1961: “I Couldn’t Bring Myself To Write The Word ‘Homosexual.’”

by Edward Lemay

1961: “I Couldn’t Bring Myself To Write The Word ‘Homosexual.’”

“What Was It Like? Stories by LGBTQ Elders” is a new program by I’m From Driftwood, in partnership with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults. Learn more about the program here.

Edward LeMay’s 7 Video Stories and transcripts can be seen below.

1961: “I Couldn’t Bring Myself To Write The Word ‘Homosexual.’”

The year is 1961. I had just graduated from high school and I was on my way to St. John’s University, which is a Catholic Benedictine college, about two and a half hours south of where I was born. At St. John’s, I was not aware, I did not know the word “homosexual.” The word “gay” was nowhere on the horizon, certainly not on my horizons in 1982.

We had, in high school, we had, there was a lot of innuendo, you know, a lot of saying, “Oh, he’s that way” or “He’s the type of guy that would wear orange on a Thursday.” And I don’t know where orange came from because the color is pink as everybody knows or the color is lavender as everyone knows, but the saying at my high school was, “He’s probably orange.” And I could laugh along with anybody else, but I don’t know what I was laughing. I had no idea.

And so by the time I got to St. John’s, I was kind of this innocent from Cloquet, Minnesota. I arrived at St. John’s with no idea of homosexuality. The first time I heard the word was an American Lit class. We were studying Whitman, Walt Whitman, and “Song of Myself.” And the prof gave us, and it was a Benedictine monk, gave us stories about homosexuality and talked about Walt Whitman and his life, et cetera.

So as I read the assignments, I would put little notes in margin of my textbook, “HS” because at that point, I couldn’t bring myself to write the word “homosexual.” And at that point I wasn’t even sure, so I wrote the notes in pencil, sometimes with a question mark. But it was definitely homoerotic. I picked out all of the right passages.

Shortly after that class, I – I  always studied in the library and I was sitting at one of the tables. And I looked up from where I’m sitting and on the spine of a couple of books, I saw the word “homosexual.” And I did not want to be close to that word. For no rational reason, I did not want to be sitting there. But I got up and moved.

I guess days later, I went back and looked at the shelf and saw how many – there was a whole section and I actually picked up some of the books, and I never checked them out of the library, I went to a different part of the library and read about what homosexuality was. And unfortunately at that time, the prevailing literature was that homosexuality was a phase and actually arrested development from the books I was reading. So it said this person is not fully matured yet, but, you know, they will. They will. And this is something that most adolescents go through and it’s something that adolescents grow out of

It just sounded to me like it wasn’t something good, but also it was sexual. And one of the things that happens in a good Catholic family is that you really don’t talk about sex. I often didn’t get it. It just went over my head. It just felt like a word I should avoid.

1962: Falling In Love With A Fellow Classmate In Seminary School.

I was born in 1943, and this happened when I was a sophomore at St. John’s, so 1962.

At St. John’s and in many monasteries, one is encouraged not to have special friendships. So, a special friendship is defined as spending too much time with one person. So the idea was to get to know everybody in your class and get to know other people on the college campus. So, life was progressing. I was doing fine with my studies. In fact, as a sophomore, I had a 4.0 average and was taking extra courses including an honors reading program. And, at the same time, studying philosophy, theology, reading the great books. And life really was good.

If you wanted to enter the monastery, you have a spiritual adviser who was also a confessor. So in one session with my spiritual adviser, I just felt that I had this on my mind and I should really bring it up to him.

And so I said, “Father M… I’m really concerned about this. I’m having a special friendship with R. Not only is it a special friendship, but I think I’m in love with R. “

And Father M said, “That would be a problem.”

At that point, I have to point out I did not know the word homosexual let alone what homosexuality was. It was 1962 and I was from a very small town in Minnesota. So I really didn’t understand the magnitude of this or the complexities, I just know that I had to change.

So, after a conversation with my brother who was also a member of the monastery, I went on with conversations with my spiritual adviser, who suggested that it would be best if I would see the monastery psychologist.

And he said, “You know, you’re not the only one. There are other people here at the monastery who are seeing the psychiatrist for the same reason. You’re a smart guy so this is probably going to work out for you.”

So that began about 6 or 7 years of psychotherapy. Sometimes, initially it was twice a week. The objective of the therapy was to outgrow this phase.

