Skip Tucker: The love that dare not speak its name 

Skip Tucker: The love that dare not speak its name 

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist

 

Carbon Hill High School

Our home you are

We all in thee abide

 

Unless you happen to be queer

Then our mayor wants

You all to die

 

Most have read or heard about the regrettable comments by Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers. In an ill-advised Facebook post bemoaning today’s advancement of LGBT politics, among other things, he said it would take a revolution to dispel opinions that offend his own and that “the only way to fix it is to kill the problem out.” Now there’s an op-ed for you.

He apologized, finally, but it’s impossible to erase words like those. Same for Mobile County Treasurer Phil Benson who posted to Facebook that “freaking queers had gotten too much sympathy.” He, too, apologized, but again, you can’t unshoot a gun….er, unring a bell.

(The common denominator here being Facebook; maybe there’s a lesson here, eh?)

I can’t speak for Mobile citizens, but I’m from Carbon Hill (pop. 2,021). Well, I’m actually from a feeder school but I graduated through CHHS. I’ve never met Mayor Chambers but I’d bet he’s a decent man in most respects. Most folks are, in that little town.

Around that little town, I heard the Q word all my young life. I used it. Gays use it today, defusing a slur by pushing it toward acceptable use, changing its definition by turning it in on itself. Neither the word nor those whom it describes offend me. I had gay friends Back in the Day, I have friends and relatives today gay and bi-. I love them. No need to kill them that I can fathom. There’s a drum for every heartbeat.

I maintain, against suspicion of ridicule, that one of the brave people I knew about but never met was a young man who came out of the closet in high school in the sixties. I don’t know that the young man was ever in the closet.

I have no proof he was gay, but just about every high school student in the county of any regard had heard it of him. He attended a different high school from me but even in Carbon Hill the mean joke was to be referred to by his name. Being openly gay in Walker County at the time was tantamount to peeing on Batman.

I saw him but once, when I was in junior college in Jasper. He was standing on a street corner one afternoon waiting for the light to cycle and about four of us guys drove by. One rolled (yes, rolled) down the window and yelled hey to him, with a snigger. He returned a tired, resigned wave. He was ordinary in appearance. Sandy haired, medium height, glasses ungarish, maybe ten pounds chubby.

He’d probably been knocked down some, over time. Made fun of, to his face, often. Some pitied him, most despised him. I thought him brave, maybe even said it to some people if his name came up. We called him queer.

It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that gay became the preferred description for homosexuals. Remember that in those days being gay was also against the law. Until the early seventies, it was described as a mental illness. In Walker County, the word queer was either used to joke a friend or as a deadly insult. You could legally fight someone who called you queer.

Homosexual acts even in the low country were more common than people thought. Raging hormones with no form of release other than self-starting took que…well, strange twists. Today’s researchers say that by the time high school students graduate, sixty percent have had sex and as much as forty percent have had encounters bisexual or homosexual. Through a glass darkly, they estimate the numbers fifty years ago were about half those.

So, line up ten cheerleaders in the sixties. Maybe three of them had experienced what Wilde called “the love that dare not speak its name.” Same thing for a football team. I don’t know bisexual numbers. I never attended a party that wild.

But everybody knew of friends who’d sort of help each other out. Most everyone experienced an invitation of one sort or another. Pajama parties for girls, weenie roasts for boys (well, um, yes) have been known to encourage explorations.

As an aside, here’s a bit of tragedy. Guys hit prime hormone peak in late teens, women in late twenties. There’s still plenty to go around, but the situation just seems wrong.

Homosexuality is as old as the Bible. Sodom and Gommorah and all that, you know.  The British slang insult “you sod” is short form of sodomite. One of the sins for which God condemned Sodom and Gommorah was for its men raping three angels, or trying to. I don’t know if angels have genders but usages are masculine.

Greek soldiers were encouraged to camp with younger ones but sneered at anyone who maintained the relationship after age 20 or so. Except for one of the great military leaders in history.

Alexander the Great was so smitten with his young lover Hephaestion that he made him a general and wanted to name a city for him. He wrote love poems to him. His generals were shamed. Some say they poisoned Hephaestion.  Arrian says that Alexander “flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions.” Romans were notorious for bisexuality.

Native Americans weren’t strangers to homosexuality. Some were gay as three butterflies. The Lakota Sioux thought such a one was touched by God, somehow, and he often held high rank. A “winkte” was uncommon but not rare. Winkte means “wants to be a woman.”  Some of Hitlter’s high ranking generals had a taste for young men. Homosexuality is historical.

Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers either doesn’t know these things or doesn’t care. He has apologized but he’s on record saying, basically and forever, that all lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals should be killed until they’re all dead.

While it’s horrid to believe such a thing, it’s about ten kinds of foolish for an elected official, in particular, to let it out for public consumption. And the mayor’s words carry a certain unfortunate resonance. Now where have I heard that phrase before. Ah, yes. The Final Solution.

If Mayor Chambers didn’t know such things, he does now. Nor will he forget them.

(Next week: The Alabama Press Association Rolls Along.)