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text Mark Canavera (MC): Okay, today is Aprilâ€”
Larry Minogue (LM): Twentieth.
LM: Two thousand seventeen.
MC: Yeah. And this is Mark Canavera, Iâ€™m here with Larry Minogue in his beautiful home in St. Petersburg.
MC: Florida. And Larryâ€™s going to talk to us about his life, right?
LM: And growing up in the South and coming out in the South. To the people listening to this, my name is Larry Minogue, I was born in September, 1949, in Louisville, Kentucky. I wasâ€“excuse meâ€“ the youngest of eight children that my parents had; the first child died as an infant, so I never knew her. The oldest surviving child, a brother, was 17 when I was born. So there was a large age difference from the oldest to the youngest. Now, there are some people who are listening to this who might say, Kentucky is not part of the South. And I would point out to them that both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in the South, roughly 50 or 60 miles apart. Abe's father went to Indiana. Jeff Davisâ€™ parents died, and he went to Mississippi. So the Commonwealth of Kentucky is part of the South.
Now, Mark has talked about what to talk about. And here's my personal observations, in terms of being gay and the process of coming to recognize that. I think, regardless of one's orientation, the process includes that element of sexual maturity. And I'm speaking as a man. You know, women they have a different perspective; other people, transgender, could have different perspectives. Iâ€™m speaking solely as a male. But anyway, there is an element of sexual maturity. Your voice deepens, you have hair, you have nocturnal emissions, and you have erections at the most inopportune time. Thatâ€™s the hormones raging. And then there's an element of orientation: what do you find sexually attractive and sexually stimulating? Whether it's a man or a woman or both or what have you or none. I think there's a level of intellectual recognition of your orientation. I think there is an emotional acceptance of your orientation, and then the integration of all of that into how you live your life. And, finally, a celebration of all those things.
Now, for the heterosexual community, and that's a fairly straightforwardâ€“pardon the use of the word â€œstraightâ€â€“but itâ€™s a fairly direct correlation from the time of puberty until the time when they're in their 20s. Our culture lays out a path for them to follow. For those of us in the LGBT community, the first part, the sexual maturityâ€“yeah, that I get. The orientation was the part that was, like, uhâ€“not really sure, not really sure. I knew, when I was 12 and 13 and going into puberty and would engage in group activities with other boys, there was always something special. I didn't understand it. I couldn't put a name on it. And that leads me to the first element of growing up in the South, which is religion. I was raised Roman Catholic. Now, you would think that Roman Catholics would be, like, universal. But, in the South, particularly in the â€™50s and early â€™60s, there was an element of competition. We competed with our good, Baptist brothers and sisters as to who held the truth, primarily Baptists. And I can remember having, quote, fights with my neighbors who were Baptists.
MC: About religion or in general?
LM: About religion, about who was right, who was going to hell, you know, how religion controlled your life. Now, the thing that was consistent among all the religions was two things. Sex was for the purpose of procreation. You know, you did not have sex, unless we wanted to have babies. Now, if you didn't understand what sex was all about, then that posed problem. Number two, you could not enjoy yourself sexually, and that meant anything. And, if you were Catholic, you had to go into a little box every Saturday and tell the priest that you had inappropriately touched yourself. And then he would give you â€œOur Fathersâ€ and â€œHail Marysâ€ and whatever.
MC: Just to get a little bit of context. Youâ€™ve mentioned Kentucky; whatâ€™s the name of the town where this is happening?
LM: Oh, Iâ€™m sorry. I grew up in Louisville.
MC: And you were born in â€™49.
MC: When did you start going to Catholicâ€”?
LM: Oh, I went to Catholic grade school, and I went to Catholic grade school with good nuns. Most of the staff were nuns. I went to a boys Catholic high school, and I went to a Catholic college in Louisville. So, from get-go, from start to finish of my education, it was under the auspices of the Catholic Church.
MC: Two questions. The first one is this: youâ€™ve just mentioned confession. Do you remember a particular confession story that would be interesting or unique?
LM: The one that comes to mind is, post-Vatican II, when there was the, quote, opening up of the Catholic Churchâ€“
MC: And that was in the early â€™60s?
LM: That was 1963. There came a suggestion that, instead of going into a closed box and talking through a screen where the two people did not see one another, that you would have an open confession. And you would be talking to the priest, face to face, with nothing in between you. So I'm sitting there. And I don't know what being homosexual is all about. I'm not real sure, you know; I know that there is an appreciation for men, but I don't know how to articulate it.
MC: And how old are you at this point?
