By John Yager
I'd like to address one etymological issue and then asked a question concerning another word, in case any readers have a definitive answer.
I've been using the word "Gay" throughout this series. As you know, the story begins in 1967, and several readers have questioned my use of the word, asking if it really was in use at that time. The best information I have indicates the word "Gay" was first used in its present sense in 1953 and that it was in fairly common use by the late 1960s.
There is a well known Playboy cartoon from the Christmas, 1958 issue, which shows a man getting dressed in drag as he sings, "Now we don our gay apparel, fa-la-la-la, la-la-la!"
In this chapter I have used the term "Gaydar." I have seen references to its use "prior to Stonewall," i.e.. July, 1969. I must admit though that I do not remember hearing the team that long ago.
I would be very interested to hear from readers who have any information or personal memory of early usage of either "Gay" or "Gaydar" in the 1960s.
This is the twenty-first chapter of an ongoing series. I want to thank all the readers who have written to me concerning this story. I continue to be surprised and pleased by all the responses this story has prompted.
All your comments are read and given serious consideration. Thank you for your encouragement, suggestions and criticism.
My objective in this series is to deal with issues which have impacted and influenced the lives of gay people in the period between the 1960s and the present time, or from pre-Stonewall days to the era of "don't ask, don't tell."
Many readers have asked if this story is, at least in part, autobiographical. I would not be honest if I said it was not. But I want to make it clear to readers that I am not Rob or Rick or any other specific character in the story and none of them, individually, is me. The story is raising many more questions than it is supplying answers and I certainly make no claim to know the answers. It is my hope that by raising the questions I may prompt more consideration of the issues facing gay people in the USA and throughout the world.
Andrew continues to provide much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not post chapters as quickly as I have been doing without his assistance.
This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.
This is a work of gay erotic fiction. If you should not be reading such material, or if such material is not to your liking, please exit now.
This work is copyrighted © by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I have posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists.
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*** About three weeks into my accelerated physical training program I was in the locker room after a strenuous football practice and about half an hour with the free weights. I'd just come from the showers and was drying off.
"Hey, Rob," I heard someone say from behind me and turned, standing naked by my locker and faced an equally naked Steve Chapman, the fellow who'd dropped Roger Bardwell's honors seminar the first day the group had met.
He was even more interesting naked than I remembered him being clothed. He had a firm, very smooth, sinewy body and a golden tan which was accentuated by the light area that had obviously been protected from the sun by a very brief pair of tank trunks. He had to be a swimmer, I thought. In the late 60s nobody I knew wore a bathing suit like that unless they were on a swimming or diving team. He definitely had a classic swimmer's body.
"Hey, Steve," I responded, feeling a little odd standing there in all my naked glory carrying on a conversation with an equally bare assed guy whom I hardly knew.
"I've been wondering if I'd run into you."
"Yeah?" I said, surprised he even remembered me from our previous meeting.
"Yeah, the man of mystery and contradictions," he said, his cute face breaking into a broad grin. "The footballer who is in honors lit classes, not your usual combination."
"Oh," I mumbled, not sure how to respond to the notion that brains and brawn were not expected to go together.
"Yeah, and not only that. I was getting all these vibes and then I hear you making out over the phone, with a girlfriend, no less."
"Do you live in my dorm?"
"No, I'm in Bailey, but I have some buddies who live a floor below you. I'm over at your place a lot."
"Joyce," I mumbled, feeling very uncomfortable. "She's at Trinity in Hartford, Connecticut." I paused and then asked, "What do you mean by vibes?"
"Well, you know."
"Hey, fellow, Gaydar, you know." He paused and I felt as if he'd gone very pale. "Oh, shit, I shouldn't have said that." He paused again and then added, "Sorry if I was jumping to the wrong conclusions."
"Yeah. Well, never mind, I just compounded one mistake with an equally dumb one."
I'd never heard the term before and was trying to make sense of his remark.
"So you're a swimmer," I said, trying to keep the conversation going.
"I swam in high school, free style and relay."
He had a great body and I found that I was amazingly at ease, standing there buck naked talking with him. I got the feeling he was looking me over, not in an overt way, but definitely checking me out, so I felt free to look him over as well. I realized as we stood talking that I hadn't been naked with another guy in such an easy and relaxed way since the last time I'd been alone with Rick.
"Where are you from, Steve?" I finally asked. In those days very few schools in Mississippi had swimming teams and I'd figured he had to have gone to a large high school.
"Jackson," he said, confirming my guess. "What about you?
"Oh, yeah, I knew that. I'd forgotten you're a River Rat."
I laughed. "I don't think I've ever been called that before."
"In Jackson that's what we call people who live in the towns along the Mississippi."
We were both silent for a moment and then I got up my nerve and asked, "How did you know I grew up in Spring River?"
