“Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things – he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.” – Jimmy Carter
When I was about 16 my Mom and Dad moved our family from the vanilla split-level suburban neighborhood I had only known to the old & artsy downtown side of the city. For a young male teen running headlong into manhood with jet fuel known as testosterone converging through his veins this change of scenery was an absolute shock to my system.
Now my split-level utopia contained lily white families just like mine, with a 9-5 Dad and a stay at home Mom watching over her 2.5 kids. The term sheltered comes to mind when I think back now. This was the late 1970’s early 1980’s in an era and community referred to as the “New South”. The civil war was behind us (a hundred years behind us but who’s counting) and adjectives like progressive and tolerance were being tossed around to describe the new business and lifestyle environment one could expect to encounter in these enlightened pockets of the deep south.
So back to old & artsy, the homes in my new neighborhood were an interesting mix of old and more modern architectural styles. Contained within the walls of these homes there was also an interesting mix of people, the likes I had never experienced. Old men married to very hot young wives, old ladies married to young guys, career couples who didn’t and weren’t going to have children (just a golden retriever), singles, foreign families, families like mine and households I had heard of but honestly didn’t believe existed even in the “New South”, gay couples. Old & artsy didn’t just have one token gay couple, there were several, mostly male and one of “them” lived right across the street from this 16 year old trying to grow chest hair and a peach-fuzz mustache.
This is what the 16 year old me learned at a time when my maleness was exploding like a nuclear bomb, John and Dennis were two people devoted to each other. They weren’t creepy nor was it their mission in life to convert heterosexuals into homosexuals, they were just people, people who had found each other, people in love. John had been married, had two kids, but knew he was living a lie. Dennis, as he described to me one evening while we were drinking one the many Stroh’s (it was free) I would drink on their front porch over the next few years, always knew he was “queer” a term used prevalently then and thankfully not so much now.
One evening after John had one to many merlots and I was still trying to convince him to let me ask out his drop dead gorgeous daughter (it never happened) he confined in me about how hard his journey had been. It was a very sad story of a wife who didn’t understand, a son who no longer spoke to his father and a daughter coming to grips with her father’s choices. Coming out of the closet, acknowledging his sexuality was a decision he paid dearly for and sadly it weighed heavily on him until his death. He told me something that warm summers evening on the porch that has stayed with me for 40 years, “If this wasn’t who I am why on earth would I have chosen it over what I had?” I understood that then and the older I get I understand it more.
I really came to love these two guys. They were fun, smart, engaging and sincerely interested in my wellbeing just like my other neighbors in split-level utopia were. My relationship with John and Dennis has done more to shape my understanding of people than any other encounter I have ever had. I look back now and appreciate the courage and the strength it took for them to live their life in a time when it was still a novelty to be openly gay. I share this with you so that their bravery will not go unnoticed. I share this with you so the John’s and David’s of today can live their life without judgement, hate or ridicule……….let them be happy and gay.
“I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.” – Kinky Friedman