Many years ago when I returned home after a stint in the U.S. Navy I was living in “apartment city” near downtown. There was a couple of square miles of singles frolicking in pools, dancing the nights away and generally wallowing in hedonistic rapture.
Many were working while attending college or beginning careers on the bottom rung. It was a wonderful time of friends and blood boiling youth. I couldn’t help but at times be mindful that we were moving forth into society with much more liberal views than the generation before us.
It was funny though that in many ways we had one foot in the Woodstock 60’s while the other seemed to be surreptitiously planted in an Elvis and Buddy Holly mode that harbored deep and abiding attitudes straight from a 50’s southern culture.
Enter Harry Fosdick (or so I’ll call him) Harry lived down the way from us. I was living with a feisty young Italian Yankee I had met in San Diego. We had a third floor unit with a view of the pool, a mattress on the floor and a lot of Indian cotton and tapestries. I’d go to school courtesy of the V.A. in the mornings and lifeguard in the afternoons for a little extra money
It was a macho existence with lots of chest swelling and horsing around. Hormones were the rule of the day. Harry was kind of refreshing because he was a little brighter than most and even though somewhat effeminate in an odd sort of way he appeared strong and athletic and could hold his own.
I related to him because we were both rather political and had many compatible interests in music and art. I could be myself with Harry unlike many men where it seemed there was always a need to alpha posture in some way that could at times leave me scratching my metaphorical head a little.
Even in the service I had tended to graduate towards the more introspective people though they were often what regular folks would call rough necks nonetheless. The truth is I was a rough neck myself (or thought I was anyway)
Often my “girlfriend” and I would hang out with Harry. He was a lot of fun and had a good job so was able to carry his own load unlike many of the student types we sometimes hung out with.
I had asked him about his lack of girlfriends a time or two. He shrugged it off saying he’d just not met the right girl yet and was picky. Sometimes when the Italian Yankee and I were fighting I’d go over to Harry’s and he’d sit up talking with me and let me crash on his couch. He was a good guy. I liked Harry a lot.
One day down at the pool some jerk started going on about Harry “being a queer” and all. It wasn’t the first time it had come up. Like I said, Harry was a little effeminate in a fuzzy kind of way.
I’d even mentioned it to him a time or two and he’d said, “ No … I’m just as heterosexual as the rest of you, Scott.” I’d simply moved on.
So I set the guy straight and told him I didn’t appreciate his disparaging tone about a friend of mine. I suggested he might take a lesson or two from Harry on how to be a decent sort.
A couple of weeks later Harry invited us to a party at his apartment. He liked it if everybody got a little decked out so we put on our best “rock and roll” duds and went across the way around 10:00 PM.
Harry came to the door and greeted us with a hug just like always. There was a small crowd and a couple of folks I didn’t recognize, which was a little unusual since we were a rather close knit group as a general rule.
Introductions were made and I couldn’t help but notice that one fellow absolutely had to be gay. I mean he was doing the whole “queen like thing” with the wrist and all and had this high-pitched voice.
He was conversational and witty so I just shook it off and went on about my business. Our attitude in those days was sort of “live and let live” as long as you keep it to yourself. If anybody ever got “funny” though they’d end up on their butt. (Well that was the dialogue anyway)
It wasn’t long until Harry came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked me to come in the back room to talk with him for a moment. We were always having these deep sessions about feelings and folks and such so I didn’t think anything about it.
We went in the bedroom. He sat on the bed and I sat on the little chair across a couple of feet away. I leaned in with my elbows on my knees and chirped, “ Wha’s happnin’, Cap’n?” We used to say that all the time.
Harry took a deep breath and muttered, “I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
“Ok, Harry … anything … what is it.”
“Scott, you asked me once if I was homosexual and I told you no. I’m sorry about that because the truth is that I am.”
To this day I don’t know why I was surprised. I sat there looking at this man I had known for a couple of years and I did not know what to say for a moment.
He continued, “I didn’t want to tell you because I valued your friendship and Gina told me you would probably not want to associate with anybody that was gay.”
He continued as he gazed down at the carpet,
“I’ve always been a private person and discreet in my personal affairs so it was no big deal but now I have someone I really care about.”
He looked up at me, “ I don’t want to hide anymore.”
There are moments in my life when I look back and I have no idea what happened or why. This was one of them. I stood up, motioned for Harry to stand with me and I gave him a long, close hug.
I remember we were both kind of sweaty and smelled like cologne. He was a hairy guy so his beard sort of chafed my fair Irish cheek. I patted him on the back and whispered in his ear …
“It doesn’t matter Harry. You’re my friend and this ain’t gonna change that. You are who you are. Thanks for telling me.”
We separated and when we looked one another in the eye we were both a little misty.
“Ok, Ok … that’s enough of this. Let’s party,” I exclaimed.
We turned and walked back to the den where everybody was shouting over the Christopher Cross album playing on the high end stereo system while “oohing and ahhing" over the exotic fish in the salt water aquarium. (You would of thought I could figure it all out, huh?)
So I had my first gay friend. He took us to some “gay places” and introduced us to some of his buddies. You know they were some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. I usually enjoyed their company until every now and then things would get a little creepy and I’d have to hit the trail.
Funny how life works. To this day I don’t have any qualms about gay folks. Even though I’ve been accused of having a “redneck streak” a mile wide (that story another day) I just shake their hand and invite them into my world making sure as best I can that nobody gives them any crap and move on. They have done the same for me.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why folks get so crazy about it all. I don’t think anybody wakes up one day and says,
“You know what? I think I’d like to be ostracized for the rest of my life. I think I’d like to have to fight tooth and nail to have the same civil rights of any other citizen. I’d like to be ridiculed and judged and called names. I want folks to attack me emotionally and physically for the remainder of my days on this planet. I want to say I’m gay because I think it would be a fun thing to do.”
Oh well, who knows? Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. What's a dumb ole redneck know anyway?All I do know is, if everybody had a friend like Harry, I’ve got a feeling this whole gay prejudice thing would play out in a totally different way.