On November 3rd, Amy Steinberg – our wonderful-dynamic-exciting-musically-rocking new Jubilee minister, who we all knew before we interviewed her was a prominent lesbian leader back in California – was speaking from the pulpit on a Sunday. I do think it was in a moment of happy, enthused spontaneity rather than from a prepared script, that she said “When I saw Richard Gere and Debra Winger in ‘An Officer and Gentleman’ – that was the moment that I knew I was bisexual.”
Three very exciting things happened for me at that moment:
- I got very excited that such a breathtakingly open and honest and vulnerable thing had just gotten said from the Jubilee pulpit: “Wow! Pretty much anything could be fair game now.”
- Jubilee is such a relatively open, welcoming and even celebrating place for gayness. But I knew that Amy’s naming of bisexuality would open even larger our freedom and maybe even conversation about sexual identity.
- I thought, “I’m bisexual, too!”
I had actually known this for a long time. Back in my early 40’s – for the first time I could remember in my young life at that time – I had started having sexual thoughts about men. Usually real men I knew well and liked and admired a lot – mostly straight (as far as I knew), many of them married and (as far as I knew) monogamous with their wives.
I always felt completely accepting – and sometimes very hot – with these fantasies. I never, that I could ever remember – felt guilty or ashamed or like I was doing something that was in any way “wrong” by having these thoughts and feelings and fantasies. I think that my sexual education as an adult – and lots of liberation work for all manner of oppressed groups, including gays, had freed me a lot.
And my huge, 25-year commitment to Reevaluation Counseling peer co-counseling – a movement with a huge and consistent commitment to wedding your own personal liberation to the liberation of all oppressed people – had cleared me of a lot of my internal oppressive thought and feelings. Being in a five-year co-counseling men’s group in which three of the eight guys were gay had helped a lot. And taking Bill Firebaugh, such a sweet guy and so beloved in that group, up on his challenge to us straight guys to spend a night in his bed, cuddling but not being sexual. I was glad I had done it, even though I never got real comfortable with it – much as I really did love Bill.
I must at least have considered, back then, the idea of acting on these thoughts/feelings /fantasies about men out in the world – though I have no memory of this thought process. I do remember, however, deciding something like: “No, not in this lifetime. The world is still too hard a place for gay people. And I, who am kind of constantly just barely afloat with all my feelings and childhood trauma and intense ups and downs and life chaos, don’t need one more challenging and confusing thing in my life. I will love and bless my gay friends, continue to work for social and sexual justice – but not go quite to the front lines on this issue, this time around.’
I think that it must be a better time in the world now for coming out than it was when many of you found the courage and integrity to do it – however many years ago. When, in my early 20’s, I heard Holly Near – in a live concert in Rochester, NY – sing “Imagine My Surprise”, about her process of discovering that she was in love with a woman, I cried copious tears for the beauty and dignity and liberation of her story. But it never once occurred to me, back then, that any of that story might someday have any personal relevance for my life.
I guess you, my gay friends, will have to tell me to what extent this post-Obama, highly toxic Trump America (or maybe even wider-world) is still feeling like a safer place for being gay than it used to be. Certainly my little Asheville-Jubilee bubble feels to me like a place where my newly-claimed gayness will be mostly welcomed. Again, I’m sure you know more than I about the overt, subtle or even unconscious homophobia that remains in Asheville and certainly in Buncombe County. Maybe I will start to freak out the next time I notice (or imagine) that someone is avoiding me, not making eye contact with me, not touching me as freely, etc.
I don’t know to what extent, identifying myself as bisexual, people will also apply the concept and term of “gay” to me. It certainly feels to me that I am “coming out” as “gay”. I am openly acknowledging that I do now have – and have had for a long time – sexual fantasies about both gay and “straight” men. I am publicly announcing that I am open to sexual contact with men. (Don’t all line up at once, guys.) This part of actually potentially acting on these thoughts/feelings/fantasies is going to be brand new to me.
