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Before there were Gays

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.


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Reader Comments (12)

As a reader of your blog in the UK! I love the way you begin the article with London, England for your American audience. And Paris, France.

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYoav

Geography is not an American strong point, so I have to say London, England. There are also other towns or cities called London, and Paris in the US.

February 14, 2014 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Yoav , I live in Ontario, Canada, within half an hour of London and Paris (Ontario). When those cities are mentioned, I don't always think of the ones in Europe.

But getting back to the topic, I'm just a few years younger than Dave and went to high school (grammar school) in London, England. These schools were not co-ed. My only experience with gays was a teacher (master) who would position himself behind students and press up against them when talking to them. We called him a "bum boy". I also remember news stories about a certain Lord Montagu of motor museum fame, who preyed on young boys. (I think this is what Putin is talking about.)

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Your unfortunate experiences as a boy with a certain male school teacher is called pedophilia. Pedophiles come in all sexual preferences, so just as most of us heterosexual men do not molest children, please, let’s not paint the whole gay population with that broad brush.

To set the record straight about Lord Montague. In 1953 he was accused of taking sexual advantage of a 14 year old boy, a charge he denied. He was acquitted. There followed a witch hunt by the British police similar to that experienced by Oscar Wilde, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in the early 1950s in the UK. Lord Montague and two other men subsequently went to prison for 12 months. The whole account is well documented here:,_3rd_Baron_Montagu_of_Beaulieu

One disturbing article I read recently stated that 1 in 3 boys under the age of 14 will attempt or commit suicide because they are gay, and because of the bulling they experience in relation to this. Where are the kids doing the bullying learning this homophobic intolerance and hatred? From parents and other adults.

I know this is a sensitive issue with some, but I wrote about my positive experiences growing up, in the hope that readers would find it interesting and thought provoking. I have already deleted one comment that was in poor taste. I would rather not do that, but I knew if I let it stand it would just invite more bile and hatred. Please, let’s have an adult discussion.

February 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Do you remember Julian and his friend Sandy from the radio show "Round the Horne" ? They used a kind of patois, I think it is called "Pollari" and it was hysterical ! We used to memorise all the lines and use them when appropriate or more often when inappropriate. They were of course Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick. None of us were homosexual, but it didn't seem to be such a divisive issue in the early sixties. And about the not beating up poofs, in Glasgow we were very protective towards our homosexual pals. Woe betide anyone who tried to give them a hard time when we were about. You're right Dave, changed days !

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRonald Weaver

Dave, I understand and respect your views. And thanks for the background on Lord Montague. I was just relating my first impressions of homosexuality from my youth. In the 1950s "Monty" was actually a derogatory term for a homosexual who liked boys. However, as you saw in the post you deleted, many of us of a certain age have views ingrained from our upbringing. You, obviously, had more diverse experiences both as a teenager and later as an artist and writer.

It is my theory that few of us are 100% hetro- or homosexual, but it's a continuum. Homophobia could just be the fear that one may be slightly homosexual, but does not want to face it. I think today's youth are more aware of that concept and do okay, so long as they're not bullied.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

And since when does an American President go around the world warning countries to support gay rights? Obama does today.
Rights are not political whims.
Never in history have gays had the right to be gay, they just were. Now it has to be political for them to boost their agenda. Does the bible promote gay rights, as opposed to other "Human Rights"?
Why are the gays and lesbians (and now the other genders like trans, cross, bi et al) so vociferous about being gay? And why the Hell is it now political?

February 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Thanks for an interesting post. It very much represents a view of homosexuals in a particular place and time (with no snark about the fine British tradition of buggery!).

Having grown up perhaps a decade later in a large US city, I too am proud that I came of age when I did. We were exposed to different life styles and enjoyed the friendship of people with whom we might never have known in a different time or place. For my children it is even better; gay people are not "others" just people. I would much more fear for their ignorance than fear for their innocence.

I believe that the "coming out" of gays over recent decades has made life better for them and for non-gays.

Thanks again.

February 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTimJ

...and promoting "Gay Rights" only pisses people off. Re: Uganda and all the world insulted by this whole Gay Rights Movement.
Obama and the Liberal people in the US are so adamant forcing their politics the only expectation can be "Who made you King of the World?"
Oh, and are you backing your agenda with military action? No?
What the Hell is going on?

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Yeah Steve.

Why are any group seeking fair treatment so vociferous?
Does the bible promote Christian rights, as opposed to other "Human Rights"?

Troll Feeding is FUN!

February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFeeding Time

Feeding Time:

Is the Troll feeding, or being fed?
Careful how you answer.
Education does not come from rote learning...


February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve


Decent humans are typically sympathetic to the struggles of people who are discriminated against. I don't know you, so I'm not going to hazard a guess about whether you're indecent or simply ignorant. But you're right about one thing: we shouldn't protect gay rights, we should protect human rights. And the human rights of gay people are being violated. The same thing happens to other minorities all over the world. In some places, Christians are one of those groups, and in those places I would certainly fight for the human rights of Christians. The human rights of everyone should be respected. Look past your own privilege, and you might begin to understand why people are upset. You might understand why people marched in San Francisco in the 1970s, and in Ferguson last week. We'll stop fighting for people's infringed rights when you stop infringing on those rights.

In some other countries homosexuality is a crime punishable by death, so we're very clearly talking about a human right (the right to live), not a gay right. Here, most efforts are focused on rights like love, marriage, family, safety, and financial security. Consider yourself educated: "gay rights" refers to the human rights of gay people.

August 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Jarvis

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