You Know You’re Gay When…

Lyle Waggoner made me gay.

Lyle Waggoner made me gay. He was the centerfold in Playgirl, 1974.

CHAPTER 4

YOU KNOW YOU’RE GAY WHEN…

You know what color chartreuse is.
You have used chartreuse in a sentence.
You wear chartreuse.                  

For millions of red-blooded American boys and girls—heck, not just Americans but anyone in the world with red blood—coming out of the closet to your family takes a bit of doing. Perhaps “takes a bit of doing” is putting it mildly since one tends to agonize over the decision to the nth degree…or it is to the nth power? Regardless, it hurts. But it hurts so bad that you start thinking that if you don’t say something out loud if you don’t make the declaration audible enough for your whole family (and perhaps even the neighbors, depending on your circumstances, such as living in a tenement) to hear you, and have them understand what it is you are trying to say – between beating around the bush and stuttering your way through a critical, soon-to-be-spewed (think Linda Blair in The Exorcist) proclamation of gayness, if you don’t get it out soon, you will have every right to lay the blame at their feet. There. You did it. You just short of blamed your family for being “a gay” (my mother’s reference). Everything else is their fault, so why not add your homosexuality to the list? Just throw it on the pile.

It’s not an easy task to sit your family down, which already makes for an awkward situation like the last time you called a family meeting, which was never. Calling a family meeting rarely ends with great news. Our family meetings never ended with, “We won Ed McMahon’s Lottery”. Riveting topics like which hotel in the Catskill Mountains we would stay at for the High Holidays or what flavor ice cream we would eat were usually discussed at my family’s version of Knights of the Round Table. There was that one time when I requested a family sit-down meeting to announce that I had totaled my father‘s brand new Oldsmobile. I had taken it without his permission the one and only day I can remember that he had stayed home, too sick to go to work. To add insult to injury, which thankfully there weren’t any (injuries that is), but plenty of insults, I was cutting class with several friends with the genius plan of copping drugs and hanging out in Washington Square Park for the afternoon. The day was a total loss since I cracked up the car before even getting on the damn George Washington Bridge. The reason I wanted my whole family at that sit down was to secure a pity vote from my mother. I was guaranteed a melodramatic, shrill sigh of relief that I was not dead and no one else was hurt, other than the car itself. The shrill sigh might protect me from my father’s wrath. My father, on the other hand, was far more upset about the car being destroyed because he knew that with my mother in the room, he could not do what he really wanted to do, which was to smack me hard across the face. He must have resented me for being under the constant protection of my mother. She would never let him lay a hand on me. The missive: Lay a hand on him and you will never lay a hand on me. Which is almost TMI.

Sit down family meetings conjure up many different outcomes depending on the family, like The Ewing’s from Dallas or The Carrington’s from Dynasty or even The Kardashians from Keeping Up With The Kardashians. If your maiden voyage for such a calling is to utter the words, “I am a homosexual” well, it’s uncomfortable just to write the words, so imagine what it must actually feel like to utter them. Those words do not come trippingly off your tongue. One tends to put off saying them for as long as possible, even to oneself.

Lucky for me, my dad had died by the time I called for that meeting—not that he would have whooped me or anything. He never did. Well, except once, when my mother wasn’t home and quite frankly, I deserved it. Just imagining the uber awkwardness of telling my family that I preferred fondling penises with a member of the family that had their own actual penis, well, let’s just say, that I wished more than anything for my father to be alive…just not on that particular day.

The Wizard of OZ is THE gayest movie ever. That's why everyone loves its Everyone is gay.

The Wizard of OZ is THE gayest movie ever. That’s why everyone loves its Everyone is gay.

