Tyrone Smith (born 1942), Interviewed February 27, 1993
Tyrone Smith 27 February 1993, by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2021. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Tyrone Smith in February 1993 at the North Philadelphia headquarters of Unity, Inc., a social service agency specializing in LGBT youth of color. Smith was its longtime executive director and a leading African American gay and AIDS activist during the period when I was conducting my interviews. Note that there is a brief moment in the interview when Smith asks a question of another Tyrone who was present in the office; the transcript below uses TS for Tyrone Smith and Tyrone for the other Tyrone. Before the taped part of the interview began, Smith provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 14 July 1942
Place of Birth: Kingston, North Carolina
Place of Mother's Birth: Kingston, North Carolina
Mother's Occupation: Mother and Homemaker
Place of Father's Birth: North Carolina
Father's Occupation: Minister
Race/Ethnicity: African American
Religious Background: Protestant
Class Background: Lower Middle Class and Poor
1942-late 1940s: Kingston, North Carolina
Late 1940s-1951: Kingston, North Carolina, and Philadelphia
1951-1959: Jefferson St., North Philadelphia; 24th St., North Philadelphia; 13th St., between Dauphin and York, North Philadelphia; Richard Allen Projects, North Philadelphia
1959-62: Huntington St., North Philadelphia
1962-65: 17th St. and Lehigh St., North Philadelphia
1965-1970s: 15th St. and Lehigh St., North Philadelphia
1940s and 1950s: Church Telephone Receptionist; Florist Shop Worker; Einstein Hospital Dishwasher
1960s and 1970s: Pawn Shop Clerk
1970s and 1980s: Lab Technician
In 2021 long-time Philadelphia gay activist and Philadelphia AIDS Library co-founder John Cunningham confirmed for me that Smith was living in Philadelphia and approved the publication of this transcript.
Marc Stein Interview with Tyrone Smith, 27 February 1993
Transcribed by Tracy Nathan and Marc Stein.
MS: This is Marc Stein and this is the first tape of my interview with Tyrone Smith. We're here in the offices of Unity on February 27, 1993. And I guess I'll start just by asking you to say something about your first few years. I know you were born in North Carolina and you spent some time living there and going back and forth between Philly and North Carolina.
TS: North Carolina is my home and I'm very proud of it for a lot of reasons. I think that my grandfather, my grandmother, the roots of my family’s there. I had the pleasure of knowing my great-grandmother. And a lot of times when I look back over my life and that particular part of my life, I'm very blessed to have had grandparents and parents like I had, especially my grandfather, who still is living. He's a very strong man. His love means a lot to me. My grandmother's also. My grandmother and I were very close. I was kind of special 'cause I was the grandson that was born out of wedlock. My mother and father were not married. And that was very rough.
MS: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
TS: I had brothers and sisters.
MS: Were they born after you?
TS: Let me explain. My mother had a daughter, which is my sister. We don't [inaudible], which was very common within our culture at that time. And I think that to live with that and to know what that meant within my family at that time I think gave me a substance that I had to do and motivation to some degree, because I knew that I didn't want to be looked at as “that bastard child.” And my grandparents never touched that at all. I mean you used to hear it around the neighborhood with other people, not about me, but what I heard about other people who were in the same situation. And I was just blessed to have grandparents that didn't. That was not a thing that we talked about within the family, but we knew it existed. I hope you're getting what I'm trying to say. It was very difficult because of what you heard, but I wasn't a victim of that.
MS: Right, so your father wasn't around? Is that right?
TS: That's correct.
MS: And what about being gay as a kid. You didn't hear anything about your father not being around and your parents not being married, but did kids think that you might be gay? Did you think that you might be gay?
TS: That happened for me after I came to Philadelphia and then started to go to school. I think really for me it started when I knew that I was attracted to males. And then you don't know at that point whether it's because of not having the father in the house, 'cause you hear all these things. So then you have to process that.
TS: And then you actually know. I mean biologically you begin to change. And it's very interesting how the touch of someone on you and that kind of thing. So it was a lot to deal with, 'cause I really didn't know what sexuality was. 'Cause we didn't talk about sex within our culture, within my family. I remember when my mother wouldn't even refer to my sister's menstruating. I mean it was a thing; it wasn't said like that. And I mean it was just the fact. And you hear these strange things, like “do you have your company from [inaudible].” And so sexuality and shit like that was never discussed. But it was like a coding. So I mean I say all that to let you know that sexuality, we just didn't know anything about it. And you go to school and you get into that form of harassment and all that, but then finally you know that this is where you're at.
MS: Do you remember any specific incidents from when you were a kid?
TS: Yes, yes.
MS: Either with your family or with your friends.
TS: Yes, yes. I remember when I was in junior high school there was this boy who I was really attracted to. And I knew that I was attracted to him. And he was attracted to me. And we would meet after school and go over to his house. And we became sexually involved. And it was on Brown Street. And since then, we've run across each other as adults. And we had sex again, 'cause I knew what it was like then. It was like all of that. You know it was like the ultimate, the orgasm, the whole piece, the love making, all those things that you want to express. I was finally able to do that with this one particular person. And when I look back over my life and think of him, it's with a lot of warmth.
MS: So that would have been in the '50s, right?
TS: That was in the '50s, yeah, that that happened.
MS: What about memories of your family. You said that people only used code words. Do you remember anything your parents ever said or your sister ever said?
TS: My mother, no. My mother loved me and still does. And I know that. As far as me being gay, I was always different. As little as we had, my mother always enjoyed dressing me, making me look as good as I possibly could. I guess I grew up being kind of a little spoiled in a way and kind of vain. Because my mother always said that I was special and that she loved me. I mean that was one thing that I've been blessed to have. She taught us. I mean she would say to us, “You're pretty. You're attractive.” I mean she did that with my sisters as well. I never felt like--oh god. I felt loved. I never felt that void of not being loved within my family. We weren't allowed to talk about each other. We weren't allowed to. Like my sisters couldn't call me a sissy, even if they felt it. You know what I'm saying? It just wasn't allowed.
MS: So they never knew about your friend in junior high or anything like that?
TS: No, no. Those are secrets that you just keep in. Finally I'm able to open up now and to share it.
MS: What about other memories from school?
TS: Oh, the memories of school.
MS: Did kids tease you or anybody else?
TS: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I think that for me was very cruel. I guess I was about eleven or twelve and it started. I was a sissy, faggot, the whole nine yards. And my mother at that point just would come outside and talk to the children. And then she would talk to me about why do they call you this. 'Cause I mean it was all right for me to play with dolls and stuff, cut-out paper dolls. I mean this is it, 'cause we didn't have much money. So therefore, with me having sisters, we shared. And guns were something that my mother definitely--I never remember as a kid growing up with a gun.
TS: I mean that was just not it. I remember the toys that I had. I remember one year I got a carpenter's saw. And I took the radio, 'cause we had an old-fashioned radio. It had screws in it and I took the screws out. I got beaten for that. And after that, I just never had boy toys. I mean marbles I used to play. But I never got into the boy toys. And I didn't play with toys that long.
MS: Did you get into fights with kids in school and things like that?
TS: Oh yes, I got into fights. But I was able to fight. I think growing up in North Philadelphia taught me to fight and to survive. And you get tired of boys beating on your ass. And so you start fighting back. And then you have friends that are the same as you. You know what I'm saying? I was blessed, I guess, to have people who went to school with me who were also gay, O.K.? And you know that they're gay, but you don't really talk about it. You just link up with them because you have a commonness.
MS: So those were the kids you hung with?
TS: Right, right. I remember there was three of us. I just lost one of them last year. Theodore Brown. But we did a lot of things together. We went to church together. We used to sing, so that was my activity. We would go to different churches and there would be singing, because we didn't have money to go to the movies all the time. And church was the focus of my life at that time.
MS: Was homosexuality ever talked about in church?
MS: What do you remember being said?
