(About Homophobia)

I need to tell this story so the world can truly understand my feelings of rage for those who call themselves Republican candidates for president. But I also have a need to educate the public about how what we now call bullying was institutionalized in the second part of the 20th century. There is no doubt in my mind that more often than not, bullying had undeniable tones of homophobia.

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a place where homosexuality was at least talked about. In the 1950's, in most of America, it was invisible, or at best only alluded to with vague references to things like “confirmed bachelors” or “old maids,” The first time someone called me a Queer I distinctly remember responding that if it meant I was more sensitive and compassionate then I wanted to be Queer. At the age of ten, I found myself defending homosexuality without even understanding what it really meant. I had not been sexual and did not fully understand the implications of sexuality, but somehow, on some level of my consciousness, I understood that I was defending myself.

There were several Gay men in my neighborhood, on the very street I lived. I heard the whispers, the stories, the judgments of adults who assumed they could speak in front of me without me understanding! Once again that intuitive part of my sub-conscience understood that those who were whispering were wrong! I guess I thought I was just more accepting of people than they were. I had no idea yet, that a more deep rooted identification with their subjects was at play. John Smith, the son of the neighborhood grocer on Collett St, was the main object of the whispers. He had moved to Chicago to be with his own kind. Now I can see that by his very existence, John had become my first role model. Of course everyone talked about his homosexuality behind his father's back. When John would come home for a visit, Smitty would try to fix him up with a date with one of my sisters. Everyone would have a good laugh behind Smitty’s back. But one day, another boy in the neighborhood confronted Smitty with the fact that his brother in San Francisco had slept with John. To this very day I can remember the uncontrollable rage Smitty displayed. This was my first example of what might happen when a father is confronted with his son's homosexuality. I was being taught my place in the world before I even fully understood who I was. There were four older men from my neighborhood who had moved away to find safer, better lives in big cities. I was positive this would also be my fate someday.

After my biological juices began to flow, I did what all boys do in their early teens. I went looking for answers to what was happening to my body. In the early 1960s, before the sexual revolution, it was still mostly about asking and experimenting with peers. But my peers had nothing to say to me that resonated with my own understanding of who I was. I was a clever boy with deep intuitive abilities. I found my own people in a parallel world where we could hide in plain sight. We had developed an intricate language of our own. We changed pronouns when needed. We divided everyone into two categories: those who know and those who don’t know. We all chose to become engaged in a type of schizophrenia for self-preservation.

My first romantic sexual encounter was with a 19 year old with brown curly hair. My heart was pounding to the point where it made my voice quiver. I was shaking like I was standing naked in a snowstorm. He smiled as he whispered in my ear, "This is your first time isn't it?" I was so lucky to have chosen him for the first time. He put his arms around me and told me I had nothing to be ashamed of. “You are normal and I am going to teach you how to make love to a man, not a woman,” he said as he put his lips on mine for my first kiss.

That is the moment I remember every time I am assaulted with homophobic violence. It is the moment of my understanding of brotherhood and love and compassion. That was the moment of my rebirth, when I was unborn from the expectations of the homophobic culture that wanted to swallow me, then spit me out as acceptable. That was my moment of liberation, when I was freed from all of the rules of others and able to find my own way. But as I would soon learn, my pride and acceptance of who I was would also make me the constant target of bullies and more!

Now I was living in two worlds, the world of my brothers who would hold me, tell me I was beautiful, and the other world which despised me, thinking of me as less than human. I had no illusions now as to where my life was heading. I had been born into a world that required me to be an adult at the age of 12. Now I would learn to use lying and deceit in order to survive. It was us against them, so I had to monitor every thought and every word that passed my lips. I had to become an actor, always on stage. I believed, as most of us believed, that to make a mistake could very well cost me my life.

