“For Colored Girls” and H.A.R.C.–You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country But . . .

Program cover for the production of "For Colored Girls" given at the Purple Masque Theatre at Kansas State University in early spring of 1979.

A recent revelation about how much money the Knights of Columbus had given NOM (the anti-gay group that spends millions to fight against same-sex marriage, but goes to court trying to avoid telling where it gets its money) helped bring back some memories of my coming out days at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Yes, you New Yorkers, there is another Manhattan, and Dorothy actually lived there, a number of them, in fact!)

After I got out of the Air Force (read about Greece and the 6916th here and here), I spent three years working in northwest Kansas and lived in a town of about 200 people, and back in those days, when Bachman-Turner Overdrive was cranking on the radio, it wasn’t exactly the environment for a guy still trying to figure himself out.

Even though I loved the people out there in the sticks in Sheridan and Thomas counties, you know what they say about the lure of the bright lights.  Those lights were a couple hundred long miles down I-70 in Manhattan, Kansas, where I started graduate work in theatre.  I had this idea that I was going back to school to become an actor, but looking back on it, unwittingly, I was looking for a place comfortable enough to find “me”.

And it didn’t take long to find that place.  I was barely starting classes when I got cast as Dr. Rank in the KSU production of  Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and about the same time, a guy in one of my classes invited me to a party, and “that,” as we say, “was that.”

I appeared in and worked on a lot of theatre and other productions during my time at K-State.  I also found a group of gay “brothers and sisters” and a camraderie and connection within both groups (and, yes, there was a lot of overlap there) that was something very special.  I know a lot of it was that most of us came from small rural towns, and for the first time, were finding others like ourselves.  Too, it was our time.  Stonewall had taken place in New York City in 1969, and by the late 70s, even out in the middle of the Great Plains, there was a sense that it was OK to be gay.  (Somehow, you’d think it’d be a lot better these 30-odd years later.)  Kansas City had a great disco station, which we could sometimes pick up.  I remember listening to it all the way in, to be part of KC’s first, I think, gay pride parade.  (Sorry, for all the “I thinking”.  Some stuff needs to be written down before it fades.)

One of many “new” experiences for me at K-State was doing the make-up for the ballet and opera performances.  As part of my other theatre coursework, I took a couple of stage make-up courses, and found I was pretty good at it.  The drama department was going to do a production of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” in the Purple Masque Theatre, which along with most of the speech and drama department was housed under the east side of the old stadium on campus.  I was selected to do the make-up for the show, and the apprehension on those seven African-American young women, who were portraying the Lady in Red, Lady in Blue, and ladies in several other colors, was quite apparent when this white guy showed up in the dressing room for one of the final rehearsals, when costumes and makeup were worn for the first time.  We all got over the initial awkwardness, and for me, being part of that show was another big part of the changes that were happening in my life at the time.

(I’m anxious to see Tyler Perry’s movie adaption from what was a relatively short stage production.   I just looked up the trailer, and it jogged my memory.)

Back on the social front, through my friend from class, I started meeting a lot of other people.  One of the reasons I’ve wanted to write this post for awhile is to write about the gay organization that we had.  Some of these things need to be recorded just for history’s sake.  In those days in Kansas, about the only formally organized gay groups were  connected to the universities.  KU, always being a liberal haven, in a conservative state, had a group, but I don’t remember the name.  They sometimes held dances in their student union, and people would drive to Lawrence from all over the state.

The group we had in Manhattan was not just a campus organization; though, we did have some meetings on campus.  It was called H.A.R.C.–Homosexual Alliance of Riley County, and we had members from the university, including a couple of the faculty, townspeople, and some from out of town, even here and there, a soldier from nearby Ft. Riley.  Yes, that was way before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  We often had our meetings in the back dining room of Sambo’s Restaurant (yes, that one), where several of our members were part of the staff.

One of our hangouts was a deli in Aggieville called “Say Cheese”, which was owned by a lesbian couple, who mothered some of us guys, often feeding us for helping out a bit around the store.

Like other groups, we had volunteer projects.  We helped refurbish some of the exhibits at the Manhattan Zoo.  One time we worked on the cage that held the wildcat, the K-State mascot, and there was a mini-brouhaha.