TS: We had the fire and brimstone piece and people tried to pray it out of you, but then you just cried out that it ain't going nowhere. And I think that for me, to come to the realization that god made me, he knows me, and then to link up with a church that taught me the basics: how to pray, what my spirituality is, and then to be able to accept that and go on with my life. I've never felt that because I'm gay it was a sin. What to me is a sin is what I do with whoever. That for me is a sin.
MS: Did people ever get singled out in church?
TS: Oh sure, sure.
MS: About homosexuality?
TS: Sure, sure. I remember one particular church that I went to, there were these two boys, both of whom were very effeminate. And I was like a kid, but I noticed them. Never really got to know them. But one died a very horrible death. He was killed in his apartment. And that was very frightening for me. Because I thought that if you grow up and are who you are, gay, then something real horrible has to happen.
MS: He died back then or later?
TS: Yes, he died back then.
MS: When he was still a kid?
TS: No, he was an adult. And I was a kid. I was about, oh god, I must have been, 'cause we were living on 24th Street. So I must have been somewhere between the ages of maybe eleven, twelve, that kind of thing.
MS: And these two were adults then?
MS: And they were talked about in church? What do you remember being said? Do you remember?
TS: They didn't call them gay. Gay was not. They were in the life. They're lifers. That was the term that was used to refer to people. And we'd see people making fun of them.
MS: Really? Making fun how?
TS: Marking them. That kind of thing. And my mother always said “stay away from them.”
MS: Were those the only gay people that you remember from your childhood?
TS: They were my first experience with knowing gay people. Then there was another gentleman who was a part of that particular church. He was a musician. He was very effeminate. He was an older man and I was drawn to him. I used to like him. I mean he was like a fantasy piece for me, because of his musical talent and being an attractive man. But I knew that there was this thing about him. I just knew it. You know! And I think one thing about being gay is we can identify so easily. And even back then. And I used to hear people say that I was going to grow up to be a faggot or whatever.
MS: Who would say that?
TS: Different people would say it or they would tell my mother, “You better watch him. He's gonna' be gay.” Not that I was gonna' be gay, but I can't even remember the term that was used.
MS: 'Gonna be different?
TS: Different. He's gonna' be a sissy. And my mother would always have her own way of turning it off, but then coming to me and confronting me with it.
MS: Confronting you how?
TS: I guess what she really meant was to be more aggressive, because I was real passive. And that's when I was young. But then you grow up and you get tired of that shit and you start fighting back. And then you start having other friends that you connect with, so you have that. At least I was blessed to build that kind of support.
MS: Tell me about some of those friends.
TS: Theodore Brown. He was a very attractive guy and he was a sissy. He used to call and I think we had a lot in common because he would have to come home from school. He had two brothers and he would cook for them. He lived with his grandparents. And one thing that he could always do is iron a shirt. Miss Thing could iron a shirt. And if we were going out someplace, he'd take my shirt and he would iron it. I'd polish his shoes. That kind of stuff.
MS: Did he get the same sort of teasing that you did?
TS: Yes, we both did. We both did, but we learned to deal with it. You learn to make sure that your last period, you would go get your coat and maybe ball it up or stick it someplace that you can [inaudible] and get out of school and get away.
MS: So you left school as fast as you could?
MS: And was lunch time a hard time?
TS: Lunchtime? No lunchtime wasn't really a hard time, because then you would connect with your other friends and then you all would go off someplace.
MS: How about gym class?
TS: Gym class, I cried a lot. I hated gym. And then it got to the point, when I got in junior high school, that it was O.K., 'cause then you met people that were kind of like Leonard. Leonard would not let boys talk about him. He would be like “why don't you stop?” That kind of stuff. Or him and I would get together. And so it would be like he was a little shield. And he could fight. And he taught me to fight.
MS: So he wasn't effeminate. Or was he also?
TS: No, he wasn't effeminate. And back in those days, you wanted that male-looking person. It wasn't about two effeminate queens being together. You were girlfriends and that was it. You just didn't touch or do any of that. It was just inappropriate to do. You wanted men.
MS: Right. Now is Leonard the guy you were telling me about before in junior high?
TS: Yes, yes.
MS: So can you tell me more about him and about what happened?
TS: We used to go over to his house after school, 'cause my mother was always home. And we would go over to his house and his mother didn't come home until like 5:00. And first we started out wrestling. Then finally we would take our clothes off. And then we would masturbate each other sometimes. And I remember. Oh god! It was fun. It was fun. It was having my first orgasm and not knowing that you were having an orgasm. I remember like trying to hold back and just all of that. And it's a very real part of life. And experiencing that, and remember you've never been told that these things are gonna' happen to you. No one has even told you what an erection is, so when you first start having these feelings of this, who do you tell? You can't go to your mother. I just could not tell my mother. And then finally my mother started to notice different things.
MS: What would she notice?
TS: You'd wake up in the morning and you would be hard.
TS: And at first I don't think my mother really knew, because my mother was not a male. There was no male in this arena. So she would probably have to ask. I mean I don't think my mother really knew that young men at nine, ten, twelve years old, you start to have an erection. I really don't think that she knew. Because of some of the things she would say to me, like, “Why is that like that? Put it away.” Like I could push a button and something would happen. And I think that's one of the things that I think that growing up in a single parent home was really, is really, unfortunate. In the community there was no support system. And I don't think there still are any support systems for single parents, especially women, in the development of men, of young men. So this whole process for a single woman, an African American woman, at that point--we're talking back in the '50s-'60s--was very difficult.
MS: How long did you and Leonard see each other after school?
TS: Oh god.
MS: Was it for a few years or just a few months?
TS: Oh yes. A few years, yes.
MS: And how did it end?
TS: What happened? It just dissolved. I guess because then I had met someone else, who I was doing the same thing with.
MS: Another kid in school?
MS: And Leonard found out?
TS: Yeah. And like you're between this thing. And by this time you have other friends. You're moving on with your life. Because then Theodore and I would go out together, so I would be meeting guys over here or other people. Then at this point you knew that this is you. This is what you were about. And you met other men and you would go to church services. And so you knew them. Then you would start visiting them at home, because some of them were a little bit older. They were older. I remember one guy, well I used to get in the closet and talk with him, because that was it. You would just get in and we would talk long times. And then we would meet at different gospel services and afterward we'd maybe go someplace like the [inaudible] to eat. Then you start to build a social life.
MS: You were still a teenager then, right?
TS: I was a teenager then.
MS: So you were meeting guys in church and at school at that point?
TS: Yeah, yeah.
MS: And were those the two main places?
MS: Yeah? So you weren't going to bars that early?
TS: No, no. I didn't start going to bars until I guess I was about seventeen, eighteen.
MS: So that would have been right around 1960.
MS: Do you remember the first bar that you walked into?
MS: What bar was that?
TS: The first bar I went to was Spider Kelly's. It was S.K.'s.
MS: Spider Kelly's? S.K.'s? And what street was it on?
TS: On Moll Street.
MS: Moll Street?
MS: In North Philly?
TS: No, that was in Center City.
MS: Center City. Where's Moll Street?
TS: Oh it's gone. It's gone, it's gone. There used to be a strip--just to give you some history of Philadelphia--between 15th and going up to let’s say 18th and Market, where there were movies and theaters and that kind of stuff.
MS: Right, I've read about that.
TS: And there was this restaurant they called Horn and Hardart's. And that was like the meeting place. You would meet there for coffee. It was one of those things, the automat. And we would meet in there.
MS: So the first bar was, you said, S.K.’s?
TS: Right, which was right down the street. It was on this little street.
MS: Who took you there? How did you go there?
TS: Because by this time you're meeting these older guys and they would be talking about it. And they would be like meet me at Horn and Hardart's and you would eat with them maybe at Horn and Hardart's. And then they would be walking to the bar. And we would walk there with them, or they would be coming out of the bar and they would take you in.
MS: So one day someone took you in?
TS: Somebody took me.
MS: Do you remember who took you in?
MS: When you say older guys, do you mean much older, or just guys in their 20s?
