Thursday, June 14, 2018

Memoirs of a Gay Leather Elder 11: I Invented Leather Pride

The page listing all of the articles in this series can be found here

and my Mentoring for Tops page can be found here.

I have a long, long history of activism and community leadership. So far in this series, I have been trying to tell my stories in chronological order. My heart now calls me to jump ahead to one of the most important parts of my legacy.

A portrait from 1998

I invented Leather Pride, twenty years ago. I'm the guy.

I'm not talking about titleholder contests. I am talking about a coordinated annual, local celebration of artists, artisans, vendors, volunteers and affinity-groups, built by a team of dedicated, cooperative leaders and volunteers. A titleholder contest or two was the cherry on top, for the week leading up to Leather Pride.

I'm sure that there will be folks who will reflexively discount my story for whatever reason. They are welcome to their opinion. I invite everyone to click the links, which prove that my story is true. I was there. I know what I did, and finally, so will you.

The Holocaust Phase

In the late 1990's, the Leather Tribe was horrifyingly traumatized. In my own case, I stopped counting when I had lost 140 loved ones to AIDS. I will go into more detail in later stories, when I talk about holding dozens of dying men in hospitals when no one else (including nurses in hospitals) would come within fifteen feet of our lonely, dying brothers.

I was going to two or three funerals a week, for a long time. As a young man who had found love and intimacy among men for the first time, the losses devastated me, and they kept coming like hammer-blows, for years.

Then the Cocktail arrived, and the endless dying slowed. It was a huge blessing, but it wasn't ENOUGH for the survivors. All of the PTSD, rage, grief and Survivor's Guilt that had built for almost two decades wasn't going away. We didn't know how to handle the pain.

The devastation still lives within the survivors, every day, even now, twenty years later. As many others would agree, the sadness never goes away. We've gotten pretty good at pretending otherwise.

The Early Days of Titleholder Contests

In the 1970's, titleholder contests were just a goofy, fun way for a bar to sell more beer. A "Best Ass Contest" or a "Best Chest" event would bring out the leering, horny men, and the night would be a success. Then, Chuck Renslow and his team created the International Mr. Leather Contest in 1979, and the ultimate titleholder contest became an annual tradition that built up as the years went by.

Then, AIDS happened. The first man in my circle of close friends who died of AIDS was a sweet 22-year-old redhead, in 1981.  At the time, it seemed as though he was fine, fucking like a bunny, then he had a cough, and then three weeks later, he was dead. We had never seen anything like it.

Then, more men died, or disappeared forever without warning, as they fled to Kansas or Arkansas, to try to escape the epidemic that stalked us all, or to die among family. If the family would let them in. Not many did.

And, the avalanche accelerated.

The Second Phase of Titleholder Contests

Calling folks together for a contest became a way to drag new leaders into the community. We kept losing more and more folks who would coordinate AIDS fundraisers and volunteer efforts. Winning a contest was conditional upon doing good works, for the first time. Not many felt called to do so. Most contests had only one or two participants on stage.

Next year, another contest was needed to replace the earlier titleholder, who had burned out, swearing never to return. This happened often, and it kept tearing up our local Leather culture, repeatedly. We were under constant bombardment of bad news. We no longer had reasons to come together as a community in relaxed pleasure. It was every man for himself.

Sex had been a celebration of our liberation from the culture of shame that we had endured as children. Now, sex meant Disease, Disfigurement and Death. Intimacy could kill you, and often did.

There was NO FUCKING POINT in investing in new friends. They were too likely to leave you brokenhearted, like so many others, and the pain and fear were unendurable.

Stepping Up

Then, a friend asked me to get more involved, in 1997. He said "We need you. It's time." He had been one of two contestants for a bar title, and the winner had died a month later. This new titleholder had no support from the community. All that he had received were attacks that had escalated. The toxicity came from all of those intense, negative pressures that never went away, and we had no healthy way to express them.

He knew that I had been a car-club president, and knew how to accomplish things as a leader and team-builder. I was reluctant to step into the spinning blades, but I knew that he was right. I had been sitting back and complaining about things for years. It was time to get my big ass into the game.