"I read your bio in the football listings. I know you have an older brother here at the university and you were tied for the highest ranking student in your high school class."
"Gee, Steve, should I be flattered or a little concerned?"
He laughed and said, "Flattered, definitely flattered."
"Okay," I replied. I couldn`t help responding to his smile. "Would you like to go for coffee?"
"Sure," he said with that same boyish grin. "Give
me a minute to get some clothes on and we can head out someplace.
We walked along Lamar and sat together in one of the small cafes on the Courthouse Square. We talked for a couple of hours, missing dinner and putting off the studying we both needed to do. In that brief time I learned a lot about him.
Steve was the son and grandson of lawyers and was more or less expected to continue the tradition. He had two sisters. One was older than Steve, married and had just had her first child. His younger sister was still in high school and still living at home with their folks.
Steve had a good academic record and an equally good record as a swimmer. After dropping Roger Bardwell's seminar, he'd picked up a 200 level class on Samuel Johnson and his circle, and was loving it.
"I'd have loved to stay in the honors class but I knew the reading would kill me," he said.
"How did you miss reading the books during the summer?"
"I was working at a Boy Scout summer camp, life guarding and teaching swimming. I only got home one weekend all summer and then I was so tired all I did was sleep. I didn't even look at all that stuff until I got to Oxford a couple of days before classes started."
"The summer job explains your great tan."
"It would have been better if I'd spent the summer at home."
"Yeah, no tan lines. Some friends and I usually get in a lot of skinny dipping."
"Well, I kind of like the gap."
He grinned but said nothing.
"Why did you decide to come to Ole Miss? I mean, it's an obvious choice for me with the emphasis of football, but you won't find much interest here in swimming," I said.
"If I'd been serious about continuing swimming at the university level I would have gone someplace else, probably Indiana. I was good at the high school level but now I really want to concentrate on my academic courses."
"You have a great body, Steve. It would be a shame for you to get out of shape."
"I've been working out in the weight room and doing some running."
Maybe we could work out together sometime."
"Yeah, that would be great but you probably out lift me by a few pounds."
"You could catch up."
When he didn`t respond I went on, "I am sorry you aren't in the class. Roger Bardwell is an amazing teacher and it's a good group. I think we're going to end up being good friends."
"I'm sorry, too. Maybe I can get together with you guys sometime."
"I'll figure a way to include you," I said, then added, "Now tell me what you meant by Gaydar."
He blushed. "Look, Rob, I goofed," he said. "Let's just drop it, okay?"
"No, really, Steve, please explain what you meant."
He looked down at the table for a moment and then looked up at me.
"Shit," he said. I remained silent, waiting. "Okay, look, I didn't mean to suggest anything. I just made a really awkward mistake."
"Well, Gaydar is an expression for the way one Gay guy recognizes another guy as being...well, you know."
"So you were thinking I'm Gay."
"Yeah, you know, vibes, nothing obvious, just a kind of sixth sense. It isn't like it works all the time. It obviously didn't work this time."
"Are you saying you're Gay, Steve?"
Again he was silent for a moment and then said in a lowered voice, "This isn't something it's wise to talk about too openly around here, Rob."
"I understand," I said, my own voice only a little louder than a whisper. "But it's okay, Steve. I mean, I won't say anything to anyone and whatever you are is cool with me."
He looked away for a moment and then turned back to face me. When he finally spoke no one but me could hear. "Yeah, Rob, I'm Gay."
I just nodded, not willing yet to say anything about myself and feeling guilty for my silence. The guy felt awkward and exposed and I could have made him feel a lot more at ease by just saying I was Gay as well. Later, alone in my room, I felt like hell for being such a coward.
David Heart, my roommate was gone, at home in Tupelo.
I'd gotten back from my meeting with Steve, locked the door, undressed
and stretched out naked on my bed, glad to have some privacy. As I let
my hands run over my increasingly muscular body, images of Steve mixed
with memories of Rick and I slowly stroked myself to a raging climax as
their two naked bodies merged in my brain.
Roger Bardwell was a demanding teacher. He played a major part in my life at Ole Miss and has been a powerful influence in my life ever since. In many ways that first class with him was a sort of milestone. It opened doors for me. It gave me a sense of things I'd not known before. It was the perfect experience for me at that point in my life.
Beyond his obvious talent as a teacher, there were other aspects of Bardwell's personality which began to be evident. It was clear he was a very caring person. He took real interest in each of us and became a real friend.