At our on-campus meetings, we were sometimes confronted by the reality of how some gay people had been “treated” just a few years before.  Oftentimes in attendance was a guy, whose name I don’t remember, maybe in his 30s, wearing an odd mix of clothes–women’s sweaters are what I remember most, the collarless ones, that have a head opening from shoulder to shoulder.  But he really wasn’t transgender or a crossdresser.  He talked out of turn and off-topic.  He wasn’t a student, and he must have walked to the meetings because I doubt if he could drive.  After we found out that his mother had sent him to Topeka–several mental hospitals there–because he was gay, and that he’d been given a lobotomy to try to cure him, it was a lot easier to deal with his odd behavior.  To this day, we still have people damaging perfectly good human beings because they think being gay is an illness.

Miss Tammy Whynot at HARC's "Evening in Paris" at the Manhattan Knights of Columbus Hall (circa 1979)

That brings me back to NOM and the Knights of Columbus.  In Manhattan, the Knights of Columbus Hall was across the river from the main part of town and could be rented for events.  At that time, the manager was friendly with our group–some said he was bi–and we started having dances there.  If I remember right, we had three dances while I was in Manhattan.  For us, they were the proms that we would have had in high school if we hadn’t all had to act like straight boys.  We hired DJs, put up decorations, and had some crazy times.  I know I did.

I doubt that the Knights of Columbus members knew who paid to rent the building on those evenings.  Maybe the manager even pocketed it.  Who knows.

I hope if anyone who reads this has any more details about H.A.R.C., they will comment.  It’s part of our history, and if it doesn’t get written down, it will be lost.  I’ve done some searching but have found no mention anywhere.

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Memorial Day: Enjoy It But Don’t Forget What It Means

Memorial Day falls at a time when I can never get more than just the three days off from work, so although I’d like to go back to Kansas and my little hometown of Dorrance every year, the short time and the chunk of change I have to cough up for the airfare just doesn’t make that feasible.  (I’ve written about why Memorial Day is important to me before.)  This year I’m going to enjoy the still-newness of living in my house, putter in my yard and garden, and take advantage of some discount coupons to do some shopping.  I hope whatever you’re doing this weekend that you’ll take a few moments to remember those who have passed on, whether Veterans or not.

It’s still early on this Saturday morning, but though I was sure I would want to climb back into bed after taking Annie out even before six, I I was lured by the garden and other things I can do, having the luxury of three days before me.

With the sun a bit more up, I checked out the garden more closely and see that I will be able to pick my first beans in just a couple of days.  Altough all the plants in the garden look lush and full, I’m afraid that the poor soil keeps them from producing as many and as big of vegetables as they might if the soil were better.  This first year is a learning experience, and with the compost and more good soil, I’m sure next year’s crop will be better, but I don’t know if it can be any more fun!

This little garden seems to grow and change week by week. (5-29-10)

There are lots of blossoms. How many will become beans is a question.

This ruellia (ruellia elegans) was given to me by a friend and just keeps blooming and blooming. (And, yes, the grass will get mowed this weekend.)

Mother’s Day: Remembering Mom . . . and Dad

This morning was going so well.  Soon after letting Annie out for her morning “go”, I decided to try out the new sprinkler on the thirsty front yard.  The spray and puddles soon attracted a variety of birds and even a squirrel that wanted to play in the rhythmic splashes on the sidewalk.

Then into the garage I went to pull a big bag of potting soil out of the hatchback in order to re-pot a monkey’s paw fern that had crashed onto the patio from its precarious perch from a nail not-so-carefully driven into a pergola post.  But the beans that had been soaking overnight for frijoles a la charra were on my mind, so I headed back inside to get them started cooking.   When I returned to the pots, I happily found that the fern could be separated, and I could share part with a friend.  In the front yard, the water continued soaking the dry ground.

With my hands covered with potting soil, I headed out front to turn off the water, only to find that ants had started another hill in the corner of the side flower bed.  Back to the garage I went for the Sevin.

With the ants taken care of, my puttering continued–filling pots, frying pieces of salted pork for the beans, sweeping the front sidewalk of the remaining puddles and twigs from the oak tree.

Enjoying my puttering on this unusually fresh southeast Texas morning.  Moving back and forth task to task until one and then the other was completed.  Even now as I write, it’s back downstairs to check on the nearly ready beans.

Enjoying my house.

Then one of those moments comes over me.  I know it’s Mother’s Day.  This is the second without Mom.  Last year wasn’t like this.

It’s the house.

