Most of what my gentle followers will read in this blog post will seem familiar from past years but repeated as it’s worth repeating, and in no small part worthwhile for me to remember. No, not ‘remember’, but continue to remain mindful of.
For Keith McCullar and me, Pride month has a particularly special significance, as 41 years ago, it was in San Francisco yet limited to a parade on Sunday, June 29, 1980, designated Gay Freedom Day. It was though the night before- June 28- that Keith and I plighted our troth and through a variety of circumstances, mostly good and some terrible, we’ve been together ever since.
I’m not so ego driven that I can claim our own personal history is that of gay liberation in microcosm, but the two traditions do intersect, and at the end of the day, I remain a gay man yet trying to negotiate my way through a world that understands me, and my relationship with Keith, only marginally better now than it did 41 years ago. And witness the fact that the notion of gay pride is still fraught with controversy- I am not going out on any limb to suggest that my own history, or indeed that of any other member of the LGBT community, is not a metaphor for gay liberation. Note that I’ve written ‘liberation’- though the LGBT community is entitled to consider itself with pride, it does nevertheless still fight for liberation from the oppression and general opprobrium that waxes and wanes in society at large.
Keith and I both have backgrounds that involve finance, and though you’re doubtless reading this post on our art and antiques website, our avocation as collectors became over time a business and we run it as one. Not precisely a question of old habits dying hard, but we’re by nature practical people, and although Keith’s numeracy skills far excel mine, both of us know that financial literacy is the difference between business success and failure and, of course, success means we can forever pursue our collecting passions. However, the larger world presumes that, in the trade in art and antiques, the purveyor is perforce gay, and as gay, necessarily falling into some kind of sissy-fied stereotype, whose lightness in the loafers is matched by a lightness between the ears- that is to say a paucity of grey matter.
Innumerable times over the past 4 decades, one or the other or both of us have been involved in some business meeting cum negotiation that, by in large, will proceed along a predicable give and take. However, in my own ongoing and long standing effort to socialize society at large to the presence of gay men, I have for years been given to remark somehow about my relationship with Keith in an effort to make it apparent that I’m gay. Very often, and still to this day, the weather within the room will change, and what might be a pleasant atmosphere, then becomes every so slightly, and occasionally not so slightly, fraught. I’ll find that the person seated across the board table becomes more insistent or more tedious in explaining some elementary point. Years and years ago, when I first became aware of this frequent phenomenon, its occurrence puzzled me. It then dawned on me that the gay stereotype of the limp-wristed sissy was so ingrained that those with whom I was dealing insisted that that, and only that, defined me. I couldn’t possibly be an able person of business who was also gay. But rather I was someone who was an interloper, and a stupid one at that- subversive in a straight world, and if I was to remain, I must then be taught to know my place. Which place, of course, was within the limits prescribed by an accepted and acceptably homophobic trope.
The thing is, I would very much doubt that any but a few of those with whom I had had the above described interchange would acknowledge any manner of homophobia and would quickly point to how friendly they are with their wife’s hairdresser, or how helpful the interior designer was when they purchased their new home. In a less politically correct age, I recall a friend in college describing these as, his words, ‘fag jobs’. Perhaps no one says this anymore, or perhaps not as much, but the notion of this, trust me, is yet pervasive and something with which most people in the LGBT community war on a sadly not infrequent basis. Although not expressed with such offensively overt precision, it is apparent that someone in the boardroom or the business community wonders in at least mild frustration and puzzlement why it is that Keith and I don’t know our proper place is behind the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. In this context, ‘uppity’ would be applied not just to a person of color.
It might just be that I’ve been worn down to accept the status quo, but perhaps there is a bit more societal freedom for Keith and me. Although we’ve been together for over four decades, and only able to file joint tax returns and claim social security survivors benefits for the last 8, it has to be acknowledged in lines that only too briefly describe a calamity that much of the tolerance we experience now cost many thousands of lives. HIV/AIDS is rapidly becoming a footnote even in the LGBT community but for Keith and me, who’ve lived to tell the tale what we saw and experienced in the suffering of so many people we thought would be friends for the rest of our lives is almost impossible to describe. What I can say is that we have very few gay peers- gay men of our own age and experience- as a majority of them died in the 80’s and 90’s. A very many of them, with very little in the way of established networks of support even in big cities, found it necessary to return to their childhood homes to die. The tragedy of HIV/AIDS brought a forced recognition of the gayness of someone’s son, grandson, brother, nephew or best friend back to a community they had left seeking tolerance and understanding somewhere else. What had been easy for the family left behind to generally ignore now had to be acknowledged.
I maintain that the tragic way in which the larger world had to come to grips with the LGBT community did at long last bring some legal recognition, if not societal redress. Cold comfort, of course, for those whose lives were forever rent with the loss of friends, loved ones or family members.
But Keith and I are together and happy with one another. Although older, though, I can’t say either of us is precisely mellowed with age, or at least I hope not. As I wrote in the first paragraph, this blog post is penned so that not just my gentle readers but also my own good self does not become complacent. Gay liberation, gay freedom, and now gay pride are empty expressions unless accompanied by an ongoing and sustained effort that may be as simple as wearing a flag pin, flying a rainbow flag or posting one on social media- or my favorite, making sure that anyone with whom I have had a word or two of conversation knows I am in a relationship with Keith McCullar. The pride flag may fly this month, but the effort to confront and overcome must be a daily and conscious task for any and all gay men, and all members of the LGBT community.