James Madison University
Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project
Oral History Interview With: Joe
Interviewer: Ellen K. Donnelly
Place: Roop Hall, James Madison University
Date: March 16, 2006
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General topic of interview: The gay and lesbian community of Harrisonburg; overview of community and influences on the personal life of Joe.
DATE: March 16th, 2006
INTERVIEWER: Ellen K. Donnelly
PLACE: Roop Hall, James Madison University
Occupation: Graduate student
Joe was born in Buffalo, New York then moved to Rochester, New York. His parents divorced when he was thirteen and soon after he moved with his mom, sister and brother to Lynchburg, Virginia. His father soon followed and moved down to Virginia as well from Rochester. Joe went to high school in Lynchburg as well as two years at a local community college then two years at Lynchburg College where he graduated from undergrad. He originally sought out to pursue theater, but ended up in history. After undergrad he came to James Madison University for his masters in history and hopes to teach at the college level one day.
This interview was conducted to capture a glimpse into the gay and lesbian community within Harrisonburg, Virginia. Joe came out as being gay when he was a senior in high school and having lived in Lynchburg, Virginia he provided a unique perspective into what being gay is really like in southern, conservative America. Harrisonburg has been a very positive place for Joe and his interview also shed light onto the fact that gay men don’t always fit the typical “Will & Grace” stereotype and that stereotypes are just that…preconceived judgments that aren’t always correct. Unfortunately Joe could not provide an accurate description of the changes within the gay community of Harrisonburg since he has only lived here for a year. He did, however, offer a very personal and real testimony of one man living out his convictions despite opposition from family and society.
NOTE: The interviewee has requested that only his first name be used.
SVOHP Interview Transcript
The Gay and Lesbian Community of Harrisonburg
* Note: Due to a request from the narrator, all names including his are to be kept anonymous.
Ellen: My name is Ellen Donnelly and today is March 16th, 2006 and I’m here with Joe and we are doing an interview for the Shenandoah Oral History Project on the changes and the, on the gay and lesbian community in Harrisonburg and how it has changed over time and what it is like to live here, so. Um- Joe do I have your permission to be interviewed?
Joe: Yes you do.
E: Okay, thanks. Well- we’ll start with the easy ones- where did you go grow up? Give me a little background of childhood.
J: I was born in Rochester, grew up ’till high school in Buffalo, New York, then I moved to Lynchburg, VA. Did high school and undergrad in Lynchburg and now I’ve been here in Harrisonburg since August.
E: And you are here for school?
J: Yes, uh yes.
E: Um, uh so what was your childhood like when you were growing up in Rochester? Did you live there your whole life?
J: Just until I was one then I moved to Buffalo- about an hour away, same area.
J: It was good, my parents divorced when I was thirteen I think, um but overall it was pleasant experience. I did baseball, bowling, and football for a year until I had an asthma attack and was benched.
E: Oh gosh.
J: Um, but other than that I had family all around me. My dad’s side of the family lived up in Rochester and my mom’s family is located centrally more or less in Buffalo, it was a good childhood.
E: Good, how many siblings do you have? Do you have a big family?
J: Yeah…from my mom and dad I have a sister a brother. I have a step brother and a half brother now who is one, so fairly big family. I’m the oldest for all of it. My sister is a few years younger than me, my brother is fifteen now so yeah…
E: So you kind of feel like you had to pave the way for them, doing your own thing?
J: Well, I’m the quiet one. They are much more outspoken, my sister is well, and she is something else. Yeah I mean I’m hoping they’ll go on to college. My sister is now. My brother we’ll see- he is kind of, “I don’t want to.”
E: Yeah I’m the oldest of five kids, so I definitely know what it is like to be the oldest, some of them kind of go different ways.
J: Yeah that is definitely evident with my siblings.
E: Now I know you mentioned earlier that you lived in Lynchburg and you went to school there.
J: High school and I did two years of community college and two years at Lynchburg College where I graduated in 2004.
E: And then you came here…
J: Yeah- for my graduate.
E: Well that answers my next question, how did you end up in Harrisonburg? Well kind of going into personal background about just uh- the gay and lesbian community, do you have any family members that are gay?
J: Ha-ha, yes. My mother, one of her uncles was gay, she is gay.
E: Your mom is?
J: Yes. A cousin of mine is gay, my mom’s sister’s daughter. Um, a second cousin of hers is gay. Yeah it’s pretty prevalent in our family.
E: Okay, um did that make it easier.
E: for you?
J: I was very much in denial I think. I don’t even think I realized that I was until she came out; My dad was very almost homophobic.
E: Your dad was?
J: I was, I was.
E: You were?
