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the TV room where the teenagers sit and smoke L&M's and

play old 45's. Harold didn't know how they got there (the

shoe and the slipper

or

the teenagers).

Well, today he was having trouble shaving. The way to

say it is it was impossible. He just couldn't do it.

From one way of looking at it, shaving is really an

unnecessary activity. But at that moment, from what his

eyes, little sounds, and twitches told me, it was the focus of

whether he would survive or give up.

It took a long time. Maybe an hour-did I say 23

minutes a while ago? His skin sags in many places, it has

wrinkles and folds. And whiskers. The hairs were grey–

whitish grey, plain grey, brownish grey-a lot of hairs.

Tough, strong, wire-like.

I

used water mixed in the lather, it

was better. I did it patch by patch. A few times he bled.

One unexpected time was caused by a mole the same

color as his skin, near the left end of his left nostril.

Morning, and Harsh First Words

Welch, when I woke you that morning,

I

put my hand

gently on yours, cupped your hand in mine and gently

squeezed it. Your sunshine eyes were clouded over, grey

and stormy. When you woke, it was with some shock and

the words came harshly, "Why did you touch me like

that?"

The Rumor

One morning I got to work at 7:02A.M., stepped out of

the elevator and started walking down the hall to put my

coat and purse in the staff closet.

I

had a Gay Alliance

newsletter and the February issue of "Gay Sunshine" from

San Francisco GLF in my bag to give to Michael.

I passed Welch, the patient (or prisoner)

I

was closest to

and his eyes were upset, his forehead was scowling. Have

you heard? Heard what? You

~aven't

heard? Heard what?

Dr. Schmuenbacher says you're going to be fired. The

"shrink had told the patients

I

would be fired.

I was scared. I picked up a few rumors from the dust and

the corners-the doctor found out I had brought gay

liberation literature to Michael a few weeks ago. A patient's

mother

I

spoke to on visiting day told the doctor she was

afraid

I

might molest some of the younger boys. The nurse

didn't like my hospital corners.

I

didn't keep discipline.

I

was "too personal" with the patients.

I

had held Jacob's

hand.

A shiver ran through me.

I

remembered GLF literature

about how gay people who take a step or two outside their

closets lose their jobs. "Their" jobs?

My

job.

I

knew

I

wouldn't starve, could find another job... still, "No more

paychecks" was a shock.

I

knew a lot of people thought

that one guy who touched another is a sex fiend ... but

me

a child molester?

I

knew there were "proper ways" for

orderlies to act, but couldn't they see how

I

had calmed

Jacob by holding his hand and talking softly that

afternoon?

I

hadn't worn any buttons,

I

had just tried to

act as though

I

and the "patients" were human.

I

felt

dizzy,

a little wobbly, a little scared.

·Angry, too. But that took a while. It helped when Welch

told me he argued with the shrink that I had helped him. I

called Renee, who is a lawyer, and she gave me some advice

and reassurance that I won't forget.

Will

I

be fired? Well,

I

was called to the office twice and

Mrs. Fiend sent the message that she didn't have time to

talk with me.

... And my Departure

I wasn't fired. Some of the staff, certainly the doctor,

gave me looks that hurt.

I

guess they were short-staffed and

decided to keep me, or else an orderly is so unimportant to

Mrs. Fiend that she forgot-it slipped her mind that she was

going to fire me.

A couple of weeks later

I

stopped going to work. I was

exhausted.

I

had problems at home, too.

I

had trouble

waking up at 5:30 A.M., more trouble than before. One of

the patients kept bugging me every day with quotes from

the Bible about how only heterosexual sex is O.K.

I

was

hurt, scared, tired, and I just lay in bed whimpering for a

few days and realized

I

couldn't go back.

Regrets? Of course. Maybe next time I'm at a place like

that you'll be there, too, and we'll help each other survive.

Post-Script-6 months later

It was impossible for patients or staff in that mental

hospital to deal with homosexuality in a healthy way.

Patients who were known to be Gay were harrassed by the

other patients and joked about by some of the staff.

Patients who were trying to understand homosexual desires

they had never acted on, were made to feel ashamed.

Women on the staff who wore pant-suits, didn't flirt with

the male staff members and were in general "unfeminine"

were made fun of by some of the patients and ostracized by

some of the staff. Men who wore jewelry, carried shoulder

bags, and preferred to be gentle rather than tough got a

similar treatment.

An environment which would

really

improve people's

mental health would

encourage

patients and staff to look

honestly at their desires for love and physical involvement.

This would be an environment where the idea that "a man

should act and love only in ways A-B-and-C, and a woman

should act and love only in ways D-E-and-F" would be

thrown open to the widest challenge!

Perhaps some of you reading this have had experiences

as patients or staff in mental hospitals and have some

insights about how homosexuality is dealt with there. If so,

I would love to get letters; eventually a group of us in

Chicago will put together a collection of articles about Gay

people and health care.

(Reprinted from

Chicago Gay Pride)

Robbie Skeist

1918 N. Dayton, rear

Chicago, Ill. 60614

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