I was probably 14 or 15 when I met an older Gay man in his 60s, the age that I am now. We met often in a park, where he would tell me stories about his travels to the big cities of Chicago and Indianapolis. He warned me of the dangers I might encounter in my life as a Gay man. As I listened to his stories, I felt both hope and despair. There was hope in learning that it was possible to meet other Gay men, but I wasn't quite sure I was ready to accept the second class existence, the hatred and violence he was describing to me. He didn't have to tell me about the unwritten rule of never exposing a brother. I was also in fear of being exposed, so I was not eager to make any mistakes. I knew that if someone saw us together in that park, they would assume that he was a molester and I was his victim. It would make no difference that we had never done anything but talk.

By the time I met my first husband Larry at the age of 17, I knew at least 100 Gay men in my hometown of Danville, Illinois. Some were politicians, prominent businessmen, lawyers, and the usual stereotypes of antique dealers and hairdressers. It was an amazing tangle of lies and deceit, of married men with children and even a Catholic priest. More and more I longed for the life of a big city where we could be lost in the crowd.

Our trips to big cities proved to be no solution, though. In these places, where Gay men were testing the idea of openness, the reaction against us was even more extreme. We would park our cars in the lots beside Gay bars in Indianapolis, then run for the front door to the bar. We would then come back to our cars to find the windshield or headlights broken out. Sometimes the so called "Real Men" would be waiting with baseball bats to beat up a Queer. If we were lucky enough to escape these perils, then we would have to contend with the police. They would take the license tag numbers for their Queer list, or they would follow you until you forgot to put on a blinker to make a turn. When they pulled you over, it was humiliation time. If you played the part of the scared little faggot and said Yes sir with your head down, perhaps you would not go to jail.

My first arrest was in a small town outside of Fort Worth, Texas. I was visiting my sister Pat in Fort Worth and was traveling with my friend Richard, also from my hometown. We had found a Gay bar listed in a guide to Gay places in America. The bar was in a town called Sansome Park, on a dark highway. When Richard an I came out of the bar, I was not feeling well, probably from staying out so late and traveling so far. I’ve never been a drinker! I decided to wait until everyone else had left. I unbuttoned the top button on my blue jeans to take the pressure off my stomach. I sat with the car door open to let in the fresh air. When the parking lot was empty, we were startled by headlights coming from the direction of the highway. Suddenly we were surrounded by police cars. One policeman dragged me out of the car as he kept asking what I was doing in Texas. I said I was visiting my sister. He responded in an obviously condescending tone by asking if Richard was my sister.

He then asked what I was doing in the parking lot. I very politely told him we had just come out of the bar. Then, unprovoked, he began to repeatedly strike me across the back of the head with his flashlight. I tried to protect my head with my hand and he broke my finger. My hand was covered with blood from the back of my head. Another policeman pulled him off of me as he continued his verbal abuse. Then he told me he was arresting us for resisting arrest, possession of a concealed weapon, the can opener in my glove compartment, public intoxication, and indecent exposure, my unbuttoned pants. We spent the night in separate cells, I on a concrete floor, no bed or chair, next to a toilet with human waste smeared over the outside. A drunk was passed out on springs with no mattress. Next morning, the bail for one person was exactly the total of money the two of us had together. I went to my sister's to get the money to bail out Richard. The biggest handicap was the fact that I was still not out to my family. This is what the police counted on to continue their brutality.

That was the day I became a radical homosexual! That was the day I understood the racist south from a personal point of view. That was the day I lost respect for organized religion. That was the day I understood how dangerous it is to give guns and power to ignorant men with low self-esteem!

The next year Larry and I moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We were in search of a home more tolerant than Danville, Illinois. In the beginning it seemed we had found paradise. There were many Gay bars and restaurants. The sun was always shining and we felt as though we had found a real home at last. Our neighbors knew we were Gay and most accepted us. I frequented a beach that was filled with other Gay men. This sense of community and freedom was foreign to a boy from Illinois corn country. I was sure I had found heaven!