J: Until high school. I had had feelings, but I had just brushed them off. I hadn’t even thought about them and then you know when your mom, my mom, you’re in high school and you find out, your dad tells you that, “By the way your mom is gay.” It’s like, oh! Okay. I mean I supported her 100% right away, she was afraid that’s why she had my dad tells us, which is an interesting story since they are still friends even though they divorced. But, it caused me to reevaluate.
E: Was it hard to accept that at first or was it kind of easier?
J: It was shocking, it wasn’t a hard adjustment I mean she was my mom and I loved her and I still do. It was just shocking. I mean there were clues and my sister picked up on them, she asked and I was just oblivious. I thought she was just kidding. I was like oh right, yeah, oh you’re serious, oh. So I called her at work and ya know told her that I knew and that it was fine and that I loved her. So…
E: How did she react to that?
J: She was very relieved; I mean she was scared, um she didn’t want to tell us. My brother only found out last year I think
E: Oh wow.
J: And that was only because he came downstairs and caught her and her girlfriend kissing, never mind the fact that they live in the same house and sleep in the same bed.
E: You’re brother never…
J: He is just not quick like that; I mean he is a good kid, just a little slow in the uptake. But so was I, I mean if I, I mean I very well could have been the same if they did not tell me. Um, she didn’t want to tell us but my grandfather threatened to tell us if she didn’t, so.
E: Oh wow.
J: But anyway, it way, kind of caused me to reevaluate my stance on it and examine myself. A nd I think a lot of kids at first ask themselves, “Am I gay?” “Does that make me gay?” Um, there is a wonderful movie called Jack, not the Robin Williams one.
E: Yeah, I was just thinking about that one.
J: No, yeah it’s got Stockard Channing from Grease, it’s about a kid whose father comes out of the closet and one of the first things he asked is, “Does this mean I’m gay?”
J: And you know when the answer I…
E: Did you feel that same way?
J: Yeah I did and I came to realize I was, I mean I never really, and I had dated a few girls but, nothing ya know. It was just like um, I had a girlfriend, okay.
E: It’s just the thing you do in high school…
J: Yeah, and it is ya know, it made you think, “Well there was that guy in middle school, he was kinda cute, hum.” It makes you reevaluate and think about it ya know. And then I eventually came, I took it in steps. I first I came out to friends as, “I think I’m bisexual.”
E: Okay, yeah that was.
J: Is that delving into your stuff?
E: No, no this is great, you’re very open.
J: And then eventually I made the leap to, “I’m gay.”
E: How old were you when…or was it kind of like a process…
J: It was a pretty quick progressive once it got rolling, um. I think I was seventeen when I found out my mom was gay and by eighteen I was bi, um…
E: So it was like heading out of high school?
J: Yeah it was senior year. By the time I was nineteen I knew I was gay. I mean I had come to terms with that. Um, I started watching Will and Grace and listening to Liza and Judy and all the other things that you’re suppose to do, so…
E: Um, well that was another question; did you feel like you were um, kind of brought into this new kind of culture, new group of people?
J: Not so much people, but culture yes. I started looking into it being interested in history not as a historian at the time, but an actor actually I was going for acting at first.
E: Oh wow.
J: .after high school until VCU shot me down, ha-ha.
E: How did you end up in history?
J: It was my second choice after VCU rejected me, um which is my fault, I blew the audition to get in. But um, I was always interested in history; I began to look into it. I started reading some books. Um, and should this ever be played to some young questioning person I suggest they get the book by Betty Fairchild entitled, Now That You Know.
J: It’s written more for parents, but it was a big help. I actually have a copy of it. It talks about dealing with having a gay child, and there is some good stuff in there. But I did some research and ya know, I always liked musicals and it just made more sense now, oh yeah, ha-ha. I guess, ya know, most gay men like musicals. Okay sure.
E: So looking back were there any kind of um, moments of oh, little signs, or was it kind of when your mom came out to you that it was looking back…
J: I didn’t think about it until she came out. I repressed it, I said no it’s unnatural.
E: So that was definitely in your mind growing up.
E: .as a child?
J: Yeah, I mean I was ya know, I was raised Catholic unfortunately. Um I’m not now, but that stuff was all looked down upon. Being gay is a sin, it’s bad you’re going to go to Hell. Well you just say I can’t be gay then, I can’t be gay. So you repress it. Yeah, looking back there were feelings.
E: Uh huh.
J: …for the other boys, but you, I think you’ve got to know somebody or be very sure of yourself, and I never really was very sure of myself. Um, and it wasn’t until I had someone very close to me, obviously, come out that I had to reevaluate my feelings towards it.
E: Yeah, especially someone like your mom.
J: Yeah, I hope that answers your question, I’m not sure…
E: No, that definitely makes sense. So did your parents divorce soon after that or were they still together?
J: They divorced long before I knew.
E: Oh, okay.