TS: Well, let me say this to you. In growing up, I guess I had a real diverse background, because there were older men in my life--we're talking about when I'm around seventeen, eighteen--men that became involved in my life who were good men. I have to say that, because they were. They didn't take advantage of me. I had moved away from home. And that was another thing. I never allowed them to come to my house, to my room, O.K. A lot of them I would tell that I was still living at home, that the woman who was my landlord was my grandmother and my aunt. And I had learned that, to keep that kind of protection for myself, because I was out here.
MS: 'Cause you were afraid of being kicked out of your apartment. Was that it?
TS: That was one of the reasons. And it was because I knew that I could not allow that to happen in my apartment, in my room, 'cause I couldn't have visitors. So they would drive me like a block away and I'd have to walk home, 'cause I made sure nobody would see. You know this stuff.
MS: Do you remember what the bar looked like to you the first time you walked in?
TS: It was a very narrow bar and it had little tables on one side and little booths with a table. And I remember it looking kind of pinkish on the inside. It was like glowing. And it was just nothing but men.
MS: So it was all men and multiracial?
TS: Basically Black men. And they were attractive men. I mean they were like suit and tie and sport jacket. That was the thing then--you dressed to go out.
TS: Yeah. That was fascinating, 'cause they were all so neat. And I guess they were men who either worked in Center City or worked wherever they worked and they would congregate there.
MS: What age most of them? Young men?
TS: I guess around their twenties, like twenty to twenty-five, twenty-six. And then I began to look at them and say, “Well this is what I want for me.” I wanted to be neat continually. I wanted to wear the suit and tie at one point in my life. And remember, you're working, you're making very little. But that was always my thing. I always wanted to dress well in growing up.
MS: What were some of the other bars you went to, the first few bars? Do you remember, aside from S.K.’s?
TS: O.K., but then I went to straight bars, too. I'll never forget the first time this gentleman--I guess he must have been in his thirties or forties--took me to this bar at Broad and South. Oh god, Pep's.
TS: Pep's. It was a show bar. And it was just about the time, just before it really went downhill. It was just in the heyday of it, not the heyday but after its heyday. I mean you had groups that would still come, like Lionel Hampton would still come there, but none of the real big, big names. Dinah Washington, I think she came there a couple of times. But then you started to get Ramsey Lewis. And it was a thing. You would go there on Monday night. And I would go there and this man was a gambler, but I would go there with him on Monday nights. And we used to go to another place called Tour de Grotto, which was an Italian restaurant. It was downstairs and we used to go there. So these older men were very kind to me and turned me on to some nice places. And there was another place we would go sometimes which was called--oh god, oh shit. It was on South Street.
MS: Maybe you'll think of it.
TS: Oh god. I can't think of the name of it.
MS: Did people act really differently in places like S.K.’s and in the gay bars than in these other places? Were people pretty open in there?
TS: Yeah, people were very open. But you didn't see people fondling and that kind of thing. It was basically just conversation. Occasionally you might see someone kiss, but it wasn't in there, 'cause that was one of the other things I remember. I've always been a real affectionate person and sometimes these men that I would go out with, because I really loved them. I mean for me, that was love, and I'd want to kiss them or hold them, and they would push me away and say “don't do that.” It was all right at home, but we never did that in public.
MS: In either kind of bar or place?
TS: No, no. And I guess it was like the giddiness in me and growing up that you want to be able to do that, because this is what you really feel. And I'm talking about being in my twenties.
MS: Express yourself.
TS: Express myself. And I was in my twenties. And that was one of the things that Fred hated. He hated it. And then when we got to the point that occasionally we would do it, we would kiss in public. And that was like the biggest thing. That was like I've arrived more or less.
MS: Some people have talked to me about this line of demarcation, you might call it, between the white gay bars and the Black gay bars where you didn't cross either way.
TS: You didn't. You didn't.
MS: Did you know about the Center City white gay bars?
TS: What you learned very quickly is--well for me because I listened. And I would hear people say, “You don't go on the other side of Market Street, 'cause the white faggots will beat you up.” And at that time they did. The racial piece, and we have to understand that during that time, the racial piece was just as heavy in the gay community as it was in the broad community.
MS: Any incidents specifically?
TS: No, 'cause I just never took my ass over there. I just didn't. I mean you knew your space.
MS: But you heard stories.
TS: But I'd heard stories of people getting beat up.
MS: Really? Beat up?
TS: Yeah. And what was interesting is like there was a bar that was called the Ritz, O.K., which was a white bar and this was on this side of Broad Street.
MS: Yeah, I've heard of this. Yeah.
TS: So at that time you didn't even come into that space. Your place was 15th Street, Moll Street, and there were a couple of places out in West Philadelphia that you could go to.
MS: Now I thought I heard that the Ritz was a mixed bar. Maybe that was later on?
TS: It came later on.
MS: I see.
TS: It came later on.
MS: But at first it was a white bar, but on this side of Market Street?
MS: Did you ever have any trouble with the police in going out or in bars or in people's homes that you were visiting or anything like that on the street?
TS: The other thing, yeah, yeah. What happened, there were a lot of house parties.
MS: Tell me about those.
TS: So then you start to move up. You get with a group and you would go to house parties. And sometimes they would get raided. And you have to understand that at that time, you're talking about being I guess about seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. So I've gotten with this other group of people and we would go to these little house parties. And sometimes they would get raided. Because they were like speakeasies is really what they were.
MS: In North Philly?
TS: In North Philly.
MS: And West Philly, too?
TS: They were all over, yeah. And there you could relax. I mean there you might kiss somebody. You might dance with somebody. That kind of thing.
MS: And people paid for drinks? Is that how it worked?
TS: Yeah, yeah.
MS: And who was there? Was it all Black gay men? Were lesbians there as well? Were whites there as well?
TS: There were no whites. There were definitely no whites. There were some lesbians there, too. That's when I really got to know lesbians. I didn't know them by that term. At that time they were bull daggers. And that's what they were called.
MS: So they wouldn't be in the bars.
TS: No. You never, and if you did, they had their own space. They had their own places that they go. I don't really remember getting with bull daggers, I mean with lesbians, until much later in my life.
MS: But the house parties, there was some mixing.
MS: How were things between lesbians and gay men?
TS: At that time the lesbians that I was around were I guess what we call today lipstick lesbians, 'cause they looked like women. And I tried to keep myself around that type of people. Because by me having a lot of the older people in my life, they always said you don't want to be seen with people that look like that. You don't want to be seen with real effeminate people. And as effeminate as I was, everybody tried to tone me down. And I guess even now they still try to tone me down. But I was a real swishy. I got to the point where I was real swishy. And I guess really I don't think I've changed much from being me. You know what I mean? I mean I've never been a real butch queen. I tried it; it wasn't me.
MS: I'm a little confused. The bull….
MS: The women you called bull daggers, were they lipstick lesbians or were they their partners?
TS: No. They were the real, they were the real.
TS: They were the real masculine type people.
MS: But you were saying you would try to hang with...
TS: With people, yeah, that weren't so obvious.
TS: They could blend.
MS: Would they be at those parties?
MS: They would, so it would be a mix.
TS: It would be a mix, yeah.
MS: And things were pretty friendly between the men and the women?
TS: Yeah, because this was a kind of hand-picked circle. This was a group that you had met at church, who were not out to everybody but you knew. So it was a real exclusive group of people and they kept it that way. And you couldn't bring anybody within that circle unless somebody in that circle knew them. ‘Cause I remember a couple of times. Theodore was my buddy and I wanted him to come to some of these things. And then it was like, “Oh no. No.” And then you had to introduce them to the person at the next service or someplace else before you brought them to a party.
MS: So it sounds like things were pretty, pretty wild in the church.
MS: I mean people knew other gay people.
TS: Other gay people, yeah.
MS: And you had your own way of finding one another.
TS: Exactly. Exactly.
MS: And how did you find one another?
TS: Somebody would come up to you after service and hold your hand and say, “I'd like,” or give you a phone number or just start a conversation.
MS: And who would have these parties? Whose houses would they be at?
TS: Different members of the choir.
MS: So it wasn't people necessarily with more money or older people. It was part of your crowd.
TS: No, no. Part of the crowd. And then when you have your apartment you start to do the same.
MS: Did you ever do that?