I started creating dozens of new initiatives: I created the local Leather Archives, I created a VERY early Leather Resources Web site and an email list of around 3,000 folks called the PT-List, I was the Leather columnist for a local gay newspaper, I won a local and International title (more about those later), I created an intensely popular Leathermen's Dance Party, and on and on. I was a whirlwind of constant innovation and change, but with a specific goal:

I wanted to bring an end to the Holocaust Phase. Worldwide. 

I was ready to put a period at the end of the last chapter, and start a whole new era that included kindness and cooperation. I was dedicated to creating an ongoing series of safe occasions for joy in a Tribal environment.

No little dreams. Ever.

I started gathering together the very best kink, leather and fetish men and women in town for a new group - the San Diego Leather Leadership Coalition (SDLLC).  This group included volunteers, not just titleholders or self-important, bossy people, and it made the local "Powers That Be" very uncomfortable. They liked competition.  If things went their way, then there would be a field of bloody corpses, with themselves as the only ones left standing.

That's me, on the upper left

I had no interest in that. I prefer cooperation, not competition. So, I chose the very sweetest, most effective folks of every kind, color and body-shape. The folks who had been shut out of power before.

We created our own, separate power-base.

The visitors from Palm Springs

The first year for San Diego Leather Pride was in 1999.  Among the attendees were four folks from Palm Springs led by Dale Breunig, who wanted to see how we did it.  They asked if I would help them get their first Palm Springs Leather Pride off of the ground, starting later in 1999.  Then, I got together with Dave Murdock and George Wong to start up Los Angeles Leather Pride, which began in 2000.  Both cities had had a few Mr. Leather titles before, but these were now their first massive, coordinated efforts.

The Underlying Motive

I had seen how terribly mean we could be to each other in our Tribe, and I knew what was underneath. We simply had no tools to deal with that much shared loss.  Just a few years before, I had paid for something called the Grief Recovery Workshop.  The facilitators kept trying to steer me toward focusing on the death of my parents, but I didn't WANT that.  Those two people were merely my genetic family.  My Tribe had been my Family of Choice.

I wanted to learn how to mourn for the death of a generation, and then teach others in large numbers. The Workshop staff had no tools for that.  It was time for me to take matters into my own hands.

I told folks in each city that we could focus our shared energies for the betterment of all, and USE our grief as a power source.  By focusing like a laser, we could stop being "fragmentation bombs" of bitter emotions, that squandered and wasted the times that could have been happier.

No Support From the Larger LGBT Community

Back in those days, folks were TIRED of drag queens and leathermen in assless chaps ruining the Pride parades for everybody else.  WE were heavily-featured in the news, instead of the average folks around us.  So, we got picked on, shamed and shoved off to the side.

Right around that same time, I was sick of the local Lesbian & Gay Center.  I wanted to take a can of spray paint and do this to the front of the building:

If we wanted to have events there, we were given restrictions that no other groups were given - No flyers or educational pamphlets were allowed (what if CHILDREN found them?)  Folks followed us around, waiting for us to screw up so that we could be banished, yet again. Each year, the new Board of Directors would find NEW reasons to shame us.

It was tiresome, and we needed our own thing.  We were going to be just fine, with just each other.

As I have said elsewhere, the opposite of "Shame" is "Pride."  So, Leather Pride was born.

Traveling on my own dime

So, I hit the road.  I was using up the money that really belonged to my husband and me, that should and could have been making our family life better. I was on the road for eight years, traveling from city to city, preaching the gospel of Leather Pride as a way out of our sorrows.  I have never received a single penny of Travel Funds, ever.  I was also building teams in Las Vegas, Long Beach, Inland Empire and Phoenix.  Not all of them got off of the ground, but not for lack of trying on my part.

Our Deaf Brothers and Sisters

Part of what I insisted on, was the inclusion of our deaf brothers and sisters at EVERY Leather Pride event. I wanted to leave no one behind.  Our diversity needed a big upgrade, so I took two semesters in American Sign Language. I paid for sign-language interpreters for every major event, until the various cities could budget for their work instead.

Preaching and Exhorting

That's me in the middle, giving a speech, no doubt.