Driving back from Kansas, a Christmas ago, less than two months after Mom had passed away, I had Annie in the car with me, and all of a sudden, for no obvious reason, I stopped the car, started to bawl, and said to her,  “I’m going to get us a house.”

————–

My parents spoiled me.  When you’re the last one by a ways, you get spoiled.  I didn’t see it that way so much when it was happening, but they kept it up even after I came back from four years in the military and should have learned to take care of myself.  The house on the farm, and later, the one in town.  Mom. Dad. Home.  Always there for me.   After a weekend or holiday spent with my folks, I almost always cried  after I got into my car and was heading down the road.  (There are some of those N.A.R.T.H.-type psycho-wackos that would say that’s why I’m gay, but if so there’s a helluva lot of spoiled straight people out there too.)

Even after Dad was gone, when I’d spend time with Mom at the house in Abilene, it’d be hard to leave, and later, when she wasn’t able to care for herself, she’d say things to show she still worried and cared about me, like when one of the last times I saw her, she said, “Don’t stop quilting.  You might need that to take care of yourself some day.”  Behind me now set two tables  piled with two sewing machines, fabric, and all  sorts of quilting supplies, not quite ready to start–or finish–a project.  When the things on those tables are organized, most everything in my house will have found its place.

————–

The full realization of why getting this house was so important never really hit me until this morning.

After my mom was gone, I no longer had a home to go back to.  Not that she’d even lived in her own house for the last years of her life.

So many things that I do now remind of my mom and dad.  (I can hardly breathe right now–remembering.)  My dad.  My dad’s blue striped overalls.  When I was a very little kid, I used to hang onto the loop on the side (the one that would hold a hammer) when I went along with him almost every Saturday to the grocery store.  Those beans downstairs.  I learned to cook, and not be afraid to experiment, from watching and helping Mom in the kitchen.  I could still pluck and dress a chicken if I had to.

Not long after I moved in to my house, I “had” to get a wooden bowl for the Christmas nuts, not only the bowl, but add to it the old flat iron that I already had and a hammer to crack the nuts.  A similar set for nut-cracking was what my parents had had for as long as I can remember.  The once kerosene lamp, turned into an electric one by an uncle, which sat forever on the desk in the house on the farm, after being passed around the family for awhile, came to me and now is on my desk in the corner of the living room, not so different from its place back on the farm.

My house has already become more than a nice place to live; because of it, I am able to live in a way that I couldn’t in an apartment.  More than ever, I realize how much of my own self comes from my mom and dad.  Because of them, I pushed myself to buy a house, and I’m sure that they would be happy for me, knowing that I’m “home” again.

(And the beans are done, the cilantro added.  And my first attempt at barbequed ribs on the big-ass grill is happenin’.)

View from the Suburbs: Spring Blooms and Washington Protests

"We made it through the winter!"

It’s great to have a free day, especially when it’s a beautiful, bright early spring one.  I’ve already mowed the back yard and weeded where it was needed.  Snapdragons and yellow lilies are already blooming.  These were in some of the pots that I dragged back and forth into the garage over the past few months, when we had such an unusual number of nights (and days) below freezing.  These bright beauties seemed determined to show off even after just a short period of days of warmer weather.

Since I moved out into my house a few months ago, I have become much mellower.  The yardwork and other household tasks keep my hands and mind busy.  Of course, work itself, along with the commute that gets me there, takes up a good portion of my week days.  That’s why I haven’t been writing here as much as when I lived in my apartment much closer to work.

I still keep up with what’s going on in “my world”.  I’m sure a lot of people who hit on my blog are interested in the same topics as I am.  If you like what you see, you can click onto what’s happening in the gay news, local Houston news and weather, and news about my home state, Kansas.  Just slide down to the side bars and you’ll find what I’m reading.  My favorites are: Towleroad, The Advocate, Pink News, and dosmanzanas (if you read Spanish).  I also take a look at chron.com and Kansas.com for local news in Houston and Kansas, and cnn.com and msnbc.com for U.S.  For world news, I often read abc.es and latercera.cl (again both are in Spanish). ( I mentioned before that I had been an Arab linguist in the Air Force. That was a long time ago, and the vocabulary I used most of the time was pretty specific, so through disuse over the years, I’ve pretty much lost my Arabic, but I studied Spanish in high school, college, and elsewhere, so even though my speaking is rusty, I still read most of what’s in the newspaper fairly well.)

