Portrait of the homophiles as just plain folks
When I was a child in Chicago I lived in an apartment with my mother and brother across the street from a men’s clothing shop. The two owners lived upstairs and as long as I can remember they lived together.
They treated me nicely. They liked to give me flowers and little things, but when I was around them mother seemed a bit nervous. Even though she seemed to like them a lot. By the time I was old enough to realize what “homosexual” meant they had moved away to open up a shop in San Francisco. I was still trying to figure out heterosexuality, so I shelved the concept under varieties of people and forgot about it. In Chicago, like a lot of other places, teen-age girls thought more about romance than sex.
So it happened one day in 1965, I was sprawled on the rocks by the lake under the summer sun. The water that day was still and clear and slightly cool. The whole gang was out in swimming suits and I was full of 15-year-old energy. We’d have seaweed fights and walk carefully over the hot asphalt to the hot-dog stand. Then we’d go to the Nike Missile Outpost, with its cyclone fence and K-9 guards and radar tower, and ask the soldiers inside what they thought it was all about.
After six hours of sun and no luck at the missile base, it wasn’t surprising that a woman a bit older than most of us invited us over to her house to smoke and drink. We pooled our money, bought the goodies and headed over to Vicky’s. Once there I didn’t understand why they played Peggy Lee over and over, and I had to keep edging away from the guy on my right,
but I was getting stoned and figured I could handle it. I was slumping on the arm of a couch when someone put an arm around my shoulder. My head was lifted and turned by a hand and a mouth came down on mine. I opened my eyes to talk the guy out of it and with a shock realized it was Vicky. The reaction was instinctive and immediàte. I turned my head the other way and vomited.
So I found that I have the fine, hard line inside that makes my love for other women sisterly rather than sensual. Years have passed and that line is still resolutely there. I can’t explain it so I avoid explaining it.
My trepidations about undertaking to write about homosexuality, a subject in which I had little immediate interest and less experience, may well be imagined. Though I fancied myself worldly, the research was mind-expanding. It brought home yet again a belief paid lip service to by much of my generation: people are people. Lovers are lovers. And labels are labels.
The Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) is a spin-off from the University of Toronto Homophile Association. Almost two years old now, CHAT has gone from a kitchen-table steering committee to a 24-hour community centre in a rented church and a membership of hundreds, drawn from a wide spectrum of the community. Visiting CHAT was like walking through a papier-mâché caricature and finding a real, human handshake behind it. A lot of my professed values came up for reassessment. The only category I allow imposed on me is humanism, and yet I felt a strong need to categorize the people I was meeting. Before long I discovered the inner conflict was more apparent than real. The challenge to my liberal conscience was softened by the candor and warmth with which I was welcomed into the community. Since gay people still meet with some social disapprobation, it’s not surprising that the people who let me into their lives were the president (George Hislop) and vice-president (Pat Murphy) of CHAT.
Patty Murphy, 30, and Linda Jain, 22, live together in the second story of a duplex off Danforth Avenue in the city’s east end. The flat is clean and tidy, the atmosphere airy and roomy. The furniture, though old, is in good condition. The front room has a working fireplace and looks out over the quiet residential street where children play. The women share their two-bedroom home with Arthur, a young man who is also gay and also works with CHAT.
In general, the place seems very much a young-couplewithout-much-money flat. The only unusual arrangement I spotted was in the kitchen. The dishes were stored over the refrigerator and the food was stored over the sink. My once housewifely soul was amused by the inconvenience of the storage.
Linda was reading a sociological text when I first went over. She was completing her third year of university and had just accepted a position with a youth hostel, which entails various shift work.
“It’s been really hard lately,” she explained as she closed her book. “There’s never enough time. I really enjoy my work at the hostel, but the hours change, nearly every day so I’m always behind on sleep.”
“You need your sleep, too,” said Pat. “Sounds like you have a cold. Do we have any vitamin C?”
“Don’t think so. I’d take it if we had it.”
“Yes, we should get some. Isn’t it great to have money again?”
Linda smiled and turned to me. “It’s been a long hard grind,” she said. “I’ve been in school and Patty’s been working for CHAT.”
Pat, as she lit a cigarette, said, “Well, I think that what we’re doing is important. We had some savings, a couple of thousand bucks. That went fast for food and rent. But, you know,” she turned to Linda, “what bothered me most was not having any time to spend with you.”