J: I found out, oh gosh, ’99, 2000 I guess. Yeah I think that’s right, they divorced in ’95.
E: Oh, the divorce was before?
J: Maybe I need to go back into the background again…ha-ha. My grandfather moved down to Virginia first and his daughters both followed eventually. My dad didn’t want to move and my mom did, so there was already that tension there and then she came out to him.
J: Because they fought a lot when they were married. She came out to him and he was pissed, but he had, he remained her friend at the time, I mean he still is. So she, they divorced and she moved down with all three of us kids down here. Um, actually that was in seventh grade I moved down here, but it was only for a year. And then in eighth grade I moved back to New York with my dad. I hated it at first, ya know, you leave your friends and all.
E: Right, right.
J: Um, why did I go back, what was the question again?
E: Well no, no keep going that makes sense so then your dad stayed up there and your mom…
J: Yeah that’s right, my parents. My dad stayed up there I lived with him for one year in eighth grade, and he missed my sister and brother so much that he sold his house. And he was losing his job too up there so he moved down.
E: Oh okay.
J: And actually moved in with his ex-in-laws, ha-ha. Yeah my mom had been living there and she moved out and bought her own house and he moved down and had no where else to go he didn’t know anybody except them and so he moved in with my grandparents, ha-ha.
E: You could make a movie out of…
J: You really could. My friend [Deleted] in New York, he loves it. He always is asking me for more gossip on my family.
E: Ha-ha, aww…
J: This is barely breaking the ice. Yeah he is like, “I’m going to write a book on your family one day Joe, it’s great!”
E: And you’re like, umm is this a compliment or??
J: Ha-ha, oh they are crazy I admit it; it’s a wack, a wacky situation.
E; Okay that makes sense.
J: Yeah, so they were divorced before I found out and it was well before he married my step mom in 2000 that my grandfather became uppity about it and demanded it. My grandfather was a huge influence on mom, he is the reason she got married. She knew she was gay in college, in high school even. Um he found a letter from a girl and dragged her to a priest and made her confess her evil sins and to make her parents happy she married.
E: Oh wow.
J: So um.
E: So is your grandfather still not supportive of your mom?
J: He’s mellowed, he stopped talking to her for while…
E: Accepted it?
J: He stopped talking to her for a while over it and didn’t get to see us as often and realized he is getting older, he is in his 70s, and he’s like, this is stupid! I want to see my grandchildren so he made amends. He is very mellow now. He kind of goes with the flow of the wind mill and is yeah, whatever. He doesn’t know that I’m gay, but I don’t think he would care as much. It’s kind of like my mom was the forbearer.
E: She kind of broke through and now it’s…
J: Yeah, she broke the barriers and it made it easier for my cousin because she is openly, she actually dropped out of Radford this past term at the first half of the semester and she partied.it was her first semester away at school. Very open and very, “I’m gay, I’m here and queer. Get used to it.” The family, everyone, she cut her hair short and did the whole I’m butch thing. Um, she is very interesting.
E: How did your family react to that or accept it?
J: My aunt was a little upset at first, but having gone through it with her sister and I think my aunt knows I’m gay, I think I told her once, ha-ha. I can’t remember. But um, she, it was a little hard at first because it is her only daughter and she wants the big white wedding and do all that with her but, once she got over that I think she has come to accept it now.
E: Uh huh.
J: Um, we are a close knit family.
E: That’s good.
J: So she has come to accept it. I think my grandparents have too. Um, more or less with ya know.
E: Right, so um who in your family knows, or who have you been able to confide in, um…
J: My sister knows, I told my dad twice. Um, yeah because I told him once and I had to tell him again because apparently it just went through one ear and out the other. My step mom knows, but she doesn’t know I know. She cornered my friend [Deleted], he came down to visit and more or less cornered him and got it out of him. Um,
E: Oh gosh.
J: Yeah, he told me later, “What do you want me to do dude?” Um, not tell her!
E: Oh wow.
J: My dad doesn’t approve because him and my step mom are both very involved in their church, it’s a non-denominational Christian church. He doesn’t approve or want to know anything about it, which is fine because I’m not dating so it doesn’t really matter. Um,
E: Does your mom?
J: Oh yeah. my mom knows; she was the first person I told, ha-ha.
E: I didn’t want to assume that.
J: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, she knows. All my friends know, um.
E: How about friends in high school or from high school? Since it was…
J: Yeah, they all knew. I hung out with a pretty weird crowd anyway they were pretty accepting. Besides my mom they were the first people I told outside of the family. My best friend [Deleted], my fag hag if you will, um the Grace to my Will.
E: Ha-ha, Grace to your Will.
J: That’s what we call each other, our nicknames, Will and Grace. I was actually Man of Honor in her wedding this past August, Um, it was fun. They wouldn’t let me wear a dress; it was very sad, ha-ha. She knew, she was if not the first person I told, the second.
