Monthly Archives: August 2020

Coming Out and My First Gay Bar


I wanted to clear up a possible misconception about something I wrote in Friday’s post. I had written about how my graduate school history department learned I was gay. In it, I wrote:

The first time I went into a gay bar was in New Orleans. A friend took me to one while we were at an academic conference there. She had been the first person I’d ever come out to, and she wanted to take me to the gay section of New Orleans. […] This was also when everyone at my grad school found out I was gay. For about the next week, the news of my sexuality spread like wildfire. It wasn’t that I’d hooked-up with anyone that night. I was just the subject of gossip for about a week.

Going to a gay bar in New Orleans happened the first week of November 2001. I had come out to my friend and her boyfriend the previous spring (in fact, the Friday before spring break) at a party late one night where a fair amount of drinking was involved. I’m one of those people who remembers everything when they’ve been drinking. At least that was the case when I was younger and had a better memory. I spent about two weeks wondering if all the courage I’d mustered to come out would even be remembered. I was happy to learn my friend did remember it, and we were able to discuss it when we were alone. She did so much to help me get comfortable with my sexuality. She treated me no differently, and we could easily discuss our attraction to various men. That might not sound like much, but it was something I’d never been able to do before. Before coming out to her, I had always kept everything about my sexuality completely internalized.

fullsizeoutput_212My friend and I had met originally because we shared a desk in the graduate assistants’ office. Our graduate director told me I’d be sharing a desk with an older woman who was short so I should use the top shelf attached to the desk and leave her the bottom one. It turned out that yes, she was shorter, but only a few years older. She was, and still is, a gorgeous, compassionate, and affable person. Besides sharing a desk with her, it also turned out she lived in the same apartment complex where I did. Because of these two things, we became good friends and often went to various events together. She had been an actress in Los Angeles before she moved to New York City to work on a novel. After a few years there, she moved to Mississippi to do further research for her book. She got a second degree, this time in history, and decided to pursue a PhD. She was always interested in marginalized people which is why her focus of study was on the Civil Rights Movement. Nowadays, she is the director of a women’s resource advocacy center at a major liberal arts university in the South.

She turned out to be the perfect person to come out to first. I remember the first time I spoke with her after the initial coming out. We were at a small bar in Mississippi with a patio in the back. Most people who sat back there drank beer and smoked pot in the darker corners. She and I went out there for some privacy. My sexuality changed our friendship for the better. I was able to talk to her about things I’d never discussed with anyone. I could talk about hot guys with someone instead of keeping it all in my head and acting like I was not trying to check them out. We became so much closer because of the open nature of our friendship.

Eventually, I told another friend of mine in the department early the next fall. So, when we went to New Orleans in November for this academic conference, only three people knew I was gay, and they all kept my secret.  While we were at the conference, I was staying in a hotel room with my friend and another female graduate student. The three of us were hanging out with each other a lot during that trip. On the night in question, we had been at a reception at the Presbytère, one of the buildings next to St. Louis Cathedral.

Two other guys from our grad program had latched onto us at the reception and were expecting to continue to party with us. These two guys were lecherous and obnoxious. My female friends and I wanted to get away from them. The three of us discussed what we were going to do. The guys mentioned they wanted us to go with them to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club which had recently opened. None of us were keen to go to a female strip club so I suggested we tell them we were going to a gay bar knowing they would not follow us there. They were not secure enough in their masculinity to do that. My friend had already told me earlier she wanted to take me to the gay district of New Orleans. When I suggested going to a gay bar to get rid of them, my friend asked if I was sure. In doing so, I would essentially be coming out to these guys. I felt it was time to be out more so I said I was sure. We split with those guys and went to the gay dance club Oz at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon.

IMG_8761Oz was a magical place. The men were beautiful and there was such wonderful energy there. The bartenders were hot, and they served strong, cheap drinks. They had nearly nude guys dancing on the bar; most in thongs, but one guy had only a hand towel covering his penis. For the right tip, that hand towel would be moved out of the way. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and I loved every minute of it. If I’d ever had any doubts I was gay, this put them to rest. We danced for a while. I’ve never been a great dancer, but it didn’t seem to matter at Oz as long as you swayed your body to the music and “waved your hands in the air like you didn’t care.” We also sat at the bar for a while and gave tips to some of the guys dancing on the bar. I’m not sure what Oz is like these days, because I haven’t been in years, but back then it was always a lot of fun.

