“Be Happy. The Gay Brotherhood Demands This Of You.”

by Dave White

My name is Dave White, I’m a writer and I live in Los Angeles. I grew up in southeastern New Mexico. When I was 17 years old in 1982 my family was living in a little town called Hobbs right on the border of Texas and New Mexico. My after school job at that moment was bagging groceries in the supermarket up the street from our house. I did not like this job. I was supposed to make small talk with customers all the time and I was not good at that. But there were two checkers who were: a woman named Marlene who was bawdy and who told sex stories all the time which I was endlessly fascinated by, and a very nice man named Ed who was the deli manager but who filled in as a cashier when we got busy. Ed looked kind of like Ed Asner from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, a human bulldog. Stocky, beefy, not gay the way we think of gay from television, which meant he flew under the radar. Also the kind of man but I was unusually drawn to in ways that I could not understand. Later in life I would come to know that that’s a bear and that’s what I liked and all I knew then though was that Ed was nice. So nice in fact that one night while we were working he started asking me what I did after work and where did I hang out and did I want to come over and hang out at his house. There were rumors that Ed was gay but I didn’t believe them because you know look at him, he looks like Ed Asner. Those guys aren’t gay, they play football. I was also so sexually locked down and confused because of my involvement with the Baptist Church that I didn’t quite understand the weird sexual charge I got when he asked me what I was doing after work, and did I want to come hang out. Part of me thought maybe he had a wife or they were swingers, and I really needed to lose my virginity. In spite of what the kids at church would say about Jesus save them from promiscuity the way they talked about it made it sound like the coolest thing in the world and that was one sin I was ready to commit just to say I had gotten it over with. So I go to his house. He lives with his brother. There is no wife. He offers me a beer, I take a sip and immediately feel guilty because again I’m in the church, you’re not supposed to drink. I sipped it anyway. He asked me if I wanted a tour. That tour begins in his bedroom. In the bedroom he takes off his shirt and I think this is reasonable because he’s the deli manager and he is near those rotisserie chickens all day long and those make you smell like a rotisserie chicken by the end of his shift. But he doesn’t put on another shirt. The shirt stays off. And he looks really good. He put his hand on my head, he played with my hair a little bit, he told me I was cute. And then he put his hand on my shoulder and I said “What are you doing!?” Like I’m going to bark and get him to go away. And he says, “Why don’t we go to the living room?” We go to the living room, we sit on the couch, he says, “Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I’m gay.” And I said, “Well I’m not, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not, no no no no no no and thank God I’m not.” And he said, “Okay, I thought you were. And maybe in the future you will come to understand that you might be, because there are reasons I thought you were. You know, you are with me all the time.” And I said, “Well, because I think you’re nice.” He said, “Well, okay.” And so I say, “I gotta go, I won’t tell anyone.” And I realize now that was a very good thing for me to have the presence of mind to say to him because it allowed him not to worry. Because in 1982 in a small town just saying the words “I’m gay” was enough to get you fired from any and every job except, you know, hair dressing. And it’s still that way now, you live in a small town there are no laws protecting you. Some little rural place they’ll kick your ass right out of that town. The next day I went back to work, I avoided Ed’s register and I went to Marlene’s register, and she looked right at me and she said, “I saw you leave last night with Ed. Did you sit on his pecker?” I was like, “No!” I could feel my face just turning red, red, red, red, red like those rotisserie chickens just burning hot. I did not go back to that register anymore. That was the end of a relationship with both of them as an employee. I learned how to make small talk a little more with the less than talkative cashiers. it wasn’t until years later that a Christian therapist forced that issue again, of all people. That Christian therapist helped me figure things out and he helped me feel good enough to say goodbye to the church which was pretty much ready for me to leave anyway. I think if there’s any application of this now, the reason it’s so indelible to me, the reason I remember so vividly is it makes me think about people who are you know still stuck in little towns like that. If you are stuck in a little town like that, find the other queer people, be nice to them. If you think they’re hot and you’re consenting, have sex with them. Be happy. The gay brotherhood demands this of you. Enjoy your life.

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