My Fifty Years As An Out and about Gay Man…
This past Friday night, the beginning of an extended Fourth of July holiday (since the Fourth falls in the middle of the week), I was at the Ramrod, my old drinking hole and Lauderdale’s leather/levi bar, enjoying the club music and the half naked men gyrating on its postage stamp dance floor when it hit me. Besides turning 71 in another week, July also marked my fiftieth anniversary as an out and about gay man.
Practically every Gay Pride festivities in the U.S. has the word Stonewall in its title. Stonewall was a seedy Manhattan bar in the West Village, open when its Mafia owners paid off the cops ( remember, gay bars were illegal at the time), raided when they didn’t. Only this time, on a hot June night in 1969, the patrons, many of them drag queens, were in no mood to be paddywagoned to the local police station. Instead they rioted and the Gay Liberation movement was born.
No I wasn’t in the Stonewall that fateful night. But it was the first gay bar I ever walked into a year earlier in July of 1968.
Living at home in Jersey while I was completing my degree, I was working to pay for college at a now defunct retail store chain called Two Guys where my boss was a dead ringer for Jackie Gleason, that rotund, wise-guy comedian. Only there was something a little peculiar about Charlie. When he said he wanted to do something special for me for my 21st birthday, I figured we’d go out for dinner at the local Italian restaurant where, for lunch, Charlie would have a gargantuan meat ball sub and a “diet Coke, please” since he was on a perpetual nowhere diet. I had convinced him to hire Rob, a crush of mine from college, but I was surprised when the two of them pulled up at my parent’s house to pick me up that Saturday night.
Driving into the City, Charlie revealed his true persuasions to me and Rob (we soon came out to him, too), and how he had been a headliner drag queen entertainer in the ‘50’s. So where did we end up but in Manhattan’s then seedy West Village and the Stonewall. I’ll never forget the beads you had to walk through after the bouncer let you in, and the go-go boys dancing on the bar. It was years later that I read how the place had been run by the Mafia and how it was constantly raided if the payoffs weren’t enough. Had I known then, I would have hightailed it to Port Authority Terminal that night and taken a bus home.
Years later, my ex who is ten years my senior told me he was nearly caught in a bar raid in the mid ’60’s. Believe or not, gay bars were illegal and if you got caught in a raid, your name was published in the paper. Your family knew, your employer knew, your life was over. My ex managed to escape through a back emergency entrance, otherwise …
I had hoped I would make it with Rob, but in the end he fell asleep after his first drink, and I ended up getting picked up by some older guy (probably 25) in a white suit who took me back to his apartment a few blocks away. Naïve me, when he whipped it out my first reaction was, what am I supposed to do with it?
But I’ve always been a quick study.
Over the intervening decades I would play the gay scene in Hollywood, California, before there was a West Hollywood, return to New York and its West Village leather scene, now all gone, meet my ex partner who I remained with for forty six tumultuous years, somehow survived the AIDS Genocide of the eighties, built my career and my fuckbuddyships in the nineties, and entered the world of the web in the early 2000’s as an early retiree to Fort Lauderdale which was poised to become the epicenter of gay life in America.
If you want to know more, check out my memoirs, “Furry Man’s Journal” on Amazon under my pen name, RP Andrews.
And have a Happy Fourth.
Friday, my assessment of my life as a gay man. Was it all worth it?