I knew telling the two guys we were with earlier I was gay was going to spread. There was no way they would keep that quiet. By the end of the next week, the news had spread through most of the history department, and a few professors did say genuinely nice and encouraging things to me. We went out a few weeks later for my birthday (November 30), and by the end of the month, there was no one in the history department who did not know I was gay. The reactions were mostly positive. The only negative reaction was from our one Canadian professor (ironic since Canadians tend to be more accepting) who I think was trying (and failing) to be positive, but still, I was appalled when he said to me, “Congratulations, I hear you’re a fruit.” He always was a little socially awkward and not the nicest person. Eventually, his visa ran out and he returned to Canada. He was not missed.

The point of this post is that the friends I initially came out to kept my sexuality to themselves until I decided to come out to others. I knew when I told those two guys about going to a gay bar, I was coming out to the entire history department.

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Complaining to God

You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you; but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Jeremiah 12:1

So much is happening in the world today. We have a president who is incapable of sympathy or remorse. There are too many who follow his cult of personality, even to their own detriment. While we know he was guilty of no less than bribery and many other high crimes and misdemeanors, the Republican Senate acquitted him and allowed him to remain in office. He has put the nation’s security and health at risk for his own personal gain, whether that be for his wealth or his ego. It does seem that the treacherous are thriving as Republican leadership does everything they can to subvert the election process while saying they are doing so to preserve the fairness of the election. It should be apparent to anyone that they are grasping at anything to stay in power. 

The massive falsehoods and misinformation that comes from the current administration is staggering. In a White House briefing this past week, the Huffington Post’s Senior White House Correspondent, S.V. Date, bluntly asked the president “Mr. President, after three and a half years, do you regret at all, all the lying you’ve done to the American people?” Confronted with Dáte’s question, the president tried to play dumb and responded with a question of his own. “All the what?” he said. Dáte responded, “All the lying, all the dishonesties.” Again, Trump acted confused asking, “That who has done?” to which Dáte replied, “You have done.” Instead of answering, Trump cut him off and called on another journalist. In July, the Washington Post reported that the president had told more than 20,000 “false or misleading claims” over the course of his presidency. He continues to lie about the coronavirus epidemic, election fraud, and called into question Kamala Harris’ citizenship status.

We are in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, and too many leaders are doing nothing to help ease the pain and suffering it has caused. They merely continue to spread lies and misinformation. They are rejecting science and causing people to lose their lives because they won’t support medical experts and scientists. They scream about their personal freedoms while trying to take away the freedoms of minorities, those of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone else they disagree with. They are hypocrites, and they seem to not care that they contradict their own words. We are living in a time when name calling is common, and there is a false belief of privilege by many in society. Why can’t we be a better society? Kindness seems to have left this country and has been replaced by a sense of entitlement at the expense of those who are kind and caring.

Our distress over there being so much evil in the world is often mixed with being downtrodden by the awful events surrounding us. And in these times, and under our current difficulties, let us consider how we should behave during this time of suffering. I pray that the nightmare of the current administration will end. To do so, we must look towards a righteous man like Biden, instead of a man who mocks others for praying. We have to elect Biden as president to lead us to a new era of kindness and empathy. We must do our part. We must vote on November 3rd and make sure that our votes count.

The verse above asks, “Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” When we are most in the dark concerning what God’s allows, we must keep our faith in God, believing that he will never wrong us, and that for whatever reason, we are experiencing the current trials and tribulations, it is for a higher good (at least I hope so). When we find it hard to understand God’s dealings with us, or others, we must look to the truth as our first principle and abide by it: The Lord is righteous. We have to keep the faith.

I have never liked mixing politics and religion, but when I came across this verse, I had to write about how it applies to us today. God is in the right, and He will get us through this. So, please forgive my mixture of politics and religion today.

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Moment of Zen: Cheekiness

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The Early Days of the Gay Internet

On Wednesday’s post, RB commented:

You were coming of age before gay internet. For guys who were 18 even in 2005, the internet/mobile apps made it fairly easy to meet other guys. It seems you didn’t have this advantage. How did you finally connect with other gay guys? How did your first experience with a guy happen? How did you feel about it?

These are good questions, but I didn’t think I could do them justice in a comment. They do limit the number of characters you can use so I decided I’d write a post to answer RB’s questions.

