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4 min

Boyfriendly queer outlaw

Growing up illegal in the 1950s and '60s

SEX WAS DANGEROUS: "We found out we liked it a lot. No wonder it was illegal," says Wes Hartley, fondly recalling his first boy-loves, Mike Tucker. Credit: Photo courtesy of Wes Hartley

The identities wetake on (or that get imposed on us like brand logos from outside) sort us into groups and categories artificially. It’s our differences and unique qualities that distinguish us and make us the individuals we become.

We “come out” of generic hetero-dominant sameness and assert our “outsider” queer difference. The communities of fellowfeeling we “come into” hopefully welcome us and treasure our differences, making a safe space for us to get cozy in that allows us to feel “inside” and “home free.”

Nowadays, that is, and in best-case scenarios.

For those of us growing up queer 50 years ago, things were dangerously otherwise. In the 1950s queers were illegal.

The majority of us out-and-proud survivor queer seniors got to be living treasures the hard way. That yellow brick road was not paved for us. We paved it ourselves, one fucking gold brick at a time.

Which probably explains why we all have that sparkle in our lens-assisted eyes, and that non-stop ear-to-ear smile on our wrinkly mugs. Why we’re such hardcore worldly-wise living treasures brimming over with history and content, fellowfeeling and hardihood, piss and vinegar.

I got born nine months after Pearl Harbor. My Celtic genetic lack-of-pedigree, red-white-and-blue carry-on luggage, and bi-polar parental incongruity (Great Depression Victim hyphenated to Silverspoon Frat President) were deadlocked from the get-go.

And the firstborn gets to unpack the family baggage.

I grew up in Southern Indiana among fellow war babies and our boomer siblings in a social-experiment suburb funded by war profits.

Our shiny new-built neighbourhood sprawled across cornfields stolen from “disappeared” former householders. Remnants of ghostly Shawnee domestic culture were everywhere. Indiana, eh?

At cowboys-vs-Indians Saturday matinees I always identified with the First Nations victim-losers. During our pretend bow-and-arrow war games we turned into “naked savages”. My “straight arrow” love interest was always Mike Tucker, the cutest and most samesexually-pliable up-and-comer in our “tribe”.

The quasi-military 1950s were top heavy with regulations and laws. The schizo American Way is to go ahead and do it anyway, just don’t get caught. It’s the getting caught that makes misdemeanoring illegal.

We boys were starting to get called juvenile delinquents. Our gangs were virtually illegal. Our boygangs went underground early on to minimize illegalities.

Testosterone took over our gang and started bossing us around. Everything got military and masculine. Woodys popped up everywhere. It was sex.

Sex was unexplored territory and totally illegal. Since we had no for sure information and so much to figure out, we boys found out about mysterious sex with each other.

Girls were out of the picture since it was the repressed ’50s. (See Indiana queer-boy James Dean and boyfriend Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause.)

There were certain protocols. You hooked-up secretly with the guy you liked and fooled around as much as possible doing whatever.

Sex was dangerous since it was totally interdicted. Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, adults called it. We found out we liked it a lot. No wonder it was illegal.

Rule number one. Whatever you got into doing had to be reciprocal. You both had to do it. That way nobody could rat out and the illegality “disappeared”. It was very American-buddy-movie.

Mike Tucker was my illegal first round pick. Sporty Mike was a team player and the hottest re-offender in the gang. His high school annual mugshot is living proof.

We clicked because we both liked everything masculine. Masculinity got us wooden. I appreciated Mike’s cleancut masculine detailing.

Our undercover investigations progressed dangerously. Buddybuddy in the shower, in the naked tree house, skinny-dipping wherever, in cornfield “fertility rituals” and during marathon strip poker overnighters that got kinkier as we got older.

Our testosterone misdemeanorings were addictive. We became out-of-control sex addicts.

Our illegal sex marathons got harshly complicated. Dad’s employment relocation moved us across the Ohio river to upscale Kentucky. Our transition up the social ladder was a downer crashdive for me. I got homo-homesick for my sporty Indiana cornschucker.

For the next couple of years until he graduated, I hitchhiked back-and-forth to Hoosierland to male-bond illegally with alphateen Mike.

Angst-ridden in almost-schizo Kentucky, I luckily discovered The Beats and Nietzsche. I turned existential and beatnik and got way more illegal.

Handgun suicide-close-calls, LSD in 1963, drunken roadrage roadracing, directionless hitchhiking. Throughout my repressed-homo college boy years, the illegalities piled up.

I was barely coping with the frayed loose ends.

At university in the Kentucky boondocks, I got an upclose introduction to fresh illegals from faraway New Jersey.

I found my rowdy Jerseyboy roomies exotic and powerfully attractive. Their lack of inhibition and same-sex virtuosity got me hooked hopelessly. Jerseyboys are dangerous. I transubstantiated into an Existential Beat poet romancing New Jersey boys.

After college, like all my victim agemates, I got my army draft notification. I became the first refuser of my ilk to “just say no” to the murderous Yankee draft. Illegals don’t take orders.

I earned my 4-F deferred-for-life classification for being incorrigible at the army physical and for coming out as a now-government-certified illegal outlaw queer. I jouissanced out of the closet in June 1966. Three years before Stonewall. I’ve never looked back.

In midsummer 1967, I met the illegal-love-of-my-(20s)-life vagabonding on a weekend pass from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Brian McManus, The Jersey City Kid, age 18. I was smitten from the get-go. Our cosmic-karmic hook-up was fated to continue for 14 years.

Jerseyboy Brian was a paratrooper-medic-in-training practicing jumping out of planes. His personal history was a case study of heroic outlaw survivorship.

Abandoned at birth on the church steps, adopted by rightwinger disciplinarians, diddled by archpriests during altarboy weenieworship sessions, Brian was a serial runaway. A born outlaw.

In NYC he went from streetboy to keptboy to heroin-addicted rentboy. He escaped the sicko Greenwich Village boybrothel and enlisted in the army. Brian’s teen years were epic. And very homo-provocative.

When I met Brian he was itching to hit the AWOL bricks. So he did.

We went underground together for two-plus years of buddybuddy outlaw bliss until the FBI snifferdogs came knock-knocking.

After too many close calls, Brian escaped to welcoming Mapleleaf Land in December 1968. I followed him north the following summer. I’ve been here illegally ever since.