I’m a very hard worker and I certainly can put my mind to projects, and I have to tell you that I did my homework and finally it didn’t work. I did get a lot of benefits from the psychotherapy. But it is not possible to change your sexual orientation. It just doesn’t work.

Homework Assignment: “Go To A Singles Bar And Pick Up Women.”

This was in 1962 or 63. I’m a student at St John’s and St John’s was known as “The College Behind the Pine Curtain” because we’re surrounded by pine forests. And to go out, you had hitchhike or walk or get a ride for three miles into St. Joe, which was a neighboring village. And there were single bars there.

To be a member of the monastery, it was very important at the time that – there was a cult of masculinity at St. John’s. In fact, that abbot liked his monks to smoke cigars. And my prefect was the nephew of the abbot and he also smoked cigars, but he liked students to be masculine and athletic. So my assignment was, at the direction of my spiritual adviser, to see a psychiatrist. And the objective was to make me heterosexual or to get through the homosexual phase, which was perceived of the time as arrested adolescence.

So one of the homework assignments was to go to a singles bar and pick up women and then report back to the psychiatrist on the progress that I was making. And I had some clues from my psychiatrist, kind of showed me what to do, what to say. So I took – one of the guys had a car so I rode with them to the La. And its short from La Playette. And it’s a dance bar and a bar and definitely a pickup place.

I found this one Benny, who, which was our name for all the girls at the St. Ben’s, which  was a neighboring girls school. She was so much fun and I like to dance and so we did and we really got on very, very well, so I thought it was time for step two.

So now we’re about to start a conversation and I totally had forgotten all my pickup lines.

So we were talking and my first question to her was,  “What do you think of abortion?” And she left.  She just left me standing there. And so I knew that that was definitely a faux pas and that I really had to memorize some pickup lines.

And I got to thinking, “Why would you ask a question about abortion?” And I kinda had to figure it out at the time that I really wanted to find out how progressive this woman was, and was she liberal, did believe in birth control, I guess, all of these questions. I think I probably got in a little bit over my head, a little soon. My time was definitely off.

Sabotaging Relationships With Women: “I Think My Subconscious Kicked In.”

I had been trying to change my sexual orientation. I’d been trying to be straight and so much of me really wanted a wife and family and kids. The first psychiatrist that I saw and, actually, every subsequent therapist that I saw, felt that it was possible to change my orientation from gay to straight. And I thought that it was worth pursuing. And even though it was very expensive, I continued this pursuit.

A very bright spot in therapy was to spend summer vacations at Glacier Park, where I worked at Lake McDonald Lodge. And one of the reasons this was part of the homework for the psychotherapist was that it afforded a lot of opportunities to meet women. It really was like coeducational summer camp. I really did made so many women and really, I almost married three of them. All three of these possibilities – it was very, very subconscious, but I did sabotage my – I sabotaged the relationship. And it was very, very subconscious.

As as one example, I had talked my – one of the – I talked my girlfriend, potential fiancee, into coming to Boston for a semester and she was not, she was teaching, so she could take a semester off and she did just that. And she came a little early and we checked into, we got approved for the married students dorm. It was a small but very adequate apartment, and it felt very much like homemaking.

She was a – home economics was her field, and this is what she taught at a high school in North Dakota. So she’s a homemaker and she’s a professional homemaker. So we needed a set of pots and pans, so we went to Filene’s Basement and picked up a great set of pots and pans. I thought it was wonderful and it was teflon, and as far as I knew that was the be-all and end-all of a sudden pots and pans. So we brought them home and we were unpacking them.

And I said, “God,  I can’t believe the price. This is so reasonable and they’re so great. And this set of pots and pans will last us the rest of our lives.”

And she said, “I don’t think so.”

It was a bad thing to say to her because she’s a professional homemaker. And she definitely knows quality pans. She knew that WearEver was better than teflon. She knew that steel-clad pots and pans or copper pots and pans were something that she was dreaming of her for her kitchen because she is a professional.

She was definitely pissed. She definitely felt that I was cheap. But finally, the relationship did not work out. So, in many ways, in one way, I was right – because they did last to the end of the life of the relationship. But Phyllis moved on and I moved on. And we’re still friends to this, day by the way.

And this was just one example, but there were other examples with very fine women. And soon as it got too close and got too hot, there was a part of me that realized this would really hurt her. If I went through with this marriage, it would just end up being painful for both of us. And so I think my subconscious kicked in. It certainly wasn’t something I’ve plotted. It was just an instinct, but with her interests at heart, as well as my own.

