Met with a colleague about a joint project involving the conducting of oral histories of gay and lesbian steelworkers in the Calumet Region of Northwest Indiana. As I mentioned in an interview with Sam Barnett, I had students in two History classes do such a project but was disappointed with the results. It was probably my fault – out of shyness perhaps - for not having the students discuss possible questions to ask. I myself was too chicken even to interview two friends about being gay (how much more life-affirming that word is than the old-fashioned “homosexual” or the presently trendy “queer”). Even so, I found enough interesting material in the student articles to fill several pages of volume 40 of “Steel Shavings.” Here is a sample:
Concerning WNBA all-star Sheryl Swoopes’ admission of a lesbian relationship, one student wrote: “Sheryl said to make this announcement made her feel free and liberated to finally be herself. I am not gay but for some reason, her announcement made me feel liberated as well.” She mentioned that a character in Terry McMillan’s book “Waiting to Exhale” divorced her husband because he had sex with men on the side.
Lacretia’s dad and his navy buddies played basketball in the park during their free time and a gay guy named Tyrone often joined them. One day, Tyrone dunked the ball and said, “Take that, bitches,” as he pranced around in hot pink shorts. Lacretia’s dad cracked up every time he told that story.
Tiffany’s subject watched an HBO movie where a teenager suspected of being a lesbian was sent to a camp to “straighten her out.” Ironically, she hadn’t been interested in women until then but fell in love with a girl at camp. At the gym a girl wearing just a bra and panties hit on her. Tiffany asked the girl what it was like to be a lesbian in the Region. “Lonely,” the girl replied; her social life took place in Chicago.
Several guys commented on how women often made out with each other in public at bars without being stigmatized – and that some guys really got off on it – but if they acted that way, they’d be seen as queer. Matt’s friends acted gay in public as a joke. Once they approached three “really hot” girls who were eyeing them. He wrote, “We were smiling at them and about eight feet away when Mike smacked me in the ass and said, ‘Come on, honey, let’s go.’ I was pissed, but the story amused my friends at parties.”
Joe’s dad explained that gays at the mill were no big deal unless of the “flaming” variety, like Mama Dixon, who’d tell guys they could sleep with his wife in exchange for sex with him. Drunks gave Mama oral pleasure for booze money.
Scott went to the Encompass, a gay bar in Lake Station. On the TV were two scantily clad men engaging in a game different from what you’d see at a sports bar. Two women were caressing each other’s legs under the table. Couples danced, some whose sex was hard to discern at first glance. Scott lamented that he’d miss next weekend’s drag show.
Deb, who grew up Baptist in Schererville, believes her sexual orientation to be biological. She said, “I was a big tomboy. My first experience with a woman happened when I was 20. Until then I had no interest in dating anyone. I have had eight lovers. No one night stands but only four were very serious. All have been feminine; a couple were ultra-feminine. Lesbians tend to chose opposites of themselves.”
Many journals commented on the TV sitcom “Will and Grace.” Straight girls who hang out with gays are called “fag hags.” Sydney’s mother told her that her father would disown her if still alive and wondered, “Does this mean I have to buy you a chainsaw for Christmas?” That December Carol’s girlfriend bought her a chainsaw necklace.
Sanchez wondered why they used dildos if they had something against penises. I don’t think that’s it. Women just like sex to last longer, including before and after.
Donny’s babysitter put on movies with sex scenes, and he paid more attention to the men. He admitted to 75 gay affairs, some involving penetration but mainly oral sex. Kenny, a hair stylist from Merrillville, loved dressing Barbies and still has a collection. He first felt comfortable being gay dancing at Chicago clubs. Twirling his shirt over his head became his trademark move, one he was still using at age 37.
Eight year-old Jamell’s older brother caught him playing with dolls and called him a fudge packer. “I had no idea what a fudge packer was, but knew it could not be good,” Jamell recalled. In high school, he accepted a date with Keisha, whose brother Parker was gay. In her bedroom Keisha suddenly undressed, and Jamell felt himself getting sick. He recalled: “Then she started unbuckling my pants. I felt my skin begin to crawl. I had never been with a girl sexually. I just lay there until it was over. Although I climaxed, there was no feeling behind it. That was the first and last time I was with a female. I stayed in the same spot with Keisha under my arm until I was sure she was asleep. Then I got up and put my clothes back on. When I entered the hallway, the bathroom door opened and Parker was standing there with a towel around his waist and drips of water rolling down his bare chest. The bathroom light shined against his backside, creating a silhouette.”
Jamell followed Parker into his bedroom and inquired how one knew he was gay. Parker, he recalled, “came up to me with his towel still tied around his waist and put his two hands on my heated cheeks. He pressed his body against mine. I closed my eyes out of fear and excitement. Then he kissed me. At first I was shocked, but then I began to kiss him back. After ten minutes of this, he moved away from me. My body felt like it was floating in mid-air. And that was it. That was my birthing. I was finally out of the womb.”
