In the beginning, I didn't know much about being "gay." I don't know if the word was even used in the 1940's and 1950's. The first memory I have of "gay" existing, and still not really knowing what it was all about, occured when I was about 8 or 9. I was with my parents and younger siblings, on the Lower East Side at my uncle's fruit and vegetable store. I saw a teenaged latino, who was partially dressed in women's clothing, and acting in a very exaggerated effeminate manner. Asking my father about this individual, he described him as a "fairy." No other explanation. Most probably he didn't know much more.
I had no idea what he meant, probably thinking it referred only to very effeminate men. During the rest of my childhood there were feelings about finding men attractive without understanding,and of course denial shame, discomfort. I came out socially, at 36 years of age; sexually at 18. least had my first sexual experience with a man. I've never been able to have sex with a woman. I attempted dating women from age 16, but physically it was no more than kissing and hugging.
All of my friends and acquaintances were straight as far as I knew. It was wonderful to have friends, but needs, were not being met. I was terrified and ignorant about looking for and finding gay men, except for sex, which was generally anonymous. Having a crush on one of my closest friends also kept me from looking elsewhere. Eventually, the friendship ended.
Again there were feelings of guilt, shame and some self-loathing. Even after I had come out socially, these feelings persisted. When my mother passed away, I lost some of my inhibitions, and feelings of guilt and started to, attend a gay Overeaters meetings, as well as the gay Synagogue which was the beginning of a social life and responsible for 90% of my friendships until recently,as well as a few short term "romantic" relationships. Almost 40 years later I'm still in the same place socially.
The sad thing is that I sat in the sidelines, while Stonewall, and other revolutionary things were happening. I guess it was fear mostly that caused me to stay on the sidelines, while so many important things were happening. However, I have gotten involved with doing volunteer work for gay organizations, such as SAGE, a gay political club, the NYC gay synagogue. This occurred only as I felt more comfortable with myself, and less threatened about being out.
Today as a senior citizen,I wonder what I've learned from my life experiences, if anything? How can I make changes to improve my life, in this far more permissive and generally more accepting society? It is frightening to think about getting older and being alone. There are no easy answers for me. It's so easy to find answers for someone else.
Older but wiser, but one can't go back and reclaim youth and time. I shouldn't be so morbid about this, as many people have had a much more difficult time than I have.