Parting Glances: Pages from a book (Pt. 6)

By |2006-03-16T09:00:00-05:00March 16th, 2006|Opinions|

My Lavender Time Capsule spins counterclockwise and lands with a hop, skip, and jump in the year 1955. The landscape is barren for gays and lesbians, who are hit on and worked over by shrinks, cops, clergy, family and so-called friends.
[SCORECARD: Bisexuals are cop outs. They haven’t guts to be gay. This saying makes the rounds: This year’s trade; next year’s competition. In 1954, American-born Christine Jorganson (1926 – 1989) makes headlines with the first internationally publicized m-to-f sex surgery reassignment.]
Inwardly I’m gay. Outwardly I fear being identified as a “known homosexual”. I seek refuge in bars and a few restaurants that take gays in but actually exploit us. I hide in a dark closet that is both crowded and empty at the same time.
In spite of this, like many teenagers I “come out.”
I accept who I am. I share my secret with others who are gay. I pass as straight. I play the game. This is how we live and survive. In Detroit, I meet others at two greasy spoons: the Hub Grill, in the downtown area, and Mama’s, behind the Washington Boulevard Greyhound Bus Depot,
As a teenager I have no role models. I learn how to survive from more-experienced gays and lesbians who learned the ropes by trial and error: encounters with “Miss Tillie” (police), the medical establishment, and employers. Through the grapevine I learn who to trust and who to avoid . . .
Here coming into Time Capsule beam up is my longtime friend Gordon Barnard (aka “Rita,”, as in film star Hayworth), a Cass Tech High School commercial art senior. Gordon has a flair for drawing Hollywood beauties, likes composer/musician Stan Kenton, vocalists Yma Sumac and Eartha Kitt, trumpeter Chet Baker, dance, theater, and ballet. He wears many silver bracelets, cashmere sweaters, and formfitting slacks with body-hugging style.
His gay awareness dawns cinematically at 14, while watching “Sunset Boulevard.” The 1950 movie has a ten-second sequence of actor/hunk William Holden emerging godlike in swim trunks from Gloria Swanson’s swimming pool. (Even today the beefcake sequence is electric.)
“Rita” saw the movie a dozen times. His parents —
who gave him a generous $1 a day allowance — thought it was because of Gloria Swanson (“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”) Gordon knew better.
Gordon also began to design elaborate scrapbooks of glamour queens like Hedy Lamarr, Veronica Lake, and male icons like James Dean. When Dean was killed in an auto crash, he took flowers to the graveside and wrote often to Dean’s family.
Gordon teased his hair like pouty glamour-queen Veronica Lake: a wavlet that fell seductively over one eye. He also began hanging out in Detroit’s gay scene, soon gaining a reputation as, “Hit the Tiles Rita”: performance artiste and tearoom specialist. At the Ten Eleven bar he always sought the brighter overhead bar lights so he could be photogenically seen.
A “Dear Rita” letter found by his mother exposed him. It was full of she/he gossip and sexual innuendo. He was given the shout-a-matum: Go to a shrink or leave home! He left that day, never to return. “Mom had a nervous breakdown. Dad sputtered. I have no regrets. I’ve had a FABULOUS gay life.” he says, now retired from a successful graphic arts career, still tinting his beard, dressing like an older GQ model, ever acting the aging ingenue.
“In fact, more than ever at 70 I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille,” says “Rita”. Lights. Camera. Action! Sunset Boulevard revisited.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander