Jim Gerardi on Coming Out in honor of National Coming Out Day – Smart Sex Smart Love

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“It was more or less common before the 1970s for gay men not to come out to their families,” says this episode’s guest, 81-year-old, author, Jim Gerardi. “If your family knew you were gay, back then, no one said anything and that could go on like that for years!” On this special episode in honor of national Coming Out Day, Joe chats to Jim about his coming out story. Jim tells Joe how he didn’t come out to his parents until he was 39-years-old. What has gay life been like for Jim? What changes has he seen in the community? Jim and Joe chat about all of that, plus what led Jim to write his book, ‘Jerome’, a searing story of two teenage boys and a girl seeking their sexual identities in the 1950s…

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Speaker 1:        All right. Today’s podcast is a special episode in honor of national coming out day. My guest today is 81 year old Michigan writer, Jim Gerardi, author of Jerome, a gay coming of age story. Jim didn’t come out himself to his parents until he was 39 years old in the 1970s it was more or less common before the 1970s for gay men not to come out to their families. If the families knew. No one said anything that could go on for years and often did. If you had a partner, which Jim did at age 39 the partner was called your friend. Some of the older members of the family, like aunts and uncles and grandparents thought of you as a bachelor or confirmed bachelor and everyone let it go with that. Then the gay movements come out of the closet, pushed, took place, which made Jim rethink the friend and bachelor Dodge and he came out to his family.

Speaker 1:        Luckily they were fine with it. They treated his partner as one of the family, but what does gay life been like for him as an older adult? Jim joins me today to discuss how things have changed for him and around him as well as what’s led him to publish his book, a searing story of two teenage boys and a girl seeking their sexual identities in an era now remembered as the fabulous 50s at 17 Jerome Laurentino faces the dilemma familiar to every LGBTQ youth to every gender, whether how and when to tell mom and dad. But for Jerry, it’s the 1950s no internet, no visible gay rights movement, no TV programs with gay characters. He’s alone. He’s scared, but he has a plan, a wild and crazy plan, and the will to carry it out. Welcome Jim. Thank you, Joe. It’s good to be here. It’s great to be here.

Speaker 1:        I think for full disclosure, we should let people know we’re friends, we’ve been friends for 20 years and dude and I have valued your friendship for a long time. Thank you. With the same, yeah, sure. Good. All right. So, um, so why don’t we just start like, um, my first question to you would be when did you first realize that you were gay and what triggered that realization? Um, it really hit me at age 16. Uh, before then I had been S bet going back to seventh and eighth grade. I had been attracted to certain boys in class and so on, but I didn’t really think about it or attach a label to it or kind of internalize it at all. But at 16, I literally woke up one morning and knew that I was homosexual, which was the word we used in those days. Um, it was like, Oh, this is what I am, you know, kind of thing.

Speaker 1:        And, and I knew. How did you think that happened? I really don’t know. I literally woke up with that thought on my mind. I w it was so striking that the rest of the day I remember I was at school, I went around in a fog at school. Uh, because it, it just hit me that hard. And along with it was a feeling that I was supposed to be that way too. I mean, it was kind of a certitude, you know, that I was on a path that was supposed to be on and this was that. I really, I cannot answer that question. I wish I knew. I’ve always loved your story in different things you’ve said, because I always think to myself, you know, you’re 81 so back then, what, when you were 16 what was, what year was it? That would have been about 1954 55 so I mean, nobody was saying that word anywhere and they were, but in a negative ways.

Speaker 1:        Yeah. Right. Okay. So then they had to be the, you were living with that day two is here. You knew you were homosexual and it had to be a very negative feeling now to an ex? No, it wasn’t actually, it was not, I have to say, I did not have any conflict about it. I didn’t have any regret about it. I didn’t have a, Oh my God, how this happened, sort of thing. Nothing like that. It was just, Oh, this is who I am. And that’s when I lived with, for that whole day. And then after that, um, the realization about how you, I came to realize that this was a negative thing as far as the world was concerned, that that all came in time. And how so? Can you speak to that? Um, I think maybe the first time I heard the word queer was from my older brother and his friends joking around about people and listening to them, it kind of dawned on me what it meant with the word queer meant.