I first used the Internet in 1997 when I was taking an undergrad class on Medieval England. Our professor taught us how to do scholarly research on the Internet. It was still in its infancy. We had to use the university library’s Internet lab for access. Thankfully, the Medieval archives had begun early on to digitize their collections for researchers. For those of you who might be curious, here is a short timeline of Internet availability during the 1990s:

  • 1991: CERN introduced the World Wide Web to the public.
  • 1992: The first audio and video were distributed over the Internet. The phrase “surfing the Net” was first popularized.
  • 1993: The number of websites reached 600. The White House and United Nations went online. 
  • 1994: Netscape Communications was born. Microsoft created a Web browser for Windows 95. Yahoo! was created but was not incorporated until March 1995.
  • 1995: Compuserve, America Online (AOL), and Prodigy began providing Internet access., Craigslist, and eBay went live. The first online dating site,, launched.
  • 1998: The Google search engine was born changing the way users engage with the Internet.

As you can tell from the timeline, this was all new stuff in 1997. It would be three more years before I had Internet service, and that was after I moved to Mississippi for graduate school in 2000. Occasionally, I would housesit for a doctor I knew; he had Internet access through AOL. I also had Internet access at work, but mostly I used that to order from which I think back then only sold books. It meant a new world of gay literature to discover as the local Barnes and Noble was somewhat limited in their inventory.

When I was still an undergraduate, the only way to meet gay people in Alabama or Mississippi was online. Well, you could hang out at Oak Park in Montgomery to meet men, but the Montgomery police always seemed to be rounding up gay men there. Montgomery had a gay bar for a short while, but no way was I was going in there. I also had no desire to hook-up with any of the out gay guys at college. There were only a few that I knew of anyway, and they all seemed to work on the student newspaper. The irony is the last girlfriend I had also worked on the student newspaper, but she never introduced me to anyone else on the paper.

My first-time meeting with a man is an unpleasant story. When I was living by myself in Mississippi, 200 miles away from my family, I began to explore the Internet to meet men. I met a guy on one of the websites which I doubt exists anymore. We decided to meet up. I knew he was older; in fact, he was closer to my father’s age. He also lived in the next town. This was before I’d come out to anyone, so I was being discreet. It was the worst date you can imagine. The only way it could have been worse would have been if he’d murdered me. Due to an injury, he had a penile implant, but insisted on topping me. He was also a cross-dresser. I have no problem with transvestites; to each his or her own. It’s just that I am not one of them. Yet after we had sex, he insisted I too put on a woman’s nightgown. And then there was his kissing. They were very wet slobbery kisses. That was bad enough, but he had the gall to tell me I was a bad kisser, and someone should teach me how to kiss properly. Now here’s the thing, I had kissed a fair number of girls by then, and all of them had remarked on what a good kisser I was. He is the ONLY person to ever say anything even remotely negative about any of my oral skills. I was mortified. I never should have met up with this guy. There is so very much more to this story, but I’d prefer not to describe it except to add, it would be over a year before I even attempted to meet up with another guy after this horrific experience.

The first time I went into a gay bar was in New Orleans. A friend took me to one while we were at an academic conference there. She had been the first person I’d ever come out to, and she wanted to take me to the gay section of New Orleans. We went to Oz, which is the club where drag queen Bianca Del Rio, the season 6 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, got her start. Sadly, I never saw her perform. At first, we just sat at the bar while my friend put money in the underwear of men dancing on the bar as if she was feeding coins into a slot machine; I enjoyed the eye candy. We then went to dance a bit. I still remember walking into the room where the dance floor was (OZ is smaller now than it used to be thanks to Katrina). The smell of the men in that room was intoxicating; that smell still turns me on. This was also when everyone at my grad school found out I was gay. For about the next week, the news of my sexuality spread like wildfire. It wasn’t that I’d hooked-up with anyone that night. I was just the subject of gossip for about a week. Except for one professor, it was all overwhelmingly positive.

Maybe a year after that, my best friend who now lives in Texas but went to grad school with me, took me to the gay bar near our university. She was a local. When we went in (the bar was never overly busy), she saw some guys she knew who almost immediately began hitting on me; I was fresh meat after all. One was totally tweaked out, so we left him alone. The other guy was nice and had gone to high school with my friend. Before the end of the night, we were making out. That night, I went home with him, and unlike my first sexual experience with a man, this was fantastic. I never knew sex could be that good, nor did I know my legs could go behind my head. It turned out to be a one-night stand, but it was fun. We exchanged numbers but he never responded so I dropped it. Later, I found out sex could be even better than that.

