Growing up in Seattle in the 1950s and ‘60s, I had no word for “gay.” My father was a distinguished professor of architecture, and in my teen years, I remember walking around the Modern house that he had designed for us in Laurelhurst, saying “I hate myself” loud enough for my mother and younger brother to hear. I thought I hated myself simply because I was terrible at sports. I couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw a softball, and I struck out whenever I was at bat. Bullies at school called me a sissy, but I was dimly aware that I hated myself for some deeper, underlying reason. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that it meant there was something wrong with me.
When I heard the word “homosexual” for the first time at the age of thirteen, the four of us were on a family trip to San Francisco. “Look,” Dad said, pointing at two men holding hands as they walked up a steep hill. “There are two homosexuals. How sad.” He wasn’t angry and he didn’t mean to be judgmental. As far as he was concerned, he was just pointing out a fact.
At about the same time, I began rationalizing my attraction to other boys by telling myself that I just wanted to be like them. I had no vocabulary or emotions to support the idea that I wanted to touch or kiss them. Gay men were nowhere to be seen in Seattle, not even on television. I don’t remember any other gay boys in Laurelhurst Elementary, Eckstein Junior High, or even in Roosevelt High School. If something was so successfully concealed, did it even exist?
“Invisible Dragons,” Chapter two of my forthcoming memoir, RAINBOW CATCHER: Coming Out / Coming of Age in the 1980s, is the story of that Seattle boy who could not identify the monster he was battling. Since I grew up in a largely secular, professional, and upwardly mobile family, my story demonstrates how self-homophobia can be learned even in the absence of hostile parents or a judgmental religion. I believe it would be a good addition to the LGBTQ+ Seattle Histories project by illuminating the closeted world that Seattle’s baby-boomer children were born into. I was not just a closeted boy; I was a boy growing up in a society where all queer people were swept out of sight.