Speaker 1:        And it was in those days, it was not just an a neutral label. It was an insult. And then we, we had a lot of magazines and newspapers in the house and uh, they were not devoid of news about homosexuals. I mean, there was a lot of news about them. For one thing, president Eisenhower, I think it was in 1955 issued a, a, a presidential order that all gay employees, the state department would be fired here with. And they were, Oh my God, that was a huge thing in those days. That was a big story in the paper. And then there were routine local things. For example, the, uh, you’d see pictures in the paper of gay men being loaded into police wagons after a raid on a gay bar or as the newspaper called them Pomo bars and carted off to the precinct, uh, for booking.

Speaker 1:        Uh, their names would be published, their pictures would be published in the papers. So, you know, I got the idea definitely that this was not something in the world looked favorably on. I don’t remember that. That was all kind of outside of me. I lived in kind of a Oh, a middle to upper middle class bubble going to Catholic schools. And everything. So it didn’t like impinge on my life, but it was there. I thought, you know, I, I got it. This is what I’ve always liked about talking with you is learning about different areas. Right. Because I didn’t know that there was so much talk. I thought it was just invisible and if there was any talk it was tiny little articles but it all, no, not at all. Uh, things happened, uh, you know, 10 years later we had Stonewall. Um, really every era had its gay story in the 70s with Leonard Matlovich, the air force guy who volunteered to be a test case before the courts as to whether the, the military could let people go just for being homosexual.

Speaker 1:        Well, that was another thing. I joined the national guard while I was in college. I joined at the age of 18 and one, one of the boxes you had to check up was, are you a homosexual? And of course I had to check no. Or I wouldn’t have gotten in, you know. So yeah, there were all that was going on. I’m really glad you’re bringing that up because people today say, you know, I teach that you shouldn’t be using the word homosexual because this has a negative connotation. You know, younger millennial gays and younger don’t believe, don’t agree with that, and they feel like you to go ahead and use it. But they were never asked, are you a known homosexual and designer religious charged from the military, right? Or blamed for the hate crime that was committed. I mean, that does still happen today, but it’s just a different, so people will say, when you’re heterosexual, they’re heterosexual.

Speaker 1:        Why heterosexuals? Not a bad word. Why is homosexual? This is why. Well, it’s considered more today. I think people think of it as more of a medical term, kind of a diagnostic term that was used by Freud originally. It’s an old term going way back. I really avoid it. I’m glad gay came along. Although when it did, we thought it sounded funny, almost a little silly, you know, because funny, joyful and a kind of playful way. And it took a while to get used to that. But actually it turned out to be a very bad thing. Oh my God, I’m just loving this conversation. We’ve never talked about any of this, you and me. Right. But just to think that you were like around when gay came out, right? And then you had to get used to that word. Like I’ve had to get used to the word queer.

Speaker 1:        Right? Because queer was always, like you said, it’s so negative. I still have a problem with that one. It’s going to beat me up. You know, it’s that my brain still goes there. Some of the better magazines are starting to use it more routinely now. And that helps. But still you’re imprinted with whatever you, you learned at 16 or 17 or gay imprint, I guess. Right, exactly. So you’re talking about those raids. Um, can I ask, have you, did you ever do any cruising? You know, I never did. Um, I wasn’t personally inclined to do, I was more interested in relationships than love of romance. That was just me. Um, so I just wasn’t inclined to do it. But in addition to that, I thought those things in the paper where the police raided bars, I was very aware of that and over time learned that the police and trap people.

Speaker 1:        I would say the first seven years of my working life, I was a teacher. I had to be very careful about anything like that and I was just naturally careful about it. Anyway. I was not really interested in going to parks or restrooms or anything like that, but I, you know, I saw the people who did do that got caught. And so that was just something that I didn’t do and didn’t never thought seriously of doing. And just so people understand that still does happen today. It’s not this, it’s that as much as it to, and in the 90s when I was an early gay formative therapist, LGBT affirmative therapists, I used to get clients because there was, and Jeffrey Montgomery taught me about this. He used to be at the triangle foundation, which is the equality of men for Michigan today. And he would talk about that.