I have never in my life – that I consciously remember, there’s a lot in my college years that I don’t remember – had any overtly sexual contact with men. The really pretty funny guys in my fraternity – while also some of them were still overtly racist and homophobic – used to have fun singing, to the tune of Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”,
“Fraters in the nude, exchanging glances – fraters in the nude, taking chances, we’d be sharing love before the night is through.”
It was all in play, there was not an “out” gay guy in our fraternity, and probably one would never have been accepted, even to start pledging. But still, in its own way, singing that song did feel like a softening of the overall homophobic attitudes of our society in the 60’s – not the knee jerk anger at the idea of even thinking about that world.
I so far feel mostly enthused and excited about this new identity (“thank you, Amy”). I am aware of no guilt or shame. I no longer carry – at age 73 and so far removed from my childhood Catholic roots – any notion that this could be in any way “sinful”.
My 44-year-old son Terry may go through some changes about my new – and public – identity. I don’t know if he has any gay friends. He is really solid in his own straight identity, has a fabulous relationship with his wife and gorgeous young kids he dotes on. He has, over many years, gotten progressively more relaxed with all the ways his dad is eccentric and even odd.
When he was in his late teens, I arrived at his house in Louisville, KY from my then-home in Cincinnati Ohio – only 100 miles from him, rather than the 300 from Chicago. Although I did find a “good” job in my field of organization development before moving to Cincinnati from Chicago (it didn’t turn out to be such a great job), giving Terry more access to me in his crucial teen years was the real reason for the move.
I had come to Louisville the night before, directly from a Halloween costume contra dance – for which my really good friend Shirley had had a blast “dressing me” in one of her really cute sundresses. I arrived at Terry’s house looking normal, but for some reason felt inspired to show him my costume. When I came out of the bathroom in my dress, he did say, “I don’t really need to see this” – though he never actually seemed upset by it.
I wore that dress a few more times for special occasions, including when I was performing – at Alecia’s 40th birthday party – a skit I had written about two of the couples at the party, in which the two husbands played themselves and I played both wives, switching back and forth between a blonde and a brunette wig.
That was an absolute gas – and I always felt free and happy wearing that low-cut (with two rolled-up sweat socks pinned inside the chest) and short-skirt dress (I never did shave my legs to wear it). Somehow that dress got lost somewhere and I have not yet gotten around to wearing the slinky little black number that I bought on consignment at Plato’s Closet and is still hanging in my closet. I do know exactly where it is.
At that original Halloween costume contra dance that unleashed all this energy, three other “straight” guys came dressed in drag, but each had left on himself prominent facial hair and danced the man’s role in the dances all night. I shaved off my mustache and danced the women’s role all night. It was big fun to be spun into the arms of my next male partner, looking them flirtatiously in the eye and saying “Hey, big boy.” (Their reactions to being presented with this package were often pretty funny – and all over the waterfront.)
A very sweet guy at one point took me aside and taught me how to really release myself into being spun, which was very thrilling. A really nice young woman said to me early in the evening, “Honey, you need some lipstick” – and promptly took me into the lady’s room to apply it. That made me feel more complete and like I had really arrived. Over the next several days, I told several male and female friends that dressing and dancing like a woman had released me from some of my stuck “competent” and “strong” male conditioning – and that I had felt really free and had a lot of fun.
I haven’t ever that I can remember – in the here and now – allowed myself to have immediate sexual feelings for a man. It’s all been afterwards, in fantasy.
So, by posting this I may have just in some ways complicated my life. Even in 2019 – but in the crazy, angry, oppressive Trump America – I may have opened myself up to some disapproval and prejudice, I guess maybe even some danger. But my life – over so much of it, but especially the last five months (see my exciting and very risky new blog “Waking up”) – has been strongly characterized by more and more self-love and freedom. I less and less give a shit about what anybody else thinks of me. But, even with all that liberation and truth-telling over the course of my adult life, I have just taken a huge step towards my own integrity and freedom. I feel happy.
I imagine that some (or many) of you – maybe including my son – are just shaking your heads and thinking, “Finally! I knew this about him a long time ago.” Yes, I obviously have been a fucking slow learner. But oh, well – even at 73, better even very late than never.
And, friends – after all is said and done – please remember that now nobody is safe!