By John Yager
In the introductory notes to Chapter 21 I asked if anyone had information on the roots of the words "Gay" and "Gaydar," or would be willing to share their own memories of the first time they heard those words as they are now commonly used.
I had many replies, over one hundred, and many of them were fascinating. I heard from several of you that the word Gay was probably in use in Great Britain by the end of the nineteenth century and that it seems to have come into common usage among the US military during the Second World War. There also seems to be general agreement that the word Gaydar was in fairly common usage in the US military during the Korean Conflict, but took another ten years or so to come into wider use in the USA.
If any of you have further information or if you would like to share your own first encounters with these words, please feel free to do so.
Many thanks for all your replies.
This is the twenty-second 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 series has prompted. All your comments are read and given serious consideration. I try to respond to all e-mail promptly. If there is a delay in my response it is usually because I am traveling.
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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"You're putting me in an interesting situation, Mr. Ballinger," Dr. Bardwell said as we sat across from each other over coffee.
"I hope it isn't an uncomfortable one." I tried to keep my expression as innocent as possible.
"No, not uncomfortable. I'm just a little unclear about what you have in mind."
I waited, wondering if he'd say more. I'd learned that Bardwell could take an inordinate amount of time responding, which made conversation with him different from with other people. It was equally true, though, that when he finally answered he had carefully considered what he'd say. His replies were reasoned and eloquent and well worth the wait.
We maintained eye contact as I waited and he thought. Bardwell, I had managed to figure out, was then 28. He was a little shorter than me, and over the next couple of years as I continued to grow in both height and weight, I left him behind. He always seemed like a big man to me, though. With his personality and intellect, I always thought of him as a giant. He also had a presence which was hard to ignore. His thick russet hair hung down in a dramatic wave over his high forehead, accenting his leonine nose and his prominent cheek bones. He was a strikingly handsome man.
"May I assume that there is at least an element
of seduction in your suggestion," he finally said.
The slightest hint of a smile played for an instant across his thin lips and then was gone.
"If you like."
"I must say I'm flattered to think you have any interest in me on that level."
"You're a striking man, Dr. Bardwell. Of course you interest me, on many levels."
"I guess I've admitted enough to you about my own interests for you to assume that I'm also Gay."
There was another pause. This time I didn't wait for him to say more. "Do you know the term `Gaydar,' Dr. Bardwell?"
"Yes, I know it. Had you already sensed that I'm Gay?"
"Not at all, Sir. I suspected after what you said that day in your office, when we talked about the film I`m using for the analysis assignment." We again sat in silence as a buzz of activity went on around us. We'd met to talk about my work, and rather than meet in his office, as we usually did, Dr. Bardwell had suggested we meet for coffee in the student union.
I had been bold enough to ask if he'd go with me to Memphis for a weekend, on the pretext of attending a festival of classic films. I'd said I'd be glad to drive and we could share a hotel room. It was a bold step for an undergraduate student to take but I felt certain that, even if he rejected my invitation, he would not rebuff me in a demeaning way.
"Let us assume for a moment that your invitation had sexual implications."
"Certainly, we could assume that," I said, this time openly smiling at his veiled remark.
"I would be very flattered. At least that would be my first response."
"Thank you, Sir."
"I'm only being honest with you, Mr. Ballinger."
He was silent again. I sipped my coffee and waited.
"You must know that there are standards which all universities must maintain."
"About faculty having relationships with students?"
"Yes." He waited again. I wondered if he wanted me to confront the seriousness of what I'd suggested.
"Even if there were no real physical contact between us, sharing a room could be seen as a breach of such standards."
"The appearance of evil," I added.
"Exactly," he said, this time without hesitation. "Even if I didn't really agree with such standards, such rules, I have agreed to accept them as a condition of my appointment."
"I understand, Sir. It was an inappropriate suggestion on my part."
"I am flattered. I'm also pleased that you felt comfortable enough with me to suggest we go to Memphis together."
"I do. I feel comfortable with you, I mean."
"I wonder if the intimacy and openness we've shared in the seminar hasn't resulted in the breaking down of some of the usual walls."