“It’s not much better now,” said Linda. “Boy, will I ever be relieved when I’m through school.”
“This next year’s going to be really interesting,” mused Pat. “We’re going to have to figure out . . .”
“What we want to do,” finished Linda with a laugh. “Oops,
I think I hear Baron.” She went downstairs to let the dog in. Patty fetched us beers. I mentioned that at the CHAT meeting I attended one woman had come out very strongly against having straight writers come in to study the group.
“Yes, well, she has a point,” shrugged Pat. “We’ve had all kinds of people come in and write their papers on us. And they always seem to know in advance how they’re going to see us. We’re subjects to them, not people.” Pat’s professional glower brought to mind her training and experience in psychiatric nursing. She shrugged again and added, “But with honest exchange, there comes a positive rapport and enlightenment for all in most cases.”
Linda came back with Baron, who turned out to be a small beagle. Pat collected a cat from the radiator on her way back to her chair.
“Oh Suzie,” she said, “why did you go and crawl up in that chimney? She’s pure white like Kilo there, that’s her daughter. But now look at her.”
“Hey Murph,” called Linda from the kitchen. She came down the hall and stuck her head in the living room. “I’ve got a great ¿(¿ea. Let’s go to Kensington Market on Saturday and get some stuff for granola. I just found the recipe again.” “Sure,” said Pat. “Sounds good. When are you working on Saturdays?”
“I’m off. And so are you.”
“Hey, that’s right. A whole day together. We can sleep in and everything.” Pat shook her head in wonder. “A year and a half, and we’re still very much in love.”
“We’re incredibly lucky,” said Linda. She bounced on her toes a minute and went back to the kitchen.
Four days later, I came for breakfast and the baking of the granola. We sat around the kitchen table with our second cups of coffee. Linda’s cough was pretty bad, but she was cheerful.
“I think this recipe meant liquid honey, not whipped,” she said with a spoonful in her hand. “I know, I’ll heat it.”
“We take turns cooking. We both enjoy it,” said Pat. “I think that’s our secret: we do what we enjoy. So many people spend their lives trying to do what’s expected of them, what their role requires. That’s what’s wrong with society at large, with both the homosexual and heterosexual communities. It’s all this role-playing. Every man must be Super-Stud. Every woman must be Super-Femme. Some people are happy like that.
“But the vast majority of the people are trying to fit themselves into their roles without ever finding out who they really are. It’s like you were saying the other day, Penney, a woman who goes directly from her parents’ house to her husband’s hasn’t really made a choice. She’s just accepted her fate.” Linda interjected: “It’s not like we’re as sheltered as we might have been 20 years ago. Though there’s usually still a lot of training to break down.”
“Yes,” agreed Pat. “Women are approaching a time when they can be classified as people.”
“My first experience was in university,” said Linda. “I was just sitting in study hall one night with another girl. Finally I asked her, ‘Do you mind if I kiss you?’ She didn’t understand, she said, ‘No, why should I mind?’ And I said, ‘I don’t mean on the cheek.’ And the kiss initiated a six-month affair.”
I asked the obvious questions. Linda replied, “No, there was no guilt. I was doing what seemed natural. I don’t hate men or anything. I was just very attracted to this woman.” Pat spread her hands. “Some people love women. Some people love men. Most everyone who’s alive loves someone. Some people,” she glanced at me, “were born loners.”
This was an astute and unique perception. Patty had tossed at me something no other person had ever acknowledged in
my presence. I do love and I do have friends. But I’ve always felt that I live deeper in my soul than is usual. True to my nature, I smiled and deflected the comment with a question.
“Oh,” Pat said, “my first experience was when I was about 21. It was just sort of a cuddly thing. But it really scared me. I had heard that homosexuality was, well, sinful and wicked. All those years at a separate school had left their mark. But as I got more into myself, and read more and more on theology and psychology, I began to realize that my guilt came from a set of values that I disagreed with. I went out with guys. I was even engaged at one point. There was no driving compulsion or abhorrence that made me choose women.