It takes years to cobble together enough gumption before one decides to come out of the closet to one’s family. From the time of those initial thoughts when one first begins to wonder quietly to yourself, “Oy vey, am I a homosexual or what?” For most red-bloodeds, that begins when you are a kid, perhaps around the time when you first watch The Wizard of Oz, the film that shook me to the core for so many reasons. Why did those three farmhands live together on Dorothy’s farm? And wasn’t Professor Marvel beyond flamboyant with similar inflections to my own? Was Glenda the Good Witch talking directly to me in secret code when she sang, “Come out, come out, where ever you are”? Emerald City was so immaculately clean and orderly that it must have been run by a bunch of anal-retentive gay men. And the crying gatekeeper seemed awfully familiar in the same nelly way as Professor Marvel. Let’s not even discuss a gay man’s obsession with Judy Garland and the whole rainbow situation.

SIDEBAR: Now that I am gay, I’d like to lobby for getting rid of the Rainbow Flag. It clashes with everything I could possibly wear. It even clashes with all black, which is supposed to go together with everything. I vote to replace the rainbow flag with a tasteful fifty shades of gray to black dip-dyed number. But I digress.

There's all sorts of sexual tension going on in this photo.

There’s all sorts of sexual tension going on in this photo.

Let’s face it, Elvira Gulch was a dyke and had the hots for Auntie Em, which as the back-story puts the entire tale into perspective. For me anyway. Whether Auntie Em ever led Elvira Gulch on years earlier only to get burned by Uncle Joe is neither here nor there. The truth is, The Wizard of Oz is all about punishment and torment, which is what happens when we return home after visiting a gay mecca, whether it’s Oz, Fire Island or Mykonos.

Having The Wizard of Oz stuck in my craw and being oddly attracted to Jack La Lane when I was in kindergarten was a sure sign that things might not go swimmingly through my teenage development years. It was that seminal moment sizing up Jack’s gray, high-waisted-albeit-belted jumpsuit that he always wore that had me wondering, “Shit, am I going to have to troll through gymnasiums my whole life in order to get my ya-yas out?”

Jack LaLane...girl...please...

Jack LaLanne…girl…please…

Or worse, “Will I be relegated to wearing one of those silly jumpsuits?” Even as a child I recognized that those jumpsuits were ridiculous on men, especially when they had love handles as I was developing. Skintight onesies are not a pretty sight with a fat gay man sausaged into it. Homosexual thoughts and looking like a Munchkin set me far apart from everyone else I knew. And having secret crushes on television stars like Lyle Waggoner from The Carol Burnett Show and Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man and Farrah Fawcett’s first husband, made me feel like a weird outcast. Besides, I had an obsessive jealousy fetish against Farrah Fawcett—not only did she marry Lee Majors but she was tall, blond, rich and thin—virtually everything I aspired to become. When it was announced that Farrah Fawcett became Farah Fawcett Majors my heart sank, and I secretly wished that her career would fizzle away. Interestingly enough I was vindicated when she suddenly quit Charlie’s Angels at the height of her fame. Could it be that this strange feeling that attracted me to men might also be giving me some kind of strange superpowers? Could I will Farah Fawcett into obscurity? My mother accused me of giving Farah the “Evil Eye” and spit three times whenever I said bad things about Farah out loud. Clearly I needed to keep this obsession to myself. Superpower, evil eye, call it what you will, I was sure glad whatever it was worked because she lost her Angel’s wings and Lee Majors in one fell swoop.

Who did I inherit these powers, or this homosexual thing, from? In doing some digging, there was an “artist” cousin on my mother’s side of the family before the war that moved to Paris, leaving behind his wife and child. His name was Leonardo. I’d bet any amount of money he changed his name from Sergei prior to leaving Russia since his name might be a dead giveaway. Ser-GAY. What I garnered from Leonardo was that he convinced his wife that he wanted to follow his dream and couldn’t drag the family along—which would put him in an awkward position between a rock and a hard-on.

The perfect storm to kick off homosexuality.

The perfect storm to kick off homosexuality.

One day, while driving around town, fondling my sister’s best friend’s straight brother, we decided to drop another ‘Lude and go back to my house since no one was ever there. A workaholic father, a perennial student mother. We were nude and under the covers when my mother burst into the room and immediately burst back out. She acted like she didn’t notice anything, but years later, when I came out to her, she said that she knew all along, but wanted to believe, “Ah, it’s just a little phase.” Yeah, Ma, a phase all right, one that has lasted forty years and counting. But who’s counting?

