Don Davis

On My Approaching Gay Anniversary, Or, I Break The Fourth Wall

Filed By Don Davis | May 27, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: comedy, humorous blog post, LBGT, meetup, validation

So once again my writing schedule is going to be turned upside down by unforeseen events--but it's going to be worth it, as I have one of the funnier stories to tell you that I've brought to these pages for some time.

It's a tale of catering and rejection and redemption, all in one, along with a bit of the Harlem Renaissance thrown in for good measure, and the big circle that was created was officially closed last Saturday night.

So come along, Gentle Reader, and I'll tell you the story of how I was officially notified that I'm a member of the gay community--by email.

"Did you know that dolphins were just gay sharks?"

--Heather Morris, as Brittany, from the television show "Glee"

So it all started with Groucho Marx.

I'm a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, and I had the chance to borrow the DVD set of his 1950s game show, "You Bet Your Life". The very first episode of the series featured Gladys Bentley, who proceeded to pound out some of the best boogie-woogie piano I've ever heard; investigation revealed that the same person who was living as a woman in the 1950s was living, under the same name, as one of America's best-known male celebrities in 1929.

A story emerged, a couple of thousand words later, of a person who had been a central part of the Harlem Renaissance, who had married a woman in a big public ceremony--again, in 1929--and who, by the time she made that "You Bet Your Life" appearance, had rejected it all in an effort of return to the "straight life" she had never really known in the first place.

So I posted the story, as I normally do, across a number of websites...and then I got the email.

The message was from the Bilerico Project website, who wondered if I might be interested in becoming a contributor. As they noted in the email, Bilerico is one of the premiere sites on the Web serving the LBGTQ community, and, as a member of that community, they knew I'd be glad to have the opportunity to associate myself with the site.

I immediately ran off to inform The Girlfriend of my new status--and I almost as immediately sent a message back, telling the folks there that I'd be thrilled...with one caveat.

I felt that they had to be informed that I'm a male who's been with the same woman for 28 years...which, if you know anything about long-term relationships, pretty much makes me asexual.

We all had a good laugh over that, and despite the fact that I had "come out" to them, they were still willing to accept me as I am, and as a result I happily contribute to Bilerico to this very day.

Because I post to so many sites, I'm always trying to catch up with what's going on everywhere, and just in time I happened to notice the story from one of the proprietors of the Bilerico Project, Bil Browning, who wanted us to know that he'd be in town over the weekend, and that a meetup was planned for Saturday night.

Off I went, and a great time was had by all, so far as I could tell, anyway, but we decided to go to a second bar...and that's where the story gets good--at least for me.

So in a previous life I was a caterer, and if you've ever worked with a group of "food people", you're probably associated with the gay community on a daily basis. On our job it was not unusual to go into Seattle after work and hang out, and because one of our little group was gay, we would go to gay bars from time to time.

Now our gay friend was obviously there to hook up, and he would, but the two of us...well, not so much.

Nonetheless, my other friend (who we'll call Dave, to protect the innocent), who was, to be honest, a better looking guy than me, would have men approach him, from time to time, to say hi.

It was never an issue, and we would explain...but you know, after a while I found myself wondering..."hey, what's wrong with me?"

Even after Dave moved to the Portland, Oregon area we would still hang out, and one night we hit the downtown bars--including two gay bars that are immediately next door to one another.

Sure as day follows night, Dave gets hit on by all sorts of fact, folks who were expressing a variety of gender presentations came by to say hello to Dave during the course of the evening--and me...nothing.

Even The Girlfriend, who had watched all this happen in Portland with her own two eyes, began to give me a bad time about it...and she's still giving me a bad time about it, even after a decade or so has gone by.

OK, so it's last Saturday night, and we're standing around in the second bar, in our little group...and somebody walked past and randomly groped me!

Oh, I was dying.

I tried to explain to the group what had just happened, but as you might imagine, they were just looking at me all kind of confused (and probably thinking..."what a dweeb").

I had to leave fairly early, as I had another event to attend the next day, so after I finished my beer I left, and almost as quickly as I could get out of the bar I had The Girlfriend on the phone to tell her the good news.

So there you go: after years of "what's wrong with me", I've finally achieved validation, in my own weird way, The Girlfriend can no longer give me a bad time...about this, anyway...and I got to meet up with online friends that, if I hadn't of been paying attention at just the right time, I would have missed.

Not bad for a Saturday night, if I say so myself--and I have a Sunday story, too, starring the inimitable Red Green, but we'll save that for another time.