“When I was about 24, I fell in love with another woman. By this time I was pretty easy in my mind about what we were doing. But the friends of my lover, where we were working, gave us a really rough time. We stayed and faced their ignorance and enjoyed our time together, until her family called her home. Then there was another woman — whoa! —that was a crazy business, but I was really shattered when we broke up. It was not positive for either of us. And then, finally, I met Linda at a gay club in Toronto. It was one of the very few times I’ve ever made the bar scene.”
“Well I’d never been to a club before,” said Linda. “That was only a couple of weeks after I got to town, remember?” “Yes, it was a lucky chance. We started talking there, and Linda joined the U of T homophile group. We were good friends for two or three months, even decided to share an apartment as roommates — that’s all, just roommates.”
“Yes, but that didn’t last long,” grinned Linda. She slid the cookie trays into the oven and we retired to the living room.
I asked a few questions about their family lives. Both women seem to have been brought up normally. Both speak of their parents with warm affection and keep in touch to find out about their younger siblings.
“I don’t think there was any / continued on page 62
COUPLES from page 45 trauma or feeling of difference,” said Pat. “I know the textbooks say that homosexuals have broken homes or screwy parents, but this just isn’t the case with either of us. It’s no sickness.
“Sure, there are people in our community who need help, just as there are in the straight community. But I really believe that getting ‘out of the closet’ and into the larger society, as ourselves, would solve most of our problems.”
Pat’s views on integration reflect to a large extent the prevailing opinion of CHAT as an organization. CHAT’s general method of attaining liberation for the individual is to work within the existing system. More radically inclined homosexuals gravitate to Toronto Gay Action, a spin-off from CHAT.
Presently the gay community is rallying to force the federal Minister of Immigration and Manpower, Bryce Mackasey, to strike from the Immigration Act Section 5, paragraphs (e) and (f) and subsection 1 of Section 19, which prohibit homosexuals from immigrating to Canada. The focal point of the issue is a U.S. citizen, who presently faces deportation for being too honest with the Immigration Department. Peter Maloney, an unsuccessful Liberal candidate for the Ontario Legislature, made headlines when he confronted Otto Lang, former Immigration Minister, at the Ontario Liberal Party’s annual meeting in Ottawa early this year. Maloney said that, as a homosexual citizen, he was less than pleased about being grouped with prostitutes and pimps in a piece of Canadian legislation.
George Hislop, 44, and Ron Shearer, 39, live in what can only be called quiet elegance. The walls, couch and love seats reflect the soft blues and greens that they prefer. Two five-foot wroughtiron candelabra separate the living and dining rooms. A multitude of mirrors bounce the light from the walls, windowsills, dining area and bathroom ceiling. The lines throughout are square, spare and simple. George answered the door in his pyjamas and gave me a kiss.
Ron wandered out to give me a sleepy good morning, then went into the kitchen (his domain) to cook breakfast. I remarked on the beauty of their home.
George beamed and started talking. “When we first started living together, I was wary of being rooted to one spot by possessions. I felt my freedom was more important than anything. So when we moved into our first flat, we had nothing, virtually nothing but a coffee table. Damned if Ronnie didn’t find something to make a soup from, and he served it on our table. I was happily eating away, telling him how good it was, and I looked up and saw he was just sitting there, watching me. I said, ‘Why aren’t you eating?’ He said, ‘You’ve got the only spoon.’ ”
The story was 14 years old, but it still brought a glow of sentimental pleasure to both pairs of eyes.
“I never dreamed then,” George waved his fork, “that we’d have all this. But Ronnie should get the credit. He looks at a room and sees what it can be. He’s an artist, too, did the watercolors in the bathroom.”
Ron protested, “I am not an artist. I’m a designer. A commercial artist if you insist.”
“You’re too modest,” George chided.
“No I’m not. I know what I am, and I’m not a fine artist.”
“Okay.” George shrugged and chewed for a moment. “Say, Penney, you should’ve come to the CHAT dance last night. It was wild. About 350 people showed up.”
“Yes it was quite a party,” said Ron. “Hey did you see Bob teaching what’shis-name to do the Bump?”
“No, I’m sorry I missed that. Do you know the Bump?” George asked me. A negative answer called for a demonstration. Ron stood in place and marked time with his hips to an inaudible tune while George bumped around him and on him. It’s one of the few modern dances that definitely requires a partner.
Laughing and catching their breath, Ron cleared the table while George
went to get dressed. Settled in the living room, I asked Ron his last name. He spelled it for me.
