Archive for the ‘Personal History’ Category

Who’s Gay Now?

September 10th, 2016 Comments off

Who’s Gay Now?

In 1969, I was living in New York, Greenwich Village, at #7 Gay Street, just around the corner from The Stone Wall Inn, a bar later known for the Stonewall Riot, or just plain Stonewall, in June of that year.  I was outside that place as the “riot” was going on — on the periphery of the crowd, to be sure, but not unaware of what was going on.

In the days after, the Village was alive with organization and discussion of what to do next.  A main subject of debate was, What do we call ourselves?  We were tired of being called ‘homosexual,’ a dry and medical-sounding term.  We certainly were not ‘faggots’, ‘fairies’, ‘queers’, ‘mericons’, or similar disparaging terms; we needed to find our own name, to be able to find our voice.

The term ‘gay’ was not unknown, but not a widely used word; it was used mostly in the musical and theatrical circles, but not in the general population.  But it sounded right — and not just to apply to males.  In the discussions I took part in, we saw that the term ‘gay’ could apply equally well to lesbians and bi-sexuals.  That is, Gay meant someone attracted to the same sex, whether exclusively or not.

The term was later used to encompass the transgendered, anyone who considers themselves ‘queer”, and recently has been used to include intersexuals–that is, people born with both male and female genitalia (google it): thus, the LGBTQI community.

The point was:  Inclusivity.  We’re all in this together, folks; we’re all gay.  No narrow categorizations, no intra-group squabbling,  let’s put an end to these narrow definitions that can be used against us and unite toward the common goal of acceptance in the greater community.  And this effort worked, to the point that gay people can marry their same-sex loves.  It’s been a difficult journey, but we’ve come a long way.

I’ve recently heard some people say, “You’re not gay, you’re bisexual!”  To me, this makes no sense.  Have there never been happily married gay men?  Are lesbians not part of the gay community?  If you’re queer, are you not gay?  Must a man be completely inexperienced with the female sex, to be considered ‘gay’?  Are there no gay people with children born to them?

I’ve considered myself gay for some 68 years.  I know who I am.  I know my most innermost thoughts, my most intimate feelings.  I am happily married to a wonderful woman, whom I love deeply.  I find some men sexually attractive.  I am gay.  I didn’t suddenly change, just because I got married; there was never a Road-to-Damascus moment.


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My Commie Pinko Past

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

[When I was a senior in high school (1959), as a good little politico (I was raised  a Republican) I wanted to know more about the political action of the day.  So I subscribed, through free offers found in the back of The Saturday Review of Literature ( the New York Review of Books of its day), to four publications, two ultra-liberal, and two ultra-conservative.

The two conservative were the newsletter of the John Birch Society, American Opinion, and the National Review, just started up by William F. Buckley.

The two liberal were I.F. Stone’s Weekly, and The Weekly People, an organ of the Socialist Workers Party.

After my sophomore year in college, I applied for the U.S. Navy’s “NavCad” program–I wanted to be a fly-boy (years before Top Gun–no, I didn’t just want to get into a cockpit with Tom Cruise). Despite a morbid fear of heights, I wanted to serve my country.

I went through all the aptitude tests, and intelligence tests, and was waiting for the results of the physical, when I had a visit at my home from two FBI agents.

The blue-suited, white-shirted agents came into my parents’ living room, and started questioning me.  Why was I getting all this commie socialist literature?

They were very insistent.  I explained about how I was curious about the political extremes. I pointed out that I had subscribed to right-wing, as well as liberal, publications; but that fazed them not at all.  They hadn’t even known about the John Birch Society connection, or Buckley’s rag–they were just out to get us commies!

I’d re-enrolled in college before the Navy accepted me, so in the end I declined to sign up. But I’ll not forget my FBI caper.

As a side note, this was not the first run-in with the FBI for my family.  Back in 1947, after my father left the Navy (he was a navigator in the Pacific), he applied for a job working in Human Resources at the Army Supply Depot in Chicago. Before he got the job, the FBI came by to check out my mother, Phyllis O. Bentley.

Phyllis E. Bentley was a British novelist, accused, during those anti-commie years, of being left-wing.  My mother, who was twenty years younger than that author, was a Bentley only by marriage.  Yet intrepid FBI had to check her out, just in case.

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Boggin’s Cleaning Lady

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

Boggin had a cleaning woman, who came in twice a week.  The cleaning woman, let’s call her Kathrin (since that was her name), was of German origin; she spoke with a thick German accent.  Not unusual in upstate Illinois, an area that had been settled, despite the French name of Des Plaines, by German farmers, toward the end of the Nineteenth Century.

Boggin was relatively liberal, for her age and time.  Both politically and religiously.  An Eisenhower Republican, I guess she’d have been. She didn’t let her prejudices show, though I’m sure she had some.  But as a Congregationalist who had married a Jew (Oppenheimer changed to Opper some time around the First World War), she really couldn’t afford prejudices.

She loved to talk politics with Kathrin, who was almost a Nazi throwback; Kathrin could rant, and Boggin would goad.  One day, they got into religion; the subject of Jews came up.  You can imagine Kathrin’s stand.  Finally, Boggin said, “Well you know, Jesus was a Jew.”