And don’t let me forget, it’s March Madness, and I definitely have to keep up with the games, especially since both K-State and KU are in it.  (Both won in the first round.  I’m doing pretty lousy with my picks in the pool at outsports.

So speaking of linguists, Air Force, and gay news, even with all my yardwork and other tasks, I’ve been trying to keep up with what’s been happening to Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who were arrested during a protest against DADT (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) yesterday, after they handcuffed themselves to the White House fence.  At the moment, it seems that nobody even knows their whereabouts, even though it was reported that they were to be arraigned today in a court in Washington, D.C.  Check Americablog and Towleroad for updates.  That’s what I’ll be doing.

Now, it looks like the sun is gone, and it might rain, so I’d better head out and put the lawnmower and extension cords back into garage.

February Blues–Not on the Agenda for 2010

Annie posing, the schefflera plant I've raised from a $1 store twig, the old Singer that I rescued and have dragged around for years--all at my front door.

Over the years I’ve experienced what I called (and I see that others call it the same)–the February Blues, a kind of down time after the holidays before spring comes out in full force.  (It’s also known as S.A. D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder).  I have to admit that living here in Texas it never has overcome me nearly as much or even for as long as it did when I lived in Kansas.  I’m sure the warmer, brighter winter days have a lot to do with that.  Warmth, for sure, might be the real reason because I remember some years in Kansas when it seemed like my feet froze in November and didn’t thaw out until mid April.  I really just do not cold weather all that much.

For me, the February Blues never have been something really depressive, because overall, I’m generally a pretty easy-going guy.  I usually felt a kind of cloudy, blah feeling, sometimes triggered by something that had happened, like getting an unexpected bill or having a squabble with someone.  And even though I say “February Blues”, the onset usually came sometime in January.

That’s why I doubt any late winter gloominess will overtake me this year.  I’m still “up” from moving into my house.  There are so many new experiences, and even when the bills do arrive, they aren’t so unexpected that I can’t deal with them.  I can’t walk into my living room with all it’s light and red accents and not feel good.

Anyone who reads here might notice that I haven’t been on a rant lately either.  I do have some thoughts about a few recent events, but not enough on any to let my thoughts and typing fingers get too involved.  Here are a few, though, just to show that I’m not brain-dead:

John Edwards: he was my candidate almost up to the primaries.  It seems like most of these big time politicians have to keep proving how great they are.  I just don’t understand, though, why these politicians that get into all this trouble with women other than their wives don’t have more sense.  Look at Ensign of Nevada and Sanford of South Carolina, even Clinton when he was in the White House.  We’re not talking about guys in their teens or twenties who can only think with their hormones.  I guess even Eisenhower had his mistress when he was the head honcho during World War II.

Ted Haggard: It seems he no longer has homosexual compulsions.  “Homosexual compulsions”–now what is that exactly?   I’m trying to imagine it the other way.  Craving meth and hookers has never been one of my urges.  But now he’s cured.  Right.  How old is he anyway?  Fifty-three going on fifty-four.   People are pretty much who they are by that time.  And don’t tell me his thing with Mike Jones was a rarity.

Whether it’s Haggard getting it on with male prostitutes or politicians having affairs, they didn’t just start cheating on their wives when they were in their 40s or 50s.  Guys just aren’t like that.  Guys are creatures of habit.  Guys like the routine.  If they weren’t cheating in their 20s or 30s, they probably won’t be cheating later, no matter if they are straight or gay.

Frankly, I don’t care what happens to any of them, but I do have more compassion for someone like Edwards than people like Haggard, Ensign, and Sanford, who have made such an issue about morality and preached, or in the cases of Ensign and Sanford, voted against gay people.

But even these guys won’t bring me into any February funk, because I just found out that the expected freeze isn’t going to happen here, and I won’t have to drag my potted plants back into the garage from the patio for a third time this winter.

And here are some cool suggestions for getting rid of the February Blues, besides getting a new house, that is.

Wednesday Wanderings: Blue Fleece Pants, Christmas Road Trip, Swimming, and Bowl Games

Cold, clear day for a road trip on I-35

Taking out Annie in the morning has definitely changed since I moved to my house, especially during cold weather.  When I lived in my apartment, I’d wake up, get dressed in jeans, shirt, jacket or coat, and maybe even gloves and a ski cap.  Then I’d get the leash on Annie, and we’d go down the three flights, and finally, out to the sidewalk, and walk to the corner.  Now I pull on my fleece pants and a sweatshirt, and we slip down the stairs and out the back door.  I look at my plants while Annie finishes her “business” and back inside we go.  With the 8-foot fence, we’re protected from any wind or neighbor’s view, so it doesn’t matter that I’m still wearing my fuzzy fleece pants with the blue and white snowflakes.

