wants you when you’re old and gay.” We believed there existed a place we jokingly dreaded to go to. It was called the Wrinkle Room. “Don’t ever grow old, Mary; if you can help it!”
Standing at age 18 in the heart of Detroit’s downtown gay, four bars community, if some all-knowing Wizard of Osmosis told me there would someday be LGBT organizations, newspapers, churches, same-sex marriages, gay/lesbian children adoptions, big name celebrities willing to be open about who they really are, I would have said, Man, you’ve got to be crazy! That’s really weird.
Also, by the way, if someone warned, “In your lifetime thousands upon thousands of gay men will die of a devastating, scary virus. Be prepared!” I’d shrug, “Yeah, sure, Doc. You’ve got to be kidding. That’s too far out. A genocidal plague, no way.”
Looking back on my own gay life — the dozens and dozens of wonderful, creative LGBT friends I have been privileged to know, work with, study and learn from, love and be intimate with — the art and writing creativity my orientation has engendered — today I consider myself most fortunate, truly blessed.
If, indeed, being gay were a choice to be made rather than a natural biological orientation, I wouldn’t hesitate to make that choice. I say that with pride, experience, and — given these trying political times — determined, on-going, fight-back, up yours Donald slash Pence conviction!