“Ach ja,” replied Kathrin triumphantly, “until he turned Cat’lic!”

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September 4th, 2014 Comments off

I have a generally sunny view of life.  Today gives me pause.

This morning I was sitting outside on our back porch drinking my coffee.  It was a lovely, sunny morning, a few fair-weather clouds in the sky, the birds chirping happily in the background, some of them quarelleling at the birdfeeder; a perfectly normal summer morning.

Suddenly, there was a “screek, screek, screek” call in the air, and all the birds seemed to hide in the bushes, huddling down under the nearest overhanging branch.  I looked up into the sky, and there was a hawk, circling, circling above.

That afternoon, I was watching the hummingbirds.  We think of hummers as gentle creature, but they are viscious with each other; each bird has to have complete control of the feeder; although several could feed at a time, only one must have control, and will abandon any ability to feed itself, in order to chase the others away.

A while later, the mallard duck appeared.  It is a female mallard.  A few years ago, a mating couple appeared, to pluck the new sprouts from the earth beneath our feeder.  Then they had four little chicks, cute little yellow fluff balls.  After a week, there were only two little fluff balls.  Then there were no more fluff balls  .

Always, the drake, the male, had come with the hen, the female.  And as she ate, he stood guard, watching for danger.  Ireally anthropomorphic.

Then last year, the drake didn’t appear.  Now it’s just the female.  So, I wonder what happened to the female.  I wonder what happened to the chicks.

In a large planting pot near our porch, a Carolina Wren had built a nest…both the male and female had made trip after trip, dragging twigs and grass to create a veritable cave.  Then t..he wren laid an egg.  The egg lies there still, but the wren disappeared long ago, probably scared off by the sounds of our human activity.

This evening, I was agakn sitting on my porch (I do a lot of sitting, where I do my writing), and the flock of mourning doves, who like to forage beneath and in my feeders, suddenly took off in a loud flapping of wings, and the next moment, WHAM a brown shape shot down from the sky, grabbed something in the corner of the yard, and in an instant flew off.

This is a really quiet corner of South Carolina.  And violent.



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Sweet Carolina Home

June 11th, 2014 Comments off

The Carolina Wren is in her nest, and I’m feeling fuzzy-warm about it.

The pair started building their nest about three weeks ago.  They decided to spot it in the planter, just beyond where I usually sit on our lanai, about two feet from my face.  The nest, nestled in the wilds of our coleus,  looks rather like an igloo.

There is now one egg in that bower.  She is sitting on the egg today.  I am sitting elsewhere.  If I sit in my usual seat, I have to remain very, very still, or she will freak out.  She hops out her door onto the side of the planter, and sort of plops to the ground, onto the brickwork, and scurries away to a hiding place beneath the patio table.

So I sit elsewhere.  These wrens usually lay three to five eggs; there appears to be only one in this nest.  I’m rooting for a safe hatching, and a successful fledging.  Whatever it takes:  I do my part.

Carolina Wren


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fracking and the economic meltdown

December 26th, 2012 Comments off

I’m feeling today quite a bit like I did back in 2006, the year before the economic meltdown– like doom is just around the corner–or at least lurking in the neighborhood.  But it’s not financial missteps that are the cause of my sense of impending doom; it’s fracking.

I can’t help but feel that the country is kind of like a heroin addict; we’re addicted to extravagant use of energy, especially liquid extractive fuels.  We are set on a path of sticking holes into the ground, much as a heroin addict sticks the needle into his body, and injecting poisons; even though we will get a significant rush at first, in the longer run, the body will be ruined.

In 2006, I knew that we would not be able to retire and live in Florida in the new condo we had recently bought, and had to sell that.  It was clear to me that the housing market was about to crash.We did sell it, at a good profit, and used the proceeds to buy our townhouse in South Carolina.  We also were able to sell our house in Vermont, just in time; the realtor kept telling us to hold out for a higher price–but no one was offering a higher price, and I just felt that we better sell while we could; we got what I feel was the best price possible aat the time, and used the proceeds from the sale to invest in our retirement account ( a mixture of bonds and securities).

Sorry, but that’s what the country should be doing now: investing in renewable energy sources–not just for today, but for the inevitable day in the future when we have poisoned our water tables, and the rivers are unpotable.

Stonewall Remembered

September 21st, 2012 Comments off

The 1960’s were a tumultuous period in our recent history.  The Stonewall Riot was a remarkable event in those roiling times.  I was there when it happened.

I was living in Greenwich Village, at No. 7 Gay Street (how’s that for an address?), just around the corner from The Stonewall Inn, a bar on Christopher Street at Sheridan Square, in the heart of the Village.  That was a very busy place, brightly lit and always full of people, every night and especially on Fridays and Saturdays.  Almost any weekend evening I could walk out my front door and see flashing blue lights from the cop cars up and down Christopher, West Fourth, and Seventh Avenue.  Sheridan square is a tiny park in the Y-intersection of Christopher and West Fourth streets, right at Seventh Avenue. There was the IRT subway stop; hop on an uptown train and you’re soon at Times Square, Central Park, or Spanish Harlem, or to Queens; take the downtown train for Brooklyn, Wall Street and Staten Island.