Visiting A Gay Bathhouse: “It Was A Great First Time.”

I had been in therapy to become a straight person, and part of the therapy was to date women. I found, actually, a very, very beautiful, a very talented woman, and had a wonderful successful relationship with her. Though we weren’t married, we were contemplating it and I would spend weekends in her apartment in Boston.

One weekend, she was a law student, she was off at the library studying, and I picked up the Phoenix. And in the back of the Phoenix, which is a local paper, I saw an ad – “Are you secretly attracted to men? Why not make an appointment with a Homophile Community Health Service?” And there was something about that ad, and certainly I did not mention it to her, but Monday morning I called and made an appointment. I got an appointment with a therapist there who was a psychologist and also a Christian brother. It was quite important for me that he was Catholic and a religious person. It made it easier to talk to him, especially because I felt that I’d given this a great shot, you know, and it had been years and I was trying to change my orientation.

After about 3 or 4 appointments with him, it was really something I wanted to go forward with. He recommended that I avoid the bars. He said that he personally liked the bathhouses. I went to – I took up his suggestion. And he also had a book for me – it was a story about the baths, it was a story about the gay baths, but it was also a manual on how to behave in a gay bathhouse. And so as soon as possible, I checked into Club Baths in Boston.

The book was so spot on. It was like I had been here before. So I found a locker and left my clothes and put the key on a band around my, over my foot, around my ankle. I grabbed my towel and I started cruising in the aisles. Very, very early on, I ran into this extremely handsome black guy who was a head taller than I. And he was just amazing, he was just how handsome and so, he was such a sweet man.

And he asked if I had a room and I said, “No I don’t.”

And he said. “Would you like to come to mine?”

And I said, “Yes, I would.”  He was so gentle, so affectionate. It was the first time I’d ever touched a man and certainly, just a fabulous feeling.

And as I got more and more aroused and as he did, I said, “You know, I have something I need to tell you. I’ve never done this before with a man.”

He said, “Oh my god,” and he was very nice about it and he said, “I’ll be right back.” He said, “Excuse me. Excuse me just for a few minutes.” And he did come back quite quickly and we just proceeded under his direction. He was just a very good at what he was doing. So it really was, it really was my first sexual experience with a man and it couldn’t have been a better guy. It couldn’t have been a more positive experience and with a more worthy bed partner.

After all of this, I said, “I need to ask you a question. Why did you – did you have to go the men’s room? Why did you leave?”

And he said, “I’ve never… this is the first time I’ve ever brought anyone out. So it’s a real privilege. This is such privilege for people like me.”

And he said, “I wanted it to be a positive experience for you and so I had to talk to my friends because I’ve never done this before.” So I don’t know what they said, but it certainly worked. It certainly was positive.

You know, I never saw him again. I didn’t know enough to ask for phone numbers, I didn’t know enough to set up a date. And I often went back on a Friday night hoping that I’d run into him again. I never did. You know, maybe he was from Montreal. Who knows? Anyway, it was a great first time.

“I Was Very, Very Fortunate In The Sixties That My Parents Were So Accepting.”

It was the late Sixties. I was visiting my parents in Minnesota and, fortunately, there was an article in Time Magazine about homosexuality. And I had been feeling around, I was planning on coming out to my parents and this was one of my feelers.

I studied the article in Time Magazine and then over breakfast one morning, we were sitting over coffee and just talking and I said, “Have seen this article in Time Magazine? What do you thinks of this?”

And my mother paged through it, looked at the article for a bit, and she said, “Well to each his own.” And my dad looked at the article and he said nothing at all. Still, the seeds had been sown and I thought I was going to be a pretty firm ground.

So on their next next trip to Boston, I decided I was going to come out to them. We were sitting in my living room on the thirteenth floor overlooking Boston. My parents were sitting down the couch opposite me.

I said, “You now, I’ve got something that’s really important. So I want to talk to you, and I’ve been wanting to talk to you for quite a long time. And maybe you know some of this or, and I don’t know, but just let me speak and then we can talk about it afterwards.”

And so I went a little further and I said, “You know, I just want you to know that I’m gay. And it’s definite.” I said, “Dad, do you remember all that psychotherapy that I was going through when I was in college and even in graduate school?” I said, “The reason was to turn me from gay to straight. And that was six or seven years, Dad. You know?  And initially you said you didn’t think I needed the therapy. And I said, ‘Oh, but I do because I can’t even get into the monastery if I don’t go through with this.’”