LM: I was probably 16 or 15 at the time. And it was not a case of, I had to do this, but it was a peer pressure thing that, Oh, well, it's a new thing, you need to try it. And so, I'm sitting there, and Iâ€™m sitting there. And I'm trying to tell the priest of wanking off because that is something I did on a regular, recurring basis. And I couldn't do it. I just simplyâ€”it was just, like, I became tongue tied. I became embarrassed, I became 40 shades of red. And I made up a sin that I thought was comparable. (laughs)
Here's the other thing about my personal history. You would have thought that, with parents who had raised eight children and having all these older brothers, that someone would have told me about sex. There was no sex education, and there was certainly no sex education regarding being queer. Queers were people who were faggots, pansies, what are the other words? You know, they were derided. You could not be effeminate. You had to be masculine. If you were not masculine, if you lisped or did any of this, you know. you wereâ€“I was never physically abused, but you were emotionally and psychologically abused. So you learned, early on, to not be that. So you learned, early on, to hide a portion of yourself. And I think that's pretty common, whether I'm north, south, east or west.
MC: Can you give me an example of something you thought you needed to hide?
LM: Well, the thing I needed to hide was, there was one particular neighborhood boy that, when we did little circle jerks, it was just different being with him. If he touched me or I touched him, it was just different. And I did not know how to tell anyone. And I knew or learned, Don't tell anyone. Because, if you told anyone, you would be a queer. And if you were queer, you were just, like, scum of the earth. And there were no ifs, there were no ands, there were no buts. Also, by this time, I had an older brother who was on the city police force. So he would talk about raids at the bars, and, at that time, they would put peopleâ€™s namesâ€“and pictures, sometimesâ€“in the newspaper.
So you were acculturated to be quiet; don't be yourself; hide everything. And the churches, I believe, fostered that. And now comes a different part of growing up in the South, and that's the perception of what it means to be Southern. From the Northern perspectiveâ€“quote, unquoteâ€“the people in the South were barefoot, wore bib overalls, smoked corncob pipes, chewed tobacco, had three teeth for the entire family, married their cousinsâ€“first cousinsâ€“and the farm animals were nervous. So we were ill-bred, illiterate, ill-informed and ill-mannered.
From the Southern perspective(exaggerates Southern drawl), we were Gone with the Wind, and we were genteel and wonderful, and you just could not ask for anything better than to be born in the South. So the fact that the South has lost the Civil War was irrelevant. We didn't forget. The other part of it was, there is a perception in the South that the South fought for a good cause. Our sons spilled their guts for statesâ€™ rights. That was why all these people died. The fact the statesâ€™ rights included this thing called â€œslaveryâ€ was kind of irrelevant. So you learned, growing up in the South, I think, to be able to hold multiple thoughts that were mutually exclusive to one another but hold them as truths, at the same time. So we fought for statesâ€™ rights, but we really didn't fight for slavery, even though slavery was an aspect of statesâ€™ rights.
So you played mind games. That psyche, or that phenomena, I think, informed growing up gay in South in my timeframe, in the â€™50s and â€™60s. You were able to hold in your head, I am not gay, but I like men. These are, intellectually, mutually exclusive concepts. But I'm sitting here, telling the multitude I held them. So I do not have the intellectual recognition of my orientation and certainly not the emotional recognition. So I fussed around, fussed around, fussed around, total confusion. Come to college. Until I was in college, my sexual activity was me. It so happened that I had a series of seizures starting at age 17. And I was actually seduced by myâ€“excuse meâ€“seduced by my doctor. So my firstâ€“other than pubescent neighborhood childrenâ€“my first same-sex, sexual activity was my doctor. It was most interesting.
MC: In a clinic? In the hospital?
LM: In his office as part of a physical exam. You want the details?
LM: I didnâ€™t think so.
MC: I would like to hear what you think about it today.
LM: My thoughts of it as of today are, I was scaredâ€“for want of a better termâ€“shitless at the time. But, at the same time, I was fascinated and, obviously, sexually aroused and sexually fulfilled. It was like, Oh my gosh, Iâ€™ve never had this done before; it feels incredibly good, and I like it.
MC: If you were 17 today, that would be considered child molestation. Do you think of it as that?
LM: No question. No never enteredâ€”the concept of child molestation or exploiting a youth or exploiting the doctor-patient relationship, none of that none of that entered the consciousness. So that was my first one. Ironically, at roughly the same time, I was having opposite sex. And so, there was this occasion to compare, as it were, the two. Now, when you're 18, 19, 20, getting an orgasm is (snaps fingers) not that tough. And I had girlfriends. I had girlfriends in high school; I had girlfriends in college. But there was always a difference. Here's the other thing that I think is somewhat relevant. The first same-sex experience that I had, I was scared. I liked it. But it taught the lesson of, itâ€™s all about the orgasm. It's all about the sexual event, and that's it. So no touching, caressing, kissing, foreplay, et cetera. So that was the lesson that was imparted. And, frankly, that was a lesson that I took because, again, I'm sitting there [thinking] I'm not gay; I have sex with men. Crazy.
