A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1996
Tuesday, June 4, 1996
8 PM. The other day when I was thinking about my 40th birthday, it occurred to me that if I knew then what I’d be doing now, on my 45th birthday, I’d be pretty amazed.
In the past five years, I moved to Gainesville, graduated from law school with high honors and book awards, and worked as a staff attorney at a law school think tank researching issues I barely knew existed in 1991 (and given the field of cyberlaw, they didn’t exist back then).
I’ve become a gay activist in a small city, continued to teach college classes in writing and literature, became an expert in searching databases, published a new book, about a dozen stories, and a number of articles. I’ve run a write-in campaign for Congress and pulled other publicity stunts.
Most of all, I managed to come to a town where I had never lived and knew no one and made a life for myself, meeting new people, establishing a different identity while keeping my old one.
Last evening I went to the Civic Media Center for the 8 PM start of the CMC/HRC “Living History Presentation” on the Johns Committee’s 1958-59 witch hunt of homosexuals at the University of Florida.
Before the event, Sue, Denise and Helen all congratulated me on my letter to the editor making fun of macho straight white men in power. I said hi to Craig, Bob, Tim and a few other people in the crowd of about 60.
Kathy introduced Bonnie Stark, who’s writing a book about the Johns Committee, expanding her USF thesis in history.
Bonnie, a 40-year-old woman with a Brooklyn accent like mine, read and talked for nearly an hour.
Then John Tileston, who figured in Bonnie’s narrative as the assistant investigator who entrapped gay professors and students and then got them to name others, spoke.
He explained that he was a 22-year-old rookie UF police officer who got carried away with the power he suddenly found himself wielding.
Now, at 66, a candidate for Alachua County sheriff, he felt he had to confront his past. While he didn’t dispute anything Bonnie said, he minimized his part in it and said that soon afterwards he felt guilty about ruining the lives of good people.
In any case, the gay men entrapped at the County Courthouse bathroom or named by those unfortunate guys were terrified – as they should have been. The Johns Committee hearings in Gainesville were held in motel rooms at ungodly hours, and it’s amazing how virtually none of the men raised the issue of their legal rights or tried to fight the Committee.
Of course, I’m thinking with a 1996 mindset; it’s hard to imagine what it was like for the dozens of professors and students who were forced to leave the university.
There were suicide attempts and ruined lives, but most of them got through it – including several of the older men in attendance last night.
This morning I woke at 6 AM and lay in bed till after 6:45 AM, when I got up for breakfast so I could exercise at 8 AM. All that time I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR.
Liz forgot to bring my memo to work, but Joann came in to talk with Russ and me after she discovered we have our first delivery on the Common Ground educational project due at the South Florida Water Management District next Wednesday.
Two of the items for delivery are the three videos and the 10-minute introduction, but we also have to send them a plan to implement and distribute the project. I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to write it.
Joann gave me the notes she took at the meeting she and Russ had with Roy King, the District’s director of education.
After I e-mailed Roy, he was very helpful in sending me names of school media center directors and teachers interested in the environment.
I watched the first video, “Coastal Development,” during my lunch hour at home, and I surfed the Net to pick up ideas and names of people relating to environmental education in Florida.
Jon and I had my annual evaluation later than the scheduled 1 PM appointment because of a long conference call he had with some ballot initiative people.
He told me, as he did last year, that I had a great year and that he was glad I was staying on.
(In the birthday card I found on my chair when I got into work, several people said they’re glad I’m staying when they signed it. Laura got me a bag of baby carrots “since you don’t eat cake.”)
I bullshitted about how I’m willing to do anything except international work. Jon said I was probably the most underutilized person at CGR – though of course I didn’t tell him I liked it that way.
Anyhow, we’ll see what happens when Rick Matasar comes in. At least the new Dean has already shaken up the antiquated computer system around here – although my own computer is unable to support Windows.
Jon said Matasar likes the fact that CGR is the one place at the law school that can attract corporate grants.
Russ asked to take me out to lunch tomorrow, and I said yes, although I must admit I feel a little uncomfortable being alone with him outside the office. What will we have to talk about?
Mom called me at lunch to wish me a happy birthday, and Dad called this evening. The only other birthday message I got was an e-mail from Justin and Larry.
Surprisingly, Terence called at 8 PM, while I was writing this entry, and we talked for over an hour. I told him it was my birthday and that I was 45. He was a little shocked, but not that shocked.
I told him a little about the Johns Committee, and then we talked about superficial stuff, as usual. He said he’d call me on Wednesday about going to the LGBSU Film Festival. We’ll see what happens.