Coming from such a traditional Jewish family there was no way I could not at least try my hand at straight sex so it became my mission. I finally dropped all my baby weight after being obese in high school and looking like a different person at the end of the six-month Dr. Atkins Diet between junior and senior year. (See Chapter 6.)

When I entered my senior year of high school people looked at me like a hot piece of ass. This took some getting used to, but my sex life quickly became stupendous. Quaaludes were still in the mix, but it was no longer a requirement to get laid. Sleeping with women as frequently as I was put to bed the homosexual issue, temporarily. Off I went to college, think I was straight and the first night of school, I met a stunning blond boy who lived on my dorm floor. We spent the night talking and drinking, and just as the sky lightened towards sunrise he stood up, locked the door, lowered the blinds and made a sexual advance that freaked me out. I awkwardly excused myself from the room. To this day, I kick myself for being so prudish, because he was such a hunk.

Freshman (and the only) year of college at Boston University was an endless stream of one-night stands and drugs, and drugged-up one-night stands. I wish I could say, “Not much has changed” since those times but let’s not spoil the mood. I became seriously involved with a girl and we were about to get engaged to be married. Yes, really. Since my father had died and left our family financially compromised, I dropped out of school and returned home to work in his business and became a candidate for the Lucky Sperm Club. Fortunately, my life took a drastically different turn. I broke off my almost engagement. Having the hots for the UPS men delivering packages clad in their tight, brown summer shorts sets was not compatible with marrying a woman. I wasn’t officially gay yet, but I clearly liked a man in uniform, UPS or otherwise. With the weight of the world on my shoulders running the family business, I ignored those feelings and started dating another girl. One evening we were invited to have drinks with the couple across the hall from her apartment, and after several drinks and Quaaludes, we ended up having sex like Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice. But Ted and I ended up in another room entirely, and nothing was said about it except the thoughts of Lyle and Lee came flooding back and was confronted with the possibility again that I was, in fact, a homo.

It wasn’t until I went to Italy that summer; when it all came clear and there was no denying it anymore. I was nineteen years old and had planned to travel to the south of France for a week with my sister, her friend Karen Hudack, and my straight college buddy Rob Cohen. We had set our plans in the spring, but by the time July came around my sister and Rob flaked out. Karen and I, though we had only met once, decided to move forward and take the trip anyway. We arrived at the airport terminal with very little to say to each other, but fortunately for us, I packed several icebreakers (aka Quaaludes). I was determined to have a grand old time. We were booked on a chartered flight with eighty eighty-year olds, and I noticed one other young couple waiting in the lounge. We introduced ourselves. David and Elise Roberts were on their honeymoon and were staying in Cannes, whereas Karen and I were booked into the Hotel Negresco in Nice.

The flight was delayed and we ordered a few drinks. I hinted at doing drugs, and they said they had brought a stash as well. We switched seats with a couple of eighty-year-olds on the plane to be near each other, and by the time we all got off on our first Quaalude, we were professing our love for one another and kissing. The others on the airplane didn’t know what hit them, but one can only imagine it brought the bi-curious out of the old codgers.

Venice, Italy where I planted my gay flag.

Venice, Italy where I planted my gay flag.

