Homosexual Subculture
Flourishing in Tucson?

Reporters Joe Gold and Elaine Nathanson have taken a close look at a side of the Tucson community seldom seen and acknowledged by few. This is the first of a three-part series on homosexuals—the "half-world" of an ages-old minority group. Gay names used are fictitious.

Star Staff Writers

(First of a Three-Part Series)

If you were one of several thousand homosexuals in Tucson, where would you hide?

Nowhere. And everywhere.

Gay people don't hide. They are spread through society—stores, offices and homes.

But they are constantly hiding their one aspect of their lives that must remain concealed.

''I'm a person first and a homosexual second," says Chuck, who has spent 24 years at the former and 10 at the latter.

Janiee and Debbie agree. They have been "married" for five years, but cannot, as a straight (heterosexual) couple would, shout it from the rooftops—or even whisper it at work. Both hold good jobs in a major Tucson firm. Both would lose their jobs if word got out that they were lesbians living together.

Steve complains that "because the straight world doesn't allow me to have a sensual relationship to men, they force my lovemaking underground."

Not many people talk about homosexuals, despite the claim of some local gay liberationists that Tucson is the nation's No. 1 gay community.

They estimate that 15,000 to 30,000 homosexuals live in Tucson. Rather than forming a single subculture, they are as fragmented as the larger society.

Some frequent one of three Tucson gay bars. A smaller group, seeking only a quick release, prefers encounters in a public restroom (known as a "tearoom"). Still others—probably a majority—live private lives where sexuality is manifested in closed circles or gay marriages.

Still others cannot or will not admit to themselves that they are gay.

In an overwhelmingly heterosexual world, the roughly one person in 10 who is gay meets hostility. And for some it has caused bitterness.

"We want something more than the tolerance you never gave us. We are the extrusions of your subconscious mind—your worst fears made flesh," Gary says angrily.

"We are the sort of people everyone was taught to despise--and now we are shaking off the chains of self-hatred and marching on your citadels of repression.

"Understand this: the worst part of being homosexual is having to keep it secret."

Far more personal and friendly than clandestine meetings in public restrooms are visits to one of the three gay bars.

Nothing at first seems unusual. The bar is crowded, music plays, people are talking and drinking. But men are dancing, flirting with and kissing other men, and women with women.

Looking hard enough, one can find the stereotypes—the effeminate, "too handsome" men, immaculately groomed, with high voices and limp wrists, or the "butch" lesbians affecting masculine appearance and mannerisms.

But most of the people are, in every respect except their sexual orientation, typical. No one can spot "one of them" at a glance because "they" appear to be like everybody else.

The patrons of the bar are usually young, although the place also has middle-aged customers. Their looks, gestures and speech are mostly what would be expected from anyone else.

The blatant exception is the transvestite—the drag queen. He plays the female, complete with sleeveless and daringly short black dress or false eyelashes and flowing wigs—sometimes covering a 200-pound plus frame.

In Tucson, transvestites mix at the regular gay bars, but larger cities have bars serving primarily a drag queen clientele and others for those who choose a more normal appearance.

But a large number of Tucson gays find the bars too impersonal: cruising spots where people are looking for a pickup for a night of quick sex—not unlike what goes on at comparable straight bars, they say.

Homosexuals insist that love and sex are as compatible among the sexes as between them. People, they say, are born with the capacity to enjoy both sexes, but taught from early life that they are supposed to fit an accepted pattern of behavior because of their sex.

Homosexuals were openly accepted by Plains Indians before white values took hold, according to Dr. E. B. Eislein, cultural anthropologist at the University of Arizona.

Males who did not like male traits put on women's clothing and married men. These "berdashes" were accepted in female society. A man might have had one or two female wives and a berdash, he says.

Homosexuality has never been fully accepted in any society, Eislein says, "or we'd be talking about wiping out the race. We have procreation to worry about."

"Part of homosexuality in any society is what we call role. What defines male? What defines female? In every society we find roles are assigned on the basis of sex. These roles are not necessarily logical; as we look from one culture to another we don't find a particular role being assigned to male or female.

"The woman bears a child, the woman brings up a child, the woman nurses the child. These things are fairly universal," Eislein adds. "But beyond that, all aspects of role are purely cultural."


Continue to Part 2, Tucson's Gay Liberation Movement