E: Um huh.
J: But the little click I hung out with all knew. I don’t know if they knew I was gay, but they knew I was bi, because it was to them that I came out, umm…
E: It was during that intermediate period.
J: They were all artsy theater people; they were all like, “Oh cool, whatever.”
E: Were a lot of them gay, or…?
J: Yeah they, I think played around, they were bi at least. Only one of them I know for sure is gay now, a girl. I found out later, she was two years younger than me so she was a sophomore. She, I found out later, did come out, and had a girlfriend and petioned to be able to take her to the prom, but I don’t think anything came of that.
E: Oh wow, how about when you came here to JMU?
J: Well the grandmother that I live with now doesn’t know, I don’t want her to know. She is my step mom’s mother and she is very much like my stepmother as far as the religion thing goes. Its’ funny though, living there she was like…
E: Yeah, how is that?
J: It is odd, um just, I’m not even going to get into all of it, because it doesn’t really relate to this. She’ll keep saying things like, “Well I know you’re a man. I hope the bathroom isn’t too girly for you.” I’m just like, “Its fine, whatever.”
E: Ha-ha, its okay…
J: “It’s really fine, I promise.” Um, it’s not flowery or anything but um, yeah I told my friends here fairly early on. I didn’t want to live with any secret or tensions or anything.
E: Like the fellow grad students?
E: They seem like a fun bunch.
J: They are, they’re an interesting little clique, ha-ha.
21:39- 22:06- AUDIO EDITED OUT AT NARRATORS REQUEST
J: We’ll use pseudonyms, K and H, um I told them at Hoovers and they were just like, “I owe you twenty bucks.” Ha-ha, that is pretty much what they said. So yeah, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that any new friends I make I’m going to tell them right away, it’s not something I’m going to keep secret.
E: So has it become easier?
J: Yeah, and I’ve also come to the conclusion that none of my dad’s side knows that is still up in New York. My friend [Deleted] knows, that was interesting telling him because he had been my friend since fourth grade. He was like, “No you’re not, no you’re not.” I was like, “I am.” Ha-ha. He was like, “No I don’t believe you, you like chicks too much.” I’m like, “No, I really don’t actually.” Um, but he is cool with it now. He actually went to a drag show with me in New York it was fun. He found it and was like, “I found this great place that we’ll have to go to next time you’re here!”
E: So he has definitely accepted it now?
J: He is not gay, but for some reason enjoys going to drag shows, go figure – the butchest guy I know. Yeah… none of my dad’s family knows up in New York. But I’ve come to the conclusion that if anyone ever asks I’m going to just straight up tell them. If the grandmother I live with now ever asks I would say yeah.
E: Do you think she…ever suspects or has been told by other family members?
J: Suspects or not, Um…Again I don’t know I don’t think so. Um, just because she is so hung up on me, thinking me so masculine, um I don’t think she does. She may suspect. I know if she went into my room it would be a dead give away. I’ve a rainbow sticker over my alarm clock. I have a gay pride pin and I have Queer as Folk sitting right there, the video tape series of the show, and Will and Grace and I’ve watched a few movies with her which she, ha-ha, picked up on the fact that there was a gay character in most of them, ha. She was like, “I’d rather not watch those kinds of movies Joe.” I was like okay, I mean it wasn’t blatantly about homosexuality it was just, had a very gay character. She was just “I don’t feel comfortable watching that kind of stuff.” I’m like, “Oh honey if you only knew!” Ha-ha.
E: Oh man, that does have to make it a little awkward.
J: I really don’t want her to know, because I really don’t want to get kicked out, just in case she would flip. Um, so yeah.
E: Thanks, yeah, thank you for being so comfortable and opening up. I do have one more question before we get into the Shenandoah area. You had mentioned it before, this is something that I am definitely, am interested in because it is such a big factor, is faith. Um and you did mention before, I just want to ask was faith or religion a part of your childhood and growing up and if so how did this influence your coming out?
J: Mom is Catholic; dad is Baptist, northern Baptist not southern Baptist.
E: Sounds like my family but the opposite.
J: Oh wow, ha-ha.
E: Yeah dad is catholic and mom is protestant.
J: That is how they were raised. Dad, mom is, really wants to get back into her faith but yeah, whatever. And um, I reject the Catholic faith wholeheartedly; it’s too much Dogma. I just don’t, it’s not me. It has become more of an issue with my life, um ya know.
E: Faith in general or the Catholic Church?
J: Not the Catholic Church, just I consider my self non-denominational Christian. Um, obviously I have issues with the southern Baptists and Jerry Falwell and the like.
E: Oh I have questions about that, living in Lynchburg.
