Coming Out in Small Town New England in the 80s
Welcome to the Equal Rights Blog Hop! Each year, members of the the GLBTQ community and their supporters gather to celebrate the battle for equal rights. This year, thirty different authors have joined in the hop, and there are prizes galore! Be sure to check out the entire prize list at Queertown Abbey and see how you can enter to win the rafflecopter–as well as the Master List of Participating Authors.
I came out in 1983 in Keene, NH, a town with a population of about 23,000. This was not a great time to be gay in America. Homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness (until it was reclassified in an addendum to the DSM-III in 1987), and just one year after I came out, a young, openly gay man named Charlie Howard drowned, after being beaten and thrown off a bridge in Bangor, Maine—the town I was born in.
The world was not yet ready for us—for me.
I was actually lucky. Though I’d spent some time in fundamentalist churches and, not to put too fine a point on it, been seriously screwed up by their loathing of homosexuals, my parents were not mean people. In 1983, I was living with my mother—a psychologist—and she handled the revelation that her oldest son was gay pretty well. My problems were self-loathing, taught to me by the church and society, and sheer loneliness.
Apparently, my self-loathing didn’t go very deep, because I was able to get over that within a few years of meeting other gay men and starting to date. Thank God. But that first obstacle—meeting other gay men—was a challenge. Keep in mind, they didn’t want to be found. Not by anyone who wasn’t gay. And that made it hard for those who were gay to find them too.
It took me about a year to go from coming out to finally meeting another gay man. Any gay man.
A friend of mine had heard that one of the local supermarket papers had personals for gays as well as straight people, so I picked up a copy. There were a few GWM (Gay White Male) Seeking… hookups, mostly. I found most of them kind of creepy. But there was one from a man just a few years older than myself, and he appeared to be looking for someone to hang out with—not necessarily sex. So I agonized over my response and finally sent a letter that just copied his ad, replacing his age with mine.
Fortunately, Michael thought it was cute. He called and we arranged to meet in a public place. Again, I was lucky. Michael didn’t turn out to be my One True Soulmate, but he did turn out to be a caring, attractive man who made me feel good about myself and, as someone who worked in public radio news, he opened my eyes to the world around me. And yes, he also became my first lover. For the record, he didn’t seduce me—I pretty much threw myself at him.
It was also through Michael that I finally found the Gay community in Keene. It turned out they moved every month from one house to another, the next month’s location published in a newsletter distributed only to members, and then marked by purple balloons attached to the house’s mailbox when the time came.
At this time, there wasn’t much of an “LGBT” community. Gay men did not hang out with lesbians, and the two groups frequently badmouthed each other. Bisexuals and transgendered people were, I’m sad to say, treated with mockery. Michael wasn’t like that. He and I rented rooms from a lesbian couple and he had friends who were bisexual, so I learned not to absorb the cliquish attitudes I encountered in the men’s group. But we certainly weren’t any more welcome at the lesbian group than our landlady and her partner were welcome at the men’s group.
I recall being baffled, at the time. I couldn’t understand why we didn’t all ban together and recognize we had a common cause. I can’t tell you how much better things got for all of us in the 90s, when this began to happen.
To enter the grand prize drawing at Queer Town Abbey, please answer this question — WHAT TOWN DID I LIVE IN WHEN I CAME OUT?
Then, go to this link–
What you do next, will be explained there!