I'm sad, sick, and bored tonight, and looking for some perking up. Decided to force myself to read LJ, which I generally don't have the patience to do. I was hit by a blast of pleasant nostalgia hearing Queertoast talk about his life and gripes with Oberlin. I'm a former Oberlin Townie and Faculty (nay Administration) Brat. I was there from 1972 to 1987 or so. Been back once or twice. Dream about it alot. Miss the egg chairs at Mudd Library. Remember when Mudd was being built. Got my first start on the Internet in the Irvin E. Houck computing center. Faculty had "F" accounts, Students had "S" accounts, and a few of us facbrats had "Z" accounts on the vast an aincent Xerox/Honeywell Sigma 9 computer which took up a room the size of the bridge on the Enterprise D. Our accounts we cherished with all our hearts. They allowed us to play the original colosal cave adventure game on aincent Anderson Jacobson AJ860 terminals which spewed reams of fanfold computer paper for each command. I typed letters to friends on the old card punch machine. It took a stack of cards to make a letter which had to be red one line per card. We had LiveJournal style communities back then too. We would whittle our afternoons away madly e-mailing each other with gossip, fantasies, flames, and profundities.
When I was still in high school (OHS) I spent all my time after school on campus with my College friends. I remember the first time I set foot in the Gay Union. I was probably 15 or so. Must have walked around and around the floor in Wilder where the office was. Kept passing the open door, vastly too terrified to make the actual entry. Finally some woman in the Gay Union office noticed me looking suspicious and asked if she could help me. "I'm looking for the Gay Union" I stammered with a reddening face. "Uh, this is it," she replied looking at me with either suspicion or pity. I went inside and looked around awkwardly before sittting down. The people inside glanced at me uncomfortably before continuing their conversation.
I eventually became comfortable being there, and met my first "experience" there. He was an Episcopalian seminarian, so I thought I'd try some of his. He snuck me beer at the Tap House (one of three legal places to drink in our dry town) before snogging gloriously til 4am when he walked me up the frosted tree-lined Prospect St. to my house.
As part of my self-education in the ways of gayness I ordered a book from the Alyson publications catalog at the Gay Union and called "One Teenager in Ten". Since I couldn't have it sent to my house, I had it sent to the Gay Union. This turned out not to be such a hot idea either, because I failed to consider that my dad, being an Associate Dean of Students, was the guy who ran the Student Union in Wilder Hall and advised all the student groups including the Gay Union. Some poor workstudy peon at the front desk was sorting the mail one day, and said out loud to his co-peon, "What is Clark Drummond's son doing getting mail at the Gay Union?" My dad just happened to be walking by, and said, "I'll take that."
I was home when he got back that day. I was acustomed to dropping whatever I was doing when mom or dad came home. I scanned my memory to see if I had done the vacuuming or whatever chore was mine. I prepared to look busy. Instead of heading to his room, I heard him veer toward mine. Alarms went off in my head, but I couldn't think of anything I'd done wrong yet that day. Then I saw the package in his hand. This is how I came out to my parents.
He came in and showed me what he was holding. My life flashed before my eyes. I realized I had about 1500 miliseconds to decide how I was going to handle this. Did I come clean or lie furiously? I decided to lie, but by that point I only had ~450 miliseconds left before I had to respond and I couldn't think of anything convincing. He asked me if I was gay, and I said "Yeah" like it was no big deal. Like I thought he already knew. Like I couldn't imagine it would be an issue. My words were defiant despite the fact that I felt like a fallen soufle on the inside. And I was still searching for a convincing lie.
Mom came home shortly afterward from her job as psych nurse at the county mental health center, and she got in on the fun. It felt like the Nuremberg trials. They didn't say "You're a dirty sinner and you're going to get AIDS and die", but they said the liberal parent equivelent... something about them not wanting me to "limit my options". This meant the same thing--"Don't be gay". Things were awkward for awhile, then they got over it. And we're still close. Telling them I'm HIV+ was worse in most ways.