Going forward, when I finally started working, the anecdote that I remember best and I think best illustrates the tempo of the times, I had this particularly obnoxious coworker, who had a habit of smoking and flipping his ashes, while sitting on my desk. And I forget how we had the conversation, but in the course of the conversation, he says something, like, â€œWell, Minogue, whatâ€™s the matter? Are you queer?â€ And I recall coming out of my chair. And I was going to beat this stupid son of a bitch as hard as I could, as bad as I could, and our boss had to physically separate us. So, to me, that is the depths of denial. And it is indicative of that timeframe. You couldn't say you were gay. You couldn't say you enjoyed having sex with men. That was just impossible.
MC: So tell me about yourâ€“you mentioned you're the youngest of eight.
MC: I know telling me about your relationship with your siblings could take three hours since thereâ€™s eight of them. But what are some of the things that, um, interacted with your sexuality vis-Ã -vis your siblings? You interacted with your sexuality over the years. You mentioned your brother was on the police force and told you about the raids in bars. You werenâ€™t talking to any of your siblings about being gay, but were you there any of your siblings youâ€™d talk to about your sexuality or your girlfriend?
LM: No. In answer to that question, the discussion of sex was simply notâ€“did not happen. The sexual advice that I got growing up was, Don't get a girl pregnant, and don't touch yourself. The next the next sibling to me was four years older. So, by the time I'm 13 or 12. He's 16, 17. So, by the time Iâ€™m nine, I have nieces and nephews. I currently have 80-plus nieces [and] nephews, spans three generations and includes all their children. So you did not talk about sex, other than in, Don't do this. So there was no framework of engaging my siblings, engaging my parents. I was born in September, I was the last of eight kids. I was one last New Year's Eve fling. And I said that at a family event one time, and my mother turned beet red, and my father laughed, and it was likeâ€“(makes hissing sound) got that one. Iâ€™m sorry, let me add this part of it. We were a poor family; there was no question. And, in the last eight or nine years my father's lifeâ€“he died in 1971â€“he was on disability. Money was always an issue.
MC: What did your parents do?
LM: My father worked for the L&N. He was a machinist helper.
MC: The L&N is?
LM: Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He rode a bicycle to work. When I was 13, he declared bankruptcy, we lost the house, we had to move into a house that my brother owned. And I started working because, at age 13, I knew that I did not want to be poor. And I knew that the best way of not being poor was to get a college education. And the best way to get a good college education was to go to a really good college-prep school. So I managed to get a scholarship from my grade school, and I chose a private, Catholic high school run by the Xaverian Brothers. It was an all-boys school. And it was comparatively expensive, but I worked. I worked at drugstores, I worked at Krogers, I paid the tuition, I paid the books, I paid the admissions. We had had to wear a coat and tie; I managed that crap, and I managed to do it. So I got very little financial assistance from my parents. Iâ€™m sorry, I went off on a tangent there. Iâ€™m not real sure where I was going with that.
MC: Well, the other quick question was your mother. Tell me about your relationship with your mother.
LM: Well, when youâ€™re Irish Catholics, you have to love your mother. And we were good Irish Catholics. What I remember about my parents, growing up, [was] they were tired. After eight children, after a hellacious number of fights about, primarily, money, they were just tired. I could pretty much do whatever I damn well wanted to do. They really didn't care. Now, my mother did insist I go to Catholic schools. You know, she made damn sure I went to Mass. She maintained me into the tradition and dogma of the Catholic Church. My father, (blows raspberry) he didn't go to church, period. They both worked. My mother had a series of jobs of various sorts.
Oh, this is an interesting aspect. I'm the youngest of eight children. As they all grew up, got married, moved away, that left me with my little, old mother because my father died when I was 20. So I got a job. I'm working. So I find myself at roughly age 25, I'm living at homeâ€“Iâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™m renting the apartment, and my mother is living with me. And that was okay. So thatâ€™s that, living with my little, old mother. And my mother had a gambling habit. She was on Social Security, and she loved bingo. (both laugh) So I paid the bills and gave her money for bingo, and everybody liked that idea. That was cool. And I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, and I worked in Frankfurt, Kentucky, a 53-mile one-way, 106 miles round trip, every day. But there were rest stops along the way. (laughs) So there was an opportunity to get to get your rocks off to and from work.
MC: You know, I'm interested to hear you mention the rest stops because thatâ€™s something that used to be part of pop culture; weâ€™d make jokes about the rest stops. There was a common understanding that this was a meeting spot for gay activity. But in the era of Grindr, we donâ€™t think of them that way anymore. I donâ€™t know if we do.
