Childhood Living

Still life with guzzlers, 1971
Still life with guzzlers, 1971

Jim and I met in Bloomington, Indiana in the spring of 1971. We were both 20 and in the early stages of coming out. He a year before, me just that April. Jim watched the semester long drama of his friend stalking me until he snared me. And then the theater that followed. He later told me mine wasn’t so much a coming out as an explosion.

Jim had a brief stint at a St. Louis art school but hated it. After a suicide attempt his first month there he returned home to Fort Wayne where his parents sought psychiatric help for him. When they discovered he was homosexual the experts, with his parents consent, subjected him to electric shock treatments.  It didn’t change anything, Jim never back downed from being gay. He decided to move on and check things out in Bloomington.

He was pathologically shy and extremely awkward in social situations. If you were patient enough, however, there was an intelligent and kind person underneath. With a scathing sense of humor. He was a poet and had been published in a couple of magazines. The first booklet of his poetry “Red Sky and Blue Airplane” had just come out. While everyone around us talked of doing things, he had actually accomplished something.

Before I came out I was a known quantity around campus. My fixation with the Rolling Stones had me doing everything Mick did:  shoulder length hair, scooped neck jersey tops, skin-tight bell bottoms, and big black motorcycle belts. I even bought moccasins because Time said he wore them on stage “for easier leaping about.” What the Stones were doing was fresh and challenging and there was nothing like it in Indiana. Except me. In 1969 men just didn’t have pierced ears. When I saw Keith’s I copied it down to the petrified sharks tooth.

I didn’t have many friends so my self-expression was mainly for my own pleasure. I wanted to make an impression but it never occurred to me what others actually might be thinking about me. I didn’t know anyone in the gay community or that it even existed.  After I emerged,  however, I would discover that many had known me.

In Bloomington’s version of People’s Park, a vacant corner lot occupied by hippies, the tribes people thrived on being weirder than the next person. I had them baffled, they had no clue what to make of me. They called me “Crazy Chris.”

The conservative older queens who hung out in the Commons cafeteria were fixated on my suede book bag. I’d ordered it out of the LA Free Press, it was kind of hip, kind of Laurel Canyon. But its utilitarianism was lost on this bitter claque. Their name for me was “Miss Purse.”  (Six months later they would all have one.)

Summer treat, Hoosier style
Summer treat, Hoosier style

As I made gay friends I learned about camp and gender-fuck. It helped explain Jagger’s influences and opened new possibilities for me.  My persona project became a collective one as new friends became fashion advisers as well. Indian Chandelier earrings from the head shop, thrift store dresses worn over jeans and combat boots, 5 inch cork wedgies and red denim hot pants. Eventually my hair would be bleached every known shade of blonde. If someone had a good idea I would probably try it.

I even befriended the “Miss Purse” gang. They were hardcore, closeted queens who loved to do old school drag. They spoke the lost language of Girl-ene where every other word was ‘she,’ ‘her, ‘girl’ or ‘bitch.’ The rest of their vocabulary was made up or inexplicable. And they would not stop to bring you up to speed. You either caught on or were kicked to the curb.  Fortunately, I was a quick study.

 

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The Story of Jim

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