From LIFE magazine leather to Baylor and Channel 39: A coming out story

Posted on 11 Oct 2012 at 10:37am

The June 1964 issue of LIFE magazine.

Someone asked me recently when I first “came out.” I started to rattle off a date, but decided to consider my answer more seriously. For me coming out was a process. I had a pretty good idea I liked guys by my first year in high school, but at that time, 1964, there was little support for someone like me.

I first realized there were others who might share my desires in a very strange circumstance. I was on a jet, bound for London, with my parents. The flight attendant was passing around magazines and I ended up with the June 1964 issue of LIFE magazine. That issue had a bombshell article in it called “Homosexuality in America,” and though it was supposed to be an expose of a sordid world, the double-page photograph of the Tool Box Bar spoke to me only of desire. It was a shadowy, black and white photo of dozens of men, most wearing leather jackets and caps, crowded into what was one of the early San Francisco leather bars.

To a 14-year-old boy who had never quite been able to put his finger on what he wanted sexually, it was all I could do to not scream out, “YES, that’s what I want!”

It took another three years before I finally spoke with my mother about my sexuality, and then only in the most general terms. My father died when I was 18 and our household was pretty much in upheaval, so I don’t think my mom really got what I was telling her. My friends already knew, and in fact I had already had sexual experiences with a few of the guys I hung out with. To them it wasn’t important to “come out”; we were just exploring sexual possibilities and by the time I entered college, there were plenty of opportunities to explore.

My first year at college was most likely the official “coming out” year for me. I dated a few girls, but found my most rewarding friendships with the guys. Freshman year at Baylor University was not a great place to come out, but sometimes we have little choice in the matter. It happened officially when I went to see a school counselor. I had been miserable there, the only Jewish kid in a Baptist institution and one of the few students who came down on the left side of most issues. The counselor listened to my travails and after I finished telling him I was pretty sure I was gay, he gave me a wonderful piece of advice. “You would probably be happier at a different school,” he said in grave tones.

Boy, was he right!

I returned to Dallas and began study at El Centro while working in local television on the new Channel 39, Doubleday Television. I ran camera, worked in the art department and appeared as a character on the Bozo Show every afternoon. It was a real jolt and exactly what I needed.

I got real world experience in a career I really wanted and met lots of diverse folks, several of whom were out gay men and lesbians as well as a couple who identified as bisexual. Meanwhile, I was dating and eventually living with a charming young woman. She was bright, creative and very attractive. I thought I had somehow finally found my niche, leaving what I thought was my gay orientation behind me, but the desire for sex with men never went away.

She knew about my sexual attraction to men, and managed to get around it for a while, but eventually she let me know that I “probably would be happier living somewhere else.”

Another great piece of advice!

That’s when I came out the second time to my mother. This time it worked, and like a good Jewish mother, she promptly began setting me up with her gay friends. Oy vey!

Around that same time I began to realize that there was something missing still in my sex life, and that was the leather clad men in that picture from LIFE Magazine. My coming out into leather was yet another story.

So the whole point of this tale is to encourage people who are still trying to decide to come out — to do so. It won’t be a quick process, and with luck it will be relatively painless. But, even if it is difficult, it will be worth it. You will be able to live as a complete human being, without any cover stories to worry about.

Luckily, today being out and LGBT is easier than it was when I came out. It might not be a walk in the park, but you can do it, and someday you will have your own coming out story to share with those who have yet to begin the process.

That story is one you will find yourself telling over and over.

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