Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Hurricane Season: August-November 1979

This is the third year that I have been blogging on National Coming Out Day, and I provide another installment of my recollections here.

I moved to the Chicago area in late June of 1979 to begin pursuing my doctorate from the Department of Biochemistry at Northwestern. As I have previously mentioned, part of my decision to come to Chicago involved the fact that I needed to come out here. I had struggled with life in the closet enough to know that it wasn’t a winning proposition. By the time I arrived in town, I was completely committed to starting the process.

But what to do? I didn’t know how to come out. It wasn’t something that there was a how-to manual for, especially that long ago. I did spend part of that summer in the HO section of the university library, being generally unimpressed with what I was reading. I was pretty sure that I wasn't interested in being a flamboyant party boy. That decision undoubtedly served me well- although nobody had yet heard of AIDS, 1979 would later prove to be a very dangerous time. I remember wondering a lot where I fit in. It was pretty clear that I felt outcast in the straight world. Was there room for me anywhere in the gay life?

In August of that summer, I was reading the classified ads in The Reader, Chicago’s local alternative paper. There was an ad by an organization called the Mattachine Society advertising a discussion group for gay men the following Tuesday. Mattachine, I would later learn, was a very early gay rights organization that dates back to the early 1950s.

I went. I still remember the evening vividly, down to what I wore (my green alligator shirt). The discussion was warm, sometimes goofy, and only a little bit political. The men ranged widely in age and in personality. There were overtly queeeny types (still quite scary to me that early in my own process) and guys who I felt that I might have met even in my old home town. I remember the frisson of first seeing unrelated men kissing socially. I also remember seeing my reflection in the window of the El car on my way home and wondering if I was somehow different now.

I would return to the discussion groups faithfully each week for several years. Those guys did so much to calm me down about the whole process. Many were important examples to me of how one could be out and proud and lead a rich and productive life. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The summer of 1979 was one of great change for me. I felt very alone for much of that summer. I was far from home and the people I knew and loved. I was living in a large city for the first time. It was the summer that I would gradually grow accustomed to being on my own. Perhaps because I missed the ocean, I remember thinking at one point that it’s when hurricanes make landfall and come into contact with people that they dissipate. I spent that summer by myself, feeling far out at sea like a hurricane-- gathering strength.

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At 22:55, Blogger Ur-spo said...

that was very tender; thank you for sharing it.

At 05:40, Blogger cedrorum said...

Thanks for sharing this part of your life. It is too bad that people's attitudes towards homosexuality haven't seemed to me to have changed much except for in the big cities. Of course, I am living in the south now. Same thing with racism. Unfortunately, I feel the United States is behind the ball when compared to some other parts of the world when it comes to these social issues, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

At 07:24, Anonymous pablo said...

This is a very worthy post. Thank you for sharing it and humanizing me a bit more. As I've said before, I'm not on the team, but I am in the stands, cheering the team on.

At 07:31, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone reading your blog can tell, you are a very genuine and good person Doug. The very best wishes to you for your future.

At 07:34, Blogger Lemuel said...

That was very helpful. Thank you for sharing these very personal reflections on those days.

At 09:39, Blogger T.R. said...

Beautiful, beautiful Doug. Seeing your reflection in the window and wondering if you'd changed took me back 30 years. I walked out of my first similar public outing/meeting thinking, "well its done, that wasn't so bad - I can walk a little taller now living more honestly". Then I suddenly stopped and thought "shit, I can never be President of the United States". And sadly, that's still true.

At 20:47, Blogger robin andrea said...

This is a lovely remembrance, doug, and I especially like the hurricane analogy. On Thursday, Roger and I are going to the court house to be witnesses to our dear friends' marriage here in California. They first got married in San Francisco in 2004, when the mayor was presiding over the first gay and lesbian marriages in the state. Now they're getting married, before the election, just in case Prop 8 passes. What a world we live in.

At 21:44, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Spo- My pleasure. I enjoy my annual foray out of the insect world.

cedrorum- I'm happy to be able to disagree, at least somewhat. When I look back on life as I remember it in the late 70s/early 80s, I'm astounded at the progress. Wo would have thought that we'd be seriously debating gay marriage? I know younger folks now who came out when they were 15 and 16. That would have been unthinkable for me. Still, we do have a long way to go.

Pablo- Cheer on! We need more good allies like yourself.

Roy- Thanks so much. I really appreciate your kind words.

Lem- I'm glad you found the remembrance helpful.

tr- Thanks. It really is interesting looking back on those times from our older and wiser perspective, isn't it.

Robin- please offer my congratulations and good wishes to your friends. Such an honor that you have been asked to be their witnesses. I sometimes feel the looming uncertainties about Prop. 8 are making the next few weeks the gay equivalent of a shotgun wedding for some folks.

At 00:53, Blogger Gallicissa said...

I could help thinking that I was just 2.5 years the time you were referring in 1979! Thanks for sharing this. Doug.

At 09:37, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Gallicissa- OK, suddenly I feel older than dirt. Well, at least I was still a little younger in 1979 than you are today.

At 22:38, Anonymous Beetles in the bush said...

Doug - you're not old, cuz if you are than so am I. And I'm not old. I'm not!
Hey, this was really touching. I know what it's like to suppress a part of who you are - it isn't fun.
regards -- ted

At 10:13, Blogger Gallicissa said...

I meant "I couldn't help..", pardon my poor Sringlish (Sri Lankan English)

'...older than dirt'
I like that expression!

At 23:37, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, you know I sympathize with all you've been through. I'm glad you are now free to be yourself. It takes a lot of courage to be this honest. I commend you for it.


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