I would arrive early for the big weekend, and give separate, passionate talks to the volunteers and contestants.  My goal was to inspire them so that they would do their best.  Many times, I was the emcee at the weekend opening banquet, and inspire everybody with a variation on this speech:
This is our new tradition.  Our Family Reunion.  We are here for each other, and from many places. We are kind, and we are open.  Let's take a few minutes to introduce ourselves to the people around us.
Who here is from another city?  Shout it out!  Next year, you will be able to re-connect with your new friends, and they will become your regular friends.  Year after year, we will become even closer family, and we will hug, all weekend.
This is a joyous time, and let's be nice to the newest ones among us all weekend, so that they will come back again and again, and make our Tribe richer and better.
400 people would hear this message, and they all co-created the delightful times together, in harmony.

Winding It Down

During this time, I was Master of Ceremonies for around sixty contests for the Bears, the Rodeo and the Leather community. I judged at least sixty contests, and have attended a good 300 titleholder events in my life.  I stopped saying "Yes!" to offers to do such work a long time ago - I felt that my big ass taking up space in a judge's seat meant that some other person wasn't getting a chance to prove their own value.

I finally burned out, and stepped away.  I was thrilled with how things had progressed, and I trusted the folks in charge of our new traditions.  Now, there are Leather Pride celebrations in cities all over the world.  I didn't want glory, and I don't want it now.  If I did, I would have behaved differently.

I am telling this story now, so that it won't get lost, like so much of our history.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Memoirs of a Gay Leather Elder 10: Funny and Fun, Part Two

The page listing all of the articles in this series can be found here
and my Mentoring for Tops page can be found here.

Uhh - Where's All The Women?

Forty years ago, David Dollahite and I liked to give our San Diego fuck-buddies time to recover😄, so we would take one weekend off per month.  We'd head up to the 8709, which was one of the hundreds of thriving 1970's gay bathhouses in and around the United States.  In the late 1970's, there were so many bathhouses, they could afford to specialize in which clientele they encouraged.
There was a club in LA called The 8709. It was on the second floor. In its day, there would be a line down the stairs to the street, and you'd wait and you'd climb all the way up, and if the attendant didn't like your looks he wouldn't let you in. I got rejected there once, but I got let in three or four times, and I remember the process quite well. But if they thought you weren't attractive enough they wouldn't let you in. – Interview on Vice

The tubs at 8709 Third in L.A. are long gone, replaced by this building.

I remember attending the bathhouse. It had a rickety wooden stairway up to the entrance on the second floor.  As you stopped at the entry, there was a spotlight above you.

If you wanted to go any further, you had to lift your shirt and flex your abdominal muscles under the harsh overhead light.  This was to prove that you had a six-pack, before they would take your money and let you go in. Another bathhouse had an entryway that was narrow - If you didn't fit through, you weren't welcome.  This was balanced by Bears bathhouses elsewhere.

The 8709 was legendary.  On a typical weekend night, there would be around 400 men at a time, and the sexual action was INTENSE.  Everything was going on, everywhere… in the hallways, in the Dark Room, in the showers, in the gym.  I still have images from that place burned into my retinas. I remember a sex-maze made of mirrors.

David and I would arrive on a Friday afternoon, in order to get a room at the 8709. Then, he'd go one way, and I'd go the other.  He was a bottom, I was a Top, and we had monkey business to attend to.  Later on, we'd meet at our room, insert earplugs, and sleep until the morning.  Why earplugs?  Because the walls were rickety, and there was no ceiling above each room.

The disco music would be pounding away at all times, and the men in the next room over could easily wake you with their orgiastic cries and grunts.  Wearing earplugs was a LOT less expensive than spending the same time sleeping at a nice, quiet hotel.

One Friday night, there was a well-built man (similar to the picture above, but a lot more naked), wearing a military cap, dog-tags, military boots, and nothing else.  He was handing out party invitations to the men that he thought were attractive.

David and I realized that we had both received invitations to the party.  We decided to attend the party, since we WERE up in the area for fun.