Speaker 1:        The police had this, um, program called Baga fag and they would go to the public places that gay men would be at and pretend to be gay themselves. Literally, my clients would say, let them touch them so then, then they could arrest them. And I used to wonder what kind of cop is willing to do this and engage in the, you know what I mean? On some wonder. Yes, exactly. And these lot got men’s lives were destroyed and they were in the paper and their names would be listed and their wives would find out just awful, very bad. You know, I don’t know if it goes on in Michigan anymore. Uh, Yvette, I don’t know either sort of state by state [inaudible] and I know people listening might say, well, why are gay men going to public places anymore when we, they don’t necessarily need to.

Speaker 1:        I asked Jeff Montgomery that. I said, you know what, we’re spending a lot of money to defend folks who are doing this over and over again knowing that the police are doing, you know, there are a lot of ins and outs, yeses and nos on it. Good and bad, but the fact is the police should not have been doing that. No. Right. There should have been a different way. Right. Um, and you know, back then, and there are different ways plenty now, right. But you know, a lot of other people, um, even today, back then they didn’t want to go into a gay bar. They didn’t see themselves as gay. They didn’t, I mean it’s a whole different podcast, right. Or their, their culture or their religion or whatever. So a quick hookup and then go home is like, it didn’t happen. And yeah, it was compartmentalized.

Speaker 1:        We’re lucky that we didn’t have to live that way. You and I very, you know. Um, so let’s talk about, uh, well let’s, let’s have a little bit about your job. So what was it like you came out to your family later, but what about work? I just never, it was never a problem at work because I never talked about it. Um, certainly in teaching I didn’t. Um, and then when I, uh, left teaching and went into the business world, um, I just didn’t talk about it. Um, if there were social events that involved wives or bringing women to them. Uh, I just didn’t go and it was a big company. I worked for a large insurance company, so that was not a problem. But basically I just didn’t, I didn’t talk about it really until the 80s when the coming out movement started. And even then I didn’t talk about it, but I didn’t hide it either.

Speaker 1:        When friends would talk about friends at work, people I was close to would talk about, uh, what they were doing for the weekend or for the summer, whatever. I talk about my partner and I would say that’s name. Yeah. Okay. Partner Doug and I are one. These were people I trusted. I didn’t say it to just anybody, but people I knew and liked and had socialized with as well as working with. Did you feel bad about that? Not telling back then? Geez, I can’t remember if I had an emotion about it. I just did what was the appropriate thing to do or I thought wasn’t the time. That was it. See, I used to feel angry. I’m in the eighties when I was coming out, my sister had this boyfriend and always welcome at the dinner table and you could talk about him. And I remember thinking, fuck that.

Speaker 1:        I’m sorry. I said, I’m like, I’m not living a differently than her just because I’m gay and gay. And so I, if she had a boyfriend, I talked about mine. If she brought someone home, I’d bring someone on. So I had a different, I was a little more angry about it. I think it was in my face. You know why? Why not? I mean, it is unfair. There’s no doubt about it. I didn’t experience, I didn’t put two and two together like that in our, in our house. But I can see where somebody could and would, and you know, the old me used to think that you didn’t was internalized homophobia. I would have labeled it right away. I don’t see it that way anymore. And it’s a generational thing. It’s a religious thing. It’s a cultural thing. I get it now. Remember I used to say this to you.

Speaker 1:        I know, I know. I’m so sorry. I was just so militant. No, you know I’ve changed. Okay, so let’s talk about your book, Jerome. Gay coming of age story. What, what made you write this book? You know, it didn’t start as a book. It started as a short story. My career was in business writing. I wrote speeches in annual reports and so on. And when I retired I thought, I think a lot of business writers go through this. I wonder if I could write fiction. I wonder if I have the talent to do that or the ability to do that. And I thought, I’ll just do a short story. I’ve got the time now, 10 pages. If it has the plot, a beginning, a middle and an end, I’ll be happy. I’ll toss it in the basket and forget about it. Check that off my to do list.