"Perhaps," I agreed, glad that he offered me an excuse for overstepping the bounds.
"Let me just say that if our situations were different I would accept your invitation with pleasure."
"And if our situation were to change, Dr. Bardwell, could I make such a suggestion again."
He smiled broadly and openly. "If and when, yes, I'd be pleased."
I thought our conversation was over but he surprised me by saying, "I have heard the term `Gaydar,' but don't know if I put any faith in it."
"I was only asking because I heard it for the first time a couple of weeks ago."
"From whom, may I ask?"
"From Steve Chapman."
"The young man who dropped our seminar the first day it met."
"That's right. You have a good memory."
"He impressed me. He has a very good academic record from a fine high school. He's also a very good looking young man. I was sorry he left us."
"He's taking a course on Johnson instead."
"Yes, I know, Dr. Powell's class. We've discussed him."
We were silent again but we weren't finished yet. After another of his pauses, Dr. Bardwell asked, "Did Chapman by any chance assume you are Gay?"
"Yes, he did. I didn't deny it but I didn't admit that he was right. I've felt a little guilty about it sense."
"Sins of omission?"
"I suppose," I said with a smile, and then added, "I don't think it works for me, anyway, Gaydar, I mean?"
"Have you known many Gay men, Rob?" I was pleased that he'd begun to use my given name.
"Not that I knew were Gay."
"Well then. As you know more you'll probably pick up the signals on a subconscious level."
"I hope you're right. It would sure be a handy skill."
We both laughed as he rose from his chair. I took that to mean our meeting was over and also got up to leave. As we walked across the campus together I said, "Steve would like to join our seminar group when we're together informally."
"Well, ask the others how they feel. Remember I invited all of you to come to my house next Sunday afternoon. I have no objections to you asking Steve if the others are okay with it."
"Thank you, Sir. I will."
"You'd better come out to him before you include him, you know."
"Yes, I've thought about that." As we'd gotten
into deeper and deeper discussions of the topics we'd each chosen for the
analysis project, we'd become very open about the implications of our choices,
including the issue of my own sexual orientation. It was clear to the others
that I was Gay. I felt okay with them knowing but I had to think about
their privacy as well as my own.
When we reached the building where Dr. Bardwell had his office we said goodbye and I went on toward the library. I still had almost two hours before dinner.
I was then two months into my first term at Ole Miss and I was finding myself increasingly happy there. Oxford was a smaller town than Spring River but, being a university town, it had a lot more to offer. There were concerts and films and special programs almost every night. I was learning that I had to make hard choices; I simply didn't have time for everything, especially with demanding classes and equally demanding football practices. In addition to all that, Coach Campbell was keeping me increasingly busy with special workouts. It was a busy schedule but I was enjoying every minute of it.
As I walked across the campus, ablaze with the glowing colors of autumn, I thought about the conversation I'd just had with Roger Bardwell. I couldn't help smiling at the way he'd politely but firmly put me in my place. I really had been out of bounds suggesting that a faculty member, even a young faculty member, would want to go off to Memphis with me for a weekend. The more I thought about it the more embarrassed I became over my forwardness.
Yet Bardwell hadn't slammed the door on me irrevocably.
He had left that slight crack, that suggestion that if and when our situations
were different, he might be open to another invitation.
I felt a very odd mix of frustration, embarrassment and hope. It was all very strange and as I thought about it, I realized that I really was in a very new situation.
The only person I had ever known in a sexual way
was Rick Carlson and when our relationship had begun just a year earlier,
it was he, not I, who began it. When our relationship ended, it was Rick,
not I, who ended it. I had never, I realized, taken the lead in any sexual
situation. I wasn't sure who I would want to start anything with anyway.
Steve Chapman had made his sexual orientation known to me, and seemed to
express interest in something between us. I'd dropped the ball on that
one, or worse, left Steve feeling as if he'd made some terrible error.
I guess the way I was now feeling about my inappropriate boldness toward
Roger Bardwell gave me some idea of how Steve must have felt after his
admissions to me.
I entered the library and proceeded back into the stacks, toward my favorite secluded corner. It was there that I had done some of my most serious studying over the last few weeks.
