I cannot escape the town of my childhood. Even though it once excluded me, I’ve become nostalgic. I want: farmer’s denim overalls, my show cow, Betsy, dust of a good harvest, the town square, a hot August day drinking lemonade under an oak, and the lonesome wail of a passing freight train. That past is a part of me and comes alive in my writing, allowing it be heard in the Chicago hustle, my current home.
In the 50’s and 60’s, my hometown was a God-fearing farming community. Its focus of activity was the town square with its stores, restaurants, and banks, all surrounding the county courthouse. Saturdays were busiest. Men frequented Marty’s hardware store, Jim’s barbershop, Squeaky’s Tavern, or for a seedier atmosphere, they went to the Washington Street Inn. The men discussed weather, crops, cattle, market prices, and their sex lives. They’d never admit it was gossip.
Women gossiped. You would find them chatting over hats in Nellie’s hat store or among the dresses at Montgomery Ward. They were to find a friend sitting in a car and join him or her for a good chat. My hometown was where neighbors help neighbors. There were few secrets. Morality was a topic of daily discussion, but sins were forgiven if the person made an attempt at repentance.
Little went unnoticed, but amidst the turmoil of the 1960’s, the casual conversations of five men lead to public sex in the courthouse restroom. Their arrest for public indecency took the town on a journey through good and evil that altered it, the lives of the five men, their families, and me.
My suspicions of being different were aroused by the affair. The story of these men became the story of my life. The anguish of coming to grips with being gay have created in me a passion for survival and a need to explore the roots that formed my need to hide within a marriage and eventually my acceptance.
Through it all, the town and I confirmed our perseverance of community and ability to survive.
As a geriatric physician I often met individuals that I knew were gay, but were living as straight men afraid of coming out to their children and their families. I developed geriatric programs that emphasized the worth of every individual.
In New Orleans, I was active in LGBT community: president of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center where programs were developed to educate parents and families of gays; a grand marshal for the Gay Easter Parade; ball captain of a gay Mardi Gras Krewe; owned a gay bar and theatre space in New Orleans where I often counseled individuals with issues of coming out.
I recently moved to Chicago, and I’m active at the gay senior center. I chair the Wisdom Group at St. James Episcopal Cathedral where I’m planning programs to meet the needs of its diverse aging population.