But that illusion vanished when the macho boys arrived in their big trucks, showing off for their girlfriends. At that time people were allowed to drive on the sand. The trucks would come directly at our towels, a game of chicken! If we were not able to grab all our belongings fast enough, they would drive over them destroying everything.

I soon learned that the Gay bars and the Gay hotel on the strip on Fort Lauderdale's beach were also not what they seemed. Policemen in plain clothes and unmarked cars would drive up and down the side street which lead to the public parking lot a few blocks away. They would stop to ask Gay men if they wanted a ride. We had to warn people to ignore them without responding in any way. A friend of mine visiting from Illinois did not know about the police entrapment. When the policeman asked if he wanted a ride, my friend responded with a polite no, and explained that he was going to the parking lot. They arrested him for soliciting for sexual purposes and took him to jail. If he wanted to contest the charges, he would have to come back to Florida for a hearing. He paid the fine with no contest, as most people did. It was through the exposure of these openly Gay businesses that I was first introduced to the concept of Gay bashing. Cars filled with teenage boys would drive by the Gay businesses on weekends. They would jump out of the car and start beating some unsuspecting Gay man on the street. They would jump back into the car and drive off to the cheers of their girlfriends and sometimes others on the streets. Others would throw cans of beer or soda from passing cars, hitting us in the back of the head. Always a call to the police would mean only more harassment, so we just didn't bother anymore.

In 1976, I made my way to Washington, D.C. This was by far the most liberal environment I had found myself in. Washington had a very organized and vocal Gay community. They even celebrated Gay pride day each June, a concept that was totally new to me. But even D.C. was not immune to the intolerance I had found everywhere in my search for a home. One evening, my husband Rob and I were walking our dog in front of our home near Dupont Circle. A car came to the stoplight and I noticed the two young boys inside were very interested in Rob and I. The driver rolled down his window and asked if we were faggots. I said yes without hesitation and asked him the same question. He then turned his car around in the middle of the street and drove straight toward us on the sidewalk. Rob ran inside to call the police. I stood in front of our apartment building. When they returned driving once again on the sidewalk, I picked up a huge stone from the garden next door and threw it through the windshield.

Soon a secret service policeman from the White House arrived. Someone on the next street had stopped him to report a car driving on the sidewalk. I explained to him what had happened and he seemed very understanding. He radioed the license tag number to the D.C. police and they caught the two boys at Dupont Circle. They sent a car to pick up Rob and I to identify them. When we arrived the policewoman told us she was going to arrest us for assault with a deadly weapon. The secret service policeman talked with her, then came to talk with Rob and I alone. He said that if we would forget the whole thing, we could all go home and the two boys would have to pay for a new windshield. I remembered what happened when we called the police in Fort Lauderdale and D.C. was no different. The most important thing, I thought, is that the heterosexual is never arrested for attacking a Gay man. This could be construed as condoning homosexuality. In their warped logic, they actually believed we deserved to be attacked and we had no right to fight back.

I was much more open about my sexuality in D.C., so the assaults were more frequent. I had objects thrown from passing cars, I was hit several times in the face and on the head. One man spit in my face and yelled Faggot as he drove past me at a crosswalk. Another man pretended to know me and when I approached his car, he jumped out with an iron bar in his hand, screaming about how God told him to kill homosexuals. And always there were the gangs of young boys with the baseball bats to threaten the patrons of Gay establishments. In a strange way, we had all adapted to this behavior and began to forget how unacceptable it was in the course of a normal life.

In the spring 1980, I learned of another personal friend who was killed by an off-duty policeman who accused my friend of sexual advances. Now the personal abuse I had endured for my entire lifetime was being institutionalized. It was no longer good enough to harass us or simply blackmail us. Now they wanted us dead.

My first incidence of violence in San Francisco came as I was defending Gay men who were being attacked on the 24 Divisadero bus which came through the center of the Gay community. I wound up with a broken toe and bruised ribs. Then there were the attacks at the annual Halloween party on Castro street. How much and how long could one endure such unrelenting abuse before exploding with rage?