The next evening, we followed the turn-by-turn instructions written on the invitation. We drove up, up into the Hollywood Hills, up into the Bel Air neighborhood. We came through the gate to find around 120 cars parked on the front lawn of an immense mansion.

Not the same house, but VERY similar.

If you’ve ever watched re-runs of the Beverly Hillbillies, then you would know the style of mansion. Two stories, and immense, with a huge front yard.

We never went inside the house itself.

The entire, massive basement was a third floor belowground - a separate fuck-palace.

It was rectangular, divided into three rooms, with a hallway at one end. Men arrived in the first room to find seven slings hanging from the ceiling, and seven fuck-mats (mattresses covered in Naugahyde).  Each sling had an open can of Crisco hanging next to it, supported by macramé, which was very trendy back in those days.

There were lots and lots of raunchy posters on the walls, coming from worldwide bathhouses and bars.

In each of the four corners of the room was a Magnepan Magneplanar speaker. These cost $15,000 a pair at the time, and there were FOUR of them, playing Disco music. Most impressive of all, there were color televisions hanging near the ceiling in each corner. And, they were playing GAY PORN.

Back in the late 1970’s, the only people who had video-recording and playback capability were the very richest folks. The owner had clearly hired somebody to project 16mm porn films onto a screen, and recorded it with a video camera attached to a Sony U-Matic videotape machine.

I was thoroughly impressed. Clearly, this idea had potential!  Porn on tape!

In one corner of the room was a bodybuilder wearing nothing but a bow tie and a smile, standing behind a bar. The drinks were free, so everybody grabbed a beverage and continued to explore the basement dungeon.

Room Two

The next room was brightly-lit, covered in white tile. There were racks and racks of clean, white fluffy towels. There were shower heads, douche hoses and toilet seats. The only thing missing was partitions and dividers. What’s the point of privacy in a fuck-palace?

Room Three

The last room was the biggest. It was dark. Everything painted black. One eighty-foot-long wall was entirely covered in perf-board... covered with holes to hang with hooks that were holding floggers, whips, clamps, chains, ropes, ball-gags, dildos and every other kind of kinky toy. The only lights were spotlights for the  St. Andrew's crosses.  Excellent aim while throwing kinky whips and such is crucial, dontcha know.

The men explored the slings, crosses and other delights, and then went back to hang out in the first room. This was winter-time in the Castro Clone era of the late 1970's, so these men were bundled up in Cop Drag, Lumberjack Drag and High Cow (head to toe black leather).

Male Archetypes

Remember the Village People? They didn’t influence my Tribe, they copied us.  At some point, I suggest that you watch the Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo. In it, he makes it plain that the culture around us had portrayed all homosexuals as sissies, perverts, murderers and objects of scorn.

We didn't fit into this ever-present stereotype, and it pissed us off.

Once the hypermasculine gay males finally found each other in constant close proximity, the pendulum of our lives swung HARD in a reaction against the sissy stereotype. We were attracted to strong male archetypes, and we wanted to define ourselves in our preferred manner.

Getting Back To The Party

So, here are well over a hundred men, fully-dressed in gear… standing idle and tense.  Nobody knows each other, except for me and David.  Nobody's talking.  The owner of the place never showed up.

The music finally dies down, and in the silence, one man unzips his jacket. It's loud.  It's also a signal to get the party started, so men sit down on the ground to pull off their boots, and all around me I could hear zippers and snaps being opened as those silent men got naked.

I had a sudden impulse, and stood with my arms crossed, with my legs apart.  In a deep, booming voice, I said

"Uhh - Where's All The Women?"

The place got VERY quiet, and every man froze in horror.  I could hear them swallowing their gum, as they each thought "Who is going to deal with this idiot?"

I let them stew in their own juices for about fifteen seconds, and then let out a roar of laughter as I grabbed a man and kissed him.  The crowd exploded with relieved laughter, and the men had something to talk about.  The party was suddenly a success!

All night long, I'd be fucking or flogging a man, and another one would slap me on the ass and say "Save some of that for ME, stud!"  I was the de facto host, and it felt right.

I like to tell this story, because it is an example of taking responsibility for the safety and success of a space, even if it isn't YOUR space.