TS: Oh yes. Yes. I enjoyed entertaining. That was one of the things I really enjoyed. It was entertaining, 'cause now you have your own apartment.
MS: So tell me, when you entertained, did you have lots of people?
TS: I never liked big crowds. I always liked maybe two, three, four, five people, six people, something like that. Very intimate. I never liked, and I still don’t, I don't like big crowds, but just select friends. And you know you go over to your sisters, 'cause you have sisters and they're grown and they're married, so you get a piece of her china and you'd bring it over.
MS: And so you'd make a meal?
TS: Make a meal. You do the whole bit. And these things would usually take place on Sundays, right after service.
MS: Oh really.
TS: You would invite people over. Then you would go back to church for your afternoon service. But these were all the little gay people that you had identified.
MS: Now you said one of the parties was raided. Did this happen frequently?
TS: No, 'cause once you get in a raid, you try not to get into another one. What happened was--I don't remember how. I think it was either the music was loud or the policemen were called or that kind of thing. And then you wind up getting taken to the police station.
MS: So you were taken to the police station?
TS: Yeah, yeah.
MS: With how many others?
TS: Oh I can't remember. It must have been maybe ten, fifteen, twenty people.
TS: And in that time they would back--'cause in those days we had red police vans—the van up and you'd get in and you'd go and you'd stay until in the morning and they'd let you out.
MS: So did they charge you with anything?
TS: Disorderly conduct or being in a house that was disorderly.
MS: And were you convicted or how did that go? Did they just hold you overnight?
TS: They would hold you overnight and the next morning they would run you through.
MS: So you ended up with a record.
TS: Yeah, you'd end up with a record.
MS: So you'd have to go before a judge or something?
TS: A magistrate. Most of the time he would throw it out.
MS: What happened with you? Did he throw it out?
MS: So you didn't have to pay a fine?
TS: No. They just unlocked. What sometimes they would do the next morning is just unlock the door and let you all go out. I mean it was one of those things. Because I'll never forget, there were two places. There was a police station that OIC bought up on 19th Street.
TS: Reverend Leon Sullivan. His first place up there, that was a police station. That was a police station that they would take you to if you were in North Philly. If you were anywhere from Ridge Avenue over to maybe Broad Street, in that area, they would take you to that police station.
MS: And do you remember when that was, when that happened?
TS: Oh, I remember. That must have been, god, early, late ‘60s? No. Maybe late ‘50s, ‘60s.
MS: Something like that. And did you ever have any other trouble with the police?
TS: Yeah, when I went to Atlantic City.
MS: What's that story? Do you want to tell me that story?
TS: Oh god. Miss A.J. and I, we all went to Atlantic City that year. I had told a lie, that I was going over to somebody's house to spend the night. And I didn't. And we were going. We went there, 'cause my mother definitely didn't want me going to Atlantic City. And I went. And we got locked up. Somebody had killed someone. And we were standing on the beach and they were just locking up gay people.
MS: What was the killing? You were saying before.
TS: This guy had killed. It was something between two gay guys, and one guy had killed the other one. And they were really down on gay people at that point in Atlantic City. And we didn't know. And it was the Labor Day week. Not the Labor Day week; it was the Fourth of July weekend. No, the 30th of May. It was one of the holidays. I don't remember exactly which one.
MS: And this was in the early '60s?
TS: No, this was oh god. I was working at Einstein, so this must have been--damn.
MS: You said before that was while you were in high school.
TS: Yeah. I was working at Einstein. So we went down there and I’ll never forget it. We posed on the beach and we were with two other kids, two other friends. And the policemen just came up and locked us up. Just locked us up. And we went to the hearing. They kept us. And everybody else, they had money to get out. And we didn't have any money. It was me and Dinky, and we stayed and we had to clean. Sheriff Garmley, that was his name, Sheriff Garmley. And we had to go over to his house and clean his fucking house. But then we got out. But then it was fun.
MS: So it was one day?
TS: No. We had to stay thirty days.
MS: Thirty days. And what was the charge that time? Was it disorderly conduct also?
TS: It was disorderly conduct.
MS: And they just rounded up gay people on the beach?
TS: Mmhmm. Mmhmm [assent]. And everybody else had money to get out. My family didn't have the money. I remember when I called my mother to tell her, my mother said she just didn't have it. And then she, from that time, they started to try to get money together. My mother was very proud. She never asked my father or anybody else for money. She could have gotten it from him. She never did, 'cause that was my punishment, to stay in jail. And that I think to me was the most embarrassing and hurting thing, because I knew that was something my mother never wanted me to do was go to jail. And even though as innocent as it was, because I really hadn't done anything.
MS: What were you doing on the beach?
TS: Sissying. Just plain sissying. Posing and just sissying. Just plain sissying.
MS: So you weren't having sex.
TS: No, no.
MS: Nothing like that.
MS: And what were things like in jail? Were you with the guys who were...
TS: No, we were in jail. We were in what they called the Green Room, which was a hospital room. And that's what we all stayed in. It was like maybe ten of us in that room, because they had locked up so many gay people.
MS: So it was all gay people. You were all with all gay people.
TS: Yeah, thank god.
MS: Why do you say thank god?
TS: Because I don't think I would have survived if I had been in with normal population.
MS: Because you think you would have been assaulted?
TS: Yes. Well even if that, 'cause then the guard let us go upstairs and take the medicines up. It was a very loose situation. It wasn't what a normal jail would have been. You know what I'm saying? It was in May's Landing, I'll never forget it.
MS: May's Landing. That's a town?
TS: May's Landing is a part of Atlantic City.
MS: I see. And so you knew the guys you were with, I guess.
TS: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Was there any space while you were in there to have a good time or was it pretty terrifying?
TS: First of all, just to be in a space like that with queens, I mean come on. And there were all kinds of queens, I mean. You had mixed. You had Black queens, white queens. You had these real bourgie bourgie bitches and then you had drag queens. I mean everybody was thrown in this one room and it was a lot of personalities. But Dinky was my friend. I knew him from Philadelphia. And we were the only two Blacks that stayed, 'cause his mother couldn't get him out either.
MS: The one thing I want to ask you about this, and it's sort of a hard question, but sometimes when I'm reading stuff about prisons and jails, people write as if the only sex that ever happens in prison are assaults.
TS: That's not true. You can pick and choose. Trust me, you can pick and choose.
MS: And so was that going on when you were there?
MS: Among those of you who were in?
TS: No, not among. Still sissies didn't do sissies. We still didn't do that. That was not done.
MS: So they only arrested sissies?
TS: Yeah, real flamboyant queens. And that was one of the things about going to Atlantic City, getting out of Philadelphia. You could do that. It was a reason for going, to camp.
MS: So what other guys were around, then, while you were in the jail?
TS: The trustees. And they would come out in the yard and they'd be around your window. And they'd be hollering up at the window and stuff.
MS: What do you mean trustees? The prison guards?
TS: The prisoners. No. The prisoners who had now made the rank of trustee.
MS: Oh I see.
TS: And then when you would go out to get your food, you would see. And maybe you had to go, like we would go to Sheriff Garmley's house, where some of those guys would come in to take out the trash and do stuff like that. So then you would [inaudible].
MS: So stuff happened with you?
TS: Yeah, stuff happened. And you'd fall in love. I mean that was the whole thing.
MS: Did you do that while you were in prison?
TS: Oh sure, sure. There's always that one guy. This guy's name was Baker and I liked him. And the interesting thing--we wrote each other, even after I came home. We kept a good relationship. But we never had sex. We never had sex and that was interesting.
MS: But you did have sex with other guys?
TS: Oh sure, sure.
MS: Getting back to Philadelphia, 'cause I know you ended up doing that while you were working at Einstein's. And you were telling me before that you had a job first answering telephones at a church and then you worked at a flower shop and then as a dishwasher at Einstein Hospital. But then you said that starting sometime in the '60s, you worked at these two pawn shops, Uncle Sam's Money Loan and Friendly Money Loan. What was that like?