From then on, I often met guys online., AOL Gay Chat, and Yahoo! Messenger were all ways to connect with guys back in the early 2000s. I have rarely been with a person I did not meet online first. Furthermore, I only saw one of those guys more than once. We became, what you’d call “fuck buddies.” We never really got to know each other; we just enjoyed having sex with one another. I knew what he did for a living, and he knew what I did, but little other information was exchanged. The last time we hooked up, I found out he had a girlfriend and that was the end of that. Once I moved back to Alabama, meeting guys online essentially dried up. I did meet a few guys, but when I started teaching at the private school, I had to be extremely careful.

The few guys I did meet were either on Grindr or OkCupid. OkCupid is where I met the boyfriend with whom I had my longest relationship. Things were going well until I got released from my teaching contract and found my current position in Vermont. When I told my boyfriend I had lost my job, he surprised me with dinner at the restaurant on top of Mount Cheaha, the highest natural point in Alabama. We had taken a vacation there the previous spring break. It was a very romantic gesture.

In the early days of my coming out, the Internet was available, and I used it, but mobile apps did not exist. It wasn’t as easy to meet other guys as it is today. And, there weren’t a lot of gay bars in Alabama or Mississippi. New Orleans and Mobile had gay districts, but they were about two hours away. That’s not realistic for a night out. During my time in grad school, there were a couple of nearby gay bars; when one would close, another would open a few months or a year later. We never had more than one gay bar at a time. I guess you could say my generation and especially my geographic location proved to be a disadvantage. It was also a time when gay bars were struggling because men were meeting other men through the Internet and not at bars. But eventually, I did connect with gay guys on the Internet; sometimes it went well, sometimes not. One of the things I’d like more than anything is a gay friend who lived nearby. I’ve never had a gay friend; all my friends have been straight. My first experience with a guy was an utter disaster and probably scarred me for a long time. I am trying to be more outgoing these days, but with the pandemic, there has been a halt to that.

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Bosom Friends

I don’t often write book reviews on this blog. I used to write them with more frequency years ago, but now I only review one or two books a year at most. However, when I do post a book review, it’s because there is something significant I want to relay to my readers. Such is the case with the following book. I finished reading Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King by Thomas J. Balcerski a few days ago. It is a fascinating account of the perceptions of masculinity in the early 1800s, and how those perceptions have evolved over time. Here is the book’s description from

The friendship of the bachelor politicians James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King (1786-1853) of Alabama has excited much speculation through the years. Why did neither marry? Might they have been gay? Or was their relationship a nineteenth-century version of the modern-day “bromance”? 

In Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, Thomas J. Balcerski explores the lives of these two politicians and discovers one of the most significant collaborations in American political history. He traces the parallels in the men’s personal and professional lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they told about them. Unlikely companions from the start, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, DC, boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the nation’s capital, the men were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality, and they were likened to Siamese twins. Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional political partnership. Balcerski examines Buchanan’s and King’s contributions to the Jacksonian political agenda, manifest destiny, and the increasingly divisive debates over slavery, while contesting interpretations that the men lacked political principles and deserved blame for the breakdown of the union. He closely narrates each man’s rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation’s fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that circulated about them.

While exploring a same-sex relationship that powerfully shaped national events in the antebellum era, Bosom Friendsdemonstrates that intimate male friendships among politicians were–and continue to be–an important part of success in American politics.

In the American Historical Review, the leading peer reviewed journal for books on American History, Andrew L. Slap, Professor of History at East Tennessee State University, wrote: 

“Balcerski impressively balances the personal and the worldly to produce an original and engaging study both of two men and of the wider antebellum world which they lived in and helped shape….This is certainly the definitive account of the intimate friendship between Buchanan and King. In addition, Balcerski makes important original contributions to our understanding of male friendships and politics in the antebellum United States. This is an excellent first book from a promising young scholar.”

Thomas J. Balcerski is an Associate Professor of History at East Connecticut State University who specializes in Early American History, Manhood and Gender, and U.S. Presidents and First Ladies. Bosom Friends shows his expertise in the study of Manhood and Gender as the book spends a considerable amount of time discussing intimate male friendships in the antebellum period, how those friendships were used by early American politicians, and how such a close friendship could be used against them.  From the outset, Balcerski tells the reader he is not going to make a case for the sexuality of Buchanan or King. Instead, he aims to use the historical record to tell about the “bosom friendship” of these two men. The Cambridge Dictionary describes a bosom friend as a friend that you like a lot and have a very close relationship with; someone you can be very close with and confide everything in. It seems this is what Buchanan and King had for a number of years while they lived in the same boardinghouses.

