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
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.
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,
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
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.
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)
was closest to
and his eyes were upset, his forehead was scowling. Have
you heard? Heard what? You
heard? Heard what?
Dr. Schmuenbacher says you're going to be fired. The
"shrink had told the patients
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
spoke to on visiting day told the doctor she was
might molest some of the younger boys. The nurse
didn't like my hospital corners.
didn't keep discipline.
was "too personal" with the patients.
had held Jacob's
A shiver ran through me.
remembered GLF literature
about how gay people who take a step or two outside their
closets lose their jobs. "Their" jobs?
wouldn't starve, could find another job... still, "No more
paychecks" was a shock.
knew a lot of people thought
that one guy who touched another is a sex fiend ... but
a child molester?
knew there were "proper ways" for
orderlies to act, but couldn't they see how
Jacob by holding his hand and talking softly that
hadn't worn any buttons,
had just tried to
act as though
and the "patients" were human.
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.
be fired? Well,
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.
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
stopped going to work. I was
had problems at home, too.
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.
hurt, scared, tired, and I just lay in bed whimpering for a
few days and realized
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
An environment which would
mental health would
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.
Chicago Gay Pride)
1918 N. Dayton, rear
Chicago, Ill. 60614