Thursday, June 6, 1996
3 PM. Yesterday Jim Hellegaard of Public Affairs called to ask if I’d speak to a Gainesville Sun columnist, Mitch Stacey, about the Communications Decency Act.
I thought the court decision challenging it had just been issued – it should come down any day – but Mitch was just doing a general column.
After brushing up on the subject by reading the Wired article, I was well-prepared – although it is a subject I could easily speak about off the cuff. We’ll see how I’m quoted in Mitch’s column.
At 6:30 PM, I picked up Terence, placing a copy of With Hitler in New York on his table. I don’t think he noticed it.
He was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt (with a t-shirt under it), dark jeans and shoes, and he carried a little bag. In contrast, I had on jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers.
It was good for me to see Terence in the presence of other people, people we both know. He gushed when he met all his young friends, and he seemed to know everyone there, waving and camping it up.
If I’d seen him in public like that first, I probably would have never bothered to get to know him, but I’m sure the reverse is true. I remained pretty quiet as he gossiped with his friends all evening, but we kept our own spaces.
Kathy had her voter registration cards out, and of course Terence wasn’t registered. He’s so flighty and scatterbrained that he managed to lose two of the blank cards I got for him during the course of the evening.
When I pointed him out to Barbara, she said, “He’s sweet looking,” and we talked about the problem of meeting older people in a college town like Gainesville. She’s 34, and she found Cynthia (who arrived later), who’s 43.
She gave me directions to their house because I’m invited, along with Drew and his boyfriend and DeShaun to come there at 9 PM tomorrow before the party.
Barbara got a Florida Bar summer fellowship at Southern Legal Counsel, which is a great coup.
After I sat down with Terence, his sister’s best friend Tasha, a pre-med student, and her girlfriend Lynette, a Bahamian Santa Fe Community College student, Kathy came over to me.
She said that Bob and Craig weren’t around and TV 20 wanted to interview someone about the Romer decision’s effect on our local charter amendment challenge. Although it meant missing the first movie, I agreed to go out to talk to the reporter.
Naturally I thought: God, this is as out as one gets, going on the 11 PM news as a gay rights activist. But I was too embarrassed not to do it.
As I told Gabriel Lampert in an e-mail today, I came out because it was more embarrassing not to.
I got home after the news played. I wondered if there would be any phone messages from homophobes, and I think there was one – but it was silent except for the background noise of the TV.
This morning when I walked on campus, the first person I encountered was Blaine, who called out, “Hey, TV man!”
I asked him what I said, and he told me the segment had several speakers “and it was pretty cool.” They spelled my name right and the chyron identified me as “Gay Activist.”
If anyone at the office saw me, they were too embarrassed to say anything.
Last night Tasha and others were concerned because the TV crew had filmed shots of the audience. Tasha’s parents back in Live Oak are very religious and would freak out if they saw her at a gay event.
So the LGBSU leaders had them re-film the audience from the back. (“My momma knows the back of my head!” Terence exclaimed.)
The short films shown last night were okay but not great. The ones about the accepting parents of P-FLAG and the five gay weddings were heartwarming but didactic.
When I looked back, I was surprised to see Liz, Joe and Becky sitting a few rows behind us. I pointed them out to Terence, feeling proud I have such a liberal supervisor.
They left early, but Joe brought Becky back for the final films, two parody TV show episodes called The XXY Files, created by a UF grad. At 13, Becky was probably about the right age for that kind of sophomoric humor.
During the course of the evening, Bob and Tim came in, and I also saw Denise, Sue and other people whose names escape me.
Kathy told me she’ll be at DNC training on Sunday and so asked me to call Joe Antonelli to tell him to handle the publicity for Sunday’s march. I did so today.
Sometime after 10 PM, I left the auditorium with Terence as he walked Tasha and Lynette back to their pickup truck.
Tasha has known Terence since they were little kids, and she’s boisterous like he is. Lynette is soft-spoken, but I liked both of them a lot. God knows what they thought of me – or what any of Terence’s friends made of me.
I know that I will never sleep with him, if only because I don’t want gossipy young gay guys to know all about me – or as Terence would say, “get all up in my business.”
At one point I told Terence he didn’t have to go home with me. “I came with you, I’ll go home with you,” he said.
We went back to see the last films, and I dropped him off at 11:30 PM but was too tired to go in.
I told him to call if he wanted to go to the party on Friday night with me but didn’t say anything about us going to tonight’s movies.
I really should stay home. I’m exhausted and may be coming down with a cold.