J: Oh yeah, ha-ha. All in good time. Um, yeah faith does play an important part in my life. I am very as religious as I can be. Um, I don’t go to church; I don’t really feel I have to. I don’t want to go off on a whole religious rant, um, does that kind of answer your question?
E: Yeah, does it play presently in your life?
J: Yeah, I do believe in God. I do, I own a Bible, I won’t say I read it very often like I should. I have a lot of issues with a lot of modern religion over the… Gay rights is my main focus. When I go to the polls, that’s what I look at the candidates. I mean look at other things, but that is my primary thing, do they support gay rights or not. Or are they openly homophobic, and if they are I won’t vote for them. Um, sigh…of course as someone who is going to be a teacher one day I’ve got to be careful and kind of keep that somewhat in the closet, um, but at least until I have tenure, then I won’t care.
E: Well at least you won’t be teaching high school.
J: Yeah, no desire to teach high school. Um,
E: That answers my question…
J: Okay, good, ha-ha.
E: That’s fine, um, kind of moving into he Shenandoah area and I’m, well my first question is how since you did you your undergrad in Lynchburg in a very small southern town and I mean I would consider Harrisonburg small and southern would you, maybe let’s start there with Lynchburg, how um, like what was it like going through your undergrad in Lynchburg in that small southern setting and maybe how does that compare to here?
J: Well, I guess, there is nothing to tell, ha. I mean seriously I mean even if you’re not gay there is nothing to do in Lynchburg.
J: There’s not, you can go bowling. The big hangout is Wal- Mart. The big night club was a restaurant called Kettle Annies (sp?) that they had dancing after dark.
29:32- 29:46 AUDIO EDITED OUT AT NARRATORS REQUEST
J: There is nothing to do in Lynchburg, as far as a gay scene.
E: Did you ever feel like there was a place to go? There was a place to socialize? Be intimate with partners?
J: No, the closest thing. Oh no, I never was, I didn’t date. I still haven’t dated. Um, which is odd. Um, as far as I know there wasn’t any place to go. The closest would be the Drowsy Poet, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with. It’s a little coffee chain, literally a building probably about the size of this room. It was just one of them, I think that was where the big gay hang out, either that or Barnes and Noble, no that is here, a lot of gay people go to hang out there. Um, but there was nothing at Lynchburg even if you weren’t gay, I mean.
E: There just wasn’t…
J: Yeah, I would consider Harrisonburg a small southern town too but there are places here. Um…
E; Well that is definitely what I want, yeah, how well first of all, okay, um how have you been able to meet any partners in Harrisonburg or have you not, or have…
J: I haven’t, I’ve come close a few times, flirted a little bit.
E: Has it been more difficult, the people, or just not having places to go?
J: Rephrase that.
E: Or is it that there is not a big community to meet people in or is there just not…?
J: Are we talking Lynchburg or Harrisonburg?
E: Oh Harrisonburg.
J: Okay, um, there is a community. There is much more of a community than Lynchburg, although from a friend of mine who went to Liberty, which is Jerry Falwell’s school, Liberty University, there is quite a population there.
J: Yeah, go figure, Yeah he is, my friend [Deleted], her husband actually went there and he was like, “Yeah Joe there are so many gay people here, ha ha I’m surprised!” There are a few people at Lynchburg College, there is a gay straight alliance that I went to one meeting of and was easily the hottest guy there, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for me, ha-ha. Um…
E: So how about here in Harrisonburg since you’ve been here.
J: Yeah there is quite a population here, quite a population here on campus. Um there is Dodgers, which you went, Artful Dodgers is um, considered the big gay hang out um, I know a lot of, there are many that go to Barnes and Noble to hang out in the cafe or whatever it is. I’d say there is a fairly prevalent gay population in Harrisonburg probably much to the distress of the Mennonites.
E: Do you feel, um, well have you, so have you dated anyone here in Harrisonburg?
E: Those that you know that are gay or lesbian that are dating, do you know if um, they feel comfortable being intimate with their partners at certain public locations, like Artful Dodger or…?
J: To be honest I don’t know any. I know of.that that I’ve met, but I’m not friends with any other gays or lesbians. I know Dodgers, I’ve seen gay couples kiss and hold hands. They are quite comfortable there depending on what night it is. Some nights and you get the old straight couples, for some reason, go figure. I don’t think I’ve seen anything on campus like that. Um…
E: Have you gotten, or met anybody in Harmony or anything?
J: Harmony, what is Harmony?
E: Oh that is the gay and lesbian organization here.
J: I didn’t know about that.
E: They are all really nice; I know most of the exec, the president and vice-president and stuff.
E: They really are a nice bunch of people.
J: I’ll have to look into that, I didn’t know about that. I’m not one for clubs anyways, but it would be interesting to go and sit in a few meetings. Um…
E: Have you felt the desire to date? Wanting to date someone around here?