Oberlin is one of those places where all the geeky kids, whom nobody liked in high school, suddenly realize they have social options. In my time they all glommed on to each other forming one sticky, messy uber-clique. Ours even named itself, the "Kinsey Group". One statistician amongst us even went so far as to screen t-shirts with all our intitals, our Kinsey scale rating (0-6 homo-hetero), with a nice graph showing the mean, mode, and average. We had group gropes on a bare matress in the basement of Keep Co-op. We had giggle fests in the lounges of South Hall. We checked our e-mail everyday (this is 1984-86 mind you) eagerly awaiting the latest issue of "Pulp" one of our members ongoing fantasy serial relating mostly to us and our shenanegins of course. I met my first boyfriend, I called him my soulmate, Matt. He was a geeky pianist from Syracuse who loved Mahler and me. I would sneak him into my parents house and we would cuddle on my bed, or in his bed, or in the practice rooms at the Conservatory, or in the listening rooms at the Conservatory Library, or the egg chairs at Mudd Library, or ... you get the idea.
I remember being fourteen and doing periodical searches for "gay" and coming across a Gay rag from Toronto called "the Body Politic". It was one of the pioneering gay newspapers, but I didn't know that. I would ferry stacks of these up to the egg chairs and avidly scan each issue looking for pictures of gay people. There's one. "Oh my God, is that what gay people look like?" I would ask myself. I had recently decided that I was a homo, but I didn't know if I was gay or not. I wanted to see what gay people were like. Seems reasonable to me both then and now. I've since decided that I'm pretty much a homo, but I'm only part gay.
For me there were several stages of dawning realization of my queerness or whatever you want to call it. The first stage was fantasizing about guys and realizing I had better not let anyone know. Then I realized that I didn't feel a part of all the flirting and bragging going on with my school mates. I was not a part of their scenes and I didn't respond to their cues. Then I made the connection between being called faggot or gay and the fact that I fantasized about guys. These two phases let to a sort of void of identitylessness. I realized I was different and it felt alienating and lonely. I didn't think of myself as gay, or really know that was anything other than an insult. I just knew I wasn't like everyone else.
I remember a seemingly interminable period of my adolescence where I would haunt the campus like a ghost watching the happy, studious, stressed, giggling, or flirtatious students going about their routines. I felt so far away from them. The seemed so self-posessed, so confident, so capable and directed. I would sit behind rows of them at the dollar movies (one of my dad's many contributions to Oberlin life) at Kettering or performances at Finney Chapel or Hall Auditorium and watch them as close as I could get. I would observe their banter, their stride, their shifting from cheek to cheek as the movie wore on. I would smell them, listen to them, and silently, achingly lust after them. One time I nearly reached out to touch the thigh of one of them. It was so close in the folding auditorium chair. There was no glass between us. It would have been so easy. But I stopped myself from doing this by the excercise of an intense burst of will. I knew somehow that this would be a bad idea.
Slowly I made the connection that guys who fantasize about other guys are 'gay'. It came as a surprise to me that I might be a gay person. I had no idea what gay people were like. That's why I was so interested in the pictures in the Body Politic. I scaned each face and body for clues as to what I would become. I showed equal avidity for photos of myself. I would search my own face to see how I looked to other people in the hopes that I could learn who I was by how others saw me. Identity is such an arbitrary and slippery thing. By the time I found the Gay Union I had already established myself as a gay person to myself. Now I commenced meeting other gay people and learning about the political and social meanings of a gay identity.
My sexuality blossomed after I found the Gay Union and the Kinsey Group. I came to see myself as a savior of sorts for all the pitiable and over-worked and over-caffienated careerbound students. I wasn't quite chicken soup for their soul, it was more like chicken dinner in my hole. I remember bathing, as I was wont to do, and pouring my mother's vanilla extract overmyself in the bath. I then put on my softest chamois shirt and would langorously haunt the hallways of the library, dorms, and conservatory. When I found a cute guy, I would plop myself down near him and waft in his direction while looking up too many times. I don't think I ever got any dates that way, but I do feel that psychicly I had an impact. It was a strike against uptight academicism in favor of boundless sensuality. At age 36, I'm still on a mission.