“Lots of people don’t even know my first name,” he said with a smile. “They say, ‘Hi, where’s George?’ ”
“He knows his place,” George joked as he reentered.
“I guess I do,” Ron said.
“Do you feel this is role-playing?” I asked. George’s eyebrows went up.
“I guess you could call it that,” Ron mused. He looked up and his eyes were clear and frank. “I do what I like to do. I like to please George. He doesn’t run my life — not by a long shot. I can be perfectly happy on my own. It’s just that we’ve hammered out a relationship and this is the way it works.”
“You have to cut the cloth to fit the customer,” said George. “It doesn’t matter who cooks or serves the drinks. What’s important is that you understand each other. The reason we’ve stayed together so long is that, basically, we’re friends. Best friends. We can talk about anything. Without this kind of honesty, no relationship can last very long. How can you live with someone you have to hide things from? I couldn’t do it.”
“It wasn’t always easy,” said Ron. “I was really hurt at first when he said he wanted his freedom to meet and go with other guys. He’d just come out of this relationship with another man who tried to strangle him with love.”
“I went to England for a year to get away from that relationship and let it cool down,” George said. “We’re good friends now, of course, and it all seems pretty funny in retrospect. But then, it was murder.
“So I told Ronnie openly, ‘I get tempted and I fall.’ And when he said that was okay — I don’t think he liked it much — all the pressure just evaporated.”
“I get tempted once in a while, too,” Ron grinned.
“Everyone gets tempted,” said George. “Except — I had a thought the other day. You know, some people are asexual. They have no sex drive at all. I wonder how they feel about our world.
“Me, I was as precocious as they come. And I always knew I liked boys. Used to have this good friend when I was a kid. We’d exchange tips on who was available. It was all just good fun.” “I started later,” said Ron. “But I always knew I was gay.”
George and Ron enjoy life immensely, and they have an enviable lifestyle. Spiritually, they have their love for each other, which manifests itself quickly to an unprejudiced eye. On a more material plane, they can afford to dine in good restaurants, to take in shows, to work at individual interests, and to travel to Europe every year.
Ron is vice-president and art director continued on page 64
of a commercial lighting company.
George, an actor, is, of course, president of CHAT. The job is time-consuming and low-paying (when it does pay). He does it because he loves it.
“The only thing I really don’t like doing,’’ he said, “is having the distress phone forwarded to my house. We have to have that phone open 24 hours a day because crises don’t keep office hours. But I like to get away from it occasionally and retreat to my home, my island.
“Since I want a rest from the phones, other people take turns handling them. There’s no sweat there. 1 enjoy talking with people who come into the office and keep in touch with the community that way.
“But mostly my work breaks down into a number of other categories: organizational. public relations, such as speaking to groups, and in the morning Chuck and I go down to the courts to make sure our people have lawyers.
“You know that big flap everyone made about the Criminal Code amendments that supposedly made homosexuals legal? In the first place, it never was illegal to be a homosexual. And in the second place, people are still getting arrested for it.
“The original legislation was a gainst ‘gross indecency’ acts — that is, any sort of sexual intercourse not (a) heterosexual, (b) in the missionary position and (c) for purposes of procreation. The law as it stands now still prohibits ‘gross indecency.’ Who knows what that means? It’s not defined.
“The law applies equally to gay people and straight. If a policeman finds a man and a woman going at it in a car, he’s supposed to take them in. What he does is tell them to move along. He knows that the jails would be bursting in a weekend if those people were always charged.
“Homosexuals take up less room and generally plead guilty in order to avoid a fuss. If every gay person arrested for gross indecency insisted on his right to a trial in high court, the courts would start throwing the cases out. They’d have to.
“What hurts gay people most is the need for secrecy, the fear of discovery that pervades their lives. Job security is the only good reason I can think of for secrecy.
“But so often the fear turns to self-hatred, to the necessity for living a lie. You have to figure that if someone’s regard for you depends entirely on a lie, that person isn’t really a friend.”
Ron spoke up. “They told me that telling my parents would kill them, so I put off saying anything for years. When George decided to get into CHAT, it seemed time to tell my father. When I finished talking, he said, ‘Well, that’s a surprise. But you’re obviously happy. Now about that fishing trip . . .’ ” ■