J: Yeah, ha-ha, um…
E: I think everybody has that desire.
J: There are several gentlemen that I’ve had attractions for, um, I’m just too shy. I don’t take the initiative.
E: Okay so do you feel like there are people its just hard to…
J: Yeah, I mean a few of them I’m not sure if they are gay or not. I mean you don’t just go up, “Hey are you gay?” I mean unless you are KH you just don’t do that.
E: That is something that I am curious about, how do you make that first step?
J: I have no idea, I’ve never done it, like I said I never dated, um, men ha-ha. I don’t know, I wish I could answer that for you. How do you?? I mean I flirt a little bit here and there but it doesn’t amount to much.
E: Yeah, ha-ha, I feel like I’m in the same boat with you, guys here are hard to meet.
J: Ha-ha, yeah I think KH is too, she has told me that too.
E: Well if you, well this is something, okay, I’ll skip that question actually. Okay, Harrisonburg has been considered a small, southern, conservative town. Would you agree or disagree with this statement and why?
J: I’d agree, I think it’s more liberal than some towns because it’s a college town. Um, small yes, obviously. Conservative, it’s got a huge Mennonite population, a huge, there’s a lot of churches around here just outside of the Mennonite thing, which tends to make it more conservative. Um, but I may be on the conservative part because of the college scene. Um, is it as liberal and outgoing as New York City? No, but it is definitely more liberal than Lynchburg.
E: Um, would you, um, well would you say that there are stereotypes or preconceived judgments towards the GLBT community? Among residents of Harrisonburg or even students at JMU, do you feel like…?
J: No, I don’t sense any of that, but of course most people don’t know that I’m gay. Um, ya know I don’t lisp, used to when I was a little boy and went to therapy. I haven’t noticed any certain um, what’s the word I’m looking for, homophobic tendencies in this town. Ya know, um, I hoping no one goes in and starts shooting at Dodgers, ha-ha. No, I haven’t noticed anything. As far as stereotypes, I don’t know, I think those are dying as far as gay males go. I mean you have metrosexuals now. Who knows if they are gay or not?
E: Just kind of like a trend almost, like a style.
J: Yeah, yeah it really is. Men looking better and dressing up and not looking disheveled. You have guys who are very limp wrested and, um, lispy, and are like, “I’m not gay, I like girls.” Listening to them talk you would think, oh gay! But they are not and then you have guys like me that are not butchy and not quite as obvious and like the men, so go figure.
E: Do you, have you ever felt like you had to fit that stereotype, or fit that style of looking the typical gay look or the typical gay sound, or…
J: I don’t like styles, I hate, I hate…
J: Yes, I mean, no offense to you, I think a lot of the girls here on campus, younger, all look the same, all the freshmen all look, it’s all just so… And even the guys the baseball hat backwards or the t-shirt, it’s just like, get a style folks! Even the Goths, I mean the gothic kids, they’re not even, I mean they have stores for it now. It is just so depressing. It’s like get your own original style. I mean I wear jeans and these button up shirts but it’s…
E: It’s comfortable…
J: Yeah, it’s what I like. I wear Hawaiian shirts because I like those; it’s just been too cold to wear them. Um, um…
E; So you never felt like you had to dress the part?
J: Not dress the part. As far as if I felt obligations towards certain things, yes. I don’t particularly care for the Wizard of Oz, but I feel obligated to love Judy Garland, ha-ha go figure. And by her Liza Minelli as well. Pop cultural things I do feel, I do, there is an obligation, and you’re expected to love…
E; Like Will and Grace, do you feel like that is …
J: Uh, not so much, I loved that even before I came out.
E: Well I know many straight people who watch that show.
J: Queer as Folk, I fell in love with that show, but I felt like I had to see it because I was Gay, and then once I did I did love it and I got the whole season – all the seasons. Musical icons you’re expected to love, beyond Judy there is Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand, who I don’t really care for it but I’m obligated. Other than that, no I really don’t feel obliged.
E: Do you feel that that is more of the norm than not in Harrisonburg? Do you feel like most of the homosexuals, gay or lesbians that you meet, um kind of feel like, kind of, are the more typical kind of like what you would imagine…?
J: As far as dress?
E: Yes, dress or how they act or do you feel everyone is just kind of does their own thing?
J: Gay boys, and again this is getting blurred with the metrosexuals, gay boys tend to wear tighter shirts, skin tight shirts. I tend to wear more baggier shirts and I don’t like being able to count my rib cage
J: I just don’t see the urge in that, um. And I really, I’ve seen a bit of it at Dodgers. Um, but I’ve seen a lot more straight guys wearing tighter clothes too.
E: So it really depends.