TS: Uncle Sam's, I worked there for quite a long time. Uncle Sam's was a pawn shop. And what my job when I first went there--they would come in with the pawn tickets and I was a runner and you had to run upstairs and get the garment, bring it down, and give it to someone behind the counter, where you give it to the individual.
MS: Get a garment, did you say?
MS: What kind of garments?
TS: They used to pawn clothing, like suits and sport jackets.
MS: I see.
TS: And so you would run upstairs and you get these things and bring them downstairs. And then those things that they took in during the day, you had to take them upstairs and put them in numerical order.
MS: I see.
TS: And there was one room for suits, there was another rack for sport jackets, and there was another rack. And you had to keep all of that. And then you had to move it down.
MS: Right, right. How was it working there?
TS: I enjoyed it, 'cause it gave me a chance to see fellows. They would come in and you would meet different men. And they knew you were gay. I mean it wasn't being that effeminate. I mean it wasn't being that flamboyant. They just knew. And you knew. And you would meet them. And some of my best friendships came out of it.
MS: Out of this job?
TS: Yeah, yeah. I mean there are people now, men as well as women, that when I walk up and down the street they remember me from there.
MS: From there?
MS: Were there other gay people who worked with you?
TS: No, not at that time. There was a woman that worked with me. But then later on, there was a gay person who worked in the pawn shop down the street. And then we became friends and we used to hang out together.
MS: But you did meet gay people there?
TS: Oh yeah. Gay people have been all over. I mean they've been through the fabric of my life. I've never been lonely to meet a gay person. It's always been on every level of my life. Even when I went to Keebler's and worked there, there was always a gay person that would come into my life. Even when I worked at Einstein, there was a gay dishwasher.
MS: Oh is that right?
TS: He was an older man. I've always had these images of gay people.
MS: So can you tell me anything more about the guy you worked with at Einstein?
TS: He was an older man. He was very nice. He was very friendly. I just didn't want my life to be like his.
MS: Why is that?
TS: Because he was a drunk. He drank very heavy. I shouldn't say that. Well that was him. He drank very heavy. And he would always get beat up by these lovers. And that to me was fucked up. And I saw a lot of that, where there were older men who would be beat up by their lovers. I never wanted that.
MS: Were these “straight” guys who were their lovers?
TS: Yeah. And I never wanted that. And it was one of the things that, being around it and seeing it, I just never wanted that for myself.
MS: Can you tell me anything more about how you experienced violence in the '50s and '60s in the life? Were there a lot of attacks from outside the community and then was there lots of violence in relationships and stuff?
TS: There was violence in let's say the neighborhoods. But what you learned to do is--I mean I remember when I would go up to visit Dinky and A. J. To get from where I lived in Richard Allen up to where they were, you had to cross turfs. And that was kind of rough. And you could get beat up. I mean you could actually get beat up or chased. So what you learned to do is you learned to network while you were in school with people that lived in those neighborhoods. So that when you come through those neighborhoods, people begin to know you with them. And that's what you learn to do. And we learned to do that. And so after a while you didn't get beat up, cause this is so and so's friend. And Miss A. J. was always the name to mention. And when you came on my side, my name was the name to mention.
MS: I see. And do you have any sense that there were any parts of the city that were gay neighborhoods?
MS: No sense of that.
TS: No. The only thing you knew is that you could come into Center City always and be very loose or very free. And there were parts of West Philly you could go to. You have to understand. When you came into Center City, you weren't likely to see too many of your neighbors. It was like a melting pot. And everybody came to Center City, to S.K.'s, or you would go down on South Street, where on South Street you had a different mix, because you had the night lifers, who might be the prostitute, the gambler, the jazz musician, who would hang out down there, too. So you were exposed to a different element of people.
MS: There was a gay world there, too?
TS: It wasn't identified as being gay. It was just night life. I mean you could blend in the fabric of African American communities' night life and be a lifer and it'd be O.K. Whereas in the neighborhood, you just couldn't do that. And then you learned to do that. I was always taught that you just don't hang out in bars in your neighborhood. And I got this from what I was hearing my mother say to my sisters. And if you're gonna' go out with a guy, he doesn't take you to a neighborhood bar. He takes you out. You go in town, you go to a movie, you go somewhere, you do something. So in hearing this, I patterned myself the same way in my own gay world.
MS: I see. And aside from S.K.'s, were there restaurants or bars that you thought of as gay?
TS: No. Well then you had the two--oh god, it was on 52nd Street and Sarah Vaughan. And that was my first experience of a drag queen: Sarah Vaughan. Damn. Oh god, the man just died a couple of months ago.
MS: 52nd and out by Market?
TS: Yes. 2-4-6.
MS: It's not 2-4-7?
TS: No. Oh Tyrone, what's the name of that club?
TS: That used to be out on? That Williams woman had it closed. What is her name? What is the name of the club? Damn.
MS: 52nd and Market?
TS: No, it's 52nd between Chestnut and Walnut. Damn.
MS: 52nd between Chestnut and Walnut.
TS: Yeah child, it's going way back. It had two levels. Downstairs was straight, upstairs was gay.
MS: Yeah, I've heard about this bar.
MS: Well I'll dig up the name for you, but tell me about the bar.
TS: It was exciting. It was real exciting. And it stayed open real late. And you would go there and you would drink and you would meet other people.
MS: So it was straight downstairs and gay upstairs.
TS: Gay upstairs, yeah.
MS: Men and women upstairs?
TS: Yeah, but mostly men.
MS: And the people downstairs didn't mind. It was O.K. to go through the crowd?
TS: No, it was O.K. It was O.K. It was O.K. Because that was the nightlife crowd. I think that when I look back over and look back, that was one set of the community that we were accepted in right away. I don't know whether it was because of the artistic talent that people brought in being gay and that being a more understanding world. But that community, the nightlife community, was very open and accepting.
MS: And you said that was prostitutes, gamblers, jazz musicians?
TS: Mmhmm [assent]. And then not only that. You had a blend. I mean you had hairdressers, designers. It was all that, that mix of people. You had your gamblers, your number writers.
MS: And there were drag shows there?
TS: No, it wasn't drag shows, but this one drag queen was the hostess and that's the one I want you to do.
MS: So tell me about her. What you remember about her back then.
TS: Oh Sarah was all of that. She dressed well, she was attractive, and she was a star. I mean she was Miss Sarah Vaughan and she would come in and she would just--you have to see her to really appreciate.
MS: Did you ever see her in street clothes?
TS: She was always in drag whenever I saw her, 'cause that was the only place I ever saw her. 'Cause I lived in North Philly and I think she might have lived in West Philly. And there were other divas. And I have to say this and I hope that this is a part of it. There were divas that were around like Marvina. There were two Marvinas. One was very thin and short. The other was thin and tall. It was elegant drag. She was an elegant drag.
MS: And she hung out there as well?
TS: Yeah. That was where you began to see the drag queens.
MS: But not drag at S.K.’s?
TS: Very seldom you would see a drag queen, because drag queens have to have the ambiance and the glamor. The mirrors and all of that.
TS: Wherein down there it was like--and there's always been that rift between conservative gay men and drag queens.
TS: I mean that has just always been.
MS: So S.K.'s was more conservative.
MS: Suit and tie.
MS: I think I may have asked you on the phone about this drag parade on Halloween night that I've heard about.
TS: Ah yes, yeah.
MS: I want you to tell me everything you can remember about it.
TS: The first time I went, I went down with Miss A. J. and at that time we had little drag balls. And the white kids had theirs and the black kids had theirs. They were very separate.
MS: All through the year or just Halloween?
TS: Just Halloween.
MS: Where were the drag balls held?
TS: One drag ball--there was this club in North Philly. I can't even remember the name of it, but it was upstairs and they would rent the space. And it was like an after-hours club. And so they would have a drag show because that's where all the drag queens would go. We would go there. And then downtown there was this place called Nick's, which was right across the street from Pep's, that served food on one side and the other side it was a bar. And this is how you could do it, because at that time you would come in the restaurant and you would order your food and then you would slide around to the bar because you weren't of age. See that's how that was done.
MS: Oh I see. I see.