Piggy George and the Crisco

David and I had a favorite fuck-buddy nicknamed Piggy George.  "Piggy" was a huge compliment in our crowd in that time.  It meant "uninhibited and playful."  After a lifetime of repression, we admired men who could let go of the shame that we had all endured.

The reason why we call it a "Pride" festival, is because "Pride" is the opposite of "Shame."

So, one morning, we got a panicked phone call.  George's mom was coming over at any minute, and he needed help to remove the dildos, kinky gear and porn (consisting of magazines, posters and calendars, back then).

This process is called "Straightening Up."

We arrived, loaded everything into boxes, and got it all whisked away, just in time.  After George's mom left the next day, George told us what had happened:

He had slept in on Sunday morning, and was woken up by his angry mother, shaking a can of Crisco at him.  "You need to learn how to cook!  Use a spatula!"

She had intended to make George some waffles, and had found finger-grooves in the grease!

Crisco was everybody's favorite sexual and fisting lubricant in those days.  Forty years ago, supermarkets would limit purchases of one can per customer per day, in gay neighborhoods.

Personally, I NEVER liked to use Crisco for sex, because it's shortening!

Ten-Inch Coils

For six months, I was handed a wonderful job on my ship in the Navy. I was given the pleasure of being a Fire Control Technician. Everybody wanted that job, so it was limited to six months per person.

This meant that I was free to spend the work-day as I pleased, as long as I did my rounds of inspecting all of the ship's fire-safety equipment.  I took this job very seriously, particularly after watching the Forrestal fire film.

The Chief in charge of me liked me a lot, and was an early ally of this young, openly-gay sailor. He was testing me on fire safety, and after putting me through my paces, he asked "and what do we do with the loose communications cables after a fire?"

I said "We loop them in ten-inch coils," as I began to do so.

He asked "And, how do we know that they are TEN-inch coils?"

I dropped the cable and said "Oh! That's easy…" as I stood up straight, and began to un-zip my pants.

He said "NEVER MIND, Lindsey!"

Monday, June 11, 2018

Memoirs of a Gay Leather Elder 09: Funny and Fun, Part One

The page listing all of the articles in this series can be found here
and my Mentoring for Tops page can be found here.

Up to now, I've been pretty intense in my writings, and I have revealed some heavy-duty parts of my past.  There will be more of those, but my path has included a lot of fun, too:  Light.  Frisky.  Playful and Childlike.

Sure, I have prevailed over challenges, but I have also been loved by many, and I've had some amazingly fine experiences. Every story that I relate is true, and every joke is mine, but you are welcome to use them as well...

Pedigree Dog Food

I was in the audience at the Mr. San Diego Leather 1984 contest. My buddy Mark Holmes won the title that year. A heterosexual kinky man who I knew and loved walked up to me, with his two slave-girls.  We embraced and he kissed me right on the lips, as he usually did.  He was a very early straight ally.  Back then, he was the only one that I knew.  Now, there are hundreds of them in my life.

I said "I've been meaning to ask for your advice."  He said "Sure!  What's up?"

I asked "What dog food do you recommend?"  He said "WHAT?!??"

I repeated my question, and he asked "Why are you asking me that?"

I said "I'm thinking of changing my brand.  Pedigree claims that they are 'Recommended by Top Breeders'.  Since you are the only breeder who I know who is a Top, I thought that I'd ask YOU!"

Years later, he told me that he had re-told that story at least 500 times.


In the Navy, the phrase "Pogey-Bait" was used to describe some item (such as a snazzy car) that could be used to attract sexual playmates.

Well, I can personally attest to the fact that a 1969 Triumph TR-6 sports car in FLAMING RED!!! could not have been improved in any way for picking up attractive military men wandering through Balboa Park on a pretty San Diego day.

That is, if you could keep it running.  1960's British sports cars had to have been the least dependable cars ever made.  During the time that I had it, I spent dozens of hours just cleaning electrical connections (made by Lucas Electronics) with fine sandpaper.  For this reason, Joseph Lucas was known as the Prince of Darkness, because the headlights, dashboard lights and taillights would go dark at random.