LM: Rest stops, public parks, tearooms, restrooms in department stores and malls, cruising the malls, well pre-internet. At the time, I smoked, and, I mean, you would cruise the mall, and you would see men. And youâ€™d say, Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And then you would go up to him with your unlit cigarette, Oh, I'm sorry, Mark, do you have a light? And they would have a light for the cigarette, and you would start talking to â€™em because I could not go to the one gay bar in Louisville. To my knowledge, there was one. There, actually, I think, were too.
And the reason I could not go there, by God in heaven, if someone had seen me going in there or out of there, (gasps) Jesus, my brother wouldâ€™ve been on that ass in a heartbeat. And, at that time, there was no flag; there was no lights in the front; you walked in the alleyway, and you walked in the back door. So again, itâ€™s just likeâ€“and that leads me to the third aspect of growing up in the (exaggerates Southern drawl) South. In 1970, check this out. In 1970, there were three cities in the United States that made the top 20, in terms of population. Dallas, Texas; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia, and they were well down in the 20s. They were at the tail end.
MC: Iâ€™m not understanding.
LM: Here's my point. The LGBT community and our acceptance or liberationâ€“quote, unquoteâ€“came from the coasts, East and West Coast, in. New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the string cities along the northern tier; Cleveland, even Toledo, for that matter, Detroit. Those communities, and when I talk to my contemporaries, who were my age, they were aware, in their early teens and 20s, of gay bars. There were lots of them. There were places that they knew how to get to. And the transportation, there were subways, taxis, whatever, to get to them. So there was a nascent community of queer people. And in Louisville, Kentucky, Atlanta might as well have been China. I wasnâ€™t going to go there. And there was nothing in Louisville, Kentucky, or Lexington, Kentucky, or, for that matter, Cincinnati, Ohio. So we did not have, I believe, in the South, we did not have that availabilityâ€“or obvious availabilityâ€“of LGBT resources. They may have existed. And I know, from having read, that they did exist. But we weren't plugged into them, and you didn't know how to get to them. And I think that's a difference in the South, growing up in the South.
MC: And Dallas, Atlanta, and the other city you mentioned?
MC: Houston. What was specific about those three?
LM: They were in the top 20 US population.
MC: Okay. I see.
LM: At that time, Atlanta was like a million people. Louisville, Kentucky, was like half a million, max [sic]. So just the sheer size of a metropolitan areas, whether you lived in Kentucky or South Carolina or North Carolina or Tennessee or Alabama, you simply did not have a large metropolitan area that you could go to and find a community to plug into. Simple enough.
MC: Thatâ€™s very clear. So when did your consciousness around being gay start to shift?
LM: Good question. Thank you. I mentioned that I lived with my little, old mother. When I was 34 years of age, and I had spent 10 years working for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, so I was vested in the retirement program, I realized I was extremely unhappy. I was clinically depressed, drank too much, smoke too much, had a mediocre career, the whole nine yards. At that time, I was no longer dating women. I was still cruising for sex, but I was not dating women, and I just needed a change. So I found a shop in Toledo, Ohio, which came as a real shock to my family when I said, â€œI'm leaving. Yâ€™all got to figure out how to take care of your own mom.â€ But I left. I got out of Dodge and moved to Toledo. I spent three years in northern Ohio. And I'm going to the answer to your question. After three years, I realized I needed to be close to Louisville in order to support my parent, but I could never go back to Louisville, or I would be living with my mother one more time. So I got a job near Cincinnati, Ohio, an hour and a half away, and it was cool.
MC: Remind me how old you are at this point.
LM: Hold on, 34, 37, maybe 38. The good thing about Cincinnati, Ohio, that metropolitan area, by that time, I had understood over gay bars were. And I could force myselfâ€“I could go to one because I wasnâ€™t quite as afraid.
MC: Was the first gay bar you went to in Cincinnati?
LM: Actually, the first gay bar I went to was in Toledo, and it was a most boring experience. (laughs)
MC: You walked in and realized it was just aâ€“
LM: (laughs) I walked in, and it was just a fucking bar, and nobody would do anything with me. (both laugh) Oh, great. But, nonetheless, there were still the fear of going in because, if you were found to be a queer at work, you were fired. There was no ifs. There wasn't much wiggle room. So I'm in Cincinnati, and, actually, the funny part of being in Greater Cincinnatiâ€“oh, God, what was the name? Spurs? Oh, gosh. There was one on the river; oh, God, I canâ€™t remember them anymore. Anyway, the kicker about going to bars in Cincinnati was, by that time, I had stopped smoking. I had become smoke-free. You could not go to a gay bar and not have smoke. So I would go into a bar, and I could get through, maybe, half a beer before it was justâ€“I could not handle that smell of cigarettes.