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Um, congratulations on your, uh, groping? That's an interesting story about Gladys Bentley. I looked her up, and it seems that while she dressed as a male, she identified as a lesbian openly. Here's the bio from GLBTQ. From this, it doesn't seem she was a "male celebrity," but an openly lesbian woman. Of course, this could just be revisionist history. Anyone know anything more about Bentley?

the original story i posted, in all its "linky" glory, is here, and there is a ton of background available if you follow the links out from that story, including a readable version of her 1952 "self-authored" magazine article rejecting her former life.

i went with "her" and "she" as pronoun choices to describe the periods when she openly rejected her earlier choices, but it's tougher with 1920s and 1930s gladys bentley as the clothing was male, and the self-identification was lesbian and a drag king--and i don't think the lexicon was fully-developed at the time, either, making it harder for bentley to have made self-identification choices we might recognize as consistent with modern terminology.

I can see how Don could interpret the title of Bentley's article, I Am a Woman Again, as a repudiation of being a man. However, I don't think that prior to Stonewall that anyone differentiated between trans and gay identities. In fact, I don't think there was any awareness at all that there was a separate identity that we now understand as trans.

I've seen both groups try to claim what historians call "passing women" as lesbians and transmen. And in the documentary about the Compton Cafeteria riots, people who are clearly transwomen today, talk about themselves at the time of the riots (in the 60's) as gay men.

Trans simply wasn't part of the vocabulary of the time.

i can tell you that when i was lookng at contemporaneous writings from the '20s, '30s, and '50s about and allegedly by bentley for the original story that i saw nothing to suggest the degree of sophistication and nuance of language that is used today to express people's perspectives on these issues, and i think you're exactly right to make that point.

interestingly, i remember an article that describes two pictures on bentley's mantle; when questioned the author is told that the one is bentley's husband, the other, bentley's wife, suggesting considerable fluidity was in play regarding how bentley saw gender roles.

here's a bit of "discuss among yourselves" to take with you: we have perhaps seen alex's story about the couple from malawi.

one of the points made in the story is that gender roles are more "functional" in malawi's society, meaning that the thing you're doing in society determines your gender role more than any feeling you may have about your being "manly" or "womanly" at any particular moment.

when bentley could look on the mantle and see husband and wife, both at the same time, is it possible that the gender concepts in play in betley's life would make more sense to someone from malawi than from contemporary american society?

like i said...discuss.

I just read Alex's Malawi piece, and didn't realize until I had that they really aren't a gay couple. But this certainly makes my point that not all eras/cultures see gender identity and sexual orientation the way we do.

I once learned about an eastern European culture, the name of which escapes me, that had such strict gender expression and roles, that people were unable to see past clothing and occupation. If a person was wearing pants and doing a "man's job", he was clearly a man, regardless of appearances to the contrary.

Similarly, although a work of fiction, most people couldn't figure out why no one diddn't see that Yentl was really a woman. When it is inconceivable that a woman would wear those clothes and be a biblical scholar, obviously that person is male.

Huray! Congratulations on your gropping Don!

i could not be more proud...but you know what was a bit strange for me about the whole thing?

being around 200 people who were more or less single.

being in a couple, almost all our friends are couples, too, and being in a room full of that many people working hard to hook up was, indeed, unusual.

...and the Fourth Wall will never be the same.
Thanks for the smile to help start my day- we're proud to have you!

well thanks so much...and is there any better way to start a day than smiling?

considering your own reputation as a bit of a boulevardier, that's high praise indeed...

It was such a pleasure to meet you, Don. I'm sorry I didn't make it for the groping!

I thought you were going to confess to being the groper, Bil. ;-)

they discreetly dissolved into the wet night, as it happened, which is how bil missed the "blessed event", as it were.

you know what? we failed as hosts.

you were only a couple of blocks from dick's on broadway, which really does have the best fries ever...cut from actual potatoes as you watch...and we somehow forgot to tell you about it.

get booked for another event--the fries really are worth it.

If you had just asked me, Don, I could have told you you had been going to the wrong bars before to get groped. Just because you didn't know me before Saturday, doesn't mean you shouldn't have asked!

Note to self: make sure to pack if going to The Cuff.

here's the funny thing: i've been to the cuff a bunch, in the past; in fact, i was commenting that the last time i'd been in there, the pinball machines had been in a different spot, and now there was a bar in their place.

the three of us even went to the portland eagle once--on a saturday night--but even our friend who was there to hook up didn't succeed that night, so i didn't feel too bad about that.

(from out here you can be in portland in about three hours, seattle, a bit less than an hour, vancouver, about four hours, because of extra time for clearing the border.)

Well, I guess you were going to the right bar, then. Just the not the right time.

A really long time ago, decades before I transitioned, I had my ass grabbed in Christopher Street Pizza at 4 AM. Mind you, that was about a block away from the piers in the West Village in NY. Do you have any idea how improbable it is that a female would be harassed that way in that location? I was utterly stunned at the incongruity of it.

Wendell Cochran | May 28, 2010 4:00 PM

Moral of the story: Good things come to those who wait, and wait, and wait, and wait....And wait! Alsa, a perfectly good grope gone to waste.

hey, it wasn't a complete waste...after all, i'm telling this story because of it.