Maybe I was lucky to be cooped up, out in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, for my first coming out year. Lots of guys go wild, have sex with anything that moves, in their first year. Maybe it kept me from getting AIDS. Maybe it’s the reason I’m alive today.
I did a lot of searching, reading everything I could get my hands on about gay stuff. I now know this is another thing a lot of guys do in their first coming out year.
Forest Glade had an extensive library. In it, I found old issues of a magazine called “RFD”, which touts itself as “A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere”. From its pages, I was fascinated to discover there had been gay-owned land and a number of gay guys living together, like a communal gay farm It had been in Antrim, the very next town, just over the pass from Peavine.
Now they were gone.
Ironically, a few years later, a San Francisco based gay organization bought the land, and started things up again. But by then I had moved on. During my time in southern Oregon, the gay ground of Antrim lay fallow.
All but for one spark, one seed: Loti.
I had some friends in Antrim, through Quaker connections. A woman named Nora, and her husband Sam. Another coincidence, Nora and I had the same birthday; same day, same year. Sam had known the gay guys out on their land. He had in fact lived there awhile, even though he was straight.
They contrived to introduce me to Loti. One time, when I was over at their place, they drove me out to the property. The land was still in gay hands, though nobody else lived there.
Loti was sort of the caretaker. Maybe sort of like me, at Forest Glade. The last withered seed, rattling around in the empty husk of a failed community.
Loti and I had several things in common. We were about the same age, we were both half Lebanese, and we were gay. There the similarities ended.
Loti preferred the pronoun “she”. I had encountered this before, gay men identifying in one way or another with femininity. She dressed in flowing garments. She wore a scarf tied over her hair.
I guess I had already been sensitized to acceptance of diversity in the gay world, so I just took this in stride. I was still a long way from articulating any response to it. However, I knew what piqued my passions, and femininity had never been part of it.
Loti showed us around the barns and fields, the old greenhouse. The four of us sat a long time in the moldering Oregon-damp kitchen. I don’t recall much of the talk, except at one point in reference to what one really wanted in life, Loti blurted, “I want a baby!”
Driving back out, in the deepening dusk, my friends pointed out how high the water had come up over the pasture during the big flood.
“Well,” said Nora, “I guess I’d hoped you’d hit it off more.” She was not wistful, just practical. This was a rural Oregon thing. Probably a thing in the whole small-town mountain West. Potential partners were few, so people were always looking out for each other. Nora had lived a long time alone before finally getting together with Sam.
Early on, Adrian had got me subscriptions to a few gay publications. This was thoughtful of him. I would not have even known to look for such things, let alone where, let alone been able to afford them. One of these was RFD, still in publication, the same magazine I had found old issues of in the Forest Glade library.
From RFD, I learned there was going to be a midwinter gay men’s gathering. The site was some hundred miles north in the Oregon Cascades, at a place called “Brietenbush Hot Springs”. I really wanted to go, but didn’t have money for the registration. Well, I had just enough; but doubted the wisdom of blowing it all on this. So I had a decision to make.
Through the EMT training, I had got to know an older man named Alan. He had moved to Peavine when he retired. He liked me, but was on kind of on a different wavelength. For example, at one point in the course of the training, most of us from the Peavine EMT class went one evening to a rather more formal get-together; perhaps a county emergency services consortium.
I arrived with a new, neat, very short haircut, almost a crew cut, and in a dark turtleneck sweater. The sweater was the most classy piece of attire I owned. The haircut was part of dealing with a spate of head lice among us at Forest Glade. Nobody else needed to know that.
Alan greeted me warmly, and remarked, in a complementary way, that I looked like “Joe College”. This was a flash. For me, the college look had been long hair and beards, ratty flannel shirts, and blue jeans torn out at the knees. I chalked it up as a generational thing.
Alan took me one Saturday morning to some sort of Christian Businessmen’s breakfast, I guess offering me opportunities. He really did mean me well. I kind of picked up, though, that I’d better not tell him I was gay. One time when I tossed out some exceedingly oblique gay reference, he got wide-eyed. Semi-joking, he held up two crossed fingers, the protect-me-from-Satan warding sign.
In the course of hanging out with Alan, I let on that I had a decision to make. I didn’t say what it was. It was the Brietenbush Gathering. Alan’s advice was, “Pray on it!”
So, one time, just kind of casually, I put it out to the Universe, “If I’m supposed to go to this gathering, send me some sign.”
A few days later there arrived a check in the mail from my dad. I had not asked him for anything. In his letter, he explained he’d just had a feeling he should send me some money. My dad, like Alan, was all about praying the Lord’s guidance. I figured this was the sign I had asked for, so I sent in my registration.
The gathering was to be in February over Presidents’ Day weekend. A man named Bobby Covelo, who I later came to know as quite the local gay activist, had offered his farm just outside Roseburg. Participants could convene there to carpool up to Brietenbush. The offer included, if you wanted to meet there the Friday evening before, you could spend the night.
The logistics of getting myself the 42 miles from middle-of-nowhere Forest Glade to the town of Roseburg might have been problematic except for a lucky happenstance. That very same Friday night it just so happened that a special part of our EMT training was to be in Roseburg.
I rode up with Alan. Afterwards, I asked him drop me off outside town. I had directions to the farm, though I had never been there before. I guided us along the dark roads, and soon there was the gate of Bobby Covelo’s. The night was black. The only building lights were vague in the distance. Alan looked like he had his doubts, but he let me go.
I walked up the drive, and into another world.