The saving grace was the internet. By the, what would that be? Early â€™90s? Yeah. By the early â€™90s, there were Internet sites, Gay.com; I forget all the others. There was a way that you could cruise in the convenience of your home. You didnâ€™t have to clean up. You didnâ€™t have to be pretty. And you could still meet men. And I think it was at that time that these, quote, intellectual acceptance, or recognitionâ€“yeah, I like men to the exclusion of women. But the concept was still orgasm related. I was meeting men for sex. That's it. I still couldn't say the phrase, I'm gay. I was meeting up for sex.
MC: And this isâ€“so you moved to Cincinnati, first to Toledo then to Cincinnati.
LM: Toledo first, Cleveland second, Greater Cincinnati third.
MC: In your late 30s, so thatâ€™s in theâ€“
LM: Nineteen eighty-seven.
MC: Eighties. Okay, so it is around the same period of time when the Internet is just starting up.
LM: And I was in IT. So I knew what the Internet was all about. I knew how to access it. You know, these were not foreign concepts to me.
MC: Did you have it at home?
MC: The Internet.
LM: Sure, sure. I had a little dial-up, which (makes dial-up sound).
MC: Some listeners arenâ€™t going to know what that is.
LM: Yes, I know. (MC laughs) That was the sound your modem made when you used a phone to connect with the Internet. So anyway, it was a mechanism of meeting peopleâ€“excuse me, meeting men, and you met them for the purpose of sex, and then you forgot about them because that was that was the whole idea. And I still want public parks, et cetera. So I maintained this dual image, or dual life, but slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, I actually had a little affair with some man that lasted longer than 30 minutes. Jack and I saw each other for about four months, I think. And then it failed. He smoked. I was smoke-free. It wasn't going to work from the get go to questions.
MC: Two questions, since we're in the â€™90s, and itâ€™s important what we're about to get into. But just to look back at two things that were happening more broadly. One is, do you remember anything in 1969â€“you wouldâ€™ve been 20â€“about Stonewall and hearing about Stonewall?
LM: The answer to that question is, kind of. It was on the news, and that was about it.
MC: The second question is about the 1980s because, by that point, AIDS was real.
MC: And do you remember hearing about it, thinking about it, thinking about how it might relate to your sexual practices?
LM: Well, I'm sorry, yes, that's a good point. I'm glad you mentioned that. The social awareness of our community coming from the Westâ€“the coastsâ€“into the mainland, as it were, into the interior. So did AIDS. My most cogent recollection isâ€“I told you I have lots of nieces and nephews. The oldest nephew was nine and a half years younger than I am. Oh, gosh, this would have been in 1981, 1982. So Iâ€™m 32, 33. He's 23, 24, something like that. He is dating this woman. She's a very nice, young lady. She comes from a large, Irish Catholic family. And then, all of a sudden, I hear, well, her brother came home and died. Oh, why? Oh, he just died. Oh. He lived in New York City, came up, came back to Louisville, died. (snaps fingers) That was it. There was no, Why did he die?
I learned last yearâ€“I mean, I have suspected all alongâ€“but I learned last year, in 2016, that my niece's brother was gay. He had lived with a partner in New York City. They had both contracted AIDS. Their respective families brought them back to their hometowns to die. And so, I asked my niece, did she know that her brother was gay? And, typically, we didnâ€™t talk about it. And I remember distinctlyâ€“but it did affect my sexual practices. Like, okay, We are going to be really, really careful 100 p-c-t [sic] careful. And then I had sex with somebody who said, â€œOh, by the way, I'm HIV-positive,â€ and I fucking freaked out. For five days, I fucking freaked out. (long pause) I would check myself out. It was just crazy stupid. The fear of being outed was compounded by the fear of contracting HIV. It just was a crazy world. Anyway, so yes.
MC: So it was entering your reality in the way thatâ€“
LM: Oh, yeah, there was no question. And the more information came out, the more it was published, the moreâ€“I also remember, when I was working in Cincinnati, we had an administrative assistant, a really nice guy. Very swishy, very effeminate, he's queer, no question. Ron was a very nice person. He would do anything for you. People liked him but made fun of him behind his back. They called us in one day for an all-hands meeting, and Ron was retiring on disability. He was moving back to St. Louis because he was HIV-positive. And then people in that meetingâ€“this was like 1996â€“no, couldnâ€™t have been â€™96, like 1994. And people in that meeting were, like, Well, I touched him. We were like, Whatâ€™s going to happen to me? Crazy times. Now, I want to mention something, but I'm not going talk about the specifics because, in my scheme of things, there had to be an emotional acceptance of one's orientation. And there was an event, and Iâ€™ll leave it at that, it was like I stood naked on the mountaintop, and there were no ifs, no ands. It was just, Youâ€™re queer, youâ€™re gay, youâ€™re a faggot, whatever words you want to use, thatâ€™s who you are. And if you want to actually be happy in life, you will accept that. So I did. It was like, okay.