His scholarship was impeccable. Bardwell never let us settle for the easy answer and it was equally clear that he pushed himself as hard as he pushed us. By that point in his career, Bardwell had finished his Ph.D. completing it at an eminent university and at a rather young age. He had been asked to revise his doctoral dissertation and submit it for publication in book form. It had come out the year before I entered Ole Miss and had been both a scholarly and popular success. That first book was to open the door for several more, which followed at a rate of one about every two years, often enough to keep his name before the scholarly world and the more demanding reading public, but not so often that his colleagues were inclined to make the usual snide remarks about quasi-scholarly pot boilers.
There was something else I was coming to sense about Bardwell. I noticed the way his eyes would stay on me after I had made some remark in his seminar. I caught an undertone, a resonance in his voice when he and I talked in private.
He was taking a special interest in me, that much was clear. I wondered if it was just the interest of a motivated teacher for a student he sensed had a deeper than average interest in his subject. Was it something more? At the very least I felt I could trust him. I knew he would never make some quick judgment of anything or anyone.
About a month into the course Bardwell asked us to choose a simple narrative which we would try to dissect and analyze in considerable detail.
"Choose something short and simple," he said, "a folk tale or a children's rhyme. You'll be amazed how complex even the simplest work can become when we begin to peel away the layers." He looked around the table at each of us and then added, "I don't want you to choose something because you think it's a great work of art. I do want you to choose something which had an impact on you at the time you first encountered it. You won't impress me with your artistic taste. You will impress me by finding something which had real importance in your life, even if it's a piece of doggerel."
I fidgeted with that assignment for several days. In the end, I thought of two things which might meet Bardwell's expectation.
"What about "The Good Companions," by J. B. Priestley, I asked, realizing that it was probably too complex and too long for the assignment.
"Interesting that you'd even know that book," Bardwell said. "It isn't on your usual high school reading list. Did some teacher suggest it to you?"
"No, I stumbled across it on my own, in a box of books from my grandfather's house."
"That makes sense," Roger Bardwell said. "It was popular about forty or fifty years ago."
"Forty. I think it was published in 1929."
"You have a good memory, Rob," he said with a smile. "But you're right, it's far too long for what I will be asking you to do. I would be interested to know what about "The Good Companions" interested you."
"Well, several things, I guess."
"It's a really funny book, Dr. Bardwell. I don`t mean funny in a side-splitting sort of way. I suppose you could call it droll, but I really enjoyed it," I began by saying.
"I know," he responded, "I've read it but I'd be willing to bet we're the only two current residents of Oxford, Mississippi who have. But beyond being entertaining, what made you think of it as an appropriate topic for this assignment?"
I had to think a minute to figure out how to put my thoughts into words. When I did begin I felt as if I were rambling. "I`ve gotten to know our group, you and the other honors seminar students and I`m finding I really like all of you a lot."
"It's a good group."
"But you have to admit we are all very different."
"Yes, it's an amazingly diverse group." He paused and then added, "Yes, I see where you're going. In a way, our group is a lot like the "Good Companions."
"That's how it struck me. They were all so different but they ended up being good friends and a mutually supportive group."
"I agree, but I do think the book is too long for what I have in mind. You did say you had another idea."
I waited a moment gathering my thoughts. "Would you let me use a film?" I finally said.
"Well, I'd probably have the same objections. Most films are too long and too complex for this assignment." He smiled and added, "Had you heard that films were a special interest of mine?"
"No, sir, I really had no idea you were interested in movies."
"Well, it's not a topic I can do much with here. So far it's not considered academically appropriate, except on a few California campuses. I hope one of these days I can introduce it in a modest way here at Ole Miss, maybe as a seminar topic."
"If you ever do, I'd love to sign up for it."
"Well, until then, I think you'd better find another topic for this assignment. I would have no objection to your working on a film but, as I said, they are far too long and too complex for what I will be asking you to do."
"You did say you wanted us to choose a work which had a real impact on us."
"Well, what about a film with a very simple plot and which only ran twenty minutes or so."
"Such a film had a significant impact on you at the time you first saw it?"
"Yes, Sir, a very great impact."
"From what you say about its simplicity and length I'd guess it must have been a children's film."
"No, Sir, far from it."
"It was a porn film, Sir." I waited, thinking if his reaction to just that much information was negative, I would not go further."
"Interesting," Roger Bardwell responded.
I took the plunge. "A Gay porn film."
Roger Bardwell sat silently looking at me for a
while. He looked at me, his eyes never leaving mine. I returned his stare,
waiting for his response. It seemed like a long time before he responded,
so when he did, I knew he had considered his response and had weighed its
"Thank you," he finally said and then waited.
We were sitting in his private office, a small space, filled with his huge desk and two or three chairs. Around the walls were an odd mix of mismatched bookcases. Every shelf was packed with books and what space was left between the tops of one row and the bottoms of the shelf above was also filled with thinner volumes, lying on their sides and jammed in to take advantage of every available cranny. Other books were stacked on the tops of the bookcases between a strange collection of dusty plaster busts. I later learned that he'd salvaged them when an old lecture hall was being remodeled. He couldn't stand the thought of Chaucer or Shakespeare being tossed out with the debris of reconstruction.