One student’s gay uncle spent several years in seminary to have an excuse for not dating women. After he left, he became a gay libertine (his words). A girl he’d been friends with drove 500 miles to visit him, and, in his words, “that night after wine and song and some really good weed (it was 1972) I did take Michele to my bed. The lovemaking was sub par to say the least. I went through the motions but could barely function. It was awkward for both of us, but at least she could put to rest any fantasy of our future together as lovers.”
Vanessa and Dan dated but instead of having sex sat up one entire night talking. Dan fell in love with a black man. Kicked out of the house by his strict Dutch father, he moved in with Vanessa. At a party someone beat him up after finding out that he was gay. He lost a tooth and had multiple bruises but refused to see a doctor. His parents didn’t attend his wedding ceremony in Chicago. He told Vanessa, “Narrow-minded people like them make this world shit.”
A lesbian co-worker at US Steel saw Eduardo at a gay bar and snitched. He endured snubs for a week, and then things were fine except for one guy. Eduardo recalled, “We were in the showers, and he kept looking over at me and when I looked back he covered up. He thought I was checking him out, but he wasn’t my type. Some guys who act real feminine get picked on but not me.”
James asked his aunt, “What is your most memorable experience? Nothing to creep me out, just funny or something.” She told about getting “shit-canned” with an old friend and confessing to a high school crush on her. Interrupting the story, James said, “Now that I’m weirded out and ready to throw up, I think the interview is over. I knew that last question would go that route.” The aunt replied, “Quit bitchin’, I could have given you details.” Shit, details are what I was looking for.
Kirby was hesitant to inform his parents because when his cousin came out, her father broke her jaw. Kirby’s mother screamed that she was going to hell. Religion contributed to intolerance although some enlightened churches have set up gay support groups.
Kirby took on the man’s role so was known as a “stud.” Some women go to extremes, she said, by getting short haircuts, beating up their girlfriends, and walking around with straps in their pants. Keith’s cousin Lee first had sex with a girl in a cornfield at age 15 and recalled, “I started going at it, and it was like going through a jungle.” A year later, he was watching a movie with 14 year-old Andy, who suddenly moved his hands down Lee’s pants. He thought, “Why not?” and let Andy proceed, then broke up with his girlfriend. At gym class a guy called him a “stupid faggot.” Lee slammed a locker door on the jerk’s hand. One of his five lovers was tall and muscular, but his penis was no bigger than Lee’s pinky. Now that’s the detail I was aiming for.
A gay man told of being treated as if he had a mental disorder. He said: “My father never accepted me and on his dying bed insisted I was not his child, even though I looked just like him. My sisters totally accepted me though. I was being chased home on a regular basis, and they went into battle to protect me and unleashed our dog on my attackers. The Gary area made me feel like a freak. Now I live in Atlanta and am very comfortable with my life. I was born gay. I was not molested or turned out by an older man. Not all gay men want little children. You don’t have to be afraid a gay man will harm your children any more than you have to be afraid of a straight man. I don’t like being made fun of by grocery clerks or having doctors and nurses assume I have AIDs when it is just a cold.
Jason’s friends made fun of a guy, saying things like “Beep, beep, there goes my gaydar” and “Someone call the fire department, this kid is flaming.” They referred to Broke Back Mountain as “Broke Ass Mountain.” Describing a strip club, Harold wrote, “Some of the girls are bisexual and will even double up on you in a booth. It would be cool to date a bisexual and have her and her friend double up on me.” I wonder: is “bisexual” a euphemism for someone not wanting to admit to being homosexual, or do some people “swing both ways.” Kinsey thought so and did. Near the end of his life he was into self-inflicted pain.
Two coworkers invited Harold over for beers; one wanted to give him a blowjob. Harold wrote, “I was going to hit him but just left instead.” Later Brian “whipped out Unabomber glasses and put on a shark hat, then went outside to wave at cars. People honked or waved back.” After a few beers, they kept urging Harold to “whoop it up,” but he stayed sober. The following week, the three of them got buzzed and danced to music on the stereo. Harold wrote: “I realized that I had had a lot of fun. They may be bisexual, but they’re actually pretty cool. And by hanging out with them, I had overcome my fear of homosexuals.”
An attractive guy came up to Marquita. She was tempted to ask him out until his boyfriend arrived and said, “Baby, let’s go.” She thought, “I knew it was too good to be true. He was too damn fine and clean to be straight.” At Rally’s in Glen Park Marcus became nervous when a guy with tight pants and colored contacts winked and asked if he could “kick it” with him. During a discussion about favorite sexual positions, a gay friend told Marquita things he and his partner did with the aid of lubricants that she “didn’t really know men were capable of doing.” After stopping at a Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) table at IUN, Marquita thought about attending an event but feared she’d feel out of place.
While faculty adviser to the Pride Alliance, former IUN librarian Ellen Bosman wrote sayings in chalk around campus for National Coming Out Day, such as “Oscar Wilde Was Gay.” Some students were offended at the mention of African-Americans Bessie Smith and Langston Hughes. Her social life was lonely until she found a sympathetic church group. While there were several openly gay male faculty, she was the only lesbian “out of the closet.” Many interviewees met lovers on Internet chat rooms, but Ellen found a support group at a local church.