Broadening my world past the very white, very Lutheran ,very rural Wisconsin villages where I spent my first 22 years was a gradual process. Some kinds of information were simply not available to me as a kid. The Milwaukee Journal, LIFE, 16, Tiger Beat, LOOK, the Saturday Evening Post, Highlights, cereal boxes, and the five TV channels – an ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and Independent – only told you so much. You sure as hell NEVER heard ANYTHING overt about homosexuality, only passing jokes on Laugh-In that went completely over my little head. When finally I got a clue that sometimes men liked men and women liked women, in that way, it was presented as a shameful pursuit to be ridiculed, an aberration, creepy, uncool, and still never talked about unless slinging slurs you didn’t even understand to other kids who weren’t even gay.

But, of course, as it always has been and always will be, there were gay people around me – they just had to stay quiet about it then. The story of My First Homosexual happens to be the same guy who gave me My First Real Kiss. Awwwwww. That is both sort of sweet and rather failboat-y comical. He was flat-out gorgeous, bright, and had a wicked sense of humor, and I had zero gaydar, so I was all for him. What he saw in me, I cannot at all imagine, other than he enjoyed my company quite a bit, I was into him, and presented an opportunity for him try an early test of The Straight Waters. He gave it a valiant go, I did too, but came to the mutual decision that we were best suited as pals, and no hard feelings, which I could make as a pun but I won’t because I was a good girl. Did he ever say to me, “I AM A GAY PERSON?” Nope. But he didn’t have to after awhile, even though I never once saw him with another guy, and he never talked about that part of his life. He was very private, and I respected that. For the hell he got and the hell he went through, he deserved at least that.

A few years later came the disco craze, which bummed me out to the very core. God, I HATED disco. It was SO STUPID, and it sucked all the decent music out of the Top 40 radio, and also seemed to make everyone even lamer than they were already. The sight of a friend’s dad in a Qiana shirt open to the waist and a poodle perm and tight polyester pants ready for a Friday Night Fish Fry nearly made me toss my dinner once. WTF. Anyway, my former bf had been asking me for a long time to go out dancing with him and a few other friends from our town. I always turned him down, because NO WAY was I going to go out DISCO DANCING. I just couldn’t do it. So he would go into Milwaukee with the others and I would stay put in my bedroom, playing the Stones’ “12 X 5” for the millionth time.

One night he called me and said that I HAD to come along this time, because one of the clubs he went to was having “60’s Soul Night” – nothing but Motown, Stax, James Brown, ‘Retha…oooohhh, I said. This was pretty unheard of at that time – pre-“oldies” radio – so I said I would go. He already knew I had the world’s worst fake ID, which he thought would suffice. He then told me that this was kind of a fancy club, and that there was a dress code. A dress code?? In Milwaukee? All I knew from going out in Milwaukee were the dumpy old arenas and the smoke-filled beer-soaked rock dives I slithered my way into. I had to actually dress up, he said, in a DRESS. Aw, man. I didn’t have very many clothes at that time and certainly not fancy club-wear. But I had an hour to figure it out before he came to pick me up.

So imagine an ungainly teenage me, chubby, spotty, growing out a failed perm, in a shiny maroon Danskin spandex leotard and matching wrap skirt, “suntan” pantyhose with a run patched by clear nail polish, tan platform espadrilles, sky blue eyeshadow, and Dr. Pepper lipgloss, heading away from the scrubby cleared fall cornfields onto I-94 and the Big City, heading towards My First Gay Bar.

Frankly, I was nervous. For all I knew I was going to be seeing the dudes from the Village People all getting graphically nasty to “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” or the bouncer at the door would sneer and wave me off, being intrinsically able to see my hetero-ness. I was nervous, and far too concerned with seeming cool to say anything about it to my friends, either. I could feel sweat already under my Dan-pits. We drove to a not-so-great part of town in an industrial zone, dark and skeevy, and I was really hoping we all wouldn’t get mugged or dead. Why why why did I leave my bedroom, I thought? Oh. Music and my friends, which is why I still go out, come to think of it.

I pulled out the horrid ID, and the natty bouncer smiled and waved me in like I was…perfectly welcome. As I entered, I am sure my surprise was visible. This…was the nicest club I had ever been to, by far. It was multi-storied, with winding glass staircases with silver metal railings, two huge dance floors, curvy long bars with all the bottles back- and up-lit, and the lights! Wow, they were so beautiful –understated colors, yellow, pink, light green, light blue, and amber, the strongest memory I have of the place. There were little bistro tables set up in clusters here and there, with groups of people chatting and laughing, men and women, so nicely dressed…looking like anyone else you would ever see. This was a stunning revelation to me, simply stunning, and I felt like I needed a little time to just sort my mind out.

As the sweet soul music filled the club, smart and sharp, I went by myself up to one of the bars. Normally, I would order a beer, but this just didn’t seem like a beer joint. I wanted to not stand out any more than a chubby teen farm girl would have there.

“What would you like this evening?” the handsome bartender asked in a friendly way.

I paused. “Uh…I think I will have…a…Brandy Alexander.” I had never had one, but it sounded gay and classy.

The bartender smiled, “Of course,” and he mixed it up for me. “That’s seven.”

Seven dollars for a drink! Wow, it’s expensive to be gay. I’d have to sip on that for awhile.

I don’t remember now if I danced or not, how long we stayed, or what we talked about on the long ride back to my folks’ house in the sticks. What I do remember were those lovely lights, and that everyone there at the club was pretty much just like me, enjoying a night out with friends and listening to some great music, and probably not drinking Brandy Alexanders. I’d later find out that the pretty club every so often would get a little visit from the cops, looking for any reason to make the patrons feel…watched.

The ‘80s arrived, the club closed, I lost touch with my former bf, got a real ID card, never wore the Danskin dress again, and never forgot that night.