J: It’s blurry, it really is. Metrosexuals just screw it all up.
E: Making the line blurry.
J: Which I guess isn’t a bad thing, but it makes it hard to meet people cause ya know you can’t just go up to someone with a tight shirt and say, “Hey you’re cute, wanna go out?” ‘Cause they might punch you in the face, “I’m not gay.”
E: But yeah, that would be kind of confusing.
J: And then there are tears and chocolate and sad movies and it’s just not a pretty sight.
E: Um, so how has living in Harrisonburg influenced your life or changed it?
J: It has made me much more willing to be open and out. Especially with Dodgers, Dodgers is great. Um…
E: With the community here or with the individual people?
J: Just individually, just in general, myself, um, if I had known about Harmony I, I mean…
E: You should definitely check it out.
J: Yeah, I plan to now. Um, will I go marching and all that? Maybe, I don’t know. I have such a negative image of the gay community. Not so much in Harrisonburg just in general in watching shows like Will and Grace and…
E: Do they give a negative…
J: Yeah, it is very promiscuous and I hate that. You watch movies like And the Band Played On and it talks about the early AIDS epidemic stuff, you get such a negative view. Or Queer as Folk especially, I love the show to death and it has made a lot of good progress and made a lot of good points. It kind of mocks the community in a way but at the same time it also proliferates the club scene and the back rooms and the yeah, sleep with a different guy each night. Um, it, there is no commitment. And I think that needs to change. There is also a lot of non-conformity, which is why we aren’t making strides. A lot of gay, especially the youth don’t really care
E: Uh huh.
J: From what I understand they just don’t. I think we could try and organize a march on Washington and I really don’t know how many people would show up, a lot of people just don’t care, they don’t, ya know…
E: SO it’s like they say a lot but don’t…
J: Not even saying a lot, just from what I’ve observed I don’t think a lot of them care.
J: And I mean, when I first came out I was really strong wanting to be an activist and open up a gay church and marry people, be the gay Martin Luther King Jr., write the gay novel. I just don’t see, I don’t have the urge to fight anymore because quite frankly I don’t see people caring. I mean why should I sit there and do all this if they are not going to be appreciative or help or care.
E: Of other GLBT folks or other, just people straight and…
J: No, I was talking about more of the gay community, especially the younger community I think. Um, I just don’t think they are involved as they used to be.
E: Uh huh.
J: If you look, I’ve been doing some work on gay history in America. In the earlier years you had these groups that met in secret. Before the Stonewall riots in ’69 and you have these little organizations primarily in California. First it was a gay and lesbian and then the lesbians weren’t happy because they weren’t getting attention so they formed the daughters of, it started with a B, Daughters of Bilitis, and started their own magazine and the gay men had their own. You had much more involvement. And then with the of course the ’60s and Stonewall you have major movement and then in the ’80s it kind of died down a little bit with the AIDS, um for some reason I don’t know.
E: Well that definitely, I was thinking definitely asking you since you are a ya know history buff and all, and I’m sure you find it interesting for personal reasons but um, just kind of the history of, kind of jumping ahead to my questions at the end actually. Are, what would you say is the greatest need for the homosexual community in Harrisonburg and in the nation?
J: Huh, in Harrisonburg I mean I think the biggest gay community here is students who come and go so its not I don’t really know…
E: Not really consistent.
J: Yeah I don’t think there is much need here right now. We have a place to go and as long as that stays that’s good. As far as nation wide we need, and they need to start making noise and do some sort of consensus, not consensus, census to see how big of a community we are, scare people. Say ya know what, if we all go to the polls we can make a difference damn it. Ya know, we are a legitimate minority and our rights are being threatened and we need to do something about it. I think that’s the biggest thing that we need to do as a community. And if they, ya know if, I’m not one to get the ball rolling I don’t know if I could or not but I used to want to.
E: What has maybe lost, why has it…
J: Why have I just…?
E: desire kind of…
J: Just again because I don’t think people care, I don’t think its gonna happen. Sorta I guess defeatist but I think unless…
E: Well it’s hard to do it all by yourself.
J: I think, yeah, it really is and I wasn’t seeing it happen anywhere else, um, which isn’t entirely true. There are groups; there is Soul Force in Lynchburg right now. Reverend White, I think his name is, the guy who is in charge of that in Lynchburg taking on Jerry more or less, protests and stuff. He bought the house right across the street from Jerry’s church.
E: Oh wow.
J: There are movements, but they are little movements. There is not one big…
E: Very grass roots.
J: Big hurrah and I think that’s what we need. If it happened and it started up I’d be more than willing to march and take a role and talk and charge and ya know, whatever. But I’m much, too much of a follower to…I’m not a leader. I don’t lead unless I was thrown into the position I could do it. I’m not an organizer.