However, if everything was running fine, then there was a fool-proof way to get laid, any time that I wanted:

I'd drive slowly through the park, revving the engine whenever I'd see a hot military man by the side of the road.  He'd turn, see the "MR FISTR" license plate, and yell out "Hey! Mister Fister!  Nice car!"

I'd pull up alongside, and say "Ya want a ride?"  Turns out, he always DID want a ride.  We'd start a nice slow tour around the Fruit Loop and beyond, and end up at my apartment building nearby.  Then, I'd fuck him.

One day, I got a surprise:

A very handsome Marine accepted a ride, and eagerly joined me in my bedroom.  We both got naked, and then he said "Wait!"  He pulled a pair of his wife's panties out of his pocket and slipped them on. Then, he laid on his back, and threw his legs up.

I maneuvered around so that we could consummate, but as soon as I was balls-deep, he started hollering "Make me your BITCH, Sir!  MAKE ME YOUR BITCH!"  Over and over.  I couldn't get him to shut UP, until I shoved a dirty jock in this mouth.

Well, the thing was, it was a hot summer Saturday afternoon, and all of the windows in my ancient apartment complex were wide open.  For months afterward, I'd go wash clothes in the apartment building's laundry room, and some neighbor would sidle up to me and say "SO… Did you ever make him your BITCH?"

One More TR-6 Story

I was going to college, and would drive the completely undependable little sports car back and forth each school day.  One day, we had unusual weather for San Diego.  I got into my car, and as soon as I hit the freeway, HUGE amounts of rain started coming down. The car gasped and sputtered to a stop by the side of the freeway.

The gas gauge was lying.  It told me that I had at least a third of a tank left. but in fact, the car was completely dry.  So, I got out, climbed a chainlink fence and jogged a mile and a half to a pay-phone.  This was what people did, when cellphones did not yet exist.

I called my boyfriend David, and asked him to bring me a can of gasoline.  I went back and got inside my car.  After about an hour and a half, he showed up.  I stayed inside the convertible and let him pour the gas.  He hated being in the gushing, cold rain, and was grumbling continuously.

I had a bratty impulse:  I rolled down the window and said "As long as you're out there, would you mind checking the oil?"

A Tenor's Tale

My sister painted this portrait of me, right around the same time.

A quarter of a century ago, Country-Western themed gay bars were super-hot.  Popular like crazy.  I had five cowboy hats, and at least as many pairs of cowboy boots. We'd go out dancing at least twice a week.

These are my favorite cowboy boots.  If the police and 
their dogs are chasing me, I can go straight up a chain-link 
fence without even slowing down!  😄

I loved to go two-stepping, down at Kickers, which was one of our local Country dance bars.  When I was young, I had an incredible vocal range.  I could sing baritone on the low end, and could sing so high (without going into falsetto mode) that I could reach notes almost as high as a Countertenor.

So, here I am, all duded-up in tight jeans, boots, tight t-shirt and a nice Stetson hat.  I'm waltzing and singing along to Lorrie Morgan's song "Something In Red." while holding a buddy of mine from the Gay Men's Chorus in my arms.  I was matching Lorrie note for note, belting it out, and my friend was astonished.

He said "Wow! You really can sing high - You must be a tenor!"

I said "Yes!  Yes, I am."

"Wellll… I'm actually more of a 'nine-and-a-halfer,' but then, EVERYBODY exaggerates!"

How I Got My Tattoo

Decades ago, tattoos were not popular.  Maybe a grizzled veteran from World War Two got a few tattoos when he was in the war, and they had blurred into black blobs by the time that he hit middle age.

Then, tattoos became trendy.  Everybody was getting them.  I resisted as long as I could, but when I made it all of the way through Mid-Life Crisis, I finally designed one for my shoulder, signifying "Love Around The Clock."  Of course, I never TELL people that.

If somebody asks me what my tattoo means, I say "I have no idea - It came with the body when I took it over.  It's so nice to be male again!"

Cocker Spaniels

Back when I had two big black male mixed-breed dogs named Reggie and Stevie, I would take them to the dog park.  This was always a big deal for them.