Just as it was quick and easy to go to those places, so it was quick and easy to get from those places to Sheridan Square, and boy, did you ever, if you were young and gay and eager to find like minds and bodies.  That subway stop was a popular hangout for drag queens, and a convenient jumping off place for the other hot spots in The Village.  It was also a favorite spot for the cops, who just loved to hassle the ‘queers.’

[DDET Read more…]

As was every other gathering place for gay young men and women; raiding the gay bars was a constant, a given in New York City.  But not just in NYC: hassling gays was a fact of life throughout the country.

I spent my last two years of college in a suburb of Chicago.  Near there, was a little gay bar, a dark and lonely-looking shack, really, on the road on the western edge of O’Hare Airport.  During an election season, the Sheriff promised to “clean up” the gay bars, and raided that place.  Everyone was arrested, taken to jail and booked on ‘indecent behavior’.  There names, addresses, and places of employment were taken down, given to reporters, and duly published in the newspapers.  A few of my professors were listed there.  I was lucky: I had to study that night, so wasn’t there.

And so it went, in Chicago, in New York, in Philadelphia, in Atlanta…wherever there were gay people, there too were cops to give them grief.

Strangely, though, there were even more serious causes for protest.  The war in Vietnam.  Segregation, and the Freedom marches.  Feminism was rising.  The Black Panther movement.

And Black Panther leader Angela Davis; she had been arrested and that day incarcerated in the Women’s House of Detention on Greenwich Street, also just around the corner from Sheridan Square.  It was while standing on a street corner in solidarity with Angela Davis, that I first noticed the commotion going on down by the Stonewall.

The Stonewall was not my kind of place, too much rough trade, bears and leather.  I had no hankering to stand around in the semi-dark smoky room with a luke-warm beer in my hand among all those egos; I preferred a lighter place, with twinks like myself.  But its location in the center of The Village gave the Stonewall enough patrons to attract the attention of the cops.

For all those planning on attending the next riot, here’s a hint:  Arrive Early!  I came on the scene when there were already hundreds of people, voices were shouting, bodies were shoving, obscenities and slogans were being throw, and everything was a confusing mess–and there I was, at the back of the crowd.  Could not tell just what was going on, but could feel the excitement of the crowd, and the joy of resistance to The Man, the utter exuberance of rebellion.  People were running this way and that, spinning around, shouting at the tops of their voices, all caught up in the spirit of freedom in the air.

This went on for quite some time.  Eventually, the blue-lights left, groups went off in their own directions, and I went home to bed, hearing the calls of stragglers out my window.This was the beginning, though, not an end.  The whole community was charged up.  A new activist group, the Gay Activist Alliance came out to replace the stodgy old Matachine Society.  (And I always had thought that GAA stood for Girls’ Athletic Association.)  A real feeling of comradeship  had developed.

The first Gay Pride Day Parade, I was at the front of hundreds all the way up Fifth Avenue to Central Park.  When we got to the Park and spilled into the Sheep Meadow, reporters and cameras were on us.  My lover, his girlfriend and I were besieged by camera in face: “Who does what to whom?”  crudely demanded a reporter.

It was a beautiful day in the park, and there was a feeling, I am free, I am Me, and I can do anything!

And we could. And that feeling led to us doing everything we could. Because we could. Even before Stonewall, there was an incipient epidemic of hepatitus, but going to the baths was, “I can do it, so I will.” And then AIDS came along, and the best minds of my generation, the most beautiful minds of my generation… I hope never to have to see another quilt.


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Almost All My Earning Years Shot to Hell

July 18th, 2012 Comments off

Krugman 7/18/2012

Median Income (inflation-adjusted dollars)



Fracking Brings Me Memories…Bad Memories

February 3rd, 2012 Comments off

Lots of scary talk about frackin’ goin’ on these days. Doing big scary things underground, where we can’t see what’s going on. Not being forthright about what they’re doing.
Reminds me of some other big things going on underground–some other big, scary things. Really. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, here:  My Atomic Explosion

Aging and Sex

January 22nd, 2012 1 comment

Growing old and sex

I think that it was Euripides, the Greek playright.  He was asked how he felt upon reaching such an advanced age.  He replied, ” I am only grateful to be released from the grasp of the great beast of sexual desire.”

I’ve read that it you get almost the same amount of rest when you just lie in bed, as when  you are actually asleep.  More,  while it may seem as though you are awake all night, the truth is usually that you are going in and out of sleep; you don’t notice the times when you are sleeping, because…well, you’re asleep, uncoscious; what seems like a continuous wakefulness is really interrupted sleep. You don’t remember the times you were not aware of.

Looking back at your life is a lot like that.  You only remember the times you were especially aware:  special occasions, sad moments, trauma, joy.  The rest is unconscious, a sort of misty awareness that time must have passed, but not something noticed enough to stay with you.

Like if life were a long subway trip, where you pop up from underground, have a look around, maybe take in a show or dinner, then back down you go, till the next stop comes along.

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