So here I am still in my fleece pants happily thinking about the upcoming New Year’s Day and that I’m in my own cozy home after a Christmas road trip to Kansas.  We made the trips going and coming back each in a one day, but while the drive up to central Kansas never seems too long, the return always becomes drudgery, especially the last boring leg from Dallas to Houston.  I’m sure the reason the trip up is better because of the anticipation of the arrival and seeing family and the old home state.  This time, we had good weather driving through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas both ways, but the snowy effects of the winter storm that went through the region were evident all the way from near Wichita into Denton, Texas, where the last remnants lay in the ditches and shaded areas.

Despite the cold wintry weather, we had a very pleasant Christmas.  It was the first Christmas that I had spent together with all my siblings since I was a kid out on the farm and the first time that we had all been together since my mom’s funeral last November.  It was an enjoyable time because it was one of the times when aside from the holiday itself, there was no stressful reason for us all to get together.

The red and gold rug looks great at the entry

I hit the jackpot when it came to presents this year.  Everyone was thinking about my new house, and the gift cards to Home Depot and Lowe’s will definitely be put to good use.  I also got sets of screwdrivers and other tools that I will use.  I’ve been saying, “When you have a house, you never seem to have enough screwdrivers.”  I guess everyone had been reading my mind.  I also got a nice rug that matches the colors of my living room–red and gold.  There was a bit of color planning, but part of it has just been evolution.

One of my current do-it-yourself projects

I had been looking for a coffee table, but a bench I had seemed to be just the thing.  It’s the second “project” that I’ve been working on in my garage.  (I realize now that I am going to enjoy having a garage more than just for parking the car.)   I picked up the bench from a what-not shop at leat ten years ago.  I used stain, both latex and acrylic paint, and now I am finishing it with coats of polyurethane so that it will take the hard use I’ll give it in front of my sofa.  Actually, I’m surprised at how nice it has turned out.  Maybe I’ve got a knack!

Having a coffee table is a definite necessity for a place to put the remote controls and the munchies when it’s time to watch the bowl games, and I will be watching them until the last one is over.  This thing with Texas Tech’s football coach is something else.  Well, just as I’m writing this, I checked ESPN and see that Mike Leach has been fired.  I couldn’t see how they could let him get away with that, but coaches have done this sort of thing for a long time and for many there are no repercussions because of how much power these guys (and women, in some sports) wield.  How is it that in many states the football coaches of public universities are the highest paid state employees?  Mack Brown of the University of Texas makes $5.1 million.  I don’t care whether football pays for itself or not; there is something wrong when an employee makes more than the bosses, in this case the president of the university or even the governor of Texas.

Nathan Adrian helped Team USA win Duel in the Pool

With all the preparations for the Christmas trip, I missed out on the swimming news (not even on ESPN information banner), but Team USA won big over a European team made up of top swimmers from Great Britain, Italy, and Germany at the Duel in the Pool in Manchester, England on December 18th and 19th.  One of the big winners in the event was Nathan Adrian, who became the first American to swim under 21 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle race and helped the U.S. team set a world record in the 400 free relay.

OK, I suppose now it’s time to get out of these blue fleece pants and hit the shower before the day gets away from me.

Christmas Eve in Kansas–Brrr . . . It’s Cold Here

Merry Christmas to all!  It’s almost noon here Christmas Eve Day in Kansas.  No snow here but Annie and I tried to take a little walk down my sister’s street, but even though the both of us were bundled up, the bitter north wind with a temperature of 21 degrees chased us back inside within less than five minutes.  My head was already aching from the cold.  It doesn’t take much of this weather to remind me why I live in hot, humid Houston.

The awful winter weather in the northeast part of the state will delay some of the family from arriving today.  My nephew said they drove 6 miles to Lyndon and had to turn back home because the strong wind was blowing freezing rain, making the driving treachorous.

However, we’re warm and toasty inside waiting for stew or soup or whatever my sister has on the stove for lunch.  “Vegetable soup,” she says.