MC: And how old were you at this point?
MC: And living, still, in Ohio?
LM: Actually, I lived in northern Kentucky because I sure as hell was not going to live north of the Mason-Dixon. (MC laughs) I was Southern.
MC: Okay. So that puts us in 1997, or?
LM: Ninety-eight, â€™99, something like that.
MC: Ninety-eight, â€™99, okay. So, by this point, another reality in the AIDS history is antiretrovirals are around; itâ€™s no longer a death sentence.
LM: Yeah. People are no longer dying. But that really was never a factor. The factor was, my mother died. And I had this epiphany. So it was like, I've done my duty. I don't owe these people, my brothers and sisters and their children, I don't owe them anything. And so, it's time for me to live my life. So I left the greater Cincinnati, and I moved to Atlanta.
MC: Which I say, having grown up in South Carolina, I think of Atlanta as my big city because, like you said, Kentucky doesnâ€™t have one; South Carolina doesnâ€™t have one, so Atlanta is our big city.
LM: Well, Louisville was the big city in Kentucky. (MC laughs) So anyway, at this point in time, I'm saying, I'm gay; I enjoy sex with men; I enjoy men; I have no more obligations to Louisville; Iâ€™m going to a place where I can live my life openly.
MC: Can I ask where you lived in Atlanta? Because thatâ€™s a city I know.
LM: Sure, where do you guess? Guess.
MC: Druid Hills. No?
LM: I lived right on Peachtree Street.
MC: Well, Peachtree runs the whole city.
LM: Donâ€™t matter.
LM: I lived in Midtown. I lived six blocks from gay zero [gay ground zero] of 10th Street and Piedmont. I walked toâ€”I lived right on the Peachtree Street, two blocks or three blocks from the High Museum, the Symphony Hall, the botanical garden, the Piedmont Park. You know, I went in, like, full balls. Like, by God, if Iâ€™m going to be gay, I want to be gay in Midtown in Atlanta. Thereâ€™s no hiding it anymore. But I could be gay there. I was still not out to my family, not to all of them.
MC: Who was the first one you came out to?
LM: My sister in law. Slowly. In Atlanta was when I had my first same-sex, romantic experience, and my heart was officially broken. So.
MC: Atlanta can do that.
LM: Atlanta. (MC laughs) Well, Ron and I were together for, roughly, six and a half years. Praise Jesus, we never lived together. But we had a good time. I loved him, and I think he loved me. But I was looking for him to compensate for all the love that I never got, you know, from my family. That was impossible, and it was unfair. And he was looking to me to compensate forâ€”as life was unfair to me. So we go to couples counseling, and the good couples counselor says, â€œYou know, you cannot have a successful relationship unless you deal with the resentments that you accumulate in your life.â€ And it dawned on me that, hey, I held a hellacious grudge against my entire family. I had done things to them that, essentially, merited apology. So I slowly reconnected with them. So that's the part where I was integrating my orientation with the rest of my life. And hereâ€™s my best story about that. National Coming Out Day is, what, October?
MC: I donâ€™t know. I was notâ€”
LM: Oops. Demerit on your card.
MC: Yeah, thatâ€™s another demerit. (laughs)
LM: I think it was October, something like that. And I'm standing there, for some reason, and I was no longer in a relationship, and I had kind of, sort of, come out to some of my family, but not all of my family. And I sat there, and I thought, Well, Iâ€™m tired of this. This is stupid. So I composed a letter to all of my remaining siblings, all of their childrenâ€”in some cases, all of their childrenâ€”friends from college, cousins up in Michigan, cousins everywhere. And I said, â€œDear,â€ whatever, you know, â€œDear brother,â€ â€œuncle,â€ â€œcousin,â€ â€œfriend,â€ â€œcolleague,â€ you know, â€œIf you ainâ€™t figured it out by now, Larryâ€™s queer. Larryâ€™s gay,â€ Iâ€™m sorry, I used the phrase â€œgay.â€ And, â€œIf thatâ€™s a problem, well, itâ€™s your problem. Itâ€™s not mine.â€ The next part is extremely emotional. By the time I did that, the next older brother had died, and so had his wife. He and I were never close. He served in Vietnam. He came back, royally fucked up. I was 4-F. But, nonetheless, we coexisted. We rarely agreed on anything, and he died.