Other books were stacked on the tattered carpet in two uneven piles in opposite corners of the little room, miniature Towers of Pisa, always in danger of collapse.
"I'd wondered, of course," he finally continued. "Does anyone else know?"
"Not here. I had a friend. I have a girl friend. I mean, a friend who is a girl. The youth pastor at my church at home. I think that's all."
"You honor me, Rob."
"I felt I could trust you."
We were silent again as I waited, wondering of he'd say more.
"You trusted me because you sensed I shared the same preferences?"
"I wondered. I think of it as an inclination."
Again, the silence settled between us, not awkward, but bridged with a new bond, a new sense of like mindedness.
"So tell me about the film."
"I saw it a year ago, a year ago last summer." I paused, realizing that my hands were shaking. "I was in Memphis, in one of those porno places, the kind with the booths in the back for watching movies. You know the kind."
He leaned back in his swivel chair and looked at me.
"Was it your first time? To see a film like that, I mean?"
"Yes, first and only."
"And it made a significant impression."
"Yes. I think it was a kind of revelation."
"Seeing sex portrayed like that?
"Not just seeing the sex. It was a film of two boys, two young men. I'd imagined everything they did. It was a sort of confirmation. I mean, seeing them doing it, it was as if the film was documenting what I'd imagined. I think it was while I watched it that I knew...I mean, I really knew...that I was Gay."
"That`s powerful stuff, Rob. But that`s one of the functions of art. It brings us face to face with realities we haven`t fully recognized before."
"Well, I doubt if you could consider this film art."
"Tell me the outline of the film, Rob. Keep it simple but, given the nature of the film, don't try to spare me. We've both heard all the words before anyway, so just tell it as you saw it."
"I think I'll find it a little embarrassing. I mean, telling a professor, especially if I`m going to use..." I paused trying to think of the proper word, "If I'm supposed to use the vernacular."
"You should have thought of that before you suggested using this opus." He said with a rather devilish grin.
I told him about the film. I kept it simple and didn't try to explain my reactions. I certainly didn't get into my sexual response. When I'd finished he sat back and looked at me for some time. Then he turned his chair around with his back to me and looked out the window at the gray campus and the brooding sky.
"We will be discussing the pieces each of you are working on in some detail," he finally said.
"You mean all six of us?"
"All seven of us. Don't leave me out of the equation."
"I can't use it then."
"You aren't ready to say to your five fellow students that you're Gay?"
"I don't think so."
Again, he was silent.
"Give me a week," he said as he rose from his chair and looked at his watch. I knew it was the end of our discussion, at least for then. I suppose he had a meeting or another class. "Maybe in a week I can set the stage, so you can be comfortable with them."
Could I ever be entirely open with the other five students in the seminar? I had revealed myself to Roger Bardwell and he had admitted that he was, what? He'd said he had the same preferences. Did that mean he was also Gay? I thought it must.
"I've been giving some thought to the assignment I gave you," Roger Bardwell began at our next meeting. I realized that if I am going to ask you to be as open and frank as I hope you will be, I need to ask all of you to agree to confidentiality as far as this class is concerned."
"What, exactly, do you mean by that, Dr. Roger Bardwell?" the male member of the Memphis Duo asked.
"Well, Daniel," Roger Bardwell responded, if we are going to be discussing works which have had a significant impact on your life, we are going to be discussing some very private aspects of your life itself, wouldn't you agree?"
"So if I want to talk about an Agatha Christie
mystery and how it prompted me to knock off my rich maiden aunt, I can
do so with all the confidence I'd have confessing to a priest, if I was
the sort who confessed to priests?"
"Something like that. I don't know if we can stretch our confidentiality to cover felonies, but we might go so far as covering misdemeanors."
"Seriously, I think what we are looking at here is a degree of comfort which would allow us to achieve a kind of openness which isn't too common in groups like this.
"I'm all for it," Star, Daniel's female counterpart said. "I don't mind baring my soul to the rest of you and I think I can promise the same kind of confidentiality I'd expect you to give me."
"What secrets are you going to tell, Star? Daniel said. "Are you going to tell them you and I smoked some really radical grass during that Jefferson Airplane concert?"
"Boring." Star shot back.
"I want to use one of Siphon's poems," Jennifer, one of the other two women said shyly. I guess you can all figure where that will lead."
I looked over at Bardwell and realized he'd had more than one conversation like the one I'd had with him. "Well, for this to work, it has to be unanimous," Bardwell said after a long silence.
One by one the other three of us voiced our agreement.
In the end it was unanimous and so far as I know that pledge of confidentiality
was never broken.
To be continued.