Flourishing in Tucson?
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.
By JOE GOLD and
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
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
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