The two men were so close they were referred to as the Siamese Twins. Political opponents often attacked their manhood and suggested they were romantically involved. But were they? In my opinion, they most likely were not sexual partners. I suspect King may have been romantically invested in Buchanan, but it doesn’t appear Buchanan felt the same way. King was described as handsome and fashionably dressed. Some even compared him to Lord Byron. He was said to have been the epitome of manners, and a perfect example of Southern male chivalry right down to his involvement in several near duels. Buchanan, on the other hand, was always flirting with younger women. Furthermore, Buchanan appeared to hold friendships in high esteem when it would help him politically. His friendship with King seems to have been strongest when King was most powerful politically. When the tables were turned with Buchanan’s appointment as Secretary of State, and King’s appointment as Minister to France, King became Buchanan’s subordinate and their relationship began to deteriorate.

By the mid-1840s and early-1850s, King and Buchanan both vied for the offices of Vice President or President on the Democratic ticket. Instead of their tight friendship, their political ambitions seemed to get in the way. King supported Buchanan’s aspirations to higher office, but when King was nominated for Vice President, Buchanan largely kept silent. King was the first to hold one of the two top elected positions, but he never really served after he was elected. He died just six weeks after being sworn in as Vice President. Buchanan received the 1856 nomination for President, which proved disastrous for the nation as he saw the break-up of the country under his watch.

The book brought up two questions for me: 1) Was there a romantic relationship between King and Buchanan? and 2) What would have happened if King had lived to see the Civil War? The first is left up to the reader to decide, and the second isn’t addressed at all as this is not a “what if” type of book. Unlike some historians of Buchanan, Balcerski keeps to the facts and leaves conjecture to the reader. Little archival information on King still exists. There is one box of King Family Papers at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, but little else except in the Papers of James Buchanan. Both men had nieces who tried to preserve their uncles’ legacies. Buchanan’s niece was far more successful at preserving his documents, but not at rehabilitating his reputation. King’s plantation, Chestnut Hill, just outside of Selma in what was King’s Bend, was burned and ransacked during the Civil War as Union troops advanced through Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. King’s niece wrote to Buchanan’s niece stating there was a box of letters her uncle had received from Buchanan, but they were at the old plantation home. She had recently relocated to Camden, Alabama, and whatever happened to those letters is lost to history. They could have burned or perished in one of the frequent area floods of the plantation. Some have speculated the nieces burned the letters containing the most intimate details, but that is supposition. There is no proof.

The fact is King’s personal life has mostly been lost to history. One thing that remains, Buchanan is the only one of the two who seemed to show any regular interest in a woman. King supposedly fell instantly in love when he met the future Czarina of Russia, Maria Feodorovna. He repeated throughout his life he had loved once but could not love again when retelling the story of the meeting. So, to answer the question whether Buchanan and King were a romantic couple, you’ll have to read the book and decide. It does seem to be the definitive book on the relationship and is free of any bias.

Now comes my own speculation. If King had lived through the Civil War, would he have been chosen as the Confederate President instead of Jefferson Davis? He was certainly the most powerful and influential Southern politician of his time. If he had been chosen, I think it is unlikely he would have moved the capital from Montgomery to Richmond. Could the Confederate capital having a more central location changed the course of the war? Would it have influenced Virginia’s decision to secede? There is no doubt King was pro-slavery, but he was also an ardent unionist. So, would he have had enough influence to calm the tempers of the day? With his intimate friend Buchanan as President, could he have even helped prevent the war? One thing is certain, had King lived through the Civil War, he would have been at the heart of the secession crisis. The question is, what side would he have been on and what role would he have played?

If you have an interest in American political history in the years preceding the Civil War, I think you would enjoy this book. Also, if you want a better understanding of early American male bonding and masculinity, you will also enjoy this book. There are still questions about King and Buchanan, but those questions are ultimately unanswerable due to the lack of historical resources. We have no idea what went on in the bedrooms of these two politicians, but I suspect it is unlikely anything happened as they always lived with other people in their various boardinghouses. My ultimate suggestion, then, is to just read the book and enjoy it.

Here’s a piece of trivia for you: the land where King’s plantation, Chestnut Hill, once occupied is now owned by Buchanan Lumber Mobile Inc. of Mobile, Alabama.

For short biographies of the two men, click “Continue reading” to see the rest of the post.

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