Bullying and Being Gay In The 1950s (A Personal Story)

Lately, due to some nice publicity for this website, I have received many letters from people who have dealt with the long-term effects of bullying. Most interesting to me is that many of these people are not in their 20’s, not in their 30’s or even 40’s, but older people who still think about what happened to them in their youth. Richard sent me the below story of his life and the challenges he had dealing with bullying issues in school in the 1950’s. Thanks, Richard, for sending this to me. ~Alan Eisenberg

Bullying In The 1950s

“I’m gay” were for me the hardest words I ever said…in 1961, the year I graduated from college. The “option” of “coming out” wasn’t even a remote possibility for me when I was in elementary or high school. I just knew I was “very different” and even knew the name of it…homosexual…facts, that at all cost had to be suppressed from “the world at large” lest that knowledge be turned against me making my already miserable life even worse. I was relentlessly bullied from about the 4th grade through high school. I don’t deny that I was “different” and classmates and teachers alike taunted me…no such thing as legal recourse or, God forbid, a support group in the 50’s !! One teacher, the high school athletic coach, called me “his vegetable” because I was awkward, uncoordinated, and truly hated any activity even remotely related to sports. When I returned for the 10 year reunion he asked me how “his vegetable” had survived college. I was reduced to tears and left immediately…haven’t been back since except for family funerals !!

I grew up in the “high desert” (a rural part of Southern California) where tolerance and understanding weren’t words that were understood and certainly not practiced. My only hope was to survive high school and escape to “the big city” (Los Angeles) where my differences might not be as noticeable…and where, I’d heard rumored, there were places where “they” hung out. I’ve researched the term “gay” and only now realize that it’s reference to homosexuality, for me, didn’t surface until the late 50’s, early 60’s. The term slowly crept into the lexicon within the homosexual community in the late 1960’s, when the Stonewall riots and the rise of homosexual rights activism brought this definition of “gay” to the wider society through the media. At last…validation of a sort…I wasn’t the only queer in town !! (Or should I say in 40’s vernacular “…the only friend of Dorothy in town…” ??)

As I observe the current “buzz” in the media about “bullying” the derision and taunts apparently continue to make life difficult, if not impossible, for gay youth in America. I use the term youth to be politically correct and inclusive of young men and young women…although I didn’t even consider that a woman could be a homosexual when I was a youth myself. They were “tomboys” which, years later, I recognized as language shorthand to describe women who favored the masculine…were good at sports…expert tree climbers and of strong will…traits most foreign to me.

Even as I mustered the courage to “come out” in the early 60’s it was to a select audience…my gay friends. I never came out to my father (who in retrospect I believe had to know) and not to my mother until the early 80’s, when after my father died, I invited her to come and live with me. (I was an only child) She treated the knowledge of my “deviation” with her usual aplomb: “…and…what else is new…??” (Phew !!) It was at that point, mother in tow, that I really began living relatively comfortably, secure in the fact that I wasn’t going to be rejected by my immediate family as so many kids were when knowledge of their secret life became known.

At seventy-two, I’ve retired from a successful career in Human Resources Management. Survived repeated bouts of depression, that wasn’t diagnosed until the early 90”s because “mental illness” just wasn’t talked about in those days, I find it difficult to imagine “coming of age” with the knowledge that you’re gay in a world with its instant messaging, internet connectivity, social networking and fundamentalist religions as tools to keep you silent, until you too can escape small minded, small town America. (That’s a euphemism for…there is no escape!)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…and “it does get better !!”

Richard…Bullied no more, gay, older’n red dirt…and living in Tucson, Arizona.

2 thoughts on “Bullying and Being Gay In The 1950s (A Personal Story)

  1. Seems like not much has changed from the 1950’s upto today. Maybe as time progresses and social issues come into the light things will begin to change.

  2. I disagree it has got so much better for the LGBT community We have so many rights now That they never Thought they would ever have in the 1950s And the nineteen-sixties Who would have ever thought That People would be able To get married as same-sex couples Or to be able to hold hands in public yes There are places in this country that are very bigoted And turn their nose up at those types of relationships But I thank God everyday But there were gay and lesbian people that came before me To help get us where we are today

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