So I sent the letter to his sons. And I really did not know either of the two men. They were men by that time. They were in their 30s, late 20s. And one of them responded (long pause) with the nicest response. And he told me that, growing up, his parents told themâ€“my brotherâ€™s childrenâ€“that their uncle, me, was gay. Never told me. And he invited me to his wedding. So I took a great niece to the wedding. She was my date. And I remember my great niece drove up to Louisville, and I called my niece, and I said, â€œAre you ready to go to the wedding?â€ And my niece responded with, â€œWell, yeah, but I donâ€™t know anybody there.â€ And I said, â€œOh, Erin, honey, you donâ€™t know me, let alone anybody there.â€ So we went there, had a great time. I mean, reconnecting with those two was wonderful. And Michael and Amanda had a baby, a beautiful child. Now, hereâ€™s the really tough part. Last year, my nephew died of a cardiac arrest at age 42, I think.
MC: The one who had invited you to the wedding?
LM: Say what?
MC: The one who had invited you to the wedding?
LM: Right. The one who invited me to the wedding. So I had, like, five or six years of connection. So thatâ€™s why itâ€™s tough to talk about that. But the response, in generalâ€“the response, periodâ€“was wonderful. I mean, the response to the letter. So that leads me to the last part of it, is the celebration.
MC: When did you move to St. Petersburg?
LM: I moved here a year and a half ago, or a year andâ€”15 months ago. And if anybody would like to buy a one bedroom in a 55-plus community, let me know.
MC: What prompted the move here? How did you settle on this area?
LM: I mentioned I hate cold weather. Living in Toledo, Ohio, and Cleveland and even Cincinnati, it was like, When I retireâ€“climate change or whateverâ€“I'm moving to someplace where it's warm. And I head been to the [Fort] Lauderdale area many times because there was a large gay population in Lauderdale, but I had been to St. Pete many times because of the gay square dancing.
MC: So that, specifically, brought you here.
LM: That and a brother and his wife live in the area.
MC: Okay. Now, tell me what gay square dancing is.
LM: The International Association of Gay Square Dance [Clubs].
MC: Iâ€“heard of that. (laughs) I mean, I can imagine what gay square dancing is, but I wanted to hear the details.
LM: Okay, here's the genesis of that. I mentioned having a relationship and it failing. Okay. Not too surprisingly, as part of that relationship, the friends that I had made in Atlanta fell by the wayside. And the friends that I had were our friends. So when Ron and I split up, our friends became his friends. And so, I really had no social activity. And I saw, in the local gay newspaper, the Southern Voice, this ad for gay square dancing. I had never square danced in my entire life. But I thought, Well, that might be interesting. And I went, and the first person who said hello to me was Alan Field, who was this great, big, bear of a man with this great, big mustache. And I said that I was here to learn square dancing. And he, â€œOh, welcome,â€ and gave me a kiss, and a great, big hug. Gay square dancing is simply a western square dancing convention. Our take on it is we add flourishes to the calls. Itâ€™s a whole lot of fun. Itâ€™s gender neutral. We have no dress code. We have women who dance the boysâ€™ part, boys who dance the women's part, women and men who dance both parts; we have trans; we have straight people. We have the whole, you know.
MC: Have you become a caller?
LM: No. No, no, no, no, no.
MC: And is this specific to St. Petersburg?
LM: No, no, no, no, no.
MC: No, okay.
LM: The other cool thing about gays square dancing is it has a convention every year. So it has taken me to Chicago, Atlanta hosted one year, Vancouver, Toronto; San Francisco, when the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional. And that was at the same time as the San Francisco Pride. And then each club, or some of the clubs, have weekends of dancing. And so, those same people have something called Flip the Flamingo in February. So it was an opportunity to leave cold Atlanta and come to sunny Florida for a weekend, for dancing. And itâ€™s not sexual. There is no alcohol to it. You cannot square-dance and drink. But it was just a lot of fun. If you go to the convention, the convention has a traditional moonshine tip, where everybody gets naked and dance [sic]. Yes, men and women.
MC: A moonshine tip.
LM: A tip is one, you know, one dance; one set of calls. And so, a moonshine tip is, hey, youâ€™re naked.
MC: (laughs) Another tiny detail, you say you add flourishes to the calls. Like what? A little flick of the wrist or (laughs) something gay?
LM: Oh, yes, a little tidbit. If anybody knows of square dancing, there's a call called do-si-do. And you walk to your partner, you pass right shoulders, you sashay to the left, and then you pass left shoulders. And then you face one another. So youâ€™re essentially going in a circle around your partner. In gay square dancing, itâ€™s the Highland fling, where you grab your partner by the waistâ€“or she grab or she grabs you by the waistâ€“you take left arms and hold them together, and pivot. And there are tons of others. I mean, theyâ€™re justâ€”
MC: Slightly more stylish is what Iâ€™m hearing.