Speaker 1:        So I did, but the problem was when I got to page 10 that that was then turned to page 15 2030 I mean, it just grew in a sense. The characters told me what they wanted to do next. I mean, it was in my own mind, but it kind of worked that way oddly. And so I would write it down and just, it just grew. And finally I had over 250 pages. Wow. So I was able to call that a novel and I showed it to some people and they said this is, they really improved. They liked it and encouraged me to get it published. I didn’t get it published. I got it printed maybe 10 copies at a time and gave it to anybody who wanted it. But it’s now on Amazon, which I’m so happy for you about. Thank you. Right. Cause it should be available to everybody who wants to read it.

Speaker 1:        Thanks. You know, and it’s just like you said, it’s cause I’ve been reading it and it does talk about Detroit. If you’re from Detroit, you remember places are actually some of the places, I don’t remember what they were but I didn’t know about. And um, you know, the streets and, and, and then it reminds you of what the fifties were like. You really did a good job. It was some kind of neat things about the fifties they had their problems, God knows, but there was some fun things about it. Uh, one thing I try to make clear to everybody about the book is that even though it’s written in the first person, the main character speaks throughout it as I, it isn’t me. Oh, I was gonna make sure that, okay, it’s not an autobiography. You’re not Jerome. It’s me. I am not his, his life, my life as an adolescent with much calmer and less dramatic than a Jerome has problems that I didn’t have.

Speaker 1:        That’s one of the reasons it was fun writing that, that book, I was able to get myself into his predicament and try to get him out of it. What do you let him try to get out of it? Yeah. What made you think about creating that kind of character in you? I don’t know where he came from. I really don’t. It wasn’t me. It was just, just he was just there. Yeah. He’s very vivid. It’s very, it’s very good. Um, so can you tell us how long were you in your relationship? Uh, with Doug? Yes. Uh, 23 years. 22 years. How’d you meet him? Um, we were introduced by, actually by a fellow I was seeing at the time. We weren’t really in a relationship. We dated a couple times. I think we both knew it wasn’t working out too well. But anyway, we all met with some friends at a club on one Saturday night and he brought a friend of his, who was happened to be Doug.

Speaker 1:        And uh, while we were sitting around during the evening having drinks, Doug asked me to dance and you could still slow dance in those days. I don’t think you can do that now in bars, but you could then, and gay bars. Yeah. Oh, I can’t even imagine. Slow down. They would alternate the music. Oh wow. Okay. That’s nice. With somebody you wanted to be with. It was kinda nice. Anyway, so he asked him, asked me to dance, not just once or twice, but three or four times. And you know, that was a, I mean, we just got along in the next, we were together all those for two decades after that. Um, and was it hard, like you’ve said to me over the years, you know, you felt it might be easier to be gay and openly gay and in a relationship back in the older days because, um, people didn’t think about it.

Speaker 1:        Right? Well, I call it flying under the radar and in that sense it was easier. Uh, it’s much better today. I would never want to go back anybody to go back to those days. Yeah. But I mean, that’s, you could do that. I mean, if you, if your family is saying, Oh, that’s, he’s a confirmed bachelor and uh, they’re calling your partner, your friend. I know I had my very best friend did that right through his whole life until he died. He, he never did tell his parents, you know, so you could do that. I also moved away from home and I moved downtown, got my own apartment. And so the family wasn’t there to see me. Uh, I could do what I wanted and go where I wanted. I made new friends, both gay and straight. So I just, that’s what I call a flying under the radar in that sense.

Speaker 1:        Nobody talked about it in those to polite people, did not talk about that with just any sex thing. So you just do what you want. What would you, what do you think would have happened if you did talk about it? People would be very uncomfortable and they could just sort of look away. It would just be guess. Yeah, right. I just didn’t do it right. I know. Totally understand that. Cause if I was going to change the tone of and the tender, your relationship could change your relationship too. Yeah, you’re right. So just avoid that. Yeah. I don’t blame you. Um, and then can you talk a little bit about, um, things have changed, right? So you went from a young man to a middle aged man and now an older adult. What has that been like as a gay man? That, what changes have you seen?

