Monday, June 4, 2012

Setting sail in my gay 60s, I still plan to do it my way

As I set sail in my early 60s as a single, openly-gay man it occurs to me I’m traveling a largely uncharted course on a ship with a limited number of passengers whom no doubt are as clueless as me about what the future holds.

By acknowledging my sexual orientation during the summer of 1969, I declared my independence from mainstream society’s rules about the same time as the eruption of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. At the time I had no idea that I had linked my fate with a group of gay bar patrons in Greenwich Village roughly 1,500 miles away who resisted police harassment and kicked off the American LGBT Rights Movement.

For me, it was a celebration of my 21st birthday in a hippy bar in Dallas known as the Knox Street Pub that welcomed people from all elements of society, regardless of their race, religion, color, age, political thought or what has now has come to be known as sexual orientation and gender identity.

Looking back on that time I now realize that I came out in a somewhat different setting than some LGBT people of the day because I did it in an open environment, rather than in the controlled atmosphere of a gay bar. That perhaps made it easier for me to make the same declarations in the workplace, within my family and in all other aspects of my life because I had already discovered that large numbers of people accepted and even celebrated diversity.

As time passed I got to know the gay bars of Dallas and enjoy them while making friends within what I discovered was a large, thriving LGBT community. I especially loved the disco scene at the Bayou Landing and became aware of a more glamorous side to LGBT life. In the downstairs bar I met my first gay celebrity, the comedian Paul Lynde.

The more I mingled the more I learned that the LGBT community thrived all over the nation, particularly in the large cities and the tourist areas. I of course wanted to experience and enjoy them as well.

By the mid-1970s I was traveling from coast to coast, staying for various periods of time as the mood struck me. I lived and worked in New York City in 1977, getting to know the Greenwich Village area, where I liked to hang out at a gay bar called Julius. It was there I learned about the Stonewall Riots and marched in my first gay rights parade. Of course, I made it a point to hang out on Fire Island that summer and visited the Ice Palace.

Afterwards I ventured to Key West where I partied at the the Monster, and then I drove across country to explore San Francisco where I danced the night away at Buddy’s. Deciding that the city by the bay was a bit chilly for my taste, I drove down to Los Angeles and lived in the West Hollywood area, just off of Santa Monica Boulevard. In Los Angeles, I often hung out at the Rusty Nail.

Before I really knew what had happened, I had traveled and partied away more than a decade. It was about that time I decided that maybe it was time to go back and finish college. I had only planned to drop out for a semester when I came to Dallas to spend the summer in 1969, but the time obviously got away from me.

In 1982 I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in the School of Journalism to finish my degree, which took three semesters. While attending school -- in between weekends at Dirty Sally’s and Hippy Hollow -- I encountered my next big date with destiny. I was writing news stories for the Daily Texan, and came across a story about a cancer and pneumonia doctors in San Francisco and New York City had documented and suspected had a viral origin.

One of the first stories I wrote for the Daily Texan was about the identification of the AIDS epidemic. After my graduation from the university in December 1983, I began working for newspapers and magazines. Through the years I’ve written about AIDS/HIV, the LGBT Rights Movement and anti-gay hate crimes for mainstream and alternative publications large and small, including about a 10-year stint for LGBT publications as both a staff writer and a freelancer.

It never occurred to me when I first became interested in journalism as a teenager that I would one day wind up devoting most of my career to subjects of which I had no knowledge at the time.

Now, at the age of 62, I have retired, except for my freelancing. Many of the friends I made through the years are now dead of complications arising from HIV infections and drug addictions, afflictions that I somehow miraculously avoided.

Actually, I’ve only got a few longtime friends left who like me are gay, HIV-negative and single. I’m at a point of transition in my life, and I’m not sure where I will be or what I will be doing in the years to come. I think my friends pretty much feel the same way I do. Come what may, I’ll deal with it then, just as I have in years past.

To the former colleague half my age who recently said in anger to me, "Grow up," because I decided I really didn't want to write for him anymore, especially in retirement: No, thanks. At this age, I don't think I'm really going to change a whole lot anytime soon. I am what I am.

In the meantime, I’ve booked a Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona for the start of my next journey in life.

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