LM: Oh, no question, no question. We get style points on something. But it's a lot of fun. I mean, you can go to convention, and you can have convention sex. But it's not required. It's just, it was fun. I have injured my shoulder, and I'm kind of on injured reserve at the moment because I can't do it without pain. So that's what brought me. That and my brother because he and his wife both had some issues, medically. And in my career, the last ten years of my career, I've worked as a contractor, mainly. So I had periods of unemployment, so I was able to come down and help them through, like, a hip replacement. And my brother had MRSA. Â It was it was a good thing to do, you know.
MC: You also mentioned SAGE, and I volunteer for SAGE in New York, actually. I teach a writing classâ€“I taught a writing class. Iâ€™m going to do another one again soon. Tell me what a gay community for a gay senior in St. Petersburgâ€“what does that look like? What does the older, gay community look like here?
LM: Old and wrinkly.
MC: (laughs) I meant what kinds of activities do you do? (laughs)
LM: Oh, Iâ€™m sorry. Old and wrinkly activities. The SAGE community, the interesting aspect about the menâ€™s group of SAGEâ€“I can't speak to the women's group, and very rarely do we do things together, which is a bad commentary on the LGBTQ-x-x-x [sic] community that we are so freaking afraid of lesbians, and lesbians are afraid of us, and we have divided ourselves, which is incredibly fucking stupid. But Iâ€™ll pass on that. But the SAGE community here, the menâ€™s group, we have a weekly meeting, discussion group, which can be very interesting. It can be boring. And we have lunches afterwards, and we have potluck dinners, and we have movie nights. And there is a local theater; theyâ€™re doing Hairspray. There'll be an LGBT event there. Thereâ€™s also the Prime Timers.
MC: Whatâ€™s a Prime Timer?
LM: Oh, youâ€™re getting close to being eligible.
MC: (laughs) Iâ€™m good. Different ways of life.
LM: Prime Timers are a social organization for older, gay men, and men who are interested in older, gay men. So the effect of age is roughly 50. I first started participating when I lived in Greater Cincinnati. And then I went to Atlanta, and it was a dud. And then a friend of mine suggested I come back, and it was not a dud. They had really redone the organization, so they had monthly meetings, they had trips to the museum, they had dinner groups, they had symphony groups. It was just, there are a range of activities.
MC: Was that also SAGE?
LM: No, that was Prime Timers. Then I come down to St. Pete, and Prime Timers here is not quite as active as the people in Atlanta. But the SAGE community is more active. They're younger. It's that simple. It's a way to connect with other gay people and hear their stories.
MC: Yeah, itâ€™s wonderful. Well, itâ€™s a wonderful way to celebrate, to return to that theme that you brought up. This question may seem a little bit off-topic, but weâ€™re not that far from Orlando. Iâ€™m curious. You may not have been living here at the time, but when the Pulse Massacre occurredâ€”
LM: I did, indeed, live here at the time.
MC: What wasâ€”being an older gay personâ€“your reaction to the Pulse Massacre? And what did you see that the community did in the aftermath?
LM: Well, whether itâ€™s the shootings at Pulse or the shootings, mass killings, anywhere, (long pause) shock, dismay, fear, the whole gamut of negative emotions. The pride and the spirit of cooperation in the aftermath, the responses of people, just ordinary people. From a personal level, a little bit of anger in the way that it was presented. Anger in the sense of the perpetrator; there was never enough, in my opinion, there was never enough about what he was, and what may have caused him to have done that. People fixated on the fact that he was a Muslim or had been raised by fairly radical Muslim parents. That he was unhappy in his marriage, that he may have been closeted. I donâ€™t think that story ever was fully developed. I mean, I had gay friends up in Atlanta who were like, Well, he's a Muslim terrorist. And I'm like, Whereâ€™d you hear that? Fox News. Why are you listening to Fox News about gays being killed in Orlando? He was not Muslim, in fact. His parentsâ€“his father was. He professed to have no religion, I think. But things like this, like, okayâ€“
MC: Did SAGE and Prime Timers, did you participate in community support after that, or not necessarily?
LM: In direct response to the Orlando killings, no, frankly. I personally did not. Because, at that time, I was so in the process of moving here. So I was not well plugged-in to all of the social organizations.
MC: What would you say to a young gay or lesbian or queer or trans or other person?
LM: Pick your term. What would I say to that person? Number one, learn your history. My story is just a tiny little part, and even I do not know the full history. There are men and women who predated me, and I learn about them all the time. Number two, youâ€™ve just got to be yourself. I mean, if you hide yourself, if you hide what you, or if you hide whom you love, youâ€™re simply not being fully you. Number three, itâ€™s tough. Iâ€™m hoping in your age and your generation, it is easier. But don't be afraid. So know your history, be yourself, and donâ€™t be afraid. Thatâ€™s what I would tell them.
MC: Anything else?
LM: Thatâ€™s what I have told them.
MC: You have told them. Thank you.
LM: Youâ€™re welcome, Mark. Thank you.