This pic was taken on the same day as the story.  
That's Stevie chasing Reggie, and Reggie ignoring Stevie.

One day, I had brought the boys through the gate, and they started running along the perimeter fence; sniffing, peeing, pooping and being happy dogs.

Suddenly, two Cocker Spaniels ran up to Reggie, one on each side, and started licking his dick.  Lick-lick-lick.  You would have thought that there was ice cream coming out of his penis, the way that they were going at it.

Suddenly, the owner of the two dogs came running up to me.  He looked embarrassed. I said "You know, I never realized until now why they are called "Cocker Spaniels."

He was not amused, but I was!

San Juan Capistrano

I used to have a gym-buddy named George.  George blushed.  A LOT.  Once I figured that out, I loved to use every trick in the book to get him to giggle and blush.

He didn't seem to mind at all, because I was a kind man, and silly, too.  I just loved seeing him crinkle up his handsome face, and it would turn beet-red.

One day, he came up to me to share some great news:  "Tony, I've got a new boyfriend!  We are going to spend the weekend in San Juan Capistrano!"

"Well, then, don't forget to SWALLOW, George!"


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Memoirs of a Gay Leather Elder 08: Openly Gay in the 1970's Military, Part Two

The page listing all of the articles in this series can be found here
and my Mentoring for Tops page can be found here.

I can't lie - I had some challenges as an adamantly, openly gay man in the Navy.  I will now list each issue that arose, and then tell how I dealt with them.

How I Got Away With It

On the other hand, it was a magical time for my boldness.  As far as the folks in the military were concerned, this was the new Civil Rights era.  Gay rights were EVERYWHERE in the newspapers, radio and television. Nobody knew how to deal with an unapologetic, proud homo like me.  I was a hard, diligent worker, and I never caused any actual problems.

I am privileged.  I know that.  Back then, I was a tall, Caucasian, cisgender male, dominant and stepping fully into my charisma.  I got away with shit that most folks probably could NOT.  I was fully aware of that. I was counting on it.

None of my motivations had to do with my ego, or a desire for self-benefit.  I knew in every cell of my body that I wanted to help the younger generations who were on the way.  I didn't want them to grow up disadvantaged, shamed or exiled, as I had been.  I wanted to grab the entire world and YANK it farther along its rotation, so that we could all have equality, even if it harmed me personally.

It sounds like hyperbole, but I was perfectly willing to die for my beliefs.  I know that, because I still feel that way, decades later.

The Cigarette On My Ass

Our ship was out at sea, rocking with the waves as we headed for the next destination.  We were watching a movie down in the chow hall, sitting in chairs and on tables.  The movie was some silly fluff, and I wasn't much interested.

I was paying closer than usual attention to the screen, when I suddenly felt a painful burning on the side of my ass.  I reached down, and grabbed a freshly-lit cigarette that was my only companion on the table I was sitting upon.  I held it up, and looked around the room with one eyebrow raised.

Every face was focused entirely on the movie, so I stubbed it out and calmly continued watching.

That was that.

The Bad Annual Review

This was later in the four years that I was in the Navy.  I had always been scrupulous in my work, because I knew that people were waiting for me to screw up. I was representing a lot of queer folks as a class, so I wanted to make it easier for the other openly-queer military folks who were surely coming along soon.

The chief in charge of me handed me my annual review, and it had terrible, dismal marks.  Suddenly, for the first time, I was a bad sailor in every category.  I looked at it, and called the chief back.  

By this time, I was a fully-connected man in the gay community.  I was in full communication with the San Diego Gay Community Center, and the editors of the gay newspapers.  When the Chief came back and stood in front of me, I said (and I am quoting myself, word for word, even though it was so long ago):

"I see what is happening, and I understand it fully.  If you and the rest of the staff wish to continue down this path, then you can all expect to see your faces on the cover of every gay newspaper in Southern California.  Why don't you have a nice chat with everybody, and let me know what you decide?"

After about twenty minutes, he came back, and muttered "Never mind…"

My annual review was magically upgraded to its proper level, and we never spoke of it again.

That's All, Folks

The tales of my hassles with being openly-gay in the military are now concluded with those previous two stories.  There were no others.

