Yes, I confess. As a young man, I hated the very idea of gay men. My psychology degree, study of karma, and awareness of spiritual psychology were all still years in the future when my worst prejudice expressed itself rather blatantly.
I was 21 years old at the time.
Hold on now. Before all of you Rainbow Coalition members start hurling rotten tomatoes or worse, please note: I did get over it, okay? I did eventually stop hating.
At age 21, though, serving in the United States Army at a kaserne (military post) in Germany, I had me some ba-ad attitude. Didn’t know it, of course. Like any rigid bigot, I was certain I had the right of it and the other guys were the twisted ones. Besides, I figured that since I lacked any racial prejudice, I must be A-OK in the mental way, right?
Caveat: My bias did have its limits. I’d heard of violence being perpetrated against gay men, sometimes robbing them for sport, sometimes much worse, but I never liked hearing it. I just didn’t want some dude kissing on me….
The most dramatic demonstrations of my anti-gay bias were–well, both of them occurred while I was a soldier.
Incident #1: I was off duty, out on pass on a Saturday evening, on foot. In the town of Erlangen, some three or so miles distant from my duty station, there was a restaurant with great wiener schnitzel and great dancing nearby. I’d learned just enough German to allow me to ask a fräulein to dance, had a fine old time for a few hours, and headed on back to the kaserne.
Karma was about to teach me the beginnings of a great lesson in spiritual psychology, though the benefits would not become apparent for another year or more.
The final mile going in to the base was a long, dark road. Not utterly dark; there were enough widely separated streetlights to see by. But dark enough. There was absolutely no traffic. Perhaps half a mile from the front gate, I saw another soldier hiking out, heading my way. We were on the same side of the road, that being by far the better shoulder for walking. By the time we passed each other, my hands were out of my jacket pockets despite the chill November night air; only a fool traps his own limbs when he might need them for self defense.
The pass was made without incident, just a traditional nod to acknowledge the other man’s existence. He was perhaps an inch shorter than I was but a good twenty pounds heavier.
And then he spoke. In retrospect, looking back, he probably had no choice.
I had decked myself out as the ultimate gay bait.
No, of course I had no inkling I’d done such a thing. I was, after all, a young Montana cowboy, valedictorian of my high school class but ranch raised and rodeo bred nonetheless. No one in my home town or on the rodeo circuit would have given my clothing a second thought, but in the middle of the night on a dark road in Germany where men occasionally fancied men…okay, let’s describe the outfit from the bottom up.
On my feet were cheap but flashy black and white cowboy boots. My jeans were western cut, Lee brand, definitely cowboy togs–but they also happened to be snow white. My legs and rear end, what there is of it, must have been flashing like neon come-get-me signs in the relative darkness. Against the November chill, I wore a jacket that was, dare I say it…puffy and downright cuddly, a gray wool-like knit with black suede leather inserts. Anybody short of an absolute under-the-bridge troll in that jacket looked eminently huggable. At 5′ 11″ and 158 pounds, long and lean, my hair–I still had hair then–was military cut but definitely blond. Add blue eyes in a face that looked more at home on a 16 year old than a man of 21 years, and the die was cast.
Yes, thinking back, were I a gay man who saw that vision of loveliness striding along in the middle of the night, all alone on a long, dark road…I’d have found myself compelled to say something, too.
But then, hindsight really is 20/20.
When he spoke, I turned, my yellow warning light bumping up to orange but definitely not flaring to full fight-for-your-life red. He was making conversation, calm, quiet but lively.
The only thing was, I had no idea what he had in mind. No idea whatsoever. I’d never before been approached for a bout of gay sex. Truth be told, I’d missed at least a couple of dozen frantic signals sent my way by hot-to-trot women. “Dense” was my middle name.
After a bit, he asked, “You’re not interested, then?”
“No,” I replied. I had no idea what he was selling, but I did know I wasn’t buying.
“Not even for money?”
“Hell, no!” I snapped that out with authority…but I still didn’t get it. Green as grass, this Montana redneck.
He didn’t give up. Frankly, my vanity now (nearly fifty years later) strongly suspects he was really, really smitten. Lust at first sight. He kept trying, gesturing toward a thicket of bushes and small trees near the side of the road, pointing out that we could easily go in there and be hidden from prying eyes.
I still didn’t get it. I was starting to worry about this guy a bit, but no, believe it or not, I still couldn’t figure him out.
And then…and then he looked me straight in the eye and asked with quiet intensity, “How big is it?”
