Rock Island, December 1980
In mid-December, just before classes end at Augustana, my ex-boyfriend Fred calls me from Omaha. "Are you free Christmas night?"
"Sure -- my family celebrates on Christmas Eve, so Christmas day is all down time."
"Great. I'm bringing my boyfriend Toby up to meet my parents -- the first guy I've ever brought home -- and I want you to come along for moral support."
Last summer, when I was 19 years old, I moved to Omaha with Fred, a recent seminary graduate who had just taken a job as a youth pastor. I hated every minute of it, and after five weeks escaped...um, I mean left and returned to Rock Island.
Within a week, Fred rebounded into the arms of another 19-year old college student: Toby Meyer, who was starting his sophomore year at the University of Nebraska. They moved in together after two dates. Fred introduced him at church as his "nephew."
If anyone in the church found this suspicious, there's no record of it.
"So you want your ex-boyfriend to help you introduce Toby to your family." I scoff-- I haven't seen Fred since our breakup, and now he wants me to hang out with his new boyfriend? That would be mega-weird!
"Are you up for it? Mom's a great cook. And, if it sweetens the deal, you can join me in bed. Just come into my room after everyone's asleep. I'd like to have you all night, but you know, I don't want to arouse suspicion."
That does sweeten the deal! Fred is enormously attractive. Besides, I've only been with one guy since our breakup, and that was a downlow thing after a screen date with some girls.
"Um...where are they going to put Toby?"
"Hopefully with me, but I can't be sure. They think we're just roommates, you know. I'm not out to anyone in my family."
Well, he's sort of out. Last summer Fred's Dad and older brother helped us move to Omaha. Virgil was in his 50s,hairy, grizzled, with hard shoulders and biceps, a do-or-die conservative Democrat who hated Ronald Reagan. Dwight was in his 30s, a truck driver, tall, bearded, fat.
They didn't say anything about us being gay, but they didn't mention girls, either, and they expressed no surprise when we had only one bed to move. They probably knew, but didn't want to talk about it.
That's as out as you got in 1980.
This will be the first time I've seen Fred since we broke up. That, plus meeting his boyfriend and most of his family, makes me very nervous.
I get even more nervous when I arrive before Fred and Toby -- they are still negotiating the snowy six-hour drive from Toby's parents' house in Sioux Falls.
Virgil, Dwight, a little boy (Dwight's son), and a tall, slim black-haired guy (the boyfriend of Fred's sister) are sitting in the living room, watching a football game on tv.
Virgil, gruff and a bit standoffish, introduces me as "Fred's former friend," and takes me back through the dining room to an enormous kitchen to meet the women: Fred's Mom, short, fussy, and fat; Dwight's wife; and Fred's younger sister, a senior music major at Knox College.
They give me the choice of helping out in the kitchen or watching football. I choose the kitchen, and make a salad while fielding questions about my major in college, whether I have a girlfriend, and why I left Omaha.
If there any doubts about Fred being gay, they are dissipated when he arrives with Toby, the most swishy little queen to ever sashay in a pink sweater and diamond earrings. He spends the dinner saying things like "Mrs. A, this cauliflower casserole is delish! You have to give me the recipe, so I can make it for Fred!" and "No pie for me, thanks -- I have to watch my figure! Got to keep them interested, right?"
I am heavily embarrassed, and try to ignore him -- and Fred -- as much as possible, instead interrogating Jane and her boyfriend on Knox College.
After dinner, the women set about to do the dishes, along with Toby ("Oh, I insist! I love dishwashing -- I might even make it my career!") The men go into the living room to watch more tv and wait for the women, so they can open presents. I go to the bathroom.
Virgil is waiting for me at the door, glaring as if I took too long.
"Sorry..." I begin.
"I have a question. I'm glad you're trying to make up with Freddie -- you hurt him bad when you left Omaha. But I want to know -- did you jump ship because he started dating a queer?"
"What?" Stunned, I really want to say "WTF?"
"Nothing wrong with queers," Virgil continues. "They can set a table and keep a house as well as a woman can, and if that's what Freddie likes, it's up to us to make his friend feel welcome. Not fly off the handle and run away."
"Oh, no, that's not why I left at all."
"Good." He grimaces menacingly. "Cause I thought you looked a little piqued around Toby. You don't want to hurt Freddie again, not in my house."
"Oh, no. In fact, to prove how much I accept Fred and Toby, I volunteer to spend the night in their room."
His grimace breaks into a grin. "Well, we were going to put you up in the spare room with Jane's boyfriend, and the boy in with his folks, but I'm sure that can be arranged."
We go back into the living room and exchange gifts. I only brought one, a book for Fred, but receive three, from Fred, his parents, and Toby (a Nebraska Cornhuskers t-shirt: "I saw a picture of you, and knew that red is your color!"). Then we watch more tv (a common entertaiment in the Midwest) until it's time to decide on the sleeping arrangements.
Bedroom #1: Jane
Bedroom #2: Dwight and his wife
Bedroom #3: Fred, Boomer, and Toby.
Spare Room: Jane's boyfriend and Dwight's son
"Sorry we have to triple up, Freddie." Virgil says. "There's just not enough beds to go around."
"Oh, I don't mind a bit," Fred says with a grin.
When we get upstairs, Toby wraps me into a hug.
"How did you ever convince Mr. and Mrs. A. to let us share Fred's bed tonight? We're not out to them, so they think we're just roommates having a sleepover."
"That must be the reason," Fred says, joining us in the hug. "No chance of any hanky panky going on up here."
"Actually, Virgil knows that Toby is gay, and thinks that you're straight but 'into queers.'"
"See, Fred?" Toby says. "I can't be in the closet! Everybody knows the moment I say 'hello.'" He turns to me. "Do you like kissing? Fred doesn't like to kiss."
In case you were wondering: slim physique, average-sized cut penis, French and Greek passive.
We shared a few more times, when they came to Rock Island or I drove out to visit them in Omaha. Then Fred got a new job, as senior pastor of the United Methodist Church in Horrible Small-Town Kansas. He and Toby broke up, maybe because Toby didn't want to move to Horrible Small-Town Kansas, or maybe because he knew he could never be closeted enough to be a preacher's partner. Everyone knew the moment he said "hello."
See also: My Ex-Boyfriend Fred's Nine Lovers.