TS: And so they would have this big Halloween thing.
MS: Do you remember when? This was in the '50s?
TS: This was the '60s. Late, late '50s, early '60s.
MS: 'Cause I know that Rizzo stopped the parade in '62, the one on Locust Street, which people tell me was mostly white drag queens.
TS: Right. Right. Right
MS: But people have also told me that there was another.
TS: At South Street.
MS: On South Street.
TS: And this was basically Black.
MS: And it was basically Black. What was the parade like?
TS: It was like Mardi Gras. People would actually stand on both sides of the street behind police barricades and watch. And what would happen is the queens would come up Broad Street and you would come through Nick's. You would just walk around in Nick's and just do your thing. And you'd come out of Nick's and go across the street to Showboat. And then from Showboat, you'd go down to different bars on South Street, go in and out of them, just wearing your wear, just carrying on. And you would stop and have a drink or people would talk to you and you would know some of these people and they would tell you how well you looked.
MS: Were you dressed? Did you dress?
MS: You did?
TS: And what was interesting is--I'll never forget it. Again, Miss A. J. and myself, we had gone down to South Street. We have a joke that we talk about and Dinky. But we have a joke about emerald green and white. I should hate those colors. But we went down and we had bought this material to have my gown made. And I wanted a white gown with an emerald green opera coat. And that's what I really wanted. I wanted that bad. And I'd gotten the money together. We'd gotten the material. I'd taken the stuff to this girl to make it for me. And I got dressed. I was absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous and I knew it. I knew it. And I came outside and I started to walk from my house--well it wasn't my house, but where I got dressed at--up to Broad Street. And by the time I got to Broad Street, these boys had ripped everything off of me. I was like standing there with nothing on but the shreds. And I cried and I went back.
MS: Who were the guys?
TS: They were just guys in the neighborhood. And I was hurt.
MS: Straight guys?
MS: White guys?
TS: Black guys.
MS: Black guys. And you were devastated.
TS: Devastated, but fierce. I came home. I went back to this girl's house. And she was a seamstress and she had material. And I took material and draped myself and pinned it and went out that same night. I was determined. I was determined. I used to do a thing. I used to walk on the tip of my tiptoes. And so when I got to Broad and South, that's what I did. All the way across the street on tiptoes into the bars. My feet were sore as shit, but I did that. I wasn't gonna’ let them get my goat. I mean I just was not gonna’. I've always been that way.
MS: Tell me about the bars that you all stopped in. You said it was Showboat?
TS: Showboat, Pep's.
MS: Pep's. What were those places like?
TS: Pep's was a huge bar. It had like two bars in it. It was huge. It's right there where the health center is: Broad and South.
MS: Oh right.
TS: 'Cause there were the doors on South Street. There was one door on South Street. There was a door on Broad Street. There were two doors on Broad Street, so there were like three doors. So what you could do is you could go in one door and walk all the way out and around and come out the side door. And you would go into the next bar, which was right down the street. And there would be these people there. Nobody was really making fun of you. People were there and they would be just how wonderful you looked and how nice your drag was.
MS: Gay and straight people.
MS: White and Black?
TS: Mostly Black, all Black.
MS: Were you aware of the white parade? The one on Locust Street?
TS: No. You would hear about it. I mean I heard about that later on, when life began to change. That's when we used to meet in Rittenhouse Square. This is my first exposure to white gay men. We used to meet at a place in Rittenhouse Square. And there were little coffee shops around this time. There was the Proscenium. There were a couple of others. So then all of a sudden you want to be one of these flower children, so you start meeting in town. And that was my first exposure to really white gay.
MS: Do you remember when that was?
TS: Oh god. No, I really don't remember. I can't give you a time.
TS: But we used to hang out there, 'cause this was during the time when you weren't drinking, 'cause you weren't old enough to go to the bars, so you would hang out there.
MS: So do you mean like places like the Humoresque and the Gilded Cage?
TS: Yes. Yeah.
MS: So I know Rizzo closed a lot of those. So that was still in the '50s, still in the late '50s.
TS: Right, right.
MS: But before that you were saying you just didn't have much contact.
TS: No. With white gays, you just didn't. I mean the two worlds never, never touched. And you have to understand. I had a white friend who I went to school with: Buster. That's when I went to Catholic school. But he was very interesting. He had a white mother and an African American father. And we were very close friends. And he was gay, but we didn't know we were gay. You know what I'm saying. We would do different things. We'd walk a lot, way out to the Art Museum and shit like that.
MS: I guess I have some more questions about the parade. You were saying people didn't make fun of you. From what I understand, there were a lot of straight people who came out, even brought their families to stand at the side of the street.
TS: Right, to watch, exactly, exactly. It was a form of entertainment. It was a form of entertainment.
MS: So there wasn't any hostility shown to the drag queens?
TS: No, no.
MS: So was this really the one time of the year you all could be out and about?
MS: Would you say that?
TS: But at that time, drag queens really didn't have a problem. They really didn't have a problem that I could see at that point, because they were accepted. Most of them, I mean they were accepted. They either were hairdressers, so they had something to give to the community, or they sewed. They had something that people wanted from them in return for them being them. And relationships would build.
MS: So they could be themselves throughout the year.
TS: Yeah, yeah.
MS: But it seems like more people than usual did drag on Halloween night.
TS: Mmhmm [assent]. And you have to understand we've always had drag queens. I mean we've always had our share of drag queens. And they've just historically been there.
MS: When did the parades end and why did they end?
TS: I don't know. I really don't. It was just a thing that just stopped happening. I think really the bars changed. The whole element of South Street changed. I think at that point people began to become politically aware that gays did exist. I think that's when there was like a push and I think it was a little bit too much. And people just weren't ready to take it, so they really just stopped a lot of it. And the atmosphere changed.
MS: Do you think it's because people got to be down on drag queens? The gay community got to be down?
TS: I think what began to happen is I think that there was always a sense of being gay and proud. Gay people at that point were proud. When I say proud, I mean they were considered to be the affluent, to a degree, within the community. People have always had the misconception that anybody who's gay was wealthy.
TS: And I think that's because a lot of times we bring that queeny thing with us, that whole piece. And so they were looked at as having more or being more than the regular person, if you understand what I mean. And then you started to see the devastation of heroin and drugs. And I saw real pretty drag queens become very ugly before my very eyes because of drugs.
TS: Yes. There was a heavy slew of drag queens who were known to use heroin and prostitute for the drug. So I think that whole image piece changed. And I think that people began to look down on drag. But it's very interesting because it was so obvious, where in a larger population and the larger community we were seeing men who were nodding from heroin. And then you began to see the drag queen fall into that. There was a very heavy usage of drugs among drag queens.
MS: A couple more things about the parade. It was an all-night thing?
TS: Yeah, 'cause everybody partied all night. The bars still closed, I think, around two. But after they would close, you would go to these little private parties, these speakeasies, and party until the wee hours of the morning.
MS: Did you ever run into anybody you didn't expect to while you were in drag?
TS: Yeah. And the shock of people seeing me in drag, I mean, and then you walk up to them and say, “Hi, I'm Tyrone.”
MS: Do you remember doing that? And big crowds on the sides?
TS: Mmhmm [assent].
MS: And you said police barricades? So it wasn't illegal or anything?
TS: No. No. It was just a way to have fun.
MS: And did your mother ever take you to it as a kid?
TS: No god. No. No.
MS: She's not that sort.
TS: The only parades I remember my mother taking me to, and that was fun, we would go to the Mummer's Parade, and we would stay all day. All damn day. But I mean my mother would have all of us. And then another neighbor would take her kids and we would all go and share the same blanket. Or maybe one of my gay friends would come and go to the parade with me and that kind of thing.
MS: Now let me ask you this: do you think there was much different about the drag on Mummer's Day and the drag on Halloween night?
TS: Oh yeah.
MS: Tell me.
TS: Because the drag on Halloween was more, was real. It was the essence of looking real. It was coming through being real, looking as real as you possible could. For the Mummer's Parade, it was always to me like a gimmick or like for humor. I mean we started to see real attractive drag queens in the parade, I guess, when we talk about the '70s and '80s, but prior to that to me it was just like mimicking.
