When I was growing up, my church deemed alcohol the worst possible sin, worse than murder or reading the Sunday newspaper or talking to a Catholic. We couldn't eat food that once contained alcohol, like "beer batter shrimp." We couldn't set foot in a bar, a restaurant that sold alcohol, or a grocery store with a beer section. Some Nazarenes wouldn't let the doctor swab their arms with alcohol before giving them a shot.
I've overcome many of the strictures of my childhood, but to this day I can't bring myself to drink anything alcoholic. I've never had wine. I've had only one and a half cans of beer in my life.
Why one and a half?
It was 1983, my second year at Indiana University, and my friend Viju and I had just moved into an apartment together. On the Saturday before Halloween, we invited several of our gay friends and their dates to a party. We provided homoerotic snacks like penis-shaped cookies, plus Cokes and Sprites (and some of the guys brought beer). We planned some double-entendre laden party games, an erotic Chamber of Horrors in Viju's bedroom, and finally the Halloween costume contest at Bullwinkle's.
I was going as Pan, the Greek god, with shaggy leggings and horns, Viju was a cop, and Jimmy the Bodybuilder on Crutches said he was coming as a vampire, Joseph from the Gay Student Alliance was a shirtless Zorro, Terry from Eigenmann Hall was a drag queen witch, Mark the optometry major was Superman, and his date, a shy but extremely cute undergrad named Scott, was a gymnast.
My jaw dropped. His "date" was his friend Tony, who was straight, and didn't know that Jimmy was gay.
Apparently Jimmy hadn't realized that it was a gay party.
In the 1980s, you simply did not come out, to anyone, except maybe your family and closest childhood friends, and then only after extensive preparation. But in a moment a straight guy would be in our tiny living room with six gay men who weren't closeting their behavior.
Thinking fast, I yelled at Tony, "Where's your girlfriend?"
Straight guy! Closet time! Mark and his date, Scott, immediately slid apart. Joseph grabbed the tray of penis-shaped cookies and rushed them into the kitchen, Terry took off his wig and earrings to transform his costume from witch to Uncle Fester, and Viju ran to slam the door to the erotic Chamber of Horrors. Someone turned on It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Tony helped Jimmy through the door. "I don't have a girlfriend," he said, glancing around the room, probably thinking "whoa, sausage fest." "I was hoping to meet some girls here."
Glaring at Jimmy for being such a dope, I said, "Sure, sure. We're going trick-or-treating in the girls' dorm later."
You're probably thinking: why bother to closet ourselves? It was seven against one. What could he possibly do?
We soon found out.
Tony asked to use the bathroom. I pointed the way.
A moment later, I heard his shrill voice: "Boomer, get in here!"
Apparently he had opened the wrong door. He was standing in my bedroom, where there was a replica of Michelangelo's David on my desk, and the wall by the bed plastered with pictures of naked men torn out of In Touch and Mandate.
"Where are the girls?" he asked.
For a moment he just stared, speechless. Then the tirade began. "Are you trying to tell me that you're queer? Don't you know that this lifestyle spreads diseases? Don't you know that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because they were homos?"
Suddenly he became more conciliatory. "Look, it's probably not too late. You could rethink your decision."
Rethink your decision! I was already angry with him for forcing my party into the closet, and this was the last straw. "Oh, gee," I yelled, "I had no idea. Thanks for the heads-up! I'll turn back to straight right away!" I tore down some of the pictures from my wall, wadded them up, and threw them at his feet.
Then I ran back into the living room. "Boobs!" I grunted. "Boobs and football and...um, beer!" I grabbed a can of beer, popped the top, and guzzled some. It tasted horrible.
Tony followed, no longer conciliatory. "Did you guys know that Boomer is a homo? He probably wants to take you back into his little chamber of horrors and do nasty, perverted things to you."
Um...yes, I was counting on it," Joseph said.
Of course, we should have shown him the door. But we were not "out and proud." We were coming from the dull despair of the 1970s Midwest, where gay people, when mentioned at all, were portrayed as utterly despicable. Some of us were still working through feelings of guilt and shame, the nagging doubts: What if we really are sick? What if God really does hate us?
"Count me out, I just turned straight," I said, roiling with rage. "Boobs! Football! Beer! Hey, turn the game on! This show sucks -- Charlie Brown is a fag!" I drained my beer -- it still tasted terrible -- and started another.
Viju glared at Jimmy, "Hey, psychology major, maybe you should tell your buddy something?"
Jimmy hung his head.
"Oh, no, not Jimmy, too!" Tony exclaimed. "He's handicapped! Couldn't you perverts leave him alone? Stick to the schoolyards!"
"Hey, I've never done it in a schoolyard! Schoolbus, maybe!" The room was starting to spin. Was this what it felt like to be drunk? "When I was six I married the boy next door."
Tony ignored me. "How can you do those...those disgusting things?" he continued, this time addressing Mark and Scott. "Do you hate yourself that much, or are you trying to get back at your parents, or do you just hate God?"
Scott the shy undergrad looked like he was about to cry.
Enough was enough! I walked over to Tony and calmly poured the rest of my beer on his head.
That's why I've had only 1 1/2 cans of beer in my life.
Surprisingly, Jimmy and Tony stayed friends. It wasn't Jimmy's fault, after all, that he had been "brainwashed" by a pack of "perverts."
And as my reward, I got to spend 7 minutes in the Chamber of Horrors with Scott the shy undergrad.
See also: Sharing the Optometrist's Boyfriend; Joseph and I Get Intimate in a Haunted House.