It was a warm day in August when my healing came. I was weak from the trauma of losing all of my friends to AIDS. I felt lonely and vulnerable. I had forgotten the rules my older Gay friend had taught me so long ago. When the man approached me, he approached me in the parallel world of my childhood. How could I have carelessly left the door open for him to enter my sacred place? I took the bait and ignored every signal I had learned to protect myself. He came on to me and I responded with polite rejection. He tried to lure me into his trap by pointing out that we were alone, no one could see us. Then suddenly my alarms went off. There were too many mistakes in his speech. I tried to get away. But it was too late. All he needed to know was that I was Gay. My first instinct was that he was a fag basher and I could be killed.

He was very clever! He wrote out a report of one lie after another. He accused me of everything he had done himself. He explained that it would require nothing more than what I would do with a traffic fine. Just pay the fine. But I MUST initial each part of his report. I was shaking. All I wanted was to go home. For it to be over. So I initialed and signed my name at the bottom. When I felt the handcuffs binding my arms behind my back, it was only the physical manifestation of what had existed all along throughout my life.

He laughed. Sucker, he said. This is your unlucky day. It’s your word against mine! You faggots need to understand that you should stay over there on the other side of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco!

I felt humiliated like the subhuman piece of garbage he thought I was. Yes! humiliate me so I can at last see the truth of who I believe myself to be. I am heaving, throwing up all of the self-hatred you have force fed me. Yes, it tastes horrible, but when it is gone it will be gone forever. And now I am no longer choking on the fear of my own truth. I will look at my life as the wonderful, beautiful experience it was and is. I have done nothing which cannot be spoken about at a dinner table. If you cannot see this then you must leave the table. When I faced the judge, as she sentenced me to ten days in jail, I saw her for what she really was. I laughed inside. I am the one who is free!

I composed this in the holding cell:

Forgive me by Black brothers

I thought you were the enemy

But they put me in a holding cell

And I watched you contrasted

To my vulnerability

They beat you down with humiliation

But you stood tall in your understanding

Of their ruthless game

Forgive me

I thought your disgust for softness

Was directed at me

I sat on the floor in envy

At your coldness and indifference

To your oppressor's blows

Now I understand what it means to be

"A real man"

Oppressed by the expectations

Consumed by the power of others

You only survive

In a hostile world

As I do

We are the same

Forgive me my straight brothers

I thought you were the enemy

But in my search for understanding

I discovered my own feelings

Of internalized homophobia

I was taught as you were

To hate all that was weak

And like women

Forgive me

I thought your senseless violence

Was directed at me

I lie on the ground in pain

Bleeding from your anger

Realizing that you are me

Denying my own identity

Now I understand what it means to be

"A real man"

Competing for the hearts of homophobic women

Who require you to be

Cold and insensitive to prove your manhood

Denying your feminine

As I do

We are the same

Forgive me my religious friends

I thought you were the enemy

But as I watch my friends die

I am reminded of what is really important

And I am compelled to let go

To die into my new life

To be born again

Into the spirit of the universe

Forgive me

I thought your self-righteousness

Was directed at me

I cry for forgiveness

Guilty of insensitivity to the unknowing

Expecting understanding from those

Who have not walked in my shoes

Now I understand what it means to be

"A spiritual man"

Struggling in a world of false prophets

Who give you false pride

Trying to do something good

To make your life have meaning

As I do

We are the same

Forgive me humankind

I thought you were the enemy

But things got so bad

I could no longer participate in the lie

As I rose above the system

I saw the masses crying out for life

The life they sacrificed

To the rules they blindly follow

Forgive me

I thought your insensitivity

Was directed at me

I tried to survive by playing the rules

Nurturing my ego at others' expense

Threatened by power

I too became self-involved

Now I understand what it means

"To be human"

Born innocent in a world of declining innocence

Fighting to retain it

Struggling to regain it

Wanting to remember it

As I do

We are the same