Rochelle Ratner sent me a copy of her article on carpal tunnel syndrome for Poets & Writers. She mentioned my wrist and ankle problems and gave the title and publisher of my book – but I expect that I could easily be edited out from the final article.
Christy told me that at the Literature Fellowship Grant Panel meeting, she gave me a 9 but couldn’t convince the others to score my story that high.
She said grants were given to Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, Enid Shomer (“I abstained because she lives in New York City, not Gainesville”) and others – but some prominent writers didn’t get a fellowship, either.
Annette Rice asked me to send a copy of the March 15 memo on software licensing on CGR stationery so it can be distributed, and I did so at work this morning.
Ellen came into my office and said that Karen Holbrook, UF’s vice president for research and dean of the grad school – with whom she’s working on a plan to set up a Center on the Human Genome Project – told her that Rick Matasar has planned a Center for Intellectual Property at the law school.
Apparently there’s a document on the proposed center out somewhere, and it sounds like a done deal.
I gave Liz a list of relevant Schoolyear 2000 memos to use in the “brag memo” on me that she plans to send the new dean.
Laura told Russ and me in confidence that CGR is getting new computers, and I’ll probably get one of the ones being replaced, either Helen’s or Cari’s. Hopefully I can get Windows on it.
Tired, I left work a little after 3 PM. I’m defrosting now, having emptied my freezer of stuff.
Saturday, June 8, 1996
1 AM. I feel badly about the way things ended with Terence. I got to his apartment at 8:45 PM and he was ready except for paring his fingernails.
He was wearing this tight shirt more appropriate to a club, but hey, he’s got his own style. But as I sat there, he mentioned almost casually that Bobby’s coming with us, that he’d just spoken to him and Bobby was so depressed that Terence invited him along.
I felt really uncomfortable with that and said so: I didn’t feel like I could bring more than one person, and I didn’t want it to be Bobby, who dresses in drag at the clubs.
Because Bobby had already left his house I told Terence that because his friend was depressed, he and Bobby should do something they enjoy together and I’d go to the party by myself.
He didn’t protest or get angry, and I left saying, “I’ll see you,” knowing I wouldn’t, and Terence looking either resigned, perplexed, or perhaps wounded.
At the time I felt justified. To me, it was rude of Terence to invite Bobby alone without asking me. It’s just something an older person wouldn’t do.
But I also know that in Terence’s circle, it’s probably common, and to him, I was the rude and thoughtless one.
It goes back to our scheduled second date when it didn’t occur to him to call me when “things happened.” We’re in two different places in our lives.
I do think that Terence would not have fitted in at this party or earlier, at Barbara and Cynthia’s house, where I sat around for an hour with Drew and his boyfriend Brian, the medical technician I met at the AIDS March, and Adriana, a lesbian third-year law student my age.
Adriana is from the Upper West Side, a former opera singer with a four-year-old son from a marriage to a guy.
I had a fine evening, listening to the four of them talk about last week’s Gay Day at Disney World, and later at the party, talking with them – and DeShaun – about law school and other stuff.
The hosts of the party we drove to were Sidney, who is in Cynthia’s clinical psych grad program and is going off to Harvard this fall, and Miles, another student in the program, a gay guy who married his lesbian friend so she could get a student loan and other benefits.
I found the conversations at the party to be intelligent and engrossing, and if the others I went with hadn’t wanted to leave, I would have stayed on – especially because I was talking to this cute guy, Joel, an engineer who works for an airbag company in Tampa.
I had a nice time and was invited to another party next weekend, which I probably would go to if I were to be in town.
It’s only now that I’ve started to feel bad about Terence, but I know he wouldn’t fit in or enjoyed himself with these people, any more than I would fit in and enjoy myself at his friends’ parties. Still, it’s sad to end the relationship.
3 PM. Today has been an awful day, but maybe I deserve it. Last night I slept well for the first time in a week, but I awoke with a pounding sinus headache.
This morning I was returning from the office and doing various errands when I opened the car door and it fell off its hinges!
I was astonished, and now, as Christy has pointed out, I see how comical it must have looked – like a scene from Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
At the time, of course, I was frantic. I called the AAA, and when the guy finally came, he tried to put the door back on, but he couldn’t. The best he could do was close the door so that I could drive the car to a body shop.
Today I went to some service centers, but they said I needed to take it to a body shop, and none are open on weekends.
For fear of forgetting and accidentally opening the driver’s side door, I won’t drive the car till I take it in on Monday morning.
That means I won’t go to the movies today and I’ll have to walk to get groceries and the paper in the morning, and I won’t go to the Westside Park Pride Week gala tomorrow. (I’d never planned on marching.)
But I’ll be okay.