I got it then. I got it, and I also lost it. I started screaming obscenities at the poor guy, cussing him up one side and down the other. They should have been able to hear me in Berlin. I wanted to thump his gourd, but I wasn’t that stupid; he didn’t look like any pushover, and besides, he might be packing a knife or some such.
He never moved a muscle, never turned a hair, just kept trying to talk me into it. I don’t know what he thought. Maybe that I’d suddenly break off in mid-rant and say, “Oh, well, when you put it that way, it sounds like a great idea! Let’s hit the bushes!”
Eventually, I began backing away, yelling at him the entire time. Incredibly, he kept trying to convince me, nonstop until I was a good 100 feet away from him or more, walking swiftly now but still turning every step or two to make sure he wasn’t sneaking up on me…and I came across a weapon, a three foot chunk of 4″ x 4″ timber, an old sign post that had rotted off and fallen to the ground. I picked it up, brandishing my club, still cussing him out loudly.
I was within a few hundred yards of the kaserne’s front gate before he finally gave up and went on his way.
Looking back, I feel complimented. At the time, I felt mostly bug-eyed shock and outrage….
Incident #2: It was close to my separation date; within weeks, I’d be shipping back across the pond to be released from active duty, my two years of draft service completed…but I just had to do something stupid before I left.
There were two soldiers who roomed together on the first floor of the barracks. Another soldier who had the room next to theirs, but no roommate at the time, had turned them in for “being gay together”. He testified that their lovemaking was too loud and he, like a lot of soldiers, didn’t much care for the image.
In those days (circa 1965), if you were proven gay, you were automatically ejected from military service. One of the accused men–the more feminine of the pair–received his court martial first, was convicted, and was booted from the Army. The other man was a fighter and beat his court martial; he stayed on active duty.
All three men–the gay couple and their accuser–were what the rest of us thought of as “the Colonel’s pets”, administrative types. Those of us who did what we saw as the “real work” didn’t have much use for the pencil pushers anyway, so that added a bit to my automatic dislike of the man who’d beaten the system.
Besides, he was about my height, weight, and coloring.
One day, he was up on our floor (the third) on an errand. Impulsively, I called out loudly, making sure he could hear it. “If I ever have to kill anybody, I hope it’s a f—–g queer!”
Which was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life. Had the two of us gotten into a fight, my release date from the Army could have (and probably would have) been jeopardized. Besides that, there was no certainty I could take this guy; like I said, he’d already proved by winning his court martial that he was a fighter.
Fortunately for everyone, he was a lot smarter than I was. If he rose to the bait, that would of course serve as pretty good evidence that he was indeed gay, which would not be to his benefit.
That was the end of it. My time came. I got out of the Army and headed back to college.
Releasing the bias. Summer, 1966. I was majoring in Agriculture at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, not yet knowing that Ag was not to be my destiny. (Four years later, after numerous adventures and not a few misadventures, I would finally get my Bachelor’s degree…in Psychology.) To help with expenses, I had a part time job, working for a soil scientist in the school’s Ag Department.
One day, my friend Robert–another cowboy, friend, and part time Ag Dept. employee–and I were seated at adjoining desks, counting wheat seeds. It was a task of mind numbing boredom. The boss wasn’t around, and we could easily chat while we counted. So I told him about my anti-gay misadventures in Germany and underscored my hatred of gay men. To borrow a line from John Norman’s Gor series, what beasts such men were!
Robert listened until I finished my tale, then quietly remarked, “Well, Fred, you know they say that if you’re that vehement about it, it’s because you’re afraid you may be gay yourself.”
Back up there a minute, cowboy. What did you just say?
Yep. That simple comment of his got my attention, all right. I didn’t say much then, but I’ve never believed in lying to myself long term. If there was something to this, I’d best find out, and I’d best do it honestly.
So for the next six months, as time permitted, I began Soul searching, looking deep within myself, seeing if there was any way I could mock up a fantasy life that included a male lover. I kept quiet about this process, of course. It was not something I’d share with my ultra-traditional wife, for example. Or with my friend Robert, for that matter.
At the end of the six months, I decided, no, I was probably not gay–or rather, bisexual, since I’ve always liked girls and that hadn’t changed. But males still didn’t attract me in any romantic way that I could determine…but something, I realized suddenly, had changed.
My bias–a bias that yes, had at times verged on hatred–was gone. Not diminished. Gone. Poof! As my wife would say, dis-na-peered!
How that worked, I’m not sure to this day. I am, however, grateful. Hey, that might have been a better title: Losing My Anti-Gay Prejudice–from Hateful to Grateful in Six Easy Months.