There are times when it's hard to believe that there are any random events in human life. If there are "coincidences" they must surely be plotted by some beneficent being. I had not seen Steve Chapman since our rather awkward conversation in the locker room and following it, over coffee in a Courthouse Square café. I had never seen him in the library before, yet as I rounded the last corner between two overfilled book stacks, I suddenly came upon a fellow crouched down, looking along at the titles of volumes on the very bottom shelf. I quite literally tripped over him.
"Oh, hell," I said as I reached out to keep myself from falling.
The guy let out a gasp as my weight came down on him and we both nearly hit the floor, our bodies twisted together and my face pressed against his.
I was able to lift myself off him by putting my weight on the shelves, rather than him, and he was able to move to his right just far enough to rise up a little without his head again banging into my jaw.
"Sorry," we were both saying at the same time, neither of us really aware at that point who it was with whom we were so intimately contorted.
When I did rise up a little I was able to see it was Steve and Steve was able to see it was me.
"Sorry, man," I repeated. "I guess I can say it's a surprise running into you here."
He laughed as he rose to stand in the narrow aisle.
"Hi, Rob," he said with one of his spectacular smiles. "I've been hoping to run into you. Instead, you ran into me."
Our clothes were rumpled, his loose t-shirt bunched up, revealing his tan, defined stomach. My own polo shirt was twisted and the collar spread so far a button had popped off.
"Our meetings always seem to be rather embarrassing," I said, picking up a mix of books, his mine and a few we'd managed to knock off the shelves.
"Well, at least we finally got together," Steve said, accompanied by that amazing smile.
"I really have been meaning to call you."
"I know. I've been meaning to call you but didn't know what to say."
"Well, for starters, we just need to talk."
He looked down as the smile faded. He was clearly thinking about our previous conversation. All the old discomfort became evident in his handsome face.
"Look, Steve, I'm the one who goofed up last time we talked."
"I don't think so," he said, still looking down at the floor.
"Well, you'll understand what I mean when we can talk, but this isn't the place."
"Do you want to get a cup of coffee?"
I couldn't help laughing. "I just came from having coffee with Dr. Bardwell. I don't think I'm up for that again."
"How about just taking a walk?"
"Yeah," I said, catching the hesitation in my voice and trying to overcome it. "A walk would be good."
We bundled up our books and worked our way through the maze of book stacks and into the lobby of the library. From there we walked through the front doors and around toward the Lyceum, the late afternoon sunlight slanting down through a thousand golden trees.
It had gotten a little cool but we kept walking, staying in the sun. I'd expected to just ramble, but Steve seemed to have a specific objective in mind and I followed his lead. Within a few minutes we arrived at an especially beautiful grove of old oaks, their leaves golden and orange and red.
We followed a path through some wild Rhododendron and then out into a little clearing and to an old wooden bench. It was aged and gray but the little plaque at the center of the back was still readable: "In loving memory of Albert Edward Rollins, 1858 - 1947, Professor of History at this University."
"We can talk here," Steve said, putting his book bag down on the ground by the bench.
"He would have been eighty-nine," I said, doing the numbers in my head.
"Yes," Steve said. "He lived from before the Civil War until after the Second World War."
"He taught history and he certainly saw a great deal of it in his lifetime."
"Yes." He'd sat down and was looking up at me. I lowered my own bag to the ground at the other end of the bench and sat, leaving a comfortable yard between us.
"So are you going to tell me you don't mind having a queer for a friend?"
"You do mind having a queer for a friend." He was trying to be funny in a rather twisted way but it came out wrong and just sounded bitter.
"Look, Steve, just let me say what I should have said the other day."
"Sorry. I'll shut up."
I waited a moment, collecting my thoughts. "It wasn't your Gaydar which didn't work, Steve. It was me. I just froze."
"What are you telling me, Rob?"
"I'm trying to tell you I am Gay. Those vibes you thought you were picking up were what you thought they were." I waited but he didn't speak. "That conversation you heard in the dorm lobby was just cover, Steve. Joyce and I are very close friends, but just friends. I guess I'm just as queer as you are."
After a very long pause Steve responded with just
one word, "Wow!"
To be continued.