My goal during my junior year at Augustana College was to find one gay student. Lots of guys were willing to do things in the dark, in secret, like Haldor who challenged me to a "dating contest," or the fratboys who cruised the levee, but in the daylit world they chanted "girls! girls! girls!"
I wanted just one guy out of the 1,036 male undergraduates who dreamed only of men. (It didn't occur to me to look for lesbians.) But with no organizations, no meeting places, and everyone pretending to be straight, finding gay men required research. You look for a rote recitation of the desirable traits in girls, as if they had memorized a list; a glint in the eye when a cute guy passed; a reticence about evening and weekend activities, or else too glib an answer.
Through assiduous research, I found three "probably gay" undergrads: the first was a freshman Asian Studies major named Corey: tall, slim, very handsome but not very muscular. I sat next to him in Eastern Religions class in the spring quarter of 1981, and noticed that he never gazed at or flirted with any of the girls in the class -- my first clue!
One day I saw him and a friend having lunch in the Student Union Snack Bar -- a male friend, my second clue! I grabbed a sandwich and coke and joined them.
Corey glanced at his friend, who suddenly remembered an appointment and split, leaving us alone. My third clue!
We chatted about classes and clubs -- never once mentioning girls. Corey was from a small farm town in Illinois, forced to come to Augustana because his parents were Lutheran, but he was into spiritual exploration -- Krishna Consciousness, Zen Buddhism, Nichiren. Next year he was transferring to Maharishi International University!
Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, Hindu mystic and founder of Transcendental Meditation, ran a university in Fairfield, Iowa, about a hundred miles from Rock Island. His followers had been widely accused of brainwashing, mind control, and miscellaneous deviltries, so locals were up in arms about the "cult" establishing a base nearby.
A cultist! But I kept my cool. "I've always been interested in meditation," I said. "Maybe you could teach me sometime."
"That's just the first step," I want to learn how to fly."
Apparently the most adept of the Maharishi's followers could "fly," or actually levitate a foot or two off the ground.
This was a skill I wanted to learn!
So that night after dinner I went to Corey's room in the freshman dorm -- no pictures of girls on the wall, another clue -- and he showed me how to sit cross-legged on the floor, facing each other, and clear our minds of distracting thoughts.
"Surrender your worries, your concerns, your desires. Especially your sexual desires. Don't think about girls."
Girls? Uh-oh. "Is it ok to think about guys?"
He didn't know what I meant. "Sure, think about all the guys you want."
"What if they're a distraction?" I maneuvered so that our knees were touching, and stared into his eyes.
"How can a guy be a distraction? It's a guy!"
Not only was Corey heterosexual, he didn't even know what gay people were! Time to enlighten him. "Some guys find guys a distraction. You know...if they're like...into guys."
Great -- as if I don't get enough homophobic nonsense from the Nazarenes. Now I have to hear it from a cult!
We had a few more conversations about religion, and at the end of the year he transferred to the University of Iowa to study Chinese.
But the story has a happy ending. If you hang out in front of the French Quarter in West Hollywood long enough, every gay person in the world will walk by, and one day in the 1990s I saw Corey. He and his partner were living in San Francisco, where they were members of the Gay Buddhist Sangha.
Most Western Buddhists are, in fact, gay-positive. And so is Transcendental Meditation.