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And it came to pass.

I had no idea at all it even existed before I saw the cover of TIME magazine.

How Gay is Gay?

The idea had literally never crossed my mind. It wasn’t that it was a thing that couldn’t or shouldn’t or oughtn’t be done; it wasn’t a thing, at all. It didn’t exist. Inconceivable. —After? Well, take your pick: I’d stepped through a door that slammed shut behind me; a seed had been planted; I’d taken a bite from the apple; the world got just that much the bigger. I was that much further down the slippery slopes that fall away on all sides from Innocence and Grace. I knew a little more of what it was I didn’t know.

When did I see it? Hard to say. It’s dated 23 April 1979, but I remember it alongside the cover they ran just over a year later, when Mount St. Helens blew its top. Magazines were kept in pretty much the same place, on and around the corner end table, so I might be remembering them together because I saw them (two powerful, iconic images) in the same place and not necessarily at the same time. So it was somewhere between April of 1979 and June of 1980, sometime just before or after my 11th birthday, that I first became aware of the idea of homosexuality.

(I don’t remember the article itself, which is a shame, though you’ll note it isn’t so important that I’ve gone to the library to look it up, or indeed perform much more than a desultory googling. It’s noted here as a “relatively sympathetic post-Bryant cover story,” and I suppose it’s a measure of our post-Bryant age that we’re now fighting over basic rights for homosexual relationships instead of basic rights for homosexualists. —I do remember wondering at the the pair of female hands, there at the top: I was confusing the Latin homo for the Greek homos, even if I might not have put it that way at the time, and further mistranslating homo as man. So the male hands made sense as “homo” sexuality, but not the female. Ah, lesbian invisibility! —If I did discuss the cover with either of my parents, it was merely to clear that up, but I’m mistrusting the memories that suggest such a conversation occurred, and where does that leave us?)

How about you? Any one moment or thing in particular? A watershed, or did it just seep in, with no clear eureka between knowing and not? Or have you always known, and do you find the idea of not knowing in your bones that this is one of the ways the world works to be quaint, odd, disturbing? —It’s important, I think, to note these things.

  1. Nick Fagerlund    Feb 14, 08:43 PM    #
    Wow. I, uh...

    ...I don't know. Huh. I have no idea where that memory is stored. This is going to take some digging.

    Maybe I'll get back to you on that.

  2. Vincent    Feb 15, 05:05 AM    #
    I was 7 or 8, lying on my stomach on my living room floor in a square of sunshine, reading the dictionary. I read the (short, nonjudgemental) definition and said, "huh, I didn't know people did that." Right along with, "huh, so that's what's a homily."

    By the time the crazy religious people around me ever brought it up, years and years later, the damage was done. I'd already accepted it as something people did! Why my (now teenage) peers would freak out about it and react so violently to it I couldn't figure.

  3. Chris Baldwin    Feb 15, 06:33 AM    #
    I grew up calling friends fags or gay as an insult, with no actual thought whatsoever about sexual orientation, truly never giving it a single thought (yes, i am a bit embarrassed, but what you grow up around is not your choice). And I know I saw it in movies in high-school and such, but it still never entered my brain as a real thing, as i had "never met" anyone who was gay.

    But the moment I remember, I met this man at college (yes, I'm that naive for it to take that long), who had a purple fuzzy giraffe doll in his backpack. I tried to befriend him, and soon sorta' picked up that he was gay, and it was as if all the information had been sitting in my subconscious waiting to say "hey, see?" We actually didn't have much in common and drifted fairly soon after. But it was the thing that it brough it to my conscious awareness.

    Reminds me of when my dad told me about the birds and the bees, and asked me (I was maybe in 5th grade) if I knew where babies come from. And I pondered, and realized that i had no idea, because it just never occured to me to think about it.

    weird brain.

    "remmeber before your cousin Aubrey was born, how aunt Wendy got really fat?"

    oh right. I wondered about that.

  4. Robert    Feb 16, 05:39 AM    #
    This may or may not count, but I remember (at about age five or six) reading something and asking my slightly older brother Steve, "If Protestants aren't Catholic, what do they worship instead of God?" He was massively scornful of my ignorance, in that way that only twenty four more months on the planet can assure. The realization that people could disagree so drastically on almost everything, yet still worship the same God, was revelatory.*

    On a slightly related note, I was reading recently about Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Sime/Gen stories. One of the points made early in the series is that male/female Sime/Gen couplings may or may not include sexual intimacy, but same gender S/G couplings never do. When questioned on this, Lichtenberg allegedly explained that when she'd first invented the S/G idea as a teenager, she'd had no idea that same gender couples _could_ be sexually intimate.

    *It didn't dawn on me until much, much later that in most situations, for most people, this makes as much difference as pi to the fifteenth decimal place versus pi to the sixteenth.

  5. Gary    Feb 17, 11:17 AM    #
    My revelation came in two stages. One, early grade school, when I realized I liked looking at older boys in tight jeans though none of my friends shared my fascination. Two, senior year of high school, when my first boyfriend/first sex partner and I tried telling our male friends what a GREAT time we were having. No one wanted to hear about it, but we'd been having a good time for long enough to decide we weren't going to stop doing it, we were just going to stop telling people about it. Like Vincent above, by the time we realized most of the world felt like most of our friends, we already knew that this was something wonderful that two people in love did, same-sex or opposite.

    This is the most positive Valentine's Day post I've seen. Thank you for bringing back those memories.

  6. sara    Feb 18, 11:29 AM    #
    hmm. in books, it was probably mary renault...alexander and hephaistion, oh my. in non-book life, probably my ten-years-older friend, whom i looked up to tremendously, coming out to me as bisexual. wow, i thought. so that's what it is. my own stupid stage was, yes, also in middle school, using the adjective "faggy" to describe, for instance, a grading system with which i disagreed. i had absolutely no concept that the word could mean anything other than the equally popular and similarly problematic "lame."

  7. Glenn Ingersoll    Mar 5, 04:32 PM    #
    Always knew. However that doesn't mean I always was OK with it ... especially for myself. I remember looking at women trying to figure out a way I might find them alluring. Whereas men totally made me nervous as though they were human with an odd extra ingredient that was scary and (bury this bury this) enticing.

    I remember being very fond of Harvey Milk. (I grew up north of San Francisco so we watched many SF TV stations.) I was 13 when Milk travelled the state fighting the Briggs Initiative which would have outlawed gay teachers. I remember thinking outlawing a person was appalling. This may have been the time I turned against the death penalty.

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