MS: So Halloween and gay drag the idea was really to look as much as possible like a woman. Is that what you’re saying?
TS: Mmhmm [assent].
MS: And did people sometimes make mistakes? Or when someone was doing drag, did everyone know that that was someone doing drag?
TS: People would tell. People would tell. And when I say that, it's always been that you can get away. And that's one thing about drag. You can get away with it around people that you don't know. Walking into a room and we used to call it take the room.
MS: Take the room?
TS: Take the room. Take the room. And you walk in and you take the room. You walk in; your gear is all in order; and you walk in and you take the room, but to look like a woman. And then you had some of the drag queens who really over-accentuated their femininity.
MS: Right, so that you could tell that way.
TS: So you could tell that way. And if you had a good barmaid, who was a good friend of yours, she knew, and then she might tell her girlfriend, right. I mean that's always been.
MS: Well I want to ask you this, and the answer might seem obvious, but I would love to know how you put it in your own words. What do you think the whole idea of dressing up as a woman was all about? I mean why dress up as a woman?
TS: Because that's the way you felt. And that's what you wanted to be at that time. For me, it was that myth, that I want to be a woman. And then you come to the realization that you're not a woman, so it is to give the illusion of being that woman.
MS: And you think people were always conscious of that difference? You just said 'cause people wanted to be a woman. And then people wanted to give the illusion of being a woman.
TS: I think that’s a part of growth. And I think that that's one of the things that really I feel is real important to distinguish that piece. To live and know that you are not a woman. You will never be a woman, unless of course there is that surgery. And to know that you have the capabilities of masquerading that to its fullest, but still keeping the consciousness of knowing who you are as a person.
MS: Do you think all drag queens go through that growth or do you think some stay in that first step of really wanting to be a woman?
TS: I think that there's some that never move from that and there are others that do. And then there's that thing of accepting one's own self that's important. And being comfortable with that. Liking yourself and not liking the drag. Or liking yourself and liking drag. What makes you you is so important. And I don't think we talk about that enough in our community. And that was one of the other things, and you have to understand--at this period we weren't doing cosmetic surgery, O.K.? You weren't doing silicone and that kind of thing. So you actually had a chance to see your body develop, O.K.? And you knew. I mean I just knew that at some point, drag was gonna' be over for me. God didn't give me little feet and little hands and I wasn't gonna' get nothing cut, tucked, or [inaudible]. There were certain doctors that were here in Philadelphia, and I think it's important to mention those. Kids were on welfare and he would take their welfare card and give them hormones without testing them, without any psychological effects, any of that. And I think that's where a lot of drag queens went into that. And what's interesting--a lot of those same drag queens were the individuals who began to use heroin.
MS: So they would go to the doctors because they wanted hormones?
TS: Yeah. And he would give them hormones and did not test them.
MS: To see what the reaction would be.
TS: Right. And there was no psychological build-up, work-through, or anything of that.
MS: And these were African American doctors?
TS: No they were not. They were white doctors.
MS: White doctors. And you were saying they'd take the welfare card because they could get money for it from the government, to do this, to do the treatment?
TS: Right, right.
MS: Do you remember any of the names or the places where people went to do it?
TS: There was a place out in West Philadelphia on Spring Garden Street.
MS: Do you mean Presbyterian?
TS: No, no, no, no. These were not hospitals. These were medical centers. These were pharmacists, I'm sorry. These were pharmacists.
TS: Pharmacists. And doctors would write the script. And you'd have to take them there to do this. And I think that whole piece was very devastating. And I think that if there was ever really any cruelty or injustice that was done to young people, that was during that era.
MS: You were saying before that your first contact with the white gay world was in Rittenhouse Square in those coffee shops. Can you tell me something about those? What were they like? The flower children?
TS: The coffee shops were places that you could go to; you could hang out. I think you had to pay two dollars or a dollar to get in. And you would sit and drink coffee and hear these weird poems being read. And that wasn't really me, but it was the chichi place to be. And so you would go to those places. And you would start to see the white kids come in. And that was a whole different element. And you would maybe have a white friend who would say, “I'm going over,” and they would take you over to their club, to a club on the other side of Market Street. I never really liked it, though. So I didn't hang out too long. But we would all meet in Rittenhouse Square and we would stay there and just talk for hours.
MS: Black and white.
TS: Black and white.
MS: Just men? Women, too?
TS: Basically men. Basically men.
MS: So it was really a separate male-female world.
MS: And what would you do in Rittenhouse Square? Hang out and talk?
TS: Hang out, talk. And we would go to pizza parlors and eat and stuff. There was a place we would go. And the white kids used to. You had bars all down, a couple bars on Broad Street. But there was this one white bar that was right next door to--oh god, I think it was called Show--no, not Showboat. It was--oh god. I'll get you the name of it, but it was on Broad Street. And people would go there and then right next door was a pizza parlor and white kids would hang out in a pizza parlor.
MS: And do you remember any of the white bars? Did you ever go to the Allegro or to Steps?
TS: I went to Steps. I went to Letters.
MS: Where was that?
TS: Letters was at 21st and South.
MS: Right near where I live. And you said you didn't really like it that much?
TS: No, 'cause it was a big place. It was a blending of individuals, but unless you know, I mean they weren't friendly. And you have to understand. I think that even in the gay community, it's very cliquish. Philadelphia's very cliquish. So you went with your group of friends. You dealt with your group of friends. Occasionally you would meet somebody in a different circle, which would bridge you to meet those in that circle, but it was very seldom. I mean you basically [inaudible] with your circle.
MS: Right. But you didn't have any experiences of being blocked at the door or I.D.'ed?
TS: No. No, I didn't start getting that real heavy I.D. shit until the '80s. And it was real fucked up for me. Because here I am now totally [inaudible] and having to go through this carding situation.
MS: But do you think that's because you weren't even trying to go to those places earlier on?
TS: Maybe that was it.
MS: So it would have happened earlier?
TS: It might have, yeah. I mean even now I still get carded. As visible as I am in this community, I still get carded. And when it happens to me, I become very, very angry. And once it’s happened to me, I never go back to the establishment. And I think a lot of people, a lot of African Americans, do the same thing. We just don't want to fight the battle.
MS: What do you think the effect of the civil rights movement and the riots and the Black Power movement was on Black gay men in the '60s? Was there any effect?
TS: One of the things that I remember very, very vividly is the integration of Girard College. We used to meet a group of my gay friends and we would down around the wall and walk around the wall with straight other individuals. There was this little small contingent of us. And we would go down there really to see the boys.
MS: The wall around Girard?
TS: Yeah. And so we would go down there to see the boys. But yet you were still in the movement.
MS: Because they were demonstrating?
TS: Yes. And you would still be in the movement of the demonstration. You would be there. You would be visible within that. And you would meet different guys who would come from other neighborhoods. And you would start to talk to them. And maybe after the march you would walk in town to Rittenhouse Square. Or you might come up to Columbia Avenue and sit at a Horn and Hardart's Restaurant, 'cause there was one at Broad and Columbia. And you would sit in there and eat. Oh I hate this shit today--hot betty, apple betty, brown betty, which was like a pudding type thing and you would sit there and eat that.
MS: So the demonstrations were sort of cruisy?
TS: Right. Right.
MS: And it was a place where you met guys from other neighborhoods, but also met white guys?
TS: Right. No, you didn't meet white guys. No. I never. I've never been into white guys intimately. I think if there's ever a man, though, that I look at, and I really have learned to love as a person who is Caucasian, that's David Fair. My relationship with him is a very deep relationship. And he is a white man. I can truthfully say he is the white man that I love.
MS: And it's really interesting what you're saying about the demonstrations. Do you think any of these guys sort of came out in the movement, in the civil rights movement?
TS: Oh sure, sure, sure. I'm sure. I'm sure. Because what we need to look at is the fact that these individuals were there in the movement and they were gay. And just the interaction would bring them to a level that they would meet other men who felt the same as they did, would pal up and involve themselves in sexual activities. And I think some real wonderful relationships were built back in those days. And it was built out of more than just the sexual piece, because you had somebody who was rallying around the same cause, which gave you a deeper bond, I think, for a relationship.
