Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Moving to West Hollywood #1: Is It Still There?

June 1985

During my year at Hell-fer-Sartain State College...um, I mean Lone Star College in a far, far north suburb of Houston, all I could think of was escape.  I hated everything about Houston: the endless construction, the ridiculous traffic, the suburban sprawl, the humidity, and especially the rampaging homophobia.  I wanted a place where:
1. I wouldn't have to drive.
2. I wouldn't have to deal with constant homophobia.

That meant a Gay Neighborhood, and I had only heard of five, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Boston.

How to get to one?  Applying for jobs in publishing or translating never worked; I would have to go to graduate school.

So I applied to Ph.D. programs in
1, Renaissance Studies at Berkeley
2. Comparative Literature at Columbia
3. Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California
4. Romance Languages at Chicago
5. Romance Languages at Harvard.
(I was obsessed with Renaissance Italy that year.)

Only USC admitted me.  That meant moving to West Hollywood!

But I had a question: was it still there?

AIDS was announced to the world in an article in The New York Times in July 1981, but I don't remember hearing anything about it during my senior year at Augustana (1981-82).

During my two years at Indiana University in Bloomington (1982-84), I heard a few homophobes shrieking about a "gay plague!!!!" that was "God's punishment on homos!!!", but homophobes were always shrieking about something, so I ignored them.

It wasn't until  I got to Houston (1984-85) that I heard anything substantive, through the Montrose Voice and pamplets that the AIDS Foundation distributed: AIDS got its start among gay men, and 6,000 of them had died, but it was not a punishment, it was a disease, a virus transmitted through unprotected sex.

So I began using protection, and I gave up activities deemed particularly dangerous.

But what about the millions of gay men who had unprotected sex before they knew, who cruised as a form of recreation in gay ghettos, where thousands of partners were available?   Maybe the gay ghettos were deserted, the residents all dead or dying.

Was West Hollywood still there?

When my last final ended on May 17th, 1985, I drove right to the airport to catch a flight to Rome -- I wanted to see Renaissance Italian art and track down Giovanni, my high school crush.

When I returned on May 28th, I packed my car and drove the 1000 miles from Houston to Rock Island without stopping.  I spent the next month watching tv, walking the dogs, lifting weights, and visiting friends.  None of them were sick.

My friend Tom, who I visited in Los Angeles in 1980 (top), offered to let me stay with him in Van Nuys while I looked for an apartment.  Dick, the former bully who I met at a gay bar (left), offered to drive along as far as Denver.

We left on June 28th, 1985, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Next: Moving to West Hollywood #2.

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