I spent my teen years in London, England and the surrounding areas, it was the 1950s. The word “Gay” was often used in song lyrics, poetry and other writings. It meant, “To be happy,” and had nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation or preference.
Even the term “Making love” had no sexual overtones, Frank Sinatra sang that dancing, was “Making Love to Music.” For that was all it was. Making love was nothing more than the initial stages of a relationship, flirting, holding someone’s hand, kissing.
I think the first time I heard the term “Making Love” used to mean sex was around 1958. A young prostitute plying her trade on a London street, asked if I would like to take her home, and “Make Love” to her. I remember being surprised, even slightly shocked.
The term “Making Love” was never quite the same after that and when Frank Sinatra sang about it I felt slightly uncomfortable. I have no idea why, I was by no means a prude. Looking back I was a working class kid, “Of the Streets” so to speak. Not a criminal, but living on the fringes of a culture that included criminals.
We called homosexual men, “Queers,” or “Queens.” Not in a nasty or degrading way, it was just a name or term. Like I said, “Gay” was not in general use back then. My friends and I never felt threatened by queers, and we were friendly towards each other. They were as funny as hell, and to hang out with a bunch of them was a riot.
They had their own language or slang and would refer to a particularly masculine male as a “Great Butch Homey.” They would even call to each other “Queers or Queens,” and when talking of one of their own group in a third party manner, it would always be as “She or Her.” They often described each other as “Camp,” and talked of “Trolling” down the road. (Walking in an effeminate way.)
If I, or one of my straight friends made a joke about their sexuality, it was usually met with a loud group. “Oooooooo, ain’t he bold.” Always accompanied by a typical limp wrist gesture, and riotous laughter by everyone, queer and straight.
“Never beat up a queer,” was a mantra we lived by. “That is like beating up a woman.” Although many queers I knew, under the effeminate exterior, were “Hard Cases,” and one would do well not to pick a fight with them.
I never knew any lesbians when I was young. Although looking back I must have known many without realizing. I loved girls and probably spent as much time hanging out with them as I did with my male friends. I often think about the girls I knew who hung out in pairs, and come to think of it, neither had boyfriends, ever. They may or may not have been lesbians, it didn’t matter to me.
I always preferred the company of females, most of my male friends were heavy drinkers, and I was not. My strategy with girls was to never come on strong, just be friendly and non-threatening. As a result, I had a large circle of “Girl” friends, and there were always a few who were “Interested” in me.
By having no word like “Gay” back then, we didn’t refer to ourselves as “Straight.” An interesting word choice because I remember that gays were sometimes referred to as being "Bent." Bent was also used instead of crooked. As in "Bent Copper," a corrupt policeman.
I had certain friends who sometimes spoke of having sex with a queer. I was never shocked or repulsed by this, or saw them as different. It was just a young guy bragging about having sex. I didn’t look on that person as “Queer,” he was not effeminate, he didn’t look queer.
Today those same friends would be considered “Gay,” and if they were labeled a such when I was a teen I may not have considered them my friend. Not having the maturity I do now, I might have been afraid of being labeled as “Gay” myself. I would missed out on those friendships I had back then. Friendships that shaped my life,
Those truly were more innocent times and I’m glad I came of age then, and not now.