Unfortunately, after I left the Navy in 1979, Ronald Reagan swept into the White House, and his Moral Majority creeps started an anti-gay witch-hunt season in the military that was toxic and hateful.  I had enjoyed a blessed, all-too-brief time in the gay community's military history.

Sex Between Sailors: Buggery on the High Seas

As the somewhat self-righteously upright representative of the entire queer community, I was quite reluctant to get too frisky onboard.  However, once the gang plank hit the pier, all bets were off. Ladies, lock up your husbands, because I was primed to remove whatever was left of their virginity!

It was easy as all hell to get away with sexual friskiness.  Everybody was doing it. My buddy John did not share my inhibitions about sex with co-workers.  Twenty years later, I asked him how many of the sixty men in our division had he had actual sex with.  He told me "Thirty Seven."

Aaaand… my standards were like anybody else's… subject to adaptation, once we had been at sea for a while. I discovered something wonderful:

After a ship has been out at sea for about a month, the number of "straight" men drops like a rock.  First, they start wrestling with each other.  It's a perfectly-safe expression of bodacious heterosity.  Boys will be boys!

Then, men get "handsy". They are horny, and lonely, and their sexual standards drop like a rock. Soap starts dropping in the showers, and mutual masturbation and cocksucking in the bathroom stalls becomes a thing. These "straight" men suddenly get very curly around the edges.

I'd get pulled aside and propositioned all of the time, usually with a variation on this phrase: "uh, I like women, but I'd be willing to go for some fun with you."  Easy enough.

The Anchor Chain Room

This is not an actual example, but it looks cool.

My ship was the USS Samuel Gompers.  It was 3/5ths of the size of an aircraft carrier, with 1,300 men onboard.  It was a Destroyer Tender, which is a fancy way of saying "Floating Naval Base."  It was designed so that it could drop up to 3,000 feet of big, heavy anchor-chain in the middle of the ocean, and hook up with six destroyers on both sides.  That way, those other ships could make use of the huge dental, medical, electrical, repair, chow hall and other facilities that we made available.  

During the time that I was onboard, this never happened.  We weren't at war.  So, the anchor-chain storage room, way up at the front of the ship, became the default Sexytime Play Room for Horny Sailors.

Imagine:  It's late at night, and the ship is dark, particularly up front near the bow, hundreds of yards away from the sleeping sailors.  Some kind soul (sometimes me) would stand guard at the entrance to the Anchor Room.  Inside, there were tall spools of chains, and lots of nooks and crannies for fun-fun-fun.  There were some close calls when the night watch would approach, but the entire perimeter of the ship inside was one long, wide corridor, so we always had plenty of visual warning.

The men who showed up were generally "MSM's" - Men who had Sex with Men, and only situationally.  Generally speaking, men who were married to women. The Gold Star Gay guys didn't mix with them very much, other than at crotch-level.  A piggy bottom could set up shop in one part of the Anchor Chain room, and he'd gladly take on one gentleman-caller after another.

The Gay Guys' Table and the Dental Chair

Out of those 1,300 men onboard, around forty of us were bold enough to claim our own special table at every meal.  The rest of the guys never bothered us, but they were fully aware of our presence. We were SASSY, and loud. There was some open flaming at times.

One day, as we were laughing and eating together, we were joined by a new guy, who sat near me. I was being friendly and welcoming to him, but his reactions were way off.  Every time that I'd say something, he'd shoot it down. He was being vigorously snide and dismissive, but only to ME, and I couldn't figure him out.

After a few hours, it all made sense.  I had a "Eureka!" moment.  I showed up at the dental spaces, where we had fifteen dental-chairs.  It was locked for the night, and I knew that he was inside, on watch.  I knocked, he let me in, and I did a full-on kinky domination scene with him, while he was happily bent over a dental chair.

After that, he was very deferential, and pleased me very much, and often. He had been flirting, but really clumsily, because he had no idea how to express his deepest desires.  We were both glad that I had figured it out.

Watch for Navy Stories Part Three, after a break.  I have much, much more, but I feel the need to shift things around a bit, narratively.