MS: Some people say the movement, especially in the late '60s, got to be very macho, male-identified, and that there was even less tolerance for people who were different. Was that your experience?
TS: Right. Yes. And I think that's one of the things that the community, especially the African American community, really lost a lot of talent because of their homophobia. I think that what is reaffirming for me is the fact that when we talk about the great March on Washington, to know that Bayard Rustin, who was a Philadelphian, who finally before his death came out.
TS: And so I think that the presence of gay people has been throughout the whole movement. 'Cause I remember when some friends of mine who live in Washington now, and they talk about when they went down in Selma and down in there, that they were there and they would link together as gay men, knowing that they were gay. And would bond together and be together along with the other men who were there fighting.
MS: You just mentioned Bayard Rustin. He didn't have a real presence in the Philadelphia African American gay community, right?
TS: No, he had a presence in the African American community, not as a gay man.
MS: Right. And you said he was from Philadelphia. You mean he went to a school outside of Philadelphia, is that what you meant?
TS: We just did a piece for a television show on him.
MS: Is that right?
MS: That's interesting. Maybe can I switch topics for a little bit?
MS: I'm curious about things that you might have read in the '50s and '60s, gay things that you might have read.
TS: None. None. None.
MS: So you never heard of the magazine called Drum?
TS: No. No.
MS: You never encountered any of the organizations and the newsletters.
TS: No. No.
MS: What about the city newspapers? Did you read the city newspapers?
TS: No. No.
MS: So that wasn't the way you all communicated. I mean that's not the way news spread.
TS: No. And I think that it's always been the word of mouth. The word of mouth. I think that that's one of the advantages that young people, young gay people have, especially after coming out; they have the organizations like Black and White Men Together, Unity. I remember with Joe Beam putting together Blackout. So I think those pieces have come about and I think they're wonderful tools, but in my era we didn't have that.
MS: The other thing that we haven't really talked much about is the homes that you had. You said that for the most part you lived in your own apartments, which you didn't share with other people. And that when you were younger, you wouldn't invite people back to your apartment.
MS: Did that change at some point?
TS: Oh yeah.
MS: Was it in this period. Was it in the '60s?
TS: '70s was the change.
MS: '70s. Where were you living then?
TS: I was living on Spring Garden Street, yeah on Spring Garden Street.
MS: You told me before. 36th and Spring Garden?
MS: And do you remember the first time you invited someone back to your place? You were saying that you had people over after church.
TS: Yeah. And remember, when I moved to 17th and Lehigh, I did a lot of entertaining there, 'cause I would invite people over from church. And then you start to have maybe a boyfriend who you would invite over. And he would come and spend the night. I never wanted anybody to live with me. The only person I've ever lived with was Fred. Well Fred and Daryl, and that's an interesting relationship.
MS: Fred was the guy you were involved with for a long time?
TS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
MS: And when did you two get involved?
TS: It's interesting. We went to a party. I was invited to a party at Jim Campbell's house on 17th and Diamond. And Fred was there and he'd come to the party with someone. And they had left. And he was drunk on the sofa. And I said he was the most attractive man I'd ever seen. And Jimmy and I were friends, so I spent the night and Fred spend the night. And we exchanged numbers and he invited me up to his apartment that next day, which was Sunday.
MS: Where did he live?
TS: He lived at [inaudible]. And I went his apartment and it was the most beautiful apartment I've ever seen. And it just took me out and we became lovers.
MS: Was this in the '70s or back in the '60s?
TS: This was the '70s. '60s or '70s. And for me he was all the things that the older men had been for me. He was established. He was in his twenties
MS: And you were younger.
TS: Yeah. He was like twenty-three, twenty-four.
MS: And you were twenty?
TS: I was like twenty.
MS: So we just figured out when it was. So that must have been in the early '60s.
TS: Yeah. And I loved him. I mean he was all these things. He had his own apartment. He was independent. He had a decent job. He was attractive. And he used to catch the train at Tulpehocken Station to go to work. He was a gold-leaf printer. And I just thought that was the most fantastic thing.
MS: Where's Tulpehocken?
TS: It's up in Germantown.
MS: Oh. And you were together for more than ten years?
TS: Yeah. And he was the first person I really brought to my family.
MS: What was that like?
TS: That was interesting. That was very interesting. My aunt loved him, because he was a perfect gentleman. And what happened was there was this story that used to come on television--oh my god, Peyton Place. And we would rush home to watch it. And there was this girl. I can't think of her name. There was this girl there and I always wanted. She was just pretty and that was like me. And he was like the lawyer.
MS: And you thought of yourselves as just like that?
TS: Yes. And they had gotten married on the story, and this is what we decided to do.
MS: So you all got married.
TS: Yeah. It was the fact of doing the drag piece and what we felt for each other.
MS: Do you remember your wedding day?
TS: It was Halloween night.
MS: Halloween night.
TS: It was on a Saturday night and we went to a party afterwards. But all of that, as I look back over it, it wasn't necessary for us, but it was necessary for us. I think that it's one of the highlights of my life for me. It's something I will always remember.
MS: You mean the wedding or the relationship? The wedding?
TS: The wedding and the relationship. I wonder would we have loved each other. I'm sure we would have loved each other. I'm sure we would have. Because it was a thing that--I mean that relationship went through ups and downs and highs and lows. I remember coming home and he was there with someone else. I remember beating him up. I remember him beating me up. I remember him going to Detroit to live and falling in love there with somebody else and then coming back to Philadelphia and me accepting him back. And then after that, when we separated and went our separate ways, we went through this thing of seeing each other on the street and not speaking and that whole painful piece. And then when you finally get to the point that it hurts so bad that you finally speak again and you embrace. And you know then that you still love each other. And we kept a relationship that became non-physical, 'cause I knew that we couldn't at that point.
MS: When did you split up? Do you remember?
TS: Oh god. We split up when I was on Spring Garden Street. And we tried it again, and it just didn't work. It just wasn't working. And we knew it. And even with his other relationships and with other relationships that I've had, we were there for each other. I mean it was very common on a Saturday morning to call him. And we had a very spiritual thing that we would think about each other and then run into each other. I would think about him and give him a call and maybe something was going on. I think one of the most loving things that I remember about him was when I lost my grandmother. And I had to go to North Carolina and I called him and I told him that my grandmother had just died. And he came over, him and his lover, and picked me up and took me back to their apartment. And I stayed there the whole weekend.
MS: And I guess I just wanted to see if there's anything else you want to say by way of finishing this up. I know we've covered a lot of things. It seems like you probably have lots of other stories you could tell me, but I don't know if there's anything that stands out that we haven't talked about, about your life in the '50s and '60s in Philadelphia.
TS: I think one of the things that was very interesting that I think is important to note is the fact that there has always been that African American woman in my life. Not from a sexual or personal type thing, but there's always been that woman that I've been able to share with, who has not been a member of my family. I've just been blessed to have. I remember when I was on Lehigh Avenue when I worked at Uncle Sam's, I used to go around to a record shop on Columbia Avenue. And there was a woman there, Bee Davis, who I could always pore my heart out to. I could tell her about my relationships with Fred. I could tell her about other relationships that I had. And it stayed there. She was always and still is a very dear, close friend. And I've been blessed to have that, that bond with women.
MS: Have they usually been straight women?
TS: They've always been straight women, basically, who have helped me to make some decisions in my life. I mean we would sit and talk about Fred and him drinking and whatever, and she would say, “Well Tyrone, you don't have to take that.” And that's not being a woman. If that's in your relationship and whatever. And then would hang out with them. You would go to different clubs with them and hang out. And they didn't make fun of you. I think for people, for Bee especially, it was a learning process as well, ‘cause I don't think she'd ever been exposed to a gay man before. But we had a friendship and I think it's important to note that.
MS: Anything else or should we turn off the tape?
TS: Yeah, that's about it, for now anyway.
MS: Thanks so much.