We recently returned from several months in Los Angeles, where we lived in a lovely furnished apartment that we found over the internet. The owners had to be in New York for almost exactly the amount of time that we needed to be in LA, so it worked out perfectly. There was only one hitch: we rented it from two lesbians in an all-gay building in West Hollywood, a predominately gay part of town.
Like most people, I’ve always been friendly with certain gays, from my hairdresser to people we worked with in the publishing business. But when I lived in New York, I avoided Christopher Street, the main street of the gay community. I would venture there occasionally, since there were top-notch coffee and candy stores on that street, but it always made me feel uneasy. I would see overt displays of affection taking place between men which offended my Midwestern sensibilities. I saw guys wearing tight jeans that were sometimes enhanced. I was brought up to accept padded bras, but padded pants–no way! When I passed a gay pride parade taking place there once, a lesbian on a motorcycle gunned her motor at me.
Stores had displays of weird leather outfits, with studs in precarious places. I happened to walk there one Halloween and saw drag queens going from store to store, wearing pearls-and-white-gloves outfits that reminded me of my mother. When the annual Greenwich Village Halloween parade went by, there was always one guy dressed up as a tube of KY Jelly. There was mysterious graffiti everywhere that said, “silence = death.”
It was an interesting experience to move into a gay building years later, just when governments were starting to discuss instituting gay marriage. While I’ve been married for over 30 years, I never thought gays would want to settle down to that extent. They always seemed to be people who like fleeting, anonymous affairs, unburdened by the loyalties demanded by marriage and children.
So what was it like living there? To sum it up, it was a typical, middle class life. It was actually staid in many ways: No loud music was allowed after 10 pm, and people in the building got together to hang Christmas decorations. Everyone was friendly and while I saw many men walking together and eating in restaurants in pairs and groups, there was no embarrassing sexual behavior in public. Lots of these guys walked dogs and I found you could make an instant friend by praising someone’s pet.
Whitley and I would often be the only mixed-sex couple in a restaurant, yet the waiters and owners were always friendly and welcoming. When we took our daily walks, we passed streets of tidy, well-kept bungalows with lovely gardens. There were still cryptic signs on the light posts, but this time they said, “How Shall I Tell Him?”
Then I returned to Texas, to a town where almost every SUV sports a fish symbol on the back and most people aren’t shy about telling you they don’t like gays. The gay men I’ve known there are mostly “confirmed bachelors” who are firmly in the closet or miserably married men who make their families unhappy too. The mother of one lesbian I know is hoping her daughter will “grow out of it.” If I told the gays here that there was an entire gay city where they could live like ordinary people, they’d probably think I was talking about Oz.
I learned one thing: If you treat people like they’re middle class, there’s a good chance they’ll live that way. By settling in one place, where they didn’t feel the need to “act out” or “prove themselves,” the gay people I saw in West Hollywood became ordinary folk.
So if gays want to marry, I say, let ’em. If they choose to reject the exotic, freewheeling single life for a long term partner who snores, for kids who turn into terrible teens and a house where the roof leaks when your bank account is low, then why should I try to stop them?
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