And so, but I said, “Dad, you know, you were right. There was no way to change myself from gay to straight. And unfortunately I had to spend a lot of time working at this and I did work hard. And it’s definite, you know, this is a part of me. This is who I am.”

My dad said,  “Well I hope you know this makes no difference to us. We love you anyway.”

And my mother said, “Don’t go losing your job over this.” It was a bit ironic because my my father’s usually the pragmatist and my mother is usually the feeling piece of that relationship.

The following day I was cooking spaghetti sauce, something. My mother was taking a nap. My dad put down the paper and came over to the stove while I was stirring the sauce.

And he said, “You know, you’re not the only one.” He said, “This homosexuality has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. But your mother is a bit worried and she just, she’s concerned about about your job.”

And I said, “Yes, Dad, I know.” And at the time, you could be fired for being gay. So I knew to be careful, and I certainly was.

After that conversation – I called my parents anyway for my whole adult life. All of the conversations thereafter included my, what was going on in my gay life. What was going on with this boyfriend or that friend.

I think I was very, very fortunate in the Sixties that my parents were so accepting. And I give them so much credit because it was still viewed as a mental illness, and certainly their church was not pro-gay. But they certainly put family above church. So I’m just a very fortunate, very fortunate gay man.

“Luke Will Always Be Just A Very, Very Incredible Person In My Life.”

So it was the late Seventies I was living on Devisadero and saw this ad in a San Francisco gay newspaper about a skivvies party at UC Berkeley. And I said, there should really be some pretty interesting guys at Berkeley.

It was certainly close enough to where I was working, so after work I went over. And it was, we left our clothes and paper bags except for our skivvies. I found this guy on the other side of the room and he had the most beautiful chest. I grew up really fond of hairy chests and didn’t really know the meaning of it when I was a little kid, I just thought it was an attractive, but certainly I knew the meaning of it that night.

I had never even met anyone quite like Luke. And it seemed, too, that he was cruising me. I was at that point pretty good at picking up the clues. And I was just totally fascinated with everything he had to say and missed a lot of the other stories that was going around the circle. Then there was a break and we were, you know, we had refreshments. And then it was just mingling and talking to each other. Well, I only had eyes and words for Luke. I talked only with that evening.

At the end of the evening, and I don’t know where this came from, but I just said, “Would you like to come home with me?” And he lived in Berkeley. I lived on Devisadero, halfway between the Castro and the marina. And he did. I led the way, found parking places for both of us. And it was just a just a magical evening.

From that time onward, I only dated Luke. We spent virtually every weekend together. Summers, we spent a lot of time, traveling sometimes a week at a time. It was always very, very wonderful.

But early on in the relationship, my roommate was out for the evening and so Luke and I were… Luke and I were making love in the living room by the fire. There’s only only the light from, the fire light was illuminating the room. It was it was one of the really peak experiences, certainly at that point. I had rarely experienced anything as passionate and as sustained as that evening. But the firelight was just so, it was like magic on his skin.

And the relationship went on for years. I actually lost my job in California after one year. I came back to Boston. He had a couple of years of graduate school to do. But during those years, we spent every Easter vacation, every Christmas vacation, because we had similar vacation periods.

One summer vacation, we spent in Belgium with his parents at their house. They thought we were best friends and he was not out to his parents.

We once went – we were on our bikes and Luke started undressing on his bike until he was down to his skivvies. This was my other favorite fantasy that I played often through the years and it still is such a wonderful experience. To see him almost naked on his bike was really something. And, of course, he stayed an appropriate distance in front of me.

There’s another facet to these bike trips or to these excursions to the countryside because we were making our lovemaking, we were keeping our lovemaking a secret. It made the lovemaking so much more valuable.

Then one spring semester, we were making plans. We started to make plans to get together the following summer, and while we were making plans, Luke told me that he was living with a lover, that he had found someone else, that he had found another lover. I needed some time to figure that out and I decided to go to San Francisco that summer anyway.

The three of us became friends. From time to time, I would still make love with Luke. It was never a threesome, but the three of us were friends. The two of them, in fact, rented an apartment for me that summer in the building where they were living.

Luke will always be just a very, very incredible person in my life and he will always be a lover. And he still is an ideal and he was an ideal in the time I first met him. So I do carry this picture with me. And sometimes he’s on a bike, and sometimes he’s in front of a fire.

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