At the office, I checked my messages. I okayed Liz’s “brag memo” to Matasar, told Annette to tell Wendy to go ahead and distribute the memos (some bigwig in the Department of Education praised my work), and thanked Patrick for sending me a distance learning newsletter. I also wrote to Alice and Gabriel Lambert.
I don’t have any Schoolyear 2000 work and I can’t do anything on the Common Ground project till I get back, so I can just stay home, relax in my air-conditioned apartment, do my chores and get ready for my trip. (At least I rented a car to go to Orlando.)
Why I feel I might deserve the bad luck I had today: because of how I treated Terence.
Last night I felt fully justified when I left his apartment after he told me that he’d invited Bobby along, but now I feel really bad about it. Maybe I should have said, Well, okay, we won’t go to the party, but you and Bobby and I can go to the movies or something.
Was I acting out of fear of being embarrassed by Terence and Bobby? That doesn’t say much for the kind of person I am.
But I know Terence and Bobby wouldn’t have fitted in – certainly not with the six of us at Cynthia and Barbara’s, and not at the party, either. I’m sure the parties Terence and Bobby go to are very different.
It’s a cultural difference because of education. (The guilty white liberal in me says it’s not about race, and it’s not: Sidney, one of our hosts, was black, as were many guests, including DeShaun, but they were all older grad or law students or professionals.)
I should have left Terence alone weeks ago when I realized we couldn’t fit into each other’s lives. Loneliness isn’t an excuse.
I hope he doesn’t call me again. If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t call me. I’m the bad guy in this, and as uncomfortable is that role makes me, Terence is better off thinking I’m just thoughtless and rude.
What did I learn from these past six weeks? Not to let my need for affection and intimacy lead me to people who are unsuitable, because the other person gets hurt in the end.
I was unfair to Terence and unfair to myself thinking we could surmount all the differences between us.
Once I realized he was a kid – he’s just a year or two younger than DeShaun, Brian or Drew, but they’re so much more mature – and didn’t have anywhere near my level of life experience, I should have let Terence go. Instead, I ended up being cruel to him.
Well, this is something I have to live with.
Tuesday, June 11, 1996
4:30 PM. Yesterday afternoon, I started to feel better as the sun came out. I did most of my packing and then, at 7 PM, I returned books and videos to the library and bought some last-minute drugs and foods at Albertsons.
After I’d exercised to a Body Electric tape, Dad called to thank me for my early Father’s Day card, on which I’d written some sloppy stuff about sometimes hearing Dad’s words or tone of voice coming out of my mouth.
Today at work I didn’t accomplish much. Yesterday Ellen had asked if I wanted to meet with her to discuss possibly taking over some of her projects after she leaves, but she didn’t come in today.
I did need to talk to Liz and tell her, as gently as possible, that I won’t be staying at CGR’s long-term. “Not beyond two years,” I said, but there’s no way I’m going to stay beyond next summer, if then.
Rick wrote about the problems he was having doing a book for Ira Silverberg of Serpent’s Tail on writings by women in the Beat movement.
Rick reports that their receipts have been down at the bookstore because of construction on U Street. But he’s teaching interesting stuff – including getting $3,000 at Johns Hopkins to teach a class of just five students.
I wrote Ronna about Terence and she said she’s glad I realized that loneliness was making me seek out someone so inappropriate.
“Sometime I’ll tell you about my trying to find someone,” she wrote, and noted that a lot of her revelations about her dates came from her peers when it was obvious to them that the guys didn’t fit into her world.
This might have been a mistake, but I wrote a letter to Terence, apologizing not so much for Friday night but for pursuing a relationship in general when it was obvious we are not compatible and at very different stages in our lives.
I hope that saying goodbye to him in a letter wasn’t just a way to make him feel I’m not a total creep.
I realize that it didn’t give him a chance to vent his feelings and I know he must have a mess (literally) of them.
As painful as my experience with Terence was, it was instructive because it made me see the depth of my loneliness and isolation.
Maybe it’s me, and I’ll do better in a larger city; I don’t feel I have a peer group of single gay men my age in Gainesville. I also hate the idea of the stifling everyone-knows-my-business small-town mentality that Liz seems to revel in.
The more I become involved in the community here, the more isolated I feel.
While I know I will always be a loner, the odds of finding a significant other – or even friends I can confide in – are low in this place.
I left work at 3:30 PM and now I’m on vacation. I can feel my anxiety mount as I face the uncertainty of my trip, especially what I expect to be a long and difficult day tomorrow.
But I don’t really have to be up at the crack of dawn, at least, so I’ll try to relax as I get ready this evening.