E: The more come along side…do you feel like any of your personal rights have been…threatened or challenged?
J: They are being challenged right now. In November the Lynchburg, or Virginia has on the ballot the gay marriage amendment to ban homosexual marriages, civil unions, and um partnerships.
J: They want to ban all three of them. And yeah, do I feel threatened, yeah. And if they passed, I’ve always said, if they passed the big one for the Constitution Amendment to do it everywhere I would move, I would leave this country. If there wasn’t, I mean I’m hoping that there would be some big immediate out lash from the gay community, and I would gladly jump on board that and do what I could. But I mean if there was nothing, just passivity, “Oh okay, we can’t get married,” which is what I’m afraid will happen because of the promiscuous thing, “Oh well we don’t need to get married we can just screw around.” I would leave, I really would, ’cause it would be the ultimate failure of democracy in my opinion.
E: Uh huh, um, would, what was I going to say. No, thank you for your honesty. Would you feel that that was a kind of a direct threat to um your sexual preferences or direct threat to if you see yourself in a potential long term um, relationship that you would want that to be protected with rights and have a civil union or marriage and that wouldn’t able to happen…?
J: I guess I’m a very defeatist person, I gave up on the, I’d like to have a relationship, but If I will, I’m not seeing it as anywhere in the future. I mean if I did, yes. I mean one reason I would so, I’m opposed to is that but also for me it is a direct assault on democracy of, on American, what America is built on, equality. And for that reason alone I would have to bail on America, because it wouldn’t be America for me anymore.
E: Protecting the rights of all…
J: Uh huh, and for them to sit there and say, “This group can get married, but this group can’t.” Puts automatically the straight people on the higher plateau, um, superiority type thing, ya know. We would become automatically inferiors. And ya know what would be next, no more gay sex we are going to start policing that. No more, for me it’s just an open invitation to slowly take away more rights. For long, what the right to live? What next, you’re gay you’re going to jail, congratulations ya know.
E: So it would be a big spiral down?
J: That, I mean I doubt it would, but for me it’s an invitation for that to happen. The minute they single out homosexuals and say you can’t get married in the Constitution is the day democracy dies as far as I’m concerned here in America, so…
E: Wow, that definitely, yeah…Um, what would, you had mentioned before how there is this um, kind of mentality of sleeping with whoever you want, very promiscuous. Would you say that that is a result of um, because there isn’t, or rights, or…?
J: That was a result of the ’80s sexual revolution and it’s not just the gay community.
E: Well, yeah that is very heterosexual also…
J: Um, what was your question?
E: Well that answers, I mean what was that a result of. And also what are your thoughts on that. Would you um, agree with that or would, or are you more along the line of commitment?
J: I’m a very traditionalist person. I mean people don’t know that I’m Gay until I tell them. I tend to align myself more with the Democratic Party and I’m not a Democrat. Um, a lot of the conservative values, um, I mean I think it’s silly that they want to ban gay marriages. It’s like we want to take that step, we want to get married, we want to be able to have a commitment and if you sit there and say we can’t get married then we are not going to get married and it opens a door for us to sleep around. It’s not like because we can’t get married we aren’t going to be gay anymore. I mean it’s ridiculous, I mean, I anyway want a commitment. I hope, I don’t like the promiscuousness and I would never date anyone who did, because I wouldn’t trust them frankly. It’s like, if they say, “I don’t see any problems sleeping around.” Well, ha-ha, bye! You go sleep around all you want buddy…
E: Well same here for heterosexual relationship I feel like…
E: So they desire the same thing as far as loyalty and respect and…
J: I’m all about loyalty, I mean I, do I want to meet someone and spend the rest of my life with them? Absolutely, adopt children or I’ve had people offer to have children for me, ha-ha. [Deleted] and even KH offered.
J: Um, [Clears throat] I mean yeah I would love to one day have that.
E: Uh uh.
J: Whether it happens or not I don’t know, but um, I hop that helps, answers your…
E: No, it did. Well, you’ve answered so much more than.
J: Well good.
E: This is great, um, do you have any other comments or …This is pretty much all I have. Do you have any other comments or questions that you’d like to say?
J: I’m glad I got the chance to be interviewed, I am, it came so easy because I’ve wanted to be interviewed…
(interview interrupted by someone coming into the room, Joe pauses)
J: Um, what was I saying?
E: Um, just glad to be…
J: Yeah, I’m glad I had this opportunity to say…um, lost my train of thought…um, it came so easy because ya know these are the things that I’ve really wanted to say. I’ve written them down, ya know, play around with writing books or what not or just my own thoughts, things that I’ve been formulating and thinking about so I’m glad I had this opportunity. I hope it helps.
E: No, thank you Joe, I’m glad we can do this, alright it’s the end.