Speaker 1:        Well, you know, there are negatives to it. I mean, I think that it’s a, we all know that in the gay community there are two currencies that are very valuable youth. And looks and as you age, you know, whatever looks you had, if you had any, you lose them. And obviously your age is your age. Can’t do anything about that. So I think it makes it tougher to date and to meet people and form relationships. Um, I don’t date anymore at this point. I did up until about the age of 75. Um, but I don’t know. It’s my social life centers on my friends, both gay and straight. [inaudible] go out to lunch, go out to dinner, go over to their homes, they come to mind, we do things. But, uh, that’s where I sent her my really my life now and I’m not really in gay life anymore as such.

Speaker 1:        Does that bother you? Do you just, you just adapted to it? It’s just what it is and I don’t regret it or have any profound feelings about it. My life is, I like my life the way it is. It’s satisfying. I, uh, I’m able to see my friends and do things and right. You different. I do. You know, I do. I miss romance. Yes. Do I miss having somebody to love and to be loved by it? Yes, I do. But that’s, I’m 81 you’re going to do well. And people may ask, if you don’t mind me asking, um, what, what happened to your relationship with Doug died? Yeah. Right in 1997, he had lived, he was a great guy. He was a very strong man. He had fought for years to maintain his health in the face of, uh, of, of blood disease that was incurable con Polycythaemia.

Speaker 1:        And he did, he managed it very well with the help of good doctors. But in the end, uh, it got him and he died in his sixties and 1997. And then after that, it probably took you a while to, you know, grieve and right. I mean, maybe two years, right before I really sort of came out of that stage. And you know, what’s crazy to me is there’s only one book and it’s out of print for, uh, relation, gay relations, male relationships where one dies. It’s called gay widowers, Michael. Sure enough, I’ve never even heard of it. Yeah. Now he’s even diseased. But, um, yeah, I wrote about it a lot. I reviewed it and, and you know, the, there’s stories of gay men and what happened and how you went to it. And it’s a good book, you know. What would you say, um, is wisdom that you have?

Speaker 1:        Uh, um, I know you have lots of wisdom. You know, some people don’t know because we’re, we’ve been friends for a long time. Um, you know that I’ve always looked at you too as wisdom for wisdom. And I used to call you my gay elder and you used to hate that. And now that I’m an elder, I hate too though. So I completely understand. You know, one day Joe, we’re going to have to own it. I know, I know. But we older adults, that’s what they say. Now they don’t even say seniors. That’s a work around. I know it isn’t work around it, but I like it. Right? Oh no, you’re not. I know we’re both one. Sorry. Um, but I, but I’ve always looked to you for wisdom and I’ve always looked said to you, you know, what do you think about this? Plus, your life has been less dramatic than mine.

Speaker 1:        You’re more calm and I’ve all this drama going. What would you say is the biggest kinds of wisdoms you want to tell people? You know, well, nobody’s ever asked me. I, you know, I’ve never had a young people come to me and say, Oh, why is one, what do you think I should do about this or that? Never. But you know, if I had to tell it, talk to anybody, whether gay or straight, young or old, I would just say they’re there. Just three things. Um, uh, and one of them is to be, uh, be proud of who you are. Uh, as a gay person. Be honest and generous in your relationships and be kind to people. I just think that’s, those are the three things. No matter who you are or what your station in life is. If you do those three, you’re going to be happier with yourself as a person, which I think you are all three of those things over the 20 years I’ve known you.

Speaker 1:        Thank you. Yeah. I really have appreciated your friendship daily efforts. Right? I know it’s an effort for all of us, especially when people aren’t that way back to us. Right. It happens. I’m so glad you’re on here and I’m so glad you talked about Jerome, your book. Um, what would you, where can people find it again? Well, it is on Amazon. You do have to, if you go there, you have to input. That’s the title of the book is simply Jerome. But to get it on the, on the website, you do have to input Jerome eight gay coming of age story. And we had to do that because if you just input Jerome, you get a whole bunch of books by people who, whose name is Jerome when you can’t see the book you’re looking for. So it makes sense. Put that other part and they can put your name and spell it and your name will be on the website. So that’s right. If they put in Jim Gerardi, James Gerardi, O J yeah. Jerome by James sorority brings it up too. But yeah, either way. Okay, great. Thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate having me. It was fun. Yeah, it was. Thank you.

Speaker 3:        Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex, smart love. I’m dr Joel court and you can find me on Joe kort.com that’s J O E K O R t.com. See you next time.

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