We separated at the airport headed toward our intended destinations, but by the second day we regrouped in Cannes and picked up just where we left off on the plane. After a couple of days of non-stop quadra-marital bliss, we decided to rent a car and drive to Florence, Italy. My mother, knowing that I would be near the Gucci flagship store, begged me to bring her back a Gucci “pocketbook”—that’s what purses used to be called in the 1970s. Driving through the countryside of France and Italy was so overwhelmingly beautiful that we were compelled to stop along the way and enjoy each other’s company…as it were. A quickie stop in Eze was the visual and physical highlight of the drive. We pulled into Florence and were overwhelmed with the beauty and splendor of the city. We walked through the Ponte Vecchio, saw the statue of David, visited many lovely piazzas, the churches, and sobbed from all the beauty. We entered the impressive flagship Gucci store where personal shopping guides approached the four of us. Each guest was escorted with a chaperone through the store, the height of chic customer service. A member of the opposite sex was assigned to each of us. Since childhood, a.k.a. being relegated to the husky department and not wanting to talk about it, I have been a self-contained shopper and hate when salespeople stay on top of you. My blond, lovely female sales associate at Gucci was not taking the hint that I wanted to just peruse the store alone. She turned to me and said, “Oh, I get it. Wait here.” In a flash, a tall, stunning, head-to-toe, Gucci-clad, male creature appeared with crystal blue eyes, black tousled hair and an Australian accent. All told, he made my heart sink deep into my groin. “Hi, I’m Robert”. I became weak in the knees. I loved the name Robert…as of that moment anyway. The blond winked at me and off Robert and I went for a long, meaningful stroll through Gucci, which to this day, sounds like a plan. We first went to the pocketbook, perusing the wares as per my mother’s desperate plea.

SIDEBAR: Thankfully, no one uses the term pocketbook anymore. Not sure how that term even started, but back to the story.

As I gazed into Robert’s limpid pool blue eyes, he showed me bag after bag. And with each one I just kept saying, “I’ll take it”, never once looking away from his face. After realizing I had said yes to five different bags, I’d have to figure out a tasteful way to put a couple back. But not quite yet. I would get one for my mother, but if it meant staring at Robert a bit longer I was willing to buy two more, one for each sister. But that was my limit. I wanted to milk this dance as long as I could. In the 1970’s men, mostly Italian ones carried these little purse-lets with a hand strap. Robert pulled one out for me to consider but I responded with, “Not my thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with guys who wear purses mind you. But it’s just not my look.”

Let’s discuss my look for a moment, shall we? I had long flowing curly hair that stretched below my shoulders. I wore a tight black t-shirt and 501 Levi’s jeans and a pair of navy suede clogs. Somehow I didn’t know I was gay, even though everyone who looked at me, like the blonde female chaperone who first joined me in the Gucci store, clearly knew. Obviously I hadn’t turned on my gaydar and looked in a mirror. Otherwise, I would have noticed that I looked like the perfect Village queen. But Robert, my knight in Gucci shining armor, must’ve sensed it right away. I wanted him to chaperone me through each department of the store’s three floors, extending my time with him for as long as possible. I bought two belts and agreed to try on a pair of those famous Gucci loafers. After he asked my size, which is an eleven, triple E width, he smiled, caressed my foot and slowly slipped it into the shoe. “Sold.” We sauntered towards the swimwear department and selected a couple of on-sale items, one being a bikini bottom. Off we went to the dressing rooms on the third floor where all the sales associates brought their clients. For whatever reason, no one else was up there at that moment so in between trying on two swimsuits, Robert entered the dressing room and we proceeded to make the quietest love.

And it was at that moment, while stone-cold sober (a rarity for me), embraced in passionate lust with a stunning creature, that I finally knew. This was how I wanted to feel for the rest of my life. Preferably twenty-four hours a day. He begged me to stay with him that evening but the others were calling for me and we had to cut our brief but life-affirming lust-fest short. We said (my) teary goodbyes at the cash register and back to my honeymoon with the others I went. Bummer.

Having had that A Summer Place kind of miraculous summer vacation, it was clear that I needed to let the cat out of the bag and finally tell my family. The timing was genius and I could hand out Gucci Bags as gift bags to butter up the attendees of my coming out party. Having been raised by a concentration camp survivor made me think twice before causing her any more heartache, or anything remotely resembling grief. But then again survivors become adept at grief and are the most resilient people on Earth. At least that is what I kept telling myself leading up to the big sit down. Wait – did I just imagine an upside to my mother being in a concentration camp? Please, forgive me, God.

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